Charles Tan Interviews Livia Llewellyn

Livia Llewellyn’s  short story “Furnace” is a 2013 Shirley Jackson Awards nominee.

Charles Tan: What were the challenges in writing “Furnace”?

Livia Llewellyn: There was a massive challenge to writing “Furnace”, and it was an extremely personal one, but I’m going to be difficult and not say what it was. The reason why is because I believe that the more a writer reveals what motivated them, what terrible or wonderful real-life events prompted and informed the work, the more the work becomes “about the author” – and I don’t want anyone reading “Furnace” to be thrown out of the story, or any story I write, and say “oh, yeah, she said that exact thing happened to her”. That’s not fair to the readers. My fiction is informed by my life, but it shouldn’t be about my life. I want the readers to bring to it and take out of it whatever they want, and that should never be impeded by my presence.

Of course, readers are free to speculate what might have made “Furnace” so challenging to write, and they probably would not be wrong. But if asked point blank, I won’t confirm it!

Charles Tan: The town you describe in the story is quite vivid. Did you research this town, was it drawn from your experience, did you imagine it?

Livia Llewellyn: The town is Tacoma, where I grew up – I set most of my “suburban horror” stories in Tacoma, because to this day, and even after 20 years of living in New York, I’m still very much a child of that city, and I’ve never forgotten any of it. The streets I described in “Furnace”, the shops, the school and its crossing – all of that is real, including the house where my nameless protagonist lives. And yes, it’s not lost on me that my memories of Tacoma, both past and present, probably give me as much in common with the very obsessive and smothering mother in “Furnace” as the young woman trying to escape her. I know that says something about me both as a writer and a human, but I’ll let others have the pleasure of analyzing that.

Charles Tan: How did Thomas Ligotti influence (or not influence) “The Furnace”?

Livia Llewellyn: After reading about half of his published works, I realized that I would never be able to mimic or duplicate the complexity of his fiction. It’s extremely intellectual and highly philosophical – I can’t do that. Not that I’m stupid, but as a writer, it’s just not me. So, I chose a very female, very “Llewellyn” (if there is such a thing) subject matter – what happens both emotionally and supernaturally when a mother’s supremacy is threatened by her daughter’s puberty and ascension to womanhood – and then in writing “Furnace”, attempted to mimic Ligotti’s style. His sentences have a very particular and distinctive cadence and rhythm to them – if you start reading any of his stories out loud, you can not only hear it, you can feel it. It’s somewhat flat and disconnected at first glance, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s difficult to explain – it’s probably something I could more easily show by reading his work out loud to people than writing it down (and I have to say, my acting background and vocal work came in handy for this). Needless to say, I spent more time going over my sentence structure and reading “Furnace” to myself than probably any other thing I’ve written, just to make sure it was at the least somewhat reminiscent of Ligotti, from start to finish. I think I succeeded, to a degree.

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