Rachel Swirsky: Frankly, your fashion is amazing. I would be happy to listen to you talk about it in whatever way you want. If you’d like some prompting – what’s the basis of your aesthetic? How do you find clothes?
Brooke Bolander: Thank you so much! Man, I don’t know if I have an aesthetic per se so much as I just try to find whatever works for me, and what apparently what mostly works for me is loud, shiny, and more often than not vintage. There was a time when I dressed low-key, because I was trying to more or less blend in with the background. It didn’t work. I have never been good at blending in. I only evolved into my current sense of fashion, for what it’s worth, when I accepted that and started wearing the loudest shit I could find in the store.
Besides the cardinal fashion compass of “What Would Bowie Wear?” (WWDBW), my process is mostly going into vintage clothing stores and rooting around until I find the most ridiculous thing, at which point I will say “this is utterly ridiculous and will never work on anybody, let alone me” and then I try it on and it inevitably works. Last time it was a sequined jumpsuit. You also can’t go wrong with effectively cosplaying concepts of things, ie “today I am going to stealth dress as a tree/dinosaur/book.”
RS: Your Wikipedia page informs me that you spent time in college studying archaeology. How has that influenced your writing? (and/or what’s the weirdest thing you learned which hasn’t made it into common knowledge?)
BB: That was actually one of the earliest points at which I started getting the urge to write original fiction. I had dabbled in fanfiction before, but sitting in class studying the Mesolithic in particular–a very interesting period in human development well before we actually started writing stuff down–put questions in my head. Why was this woman buried with a swan’s wing? Why was this one wearing a golden prosthetic eye? History is full of mysteries, and mysteries want to be explained. Sometimes that involves making stuff up. Call it historical fanfic, if you like.
I think the coolest thing we read about in my degree was St. Bees Man. “St Bees Man” was the name given to a knight by the name of Anthony de Lucy who died in 1360. He was buried in a priory in Cumbria. His coffin was sealed in lead, which, combined with the bitumen-soaked shroud his body was wrapped in, created an anaerobic environment that preserved him almost perfectly for the next 600 years. When the University of Leicester exhumed the corpse in 1981 his cheeks were still pink, there was still blood in his body, his irises were intact, and his stomach contents were preserved almost perfectly. 600 years! You can find the photos online if you poke around, and they are amazing, if pretty gruesome.
RS: In another of your short stories that I like, you write about Laika the dog who was sent into space. Laika was the first living being to be launched into Earth orbit. It was onboard the Soviet satellite Sputnik 2 in 1957. It was always understood that Laika would not survive the mission, but her actual fate was misrepresented for decades. (If you’ve seen Bojack Horseman, by the way, the show features intelligent, humanoid animals, and I really liked that, in their universe, the first woman in space was Laika.) What about Laika pulled at you? Are there other stories about the experiences of real, historical animals which have tugged at your imagination?
BB: Laika was a sacrifice and the tragedy of that haunts me. The scientists working on the project knew she most likely wouldn’t survive, unlike most of the dogs in the space programme that came later like Strelka and Belka, but her survival was never a primary concern. She was a street dog acquired from the pound because they figured strays would be best equipped to handle the harsh conditions that might result from being shot into space, and she just … got unlucky. She won the anti-jackpot. You get to be the first Earth animal in orbit, but also you die alone! Cool cool. We’re sort of bred dogs to be the perfect victims and this is like the depressing culmination of that layer of our relationship with them.
I seem to be doing a series on historical animal tragedy as a throughline of my career. “Sun Dogs” was the first. Since then, I’ve published The Only Harmless Great Thing (partially about Topsy, the elephant electrocuted at Coney Island in 1903 whose death was recorded & distributed by the Edison Film Company as Electrocuting an Elephant) and No Flight Without The Shatter, which features Benjamin the last surviving thylacine & Martha the last passenger pigeon as lead characters. I guess it’s a trilogy at this point.
RS: I’ve only asked you questions about your very early work — because that’s when I was reading all the time! What silly questions should I be asking you about your more recent stories?
BB: No question is silly! But if you were inclined and asked me where to acquire my most recent work, I’d point to Apex’s “Do Not Go Quietly” anthology that just came out this very month (I have a Little Match Girl retelling in that one) or to Tor.com (which featured “No Flight Without The Shatter” last year & published The Only Harmless Great Thing, my very first book-shaped object, in January 2018).
RS: What projects are you currently working on?
BB: Forever and always my novel, but I’m very much hoping to finally have a draft of that done by the end of 2019. Otherwise I’ve got a short piece coming out with Lightspeed later on in the year, and am currently putting the finishing touches on another story I’ve pitched as “Drive meets Spirited Away.” We’ll see if that one turns out as silly as it sounds.