Who are you, really? That is the question at the heart of Lucy Hannah Ryan’s short story collection You Make Yourself Another, a visceral, tender, and elusive meditation on transformation in its many guises. Named for an insult hurled at Hamlet’s Ophelia, You Make Yourself Another blurs genre and gender lines to illuminate a state of sharp, queer flux. From a girl whose illness has her slipping between the veil of life and death to a grieving model on the path of self-destruction, from the mystery behind a teenager’s disappearance to a woman’s journey through bodily autonomy via strange metamorphosis, this collection haunts and hollows in equal measure.
The anthology is available for preorder from Half Mystic Press.
This anthology was a trip between the mundane and the magical. I loved your characters' inner worlds and how you revealed them through the prose. You have a unique way with words; many lines in this collection will haunt me for a long time.
Thank you so much, I'm really pleased you connected with it! Every time I get to talk about it and hear what other people picked up, I feel like I learn more, too. These little avenues of connection I've never walked down suddenly open up, and even though there's so much of me all over it, I'm finding more all the time. I hope it keeps revealing for other people as much as it's been doing for me!
This anthology, to me, is largely an exploration of girlhood, womanhood, and femininity. Am I correct in my assumption? How would you describe how girlhood is portrayed in your stories?
I think it is about girlhood and growing out of it and into something else.
I think also I've said to a few people it's a book about bodyhood, about being in bodies and wrestling with them until they fit, or sometimes wrestling with them because they don't.
I think in a lot stories, fiction and otherwise, girlhood, even when it's glamourised and sanitized, is also kind of mocked and not really given a lot of weight, and I guess with these stories I wanted to explore it in an earnest way. Being queer and disabled myself, I'm still working out what femininity means to me, what it looks like, how and when it best fits, and I hope that sense of malleability comes across in these stories. For some of these characters, the trappings and aesthetics of femininity, makeup and perfume spritzes are comforting costumes, for others they're suffocating, and actually opting out is more freeing, and for others still, their sense of identity comes through in entirely different ways.
There's also just a lot of grisly business in aspects of girl-and-womanhood, both physically and in a more ephemeral sense, how girls are socialised and expected to look and act. It's seen as an edgy juxtaposition in horror movies, things like Jennifer's Body, Ginger Snaps or American Mary, but I don't think they are as far apart as people like to pretend.
Pink is a shade of red, after all.
You Make Yourself Another also calls upon the theme of building yourself, sometimes not as you would like to be but as others have shaped you. Throughout the book, characters perform rather than be who they are. What are personhood and personality to you, and what do you think are the consequences of the artificiality that your characters experience?
It's so much about performance, isn't it? Just life, in general?
Even when I was a kid, too young to have a phone and long before social media was as dominant as it is now, I used to walk around my house pretending to be on a talk show, answering questions about my real life but performing them as funny little anecdotes the way I'd seen celebrities do on TV.
I really have no idea who I would be, as a human being, without being completely and utterly shaped by media, character traits and catchphrases absorbed into my personality, thoughts muddled with quotations and song lyrics. It's so much easier being a person when you can cheat, a little! I'm a bit of an eccentric dresser, and a lot of that, too, is about wearing a costume and showing off one face to the outside that's so different to the one I live with in my house when I'm in too much pain to change our of my pajamas all week.
I think some level of performance is inescapable we're just too saturated by media and advertisements and all that, but I think the real hard part is keeping a hold of the agency in the situation.
Joyfully playing dress up is very different to feeling existential dread because you're a trend cycle behind and everything you wear makes you feel horrible about yourself a month later. When so much is performance it can be easy to lose yourself, to stop having fun, to not see you anymore, just a bunch of things borrowed from elsewhere, or maybe foisted upon you by an algorithm.
A lot of these stories are about reuniting with yourself, and I think that's something a lot of people are finding increasingly hard to do the more fast paced and distant the world gets. I was working on this book a lot during the pandemic, and I think that omnipresent feeling of isolation and depersonalisation really go hand in hand.
In your works, there are references to mental illness and its relation to health and our environment. For example, "Movement" portrays depersonalisation and "In Bloom" expresses feelings of unrealness. Could you share the significance of these themes and what you hope readers gain from this?
This really does tie into the end of that last answer. I'm definitely someone who goes retreats when I'm not doing well mentally, and when I am sick or depressed I do start to feel pretty cut off from the rest of the world.
