Interview: Katharine Duckett

Katharine Duckett writes, works in publishing, travels the world, and creates multimedia theater pieces with Daniel Flores Dance. Her fiction has appeared in Apex Magazine and Interzone, and Wilde Stories 2015: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. Her nonfiction has appeared on The Toast and Tor.com. Currently living in Brooklyn and originally from East Tennessee, Duckett has lived in Massachusetts, Turkey, and Kazakhstan, with plenty of detours through interesting locales in between. “Sucks (to Be You)” is her first appearance in Uncanny.

Uncanny Magazine: In “Sucks (to Be You)” the succubus steps into stories and fills the expectations that stories create—initially these are simple love stories with limited reach, but in modern times there is a near ubiquitous bombardment of fantasies and sex. We live at a time when we are surrounded by stories: a constant barrage of news, advertisements, fiction, etc. Do you think we can/should make use of these stories, as the succubus does? What stories do you wish we saw more of?

Katharine Duckett: Whether we should or not, I think most of us make use of stories like this all the time. When we post on social media, we’re often attempting to persuade our audience, and ourselves, of something about our lives. Maybe it’s that our political viewpoint is the most valid, or that Iceland is the absolute best place to take a vacation, or that our Saturday night was totally magical. Those things might be true, but the mere act of framing them through the lens of social media shapes their narrative, and even influences our own memory of those facts and events. These small acts of illusion spiral into big ones, until we’re creating a kind of shadow reality, both for other people and for ourselves, keeping up this digital life that can become a warped mirror of our real one.

I’m a publicist, so I spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of narratives people respond to online. I also consider how to use those storytelling tools responsibly, to represent what we’re selling honestly, and reach out to people who will be genuinely interested in our offerings. That’s where the breakdown is happening on the internet, with advertisers and governments in particular exploiting the fractured way stories are told now to play on our automatic responses without regard for ethical or societal implications. But that’s a two-way street, to some extent: we all need to become more critical consumers of digital media (and media in general), so that we don’t get swept up in stories that are fundamentally unsound. We must demand the protection of our rights as digital inhabitants too, so that organizations aren’t given free reign over the stories they can tell us and trick us into retelling without accountability.

So tell stories, but think through the vision you’re crafting. I’d love to see more nuanced, complex stories that don’t fit into easy and recyclable molds, which often means making sure creators from marginalized groups get the microphone. As a queer disabled woman, I know how few stories out there reflect anything about my experience. There’s still so much space for expanding the diversity of stories told and elevated in the world.

Uncanny Magazine: This story looks at the way social media impacts relationships. There is something insidious about social media—it creates the illusion of an interaction, but social media relationships are often highly asymmetrical. Celebrity media accounts, for instance, can make fans feel like they have a real connection with someone, but it is completely one-sided. On the other hand, social media is an easy way to keep in touch with large numbers of people. Do you think the benefits of social media outweigh its flaws? If you could live in a parallel universe without social media, would you want to?

Katharine Duckett: I’m not sure if I could function without social media at this point. My friends and family are scattered across the world, and social media is one of the main ways I keep in touch with them. It connects me to other authors and members of the science fiction and fantasy community whose voices I dearly value, and opens up spaces for conversations that couldn’t happen without that connection. It can boost marginalized voices, spur political movements (for better or worse), and lead to friendships and artistic collaborations and incidents of delightful happenstance that the world would be much poorer without.

On the other hand, social media has had a measurably detrimental effect on our reality, from our discourse to our distraction levels. At the time I wrote this story the Cambridge Analytica scandal hadn’t broken, but it ties into the themes underlying this piece and the ways we give away pieces of ourselves online in exchange for validation and connection. Data-mining succubi don’t seem that far-fetched right now.

If I could hop universes, I’d want to see a version of social media detached from corporate interests, or at least not so driven by those forces. I’m not sure I can envision a reality where a technology with this much potential for manipulation doesn’t end up used primarily for financial gain and generally evil chaos, but I’d love for someone else to write their rosier version of its potential and let me know when you’ve published your story about it!

Uncanny Magazine: What was the easiest thing about writing this story? What was the most difficult?

Katharine Duckett: The character of the succubus was the easiest part of this story to construct. Her voice came to me right away: that opening paragraph is exactly how I heard her the second I started writing. I pictured her a little like a gravelly-voiced grande dame of Broadway, waving around a cigarette holder and telling stories of her gloried past while still convincing you she could play a damn fine ingenue any day.

The most difficult part of writing about a succubus was grappling with an essentially misogynistic myth, one that runs with undercurrents of panic about women (or women-shaped demons) with irresistible power, women who don’t fit into the patriarchal social structure. I wanted to work with its compelling elements, this idea of a creature that enchants and entraps humans via dreamscapes, without reifying toxic messages about women’s sexuality and agency.

So I let the succubus offer her own commentary on that—even the term “succubus” is tongue-in-cheek for her—and played with what a creature that feeds off lust looks like when you take the myth beyond binary notions of gender relations. If a creature out there fed on that forbidden lust, how would they get their fix as attitudes towards sex and love and desire change? As technology changes? How would they shift their tactics, and who would they choose as their targets?

Uncanny Magazine: Another of your stories, “Sexagesimal,” is a detailed examination of an intimate relationship from the perspective of characters who have died and are in the afterlife. This story describes Eiko’s relationship from the perspective of a succubus. Both stories feature an unusual but somewhat distant perspective. What made you choose these perspectives?

Katharine Duckett: I like to take just a half-step back from human relationships and look at them from the outside. All that passion and obsession and mind-melding takes on new dimensions when you cock your head and consider it from a different angle. Being in love is a weird thing, and being dead or being an immortal monster can make it that much weirder.

Uncanny Magazine: “Sucks (to Be You)” features a trip to France, and looking at your bio, you have traveled to (and lived in) a lot of places. If you could take a trip anywhere, where would you go? If you had to settle down in one place and never leave, where would it be?

Katharine Duckett: Argentina is top of my list! Buenos Aires (and Borges), the Andes, and a chance to practice the Spanish I haven’t really spoken since my honeymoon in Costa Rica—I’m all about it. Morocco and Mongolia are also pretty high up there. Honestly, though, I’ll go almost anywhere at least once. I’m never regretted traveling anywhere new, even places I’ve ended up by accident. There’s always something to explore, people to talk to, things to see (and eat) and learn.

I’m not sure if I—or my wife, who’s also an avid traveler—have the capacity to settle down in one place and never ever leave, but I’ve got a particular fondness for the Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts, where I went to college and where we had our wedding. It’s got beautiful scenery, great queer culture, and cider donuts—the cider donuts alone could probably persuade me to stay put for a few years.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Katharine Duckett: Next February my debut book, Miranda in Milan, comes out from Tor.com Publishing, so I’m currently in the midst of that editing process. It’s the tale of what happens to Miranda after the events of The Tempest, which involves magic, romance, and classic Shakespearean intrigue. (And a masquerade!) I’m also working on a new speculative fiction novel, with some short story-writing sprints in between.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is the author of the 2017 Hugo and Nebula finalist short story “Carnival Nine.” Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Asimov’s, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com

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