Chimeric Contributor: Laura VanArendonk Baugh

It’s kind of become a tradition that I interview the contributors to my anthologies and share those interviews on my blog. It’s also kind of become a tradition that it takes me a very long time to get them all posted. I plan to continue the first tradition but I’m hoping to avoid the second. Just to be different.

We’re continuing the Chimeric contributor interviews with a familiar name on my blog–Laura VanArendonk Baugh. Laura is a talented writer who I’ve had the pleasure of working with on three of my Magical Menageries titles. This was her first foray into the Alphabet Anthologies but with a little luck she’ll stick around for a good, long time 🙂

 

C is for Chimera-Interview

What letter were you assigned?

N.

Did you struggle with the letter you were given?

Not really, but….

I was a late addition to the anthology, and I had to come up with an idea on short notice. I kept thinking, Chimera, N, what word starts with an N and goes with chimera? And I remembered Nina, from the manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist.

If you’re not familiar with this story, you can find a fairly dry and unemotional spoiler here (http://fma.wikia.com/wiki/Nina_Tucker), but trust me, much like a certain pivotal gut-wrenching scene in the Firefly ‘verse (“too soon!”), this is an incident which still draws cries and wails from fans over a decade later. It’s made quite a few Top Ten lists of most heart-wrenching anime moments.
I posted on social media that I needed a chimera association with the letter N and linked an image of Nina, and then I sat back to enjoy the flood of emotional-devastation reaction gifs. Because writers are basically sadists.

I did have to work a bit to clear my mind for a new idea, and I had a false start involving genetically-modified bees and GMO crops, but I really like what eventually came.

What was your favourite idea for the ‘word’ to use in your title that you didn’t use?

I didn’t have any other ideas than what I submitted. I wrote the entire story without the title word, and thank God the final scene suggested a word to me. (As I said, I was a late addition and wrote the story in a week. There was more panic than leisurely mulling in my process.)

What kind of chimera is your story about?

I took a fairly literal approach, using the Khaimara of Greek mythology.

What, other than the letter you were assigned, helped inspire your story?

I’d been researching geologic phenomena for another story, earthquakes and tsunami, and I’d found some new reports on a massive crevice opening far more rapidly than science had ever thought possible, and I thought – well, what I thought would be a spoiler. But that was the germ of this story.

Lion, goat or snake–which are you more like?

A Harry-Potter fan friend insists I am the Gryffindor, so I suppose that makes me the lion. Though I think I can have serpentine aspects at times. Don’t tread on me.

If you were going to be magically transformed into a chimera composed of three different creatures, what would you want them to be?

Oh, man. I suppose horse, hawk, and hound, but I think I’d prefer to be able to shift as necessary than to share aspects of all at all times. Or a sea mammal might be nice, too, to explore the oceans….

What if it wasn’t limited to creatures? What three things would you want to be composed of?

I can’t help but start to think of this in superhero terms. Adamantium? Diamond? Elastic?

But I think I would get in my own way, if I were composed of three different materials. A watery torso couldn’t slip through a tight space if held back by inflexible metal legs. Dazzling golden skin would look incongruent next to silken skin, even if both were gorgeous. And if I were made of dark chocolate I would really struggle wi—nom nom nom nom.

Unrealizable dreams have been called chimeras. Taking the ‘unrealizable’ part out of the equation, what is one of your fondest dreams/goals?

I’ve achieved a number of my goals already! But of course there are always new dreams. I’d love to be an author guest of honor at a major convention; I have several in mind. We’ll see.

Can you share a short excerpt from your story?

“This is the way,” Casta said, her voice low in the dark. “A labyrinth to enlightenment.”

Anastasios lifted the lamp, showing the rough stone wall’s curve darkly golden in the lamplight. Concentric circles, again. “Do you know the way?”

“I know there is a way. That is not quite the same.” But she took the lamp, pressing past him in the narrow corridor, and started down the passage.

There were no branching paths, for which Anastasios was grateful. This was a labyrinth, then, and not a maze. Troughs ran along the floor, deep and narrow grooves parallel to the curving walls, and Anastasios could not guess their purpose.

The path doubled back on itself, working back and forth but ever inward. He kept close to Casta, and she stayed near him, as if they somehow needed each other’s warmth in this warm dark.
The curves became tighter and tighter. And then the passage opened into a wider space and Casta stopped so abruptly that Anastasios bumped into her from behind and jostled the lamp. She did not look back at him or speak.

Beyond her, something was in the dark. He could feel it, sense it, a disturbance in the air and a presence against his skin. Casta lifted the lamp, and eyes shone green back at them.
They leapt backward, Casta stumbling against Anastasios, and he caught and steadied her.

Anastasios steeled himself. “Who’s there?” he called, and his voice wavered only a little. “Your prince asks.”

There was a rustling sound, as of leather or scales brushing stone, and a soft laugh. “Not my prince,” came a low voice, resting just a bit longer than usual on the final consonant.

Anastasios swallowed and took the lamp from Casta. Be confident and assertive, the queen had admonished him, and demand their respect. They cannot refuse you. He put a hand on Casta’s shoulder and stepped past her, raising the lamp high. “Who are you, then, if not my subject?”

Light spread forward, and a lion’s face stared steadily back at him from the shadow.

Anastasios flinched backward, but Casta’s hand caught him between the shoulder blades. “Stand still,” she whispered, her mouth close to his ear. “Quick movements enrage or entice. Be still, and offer no threat.”

She would know how to face dangerous animals. He froze, his knees nearly trembling with their rigidity, and waited.

The lion’s lips curled in a cat’s smile. “Your female is clever,” it said, its mouth forming about the words as no lion’s mouth could do. “But you live by my forbearance, not by her wisdom. I have something to say to you, prince.”

Anastasios swallowed. “How can a lion speak to me?”

“A lion.” The cat sounded disdainful. The big head turned, showing a thin mane which did not conceal the ears. The mouth opened, and the beast spat forth a stream of fire.

Casta and Anastasios screamed together. Fire lit the passage, making them shield their eyes, but Casta against Anastasios’ back kept him in place despite his fear.

When they looked again, the floor trough was full of fire, burning invisible fuel in a long line about the outer edge of the round chamber. In the center stood a creature, a beast beyond comprehension. It was a lion, or at least the front part of it was. A goat’s head rose from the withers and watched them over the lion’s thin mane. A long tail moved restlessly behind the lion body, but it was not a tail, it was a serpent with its own head for the tail’s end, eying them.

Trikephalos,” breathed Casta.

 

Laura VanArendonk Baugh was born at a very early age and never looked back. She overcame her childhood deficiencies of having been born without teeth and unable to walk, and by the time she matured into a recognizable adult she had become a behavior analyst, an internationally-recognized animal trainer, a costumer/cosplayer, a chocolate addict, and of course a writer.

Cover art and design by Jonathan C. Parrish

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