Issue 039 Author Interview: Erin McNelis and “The Fire Wife”

Our current Issue 039 is up! Today we chat with Issue 039 author Erin McNelis about her story “The Fire Wife“. Check it out!

LSQ: One of the most wrenching aspects of this story is seeing a woman with so much power being stripped down to nothing. What were the challenges in writing this?

Erin: In the fantasy genre, and in literature in general, we read so many stories in which women have little or no power. In the case of fantasy, too many times they are hunted, their children are taken away, and then the main male character swoops in and saves them. While that is changing, we rarely get to experience the story from the woman’s point of view.

In the case of my character, Aruna, she has lost her magic, her freedom, her people, and her social status. It was challenging to take away her power. It felt wrong. We want to see female characters gaining power, not losing it. I took what women experience every day, a cutting down with a word or a look, and I tried to make sure that she wasn’t just a victim and that she wasn’t pitiful. Words are powerful, and when Aruna loses her ability to speak, she loses her power. Women get spoken over or misrepresented, and not heard, just as whole groups of people on a global level are silenced. Plus, she doesn’t win. It is difficult as the writer not to make things better for the characters you love. But that wasn’t the story I was telling.

LSQ: Stories aren’t required to have happy endings, and this one certainly doesn’t. Can you talk about what non-happy endings bring to a story?

Erin: Happy endings offer the reader answers to questions, and non-happy endings encourage readers to arrive at their own answers. The happy ending brings closure, and the story ends. Not many people wonder what happens to Cinderella after the big wedding. Non-happy endings allow readers to inhabit the story longer, leave readers with more questions, and create a capacity for empathy.

LSQ: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?

Erin: Everyone I read does, but that is too easy an answer, so I will try to be specific. Margaret Atwood is one of my writer heroes. She straddles the line of literary and science fiction, and she tackles subjects that are uncomfortable and edgy and gritty. Indira Ganesan was my professor in graduate school, and she taught me that a soft voice and subtle writing is not a detriment. We don’t all have to yell or be shocking to tell a good story.

I have read a lot of fantasy writers, like Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, and Brandon Sanderson, but they are predominantly men. That doesn’t mean that they haven’t influenced me. They have in many ways, but probably the biggest way they have is to encourage me that more female voices are needed in the genre. There are female main characters with tremendous power, but they are written largely by men, though that is changing. I wanted to speak for myself and tell the story my way, not necessarily taking the path laid by those who came before me.