While freaky twins are a well-worn trope, maybe even a cliché, being one may just be what saves Meera in J.S. Breukelaar’s dark fantasy sci-fi novel The Bridge (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Breukelaar explains what inspired and influenced this rather un-cliché tale.
First off, what is The Bridge about, and when and where does it take place?
It takes place in a parallel multiverse, a world within worlds, a possible Earth. Meera is a Made, a part human, part A.I., survivor from a remote cult in South Rim, which is roughly equivalent to the Antipodes. The cult is called the Blood Temple, and its founder is the Father, who has implanted his Forever Code in all the Mades, a kind of Asimovian compliance protocol, unaware that twins corrupt the code. Meera, of course, is a twin, literally haunted by her dead sister Kai, who comes back as a revenant with damage in her eyes. The twins owe their life and after-life to a healer and witch called Narn, who helps them escape and raises them with her own sister in a remote part of the Rim, eventually sending Meera off to college in the Upper Slant, a kind of alternative Massachusetts, to find a third witchy sister with mysterious connections to the Father. There, in order to escape the stigma of being a Made, Meera allows herself to be talked into participating in a horror reading series called Fearsome Gatherum, and seduced by a creepy alumna in a Faustian pact that goes awry when Mades on campus start being attacked by a stalker. Kind of.
Where did you get the idea for The Bridge, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this story?
I wrote a short story about a girl who, like me at that age, found herself in a strange land, and made some poor choices in order to survive. The short story was very similar — one of two surviving twins rescued from a cult and raised by a witch with a nasty agenda — who finds herself the star of a shadowy literary series that may not be all it seems.
But as I expanded it into a novel, I drew on one of my favorite myths, that of the Furies, ancient triad of blood vengeance, A.I., the history of cults in Australia, and the history of witch hunts in Europe and America. Around that I wound the tradition, in literature, and in medicine, of the hysterical female imagination being “blamed” with monstrous births. So the idea changed monumentally from its initial conception as a kind of college girl coming of age story, although it is very much still that.
It sounds like The Bridge is a sci-fi story, but with some elements of fantasy as well. Is that how you’d describe it?
Totally. I think it is more darkly fantastic, or horror, with sci-fi elements than the other way around, but different readers will lean into the science fiction, the fantasy, or the horror.
The Bridge is your third novel after American Monster and Alethia, while you also published a short story collection called Collision. Are there any writers who had a big influence on The Bridge but not on anything else you’ve written?
I guess Aeschylus because, in many ways, the novel is a reworking of The Eumenides (the Furies), the third play in the Oresteia. I mean the myth and the story of the Furies (and the whole Agamemnon, Cytemnestra story) marked me early on, but this is the first time I’ve engaged with it literally and directly in fiction.
How about non-literary influences; was The Bridge influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Two movies for vibes mainly. The Witch and Suspiria, the original and the remake. And a series, The Dark because I love the way it smooshes horror and sci-fi. And I love the international feel because I am an international writer.
And how about Eleanor, your staffy? What influence did your dog have on The Bridge? Y’know, besides giving you an excuse to procrastinate.
Ha! None. She came after I’d finished it, so the timing was perfect. The two persons who saw me through it from start to finish were Eric, my staffy before Eleanor, and Marvin, my beautiful silver Tonkanese. They both died — Eric some time before, and Marvin just after I finished the draft I sent to the publisher which needed a ton of editing, maybe because I was distracted by these sad goodbyes. The book is dedicated to them. And now I have Eleanor, who’s made me feel whole again. Ready to tackle a new novel.
Now, as you know, sci-fi stories like The Bridge are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is The Bridge?
I think that The Bridge has potential to be part of a series, because I spent a lot of time in this multiverse that I kind of fell into, like Alice, and like Alice, I don’t know if I’m totally out yet, or if I want to be.
Earlier I asked if The Bridge had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. Do you think The Bridge could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it could work as a series or a movie because it’s super visual, and the monsters were painstakingly drawn from the deepest wells of my feels and my fears, and I’d love to see someone render them as art. I think Meera, like all of my female characters, offers something to women who are between places, broken but not beyond telling everyone who wants to fix them to screw themselves. I’d like to see the kind of actor who could inhabit her, bring her to life. And because witches. I fell hard for Narn and her sisters Mag and Tiff as they conjured themselves into bloody, transitional being on my computer screen, and I think, movie, series, or game, they’d kick ass in any one of those.
If someone wanted to make The Bridge into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Meera, Kai, and the other main characters, and why them?
I literally have no idea. And I wouldn’t like to say because I’d be looking at physical resemblance only. Plus, there are some amazing actors in the UK, Europe, and Asia — like the whole casts of The Dark and Sens8 and I May Destroy You — who’d be perfect for the roles, as nationality and ancestry in The Bridge is as fluid as humanity itself. And I think the Wachowskis could definitely make it.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Bridge, what fantasy-infused sci-fi story of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
Anything by Brian Evenson, Stephen Graham Jones, Helen Marshall, or Sarah Langan. Okay, and Kathe Koja. Because all these writers are what I aspire to be. Curious and complex and boundary pushing.