Issue 047 Author Interview: J.M. Phillippe and “The Skulk”

You know what today needs? Another Issue 047 author interview. Good thing we just so happen to have one! Today’s spotlight is on J.M. Phillippe and her story “The Skulk“.

LSQ: Devlyn is terrified of Sael because he believes he is her servant. How does discovering he is her apprentice change their relationship?

J.M.: Devlyn starts the story with a very low opinion of himself, reinforced by this idea that his family has sort of abandoned him to this stranger—this terrifying, powerful stranger—because they can’t afford to keep him. When he realizes that Sael chose him to be her apprentice long ago, he sees himself in a much more positive light. He goes from feeling like a burden to feeling like he’s special. As he starts to see Sael as a mentor instead of a master, the power dynamic completely shifts, and he finally can see how much she cares about him. It lets Devlyn be hopeful about his future in a way that he wasn’t before.

LSQ: Your world is a richly magical one that contains many levels. When you imagined this world, what were the most important elements? Which were your favorite elements?

J.M.: It was important to build a setting that could look both imposing and beautiful so that the magic in my world could layer on top of it in a way that hopefully feels very natural. I loved creating a world with things that are both familiar and strange, adding a supernatural edge to animals that are already delightful, and throwing a mythical flower in among more common herbs. My favorite part was using Devlyn’s perspective and shifting feelings to show this same place as imposing, then mystical, and finally comfortable when he realizes it’s his home.

LSQ: Clever animal stories are always fascinating and the skulk sound just like the sort of allies an Apothecary would like to have. Were they based on a particular magic creature? Or just the wily reputation of the fox?

J.M.: I definitely built on the wily reputation of the fox to write “The Skulk.” I was looking up facts about foxes and learned that a group of foxes is called a skulk, which just sounded like something out of a fairytale to me, and inspired me to think about a magical version of the fox. Foxes are often shown as tricksters in legends and fairytales, sometimes malicious, sometimes benign, but always very clever. I wanted my version to have all those same attributes plus additional abilities, the kind of creatures that would be the perfect allies of a witch. I also wanted them to be somewhat unpredictable and with motives and desires of their own. I liked the idea that magic was something you win over and work with rather than demand or control, and the skulk in my story represent that.

LSQ: What are your favorite genres and concepts to write in?

J.M.: As a social worker, I was taught to put human behavior in the social environment, understanding how their environment impacts the choices people make. So as a writer, I love playing with the interaction between setting and character, how the places we occupy can change how we see other people and ourselves. The more fantastical the setting, the more there is for a character to react to and navigate. It’s why I love writing fantasy and science-fiction because it lets me imagine how human behavior can look when we change other elements. You can start with a very wild “what if…?” and then still find very relatable characters because they represent that greater thing that makes humans human, no matter what kind of world they live in.