Tuesday 6 June 2023

Micro-interview with Carina Bissett

Carina Bissett, author of “Between Scylla and Charybdis” in The Future Fire #65, joins us for a quick chat about monsters, her story and other current work.

TFF: What does “Between Scylla and Charybdis” mean to you?

Carina Bissett: I’ve always been familiar with the myth of Scylla and Charybdis, but it wasn’t until I read “Dogs Below the Waist” in Jess Zimmerman’s Women and Other Monsters that I really gave Scylla’s origin story much thought. Among other things, Zimmerman explores the cultural obsession with female bodies. Circe poisons Scylla’s pool out of jealousy—never mind that Scylla has no interest in the man who is Circe’s object of desire. (On a side note, the trope of women taking out other women is one that I despise. The patriarchy loves to promote the idea of women being enemies, so I decided to change the end of the story and let Scylla and Charybdis plot world domination together as allies instead keeping them in place as plot devices for the stories of heroic men and jealous women.)

Scylla—who fled an overly aggressive male and was seeking the safety of her home—finds herself ambushed and transformed into a monster. She cannot escape her monstrosity, the vicious dogs attached like a girdle around her waist, and so she hides in cliffside caves where she later witnesses Charybdis’ transformation. And what did Charybdis do to deserve being chained to the ocean floor by Zeus? She was hungry and dared to satisfy her appetites. So, you have a woman who was condemned because her beauty incited lust and another who dared to satisfy her hunger. Of course, they were punished. Society demands it, something I’m all too familiar with.

For most of my 20s and 30s, I lived in that liminal space between Scylla and Charybdis. At any moment, I could have shared their fates. I lived in constant fear of veering off course. I tried to be pretty and thin and quiet and complacent. Don’t rock the boat. That story. I’m older now, and with age I’ve started to question the beliefs I lived with for most of my life. Why did I spend so much energy trying to win a gamed system? Why did I believe my only power was in submitting to the male gaze? Why are women still refused the right to revel in their own monstrosity? These days, I find myself stepping away from cultural expectations on a regular basis; I notice other women are doing this as well. And I can’t help but wonder what power we might wield once we join together against those who have worked so hard to keep chained. I hope to find out.

TFF: What are you working on next?

CM: I’m currently revising a novel about monstrous women set in 1917 Chicago. This work-in-progress is an exploration of female relationships and the dynamics of power in a patriarchal world, which seems more important now than ever. In addition to work on the novel, I’m also preparing for the release of my debut short story collection Dead Girl, Driving and Other Devastations, which is scheduled to come out early next year with Trepidatio Publishing. Many of the stories in this collection also delve into the territory of monstrous characters and the choices they make. It is a theme I continue to explore in an effort to deconstruct gendered expectations and societal norms. I believe the traditional feminine powers of youth and beauty only go so far. I am more interested in the power women have when they lift each other up and work together to create change. Everything I write tends to be an extension of that.


He came to me at the seashore
an avowal of love on his lips
pursed to lick salt from skin revealed,
ocean spray frothing, white
foam furrowing, folded
around his piscine tail.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/04/new-issue-202365.html.