Hello, readers! I’m excited to introduce you to Caroline M. Yoachim, prolific author of short speculative fiction. Her work has been widely published in the best journals and anthologies of our day, and her short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World and Other Stories, was just released from Fairwood Press to critical acclaim.
Caroline, please tell our readers more about the kind of stories they’ll find in your collection. What kinds of worlds should they expect, and what themes will they encounter?
In the introduction to my collection, Tina Connolly wrote that my stories are “dark but never hopeless,” which I really love as a description of my work. As a writer I try to evoke a sense of wonder–to create vividly imagined worlds and explore thought-provoking ideas. My collection includes a fairly wide range of stories (time travel, alien invasions, Japanese mermaids, etc), but there are definitely themes that I return to repeatedly.
My academic background is in Psychology, and I’m fascinated by the human mind. Several of my stories examine the nature of human identity. What defines us as individuals and makes us who we are? If we replace all the cells in our body, do we become someone new?
(For anyone interested, I did a detailed discussion of the theme of human identity in my collection for John Scalzi’s The Big Idea: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/08/16/the-big-idea-caroline-m-yoachim/)
There are several other themes that come up frequently in my fiction, some of which I hadn’t noticed until I put together my collection. Many of my characters undergo transformations. I often write about family relationships, and I have multiple stories dealing with loss and grief. I was also surprised the other day when I noticed how many of my stories prominently feature trees.
Wow. Yes, I noticed the love of trees in your collection (I love trees too!), and the family themes as well. Some of your stories deal with environmental themes, like “Honeybee” and “A Million Oysters for Chiyoko”, both of which took were breath-taking. What do you hope for readers to take away from these stories?
Ecosystems are beautiful and complex, robust in some ways but fragile in others. Many of my stories depict futures where the environment has been damaged–species have gone extinct, the chemical composition of the ocean has changed, sea levels have risen, etc. I try to create worlds that are broken, but still beautiful. Dark but not hopeless. I suppose what I want is for readers to see how precarious our situation is, and what the consequences might be.
Some of your stories have clever, unusual ways of dealing with time. When you play with time in your stories, what feeling are you hoping to leave the reader with?
Time is such a fascinating concept to play with. What happens if you alter the past? If you know the future? What would your conscious experience be like if you could step outside of time? My goal isn’t to answer any of these questions, but to give the reader something fun to think about.
I also think time travel stories are fun because you can get really convoluted loops. It’s like a puzzle trying to get all of the pieces to fit together properly so that the entire timeline makes sense. (This was particularly challenging in “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death.”)
Yes, I love how you worked time travel so cleverly in “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Love, Death”. Of all the stories in your collection, what is your favorite, and why?
Picking a favorite is hard, and I think I’d give different answers on different days! With that caveat. . . My favorite story in the collection (at least for today) is Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion. The aliens were fun to create (I love coming up with weird aliens), and I like the structure of the story (it is what I call a ‘flash-mash’ story, composed of five separate flash stories, each told from the perspective of a different character).
You are a master of the flash fiction form–known for both its power and brevity. Why do you love flash fiction, and what advice can you give to other writers of flash fiction for packing vivid complete experiences into such small spaces?
I’m all about the shiny new idea. Flash fiction is great because I get to jump from one idea to the next and read (or write) about a lot of different things! The key is to distill the story to its essence and trim away everything else. My flash stories often feature a cool idea (knowing the future, ghosts that collect things, giving away your body parts, etc) and some emotion that I want to evoke (bittersweet longing, hope, grief, etc).
In a flash story, it’s important to make every word count, especially at the very beginning of the story. I spend a lot of time getting the first paragraph of a flash story right–it’s important to set the reader’s expectations and get them grounded in the story. I always try to introduce the speculative element in the first paragraph (introducing the speculative element near the end can feel like a twist), and that’s also where I set the tone (if you put a humorous ending on a serious opening, the reader will often feel cheated).
Thanks for sharing your flash writing process with us. What inspires your writing? And who are your favorite authors?
I have a leaky brain. Everything going on around me–real world events and whatever media I consume–seeps into my brain, and then when I write whatever is on my mind tends to leak out onto the page (sometimes consciously and sometimes not). I expect I’ll be writing a lot of stories in the near future about the environment, civil rights, and standing up for what you believe in.
My favorite novel from last year was Death’s End, the third book in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. The scope of that book was amazing. (I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil anything for people who haven’t read it.) Some of my favorite authors include: Ken Liu, Octavia Butler, Ted Chiang, Maureen McHugh, Connie Willis, and Kelly Link.
What are you working on now? Will we see another collection from you soon? I hope so!
I’ve written six flash stories since the start of 2017, so writing-wise the year is off to a good start! I don’t have another collection in the works quite yet, but I do plan to keep writing short fiction, so hopefully I’ll be able to do a second collection sooner rather than later.
I’m also working on a middle grade novel which was inspired by my children’s fascination with garbage trucks. It’s an urban fantasy about a mixed-race girl who teams up with some junkyard pixies to fight a monster made of hazardous waste.
That sounds fantastic! Caroline, thanks for spending time with us today! It has been a pleasure.
Readers, please check out Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World and Other Stories. And connect with Caroline at the links below:
Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of over 70 short stories, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Lightspeed, among other places. Her work has been reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies and translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Czech. Last year her short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press. For more about Caroline, check out her website at http://carolineyoachim.com