Issue 044 Author Interview: Wen-yi Lee and “The Mirror of Longing”

Today’s Issue 044 author interview takes us out of the showy spectacle of the Big Top and into a quieter, introspective side attraction. Here we find Wen-yi Lee’s “The Mirror of Longing.”

LSQ: People usually go to the circus to forget about their woes, but the people in your story have their longing shown to them in vivid detail. Why did you decide to juxtapose these two aspects of the circus?

Wen-yi: I’ve always felt that we want spectacle partly for some aspirational or projective quality—we want to feel like the world is more magical and grand than our real lives are. So I think there’s a longing that’s very inherent in seeking out spectacle.

Rather than being about the circus per se, the story ended up being about a single entertainer. I was thinking about how artists and celebrities spin this elaborate public face tailored to entertaining and engaging fans, and how that face has to seem authentic and intimate and personal, but ultimately we don’t actually know the real person behind it at all. That’s very much what the Mirror character is—she’s  projecting all these facades over herself that she knows people want to see, to the point where she’s sort of lost track of who she is beyond what they want her to be. She’s spent so long fulfilling other people’s longing that she doesn’t really know what she wants.

Additionally, the story inadvertently ended up a product of isolation and this time period. It’s like, we’ve had to leave the theaters and circuses and entertainment, and we’re suddenly in this bubble of forced introspection where it’s really just ourselves and our hopes and fears and anxieties magnified and reflected back at us.

LSQ: This story contains many stories within it. What are the challenges in having so many layers in such a short format?

Wen-yi: The story is sort of a circus itself in that sense; it cycles rapidly from one performance to the next. But ultimately it’s still one show, and the challenge was balancing all these different stories—letting them shine by themselves while not drowning out or being drowned out by any of the others. The shared emotions of longing and wonder were ultimately important in keeping a connective tissue between them while exploring the different ways longing and wonder might manifest.

LSQ: What was the most enjoyable part of writing this story and why? What was the most difficult?

Wen-yi: I had a lot of fun coming up with the fantasies of the various people that look into the Mirror. There was no form or plot or structure to it; I just let myself go buck wild with the imagery and the scenery and dropping all these fantastical sounding places.

The most difficult was probably doing all that and still grounding the story as a whole. I knew the story arc was hinging on the Mirror as a character, so trying to keep her present in the story while also going on all these wild tangents was a balance I had to try and strike. (One might also say it’s also thematically appropriate.)

LSQ: What drew you to this issue’s circus theme?

Wen-yi: I’d never written about a circus before! It just seemed like such an interesting world I would probably never have thought to explore otherwise. The circus to me always evokes this sense of huge, over-the-top wonder, and I was really interested in finding cracks in something that shiny, and locating the human side of spectacle.