Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Q&A with Lindsay Starck




Lindsay Starck is the author of the new novel Monsters We Have Made. Her other work includes the novel Noah's Wife. She lives in Minneapolis.


Q: What inspired you to write Monsters We Have Made, and how did you create your character Sylvia and her daughter Faye?


A: Although the idea for the novel was initially inspired by the Slender Man stabbing that took place in 2014 just outside Milwaukee (where I grew up), my story soon diverged from that crime and took on a life of its own.


The questions I was most interested in exploring included: What happens to a family, to a marriage, when a child commits such a crime? In this era of online avatars and virtual realities, what are the boundaries of our fictions, and what do we do when they cross those boundaries and enter the world?


And once I started writing, I discovered that many other literary monsters were haunting my manuscript: Susan Cooper’s The Boggart, Frankenstein’s monster, Goethe’s Erl-King, and the fairy-tale creatures recorded by the Brothers Grimm, to name a few.


Sylvia and Faye are characters who are also shaped by these stories. Sylvia’s name refers to the “woods” where so many fairy tales take place, and “Faye” is a word related to “fairy,” and therefore to “magic” and “enchantment.”


I wanted Sylvia to be loving and fierce, and Faye to be independent, imaginative; but it took me many drafts before I really got to know them, and even now, there are elements of them that remain mysterious to me. 


Q: The writer Ariel Djanikian called the book a “riveting journey into the bright and terrifying landscape between what is real and what is imagined.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think this description is perfect! What I love about it is the way it positions fiction—that landscape “between what is real and what is imagined”—as a space that is complex, multilayered, and difficult to define.


Stories aren’t easily categorized as good or bad, beautiful or ugly, light or dark. The fictions that stay with us contain elements of both beauty and fear, and this is what makes them so powerful.


I also appreciate the image of a story as a “landscape” through which a reader travels—in part because I believe that books, like journeys, expand our hearts and our imaginations.

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


A: The title has been with the manuscript for a long time—I actually thought about changing it in the final hour, but I couldn’t come up with anything different!


For me, the title alludes to all of the dreams and ideas and fictions we create for ourselves, and for the people we love—and all of the ways our decisions can lead us into situations we didn’t expect and cannot control. 


Q: What do you think the story says about mother-daughter dynamics?


A: Well—probably that they’re complicated! Every parent-child dynamic is different, and multilayered, and complex, but each one bears the weight of family history and contains an infinite number of possible futures.


So much in this novel is uncertain, and dreamlike, and surreal, and that’s why it’s so important that the parents’ love for their child is stable and true. Even though all of the characters question this love at times, it’s something they can always return to, and—hopefully—rely upon.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve been writing a lot of short stories, many about humans’ relationship with the natural world and the changing climate.


My most recent story—“Your baby is the size of,” inspired by the discovery of microplastics in human placenta—will appear in the Southern Review this summer.


I’m also in the very early stages of a new novel that explores questions of memory and time. It was inspired by the many months I recently spent in Egypt.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Something readers might want to know about the novel is that it’s a little hard to categorize. I wouldn’t call it “horror” or “a thriller,” or even a “mystery,” exactly.


It’s primarily literary fiction, but—like Frankenstein’s monster!—it’s built from pieces of those other genres, too. It contains a little bit of everything, and I hope that readers enjoy different facets of it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lindsay Starck.

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