24 August 2021

From Author Sherwood

In the awesome August 2021 issue of Electric Spec we're pleased to feature Jonathan Sherwood's story "Shaytandokht." Here's what he had to say about it:

I would like to preface this post by saying that my story, "Shaytandokht," which is set in Afghanistan, was written and accepted before the recent terrible events unfolding in that part of the world. It is not a commentary on the current crisis, and I don't pretend to have any insight into it. It's merely a coincidence.

"Shaytandokht" is one of the most difficult stories I've ever written, but it's also one of my favorites.

The story is set in the frozen desert of modern Afghanistan, and the title refers to the Farsi name of a woman named Shaytandokht (pronounced "set-on-doh-hut"), who a few locals say is the daughter of the devil.

The story consists almost entirely of three men walking across the desert, just talking. But what made the piece so difficult to write is that two of the three men don't speak the same language and rely on the third man to translate between them. And none of them are named, so ensuring the reader knows who is talking means leaning heavily on each man's individual mannerisms.

Doing that became complicated by the fact that I wanted the piece to have the feel of an allegory, so I used very sparse and simplistic phrasing throughout.

I outline my stories in great detail before I write, so the first draft of "Shaytandokht" took only a few hours, but the revision took days because so much depended on the individual word choices. The rhythm of the language had to reflect the stilted nature of the three men's somewhat adversarial relationships, so I was constantly replacing words that either felt too expressive for the trio or (for lack of a better word) civil.

One of the trickiest aspects was illustrating the men's individual personalities. For instance, when the non-English-speaking man relayed something, he would display certain mannerisms relating to what he said. But the guide, who would normally just translate the first man's words into English, would sometimes have his own reactions to the man's words, so every aspect of the ongoing conversation would be colored by the guide's own word choices. It became extremely difficult to create that constant juxtaposition of the original words and the speaker's mannerisms, and the guide's translation and his reactionary mannerisms. Hopefully, the reader will never notice any of that, but trying to make it transparent took more time than the entire initial draft took to write.

Probably because of all the effort to hide the complexity, "Shaytandokht" is one of my densest pieces. At 2,100 words, it's quite short, but I think it packs more punch per word than anything else I've written, and even though we barely get to know the characters in that short time, I secretly like them all.

I do hope you enjoy "Shaytandokht" as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thanks, Jonathan! Very interesting!
Be sure to check out "Shaytandokht" and the rest of the stories on August 31!

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