We have a special treat for you, dear readers. We recently sat down and had a chat with Issue 037 author Kathryn McMahon about her short story “Green is for Wishes and Apples.” Enjoy!
LSQ: The setting for this story is a magical and somewhat spooky apple orchard. Why apples? Is there real-life inspiration for this setting?
Kathryn: Sort of. The idea for this story came from apple dolls themselves, and actually, the recipe and method that Abigail uses are fairly standard ones I discovered during my research (minus the magic, sadly!). Apples have long been associated with the supernatural, most obviously in the story of Adam and Eve, as well as Snow White. But when we hear about the color of magic apples, it’s only ever red, so I wondered if using green would make a difference. The farmers’ market in this story is a bit like the one near me in rural (and touristy) Washington State. I spend a lot of time between there and southwest England—both of which are apple country. What apple orchards look like varies depending on the region, age, and commercial value, and I really love the small ones on old family farms which seem to have the craggiest trees. Looking at them, I feel like there really could be magic bound up in their branches.
LSQ: This story creeped me out in the best possible way, especially the ending. What are your favorite elements of this story?
Kathryn: Probably the undead raccoon! I love raccoons. They have such uncanny, human-like hands. I don’t know why foxes get all the glory for being tricksters. On a broader note, something I set out to do was to upend expectations of familial love. I didn’t want to be overtly violent, but I did want to explore love at its most desperate while somehow still keeping it tender. I also wanted to take death and darkness and soften them through familiarity. I wanted to blur a lot of lines and I think I succeeded at that.
LSQ: You use suspense masterfully in this piece. What is your secret for giving readers that nail-biting feeling of anticipation?
Kathryn: Undermining expectations is one way to do it. A writer can’t unmoor a reader too much at the beginning or they risk losing them, but providing the sense that things are not quite right can hold the audience’s attention. It’s also important to drop hints of what’s to come so that when things appear “normal” a reader still senses the shadows edging closer. Here, I used backstory for foreshadowing. I think backstory gets a bad rap because it’s so often used as filler which makes it boring. But taking elements of backstory that are relevant (and if it’s a horror story these are elements that are usually unsettling or suspect as well as informative) and tying them into a present moment of calm can keep up the suspense as well as make the story richer and the ending more worthwhile.
LSQ: If you could do magic like the kind Abigail and her grandmother do, what would you do with it?
Kathryn: That is a dangerous question! I would live in a little house in the woods and amass an army of undead animals to carry out vigilante justice.
LSQ: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?
Kathryn: I try to read widely because I think writers can learn from every genre no matter where their own work might fall. I don’t know how much they’ve influenced me, but some of my favorites include Aimee Bender, Helen Oyeyemi, Gwendolyn Kiste, and Alyssa Wong.