Issue 037 author interview: Janna Layton and “The Mare of the Meuse”

Welcome to the wonderful world of Issue 037! Are you enjoying the stories as much as we are? How about getting a glimpse into the mind of one of our authors, Janna Layton? Read on to learn more about her story “The Mare of the Meuse.”

LSQ: The setting of this story is as important as the characters René and Armand. What inspired you to place this story during the French Revolution?

Janna: The French Revolution is just so . . . bonkers. It’s history and humanity at their most complex and messy. If you want black-and-white, clear-cut heroes and villains, look elsewhere. Robespierre, that civil rights lawyer who was against the death penalty? He becomes a mass murderer strutting around a fake mountain as part of the Festival of the Supreme Being. Charlotte Corday assassinated politician Jean-Paul Marat in an attempt to stop the state-ordered killings, but they ramped up instead. People took action with intention, but everything just kept spiraling out of control.

The current reality here in the US is obviously different, but there’s still that sense of extreme disorientation, that reality has been pulled out from under us, and no one knows how it’s going to end up. That was definitely on my mind when putting myself in René and Armand’s shoes.

Being able to include late 18th  century fashion was a clear bonus.

LSQ: Your story points out that unicorns are historically dainty and white while the one here is strong and piebald. Tell us why you made her look the way she does.

Janna: Well, she had to carry two adult men, so there’s that! I love The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, but no one is riding that animal. The fun thing about unicorns is that since they’re imaginary, you can have them look however you want and however best fits the story. Haruki Murakami’s inventive take on them in Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is very different than Peter S. Beagle’s in The Last Unicorn. I have another story where unicorns are shorter and stocky, a bit more like wild Przewalski’s horses. Do unicorns look more like Shetland ponies or rhinoceroses? Up to the writer/artist/daydreamer!

LSQ: Virgins handling unicorns and the Cheval Mallet – various unicorn folklore is mentioned in this story, but Orinda doesn’t follow the pattern. In writing this piece, how much did you want to follow the known unicorn folklore versus making up your own?

Janna: For this story’s folklore, I stuck with what Armand and René would “know” of unicorns for their time and place. Nowadays we tend to think of unicorns as sweet and gentle, but that wasn’t always the case—hence their fear. Stumbling across the Cheval Mallet was a fortuitous Wikipedia find (full disclosure: I work for the Wikimedia Foundation). There seem to be a few stories across cultures warning against getting on some random horse (kelpies, Cheval Gauvin, etc).

LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? What was the most fun?

Janna: I’ll be honest: this story started as a submission to an anthology with a very specific prompt, and was rejected. I was disappointed, because I had thought it would be a good fit. But I loved René and Armand, and couldn’t give up on them and their story, so I had to rework it without the anthology-specific element, which was significant. I doubted myself a lot, but kept going, and loved the eventual outcome.

The most fun was being with the characters and also being vicariously back in France. A few years ago, my sister and I were vacationing in Paris and made a day trip to Sedan, because I’m also really interested in the Franco-Prussian War. We saw the Meuse River there, so I was excited to bring that into the story.

LSQ: In your mind, does Orinda take the men to safety or to hell? Or, given their circumstances, is there really a difference, as the men seem to deliberate themselves?

Janna: Where do they end up? I’ll leave that to the reader!