Blushing Blue

I’d been looking for a way to write about the horrible, heartrending things I’d seen and heard during and in the days following the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). I already tried with a realist story called “The Supervillain,” but it didn’t seem to work even though I liked the concept. Even before I found out I was accepted at Clarion, I had an oddly specific daydream about me writing a story about it and explaining it to the rest of my class.

Well, that’s exactly what came to pass, and more. I wept while discussing this story at my week 5 Clarion session.

But to backtrack a bit, one of my classmates—Manish Melwani—had just gotten a galleon inked on his arm three days before our first day. I was absolutely fascinated by tattoos and galleons, and I promised myself to work it into one of my pieces somehow. That’s why “Blushing Blue” ended up featuring tattoo magic. I don’t quite know if I fleshed the magic system out enough, but I do know that I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of world that highly values the education and apprenticeship of a tattoo artist working with magical ink—so much so that the rich pay a hefty price and that much of the techniques and tools used for the act are a secret to ordinary people.

Aiva is an ordinary young girl from a poor family, with plenty of potential to become such a tattoo artist. Her entire family has been working to give her a chance at such a life so that she in turn might lift them up from their situation–her father, Niram, is a fisherman; her elder sister, Yunka, dives for the magical rocks from which the ink is produced instead of going to school; and their mother Tari is the lynchpin keeping their household together. So when a Category 5 storm snatches Tari away from the little family, their dynamics fall apart: Aiva is wracked with guilt, as Tari tried to save her when she went back for her tattoo needles; Niram is almost catatonic in his grief; and Yunka, feeling the burden of keeping the family together on her shoulders, struggles to knock some sense into the two, even if it means guilting Aiva into helping her with a wild scheme to force their father to parent them. I drew a lot from my relationship with my own younger sister for this piece.

For a long time after the workshop, I just let “Blushing Blue” sit in my hard drive. The opportunity to do something with it arose when I found a call for submissions for Likhaan journal. At the same time, Upper Rubber Boot Publishing put out a call for dark speculative fiction themed around knowledge. I sent to both and the story got accepted to both; I ultimately went for Upper Rubber Boot’s anthology, which is called Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up to No Good. It’s available in ebook and print.