Contemporary Greek Speculative Fiction: A Roundtable

With Natalia Theodoridou, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Eleanna Castroianni and George Cotronis

By Phoenix Alexander 

Hi everyone. Let’s start by introducing ourselves to readers / each other!

ET: Hello! I am Eugenia Triantafyllou, a writer and artist currently based in Athens. My fiction has appeared in places like Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex and has been nominated for Ignyte and Nebula awards.I am also a Clarion West 2019 alumna. My preferred genres are dark fantasy and horror, although I do like to mix genres and switch it up a lot. 

Twitter: @FoxesandRoses

eugeniatriantafyllou.com

NT: Hi! I am a speculative fiction writer and game designer. Originally from Thessaloniki, Greece, with roots in Russia, Georgia, and Turkey. I now split my time between Greece and the UK. I’ve published over 100 short stories in places like Clarkesworld, F&SF, Kenyon Review, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nightmare, among others, and have three games/interactive novels out by Choice of Games. If you want a taste of my work, I’d recommend starting with “Ribbons” in Uncanny Magazine, “The Birding: a Fairy Tale” in Strange Horizons (which won the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction), or my Nebula-nominated game, Rent-a-Vice. My work is queer and dark, and I tend to overstep genre boundaries. 

Twitter: @natalia_theodor

natalia-theodoridou.com

EC: Hi, I’m Eleanna, a writer and poet with work in Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fireside, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and elsewhere. My usual setting is literary science fiction or fantasy where the repercussions of war and oppression feature prominently. I draw a lot from my background as a human geographer and, in particular, from Anthropocene humanities and landscapes of de-industrialization and decay. I am also heavily inspired by contemporary Greek history with its share of complex politics and violence, by the pagan darkness of folk traditions, and by the fragility and cruelty of childhood.

Twitter: @nomadological

eleannacastroianni.wordpress.com

GC: Hello! I’m George Cotronis and I’m a writer and illustrator from Greece by way of Sweden, where I was born. I’ve created book covers for authors like Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn and Harry Connolly. When I’m not illustrating, I write short stories. I’ve sold a handful of stories mostly to anthologies like Lost Signals, Robots & Artificial Intelligence and places like Pantheon Magazine and Tales to Terrify. 

Twitter: @ravenkult

cotronis.com

How would you say you compare as a writer now, versus when you got started?

ET: Well, besides the subject of improvement (both in prose and structure/ideas), for me the biggest difference is confidence. 

I don’t mean confidence in the sense of believing I will always produce excellent stories that will sell in their first submission. What I am talking about is the confidence to expand and try out new things. Testing one’s limits. 

When I started out there were quite a lot of things I didn’t know I could do. I didn’t even know I could attempt doing them. Like writing fiction in English for example, or submitting stories to Anglophone magazines. I was not confident in writing science fiction at all, and my idea of science fiction involved me reading a lot of scientific magazines and still feeling inadequate. It was only later that I realised that many times it’s just fantasy from a different angle. I mean it is still a tough genre for me to handle but I am much more confident in exploring it. 

But the most important thing that the confidence helped me with, was rejecting unhelpful feedback. Both in the form of story critique and in the form of career advice. In the beginning I felt almost obliged to listen to people who were in it longer than I was, even if their opinions were wrong or completely contradictory. In time I learned how to filter such opinions and keep those who will help me improve my writing and myself as an artist. 

NT: Everything I do feeds my writing, so I’m inclined to say me-as-a-writer reflects the evolutions me-as-a-person goes through, so: I am a little more disillusioned, a little more cynical, and, absurdly, a little more hopeful these days. I write almost exclusively in English now, though I do have an annoyingly clingy idea for a Greek novel stuck in my head. I write primarily for publication, and have professional standards I didn’t know existed before (i.e. writing is breathing but it is also work, so I expect to be compensated for it). 

As things get more and more “professional,” there’s also a difference in how I approach genre. I never had a clear understanding of the divisions between genres or between “speculative” and “realist” fiction, perhaps because I come from a literary tradition that always had a loose attachment to realism at best. But writing and working in English, I find myself trying hard to resist such divisions now, reminding myself it’s mostly marketing and therefore not my business or main concern as a writer. 

In terms of the actual work, I feel that a comparison between what I wrote when I started and what I’m writing now would need to be either triumphalist (I’m so much better now!) or nostalgic (I’ve lost something I used to have!), and neither narrative would be entirely true. Each piece of work is different and comes with its own concerns, demands, and methods. I was and remain in flux. 

EC: I think I had an odd trajectory, thinking of it as a profession when I started and now considering it more of a mission — as something I need to do anyway, no matter other life circumstances. I used to think I can only be a writer, nothing else, which of course is not true as I’m doing many things. After publishing and getting to meet people, it became less of a profession for me and more of something valuable (as practice and as output) that I need to sustain. Like a garden! This has reduced my output in terms of quantity, but I absolutely write only what speaks strongly to me. My stories are fewer now, so I don’t publish as much, but I’m happy with this. If I don’t have something to say, I’d rather stay quiet. It also seems I can happily work for decades on a single important thing. 

