Sunday 14 January 2024

Interview with Sarah Day

We are delighted to host on our blog a conversation with Sarah Day, author of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and many other flavors of speculative fiction. Her work is heavily influenced by festival culture, body modification, non-traditional relationships, and scary ghosts. Sarah has been published in PseudoPod, Underland Arcana, The Future Fire (see “The Heart of the Party”), and many other fine places. She lives in the SF Bay Area with her cat. Connect with her at Her novella, Greyhowler, is released today by Underland Press.

Rhia is a Courier, a transient messenger who freely travels the land without calling any town or port home.

The job suits her, for in a land ruled by the Temple, it is difficult to find your own way, especially when you have a Talent. Rhia's is water, and when she arrives in distant Cerretour to deliver a message, she finds a village wracked with suffering.

The well is dry. It hasn't rained. The only person who can save these villagers is missing. At night, a strange creature prowls the prairie. The villagers have a name for it: greyhowler.

The Future Fire: Greyhowler is both a story about freedom (from being tied to a place, from oppression) and being trapped (by secrets, by the past); can you tell us a bit more about how the story navigates these two seemingly contradictory states? Do you find a happy medium?

Sarah Day: I think a big topic in Greyhowler is illusion, or self-deception. Some of the major characters are trapped by the lies they tell themselves. Being trapped by their secrets, or their circumstances, is a side effect of self-delusion. I think this is how a lot of people are, honestly—we make choices that we believe are only from a sense of agency or self-determination, but we’re often reacting to influences and experiences in our history that we can’t escape, and maybe aren’t even aware of. 

Connecting our present-day actions to the experiences buried in our past can be a rich vein for personal development–and, in fiction, for plot and character work. For example, Rhia would love to only be a Courier and not have to address her upbringing in the Temple at all… but she can’t help the people in Cerretour without the skills she learned in her past. That’s where her inner conflict comes from, and it’s really fun to write. Some of my favorite parts of Greyhowler are where the characters lean hard one way, either rejecting their self-delusions or embracing them.

TFF: Do you already know what is going to happen in the next book in the series?

SD: I’ve written a couple of other books in this universe already; one about Rhia and her past, and one about two characters who don’t feature in Greyhowler at all. This universe is a land I visit when I want to write fantasy. I hope more of these books get to see daylight with an ISBN attached to them someday, but even if they don’t, I love the characters and have learned a lot from the experience.

TFF: Do you think that writing (and reading) speculative fiction—in particular fantasy that has sometimes been seen as pure escapism—can actually be an act of resistance?

SD: Absolutely! I think reading for “escapism” gets a bad rap, and that when we say we’re reading for escapism, we’re actually recharging our emotional batteries in a way that can contribute to our resilience. Charging the batteries is important for long-term fights.

I spent a lot of 2022 taking care of someone close to me who was going through cancer treatment. For a couple of months during chemo, all he wanted to do was watch YouTube videos of old boxing matches. Neither of us have ever been boxers or done any kind of martial art, so it’s not like we were watching for our education… but he found it galvanizing and encouraging. There was strong symbolic resonance for him to watch smaller guys take on larger guys and win—it was a clear metaphor for his fight against cancer. Was that pure escapism? I don’t think so.

TFF: Your short story “The Heart of the Party” both celebrates the anarchic joy of the free use of transformative technologies, and warns of its potential to aid in our repression by those in power. How do you see this tension?

SD: Speculative fiction uses imagined technology or magic to explore different manifestations of power. Exploring or subverting hierarchical power structures is something I write about a lot. Systems of power constantly seek to shore themselves up, to reinforce themselves. The Temple in Greyhowler and the state police apparatus in “The Heart of the Party” both require compliance and punish deviation with disproportionate severity, because the ability to punish with impunity is part of how they reinforce their legitimacy.

You might notice that the protagonists in both works are people who have a lot of privilege assigned to them by the dominant power structures and are trying to divest from those structures, with varying degrees of success. The theme of privileged people wrestling with the things they have but have done nothing to deserve, or trying to reconcile their privilege with others’ circumstances, shows up a lot in my writing.

TFF: Have you ever killed a character that you loved?

SD: Would I be a terrible person if I said I loved all my characters, even the bad guys? Every time one dies, I’ve killed someone I love. I don’t think I can write a believable character unless I can find them relatable somehow. I have to be a chameleon this way; each character I write has to have the strength of their own convictions. They might make terrible decisions, or do things I personally find morally indefensible, but have relatable motivations. Everyone’s morality is internally consistent. We’re each the hero of our own story.

At the end of Greyhowler, two characters discuss a third who has done terrible things, and whether actions like that can ever be understood or forgiven… I guess I think everything can be understood, even if it can’t be forgiven. To write a character well, I have to understand them, and by understanding them, I come to love them.

TFF: Thank you for being our guest, Sarah, we look forward to falling in love with the characters of the Greyhowler! Best of luck, and happy writing.

Greyhowler is out today, and can be bought here.

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