This is a little backstory post about my story “The Carnival That Comes After” in Dirty Birds Press‘ Undercities anthology which has two weeks left on its Kickstarter campaign. (So go pledge!)
When I was a wee teenager, my mother would go shopping at this one mall and she’d leave me in the bookstore for hours. I’d dive right into the romance and urban fantasy genres, pouring over books that I probably shouldn’t have read (but were still more appropriate than Anne Rice’s everything or Flowers in the Attic).
One of my earliest memories of this period in my life is reading this ridiculous selkie romance novel. I can’t remember anything about the book except that it was historical fantasy set on an island off the coast of Scotland and had a gorgeous, red-haired woman on the cover, but I think that was the book that sparked my special-interest in selkies.
Boy do I love selkies.
They can serve an interesting role in looking at the line they walk between the worlds of humans and the fae and of course, they’re seal people. That’s just my kind of thing. For one, the in-between existence of selkies in Irish and Celtic folklore is neat. For another, seals are cute as heck. Have y’all seen their adorable little eyes?
Unfortunately, most of the few selkies that have appeared in recent urban fantasy fiction tend to be white, slender, and straight. Obviously, I’m not about that life. I want selkies who look like the people I know, who aren’t just this idealized image of the fair folk that boils down to characters that are always conveniently white.
My continuing bitterness with the Urban Fantasy genre’s refusal to entertain the idea that brown people can be fae without being fair-skinned is part of what gave birth to my story for the Undercities anthology.
For “The Carnival That Comes After”, I wanted to write about a place that writers don’t think about very often unless they need (white) characters to go on vacation. It was a toss-up between where I live now in South Florida and the island where I grew up in the US Virgin Islands, St. Thomas.
I kind of had to go with St. Thomas because there’s just so much about my island that I love and want to share with readers who otherwise might only get a glimpse of the tourist-y parts in movies or brief interludes in literature.
Back in 2015, I wrote “Accidental Queen of the Spiders” about a young woman who wound up being crowned queen of the millions of spiders that live on St. Thomas due to her kindness. It was a story inspired both by my childhood surrounded by spiders and the fact that my niece had found a massive spider living under her bed the weekend that I’d started writing. Heck, she lives in a fictional version of the house I grew up in (and stayed in this past December.)
In “Lamplickers“, a young woman staying in the home where her granparents lived in the mountains of St. Thomas has an uncomfortable encounter with moths. I’m a huge wuss, and when I was little, my dad would always tell me about how harmless moths were and how they couldn’t hurt me. In this story, we’re not sure what the moths can do. And then, in “The Kelpie in the Canal“, the road that I used to walk on my way from student teaching leads to a trapped kelpie with very sharp teeth and a grasp of manners that’s tenuous at best.
In the same vein, I took much of the inspiration for “The Carnival That Comes After” from my childhood on St. Thomas and my adventures around the island in my young adulthood.
Talia Bachaan shares a last name with my childhood best friend, someone that I lost contact with after moving to the US and who was basically the most beautiful person I ever met. And while her chocolate shop doesn’t actually exist, The Belgian Chocolate Factory on Dronningens Gade (essentially one of our “Main Streets”) serves up fancy chocolates to tourists and has some pretty decent truffles.
Characters like La Diablesse/Bullfoot Woman and the different shapeshifters that show up in this book aren’t just there to bring the urban fantasy factor into full focus, but to showcase the island as a place where multiple types of people from around the Caribbean come together in St. Thomas. When I was little, I wanted to be in turns a cryptozoologist and an anthropologist studying Caribbean mythology so I put what I still have in my head to good use here.
The Carnival during the day is a real one, one of three separate events that happen a year in the US Virgin Islands that bring the crowds and the noise at the Waterfront in Charlotte Amalie. As a child, I was never allowed to go because my parents were (are?) devout Seventh Day Adventists and I was the kind of kid that would definitely wander away in a crowd if it meant free food, but I would watch the adult and children’s parades on public television as they aired.
Needless to say, that if there were a real Carnival That Comes After, I wouldn’t have gotten to go. So if there are selkies and shapeshifters wandering around St. Thomas – and there might well be, according to my mother – I wouldn’t have known.
But Talia – and soon, you readers – will get to see that side of St. Thomas.
I’m thankful to the team behind Dirty Birds Press who liked my story proposal enough to give me a shot at writing for them. They’ve been lovely and patient and beyond helpful.
I’m also thankful to Victoria, one of like four MFA students at my uni that I adore and the person who sat with me and helped me put my outline together. I’d also like to say that I couldn’t have stuck with the idea to write about Talia and Samira without all of you, my readers, friends, and followers that have always raised your voices when it comes time to talk about representation in the urban fantasy genre.