Issue 049 Author Interview: Cindy Phan and “Alistair Catfish”

Talking fish and wishes gone bad: just another Tuesday on the LSQ blog! Join us as we chat with Issue 049 author Cindy Phan about her fairytale-inspired story “Alistair Catfish.”

LSQ: Okay, I have to say first that I’m so impressed with just how funny you managed to make this story. It was also sad, and a little terrifying in that ONE SPOT, oh my gosh, but the funny is the part that stuck with me. Is that something you worked at, or does it just come naturally into your writing?

Cindy: Thank you for saying such nice things about my story! And funny you should mention the funny in “Alistair Catfish”: lately my stories have taken quite a dark and serious turn, and I love it, but it is new and strange and is taking some getting used to.

Because generally, yes, my writing tends to veer into the more comical side things. It’s not something I actively work at; it just kind of happens that way and I just go with it.

Actually, humour and heartbreak, I think, are connected, often in some rather unexpected ways. Which is maybe why “Alistair Catfish” is, as you said, also sad and, yes, there’s that bit of terror in it!

LSQ: Wish-granting animals, including fish, pop up in a number of fairytales. Did you take inspiration from any one in particular?

Cindy: “The Fisherman and His Wife” has stuck with me since I first heard it as a kid. I think I was five? Maybe six. The covetous wife pushes the kind-hearted fisherman to make more and more outlandish wishes of the poor fish (a nice house, better clothes, more money, etc.) until the world is nearly brought to ruin.

And the Fisherman does it because, supposedly, of his kind heart, even though he knows that it’s causing the sea to churn and boil away. He’s not accountable for anything, we must sympathize with him because it’s the wife’s fault, and all that’s, well, fishy.

So in “Alistair Catfish” I explored how you can convince yourself of hoarding the things you believe you deserve and, of course, the things you convince yourself to do (i.e. that you “have” to do) in order to get them…things that, by the way, seem very conveniently to absolve you of the consequences in attaining them.

Oh! But my biggest take away as a kid and especially as I got older was very much, “OMG. You met a talking fish?!” A talking fish for real and look what you did.

LSQ: There’s a delicious parity to the ending of this story that I love. Did you start writing this knowing the ending you were working toward, or did it all fall into place over the course of writing it?

Cindy: I had an idea of where the story was going as I was writing it, and it was a lot of fun setting up the exact parameters for the wish making that Colin, covetous himself, was more than willing to navigate in order to procure wishes from Alistair Catfish.

But the rest of it was mostly vibes that fell into place as I went on to the ending. Colin getting what he threatened to give (as in mete out) to Alistair Catfish was a surprise, but seemed, if not entirely right, then at least fair enough for the time being.

Same as in life, fiction can be funny that way.