Interview With Alex Dally MacFarlane

Alex Dally McFarlane
Alex Dally McFarlane

Alex Dally MacFarlane ( lives in London, where she is pursuing an academic life. When not researching, she writes stories, found in Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, and The Other Half of the Sky. She is the editor of Aliens: Recent Encounters (Prime Books).  Her story “Out they come” appears in Issue #17, though she’s been published in Shimmer before in the Spring 2008 issue.

Tell us how “Out They Come” came about.
It started with a Google image search for foxes in medieval illuminated manuscripts.  I found one of a woman with what looked like a fox falling out her mouth.  Either that or she was playing it like bagpipes.  I shared it on my blog, adding: “She speaks of them so often, out they fall!”  and then my friend Brooke Bolander and I got to talking about how it should become a story.  We both wound up writing one.

Mine started with the idea that an injustice had been done to a woman, Stey, and the foxes she vomited up would help her fight against it.  It took realising that I wanted to write about sexual assault to get the story really going.  “Out They Come” is about anger, and it’s not a nice story: it’s not about things getting better, it’s about feeling that they never will.  Anger is something that some people like to suggest is a choice: “Why are you so angry?” or “You’d feel a lot better if you weren’t so angry.”  Well, I would, and I wouldn’t choose anger if it was a choice.  It’s not.  It’s overwhelming, sometimes, when some people suggest that sexual assault isn’t a big deal.

I also enjoyed writing about someone vomiting up foxes.

If you want another story about a woman vomiting up foxes (and why not?), go read Brooke’s “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring” in Lightspeed.  It was pretty interesting to see the different directions we went with the idea, as well as what the stories have in common.

You write both prose and poetry; how are they similar? How do they differ?
I’m going to start by quoting myself, from a roundtable in the poetry zine Stone Telling: “I like the poetic potential for voice — for direct speech or song. Due to the length I tend to work with in poetry (much shorter than my prose), it can be a very precise, very pointed voice, a direct statement or exclamation or confrontation. There’s no reason that prose can’t be or contain this too, but for me, poetry is a way to whittle down to this direct voice, to make it the only thing — to amplify it by way of having nothing else around it. To make it loud and impossible to ignore.”

That’s poetry.  I aim to do something similar with prose, on a far bigger scale: “Out They Come” is direct and confrontational and full of voice, but it’s longer.  My story “Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” in Strange Horizons is over 6,000 words of this, encompassing a wide range of subject matters.  Voice and precision are as important to me in prose as they are in poetry.  With prose, I have more words and can say a lot more.  With poetry, it’s more focused.

Why foxes?
Why indeed.  I think people are starting to notice that I like them.  I’ve always liked foxes: some of my earliest favourite characters were Tails from the Sonic the Hedhehog cartoons, Robin Hood in the Disney adaptation, Fox McCloud in Lylat Wars (Starfox 64 in the US). I never set out to write stories about foxes, and for years I didn’t.  Then several of my recent stories were specifically inspired by foxes (“Feed Me the Bones of Our Saints” and an unsold one both inspired by a prehistoric burial of a fox and a person, “Out They Come” by the medieval manuscript illustration, an unsold science fiction one by badly taxidermied foxes) and they seem to have crept into a lot of the rest like crafty critters.

What is currently in your cd player/iTunes/Spotify/8 Track?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens lately, because I find his music very soothing – useful when I’m stressing about essays for my MA.  He also has the best titles.  “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!” is my favourite (and there’s a gorgeous instrumental version of it by FourPlay String Quartet), but I’m also rather fond of “They Are Night Zombies! They Are Neighbours! They Have Come Back From The Dead! Ahhhh!”

What is your favorite Bradbury story/novel?
I’ve never read any Bradbury.


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