Issue 049 Author Interview: Katherine Shats and “The Butterfly Eater”

Still hungering for more Issue 049 author interviews? Today Katherine Shats offers a different kind of cuisine with “The Butterfly Eater.”

LSQ: I just loved this story. It was moving and crass, hopeful and despicable, endearing and cynical all at once. I’d love to know where the idea for this story came from.

Katherine: Thank you! I love that description of the story. My partner and I were sorting through old papers and memories and decided that instead of keeping them locked away in a box, we would cut them out into butterfly shapes and suspend them on string on a large canvas. As I sat there for hours cutting up childhood diaries, photos, paintings, wedding invitations, my cat’s adoption papers and letters from my past, the idea of taking something from your inner world and putting it out into the universe started forming in my mind. Then I had fun taking it to a darker place, and playing with taste as a way to perceive (and enjoy) others’ pain, hope and desire.

LSQ: Were you set on butterflies as the medium of “spiritual access,” so to speak, from the start?

Katherine: I was quite set on butterflies, as they already represent hope, change and spiritual rebirth. But what I loved most was how fragile they are and the vulnerability and courage it would take to place your deepest hopes, dreams, pain and suffering into such a fragile creature and watch it fly away.  That, and while cutting out the physical butterflies, I’d get distracted and lose a whole wing or cut a butterfly in half, losing that piece of paper and the memory it represented forever. Much like in the story, once a butterfly carrying your hope flies away, you have no control over where it would end up – like with our butterfly eater.

LSQ: How did you decide how much information to give readers about Ted and the butterfly eater? I find myself wondering what’s happened to him since that first childhood wish and the present day, where he’s confronting the butterfly eater and yet…not quite confronting her.

Katherine: I ended up stripping these characters down to what was most important for the essence of the story in that one interaction. They both represent different sides of hope, cynicism and vulnerability. Ted is a believer, though perhaps a little naive, and has complete faith in the spiritual traditions of the festival, seeking to protect them at any cost. In his worldview, the only purpose and value lies in the butterflies reaching their destination, whether that be the Goddess or something else. Meanwhile, the Butterfly Eater completely dismisses their traditions, and crunches down on these already fragile butterflies like there’s no tomorrow. It’s such a contrast to everything Ted has ever known that mostly, he’s just shocked. I wonder, and perhaps some readers will as well, if she really is the cynical one after all, since she’s the only one that sees how the very act of coming to the festival and participating in the ritual is itself a precious expression of hope, regardless of where they end up. She also happens to find them particularly tasty.

LSQ: I really like the idea of releasing a little bit of the hope and fear and stress of life this way. If you could have one small magic like this be part of your life, what would it be?

Katherine: I do like the idea of having one small magic like this! Perhaps I would close my eyes and blow my hopes and fears and stress into a small cloud or bubble (cloud in a bubble?), and show it to those closest to me. They might see some hope and beauty that I couldn’t, and I would like to do the same for them.