Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. She currently lives in North Sweden with a boy and a dog. She is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Apex, Strange Horizons, Fireside and other venues. “My Country is a Ghost” is Triantafyllou’s first appearance in Uncanny, a beautiful ghost story that examines themes of immigration and family, food and faith.
Uncanny Magazine: I love the way this story uses ghosts to show the pressure that immigrants face to assimilate, and also the sense of loss that comes with that. Was that idea the starting point for the story, or did you have a different inspiration?
Eugenia Triantafyllou: I wanted to write about the moment when a person enters a country that needs them for certain reasons (i.e. their labor) but by no means would accept the wholeness of them. The complexity of the person’s culture and identity or even their memories are considered unnecessary and so they have to be left behind.
Immaterial and intangible as culture and memory are, they can’t be stopped by physical borders. There are invisible borders meant to filter out those identities that do not fit the norm. I found that ghosts as a metaphor for all those other identities perfectly suited what I wanted to illustrate.
Uncanny Magazine: The story examines not only the experience of first-generation immigrants, but also later-generation immigrants, which adds lovely depth to the story. The challenges that Niovi and Remi face are different, though there is also some overlap. What drew you to these particular characters? Was one of them easier to write than the other?
Eugenia Triantafyllou: Niovi was definitely the easier one to write because the character has a lot in common with me and shares many of my own experiences. Remi’s character and Remi’s ghost came much later to me after the thoughtful feedback I got from the Clarion West students and from that week’s instructor Amal El-Mohtar.
Remi is a nice contrast to Niovi because he is not the exact opposite of her. He is, as you said, different and the same. His differences reflect Niovi’s anxieties about her present and her future in the country. It is because of his similarities that they come together and Niovi finds her place in the world again.
As a result the story doubled in size after CW—which I assume will happen to the rest of my workshop stories as well—and the treatment of the themes became more nuanced and deep.
Uncanny Magazine: Food often evokes memories, and I love the way that descriptions of food were threaded through this story. Do you like to cook? What is your favorite food from childhood?
Eugenia Triantafyllou: My mother worked as a cook. She was the cook at the summer camp I went to as a child and I have to admit I did receive special treatment during the meals. Her love of cooking has unavoidably been passed on to me. Cooking keeps me laser-focused and I am even able to ponder story ideas while doing it.
As a child, I was in love with spaghetti napolitana, french fries, and bread. Starch was basically my best friend. I was not a big fan of meat or fish, despite my mother’s desperate efforts, and didn’t taste okra unlike my protagonist (sorry!) until much later. Now, I am the least picky eater I know. I love variety and if I could have a buffet every day and eat a bite of everything it would be just perfect.
Uncanny Magazine: If you could have a ghost, would you want one?
Eugenia Triantafyllou: I think I already have one. If a ghost represents past moments that can be pieced together to recreate an iteration of a loved one that for some reason can’t be here with me, then I definitely carry more than one ghost. In fact, I don’t know what I would do without ghosts. I would probably be a much lonelier person.
You can imagine them as a cohort of friends, past and present, that can give you advice or inspire you with their own lives. Of course, it is just me projecting things back to myself. But this is what people do most of the time when interacting with people; we see them how we want to see them and take what we need from their company. So to me there isn’t much difference.
Uncanny Magazine: “My Country is a Ghost” is a beautiful story of family, immigration, food, and faith. Are any or all of these common themes across your stories? What other ideas or themes are you drawn to?
Eugenia Triantafyllou: As I was answering this question, I realized that the novella I am working on incorporates all these themes but in a very different setting!
Family is a very strong theme in my stories, particularly mother-daughter relationships. Probably because I feel more at home in that space and I revert to what feels natural when I am writing a new story. I try to push back at this urge because I want to experiment and try different sets of characters. Now I am trying my hand at sister relationships (I don’t have one) and friends (that I am fortunate enough to have).
Folklore is something I am also very much drawn to. Growing up in Greece and reading/hearing so many folktales can do that to you. I am particularly fond of the dark ones because I feel there is an authenticity in them that you can’t get from a happily ever after kind of story. It helps that things like ghosts, bones, hags, and grotesque descriptions appeal to me. They are an armory or elements I like to play with and use in my stories.
Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?
Eugenia Triantafyllou: I am focusing on my final edits for my science fiction novella that deals with immigration to other planets and has a mother-daughter relationship, alien-species poachers, and death tattoos. Fun!
I am also trying to revise all of my Clarion West stories and send them out to the world (like this one)!
Thank you for the lovely questions!
Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for the lovely responses!
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