Silly Interview with E. J. Fischer, Winner of the Imaginative Long Jump

(This interview was first posted to my patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

EJ2016E. J. Fischer

RS: I love the story “New Mother.” Can you talk about the genesis for a moment?

EJF: Sure. “The New Mother” had a very long gestation period. The premise of communicable parthenogenesis was inspired by Wolbachia, a bacterial organism that can have complex effects on the reproductive machinery of insects. I learned about it when I was still an undergraduate, probably around 2006. I’d read plenty of excellent SF about parthenogenesis, but was pretty sure that using an infectious model would be an original twist.

I was also pretty sure I wasn’t a good enough writer yet to do the idea justice, so I sat on it for five years and felt nervous someone would beat me to it whenever Wolbachia turned up in a popular science article. In 2011 I began a fiction MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and figured I’d be wasting my time if I avoided the hard problems, so I got started on what I thought was going to be a short story. Three years and seven major drafts later I had the published version of the novella.

RS: I know you already told me some about this in private email, but can you describe the process you used to nail down a female perspective so beautifully?

EJF: First, thank you again for the kind assessment. The process was iterative and organic; spend a lot of time thinking about how to do X, Y, and Z well, do a lot of reading to justify your assumptions, test your best effort against the judgement of others, incorporate feedback and repeat. I can’t give a step-by-step description, but I can talk about things that helped.

The first thing I did was to try to identify predictable failure modes to be avoided. There were obvious things, like knowing that a story about women negotiating the difference between personal constructions of identity and cultural signifiers thereof would be undermined by male gaze-y objectification. But there were less obvious ones too, like the need to write from the body in a non-objectifying way. Bodies are a huge component of the amalgam process of identity construction, and weight our every moment-to-moment experience. Not sharing anatomy with your characters is no excuse to write as if they are just floating loci of cognition; you must write from the body, both as physically inhabited and as perceived by the world. That’s where a lot of the work comes in.

One crucial part was reading things written by women. Fiction, critical theory, memoir, blog posts, tweets. Everything. If there are people who have access to areas of experience to which you are attempting to make an imaginative leap, read what they have to say. (The main character of “The New Mother” is pregnant. I have read so many mommy blogs.) You will learn a lot, and much of it will be contradictory, and that’s okay; being confronted with the heterogeneity of human experience inoculates you against reductive generalization. The contradictions are almost never arbitrary, so think about what factors lead different people to their respective attitudes, and what implications that has for your characters.

I was very lucky to be writing “The New Mother” at a time in my life when I had access to feedback from a lot of women writers. There were teachers like Lan Samantha Chang and Julie Orringer, and classmates and friends like Carmen Machado, Amy Parker, Elizabeth Weiss, Debbie Kennedy, Naomi Jackson, Susanna Shive, Aamina Ahmad, Rebecca Rukeyser, Meghan McCarron, Kat Howard, and Amal El-Mohtar. I could go on, that’s not an exhaustive list. They looked at my drafts and gave me very generous feedback, each with her own areas of focus and concern; moms told me about being pregnant, queer friends told me about outsider perspectives of gender roles within their relationships, multiethnic friends told me about generational pressures and assimilation. It’s like reading for research but better, because it’s customized to the specific work you’re doing. And again, not everyone will agree, but the contradictions are themselves illustrative of things worth being attentive to.

So then you take all you’ve learned, and you start in on the next draft, and try to hit your goals more successfully than you did before. No amount of research and feedback eliminates the need for imaginative invention, and when you are seated at the keyboard trying to synthesize everything you’ve learned, it’s worthwhile finally to focus not on the ways in which people are all different, but the ways they are the same. I don’t have breasts or a uterus, will never be discomfited or surprised by my own body in the exact ways that Tess from “The New Mother” is. But having a body has often left me discomfited and surprised, and I believe that for all the universes of nuance that make individual experiences of life distinct from one another, the broad architecture of what it is like to be a human being remains similar enough for differences to be bridgeable by the imagination. Not trivially bridgeable, but it can be done.

RS: If I have my timing right, you went to Clarion West before you went to your MFA. So did I. How do you think your experience at Iowa was influenced by having gone to CW, if it was?

EJF: Actually, I attended Clarion at UCSD, not Clarion West [Ed note: Whoops. Sorry.], but that was indeed before I sought my MFA. Without the former, I never would have done the latter. In 2008 I had figured out that I didn’t want to use my physics degree to become a physicist, but it was still an open question whether I would continue my education in creative writing or mathematics. I applied to Clarion as a sort of test; if I could get accepted there, maybe my writing was something worth seriously pursuing. If not, I’d intended to start applying to math PhD programs.

One effect of having already been through Clarion by the time I started my MFA was confidence in myself as a writer and the value of speculative fiction. I used exclusively speculative fiction to apply to grad school, on the theory that I wanted to be rejected by any program unwilling to be supportive of that kind of writing. While I was open to falling in love with new kinds of literature, I was uninterested in working with people who couldn’t value the lit I already loved. (And I did fall in love with a new kind of literature. Iowa gave me a much greater appreciation for the artistry that goes into realist fiction, and read a lot more of it now than I used to.)

The other big effect was that Clarion quickly connects you to the SF field. By the time got to grad school a few years later I had been to conventions, made friends with lots of writers and editors, published some stories, and generally had a sense of how the field works. As such I was able to develop a course on writing science fiction for the University of Iowa that offered students not only a writing workshop, but also exposure to modern published work, info on the business side of the field, and visits (via internet video or in person) from working SF writers. The classes were well-received, and let me negotiate for the creation of an adjunct position after I graduated to keep teaching them. So in a very practical sense, having gone to Clarion first let me stay at Iowa a year longer than I otherwise would have.

RS: What’s the most bizarre piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

EJF: This is surprisingly difficult to answer. I walked away from my email for hours hoping that by the time I got back, something would have come to me, and I’ve still got nothing. I guess whenever someone gives me really weird advice, I think, “oh, that’s worthless,” and fail to commit it to memory. In lieu of wacky advice, here’s an anecdote about how this practice of ignoring it once got embarrassing.

The first draft of “The New Mother” was the first thing I workshopped at Iowa, and that initial workshop was a group of stunningly clever people. I didn’t want to miss a word of their commentary, so I brought in my computer and typed everything they said as they spoke. Almost. There was a single classmate who didn’t get what I was doing, had misread the goals of the piece, and gave feedback that was profoundly irrelevant to my project. (This is not an uncommon workshop experience; the surprising thing is that there was only one.) So when that classmate spoke I stopped typing. But then I worried that the sudden silence of my keyboard would hurt feelings, so instead of just waiting it out, I rubbed my fingertips lightly over the keys to try to simulate the sound of rapt note-taking. After the workshop, another student came up to me at the bar and asked, “So, when [classmate] was talking… were you just pretending to type?” Apparently those two sounds are not as similar as I’d hoped.

