Blog Interview – Brenna Layne

Brenna Layne is a writer, teacher, wife, and mother living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. When she is not wrangling words or kids, she enjoys beekeeping, gardening, and broadsword fighting. You can find her online at www.brennalayne.com where she blogs, on facebook and on twitter.

Her story “The Bonny Bones” appears in Exoplanet Issue One.

What inspired your story?

“The Bonny Bones” is a retelling of the English ballad “The Bonny Swans” as it evolved into an Appalachian folk song. In the original story, one sister murders the other in a bid to take her lover. The ballad has intrigued me for a long time with its dark, lyrical portrayal of the effects of envy and its role in sibling relationships. It’s very melodramatic, as ballads tend to be, and I wanted to examine the sibling envy in a different way, in terms of the ordinary, messy envy non-ballad humans experience and often struggle to articulate. I also wanted to use the story to play with the truth that we often unintentionally hurt the ones we love. There’s a lot going on in “The Bonny Swans”—it’s a story about revenge, but also about family, transformation, and the power of music to speak hard truths.

You’ve captured all of those things here, very real feelings. Why do you choose fantasy as an outlet for such realistic themes?

Fantasy feels deeply real and true. It’s just what makes sense to me. On a mature college-educated adult symbolic level, I write fantasy because its magic provides a language of metaphor for all that is lovely and perilous in this world, for the transcendent moments that pierce the ordinary like glimmers of light, or darkness. On a very primal emotional level, no one has yet managed to convince me that dragons are impossible.

Well said. And what are some books that have influenced your work?

The books that seem to influence my own writing the most aren’t fantasies at all. Earlier this year I read Naomi Williams’s Landfalls, an utterly brilliant, completely ambitious work of historical fiction about the ill-fated voyage of a French ship. Each chapter is told from a different perspective and set in a different part of the world, and yet Williams manages to create a unified narrative via prisms of story that reflect light on one another and illuminate each other from without and within. It’s stunning—the kind of book that can teach you a thousand new things about how to tell a story.

What was the last book that made you laugh and/or cry?

Muriel Barbary’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog completely destroyed me. At one point I was clutching the book while sobbing huge, desperate tears—and then something in the midst of the heart-piercing sorrow made me laugh out loud. While sobbing hysterically. Many books have made me laugh or cry or yell at them (and one I even put in the freezer à la Rachel and Joey on Friends) but so far this is the only one that’s made me laugh out loud while ugly-crying.

What writing projects are you working on now?

Appalachian ballads continue to confound and intrigue me, so I’ve written a couple more retellings, with more to come. I’m also revisiting an adult fantasy I wrote a few years ago. Inspired by the bold ambition of Landfalls, I plan to burn my novel to the ground and start over, rewriting it as a series of linked short stories that (hopefully) tell a set of individual stories while unfolding a larger plotline. I had originally intended to write it this way and failed. Williams showed me that it can be done. Now I just have to figure out how. 

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