Mini interview with Petra Kuppers, author of “The Road under the Bay” in TFF #38
TFF: What does “The Road under the Bay” mean to you?
PK: The story emerges out of a number of experiences – being a disabled woman who enjoys the transformatory (and painkilling) power of water, living in the Bay Area and seeing the Golden Gate Bridge out of my window, and hanging out at the dog park at Point Isobel. As someone who lives with pain, going swimming means to loosen gravity’s pull, and to experience my bodily self differently. And amidst the gentrification of the Bay Area, I enjoyed researching the history of the iconic bridge, and the lures that brought immigrants to the city, layering their traces on indigenous land. Finally, there’s the animal life: the dogs, the birds, and the sharks out at the Farallon Islands. Binding all these elements together with other-than-human and ghostly desires was the technical task I had set myself. It took me forever to get the voices just right – to enter into these other-than-human characters, and develop a sense of their somatic being. What does time do to ghosts? How do sea creatures experience longing? And how do I make sure that no women die in my stories?
TFF: Have you ever felt that a place was “haunted”?
PK: One of my ‘writing sites’ is the asylum. As part of my disability culture explorations, I have worked as a performance artist with mental health system survivors and people with cognitive differences in the grounds of old Mental Health Hospitals and Lunatic Asylums, sites of incarceration and healing. I remember working at Seacliff, the largest asylum in the Southern hemisphere, in New Zealand. I explored the gardens, which used to be maintained by inmates, and I felt presences there. Likewise, when I take students to abandoned sites like the Eloise Hospital near Detroit in Michigan, we find numbered tiny gravestones in the surrounding fields, brownfield landscapes with strange energies. One of my current inquiries is to explore these asylum hauntings through fiction. I try to write from a disability culture aesthetic that honors survivor voices, addresses sufferings, and destigmatizes mental health difference. One of these asylum stories is forthcoming with the Sycamore Review, about a person caught in a Van Gogh painting of an asylum. Another one will be in the January issue of Capricious, and in that story, the lichen of asylum gravestones becomes a hallucinogenic drug.
TFF: What are you working on next?
PK: I have two fiction projects going right now – I am looking for an agent for my first novel manuscript, Tree. It is a feminist shamanic mystery set in Wales, with lots of Lovecraftian citations, clues hidden in Joseph Beuys’s art, visits in Tate Modern’s galleries, dream journeys, caves, and druid circles.
I am also working on a short story cycle about women in water – water in all its forms, from sea water in “The Road Under The Bay” to ice in “Ice Bar,” a story that’s forthcoming as a podcast from PodCastle (my first one), or the desert water oasis that is a pilgrimage’s endpoint in “Playa Song,” in the Accessing the Future anthology. Right now, I am working on a story in which a woman uses a US/Mexican border river to find her way back to queer/trans family; and another story which emerged from a recent artist residency on a barrier island in Georgia, about a skull sea turtle, an ocean aqua-aerobics class, and a libation ceremony in Gullah-Geechee land.
Petra’s Queer Crip Speculative Fiction (Apprentice) site: www.petrakuppersfiction.wordpress.com
Read the story at: http://futurefire.net/2016.38/fiction/roadunderbay.html