RS: Tell me about the best nail polish.

EJF: Even after years of wearing the stuff, I’m still a novice. There’s a whole nail polish subculture out there, and I’ve barely chipped the topcoat. The world contains some deep magicians of nail art, like Lady Crappo. I still mostly go for single shades, leaning toward those with interesting optical effects. Probably my favorite polish in my collection is a Nubar polish called Indigo Illusion. It’s trichromatic, and can appear green, purple, or a bronzy brown depending on the ambient lighting conditions. The one I’ve worn the most is Chanel’s Peridot, a gold and green duochrome, which was very popular right around the time I started painting my nails.

RS: Got anything else to chat about? Write now, or forever hold your keyboard.

EJF: How about I recommend some books? I mentioned earlier that I read a lot more widely than I did before grad school. The last novel I read was The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott, her first, following a debut collection called The Wilds. Both books are excellent science fiction, though neither of them are being marketed that way. Her collection includes things like powered exoskeletons for the elderly and mutated forms of toxoplasmosis that cause internet addiction. The novel is a story of artificially augmented intelligence in a society of satirically amok capitalism. Like if Flowers for Algernon were a self-aware comedy, or even more like if Camp Concentration was a southern gothic farce. Science fiction fans should be reading Julia Elliott. (Unlike the other writers I’ve mentioned here, I don’t know her personally. I just think she’s doing cool work.)

Update from 2019:

It’s been an eventful few years. Later in 2016 “The New Mother” won the Tiptree Award, came in 2nd for the Sturgeon Award, and was a Nebula nominee. In 2017 Arrate Hidalgo translated it into Spanish and it was published in Spain as Nueva Madre, a paperback from Editorial Cerbero. In 2018 Nueva Madre was a finalist for the Ignotus, which is sort of Spain’s equivalent of the Hugo award. I’m currently in talks about a possible television adaptation.
I’ve not published much fiction since our interview. I had an original story, “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers,” in Tachyon’s The New Voices of Fantasy, a wonderful book which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology last year. I have a realist story about infirmity of which I am tremendously proud, but it’s fairly graphic and has not yet found a home. I’m currently about 6,000 words into a very strange story about Betty Boop, with a ways to go yet. If I had to guess, that’ll probably be the next one that actually gets published.
I’ve been busier away from the keyboard. In 2017 I bought a house and moved in with my partner. This past September we got engaged, and I spent the holiday season in New Zealand, meeting her extended family. Now we’re deep into the logistics of wedding planning, living in our cute little house with our fluffy little dog and our loud little canary. Personal life is just disgustingly happy. Which is nice, given that seemingly everything else in the world has, since 2016, become a horrible brainmelting shitshow of corruption and cruelty. Dealing with the outrages of these last couple years has meant spending a lot more time in my living room, and a lot less at the computer.

Silly Interview with Debra Jess and Her Incredibly Handsome & Hunky Sidekick

RS: In your bio, you say that your writing combines your love of fairy tales and Star Wars. You also write in a bunch of different genres. Do you write them singly or mix them up?

DJ: This was a question I had to give a lot of thought to. I don’t really mix-up genres so much as I dig deep into subgenres.

In the taxonomy of genre fiction, there is science-fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, western, and inspirational. Every single one of these genres has subgenres

When I decided to write Blood Surfer, I knew two things: 1) it would have superheroes and 2) it would have a romance. I didn’t give much thought as to which romance subgenre it would fall into until I had finished the manuscript. At that point I needed to figure out how I was going to market it. Around that same time I received an invitation to join the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. Before I could join, they needed to know if Blood Surfer was a science fiction romance, as opposed to a fantasy romance. When I looked back over my manuscript I realized I had created superheroes whose powers are created by their biology. There’s no magic involved, no arcane symbols, no mysterious shadows. I don’t spend a lot of pages detailing the biology, but it still falls into the genre of romance and the subgenre of science fiction.

Blood Surfer is also has thriller elements in that it’s very fast-paced, there’s a really big bad bang that will happen if the heroes don’t prevail, and a rip-roaring fight at the end.

 

RS) What kinds of things do you see in romance that you wish there was more of in science fiction?

DJ: HEA, or Happily Ever Afters, even if it’s not a romantic HEA. If not that, then HFN, Happy for Now (used when writing a series). Growing up in the 70s, I had a rude awakening after watching Star Wars. My dad, who worked for a newspaper, would buy boxes of books whenever the newspaper would sell the books mailed in for review. There were a lot of science fiction in those boxes because he knew how much I loved Star Wars, but every single one of the books he gave me ended with the hero dead, or these long, drawn-out pyrrhic victories that left me feeling disappointed or distressed. I was too young at the time to understand Star Was was more space fantasy or space opera than traditional science fiction. Luckily, my father didn’t give too much thought to what he was buying me, so there were also boxes filled with romances, mostly regencies or contemporaries. With maturity, I began to appreciate a less than HEA in a book, but I still prefer the HEAs you get with romances.

RS) What is your superhero name?

DJ: Agent Jess, International Woman of Mystery.

RS) Tell me about the first issue of the comic book based on your secret life as a superhero.

DJ: I first report to headquarters where my boss gives me a new assignment: stop Eric the Evil from wrecking havoc all over some exotic locale (preferably some place with beaches). Then I swing by a swanky bachelor pad to pick up my incredibly handsome and hunky sidekick (because what’s the point of having a sidekick if he isn’t handsome and hunky). We climb aboard our private jet aircraft (using our government issued credit cards) and plot how to take down EtE while enjoying several rounds of fruity drinks. Upon arrival, we track down EtE where I give him and his hench-horts (a cross between henchmen and cohorts) a big, bloody beatdown while engaging in witty repartee with my sidekick who’s busy protecting the civilians who gaze in awe at my prowess. Finally, EtE surrenders, exhausted of all witty comebacks. Then I toss EtE over to my still handsome and hunky sidekick who secures him in our indestructible and highly secure bounce house. The sidekick and I retire for a late afternoon stroll on the beach hand-in-hand (I did mention I write romances, remember?).

RS) You say that you write about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. What is it about that combination that appeals to you?

DJ: The idea that anyone, anywhere, at any time can rise to the occasion and save the day. Superhero storylines use this device all the time. Steve Rogers tried so hard to become a soldier, knowing deep down he already had the heart and the attitude of one. When he becomes Captain America, he’s already a superhero, but now his outsides matches his insides. Alternatively, Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but Clark Kent still needs a day job to his pay rent and buy groceries. They are mirror images of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

In Blood Surfer, Hannah was born with her Alt power. She can cure anyone of any wound or illness without a second thought, but she’s on the run from those who would abuse her powers. Scott has no powers when he meets Hannah, but he still disobeys orders and protects her when he knows he’s supposed to arrest her. Scott makes a brave choice knowing he could lose everything he’s worked so hard to achieve: a job he loves, his home, and his friends. That’s what heroes, not just superheroes, do.

