Interview with Melissa Bobe, Author of Electric Trees

03 Aug 2021

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Electric Trees?

One day, I fell down a Wikipedia hole and learned about something called electric treeing. There’s a heavy-duty scientific definition of this, and I’m not a scientist, so bear with me! Very basically, electric trees form when there’s a tiny fault in a piece of insulation, and that fault allows electricity to spike into the insulation, and the shape it forms looks like a tree. This might not sound so remarkable, but if you look at images of this, they’re really striking. And I sort of got fixated on this phenomenon of what are pretty much electrical accidents within manmade insulation creating a figure that is beautiful to behold, and the fact that it looked exactly like something quintessentially natural and organic just drew me in deeper.

Meanwhile, I also had been accumulating stories that I’d been sending out to different markets for a while, and several were getting really interesting rejections. Usually, it’s just, “Yeah, sorry, not for us,” but I was receiving more details from the editors, which is always something a writer should pay attention to because feedback on your work is invaluable, but also because why a story is rejected can tell you something about the story itself. And I was hearing things like half of an editorial team absolutely loved a story, and the other half didn’t even know what to make of it.

I think being polarizing can sometimes be a good thing, and in this case, it seemed that I would need a home for all of my misfit narrative children so more people could read them and have conflicted feelings about them. Electric Trees became a space for stories that would look like faults or accidents to some readers, and like beautiful, organic entities to others. I wanted to highlight things we often think of as oppositional to one another. On the one hand: electricity, starkness, boldness, light, neon, edge; on the other: nature, water, mythologies, hauntings, the dark. And there were themes that emerged that I hadn’t even planned on, which inevitably happens whenever I sit down to write. It’s not a collection for the faint of heart (though parts of it are heartwarming enough), but my hope is that, after finishing the book, no one will feel they’re standing in quite the same place they were when they started reading.

If you woke up in the world of Electric Trees, what is the first thing you would do?

Electric Trees has several worlds, so first I’d pick the ideal one to wake up in. I never understand people who say they’d like to visit really bleak fantastic worlds—why would you want to struggle? I’d probably choose “Fins,” the very first story in the collection. When I was little, I was always disappointed when I’d sat in a bath for what felt like ages and was all pruned up, but no mermaid tail ever seemed to be forming. I’d definitely love to enter a world where I’d have a chance at that tail.  

If you had to write a blurb for the last book you read, what would it say?

A snowy white lion that may or may not be imaginary helps a child learn to make new friends. I’m a children’s librarian, and if you guessed that this was a picture book, you’d be right! The book is The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones, and it’s a darling story that my toddlers and their grown-ups loved during my last storytime.

Where did you write Electric Trees?

I do my best work at home. I’ve created a pretty perfect (if slightly cluttered) workspace for my writing, and aside from some intermittent meowing, it’s relatively quiet and I can focus. But I also did a lot of writing on lunch breaks at work, which isn’t always easy because I’m generally pretty social and when people see you on lunch, they want to chat with you. There was considerable writing done in the backseat of my car as a result.

Pretend you qualified for the Olympics this year. What sport would you compete in?

I would compete in whatever sport you can do while being afraid of the ball and incapable of catching it! Joking aside, I’d probably choose something along the lines of martial arts or gymnastics. I don’t do either in real life, but I practice ballet daily and I guess that would be a transferable skillset. (I’m still afraid of the ball, though.)  

Melissa Bobe is the author of the new book Electric Trees

Connect with Melissa Bobe

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rebecca