GC: I’ve been on a rather lengthy sabbatical from writing for the last couple of years and have only recently begun getting back into it. That said, my early writing besides being in Greek was very informed by 70s science fiction short story writers for some reason that I can’t really put my finger on. I think while I was trying to find my footing I enjoyed the somewhat simpler, high concept ideas of the era (especially ones involving strange new planets). Now I mostly write what I’d like to say is horror fiction, though it probably isn’t; it’s either some kind of meta, genre-aware thing or some sad story with vague supernatural elements. 

How does your identity as a Greek writer / artist — whatever that means to you — influence your creative practice, if at all?

ET: I feel that for me it is all about the folk culture. I know that Greek mythology is big internationally but especially with the western audience. But for myself seeing all the Greek myths rewritten again and again made me shy away from them and look for something maybe more niche and unexpected. 

So I would look for inspiration in the stories my mother told me as a child — it sounds cliche, perhaps, but they did carry a lot of weight in my young mind — and the stories I read both in school books and in anthologies. Greek fairy tales but rooted in the dark folkloric tradition. I wouldn’t completely exclude re-writing Greek mythology or just being influenced by it. I did grow up with it as well. I just feel it would be done if I felt I could add something to the discussion surrounding it. Something only I could say. 

I feel more comfortable when I am writing about situations, people and places that are close to my experiences. Even if the speculative element is very present and very developed — like for example a far future colony — I still cannot completely shed the references to Greek culture, people, and even geography. It is what makes the story interesting and intimate and what keeps me interested in it. So I would say that my identity makes me a better writer. Or at least a more interesting one. 

NT: Like Eugenia, I draw a lot of inspiration from Greek and Balkan folklore, but I also do have a soft spot for Greek myth retellings, probably because of my studies in theatre. My work with classical Greek materials tends to grapple with distinctly performative concerns: bodies and how they come apart and together; gender-bending in front of an audience that is neither exactly participant nor exactly voyeur; how the mythical “then,” when put on stage (or maybe that’s how it always is), is actually about the personal and political “now.” 

I think also another way my positioning influences my work is a kind of tension, or the literary equivalent of being very passionate about something while also trying to avoid eye contact: I’m constantly aware of and resistant to centring the US (and to a lesser extent the UK) while writing in English. In a way, what I’m currently interested in doing is centring what it’s like to constantly have to consider and resist North America as a centre. 

EC: My grandmother used to tell me stories from her childhood during WWII, which I listened to enraptured, pestering her for more. I think this is the one thing in my life that has formed what I like to read and write the most. Other influences are folklore/folk magic and regional beliefs, (things like the evil eye and such) and Greek poetry, which I read in high school. It is full of grief for a contemporary history that includes wars, occupation, migration, exile, and a very bloody civil war whose divisive legacy still lingers today. These things have affected me most. They repeat themselves in my work and I wish others out there learn more about them through what I do. Greek mythology is not major in what I do, except in its capacity as a ghost. Living in a place where ancient ruins are everywhere can shift your perception of past, present, and place.

GC: I have, in all honesty, never written anything that references Greece or is inspired by our folklore and stories. I’m trying to change that, but I’m probably too entrenched in American pop culture for the most part. Does me being Greek inform my writing to some degree? Probably. But I think unless you’re willing to do the work to explore your own culture’s past, there’s a danger you’ll always be writing as someone else.

Where would you like the sf genre to be, and what would you like it to look like, in the next ten years?

ET: If we are talking about the range of experiences and people writing sf and getting published, getting their work out there, I feel that there is a need for more. More personal experiences from people in marginalised communities, more international experiences etc. 

I would really enjoy seeing the standard to be translations from all over the world into English. It would make me happy if the Western audience could enjoy stories that don’t center Western characters or have a traditional structure in the way we see it now. It would broaden my horizons as well because how else are we going to get access to those books if the publishers don’t decide it is time to translate them and if the audience doesn’t welcome that initiative?

In regards to the variety of themes, ways of storytelling, concepts, worlds etc. I feel we can’t know or conceptualise what these will look like in the next ten years. And that is a good thing. I want to not be able to know what the next amazing book/short story I will read will look like. I want to be taken aback. I hope they are as weird and unfamiliar as they can get. I wish no book is like the next one. I hope they take us out of our comfort zones and make us think of the everyday and the ordinary in fiercely new ways. Introducing translations and books from marginalised authors will increase the chances of something like this happening and it will make every reader more empathetic and more intimate with experiences that they couldn’t otherwise have. 

NT: Decentralized. Plural and multivocal, fostering new regional connections. Anti-capitalist, diverse, queer, playful, antifascist. Free from the narrative concerns and structural formulas that people in a lot of the anglophone world are so used to.

EC: All the above, and more. Environmental catastrophe is what I think about most of the time, and I am starving for more SF that addresses it. It is clearly not enough and we are running out of time! I long for ways to rethink our position in the world, stories about human/nature divides breaking, words that describe more-than-human experiences. Our world has already changed; we are not going back. SF can teach us how to live with these changes, and even how to live well in the post-apocalypse.

GC: Like Eugenia, I’m very interested in reading more fiction from writers with varied backgrounds that might face a language barrier when it comes to getting their work read by English speaking readers. There’s a ton of writers all over the world that have stories to share that we need, but are unlikely to get to read if they are never translated.

And I’d like for writers to be fairly compensated.

Thank you all, so much, for your time! 

Phoenix Alexander is Greek SF issue’s guest editor, where this piece was published.

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