RS) Any projects or anything else you’d like to talk about?

DJ: I’m having a lot of fun playing with my Thunder City superhero series. A Secret Rose and Blood Hunter (books 1.5 and 2) are now available. This year, I’ll be releasing A Secret Life and A Secret Love (books 2.5. and 2.6) and next year, I hope release book 3 currently titled Blood Avenger.

In the meantime, I have a couple of short stories available: Shaped By You is available in the December 2018 issue of Heart’s Kiss magazine, and Blood & Armor which is available in the Fragments of Darkness anthology.

If anyone is interested in exploring the Science Fiction Romance subgenre, I would recommend Portals published by the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. There are seven volumes of first chapters written by SFR authors. All seven volumes are free, so you can get a taste of what SFR has to offer.

Silly Interview with Henry Lien, but Also Lots of Cute Bird Pictures

(This interview was originally posted on my Patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

RS: You own birds. Tell us about the birds. Provide pictures of the birds.

I can only speak about the parrot family. Parrots, including small parrots like my two conures (miniature parrots), give us a fascinating glimpse into evolution. They are like a combination between dogs and cats. They are so smart, like little dogs that can fly and sing or talk and they are very relational, including with their humans. They have huge personalities for just 30-50 grams of pet. On the other hand, their moods and emotional landscapes are so complicated and swiftly changing, like cats. But because they are as relational to humans as dogs, they are never aloof. When they are pissed at you, they don’t go off and sulk. They let you know it and aggressively punish you for it. They are very good at communicating their moods to you with every method of expression they have, including calls, songs, and biting. When you spend time with parrots, it is easy to imagine that some form of dinosaur might have evolved to human-level intelligence in the past 65 million years if that asteroid hadn’t struck. I, for one, would welcome a planet ruled by parrot  overlords.

Pictures of my parrot overlords attached.  

RS: Can I come meet the birds sometime? Do they like people? I promise not to bring the cats.

They love human visitors! They have free reign of my house, so they will land on you and answer when you talk to them and generally be very social and relational. Until you do something that startles them and then they will fly away and scream because you have turned into a horrible monster. Their worlds are filled with drama.

RS: Your fiction often takes place in a fictional Hong Kong where a number of East Asian cultures are blended. What does this allow you to do, and what challenges does it cause for you?

It’s more of a fictional Taiwan that I call the island of Pearl. The blending of East Asian cultures is intentional and authentic. Taiwan was colonized by the Japanese for fifty years. My parents’ generation grew up with Japanese names and spoke Japanese and love Japanese food, music, etc. The relationship between China and Taiwan is very complex. When the Nationalists came over from mainland China and took over from the Japanese, they massacred tens of thousands of intellectuals and other figures perceived as threats in the Taiwanese populace. So Taiwan is a complicated, divided culture, which I find so interesting, and I reflect that in Pearl. Further, I feel strongly that fantasy writers of East Asian descent should be allowed to experiment and blend and play with East Asian culture. Writers of Western fantasy get to mix influences from multiple European cultures at once into their invented cultures. Neighboring cultures influence each other. The patterns of trade, war, conquest, and interaction mean that it is unrealistic to expect any but the most unusually isolated of cultures to remain uninfluenced by neighboring cultures. I love exploring cultural fusion in my life and in my writing.

RS: Skating is a major theme in your young adult novel. Do you skate?

I took figure skating and kung fu lessons as research for my stories set in the world of Pearl, including the PEASPROUT CHEN novels, which features a form of martial arts on bladed skates. My skills in both sports were appalling. But that was instructive. I learned that those are two sports where balance and flexibility are at least as important as brute strength and that there are things that lithe girls and young women can do that no man could ever do. I wanted to invent a sport that played to girls’ strengths and how girls are physically different from boys. My failures on the ice helped me write a book that was all about girl power. Also, the books are actually middle grade, not young adult, although they read like YA because they are intensely ambitious and the prose is quite elevated.

RS: Can you link to one of your favorite artists and describe what you love about their work?

I hope this isn’t spammy but actually, my Dad. I make my living as an author now but still deal art for fun on the side and he’s my top-selling artist. He does photography, including infrared photography. I’m a wordy person but it’s hard to put into words the emotion in his work. Here are a few images:

He only started less than three years ago, after he retired from being an engineer, but he’s taken off like a rocket. His work is already in museum and corporate collections. Art has given him a new life at this late stage of life and our relationship is so much richer because of it. I call him The Artist Formerly Known As Dad. Here’s his website: www.fongchilien.com.

RS: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

Hard question. I’m a shy, introspective, cautious, and solitary person by nature. But I also know that my life will be richer if I force myself to widen my comfort zone. I’ve made some whiplash career changes, including going from lawyering to dealing art and now to be a working author. I would say that the most adventurous thing I ever did was enter into a relationship with my former partner knowing at the outset that he had terminal cancer and then devising a logical, working system to continue communicating with him after he died. And then sharing that story very publicly. You can read it here. http://interfictions.com/supplemental-declaration-of-henry-lien-henry-lien/ Every bold and frightening life decision I have made has enriched my life. They have given me the sense that the world is filled with mystery and meaning and adventure, if you decide that it is going to be so.

RS: My favorite thing about “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society” is the wealth of rich, often disturbing detail you collected from the Gilded Age. Can you describe how you did that research? Was there anything amazing that didn’t make it onto the page?

I did a lot of reading about the social lives of the Grandes Dames of the Gilded Age and spent a lot of time at the spectacular Huntington Library and Gardens. The research wrote much of the story for me, because every one of the outrageous, excessive, repulsive parties depicted in the story was real. The breathtaking arrogance of the Gilded Age towards animals, the environment, and the working class and other disenfranchised populations provided such fertile, infuriating material to work with. The suffocating social strictures placed on women of this class were also great material. It was fascinating and depressing to learn what women of clear intelligence and talent did when they were allowed no meaningful endeavor towards which to employ their gifts. Nothing amazing failed to make it onto the page, but one thing almost failed to get included because I didn’t know about it. Connie Willis mentored me on this story at Clarion West. She was the one who told me the true story about the dinner party held by a society dame where the table was lined with a sand dune in which were buried real emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, which the guests were to search for with a shovel and bucket, as party favors. Thanks for that one, Connie. The story is available for free in print and podcast form here.

RS: Will you provide us with a vegan recipe?

