by Hephaestion Christopoulos
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, Apex, Strange Horizons, and other venues. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. Find her on Twitter @foxesandroses or her website https://eugeniatriantafyllou.wordpress.com
You emerged from an unpublished Greek writer to a twice Nebula nominee. For many of us, there has been a period of silence from you, till you suddenly started publishing stories in English in pro-paying markets. Can you tell us how this came to be and what the turning point was?
What happened in that “lost” time was that I moved to Sweden and had to adjust to a new country as well as face some other personal challenges. On the writing front I was trying to adjust my writing voice in English by reading a lot of short fiction by contemporary writers while simultaneously trying to improve in other areas.
What followed was a series of short story submissions and subsequent rejections, and I was changing and evolving my style with each new story. They weren’t many. It took me a while to finish each new piece, partly because I wrote slower back then and because of the adjustment period. During that process my partner Yorgos and my friend Natalia were invaluable to my writing development and supported me emotionally.
The turning point was a horror story that I wrote in English from a prompt Natalia had given us at the Greek writing forum sff.gr. That was the first story I wrote in English that had strong Greek themes in it and didn’t feel like as much of an effort to write. I have included a great deal of what I would later consider my voice in that story. It got a lot of close call rejections until it was ultimately accepted in Black Static which qualified me to join the Codex writing forum which in my early writing days proved to be (and still is) a valuable resource.
You have written stories in several genres, from classic horror (“Cherry Wood Coffin”) to speculative fiction concerning current social issues (“My Country is a Ghost”, your first Nebula nomination). Is there a genre you feel more comfortable with? And, for that matter, did you choose speculative fiction deliberately or would you say that it chose you?
Folk horror or folk dark fantasy comes easier to me as a tone or style. I don’t want to say genre because it feels much more specific than that. But generally dark fantasy is something that’s more natural to me and comes from years and years of listening to or reading dark folk tales. For me the genre a potential idea falls in doesn’t matter beyond the fact that it helps me not stagnate. I like to switch up genres and find the right tone/world for a story because it stimulates my mind. Changing genres or combining two or more genres keeps me engaged in the story and gives me a new perspective every time.
I would say that I happened upon speculative fiction. I went from creating comics (at a very crude/early stage) to joining the Greek SFF forum I spoke of above, after it was suggested to me. The first thing I saw was a short sci-fi story competition to which I jumped right in without thinking too much about it, as one does. I am glad that I did because I enjoy stretching my imagination to create worlds and complex metaphors that reflect upon the world we live in.
When we say speculative fiction, I guess this implies that what isn’t speculative fiction must be literary fiction. But for me it is not a binary and if it were, the other side would be called realistic fiction. Although, even realistic fiction is still fiction and therefore it’s fake realism (as Le Guin would say). As I said, I enjoy using my imagination as much as each story allows and stretch the limits of what is fantastical, surreal, horrific and wondrous in all possible directions. Realism therefore would not work for me as well, although I don’t rule out the possibility in the future. I do write fabulist fiction sometimes, which is the closest I have gotten to realism.
But writing speculative fiction doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate literary elements. Literary fiction is a genre like fantasy, horror, and science fiction are genres, and if we are mixing genres we can just as well do it with literary fiction too. Personally, I think my stories linger somewhere in the spectrum of literary and speculative at various degrees each time. My plan for future projects is to combine as many different elements from different genres in such a seamless way that the product will be really hard to place but, hopefully, still possible to enjoy.
Apart from the two nominations, which moment in your career up till now would you say is closest to your heart?
I think my first acceptance, the one in Black Static, was a very welcome and a much-needed surprise. I still hold the feeling of someone trusting me and publishing my first story close to my heart.
Another one was my acceptance to Clarion West Writers Workshop because of all the new experiences I got to live and the people I got to meet in a country so far away and so removed from my everyday life.
Can you share with us a few things about your experience at the Clarion West workshop?
I don’t know what to say because it was such an all-encompassing experience that it’s hard to describe. In those six weeks I met some of my favourite writers, I made friends that I will have for life, I attended some eye-opening lectures on writing and partied every week with interesting and fun people in some mind-blowing locations. I also got to travel so far away and see a completely new country with a very different perspective.
It was important for me as a writer who publishes in the US from a small country in another continent to meet people of my extended sff community. We don’t realize – or perhaps we do – how little access we have to major writing cons, to agents and publishers, to workshops, and to a more expanded sff community. Things that are taken for granted in some places, like scholarships, creative writing workshops, and residencies, sound almost unrealistic here. And it puts us at a disadvantage, even though we have a lot of talent brewing in Greece and in the Balkans.
One thing that struck me and changed how I viewed my writing and myself up until that moment, was that everyone in Seattle took me seriously as a writer. I didn’t have to explain how much money I made, and if that money was enough to pay all the bills, or part of the bills, or if my writing included short stories or novels. If I said I was a writer it meant that I was treated like one. What I said was taken at face value. We tend to underestimate how much emotional support and peer response can have an impact on our progress. Many people think that being a harsh critic and assigning only capitalistic value to art will push someone to reach their full potential. But that’s almost never true. In Seattle I saw how genuine support and kind and nuanced feedback make all the difference in the world. Writers are already plagued by self-doubt. Reinforcing that self-doubt with harsh criticism disguised as constructive criticism only makes matters worse.
