[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]
Tanith Lee has written nearly one hundred books and over two hundred and seventy short stories, besides radio plays and TV scripts. Her genre-crossing includes fantasy, SF, horror, young adult, historical, detective, and contemporary fiction. Plus combinations of them all. Her latest publications include the Lionwolf Trilogy: Cast a Bright Shadow, Here in Cold Hell, and No Flame but Mine, and the three Piratica novels for young adults. She has also recently had several short stories and novellas in such publications as Asimov’s SF Magazine, Weird Tales, Realms of Fantasy, The Ghost Quartet and Wizards.
She lives on the Sussex Weald with her husband, writer/artist John Kaiine, and two omnipresent cats. More information can be found at www.TanithLee.com
Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. In “The Puma’s Daughter”, what made you decide to take on the perspective of the male protagonist?
Tanith Lee: Everything I write comes with its own voice – or voices. This one came 3rd person but solely from the perspective of the young male protagonist. To me perhaps this was already inherent in the anthology title, that instantly of course suggested the reverse of all the Beauty and the Beast stories, which concern the helpless maiden given away to a supernatural male husband. But I only rarely decide the format of any story. Normally it tells me. In this case he told me. I had a lot of sympathy for him, having experienced so directly his misgiving, his love, and his ultimate sense of being shut – irreparably and forever – outside.
CT: The story could have ended earlier–and presumably with a happy ending. How did you come up with the final scene, the revelation of which disturbs our main character.
TL: Same thing. I didn’t decide. When I write, my characters tell or show me what has happened. I am generally as taken by surprise, shocked or thrilled as they are/were. Here I wish it could have ended happily for all of them. But it didn’t. A writer doesn’t lie about the scenes he/she has witnessed. What would be the point? I’ve had so many favourite characters die, for example. I wished I could save them – but I couldn’t. It had happened. A true writer isn’t a god of those worlds created or re-found. we are reporters. We must speak the truth.
CT: Could you expound more on your interest in pumas?
TL: I don’t really know that much about them. But I think they’re gorgeous and intriguing, like every animal I know of. In my note at the story’s end, I mentioned being terrified by a puma in a movie when I was quite young. This seemed to trigger the recognition that my beast-bride might be a puma.
CT: What made you decide to use the North American Rockies as your setting?
TL: The puma conception seemed to conjure the environment. This toweringly beautiful geography, only tamed in the tiniest bits, and with the perfect isolated lifestyle which might yet cause such arranged marriages. And which might also conceal, or somewhat camouflage a were-beast. Again, not really a decision, a recognition.
CT: What’s the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?
TL: As a rule I love scenarios that reverse the accepted form, or even spin right off into an entirely other form. I’ve already written quite a lot of stories that reverse the established tale or myth. And shape-shifters I have always found alluring. What a gift that would be! The fact too that Thena is a descent and intelligent young woman, who retains her loyalties by the anthology’s very title: The Beastly Bride – that is, returning to the real meaning of the adjective Beastly – before it becomes associated with ‘bestial’ cruelty and uncouthness – beastly meaning pure animality.