Friday, October 7, 2022

Q&A with Addie Tsai



Addie Tsai is the author of the new novel Unwieldy Creatures, a recasting of the Frankenstein story. They also have written the young adult novel Dear Twin, and their work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Foglifter and VIDA Lit.

Q: What inspired you to write this retelling of Frankenstein?


A: Many writers have that one book that they're haunted by, that calls to them, for much of their life/career.


Mary Shelley's inimitable classic has always been that for me, since I first encountered it in a Romantics Lit class in college, which would, ironically enough, make me the same age that Shelley was herself when she first penned her harrowing tale of the scientist and his creation.


I connected initially to Frankenstein in, perhaps, a less expected way than many of its fans. As an identical twin, I was struck by the way Shelley creates a magnetism (both drawn towards and repelled by) with Frankenstein and his Creature.


As twinned, as a victim of maternal abandonment, and as Other (not only biracial, but having come of age in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when biraciality was still greatly stigmatized, fetishized, and invisibilized), further complicated by my ambivalence in my home language (English) as well as the language I was surrounded by most often but never taught (my father's Mandarin), I connected deeply to the Creature's origin story--not only the neglect he felt from his own parent but also the mechanisms he used to survive and acquire language when no one was around to offer it to him.


Finally, I was struck by the epistolary narrative structure of Frankenstein, a mode that has always inspired me, a connection I also relate to having been born twinned, in a constant dialogue with an other since birth.


I've always wondered about telling Frankenstein from a minoritized, queer perspective, one that addressed whiteness and gender in a more subversive way than Shelley's original.


As IVF (in vitro fertilization) became more accessible, and as I witnessed members of my community far and wide experience the complex advancements and complications of these new reproductive technologies, I began to feel this was the perfect cultural moment to retell Shelley's cautionary tale regarding reproduction, creation, and technology.


Additionally, as psychological and personality disorders began to enter into the mainstream conversation, I also wondered what would happen if we began to look at Victor's narcissistic urges from the lens of a different gender.


In this new recasting, I wanted to see white masculinity not as expected, but as intentional choices within the narrative. Finally, I was interested in how this could be a story that ended, not in tragedy, but in reckoning and love. 


Q: How was the novel's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The novel had a different title initially, one that wasn't as clearly connected to the larger Frankenstein narrative.


A writer early on suggested that I change the title, and I began to study which adjective I used most often to describe the characters, as well as the circumstances of their plight as well as their relationship to themselves.


Unwieldy resurfaces again and again and I think, in one way or another, you can see each character in the novel as an “unwieldy creature,” in both positive and complicated ways. 


Q: In an introduction to an interview with you for Electric Literature, Monica Macansantos writes, “Tsai brings to our attention an aspect of Shelley’s Frankenstein that has become overlooked, and that is our ability as a human race to love and care for beings that fall outside society’s norms.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: For me, this is what I wanted to highlight in this retelling, to use the novel to consider love in more expansive ways.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a few projects at the moment; one is a graphic YA novel in verse and another is a creative nonfiction project. I'm also about to begin the process of editing an anthology for LGBTQIA+ teens writing on fashion, for Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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