Interview: Carrie Vaughn

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

My story is about what happens back home, the chaos left behind when a character from our world goes to another world for an adventure and doesn’t come back.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m sure a lot of this story came out of my relationship with my own mother.  It’s natural, as we get older, to think more and more about what our parents must have been going through when we were kids – I’m now the age my mother was when I was in high school, for example.  When I was a teenager, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (the book referred to in the story) was my favorite novel, and if I’d had a chance to run away to that world, or any other fantasy world, I would have taken it in a white hot second.  Of course, it would have wrecked my mother, but I didn’t think about that then, did I?  Well, I started thinking about it, and this is the story that came out of that.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

The story came pretty naturally.  I rooted it in the “real” world as much as I could, and that anchored it.  But it turned out to be quite emotional.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

It is.  I mention my favorite book, the daughter in the story is a lot like me, with the horseback riding and the fencing – I do both, which has often made me think I’m particularly suited for discovering a portal fantasy world of my very own.  She’s a lot like me, but more extreme.  The family ultimately isn’t very much like mine, but a lot of the impulses were there.

What is the appeal of parallel worlds stories and/or portal fantasies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about them? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

It’s a childhood impulse that never really goes away.  A desire for escape, a desire to make the world something bigger and more spectacular than what we see every day.  We have this inner knowledge that the world is a big, magical place, and portal fantasy makes that feeling real.  It’s also a way to have your cake and eat it too – you have an amazing fantasy world, then you get to make it relevant by connecting it to our world, and having characters that we recognize, who are “real,” running around in that world.  It’s also a metaphor for reading, which makes it particularly appealing to both writers and readers, I think.

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

Narnia, of course.  Narnia almost defines the genre.  Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry is a classic, I think.  For many of us, it was our first exposure to just how far you could stretch various Celtic mythologies that so much fantasy is based on.  McKinley did an amazing short story, “A Pool in the Desert,” which turned her own classic fantasy world of Damar into a portal fantasy.  Completely blew my mind in the best way possible.  Movie-wise, “The Never-Ending Story” and “Labyrinth” are both marvelous portal fantasies that play with the idea of storytelling in general.