Sunday, November 27, 2022

Interview with Victory Witherkeigh, author of The Girl

Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Victory Witherkeigh, whose debut novel The Girl is published on December 6.

The Girl is your first full-length novel. What prompted you to write it?

I started writing portions or ideas for The Girl as far back as the early 2010s. But the first time I really sat down to pull the ideas together into a manuscript was in the fall of 2019, when I first explored my dream of being a full-time writer.

How did participating in NaNoWriMo help in the writing process of the novel?

Having the framework of NaNoWriMo allowed me to focus on typing and purging the words from my mind at a certain pace. Knowing the number of words per day needed to keep on task gave my brain enough distraction to not reread what I was writing as I was going. It may sound strange, but The Girl manuscript came as free-form chapters first, and I then outlined it as part of the editing phase once I completed the first draft. This gave me a big-picture view of all the pieces I had created, allowing me to think of outlining further ahead. 

What was it like changing from writing short fiction to a novel?

I had been a short story writer in dark fantasy/horror for a few months before NaNoWriMo came up. The most significant shift was having to elaborate into finer details of world-building or scene setups because in short stories, they can pass those finer details over because you have word count limits.

Tell us about the main character in your book, known only as "the Girl". Who is she and where does she find herself at the beginning of the novel?

The Girl is a first-generation American growing up in Los Angeles, CA, who just wishes her life followed the Hallmark movie channel scripts. And at the very beginning of the novel, the Girl has just arrived in the city of London, England, to a very unfortunate surprise when she gets to the hotel.

How important to the story are the Filipino and French Polynesian myths with which you grew up?

The myths themselves are, very much, a small window into some of the pre-colonial stories of our islands' past, but as a reader, there is no expectation that anyone may know the myths themselves. These stories and legends I would hear interchangeably with ghost stories or Aesop's fables and Grimm's fairy tales as a kid. I know each island area or family may have its own versions of the accounts, but they have wiped much from everyday history. It's rare to find the myths told in the modern household.

You emphasise that the Girl isn't a typical Mary Sue, "golden" heroine. Why is that significant to you?

My childhood and teenage years of reading fantasy had me grasping at straws, feeling like I couldn't identify with most of the female characters in the novels. If you were the heroine, you were most likely super quick to make the best decisions, with no hesitation in doing the right thing and taking up the sword for justice. Or you were the anti-heroine, where you were so good-looking that everyone fell over themselves to justify your actions and explain how they really had a good reason. There seemed to be no greyness, no authenticity to other options - like if you mess up or panic and have to work your way back to prove yourself. Or maybe you aren't sure there is a "right" answer, or you are afraid and take longer to work up to confront those fears. 

The Girl has been told all her life that she's evil and unwanted. How does that affect her and what happens when the magical part of her story begins?

The short answer - is not well. I wanted to answer that idea honestly, even though we read from her point of view. I wanted a fictional heroine whose biggest concern wasn't just the external quest or romance but the internal, familial struggles. When the Girl struggles with acceptance, the basic ideas of what love and belonging should look like, her emotions tie back to this magic that her family fears. As an outside reader, hopefully, there's also a visceral reaction regardless. Some might see why that happened, or some may even understand the family's point of view.


This is a coming-of-age novel that emphasises the difficulties of coming of age and the morally grey. Why did you want to write that narrative and how does The Girl explore it?

I wanted to write something I searched for as a teen. As I grew older, there was this sensation of a period where the childlike fairy tales or Disney-fed happy endings I saw seemed more like lies or condescending. I wanted to write something for kids to add a layer to the coming-of-age stories, to show that sometimes they aren't immaculate, that it can be a roller coaster or even underwhelming. The Girl explores some of these feelings and ideas from her early introduction to puberty to terrible social interactions with other kids, even issues making, keeping, or fighting with friends.

How do you interweave the mythological and fantasy elements into a modern Los Angeles setting?

Since the islands we come from were prone to various monsoons or lack of government infrastructure, power outages were widespread. A common way to pass the time in the dark would be to grab a flashlight and tell stories - often, the scarier, the better. I think that's something all children and adults can relate to—that feeling of sleep-away camp or a sleepover where you and your friends are trying to one-up each other to see who will be the toughest. My earliest short story publications involve some of the nightmare creatures that haunted my childhood dreams. There is this type of witchcraft called "Usik Daginut." It means "little death" or "thousand little deaths," with which you could curse someone by having tiny insects burrow under the victim's skin and create the sensation of hundreds upon hundreds of bug bites, driving a person mad. 

