Shimmer #20 Interview: Jenn Grunigen

Author Jenn Grunigen
Author Jenn Grunigen

Tell us a little about how “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” came to be.
Sometimes, I find story origins difficult to pinpoint, because they’re often a convergence of too many ideas (or emotional spurs) to reliably recall in whole (it’s also possible that my memory likes to play and seek/I’m forgetful).   But when I think of “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” I think of two things: progressive metal, and consumption.

Consumption, because I worry about losing myself.  Relinquishing myself to other people.  It’s the paranoid fear of someone who’s inexorably, obsessively herself, yet sometimes also someone who breaks and drifts.  I am very much me, but those obsessive tendencies that make up my me-concentrate, my undiluted self, occasionally turn outward — and in turn, stretch me with their inverted gravity.  Their dark energy.

In other words, “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” is me.  And it is not.

I think of progressive metal, because I listened to Opeth’s album “Ghost Reveries” nonstop while writing the story.   “Ghost Reveries” draws up a  grim, yet elegant, yet tragic and feral, world from its marshy heart—all things that tend to shove me into a state of furious quilldriving, so I think “Ghost Reveries” inherently contained my own personal story-bones.   If I could call upon a single musical catalyst for  “The Seaweed and the Wormhole,” I might mention the song “Beneath the Mire.”  But in the end, it’s only a piece of the spine.

You write poetry as well, and “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” has a lyrical, almost epic quality. Do you think writing poetry has affected how you write fiction?
Yes.  Yes, a million times.  When I write, no matter what I’m writing,  the rhythm has to feel right in my gut.  The words have to be right definitively, and intuitively.  Words should slosh around the reader’s throat, functioning as surface-level scum, bright and compelling as duck weed, but deep enough that the reader can plunge their head under and get more from the story.  This is often how it is in poetry, each word carrying a thousand times more weight than the simple poundage of its letters.   Obviously, my stories have more room to breathe, but I try to shape them with a similar poetic density.

However,  the choices I make are because I’m a drummer as much as because I’m a poet.   My poetself, my drumself, my storyself—all these parts of me are too tangled to pull apart .  Obviously, I’m to blame for this.  But you could also point a finger at my education, though that would ultimately still be dumping the blame on me (which I’m totally fine with), because I (with the help of a number of wise professors) designed my own degree: Percussive Wordcraft and Narrative Drumming, which was basically an interdisciplinary study of words and rhythm, and their power over storytelling.

Have you ever been to a swamp? If not, and you could go to one, which swamp would you visit?
I have, though none quite like the one in “The Seaweed and the Wormhole,”  which is a swamp of the North American south — which is exactly the kind I would visit, if given the chance.

Why drums?
I suppose my answer to that question turns on the context of the question.  My current self would say I find them more evocative, more wild and cut-loose, than any other instrument.   They just feel right.  The percussive cosmos contains infinite pieces and endless exploration,  because just about anything can become a drum.  I also find that drumming appeals to both my primal core self, and my single-minded, obsessive and frighteningly driven and organizational side. I like to drum with chaos, and a fuckton of thunder, but I also find a lot of pleasure in repetition, hemiolas, odd time signatures, polyrhythms,  and metronomic practice (aka, pleasurable torture).

But if the question was directed to my nine-ish year-old self?  No idea.   Possibly all the reasons I already mentioned drove me to percussion instinctively.  But maybe I just wanted to terrorize my parents (and at first, they were a little terrified of the, uh, noise; with time, however — and much patience on their part — I think I’ve, hopefully, shown them the finer subtleties of hitting things, even (especially!) as a metal drummer).

Can you explain a little about the kind of music you play – its inspiration and sound?
I play in a number of bands/projects, but the main one is Moss of Moonlight.  We call ourselves neofolk metal, a sound that attempts to evoke the earth both viscerally and narratively (especially our bioregional home of Cascadia). There’s a lot of shadow and unshaped force to be heard, which I suppose is to be expected of a band that also has one foot dug firmly into the muck of black metal (its new earth-based evolution, and never it’s always outdated face of bigotry, hatred, racism, etc).  But it’s not all growls, blastbeats and speedpicking; our music contains just as much subtly, quiet tension, peace, and — believe it or not — raw joy.  Sometimes (oftentimes, actually), we even forsake the growls for singing.

Have you ever played any other instruments? If you could, which would you most like to learn to play?
I play a lot of percussive instruments besides the drum set (though not always well), but outside that giant sphere, no, not really.  I can pretend to play piano—horribly.  I also pretend at singing, with slightly better results.

But if I were to choose another instrument to play, however….hm.  I’d like to say I’d pick an instrument less recognized, a little off the beaten path — like a  bone flute, or a prillar horn — but I already know I’d go with the bass.  A good bass player can jerk my emotional heartstrings occasionally even better than a good drummer (good drummers sometimes just make me jealous, ha!).  I like feeling music in my gut — the bass is pretty damn good at achieving that, and I’d like to take that power into my own hands.  Next up after the bass would probably be the hammered dulcimer.




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Speculative fiction for a miscreant world

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