I love sharing vegan recipes! The problem is that I never measure anything. I just look and taste. Here is a three course Taiwanese meal that I made recently. All vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, lowish-carb. Picture attached. If anyone is really interested, email me atinfo [at] henrylien [dot] com and I will jot down measurements next time I make it.

a. Cucumbers marinated in Bragg liquid amino (soy and gluten free soy sauce alternative), sesame oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes.

b. Bean sprouts, celery, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, scallions, stir-fried in sauce made of Bragg, sesame, white pepper, and star anise, garnished with cilantro.

c. Green beans stir-fried with button mushrooms, scallions, Beyond Beef pea protein beefless ground, stir-fried with white wine, Bragg, sesame oil, sriracha.

RS: Anything else you’d like to say? Say it loud, say it proud, say it here.

I’m really proud of my first novel PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD, which the New York Times described as “Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls.” And the sequel PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS is even better. I write theme songs to accompany the PEASPROUT CHEN books and Idina Menzel, the star of Frozen, Wicked, Rent, and Glee, sang one of them with me at my book launch in April. I’d be honored if you’d take a look at the video of us singing it here: www.henrylien.com/peasproutchen.

RS: Now, dear reader, as your reward — have more parrot pictures.

Silly Interview with Barry Deutsch, jew jew jew

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to know some silly information about my fellow authors. So I put together some silly interviews full of silly questions. A number of them fell through the publication cracks then, so I’m running them now with updates. (If you’re interested in the prior features, including ones with people like Ann Leckie, you can find them on my blog here). Enjoy!

Barry drawBarry Deutsch

RS: Would your hero-fighting, Orthodox Jewish preteen, Mirka, ever fly a hot air balloon?

BD: If I can figure out a story that makes sense for, I’d love to do it! Hot air balloons are fun to draw. Also, I have this friend who writes science fiction stories, and who always reads over my Hereville scripts and makes great suggestions, who has been suggesting a hot air balloon Hereville plotline for years. So maybe if I ever do that, it’ll provide her with some satisfaction. 🙂

RS: Your brand of humor is so distinctive that I can spot it not only in your own work, but in the kind of drawings you pin on pinterest, and that sort of things. What would you say have been the biggest influences on the development of your sense of humor?

BD: Honestly, I have very little idea of what my brand of humor is, so it’s a little hard for me to pin down.

But I think that I’ve probably borrowed a lot from Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD stories, from Walt Kelly’s Pogo, from Doonesbury, and from Dave Sim’s Cerebus; at least, those were the funny works that I remember rereading a thousand times in my formative years. In movies and TV, I think the Marx Brothers were very important to me, and so was Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

RS: Did you ever seriously write prose with an eye toward publication?

BD: I never have. It’s something that I’d like to try to do someday.

RS: Do you remember why I asked you question 1?

BD: Did my science fiction writing friend with the obsession about seeing Mirka in a hot air balloon put you up to it?

RS: From a purely “fun to draw” perspective, why should people draw more flawed characters?

BD: Actually, I don’t know that they should. A lot of cartoonists rarely draw characters that don’t fit into a very narrow sort of attractiveness, and I assume the reason they draw that way is that this is what they find fun to draw.

But from a storytelling perspective, I think flawed characters are clearly better, because it’s so much easier for a cartoonist to make characters distinct and recognizable if they break out of that narrow “perfect pretty people” mold. In a lot of mainstream comics, it’s really hard to tell the characters apart. There are also really interesting stories to be told about people who look like ordinary people.

RS: What’s the funniest response you’ve ever gotten to a cartoon?

BD: In response to an anti-racist political cartoon, some infuriated racist emailed me calling me “jew” this and “jew” that (I am Jewish, but I’m puzzled why he thought I’d find this to be an insult) and finally, in an apparent fit of rage that put him beyond writing coherent thoughts, just ended the letter by saying “you jew jew jew!” That totally cracked me up.

RS: If you had to appoint zombie Scalia to an infinite (for he is undead) term on the supreme court, or Donald Trump for a finite term, which would you pick?

BD: Trump. The system has lots of vetos in place; we can survive four years of Trump. I hope.

Wait, no, now I feel guilty because of all the people who’d die in the needless wars Trump would start. Sigh. Zombie Scalia it is. But we need to have him chained up or something so he doesn’t bite Ruth or Sonya.

RS: If you had the opportunity to do your room up in any wallpaper from any time period regardless of expense or probability, what would you pick?

BD: I’d hire a British Artist named Charlotte Mann who hand-draws walls for people. I mean, look at this! That would be incredible. I’d be accosting strangers in the street and demanding that they come into my house and look at the walls.

2019 update: So what are you up to now?

I’ve been working on three main projects lately.

First, thanks to my wonderful supporters on Patreon, I’ve increased my output of political cartoons from six a year to forty-eight a year. People can read all those cartoons for free on my Patreon.

Second, with my co-creator Becky Hawkins, I’m working on “SuperButch,” a webcomic about a lesbian superhero in the 1940s who protects the bar scene from corrupt cops. We’ve got almost a hundred pages done already, and why yes, we do have a patreon, thanks for asking.

And finally, I’ve been writing graphic novel adaptions of Tui Sutherland’s amazing “Wings of Fire” series for Scholastic. The graphic  novels are being drawn by Mike Holmes, who has an unbelievable facility for drawing hundreds of dragons. It’s a fantasy series about a group of young dragons who believe they are destined to save the world. Of course, you already knew that, since you’re co-writing the adaptations with me, but pretending to explain that to you was a handy way of getting that exposition across to your readers. Hi, readers!

I have a couple of other big projects that I plan to work on in 2019, but they’re not yet at the discuss-in-public stage.

(This interview was originally posted to my patreon on January 25, 2019. Thank you to all the patrons who make this possible!)

Silly Interview with Anncillary Leckie, Yes I said That, I’ll Be Here All Night

Ann Leckie
This is Ann Leckie. If you’re a fan of contemporary science fiction and fantasy, and you don’t know who she is, you may have spent the last few years in cryogenic storage. In which case — awesome, and welcome back.
Ann likes dinosaurs, lives in Missouri, and really, really likes researching things.

RS: I’ve been reading your Raadchai stories for eleven years now (Yeah, eleven years. Let that sink in.) and I know the gloves and tea were in them by the time I started reading. Were they part of the initial germ of the Raadch, or if not, how did they evolve?

They weren’t part of the initial germ, but they got into the mix pretty soon after that. And I’m not sure where they came from or why they stuck–it just kind of worked for me somehow.

Which is how a lot of things are when I’m writing. Sometimes I’ll see someone say, like, “Oh, and this detail here, this is obviously Leckie doing this profound intentional thematic thing” and I’m like, no, actually, it was shiny, or else it made the story work the way I wanted it to, but I am  not going to speak up and spoil the impression that I was actually doing this very sophisticated thing!

RS: Tell everyone the story of the tea Vonda.

