My short story ‘Medusa Takes a Bath, and Becomes a Monster’ was performed by Grace Cookey-Gam at a Liars’ League event in London in August 2022 – you can watch it here, or read it here.
I began writing this story in response to a call for submissions for Medusa-inspired stories. I love the Greek myths; I remember the basics from primary school, and now as an adult I can appreciate how rich for reinterpretation they are, especially from a female perspective.
I envisaged Medusa in a female space, such as her bedroom; I thought some female company could join her at some point in the story, so I could add other voices – this ended up being her sisters, when I realised she could only be in the company of other monsters, due to her unfortunate ability to turn people into stone.
My first thoughts were related to Medusa’s experience of suddenly having snakes instead of hair; I imagined it would be unpleasant, even scary, and that she would move carefully so as not to alarm them. I looked up some snake images, and tried to imagine the snakes from Medusa’s point of view. I realised snakes like humidity, so it made sense to put her in the bathroom instead of bedroom; putting her in the bathtub itself also increased her vulnerability.
I thought the hissing sounds would be disconcerting, so I brainstormed sibilant words, and snake-related words, and used many of them throughout the story. In the first section of the story, when Medusa is able to focus on something other than the snakes the sibilance diminishes; later, as she gets used to the snakes, the sibilance is no longer so noticeable.
I wanted to explore the idea of how Medusa became a monster – as in, not how she ended up with snakes on her head, but how she went from being a normal human to someone who seemingly enjoyed killing people. I reasoned that her bloodlust wouldn’t have happened instantaneously – something must have inspired it. I like writing stories about people telling stories (metafiction), and I’m interested in the different reasons why people tell stories, so I decided that Medusa would make up stories to impress her two sisters, until the stories became true.
Researching Medusa, I was interested in the logistics of her family – Medusa is a mortal human, but her two sisters are immortal monsters, so presumably her sisters have been around for a lot longer than she has; due to this, I imagined they wouldn’t have a close relationship with Medusa. I used the sisters’ dialogue – finishing each other’s sentences – to show this.
The story made it through the first round of submissions, but not the second. I sat on it for a month, then decided to resubmit elsewhere. I edited it until I was completely happy, and submitted to Liars’ League, where it was accepted. Recently, Liars’ League nominated the story for a Pushcart Prize. There are some morals to this tale of submissions and rejections and nominations – something about resilience, getting back on the horse, and the importance of coming to know who out there appreciates your writing style.
Happy writing, everyone 🙂