J.Y. Tao Q&A
Author J.Y. Tao joined creator and co-editor Benjamin Reeves to discuss her story The Sixth Taste and her creative inspirations.
We asked you to write a nautical story involving the lesser of two evils. How did you develop The Sixth Taste from that kernel of an idea?
J.Y. Tao: I decided to personify the lesser of two evils. So with a lesser, there had to be a greater. Coincidentally, at the time I wasn’t initially thinking about it taking place on a naval ship, but during the process of writing it — it took me three months — I ended up picking up this book The Terror by Dan Simmons.
I loved the AMC show. [Ed. note: The Terror is a horror novel inspired by the disappearance of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror in 1848.]
I started watching it during my writing process, and I was like, oh man, there’s so much here, being in an environment of a ship and the things that can happen on a ship. They’re kind of universal. It’s just a bunch of dudes stranded on water with, like, no food. And the fact that they’re all men; I didn’t intend for all my characters to be male characters, but as the writing went along, I was like, screw it, I’m just going to write it. They’re all going to be men, whatever.
Anyway, I got a lot of my naval knowledge and terminology from the book, because after I watched the show, I started reading the book, which goes into more detail. And then with the mysterious creature, I just decided to take one of my lesser and greater evil characters and turn them into having a mysterious background.
They really have a compelling relationship. It’s a bit of a love story, and there’s this tension that builds as things start to go wrong on the boat.
I actually started with that idea in the back of my mind, and so I tried to work backwards from that. I think I got up to 10,000 words at one point, and I was like, dear lord. I was just trying to cram everything in. But basically, I thought, like, just a plain love story was a little boring, so I wanted an antagonist, someone that just represented the complete opposite of whatever these two characters were.
The characters feel like they could come from a Western.
I wanted to have this bounty hunter, because a lot of Westerns are about either bounty hunters or outlaws or something like that. There’s a chaser and chasee, see? And I wanted someone to chase this character, but for him to be kind of inept and kind of in over his head. He doesn’t really know what he’s doing.