Issue 040 Author Interview: Emilee Martell and “Nora’s Potion Jar”

Hello, dear readers, and welcome to our latest chat with an Issue 040 author. Today we talk with Emilee Martell about her story “Nora’s Potion Jar.”

LSQ: This issue’s theme is “potions and poisons.” What drew you to this theme, and why choose a little girl as a protagonist?

Emilee: I was drawn to this issue’s theme because it seemed to lend itself so well to fantasy, a genre that I wanted to explore more in my short stories. I actually first wrote a story that focused on the “poison” part of the theme, which predictably ended up full of murder and mayhem. I decided it wasn’t a good fit for Luna Station, though. I tried to write a new story on theme, but kept hitting a wall. Finally, a certain Tumblr post reminded me of a great way to tie in the “potion” theme: the near-universal experience of going out into the yard as a five-year-old to concoct a magic brew out of whatever happened to be laying out in the grass. The reversal from a dark murder story to a lighthearted child’s fantasy turned out to be just what I needed.

LSQ: What are the challenges in writing a story about a child without it turning too childish for an adult audience?

Emilee: I’ll admit I was anxious about this! There’s certainly still a campy, warm-and-fuzzy, “the magic was inside you all along!” element to the story. But I tried to make that feel genuine, like a special moment in Nora’s life, instead of a tired trope. Overall, I wanted to write the way a child thinks: straightforward and laser-focused – at least when they’ve given themselves a job. It doesn’t occur to Nora that this anything other than serious business.

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

Emilee: For this story in particular, I actually thought a lot about Calvin and Hobbes, which was a great favorite of mine growing up, and its creator, Bill Watterson. Like Nora, Calvin has fantastical adventures that, for him, are just part of his everyday life. I read somewhere that the magic of Calvin and Hobbes came from Watterson’s utter commitment to the world he crafted in this comic; the characters never break the fourth wall, never speculate about why they do what they do. Watterson never blinks. That was what I was trying to replicate in “Nora’s Potion Jar”: a kind of colorful whimsy that’s only prevented from being cutesy by the fact that to the protagonist, it’s pretty mundane.

LSQ: Are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about your other projects?

Emilee: I always have a long list of projects! Right now, I’m trying to find a home for the above-mentioned murder story, and finish a very strange nonfiction piece about how Asian raccoon dogs nearly became an invasive species in the American Midwest. But I’ve had to put my short fiction on the back burner for the moment: I’m in Pitch Wars and madly revising an adult sci-fi novel through February. It’s about a social worker, a gang lord, and a government agent uncovering magic and corruption in a high-tech city, and needless to say, it is not nearly as lighthearted as “Nora’s Potion Jar” – though it has its moments!