EXCLUSIVE: Margo Lanagan talks TENDER
by William Kostakis - January 9th, 2010
TENDER MORSELS AND JUICY BITS
For any story I’m writing, I need to have an object in mind, a point, a reference that, when I look at it or prod it, starts leaking story-juice, starts multiplying possibilities, starts re-igniting my interest.
For a short story, I only need the one interesting element. Often it’s the thing that sparked the story in the first place: the two odd objects that need to be brought together (the snipers and the clowns, maybe); the transformation that requires making (the girl into eagle, or the man into warlock).
For a novel, I need a number of these objects or events; it’s possible to write a juicy bit dry for a while, and I need other areas to focus on while it changes shape in response to what I’ve done, and plumps up again in my subconscious.
With Tender Morsels, the bears were such a thing. They were in the original stories I was ripping/riffing off, Caroline Stahl’s ‘The Ungrateful Dwarf’ and the Grimms’ makeover of the Stahl story, ‘Snow White and Rose Red’. In neither story did they make any sense in terms of story structure, so part of my project was to make them make sense. The split between man-nature and bear-nature suggested the split between the real- and the heaven-world, which became the crux of the story, my main area to explore.
The Ungrateful Dwarf from Stahl’s story was another element that never let me down. Collaby Dought leaped fully formed from the source material, snarking and snatching stuff for himself. The vision of him rising from the swamp water cloaked in his silver hair, his eyes blazing out but his mouth not yet free to rant, was a key that always worked, into the atmosphere and energy of the story.
The orphan witch Hotty/Muddy/Lady Annie, had a similar effect. She and Collaby compensated for the fact that my three heroines were passive and puzzled for a great deal of the story. Every time either dwarf or witch opened their mouth, something sly or smutty came out; they had senses of humour, which my heroines were sadly short of, and they lived large and lackadaisically, while Liga, Branza and Urdda were trapped in a tiny, if pleasant, world.
These three elements, the bears, the dwarf and the cheerfully incompetent witch, were what led me back into Tender Morsels when I’d been away from it for a while. They brought it back alive for me, gave it breath and fur and body odour, and made it tower in the doorway of my writing room, growling and griping, demanding to be written.
– Margo Lanagan
Tender Morsels was recently selected as part of the 2010 Sakura Medal Reading List, was shortlisted for the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, won Best Novel at the Ditmar Awards 2009, and was (joint) winner of Best Novel at the World Fantasy Convention 2009 – it’s safe to say that it comes highly recommended.