Interview with K.T. Bryski author of “The Love it Bears Fair Maidens”

by on Aug 28, 2017 in Blog, Interviews | 0 comments

Originally published on our Patreon page in December of 2016.

Jason Sizemore: In “The Love It Bears Fair Maidens” you subvert the mythological purity of unicorns to great effect. Is there any inspiration you can discuss that gives the story such power?

KT Bryski: “The Love It Bears Fair Maidens” is partly a story about consent, but it’s also very much a story about asexuality. The increasing diversity in SFF is wonderful, but there isn’t much asexual representation yet. There is some—Karen Healey has written ace characters, for instance—but not much. Most stories still operate on the assumption that consensual, adult sexual relationships—in their various forms—are universally desirable. It’s like how we collectively assume that unicorns are pretty and sparkly and everyone wants to see one.

Well, not everyone likes unicorns. I suppose the main inspiration behind “The Love It Bears Fair Maidens” was the desire to show an asexual narrative as equally valid. That self-doubt and assumption of brokenness isn’t uncommon, I’m afraid, and I wanted people to understand that, a little. Unicorns just happened to be a really, really apt metaphor.

JS: At no point does the narrator plays coy with the story’s symbolic phallic representation of the unicorn’s horn.

For example: “Maybe it’s black, maybe white, or maybe even gold. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the horn is very long, very thick, and very hard.”

Was it difficult to leverage the forcefulness of this symbolism as emotional fuel against the real possibility of simply being too blunt?

KTB: I was frequently nervous that I’d gone too far. This was definitely a story that scared me, and I did have the urge to tone it down: to rephrase and sidle away…

But I want every story to scare me, in some way. If you’re scared, you’re writing beyond your comfort zone. And in the end, I had to trust the voice of the story: this bitterly sarcastic, exasperated, crass narrator. When a character (even unseen and unnamed) speaks that strongly, you listen.

JS: There is a lot of talk these days of “safe spaces” referenced in a derogatory manner. But there’s a moment in your story where your maiden protagonist has fled home seeking respite from the demands of others, and yet she hears her parents’ voices through the floorboards saying:

“At least she’s a good girl.
It’s past time, though.
Was it something we did?”

Do you think certain fairy tales feed into the misunderstanding of “safe spaces” for people? 

KTB: First, let’s talk about “safe spaces.” Back in my misspent youth, “safe spaces” (or “positive spaces,” as they’re more frequently labelled up here) simply meant a space where hate speech and/or exclusivity were not tolerated. I think people do still use that working definition, but “safe space” does seem to be taking on connotations of spaces wherein dissension and discomfort are not tolerated.

I do not think that anyone, ever, should be made to feel unsafe. However, there is a difference between feeling unsafe and feeling uncomfortable, and I think that’s the distinction that’s been lost.

Looking to fairy tales, I’m not sure if they feed into this misunderstanding of “safe spaces,” but I do observe that when fairy tale heroes and heroines feel comfortable, the story is generally not progressing. Donkeyskin might be relatively safe working in the palace kitchens—but what does she learn, if she stays there forever? Who does she become? What if Bluebeard’s wife lived in comfortable ignorance of what lay behind the locked door? What if our maiden never went to face the unicorn?

The deep, dark woods are not a safe space. They are not even a comfortable space. But if you don’t brave the trees when you have to, you won’t reap the boons on the other side.

JS: When your story was published, on Twitter Apex Magazine reader Holly Berry (@hollylynwalrath) brought up the issue of trigger warnings. Do you feel that trigger warnings add a stigma to a story?

KTB: No, I don’t. As Holly wisely said, the reader has a right to know what they’re getting into, particularly if it’s a context in which one might not expect disturbing content. I actually gave myself a trigger warning earlier this year, for one of the episodes in my podcasted audio drama Six Stories, Told at Night. I could see how the content might be upsetting, and so a warning seemed appropriate. To my mind, effective trigger warnings function like the rating systems for video games and movies—a courteous heads-up about the content therein.

That said, while the reader has the right to know if a story contains potentially disturbing material, they also have a responsibility to manage their reaction to it. It’s like allergies, in some respects: I’m allergic to wasps, so while I don’t demand the obliteration of every nest, I’m very careful when I know they’re around.

In sum: appropriately-deployed trigger warnings are courtesies, not condemnations.

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