“The world is always chaos, but what you make of that chaos and how you allow it to shape you is for you to decide.”
Things That Cannot Be Tamed (Honeysuckle Press, 2020)
Rebecca Courtney and Hannah Hicks: Things That Cannot Be Tamed discusses the sky, the sea, and the wilderness, in turn. This grounds your book in the physical world, in landscape. Did you begin writing by using those landscapes to shape each chapter, or did that happen as the story took form?
The seed for the chapbook was twofold: I was interested in women pilots who operated in a male-dominated field and the question of why so many people believed in the idea that place (or landscape) shaped them or determined who they were. So, there was definitely an intent to make the landscape a character in the chapbook and in the stories of these women’s lives. Ultimately, I think the idea I landed on (pun slightly intended) was that landscape can shape you, if you allow it to.
Things That Cannot Be Tamed explores the theme of finding home. How were you influenced by your home when writing this story?
Having been born in one place and raised in another, there was a personal element involved for sure. I think like Ida, I was wondering how much of where I’m from influenced me versus how much of where I spent most of my life influenced me. And if I was disconnected from that original place, does that matter? Is it still in me somehow? I’m not sure I answered any of those questions for myself, though.
Having grown up and lived in the contiguous, and mostly Southern, states, how much did you research climate and culture while writing your book?
I did a fair amount of research on Alaskan Inuit culture and myths, as well as pilot related inquiries.
You weave the story backwards in a beautiful narrative of three strong women overcoming the trials of life. What was your inspiration for writing the story this way? Did you always plan to start with Ida, or did you decide this while revising?
The first story I wrote for the book was “We All Come From Somewhere,” which was meant to be a stand-alone short story, and when I finished writing it, I didn’t really have an intention to write more. However, it was one of those strange writing moments when I created Ida’s grandmother that it felt like she was this fully-created character who was waiting for me to tell her story. Eventually, I committed to writing more, and I wrote “Sedna” and then “Things That Cannot Be Tamed.” In putting the chapbook together, I thought it would be interesting to tell the story backwards, in a way, introducing characters and then getting to their full story in the next part.
The middle chapter mentions “the promise of impending change.” The book starts by talking about how enduring the women are. Do they endure because they hope in change, or because they have no other option?
Both. That’s the thing about hope: often, you don’t have any other choice.
In the first paragraph you ask the question, “Did a harsh climate make one harsher?” Does this connect to the idea of nature versus nurture, the physical environment versus the people who care for us?
That is a good interpretation. I perhaps meant it more literally: maybe tough environments naturally make you tougher, or maybe we all just adapt to our climates, and that forms our character in some way. But through the writing of the whole chapbook, I came to realize that family and our own nature is just as important as the nature outside of us.
Ruth seems different from the other two women. Her birth was preceded by “a series of tragedies” that “was the catalyst for Ruth becoming Ruth.” Her life is different, but she still has the same love for Alaska. Why did you create Ruth like this, especially since she is in the middle of the generational line—was it partly to strengthen the bond between Ida and Arna?
Ruth’s creation stemmed from the fact that I named her Ruth because I liked that name and then needed a reason why Arna, who had already been established as spiritual women, would give her daughter a biblical name like that. (Yes, sometimes writing is about solving problems you create for yourself.)
But choosing that name was important, as I liked how the story of the Biblical Ruth kind of had a resonance to the Sedna myth: how marriage has this way of determining a woman’s life and fate. I was also interested in telling a story about what happens when your life doesn’t work out the way you want it to, and then what? What do you do then? So that inherently lead to Ruth’s story being different, as her unhappiness is deeper and her relationship with the landscape is different (as it’s not really where she wanted to be). And while Arna is content with being part of the land and Ida finds a way to define herself outside of it, Ruth has a harder time coming to terms with it.
Ruth’s love story with Will is a break from the tragedy of her life, from her husband leaving her to raising their daughter alone. She keeps her boundaries carefully in check and refuses marriage, even at Arna’s disapproval. Do you think she would have married Will if she had not already been hurt by another man?
Yes, probably, but would it have worked out? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it’s so much her boundaries as it is that she has figured out that marriage and the dream of it, or any other life, don’t matter to her happiness.
I love the final scene when the raven carries Arna “clutched in his talons, flying over the trees, over the river, over the sea.” Does this moment convince Arna to return to the Alaskan spirits?
Yes, but I also see that moment as Arna returning to herself, or deciding to be true to herself again. Grief is an all-encompassing thing that can make you feel as if it’s not just the person who you’re grieving over who is gone. So not only does Arna recommit herself to her beliefs but recommits to herself and pushing on despite all her losses.
I notice Ida’s love of flying and the family story about ravens. This reminds me of your interview with Honeysuckle Press when you said, “magical realism has always been my genre of choice for the fact that you can…add in elements that create a sense of that same strangeness and magic that fairy tales contain.” Do the ravens bring magical realism into your story?
The raven and the other “magical” elements are meant to be left up to the reader to decide how magical they are or not. That’s the great thing about magical realism (and generally, letting weirdness into to your writing), as you can add layers and meaning in interesting and odd ways that you don’t always have to have an explanation for.
You graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University. How did that experience influence your writing?
I learned most of what I know about writing from attending my MFA program and being guided by thoughtful yet tough professors. The great thing about MFA programs is that they give you the time and the community you need to develop as a writer. Beyond the nuts and bolts of writing, it has taught me how to take myself seriously as a writer as well.
What was it like when you first held your book in your hands? Is there anything you would do differently in your writing life?
Holding your book in your hand is definitely a strange experience in some ways (also a proud moment) because, at last, something you wrote exists outside of a Word doc and your computer. And second, what I would do differently in my writing life is learn to revise more extensively. I’m terrible at it, really, but trying to get better. I just have little patience for it, and plus, I’m not a writer who rewrites extensively. I once heard a writer state they wrote 7-8 versions of a single short story, and I was shocked, because nope, that’s not my method at all. But it’s important, also, to develop your own habits and way of working that work best for you. So, I will never rewrite something 7-8 times, but I still feel that revision is a constant struggle for me.
The title Things That Cannot Be Tamed seems to imply that the three women cannot be tamed by standards, expectations, or their own dissatisfactions. Each woman finds her place and her peace in the Alaskan wild. Is there wisdom here for readers who want to find peace during chaotic times in their lives?
I am by no means an expert at finding peace or contentedness, so the only wisdom I have is the wisdom of my characters, who always seem to have things a little more figured out than I do. What these three women would impart to readers is that the world is always chaos, but what you make of that chaos and how you allow it to shape you is for you to decide.
Khristian Mecom is the author of the novella Love & Black Holes (Black Hill Press/1888Center) and the chapbook Things That Cannot Be Tamed (Honeysuckle Press). Born in Oklahoma, she grew up and lives in Florida where she earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her short fiction has appeared in Slice Magazine, Fourteen Hills, Passages North, and elsewhere. Find her online at https://khristianmecom.wordpress.com/.