Since I left Seattle in 2019 the Clarion West people keep working hard to improve their workshop environment and to become more inclusive of different experiences and writing styles. I hope that one day I will be able to give back to that community and also help more writers from Greece and the Balkans attend the workshop or create an equivalent somewhere in our area. Being part of a writing community is something I have found to be invaluable. It’s why I am so excited for our class’s reunion this July in Boston.
What were the problems you faced when you first started writing in a foreign language? How does it feel writing in a language other than your mother tongue now?
As I mentioned above, finding my voice and feeling confident in using it was one of the hardest things that took me the longest to achieve. Another thing that took a lot of practice was not getting tired while writing in English. Because English wasn’t the language I was most comfortable writing in, I tended to summarize the stories and the plots just to get to the end. I had to stop myself many times and focus on one moment in the story in order to unpack and flesh out the scene, add detail and ground it. Once I managed to do this, things fell into place quite fast.
Nowadays writing in English feels easier, not because I am fluent in English, but because my writing brain is used to my English voice more than my Greek one. That doesn’t mean I don’t have sentences pop in my head in Greek or that I don’t struggle to remember the right word in English, but the musicality of my English voice is something I can invoke with ease. There is a certain rhythm in my English prose that I am not sure I have in Greek.
Still, there are a lot of things to improve. Personal goals related to my writing: how to make it more compelling, broaden my skillset. I still struggle with unknown words and expressions and trying to find my way around those. Dialogue is hard to get it to sound natural and that’s why I use very little of it in general. But I will get there one day or at least get closer.
Self-doubt and procrastination: two of the writers’ greatest enemies. Do you ever have to face them and, if yes, how do you deal with them?
All the time. In fact, 90% of my writing life is made up of both of these and only 10% is actual writing.
Jokes aside I did and I still do have a great level of self-doubt, especially when it comes to trying out something new, like a reading of my story, or a panel, of writing for an IP. Anything new is full of uncertainty. But many already familiar things still entail a level of self-doubt for me. I don’t think that’s a bad thing necessarily. Sometimes it just means that I need to research or think something over for a longer time. Or that this project means a lot to me and I am afraid I might break it. Sometimes though it is bad. When I first started writing fiction in English, I thought about giving up every day. Yorgos and Natalia kept pushing and encouraging me and if it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t be here now.
Procrastination is a slightly different beast that can sometimes come from self-doubt. If I am unsure of how to handle a new project it’s more possible that I will try to avoid it than when I feel more confident in it. Then, there is the procrastination that comes from burnout, and for that the best solution is to just wait it out and be good to myself. After Clarion West I didn’t write anything for a whole year (I did revise “My Country is a Ghost” that was written during the workshop and sent it to Uncanny Magazine, but that was it). I think this was the right choice because it allowed me to process the experience of being in CW and think of the lessons I learned there, but also recharge my batteries.
If someone hasn’t read any of your stories, how would you describe yourself as a writer to them?
That’s the hardest question in the whole interview. It’s hard to self-describe, but I’ll make an effort. I guess “the weirder. the better” is a good description for me. I enjoy writing about bodies in general and always manage to insert elements of body horror in almost everything I write, even if it’s a story that has a lighter tone.
I enjoy creating worlds and giving a mythic quality to the stories even when they are set in a science fictional environment. I enjoy creating fairy tales and myths from scratch or taking apart existing fairy tales and using their elements in ways that make it hard to tell where they have come from.
I have a fascination with family and familial relationships. Especially between mothers and daughters but also between sisters. These two kinds of familial relationships are part of my writing obsessions. Dark stories are the ones that help me explore those relationships the best. I tend to write quiet heartbreak.
As much as I enjoy creating imaginary worlds, I have found that I enjoy writing about Greece in a slightly slanted way, not the way non-Greeks see it, but also not the way Greeks traditionally write about it. I am trying to find my own way to write about Greece. Invent how to approach the country, the culture, and the people, in a manner that cuts through the noise of preconceptions in order to get to the core. Write stories that tell truths about us but are also universally understood.
Suppose you win the award. What comes next? What are your aspirations for the future?
I didn’t win the award as I am answering this question so the joke’s on you! (but mostly on me). But that is okay because being in a ballot like the Nebulas or the World Fantasy Award is an honour and an accomplishment in and by itself. And to be honest, winning wouldn’t have changed much (although I would have gotten a pretty cool trophy). My plan would still be the same.
The plan is to write as many different things as I can. I want to write for comics (again) and maybe game writing if the opportunity arises (hello Horizon Game Series!). I want to write more tie-in fiction in IPs that I enjoy consuming myself and I want to write novels. How many of these dreams will come true remains to be seen. I just want to tell as many stories as I possibly can.
Hephaestion Christopoulos is confused: part engineer, part translator, part aspiring linguist and part hopeless bassist. He also writes. He has published two short story collections in Greek and has participated in several anthologies. His latest book The Whales on the Moon mixes realism with speculative elements and has received positive reviews. His novella A Precambrian Discourse on Filipassianism is forthcoming in 2023 from Raven Canticle Press. He lives in Athens with five women, only three of which are furry. You can find him on Twitter @CompsonsCurse.