Today, I’m interviewing E.H. Timms about their upcoming short story Create My Own Perfection. An ownvoices retelling of Medusa, Create My Own Perfection will be released April 2nd. Last week, I got to share the cover reveal with you all. This week I’m back with the interview I promised then. So… Let me share the description with you and then we’ll talk about creating an aroace Medusa tale!
“It’s not every day you get to put the fear of Medusa into a god.”
Emma Stone, medusa, is the groundskeeper for Olson College of Extensive Education, a place where everyone is welcome, from the mythical to the magical. When her selkie best friend loses her skin in Fresher’s week, the race is on to find it before someone uses it against her.
The search brings Emma face to face with her oldest enemy – and forces her to confront the worst nightmares of her past.
S.L.: Hi, E.H. Welcome! I’ve been intrigued by Create My Own Perfection since hearing what it was about! Though I like Greek myths, I’ve never really thought about pairing aro and ace rep with mythology outside of Artemis. What drew you to combining the two?
E.H.: I’ve been fascinated by medusas for years. Something about the way their power is at the same time deadly, but managed, resonates with me, as does the fact that in general, medusas don’t go out and cause trouble. They just mind their own business in their own homes and it’s the heroes who barge in and force the matter. I’m also aroace, and like to include characters who are like me on the page. Those two things combined with an anthology call that interested me to set off the spark that became this story.
S.L.: That sounds like so much fun. I’m so used to depictions that cast Medusa as an antagonist. She’s not the only character from mythology in the narrative, though. Throughout the story, we slowly start to see Emma’s friendship with Greek goddesses unfold. How important was it to you to show Emma has a support network she can rely on?
E.H.: Immensely important, for two main reasons. First, it was something I desperately needed and wanted – but didn’t have – when I was a teenager dealing with the same sort of harrassment that Emma gets from Si. A touch of wish fulfilment, perhaps, but I wanted her to have the support that I didn’t.
Secondly, back in 2019, I ended up re-reading a problematic book where the asexual character’s allo friends came together to deal with the aphobe harrassing her out of their own volition, and asked book twitter if anyone knew of anything less problematic that did the same. Nobody came up with anything, so I decided that if I wanted a particular story, I was going to have to write it myself. So. Here it is.
S.L.: And the world will be richer for it. 😀 It’s a beautiful tale. Aside from goddesses, Emma is also friends with more, ah, down-to-earth characters, such as Tara. Emma’s closest friend is a selkie in what is otherwise a heavily Grecian-myth based story. What made you decide on including a selkie in particular?
E.H.: Selkie tales, for me, hit so many of the same beats as Medusa’s origin – women living their lives as they like, then caught by an entitled jerk who has power over them (by stealing their skin, by being a god), and made to live their lives in a different form.
That made Tara a great counterpoint to some of the things Emma deals with, and gave them a whole lot in common that their friendship could root itself in.
I also wanted to make the quiet point that the College Emma works for is inclusive of all mythologies rather than confined to a single strand of them.
S.L.: You know I’d never looked at selkie and Medusa tales that way, but I can definitely see that comparison. That is so cool! And Tara absolutely makes a great counterpoint to Emma.
On a more personal note for me: the way the story respects Emma’s introversion is one that I resonated with deeply. Sometimes I feel like the way people are encouraged to see aspec people as heartless loners leads to a pushback where aspec characters only get shown as extroverted loves-everyone-but-not-that-way. (It’s not true, but perceptions.) That, in turns, leads me to feel like I don’t get to exist because I’m the wrong type of aroacespec person. How important was it for you to craft a story in which people like me also feel welcome?
E.H.: As an introverted loner of an aroace person, I am, unfortunately, very familiar with seeing myself and those like me being dismissed as a “bad trope” that shouldn’t get to exist. I try to include a wide variety of aro and ace folk in my stories. This one was for me, and those like me, because we exist, we matter, and most of all, I wanted to see myself in a story, in ways I almost never do.
S.L.: I’m so sad to hear you also deal with this, but so happy and grateful this story exists. To me, the story is very clearly aro and ace, though it doesn’t use explicit labels even when Rhoda (or Aphrodite) talks about the many aspects of love. The need for labelling is one that is often debated when discussing queer fiction in general and, in my experience, aro and ace fiction in particular. What was it about this story that made you decide not to use labels?
E.H.: It wasn’t a conscious decision at first – I didn’t notice I hadn’t used labels (I often do use them) – until I came back to my finished first draft to edit it. I think, because for this story I was tapping into events that happened before I had labels for myself, I naturally gravitated towards the language I would have used at the time.
S.L.: That would make a lot of sense! I’m generally happy without labels due to some bad experiences with supposedly demisexual romance novels and a language geek, so I’m always fascinated by people’s decisions regarding them. I loved how clear the rep was.
Thank you so much for stopping by, E.H! It was lovely to have you.
E H Timms won the BBC Wildlife Young Poet of the Year award, hasn’t managed to stop writing since, and now lives in South West England with a computer tethered to one elbow and far too many books.
Create My Own Perfection will be available on April 2nd, 2021. You can preorder it on iBooks, Kobo or B&N today, however. (It’ll be a prefect preorder for Aro Week!) Or you can add it to your GoodReads or Storygraph.