So, Clarion West has a party every Friday night of the workshop. And I turned up to the first one and I walk in (actually into the front yard of the house where it was) not knowing anybody, and this woman comes up with a plastic bag full of yarn and says, “Here, I make these for the students every year. Take one.” So what they are is these crocheted…objects. Our class mostly called them “scrunchies” or “scrunchy things.” If you were to crochet a couple chains and then join them to make a small loop, and then do a dozen or so double crochets in the loop and join the first and last ones to make a flat circle, and then every round after that make two double crochets in every double crochet, after a few rounds you’d have a scrunchy thing.  Mine was mostly a sportweight yarn that was white with a strand of what looked like silver tinsel in it, and then it was edged with a round of single crochets in red.

Anyway, so I picked my red and silver and white scrunchy thing and I thanked the nice lady and she went off to give one to another student and someone leaned over and said to me, very quietly, “That was Vonda McIntyre,” and I nearly fell over. Vonda McIntyre! Gave me a scrunchy thing she had crocheted herself! I put it on my desk in my room where the workshop was.

And so then, while I was working on the story that eventually became “Night’s Slow Poison” I needed a creature. Building creatures can take quite a while if you take your worldbuilding seriously, which I generally do. But I needed something fast, and I looked up and there was my scrunchy thing. “Right,” I said, “you’re my creature. What to call you?” And thus the tea Vonda was born.

RS: Do you have a picture of your tea Vonda?

I don’t!  I know it’s in my office somewhere, I ran across it the last time I cleaned the whole office, but Mithras only knows where it is now. Probably under a huge pile of beads and yarn.

RS: I do not have a picture of my tea Vonda. Maybe I’ll find it when we clean our office.

Hahaha clean the office. The very idea. I don’t know about yours, but that would be a big project here in my office.

RS: I love your fantasy world in which gods must always speak the truth, and suffer penalties when they lie. Can you describe it more fully and talk about how you came up with it?

I actually designed that world for “The God of Au” and then found that I could use it for other things.

I did a lot of reading on various topics, and ended up fascinated with the very…I guess I’ll say “contractual” nature of some pagan Roman religious practices. Like, you’d make an offering and you would be careful to describe the terms of your offering very specifically so there was no misunderstanding. “I give you the wine I pour out on the ground” rather than “I give you this wine” which could, if you squinted, mean all the wine in the amphora, or from the harvest, right? Or when praying to a god or asking them for something, they’re sometimes very careful about names and identities. If you clearly needed to propitiate *some* god (there’s a plague, or a string of misfortunes, or some ill-omened event but there’s no information about which god might be the one to go to) you’d make an offering to something like “the god who’s concerned in this, whether they’re male or female or neither, by whatever name they answer to” (that’s a very loose paraphrase, not an actual quote of any inscription). In fact, such a dedication occurs in “The God of Au.” Or, like, there were certain ceremonies that had to go off as specified, and if there was one detail wrong they had to start over from the beginning, because the deal was it had to happen a particular way. So if, say, it was a procession during which the officiating priest couldn’t be contaminated by seeing something–let’s say a dog–during the procession, well, instead of having to start over every time a stray dog turned up, they’d put blinders on the priest in the procession so even if the dog was there, he wouldn’t, you know, see it.

I found that really interesting, in part because of the way it implied the assumption of the very real presence of gods, and the potential for a very direct relationship between people and gods, and for gods’ very direct actions on the world, in a way that makes perfect logical sense if in fact gods exist and they consider themselves bound by contracts in that way. It was a small step from there to “gods are bound by their own words.”

Which is essentially the premise of the universe–not much different from the world we live in at all, but for this one thing–multiple gods exist, and their power comes from the fact that whatever they say is true–even if it wasn’t before they said it. Of course, a world that has such beings in it is going to be very different from ours, even if everything else is basically the same.

RS: Have you considered writing a fantasy novel? Do you have an idea for it?

I have! I have some faint scratchings of an idea. It would take work to develop those into an actual novel, but I would really like to do it some time.

RS: What is the best kind of tea?

The kind that tastes good to you! Right now I’m enjoying different oolongs, but there aren’t many kinds of tea that I just don’t like. Well, I’m not a rooibos fan. (Well, let me amend that, I’ve got a green rooibos blend that I was given as a gift and I like that one a lot. But generally, not a rooibos fan.)

RS: For the past several years, you’ve been making spectacularly gorgeous woven bead jewelry. Can you describe a couple of your favorite projects? Pictures please!

Oh, wow. I’m not sure I’d say “spectacularly gorgeous,” but. I’ve got a few necklaces I’m very proud of, and I got into doing pins for a while (for maybe obvious reasons), which are nice because they’re small and finish quickly. Beadweaving can take such a long time! I’ve got a freeform peyote necklace that’s been in progress for a couple of years, sheesh, I really do need to finish it.

I’ve posted pics of some of the pins on my tumblr:

imageI’m kind of proud of that one, though it’s mostly bead embroidery and polymer clay. The cuneiform allegedly says “the goddess Innana.” I know “the goddess” part is right, that’s that star-looking thing on the left, it’s the determinative for gods. (alone it can also mean “star” or “sky” and you now have almost the entire extent of my knowledge of Sumerian.)

image (1)These are just kind of playing around. In colors I hardly ever use, actually, but I walked into the bead store last winter and was so tired of gray, and they’d put a bunch of beads those colors up front and I was like ‘I need the bright colors!”

image (2)This is a freeform square stitch project. Freeform kind of takes some getting used to, I think, but it’s fun.

image (3)More bead embroidery. The “jewels” are of course plastic things from a huge bag I got at the craft store. I can’t help it, I like sparkles.

image (4)There are more, and I did bunches and bunches of little triangles. I did the necklace in my author photo! And also the necklace and purse I wore for the 2014 Nebulas and Hugos! I’m not sure I have pictures of all of them, though.

RS: New fans may or may not know you as someone who was the assistant/associate editor at PodCastle for several years, and the founder and editor of Giganotosaurus Magazine. What do you get out of editing? Do you see yourself taking up another editing project?

Maybe! I enjoy editing, but it does take up a very similar part of my energy as writing does, which is why I handed off the editing of GigaNotoSaurus to Rashida Smith (who is doing a fabulous job).

Part of what I’ve learned from editing is how to look at something that isn’t working for me and think of effective ways to fix it. I wasn’t doing the fixing myself, but I think I got better as time went on at identifying things and coming up with workable suggestions for the writer. And of course, sometimes the writer’s reply would be “No, actually, I think this other thing will work better” and it would! That was something I felt I could bring back to my own work, that would make it better.

Also, honestly, it is genuinely fun to buy stories, to say “Yes, give me the story I want to publish it!” And then even more fun to have it go out into the world and maybe see people read it or talk about it. Most of the credit goes to the writer, and rightly so, but there’s just something…I don’t know, parental? about publishing stories.

RS: Should dinosaurs have guns?

Yes. Yes they should. Especially if their technology has gotten to the point that they’re mounting expeditions to Mars.

