Interviewed by Valerie Waterhouse
Read Michelle Ross’s fiction piece, Night Bloom
Valerie: Your story, Night Bloom, integrates science into fiction. How important is it that these two, often falsely-separated worlds meet?
Michelle: Science and fiction are both ways in which we seek to learn about ourselves and the world we live in. They are both methods for delving into questions, into mysteries, in pursuit of truth. But disciplined scientists and fiction writers know there is no truth with a capital “T.” They are not interested in being right so much as in mining deeply to see what is really there. Always there’s more to uncover.
Do you have a background in botany or science? How did you research the botany in your piece?
My day job is writing science assessment content for grades at kindergarten up through high school, and before this I wrote for a public radio program called A Moment of Science. So I’ve been researching and writing about science for approximately 18 years. A fair amount of the science that makes its way into my stories comes straight from that work. Science gives me ideas for conflict, metaphors, characters, and so forth. I fill in the gaps that arise with additional research.
Flowers play an important role in your writing. Can you explain their significance in Night Bloom?
As Kat puts it in the story: “All flowers are tricksters. Their raison d’être is to seduce, to manipulate. Even dandelion puffs. What child hasn’t put her lips to one and blown?” Because flowers have evolved numerous and fascinating ways of doing this. Also, because some flowers — like the night-blooming cereus Kat recalls visiting — bloom for a single day or night (sometimes only a few hours) and then they wilt and die. It’s like something from a fairy tale. I’m also fascinated by people visiting these brief bloomers, wanting to catch a glimpse of something short-lived and so rarely seen. This past spring, Tucson Botanical Gardens had a corpse flower cam. Anyone could view the flower, and its visitors, live from the internet at any time. I found myself watching for long stretches, interested as much in the people posing with the flower as with the flower itself, which was mighty spectacular—calling to mind Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors, only without any taste for human blood, as far as I could tell.
Finally, a question about sexual politics: currently, the story reads, at least on one level, as if the older and insecure Kat has been preyed upon by the younger and more attractive Rachel who, however, is deluding herself about her true sexuality. Or perhaps it is the more mature Kat who is deluded, swayed by her desire into misreading Rachel’s intent? Is the story deliberately ambiguous? Had Kat been a man, would the sexual politics be interpreted differently?
The story is deliberately ambiguous, I suppose, insofar as I don’t know, and I’m not sure there is a simple answer. I’ll quote Kat’s friend Joanna here: “Straight female friendships have all the drama of romantic relationships, only minus the perk of sex.” I think we tend to talk about friendships as though they are completely distinct from romantic/sexual relationships, whatever the sex of the parties involved. But of course we can be jealous of the attention our good friends give other people. We can be possessive of them. And physical intimacy has many flavors, as any mother who has held her baby skin-to-skin knows. All this is to say that desire is not always so neatly categorized. Perhaps that kiss between Rachel and Kat isn’t only manipulation on Rachel’s part, but perhaps the fact of the kiss isn’t evidence of delusion on Rachel’s part either. Maybe it’s something muddier.