How important was it for you to write an "unlikeable female character", one who doesn't conform to the stereotypes of some YA novels?

Even now, as I watch my nieces pretend to play newer heroines who didn't follow the tropes I had, I'll catch her admitting that she can't "play" a particular character because she's not brave enough. It makes my stomach turn when I can't just point to a book to say yes… sometimes you don't do the right thing…Sometimes you aren't perfect, and sometimes it takes a long time to build confidence or unlearn bad habits. Young women need to have more opportunities to understand that being "likable" doesn't necessarily mean that you are a "good" or a "heroine" and vice-versa. Part of doing the right thing for you may come at a cost.

Why is diversity amongst characters important, especially in genres like Fantasy, SF and more?

It's everything… There have been plenty of research papers, studies, and hashtags about how much representation matters and how so many marginalized groups are still struggling to have over one facet shown. Showing diversity in fantasy or sci-fi only helps to enrich the world's understanding of our communities or cultures but is foundationally essential for the education of young children. It allows young readers to perceive their community with more empathy, improve their early behaviors by reducing prejudice, encouraging early critical thinking, or even inspiring confidence - all things that make the future brighter and better.

What do the words "dark fantasy" mean to you and why is The Girl part of this (sub)genre?

When using or hearing the term "dark fantasy," my mind immediately jumps to the aesthetics and imagery brought from the original Brothers Grimm Fairy tales, Hans Christian Anderson, and even Aesop's Fables. I've seen the TL: DR definition on Social Media as "fairy tales with no happy endings" or "stories without the Disney or Hallmark branding." The more formal definition I've seen in the publishing industry is "stories centered with fantastical and horror elements." The Girl is part of this sub-genre because, like many other cultures, the legends and magical stories of the pre-colonial Pacific islands come with a price. Very rarely do stories end in "happily ever after" or clean endings. 

How far have YA Fantasy and other YA genres changed or developed since you were a YA reader yourself?

I had enjoyed seeing some movement in the discussions of diversity in genre writing, whereas when I was younger, it seemed just a known fact there were only these creators known in these genres, and that was it. As much as it is a double-edged sword, the internet has allowed for smaller, indie, or even self-published authors to help expand the breadth of the genre to a certain extent as far as having more women, authors of color, or LGBTQIA authors. The fact that I was able to specify the point that if my main character was displayed on the book cover, she'd need to be shown as a brown-skinned girl. Knowing that even the cover art can now include color tone feels like a big step forward.

What are your plans? Will there be a sequel to The Girl? 

There's obviously more to this story, but whether I'll be telling it or leaving it up to the readers' minds is yet to be decided. I can't imagine not coming back to The Girl, assuming there is enough interest.

Are there any writers of Fantasy and YA Fantasy past or present whose work you enjoy?

The first series I fell in love with were Garth Nix's Abhorsen Series and Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics. As a kid, I preferred reading R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike to Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, and enjoyed the Game of Thrones series as it felt the most realistic for a change. Once I was out of college, I had more time to pick up works by Leigh Bardugo and Erin Morgenstern. Books like I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez and The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke are other contemporary favorites I've discovered over the years.

Have you watched The Rings of Power from Amazon Prime, and if so, what do you think of it?

I have watched The Rings of Power and enjoyed being back in the world of Tolkien. The visuals were stunning, and the music made my heart flutter. I liked the relationships built between the characters, and there's definitely room to grow, which is something I think is appropriate for both the Second Age of Tolkien and new writers. I enjoyed the casting decisions, and honestly, seeing other Brown people in Tolkien's world just made the little one who read those books so long ago want to do her own little dance of joy that she could be part of as well.

Preorder The Girl from Amazon

About Victory Witherkeigh:

Photo credit: Kat Goodloe

Victory Witherkeigh is a female Filipino/PI author originally from Los Angeles, CA, currently living in the Las Vegas area. Victory was a finalist for Wingless Dreamer’s 2020 Overcoming Fear Short Story award and a 2021 winner of the Two Sisters Writing and Publishing Short Story Contest. She has print publications in the horror anthologies Supernatural Drabbles of Dread through Macabre Ladies Publishing, Bodies Full of Burning through Sliced Up Press, and In Filth It Shall Be Found through OutCast Press. Written during NaNoWriMo, Victory’s first novel, set to debut in December 2022 with Cinnabar Moth Publishing, has been a finalist for Killer Nashville’s 2020 Claymore Award, a 2020 Cinnamon Press Literature Award Honoree, and long-listed in the 2021 Voyage YA Book Pitch Contest. Find out more about her at:

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