Author Interview – Nghi Vo

The theme of one insect using another as a host for its eggs, or an insect masquerading as human impregnating another human is one that turns up frequently in fiction, but in Pompilid you avoid the common tropes of body horror, holding the impregnation back as the surprise twist, or using the story as a thinly-veiled commentary on gender roles and relationships. Was this something you consciously set out to do? If not, what did you have in the back of your mind as you wrote this story?

When I first started as a writer, I was in love with splatterpunk, and there’s a part of me that still delights in being the gross kid who likes to throw worms at people. This story comes from that, and from a picture that I found when I was about 7. It was in a book about animals, and it featured a wasp entombing a tarantula in the way that’s described in the story. That picture and the description of the process fascinated me, and to me, the story never needed to be anything beyond a conversation conducted over a process that was both brutal and perfect. It never needed to be about humans or about how we see ourselves reflected in this intimate and ultimately fatal relationship. While they’re necessarily anthropomorphic, I wanted to keep the wasps and the tarantula a lot colder and more matter-of-fact than people are. I wanted to the tarantula to be resentful, but not furious or terribly fearful, and I wanted the wasps to see this as a perfectly natural, beautiful thing. I wanted us to see the process as they did.

What is your writing process like typically? Or do you have a different process for every story?

My writing process is a lot like trying to push a stuck cart down a hill. At first, it takes a lot of time, effort and research, and everything feels hard as I try to get the cart moving. After a while, the cart picks up its own momentum, and then I can just worry about making sure it doesn’t crash horribly. During times like this, I can knock out 5000 words without a problem, though whether they are good words or not is something that I only find out later on, in edits. Sometimes, the story never picks up momentum, and it’s a slog from beginning to end. The weird part is that I can’t tell the difference between stories that come easily and ones that are like pulling teeth after I have finished them.

What is your favorite piece of insect-related fiction?

This is probably a gimme for the audience of Unlikely Entomology, but E. Lily Yu’s “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.” This is an amazing story, and if you’re reading this magazine and you haven’t read this story yet, go find it and read it right away!

What are you working on now/what do you have upcoming that you want people to know about?

Mostly I have short stories coming out in anthologies. My short story, “A Memory of White Flowers” is being published in the anthology, The Future Embodied, and it features memory implants and family history. “Neither Witch Nor Fairy,” a story about gender identity, family, the last witch burned in Ireland, and playing games with fairies, is being published in Long Hidden.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

Oh man, this could be quite a list. I don’t know if Angela Carter is obscure, and it feels a little presumptious to say Italo Calvino, hmm. How about Rikki Ducornet?

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