I think that's the trick depression plays, isn't it? It squeezes the colour out of things, so that even things that used to bring you joy don't work the way they used to. I know, like a lot of people, I spent long swathes of the pandemic not seeing anyone who didn't live with me, or going outside, and nothing felt real to me — like an echo of every time I took long breaks from school and work with my chronic illnesses, where my body and the pain were my immediate reality and everything else was just distant sound and colour.
A few of the stories which have these themes also have "snap back to reality" moments, sometimes happy and sometimes more jarring and difficult, but still real, and that's also my experience with depression. Even feeling the so called "bad" emotions again is a step above the abyss.
I hope anyone reading who does feel disconnected can maybe find connection with them, or at least a little assurance that all feelings, good or bad or numb, are temporary.
In "Maybe It's Better When It's Burning," we discover that Amy's illness leads to her new wings. In "Satellite Child," Emmanuel's immortality is akin to someone going through seizures or suffering a chronic illness. Continuing with that theme, what can you tell us about the intersection between magic and chronic illness/disability?
I always wanted to be magic.
When I was a kid, with a terrible immune system and without the knowledge I have now about my problematic genes, I kept desperately hoping that the weird unease I felt in myself was actually a budding reveal of beautiful strangeness.
I would be a fairy, a witch, and all of my real problems (pain, anxiety, homework) would melt away in favour of adventure.
I don't know if I got that from a penchant for reading and a wild imagination, or if something, somewhere, had crossed my eyes with the history of the fairy changeling—that unwell children were actually fae that had been mischievously swapped at birth—but either way, the hold it had on me has never really left.
I have a lot of horror stories in me about my illnesses, the things I've gone through, treatments that were invasive (or botched), and I think there's something about twisting it under my own hands, and giving that pain and that suffering a different resolution that's just kind of liberating for me.
There's a lot of instances in fiction of magic coming with debilitating side effects, like painful visions of the future, but this is more like disability with a side effect of magic. Both an explanation (and don't I have so many chronically ill friends begging for one of those after years of pain?) and a kind of liberation.
The theme of love in pieces such as "Carcass" and "In the Absence of Moonlight" is visceral, filled with descriptions of blood and injury and surrounded by death. What do you hope readers will understand through your exploration of this side of love, and what are the origins and impacts of this type of love?
It's funny that you pull out love as the theme of those stories—which it very much is—when I think I tend to look at them as grief stories, because grief can't exist without love, in some form. And now you do have me pondering the inverse.
I think grief often feels visceral, whether the relationship you had with someone was wholesome and healthy or, more likely, complicated and confusing and full of contradiction; this is particularly true when dealing with the death of a loved one. I know I've come out the other side still with guilt and regret and resentment with nowhere to go. I've also come out of loss with a sense of peace and gratitude for what I had; there's no right or wrong way to do it, I don't think.
But loss does what it says—creates an absence, an exit wound. Even less permanent losses, like break ups or fallings out with friends can leave you hunched over and muttering: I feel like a wounded animal to yourself as you pace your bedroom. I'm still thinking about it; can you have love without grief? I don't know if you can.
Even joyful loves, painless ones, still have a moment of fracture—even the healthiest breakup or the most peaceful of deaths, it's still an ending. And I think those stories speak to a few different reactions to loss. There's no right answer to what should grief feel like? But I think the common assumption I was raised with, that grief is just sadness, with a few moments of joyful remembrance thrown in, really does our complexity as people a disservice.
I will also say, those two stories in particular have a common thread of losing yourself, a little bit, in someone else.
That's something I'm all too familiar with, growing up with too-close friendships (often with romantic lilts I didn't have the words to put to), and can be really hard to avoid in romantic relationships.
So when you add grief in, how can you avoid the viscera?
There's just a bit less of you left over. I guess it all ties back to that idea of keeping your agency from before, keeping ahold of what you are (or want to be), even in the whirlwind of love or death or, maybe a global pandemic.
Ari Ochoa Petzold (they/xe), is a writer in process that likes dancing to old music and history, one of their goals in mind is to bring to the world stories about the human condition told through the intersectionality of being queer and latine. Find more of xyr work in the Sea Glass Magazine, Graveyard Zine, #Enbylife, Hooligan Mag and at Instagram in @Ari_gibberish.