Ioanna Papadopoulou, author of “The Drowned King,” answered a few of editor in chief JW Stebner’s questions about her writing process, her inspirations, and her short story appearing in Issue 3 of Hexagon. Beware of potential spoilers for her story “The Drowned King.”
JW: Why do you write speculative fiction?
IP: I think I primarily write speculative fiction because I want to be free of the world we live in. I like exploring issues and answering my own questions about life, but I don’t like being constrained by the limitations of our world. Either in terms of practical issues or of historical issues. I also believe there are some issues that if you examine them in our world, they become coloured by many preconceptions of place and time, which I don’t necessarily want to connect in my stories.
JW: Do you read the same types of stories that you write?
IP: Yes and no. I read the type of stories I write because if I didn’t enjoy the genre, I don’t believe I could do it justice, but I am also a fan of genres that I would never feel comfortable to write.
JW: What types of characters do you enjoy writing? Naomi in “The Drowned King” is such a formidable, complex character. Is this the kind of character that you typically enjoy writing, or is she an outlier?
IP: I try for all my characters to be complex and flawed people. I usually put them in extreme situations so their flaws as well as their strengths come off stronger. I think Naomi is one of my most confident and ambitious characters as she is bent on achieving success within her community, while many (obviously not all) of my characters are quite uncaring of their position in society either out of choice or because they are not thinking of it enough. But, Naomi is very much a fighter, not afraid of confrontation, and a survivor. She is very determined, and that is why some thoughts don’t occur to her – like the fate of her son – until Novak points it.
JW: You are quite new to publishing short fiction, Ioanna. What has that experience been like for you?
IP: It has been exciting and a huge boost to my self-esteem. I am so happy to be part of the community. The more I read magazines and keep up with what is going on in the short fiction writing community, the more inspired I am to get better and push myself.
JW: When you are working on a new piece of short fiction, do you workshop it with other writers/readers? How do you see this as part of the larger writing process?
IP: Well, I am very fortunate that my partner is also a writer. He is my primary reader and I always value his feedback. Then, my parents and my sister usually read some of my work and they will tell me what they think. My art teacher listens to my stories (which I record for him) and this process also helps me examine my story in a different format as well.
I have tried beta readers but, overall, I think that it is very difficult to find the writers/readers that understand your genre, your perspective and are constructive within that. Saying that, I have learnt a lot from beta readers, who have pointed out my consistent writing mistakes. But, I don’t feel that every story I write needs to go through a beta reading process.
JW: You have studied Art History and Heritage Visualization, as well as worked in libraries, museums, and community centres. How has this impacted/influenced your short fiction writing?
IP: I think they have influenced and impacted me. Art history is full of visual stories and, as an art historian, I am trained to decipher the visual details of a painting or other work of art and that has given me an array of images that act as a general base for my imagination. Similarly, from my work as a museum educator, I learnt to find the many stories an object can tell and to have that wide point of view, although I was using that narrative ability not for a story but for a class and my work within libraries and communities allowed me to have access to many people and groups of people that I wouldn’t normally have contact with, again expanding my understanding of the world and helping me become the person I am today. So, in that respect, they have definitely influenced me.
JW: Many authors and editors say that to write well, an author must read a lot. Do you have any particular authors that inspire you?
IP: I agree that reading is important to write. I think we should never forget what it feels to be the consumer of what we make, but also that without having books and other external stimuli, our minds and ideas are bound to become more stagnant. As to specific authors, I have a soft spot for Naomi Novik, because her words always suck me in so quickly and find her writing really easy to engage with.
JW: The setting of “The Drowned King” is very unique. Was there a certain place from which you pulled inspiration, or was the world created to fit the story? How much importance do you put on the setting of a story?
IP: Yes! I wrote that story when I was in Spain on holiday. My partner and I went to a beach in Almeria and he told me of how he used to play and explore it when he was younger and, from these retellings as we swam the world setting emerged. The second inspiration was from an illustration I had seen years ago of a wall with skulls.
Setting is important to me because I am very much a situation writer in many ways this is what builds the characters and plot.
JW: I always like to ask about writing process because each writer is different in the way that they create. Can you describe your personal writing process?
IP: Well, I think a big part of my writing process is that I rarely write alone. My partner and I write together the last few years. It really was this combined effort the reason why I started writing daily and achieving my 1000 word count. In the beginning, I used music to inspire me and searched images to find stories that emanated from them but, I think, after these years of pretty much daily diligent work, I no longer need them. I no longer listen to music (although sometimes I do like using visual prompts). Nowadays, my writing has taken the shape of answering hypothetical questions, which usually stem from my readings or conversations I have had. So, for example, my story in Collective Realms’ February issue, started from the question of what happens to a Selkie’s child after their mother gets their seal skin back and dives into the sea. I almost always start with a what if question and see where it takes me.
JW: Can you speak about a larger project that you might be working on? A passion project or slowly developing epic that might be something to look for in the future? Even a current work in progress that you care to share a few details about?
IP: Well, I have short fiction fever at this moment so I mainly write these stories, trying my hand more into horror and, also moving closer and closer to adapting contemporary Greek elements in my stories, but still set in secondary worlds most of the time.
The next novel I am preparing to write is a myth retelling about the Goddess Demeter. Growing up in Greece, I consumed Greek myths and Demeter, although not my childhood favourite, was always the most powerful female Goddess, having managed to nearly end humans in her despair for Persephone. But I have found that in English translations, Demeter doesn’t have that majestic feeling I had for her as a child. So, I want to recreate that feeling. My idea is to use Homer and Pausanias ‘s accounts and primarily focus the story around Demeter’s relationship with her siblings and her two daughters, Despoina which she abandons in Arcadia and Persephone, for whom she goes into destructive tendencies to reclaim.
JW: How might interested readers keep up with your future work?
IP: The best ways is through twitter. You can follow me @IoannaP12806964.