On Poisons.Early in the development of The Edge of Maybe, I began working with the theme of poisonings, deliberate and inadvertent.
In 2006, I was interviewed by Mark Pritchard as part of a series on his website, Too Beautiful, called "What Are You Working On? Writers on their works in progress." Here is an excerpt from that interview:
The seed for the story was an acquaintance's deliberate ingestion of pesticides. I'm also disturbed by the rural methamphetamine epidemic in the United States, and the fracturing of American society into left wing/right wing, rural/city, liberal/fundamentalist.Six years later, and the theme of poisoning is still there, but like all themes should be in fiction, it is buried deep under layers of story and character and place.
My mentor, the writer and feminist Alix Kates Shulman, says to write about what worries us, what we don't know about, what we need to know about. I need to know how to live in this fractured world. How to focus on the beauty, to inoculate ourselves. So I'm exploring all of that.
In my book, as in our lives, poisons are everywhere, not just in the larger physical environment. My characters have this odd, intrigued relationship of horror-sorrow and thrill around poisonings. They poison themselves and each other literally and emotionally, even while they're trying to lead these safe, non-toxic lives. If you go into a bar, the bartender says, "Name your poison," and the primary characters in my novel do name their own poisons -- sometimes out of self-destruction, sometimes as inoculation.
Sometimes the mere fact that something is poisonous makes it intriguing. I see such a strong relationship between poison and magic; personal poisons like drugs and misplaced passions provide magic in mundane life, even if it's a dark magic. People, in general, use self-poisoning to play on the edge of darkness and mortality because they yearn for wizardry and transformation. Poison is a little bit of death in a (hopefully) controllable container, so maybe people also play with poisons for the thrill of control over death.
And poison is not always a bad thing. Poisons taken in small doses don't always destroy us, sometimes they protect us or heal us. The American Indians used to eat Poison Oak leafs to build up a resistance. Medically, we poison ourselves to make us stronger or to get the results we want: chemotherapy; Mifepristone and Misoprostol (the early abortion pills). All societies take stimulants and mind-altering drugs which, in the wrong quantity, can poison. The Japanese eat blowfish sashimi -- which can be mortally toxic if not prepared correctly. We poison selectively (rats, weeds) to improve our lives.
Not that my characters understand any of this clearly, or why they're behaving the way they are. Not yet, anyway -- they're deep in the thick of the experience.