Issue 049 Author Interview: Agnieszka Hałas and “The Best Pierogi in Kocierba”

Grab a snack, dear readers, because today’s Issue 049 author interview is going to make you hungry! We’re talking with Agnieszka Hałas about her story “The Best Pierogi in Kocierba“.

LSQ: There are so many layers to this story, it’s hard to know where to start. I suppose I should first confess that I looked up glass mountains as soon as I finished this story, just in case I was missing something so geologically exquisite. How did you get the idea for this story?

Agnieszka: The original story about the Glass Mountain (the one told by Mira, where the hero is a ragged but resourceful student who uses lynx claws to climb) is an old Polish fairy tale. I’ve known it since childhood, and it’s the kind of story that just asks to be rewoven into something
new. Paweł’s story crystallized in my mind after some beautiful summer hikes in the Low Beskids in southeastern Poland, where pierogi stuffed with mashed potatoes and quark cheese are a very popular (and tasty) dish.

LSQ: Paweł makes a number of deprecating comments about fairy tales early in the story, but by the end he has a, at least metaphorical, change of heart. How did you decide what Paweł should take seriously, and when? Did his arc evolve as you wrote the story, or did you begin it knowing exactly where you wanted it to end?

Agnieszka: I wrote the Polish version of the story back in 2017, so I don’t remember precisely how the pieces came together in my mind, but I’m 99% sure that I knew from the outset how it would end. The idea is that Paweł was raised to think that life won’t ever let you follow
your dreams, and this has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now he’s stuck in a rut, so to speak, without much hope. But deep down inside he’s a dreamer, and it only takes one conversation, one push to give him confidence, because he has always wanted to climb a ‘real’ glass mountain, i.e. build a happy life for himself, not just an existence.

LSQ: I would love for Mira to actually be the magical being that Paweł suspects she might be by the end. If she were part of the fairy tale of the princess and the glass mountain, who would she be?

Agnieszka: I intentionally left Mira’s identity unsaid. She isn’t any specific being from the broad Slavic repertoire of magical creatures. My suggestion is that long ago, Mira might actually have been the princess from the Glass Mountain tale. In that tale, she’s a symbol/archetype: she embodies a dream, a prize to be won, and motivates heroes to act. Thousands of years later she’d absolutely know the value and price of following one’s heart. Alternatively, if you prefer, Mira might be one of those wise fairies that give advice to the lost, show up at christenings to offer gifts, and so on.