RS: What is your least favorite way to end an interview?

I..don’t know? I don’t think I’ve had an interview end badly. 😀

Silly Interview with Cat Rambo Who Plays in the MUD

Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo is a Nebula-nominated writer, successful online writing teacher, current president of SFWA, and one of my Clarion West classmates–along with Ann Leckie, who I’m interviewing next week. I’m a great admirer of her short stories (I’ll be publishing some fan art of a few of them in a bit), like this one and this one. Her first novel came out this year, too, in the lovely and well-developed world of Tabat (I have a draft of the sequel in my inbox, and I can’t wait!) Also, she’s tons of fun to hang out with, and everyone should do so, but hopefully not all at once.

1. Although you write stories in other venues, you have at least two persistent worlds. One is Tabat where your novel takes place. Can you talk about the world and how it came to be?

Tabat started with a game concept. A friend was working on a MUD (a text-based multi-player game) where each administrator would create their own city, and I decided to do a seaport. One of the cool things about the game engine was that you could add tags onto room, so there were bits of description that only appeared under certain conditions, including things like time of day, season, moon phase, tide, and so forth, including things like if the player was carrying a specific object or had particular spells on them.

I went nuts with it. I built a city where you smelled fish when the tide was high and the wind was coming from the south, and where the tiles of the great Moonway shifted in color depending on whether the moon was full or lean. In the spring there was the smell of particular flowers when you descended the stairways leading from one terrace to another, and in the fall, storms sweeping in from the south-east brought the smell of rotting reeds from the marshes bordering the city on one side.

Alas, much of my work was lost in a server accident, and after that discouragement and the falling away of the other administrators, Tabat never got to see actual players.

Later, I tried to recreate it in another MUD. I had been working with Armageddon MUD, which had a period each Saturday where the game was inaccessible to players while the staff performed maintenance and additions. We planned to have a space available only on Saturdays, a mini-mud that would be a single city. However, we ended up doing away with the Saturday downtimes, and so this project also never saw light. (Armageddon still exists; enter at your own peril.)

So when I started writing fantasy stories, it was a logical place to set some. I knew it well, and it’s gotten even further fleshed out in my head over the decade I’ve been working with fiction in it. Writing a fantasy quartet in it has been fun, but the next volume, Exiles of Tabat, actually moves the reader outside the city, accompanying Bella and Teo.

2. Likewise, you have a space station (Twicefar, right?) where you’ve set a lot of stories. (I can link to some here.) How did that develop?

Twicefar grew out of a single story that I wrote while at Clarion West, Amid the Words of War, which is set in a brothel named The Little Teacup of the Soul aboard the station.

As characters emerged in one story, I ended up exploring them further in others. One of my favorites is “Kallakak’s Cousins,” which appeared in Asimov’s. The universe around that far-future setting has hosted some stories as well, such as TimeSnip, Angry Rose’s Lament (another Clarion West story), and Bots d’Amor.

3. What new writing skills have you learned from teaching regularly?

I’ve gotten better things like placing the reader inside the character’s head, rather than a spot about six inches behind it or, worse yet, hovering at a distance. A lot of it are little tricks, devices I wouldn’t have thought about if I hadn’t been thinking about the topic for a particular class.

And I’ve gotten much better at knowing how to get from “this would be nifty” to finished story. I keep getting people who tell me they want to learn how to tell the ideas that will turn into stories from the ones that will peter out. And that’s not actually a skill you pick up. Instead you learn how to reliably turn something into a story.

4. You and I have both attended a lot of workshops in different venues. In my experience, different workshop cultures have different strengths and weaknesses. Common, useful metaphors known in sci fi workshops might not be common in graduate programs that concentrate on realism. What did you learn in graduate school that doesn’t get included in most science fiction workshops?

Hmmm. I think one of the things that gets emphasized in grad workshops as opposed to SF workshops is a sense that you’re part of the overall conversation of literature, that anything you write is influenced by and in some ways a reply to the texts that have moved you in one way or another.

I wrote “Bus Ride to Mars” as a love poem to Geoffrey Chaucer, who I adore, for example. Do you need to have read The Canterbury Tales to appreciate it? I sure hope not. But there’s great pleasure in reading a text and seeing the layers of influence at work in it, and sometimes SF workshops don’t talk about that or even denigrate it as snooty literary stuff. That’s a shame and it’s something that hampers us.

I’m very happy to see efforts to keep genre history — particularly the pieces that end up dropping away often — preserved in projects like Kris Rusch’s Women in SF website.

5. How does your women’s studies background influence your writing at this point? Does that relationship continue to develop as you keep writing?

Always. I’ve got an undergrad certificate in Gender Studies from Notre Dame, plus I taught in the Women’s Studies department at Towson for a number of years. It shapes a lot of my reading as well as many of my approaches to life and acts as a goad to keep me trying to understand and learn about my own filters and blind spots.

Sometimes it overtly influences a story, as with “All the Pretty Little Mermaids,” another Asimov’s story, which actually also has a little tribute to one of my favorite professors from Notre Dame, Charlene Avallone, in it.

6. Is there a color that you would never dye your hair?

I probably would never bleach it again. I did that one year to go purple at World Fantasy and found the process alarmingly painful.

7. As president of SFWA, can you describe your plan for fixing all problems with the Hugo Awards?

Hahahahaha. I’m too busy with the SFWA mission of doing stuff that actually helps working writers. Lots of cool things lately, and more to come this year. For recent examples, see the Speakers Bureau and the SFWA Star Project program.

8. Upcoming projects and other news: take it away.

I just finished Hearts of Tabat, the sequel to Beasts of Tabat; it’s off with beta readers right now. Finishing up the second edition of Creating an Online Presence for Writerswith lots of interesting updates. Releasing two collections this year, one of steampunk stories on June 1 and another two-sided collection from Hydra House in August. Writing lots of stories, finishing up “The Wizards of West Seattle” for Patreon supporters later this month. Working on more on-demand classes, including both class and book version of Moving from Idea to Draft. Plenty of travel this year, including the Nebulas next week, Gencon, Worldcon, Westercon, Dragoncon, Orycon, and the Chinese Nebulas in Beijing in the fall. Whew!

Silly Interview with Ken Liu who HAS THE SCHEMATICS for a Time Turner!

KenLiu_Full_SizeKen Liu came onto the short story scene a few years ago, and then dominated it, and has continued to dominate it since. If you’re interested in contemporary short science fiction, Ken is an author you can’t miss. One of my favorites: Mono no aware. And his first major award winner: Paper Menagerie.

RS: You have a full-time job, a family with young children, a career as a successful short story writer and novelist, and a career as a translator. How? What demonic trick of time have you unleashed? I must ask if you have a time turner of the kind from Harry Potter which allows you to move back six hours in time. Do you have a time turner?

