If you haven’t heard about the After Happily Ever After anthology, this interview series is a front row seat into the creative minds of the authors who have re-envisioned the fairy tale world beyond the final credits. Rohit Sawant takes the chilling tale of Bluebeard past its limits and muses on familial legacy.
How did you begin your journey on the path of fiction writer?
It’s a herky-jerky route, really. It wasn’t something I’d planned growing up, but I certainly was drawn towards it. I can only recall two instances of writing something through my childhood. The first was after watching an episode of Tom and Jerry where a narrator spoke in this sweeping cadence about Johann, the waltzing mouse. I wrote the story down from memory, adding some stuff here and there. I titled it “Yohan,” though. The first time I wrote something original was when I was eight or nine. I’d watched Alfred Hitchcock Presents with my cousins. I don’t remember what the episode was about, only that I liked it a lot. Sometime later I wrote a laughable little whodunit called “The Missing Brick.”
I’d read just a handful of novels in school and, while I enjoyed them, it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I really fell in love with reading. I was watching Johnny Depp’s ‘Secret Window’ one afternoon and saw that it was based on a story by Stephen King. When I read “Secret Window, Secret Garden” it was like I found home. It had as much to do with the voice as the content. After that I started reading books he recommended while gulping more of his work, and that led to a natural segue to wanting to write.
You managed the feat of having not one but two stories accepted into the After Happily Ever After Anthology — “While You Were Sleeping”, a version of Sleeping Beauty, and “The Man Who Married Bluebeard’s Daughter” based on the less known Bluebeard tale. Tell us about the creative process that gave birth to these tales.
Just weeks before I came across the submission call for AHEA, I’d read an eBook I found on archive.org (a place I love to hound for books along with gutenberg.org) about retellings of French fairy tales by a Cornish writer, Arthur Quiller-Couch. It only had four stories with The Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard being the first two. So it was just a case of picking up what was on the top of my head and shooting it full of what-ifs. I say pick but I didn’t consciously choose them over the other two (which were Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast). Soon as I began musing about retellings they were the ones that whispered back. I only had a rough idea about where I was going with the stories and figured things out as I went along.
As for having two stories in the anthology, it speaks as to how gracious the editors, Alisha Costanzo and Anthony S. Buoni, are. I was thrilled that they’d even consider a second story, you know, and to have it be a part of the book is just amazing. I couldn’t be more ecstatic.
I was surprised to see you list such classic luminaries as Sherwood Anderson, Emily Brontë, and Charles Dickens as influences, among others — a rare thing to see these days with so much popular fiction published in recent decades. What inspires you/draws you to their works?
I love people stories, and it doesn’t get any better than Winesberg, Ohio. If that book were a painting, it’d be one of those abstract pieces of art which people break down staring at. What I find myself returning for when I pick it up for a reread is that naked, three-AM-look at humanity. There’s a lot you can learn from it, especially if you mean to write genre fiction, like horror or sci-fi, where, given the unrealistic situational elements, it’s all the more important to engage the reader emotionally. I also love the small town setting, and how nothing is as it seems. And gosh, I could list a bunch of things that draw me to Dickens. Wonderful story-telling, fascinating characters, his sense of humor, sagely insights, romances (hey, I’m a sucker for a good love story as much as anyone). But most of all, I like his way of hitting a sweet-spot between entertaining and informing. How he often took relatable characters and put them in socially uncomfortable situations and in company of seedy individuals. The people he wrote about were the opposite of the top-hatted-gentlemen and ball-gowned-ladies who come to mind when you think about the Victorian era. This deviation from conventional portrayal is also one of the reasons I’m fond of Wuthering Heights. Catherine Earnshaw is as unladylike as a Victorian girl can be. The thing I really love about it though is how the main characters are not only flawed but downright loathsome, and yet you can’t not empathize with them. Because while they victimize others, they are as much victims themselves, and being built the way they are they deal with it the only way they can by sustaining cycles of cruelty and abuse. What sets Emily Brontë apart is how unapologetic she is in her telling of it all. I could go on, man. For me it was one of those books you click with before you even turn the first page. I read it every July, Emily’s birthday month.
You have a creative background in animation, graphics, art, film, among other pursuits. It’s rare to see someone with so much creative dynamism, with so much on your plate, can you tell us how you keep your creativity fresh? Inquiring artists would like to know.
I guess it’s a matter of being self-aware and actively challenging yourself to try different things. Also, reading widely and out of my comfort zone, absorbing other media, be it music, art, movies, even the kind with ratings like 2.3 on IMDb. The more you pack your head with a hodgepodge of things, the more likely they are to rub against each other and fire up metaphors. I enjoy writing in moleskine notebooks with a pencil from time to time.
Sleeping Beauty is a relatively popular tale in modern culture, in no small part due to the love of Disney films, but the Bluebeard tale is a darkly violent tale among the Grimm’s canon that is often overlooked. What drove you to tell this one in particular?
I had read about the Bluebeard story in other works of fiction but hadn’t read the actual fairy tale, until I stumbled upon the Quiller-Couch retellings. And being a fan of horror, it instantly turned my dials. What’s interesting about the Quiller-Couch version is that it’s an orientalized retelling accompanied by these beautiful illustrations (I’ll share the images) by an artist named Edmund Dulac. Both those things stayed with me, and that was the imagery I went with when I wrote my piece. It came about with the idea that what if Bluebeard’s surviving wife had a daughter who carried whatever strain in her genes that…well, made his beard blue. I was fascinated by the idea of how having blue hair would basically make her feel like a freak. But it also made me wonder if blue hair was all she inherited, and what that would mean for her spouse, trust issues and all. That seemed like a fun idea to pass playing with.
Rohit Sawant’s short fiction has been featured in a Lovecraftian anthology titled Kill Those Damn Cats. He lives in Mumbai, India. He loves to sketch, and his favorite Batman is Kevin Conroy. You can reach him at rohit-sawant.tumblr.com
“While You Were Sleeping” by Rohit Sawant
“Lately, I’ve been finding myself thinking about…it a lot. And it frightens me.”
Maybe the curse won’t happen, he wanted to say; he wanted to say other things as well. Instead, he held out his palm. She took it.
“It’ll be all right, Dawn. I’ll save you.”
“You are aware that you have to be a prince to pull that off.” She half-teased.
He flushed with embarrassment. How ludicrous it sounded now that he voiced it. Like something read in storybooks.
“Why a prince?” Indignation pricked him, the helpless sort only those with rough hands know. Their conversation reached a place where neither of them made eye contact.
“Tradition, I suppose? But don’t worry. I doubt any of it shall transpire. I mean, it hasn’t until now. Right?”
But it did happen.
It happened the next day.