Link’s engagement with the strange reaches its apotheosis in White Cat, Black Dog, (Random House, Mar.), in which she draws on fairy tales including “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow White and Rose Red.”
What’s your relationship to fairy tales?
Like many people who love books, fairy tales were my introduction to the fantastic. They’re a genre I come back to, whether reading Angela Carter or anthologies of retold fairy tales. I think what seemed useful to me when I began to think about the kind of stories I wanted to write was that I could use fairy tales in a way that was not a direct retelling but could retain some of the extraordinary qualities of colors, food, or animals. I wrote “The Lady and the Fox,” based on the Scottish ballad of “Tam Lin,” for an anthology, and thought I could keep finding ways to approach the collection from there.
The stories often feature familiar objects and places made strange, like a cross stitch bearing a sinister message and a marijuana dispensary run by a cat. Where did these details come from?
That cross stitch doesn’t exist, but it’s probably connected to the popularity of folk horror and the really gorgeous, slightly gothic crafts people make now. I love art that is weird and personal, but connects to these esoteric things, whether you’re making a cake or a piece of music. The eternal and the pop-cultural intersect.
What can contemporary fiction inject into the fairy tale?
Maybe psychological depth. Fairy tales depend on what the reader brings to them. The difference between fairy tales and myth is that Disney hardened our idea of certain stories so that a particular version of them becomes so codified that it replaces other possibilities of how that story could exist. I don’t think it’s great to let those stories exist in one form. People are constantly retelling them, and I think you need the rigid, popular version everyone knows for the weirder versions to have any power.
Did you set any rules for yourself while writing these stories?
They had to be fairy tales where there was space to do something interesting. Fairy tales are a very fluid form; constants are the rule of three and a sense of justice or of consequences. It’s a world where there are consequences for following the rules or breaking them, like whether you are polite to strangers. There’s always this tension between the anarchic and the law-abiding. Rules matter, but everyone has someone or something they love so much that they will step out of the bounds of normal life and into the fantastic.