KL: Ah, the “time turner,” that most wondrous of artifacts.  Did you know that “time” is etymologically related to “tide”? And in fact, “tide” only acquired the sense of “flood and ebb of the sea” fairly recently (as in, less than seven centuries ago) …

Also, it seems to me that “time-turner” could be a kenning for “office drone”?

Speaking of time-turning, I have to thank you for your recent recommendation of “Ghost Trick” (available for the Nintendo DS and iOS). That game involves multiple sessions of reversing time’s flow for four minutes at a time and trying to change fate.

What was the question again?

RS: If you do not have a time turner, what magic time-traveling device do you have? I will not believe the answer “none” so you may as well be honest.

KL: Ahem. Yes, you got me…

So I practice the ancient magic of “Saying No.” Basically this involves being very careful about what projects I choose to work on. There are far too many interesting ideas for stories and far too many exciting anthology calls to say yes to all of them. I have to prioritize.

Because my writing time is so limited, I can’t afford to pursue all leads and just hope some of them work out. I have to be ruthless and say no to the vast majority of ideas and invitations I get so that I can focus on the few projects where I think my contributions will actually be unique, interesting, and artistically rewarding.

Many other writers write faster and write more than I do, but I think I have the advantage of picking a larger percentage of projects where my interests and talents are a good match for the projects’ needs.

RS: Speaking of Harry Potter, if you could send your kids to Hogwarts, would you?

KL: I’d have to ask my kids. Personally, I’m not a big fan of sending them away to boarding school because I want to spend more time with them. Parents get so little time with their children as is… But if they really want to go and learn magic, I’ll support them. And I hope they work hard to challenge the rather authoritarian system at Hogwarts and engage in campus activism.

And I’d have to do a lot of work to supplement their knowledge of the non-magical world.

Finally, I want them to bring a note to Hogwarts—more like a treatise—on how the rules of Quidditch make no sense.

RS: Many of your stories hook into important parts of East Asian history. I’m thinking of the ones that take place around World War II in particular. I know as a Jew the events of World War II were something that caught in my mind and stayed there. Was that an experience you had as well?

KL: Absolutely.

The terrible events around World War II in East Asia and Europe are searing experiences that should never be forgotten. Yet, in the years since, the forces of denial and repression have tried again and again to make us forget. In the case of East Asia, they base their arguments either on the needs of geopolitics or on high-minded (but false) claims that somehow forgetting is the same as reconciliation. Some have also resorted to despicable attempts to discredit survivors and to deny the facts of historical atrocities, thereby committing a fresh round of violence against the memory of the victims and the peoples of East Asia.

“Forgetting” history is a luxury that belongs to the privileged winners of history. The rest of us tread on bones and walk through ghosts, and we must not forget the past, which shapes the present and the future.

RS: I think of your stories as having an old-fashioned science fiction feel and structure, while being leavened with a modern approach toward emotion and character (and a broader idea of what constitutes interesting subjects). Does that ring true for you at all? How would you characterize your aesthetic?

KL: I like hearing you describe my stories that way. You’re, without a doubt, one of the sharpest readers of my work, and when you point out something about my fiction—whether positive or negative—I sit up and listen.

I think authors are often the least accurate summarizers of their own work, for they’re too close to it. Still, for what it’s worth, I think of what I write as primarily the fiction of rhetoric, of story-as-argument—not as persuasion, mind you, but as meditation.

My stories, as all fiction must, follow the logic of metaphors, and because I like to work with literalized metaphors, this practice draws me to employ the tropes and techniques of science fiction and fantasy. I enjoy working with literalized metaphors, exploring their nooks and crannies, finding shears and drops, bridging them and chaining them and laddering them into a structure that will reveal something of what we feel in our lives but cannot put into words.

At the same time, I have a deep ambivalence about our contemporary apparent-consensus over what makes a “good story”—despite all the aesthetic disagreements in the field, the science fiction and fantasy genres do seem to experience strong normative pressures concerning _how_ to tell a story. Characters need to be “real” and “deep” (by which we mean psychological interiority as popularized by the Modernists); points-of-view need to be consistent; exposition should be carefully blended into characterization and plot advancement; plots and characters need to arc and follow discernible shapes and patterns … and so on and so forth.

In a time when everyone is taught to appreciate oil paintings done in a classical European style, brush paintings in the style of Song Dynasty masters will seem spare, unrealistic, “flat,” unbelievable, … “not a good picture.” But I don’t believe there is just one way to tell a good story—we have had too much variation over time and across the globe in what narratives speak to particular peoples in particular contexts for me to accept that.

I like to construct stories in a way that evokes far older narrative traditions and techniques, and perhaps bring to bear tools learned from outside the core scifi/fantasy experience. Whether these efforts work for readers is not something I can control, but at least I enjoy telling stories the way I want to.

RS: You translated Three Body Problem whose author, Cixin Liu, seems to have definite opinions on this topic. (From his American author’s note: “The stories of science are far more magnificent, grand, involved, profound, thrilling, strange, terrifying, mysterious, and even emotional, compared to the stories told by literature.”) Is science more important than art?

KL: I like Liu Cixin’s work, and it is completely in line with his own aesthetic that prizes science and scientific speculation as the core of a good SF story.

While I enjoy reading stories written in this vein, I don’t always enjoy writing stories like that. I feel that the techniques of science fiction and fantasy can be used for many other types of stories, including stories in which the scientific speculation primarily serves as a literalized metaphor.

This isn’t to say science is more important than art, or vice versa. Both science and art are human enterprises, ways of knowing, and I don’t think it’s impossible to create compelling narratives that draw on both—and I also think there’s nothing wrong with creating stories that emphasize one over the other.

RS: I think a lot of us envy your ideas and how neatly you fit them into stories. Can you describe your process of developing a story from idea to draft?

KL: I don’t have a single process that applies for all stories. In a lot of cases, my stories begin from a single image or phrase that I find evocative. In other cases, they come from some scientific paper I read that I find particularly interesting.

I then take that story seed and let it sit in my head for a while. Once I begin thinking about something, I notice other things in my life that are related to it: books I read, web pages I come across, other papers cited in the first paper, illustrations and photographs that seem to speak to the seed, and so on. I let all of this churn in my head, and sometimes I discover that there’s no interesting story there, despite my best efforts, but at other times the seed grows into a sapling that I can envision as a tree someday.

That’s when actual drafting starts. I don’t outline or plan, but prefer to explore the idea as I write. This means that I tend to draft slowly (because I’m using the drafting process to think) and it also means that I have to do a lot of work in revisions. Overall, the way I write short stories is a bit like sculpting, where the story slowly emerges as I carve away the excess key by key.

RS: You love the video game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney! Me, too. But you’re an actual lawyer. What do you enjoy about it?

