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Interview: Eugenia Triantafyllou

Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. Her work has been nominated for the Ignyte, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, and she is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. You can find her stories in Uncanny, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and other venues. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. “Flower, Daughter, Soil, Seed” is her fifth appearance in Uncanny, a beautifully surreal story of flowers, family, and survival.

 

Uncanny Magazine: I love the themes and imagery in “Flower, Daughter, Soil, Seed,” with flowers uprooted and changed across generations. What was your starting point or inspiration for the story?

Eugenia Triantafyllou: I already had the image of the protagonist from Midsommar, a woman covered in flowers, but flowers that sprouted from her own body. But I didn’t know what that woman wanted or what her story was.

The idea began with a prompt that I found on The Codex Writers’ Group Forum during last year’s Weekend Warrior competition, in Week 1. I think the prompt was “What is in every season but one?” and I interpreted season as a biome/habitat. And what wasn’t in that one biome was the viability for each protagonist. They could perhaps live in other biomes but not in the one life was taking them. So, they had to die and be reborn in a way that would help them adapt.

Finally, I happened to have read a poem in Uncanny Magazine by Roshani Chokshi called “deep sleep,” on the same day. It’s a wonderful poem that speaks of immigration in an almost biological way (at least that’s how I interpreted it). The part about the exhaustion of butterflies, travelling 3,000 miles to reach their winter beds and losing four generations in the process really stuck with me. Once all of these images combined in my head, I was ready.

Uncanny Magazine: What was your favorite part of writing this story? What was the most challenging thing?

Eugenia Triantafyllou: I think my favorite part was researching flowers and their special environments/abilities that would emerge out of the new place the next generation would be born in.

This story was not hard at all for me to write. It was one of those stories that flow out of you and you have an almost perfect draft in a few days. That doesn’t mean I didn’t sit on it for a long time tweaking this thing or the other. Probably because I really like this tale and wanted for it to be as close to perfect as possible. Perfect here is the image of it I had in my mind.

If I could say that something was a little challenging, that would be figuring out the map of the family’s journey and making up one in my mind. I mostly tried to make them circle a version of the Mediterranean countries and starting/ending up in Cotani (a fantasy version of Crete). But then I also needed a snow mountain range like the Alps and a desert with alpacas and cactuses. In the end, I had to re-arrange the world map somewhat and smash some things together.

Uncanny Magazine: “Flower, Daughter, Soil, Seed,” has a voice that evokes folk or fairy tales. You mentioned in a previous interview that growing up in Greece you read/heard a lot of folktales—do you have a favorite? What are some of your other literary influences?

Eugenia Triantafyllou: When I was in elementary school, we had a book called Anthologio. The same word as Anthology. It comes from Greek and it’s made up of the word anthos- (blossom) and -ology which is a suffix we have in Greek. You can go to the Wikipedia for anthology and read the pretty interesting history behind it, including the first ever anthology.

So there you have it, a collection of stories is a collection of blossoms, just like in the story we are discussing.

Anthologio was a book we read for at least a few years in elementary school during our literature course and it was full of Greek folk tales, poems, and songs. I remember my mother had dressed mine with a pink and yellow flowery cover which solidified its flowery nature in my mind. None of these answers your question (this is the interview with my most tangents) but this book was my most important introduction into the world of folk tales (and flowers).

One of my most beloved folk tales from that book was “The Ugly Prince.” It resembles “Sleeping Beauty,” only instead of being cursed to sleep, the Fate has just forgotten to bless the Prince with traditional beauty. But this doesn’t stop him from shining so bright that people think he has “The Sun for a face and the Moon for a chest.” I always loved that folk tale for how low stakes and warm it was, and I looked up to that charismatic Prince. I was also wondering, and still do, how the Sun for a face and the Moon for a chest look like. I might find out one day!

Uncanny Magazine: If you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be and why?

Eugenia Triantafyllou: My last name means of the rose in Greek. Triantafyllo is made up of two words trianta, which means thirty, and phyllo (like the phyllo dough) which in this case means leaf. So triantafyllo translates as thirty-leaved and that also means rose! The word is of Byzantine origin. If you add the suffix -u that my last name has, it becomes of the rose. Maybe I am one of those flower women from the story, only further down the line.

I just realized this interview is packed with Greek word definitions. Sorry about that!

Uncanny Magazine: In the end, the story circles back to the forest where it started, several generations having passed. Is there somewhere, either from your past or from your family’s history, that you particularly wish you could return to?

Eugenia Triantafyllou: Greece’s recent history, almost ever since the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829), has been very turbulent with not a moment’s rest. And while this affected all people living in the country, I feel that my family’s past is particularly hard and unpredictable.

Due to that, it is hard for me to willingly return to a specific moment in my family’s history. I think if I could return to the past and inhabit a moment it would be the moment my mother tells me these stories that happened to our family like she is telling me a myth or a fairytale. Warm, and protected, and fed, listening to the past, like the girl in the story. That’s a good moment to return to. And of course, then back to the present with its own struggles to create new tales from.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Eugenia Triantafyllou: Currently I am keeping my mind open for inspiration to come in. Maybe a novel? We’ll see!

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

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Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is a three-time Hugo and six-time Nebula Award finalist. Her short stories have been translated into several languages and reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including four times in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yoachim’s short story collection Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories and the print chapbook of her novelette The Archronology of Love are available from Fairwood Press. For more, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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