Issue 039 Author Interview: Diana Hurlburt and “The Devil and Dice”

Our Issue 039 has been making the rounds for a week now. Have you read it yet? If this is your first dip into the issue, why not peek first at Diana Hurlburt’s “The Devil and Dice“? Pairs nicely with Diana’s interview below, if we do say so ourselves 🙂

LSQ: Please tell us more about the carnivorous, fighting circus horses, the limerunners. Where did this concept come from? How do these beasts figure into the darker side of the carnival?

Diana: Limerunners first appeared in a project called “Eel and Bloom,” included in the Equus anthology. I wanted to create a native Florida water-horse similar to a kelpie, a creature that could act as a bridge between real-world horse racing and fairy-tale narrative stakes. Once the limeys appeared, of course they didn’t leave my head and I began to think about other uses humans would have for a carnivorous, semi-amphibious horse. Dog and cockfighting are mainstays of historic carnivals and other, modern “underground” entertainment, so a ring for fighting horses seemed intuitive. However, Dice’s idea for training a limey to dive from a platform has its roots in roadside Florida fixtures like Weeki Wachee and Atlantic City’s diving horses.

LSQ: Orca and Dice fall into their perceived/foretold futures of “good twin”/”bad twin” as they get older, but in a way that feels true to modern teen-aged girls. Can you comment on what it was like to write two different personalities as twins? Did you have a better “feel” for one versus the other, or asked another way, was one twin easier to write than the other?

Diana: When I started the story, I intended to have it solely be from the perspective of Orca, the “bad twin,” as I knew that her point of view would be important at the story’s end. However, overall the voice became more omniscient, dipping into the heads of Dice, the twins’ mother, and occasionally their religious leader. As a weird horse girl and “good” kid myself, Dice is more familiar, but Orca was a fun, cathartic character to create.

LSQ: The imagery of water and how it’s used as the route to Hell in Gibbs, Florida — please comment on this.

Diana: A weird water source almost always appears in my writing projects, whether spring, river, or sinkhole. Cross-culturally, water often functions as a liminal space; cenotes were perceived by the Maya to be gateways to the next world and sacrificial sites, while the Ganges is a crossing point for the living and dead and the Styx is a river of souls. Baptism and water burial are practices found across the world. Florida is completely undergirded by water, its aquifer stretching 100,000 miles, and the ultimate in Floridian Gothic is a sinkhole erupting where we’d rather it didn’t, with violent or humorous results. I wanted to create a modern regional myth with ancient global antecedents, a little bit of Orpheus and Eurydice and a little bit of The Violent Bear It Away. 

LSQ: Given past stories of yours in LSQ and your current racehorse industry-book newsletter, Readers Up, we know you’re into horses and have a history with the state of Florida, both of which show themselves in this story. Where did the rest of the details of this piece come from?

Diana: I’ve always been interested in cult doctrine and stories of fringe religious groups, whether real or fictional (a great recent example of the latter is Samantha Hunt’s Mr. Splitfoot). The mixture of entertainment, religion, and industry common to Florida and the South, as in the cases of megachurches and Scientology, provided fertile ground for a story intended to feel just this side of true. Pastor Papa is a sort of ur-Florida Man.

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

Diana: Setting is my favorite aspect of any story, and one I always lean on in hopes that the place feels like a character, with relationships to and effects on the human characters, so I paid a lot of attention to Gibbs. Since there’s a heavy motif of black-and-white/duality throughout, I wanted the major characters to feel a little murky–the twins’ mother Willa isn’t quite neglectful, neither Orca nor Dice truly fit their prophesied molds of good and bad–and I wanted that to be mirrored in their landscape and community. Gibbs is probably not the best place to grow up, but it’s part of the twins and they’re both fond of it. The spring into which the twins journey is ostensibly a pathway to Hell, but their interaction with the being they find there isn’t precisely traumatizing. Hopefully the story feels like a bildungsroman in miniature, with Gibbs being bad enough to run away from but good enough to return to.