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Author Interview: Natalia Theodoridou
2015-09-03 · by Devi Acharya
Natalia Theodoridou is a Media & Cultural Studies scholar based in the United Kingdom. Her strange stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Interfictions, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Occasionally, she tweets as @natalia_theodor. She is the author of this week’s story, “Sleepless.”
This interview was conducted by email in August 2015.
Devi Acharya: To start off, tell me a bit about yourself.
Natalia Theodoridou: I am originally from Thessaloniki, Greece, but have spent the past 8 years moving from place to place. I have lived in Egham (Surrey, UK), London (UK), several places in Bali (Indonesia), Chicago (USA), and I’m currently living in Portsmouth (Hampshire, UK). All this moving was in part due to my academic adventures, as I have similarly jumped from discipline to discipline: Greek tragedy to “Asian ritual theatre” (three problematic terms in a row, but I didn’t know that at the time) to Religious Studies to Media & Cultural Studies, where I finally earned a PhD. I think most of these things can be found in my fiction in one way or another. Perhaps this migratory personal history is also why I believe in the fluidity of identity: I see the self as an ongoing, situated process.
Devi: Could you tell me about your work outside of interactive fiction?
Natalia: I like experimenting with form and narrative a lot—maybe too much. This resulted in things like “The Ravens’ Sister” in The Kenyon Review Online, which is an experimental retelling of a fairy tale, set in a war-torn Balkan country, told in three-and-a-half versions. I also like slipping between genres (not necessarily consciously; I just find myself in genre-bending territory after the fact). Why can’t I have an angel and an android in the same story? “When They Come Back” in Crossed Genres is such an exploration. Whether any of these are successful is not up to me to say. But in any case, this is, again, about fluidity; just as I do not trust in the solidity of a finalized self, I see genre as a somewhat chaotic congeries of situated practices. As a Greek moving from place to place for many years, I am acutely aware of border-crossing, of storytelling as an act of migration—between genres, between versions of ourselves and our histories, between concepts of reality and fiction. That’s why I consider storytelling as deeply and unavoidably political.
Devi: How did you get your start in interactive fiction? What about IF fit for Sleepless?
Natalia: Given my love for experimentation, I was immediately hooked when Tory invited me to contribute to the inaugural issue. I had been toying with this idea of a world that gradually stops sleeping, and IF just turned out to be perfect for it: the hallucinations, the double-entendres, the uncertainty that comes with a state of sleeplessness—I doubt I could have conveyed these things in any medium other than IF. Here, “the story itself” is a non-thing. It is hard-to-define, malleable, in-process. In that sense, IF is fundamentally anti-essentialist. Perhaps this is one of my favourite things about it.
Devi: Did you have any inhibitions when starting out in interactive fiction? How did you balance the direction you wanted the story to go with other aspects—feedback from others, use of audio and visuals, etc.?
Natalia: Obviously, when writing interactive fiction one is limited by the technical tools available, as well as by their own technical ability. But it wasn’t just a question of making IF work for the story I had in mind; the toolkit itself was critical in moulding the story. It allowed possibilities I had never thought of before. So this was not so much an impediment for me, despite being a relative beginner, as much as an inspiration. Scary, for sure, but still an inspiration. Tory, Vajra, and a small fleet of dedicated readers (D, T, E—thank you, guys!) created an amazing feedback loop that pushed me to go further with the story than I would have otherwise.
Devi: What advice would you give to other authors looking to branch out into interactive fiction?
Natalia: Let go of all the things we’ve been taught about what fiction is supposed to be. Narrative, plot, point of view, character arc—these are all fluid and open to re-definition. Question everything.
Devi: Are you interested in experimenting more with interactive fiction? What kinds of stories do you want to tell?
Natalia: Absolutely. This will sound overly ambitious, but what I am really interested in is exploring what story is, and I think IF lends itself to such ill-advised adventures perfectly. What is it that makes one look at something and say: “That is a story”? What about “a true story”? What about “history” or “memoir” or “biography”? What about the essay, the medical record, the legal document? Can these be stories? Can they be anything other than stories?
Devi: What would be the best way for people to reach out to you or learn more about their work?
Natalia: I have a website that I update regularly: www.natalia-theodoridou.com. In the “News” section there is also a signup form to a newsletter that I send out occasionally (with publications, writing news, and reading recommendations). And you can always find me on Twitter @natalia_theodor.