I think there’s a sort of connection to the kinds of stories I write now and the fantasy romps I threw together when I was a teenager. I didn’t really become a reader until I started college. Poetry was pretty much inaccessible to me in the 90s and the early 2000s, so when I wrote, it was all fiction, fantasy. Stories, I think, that a fourteen-year-old who’s read a few chapters of Lord of the Rings could make up with little outside reference to the literary world. So, I’ll bet there’s some connection to my childhood there, why I write what I consider fantastical stuff.
My story in Sonora is—maybe—only partly fantastical, anyway. Sheila Williams of Asimov’s Science Fiction told me my story wasn’t science-fictional at all. Maybe it isn’t—if it’s absurdist or surrealist or whatever you want to call it, that’s fine. But I don’t think deep-sea aquariums exist yet, so the speculative element stands, and I (think I) love the speculative because my psyche is built around stuff I’ve never seen before, and most of my memories of childhood. For instance, a swamp monster exhibit in the big New Orleans aquarium, a child’s sock in its hand, might not even exist.
How does this published piece fit in with the larger thematic concerns that you see in your overall work?
Most of the speculative stories are about animals and our interactions with animals. I really want to write about animals, give stories to animals and nature, without making the animals a metaphor for some human behavior. That’s pretty much all the exhibits in “Periphylla” do, but I really want to try to get away from that, if possible, and still write a good story where non-humans have agency.
What are you influenced by?
Television documentaries. BBC specials. A lot of what I know about some of the creatures described in my story is directly inspired by an episode of Planet Earth.
I also owned a moon jellyfish for a little while. There’s not a lot to keeping a jellyfish alive, but for someone who’d never been interested in having an aquarium (because, in my opinion, they’re very depressing), the act of doing more than dropping food into the bowl was special. To feed the jellyfish, I had to mix brine in a cup with water from the tank, stir it, and inject the food into the underside of the jellyfish. This was a twice-a-day thing, and when I was doing food injections I spent a lot of time thinking about aquariums. And then, when the jellyfish eventually came of age and started to wither away, as they do when you fuck up and the ammonia levels get too high, I felt the same emotions I’d have felt had I broken off a close friendship.
What does your typical writing schedule look like? What aspects of working do you look forward to? What aspects frustrate you?
I’m frustrated that I don’t really have a steady writing schedule, and I look forward to having one.
Really—my biggest frustration as a writer is that I feel the writing is work when I schedule my writing time. It’s when I don’t have the time to sit down and write that I’m the most excited to write. So while I’d love to say I draft from 8-10 in the morning before going to teach, or during office hours on slow days, the most writing gets done late at night when (if) all the other work is over, between students at my tutoring job, or when classes cancel (hurricanes, tornadoes, sheens of snow).
What I really look forward to in writing is revision. I can finish a first draft and not care. I used to hate revising. I didn’t know how to put a piece down and let it simmer.
For fun, if you could pick one meal that matches the piece we published, what would it be and why?
I’m not sure—maybe grilled jellyfish? This story aside, one of my favorite foods is a throw-together recipe a coworker taught me: boil some lentils, mix in taco seasoning, add cheese. I never left my college days.
GARRETT ASHLEY is a student in the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work has appeared in Yemassee, Asimov‘s, Analog, and Smokelong Quarterly, among other places. He’s looking for a good home for his longer work.