KL: I love the way the law’s tendency as a game of rhetoric is highlighted in these games. The process of parsing words carefully to find “contradictions” is actually quite similar to the way lawyers craft their arguments—not in the details, of course, but in mindset and approach.

I also like the fact that Phoenix’s clients are always innocent and that he’s never had to defend someone who isn’t a good person. If only real lawyers are so lucky.

RS: Is there anything else you’re excited to share? Bonus points if it’s silly and/or a lie and/or a silly lie.

Wall of StormsKL: I’ve been working on the copyedits of my second novel, The Wall of Storms, and I’m super excited to share this book with readers come October. There’s lots more intrigue and politics and crafty battle strategies and oodles of silkpunk technology. I literally dream about these machines some nights…

Okay, but more seriously, I have discovered the secret of time-turning, and I have a proof and a set of schematics that I’m excited to share. Okay, let me find it on my hard drive … Darn it, it is too lengthy to fit into the space allotted me here, and the pictures are too big to send through email. Next time?

Obligatory “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” UpdateThe fundraiser’s doing really well! And if we get to $600, Ken Liu will join authors Ann Leckie, Brooke Bolander, Juliette Wade, Alyssa Wong, and me, in writing a round robin story about dinosaurs. (I didn’t plan to run this interview to coincide with that; it just happened.)

Silly Interview with Na’amen Tilahun, Aspiring Prince Impersonator

Na'amen TilahunNa’amen Tilahun has been around the science fiction scene for a long time — as a fan, a convention attendee, and a bookstore clerk. And now as a novelist! His debut novel, The Root, is coming out in June. I blurbed it:

“Naamen Tilahun‘s novel will make readers searching for variety in their SFF diets squeal with delight. The detailed world-building is strange and wondrous.”

Because we are both obsessed with the television show RuPaul’s Drag Race (or at least, he watches it and I’m obsessed), I asked him a ton of questions about drag queening. If you’d rather read a discussion of literature and toasters, just scroll down. We get to it.

RS: Who is your favorite contestant from RuPaul’s Drag Race ever?

NT: This is a hard one. There are queens from each and every year that I adore and follow on social media long after the season is over. I love fashion queens, pageant queens, comedy queens, every kind of drag queen. Most of all though I love a queen that can make me laugh so Pandora Boxx, Latrice Royale, Bianca DelRio, Jujubee, Willam, Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 and Shangela all rank very highly with me.

Adore DelanoFavorite of all time, though? Probably Adore Delano, she makes me laugh whether it’s on purpose or not, I love her give no fucks attitude and her music is amazing. I love a messy queen most of all.

RS: Which Queen should never have been allowed on the race? Keep it 100.

NT: Oooh this is mean. I could go safe and just name one of the girls who exited first or second in one of the seasons but you said to keep it 100 so: Tammie Brown. I love vintage and I love kooky but I just do not get her, ever. But you know I acknowledge that a lot of the queens that I love, love her. Her jokes just make no goddamn sense to me.

RS: If you were on the race, what would you wear, what name would you use, and who would you play on the Snatch game?

NT: I think I would rock a lot of superhero inspired bodysuits. I would probably be a combination cosplayer/drag queen like Dax ExclaimationPoint…but better. I’d enter the workroom in a whole Manhunter (Kate Spencer) inspired look.

My name would be Hateretha Kitt.

I think in Snatch Game I would try to follow in the footsteps of Kennedy Davenport and push the envelope by doing a man, in this case Prince.

Na'amen The RootRS: I guess I should ask you something that isn’t about drag race. Tell me about your young adult book.

NT: Well my novel The Root features two main characters. There’s Erik, a former child star who left the business after a scandal and now lives in San Francisco and has just discovered he isn’t completely human. And there’s Lil who is basically a magic-wielding assistant librarian in another world that is slowly being devoured. There are a lot of other characters that get into the mix – mentors, parents, rivals. The novel jumps between our San Francisco and the alternate world and there are secret societies, shady dealings, betrayal, revenge, all that good stuff.

RS: You’ve been an advocate for diversity in SF, particularly in regard to race and sexuality. How did that work affect what you wanted to write about?

NT: I think it’s always subconsciously in my writing. The reason I’m such an advocate for diversity is because it’s the world I live in, it’s the people I see on the street and interact with at work and for fun. I’ve never lived in a city where I only knew white people or straight people. I always have had a diverse group of folks in my life and in my circle of friends. So when I write a book it’s natural to me that the characters I write about resemble the people I know. I also didn’t want to write an issue book where the story centered around a crisis of identity or coming out. Don’t get me wrong those books can be done really well but I always love the books where the characters are just queer or brown or disabled and while it’s part of the story because that’s their life it’s not the focus of the story. I want action and adventure for people who look like me and my friends.

I’m also confused by people who build homogeneous worlds, where everyone looks the same, feels the same, and has the same kind of relationships. Especially in speculative fiction which arguably is more about wish fulfillment than any other genre, why is this the world that you imagine? There are authors who are willing to imagine what our society will look like in thousands of years but they won’t look at their own assumptions and write a world were people are brown or queer or disabled or marginalized in any way. That’s ridiculous to me, we’ve always been here and always will be here.
Then again maybe they have thought about it and that’s the world they want to build, that’s fine, I’m just not interested. It’s especially astonishing when the work is set in a hugely diverse city like Los Angeles or the Bay Area or New York or London but the cast of characters never includes diversity.

RS: For many years, you worked at Borderlands, the San Francisco bookstore that specializes in science fiction and fantasy. What are some of the best experiences you’ve had there?

NT: Yes, I love them and still do some freelance stuff with them. I think the best experience was cultivating relationships with readers who shared my reading sensibilities. There were certain customers who I just had an instant rapport with and for most part knew immediately what book I wanted to recommend to them. These were customers who knew if I suggested a book they weren’t going to find it dripping with rape culture or racism or sexism. Borderlands has been my bookstore since I moved to the Bay Area and they’re a great supportive community.

RS: And since you’ve worked in a bookstore–Who should we be reading who we aren’t reading? 

NT: Well I love Martha Wells her Books of the Raksura series is my favorite fantasy series of the last few years and her novel Wheel of The Infinite is one of my go-to re-reads.

Nalo Hopkinson has such a gorgeous way with language, her sentences are beautiful and her novels deal with trauma without making it entertainment. Love, love, love Sister Mine.

Larissa Lai wrote Salt Fish Girl which I think is a criminally underrated novel, moving in time from the ancient past to the far future it’s a beautiful novel about family and identity.

Oh and in that vein The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter which was really popular when it came out but a lot of people seem to have forgotten it – that novel is one of my Cyberpunk holy trinity (the other two are Melissa Scott’s brilliant Trouble & Her Friends and When Gravity Falls by George Alec Effinger).

I would also add N.K. Jemisin & Ann Leckie to the list but I can’t imagine there are many people who haven’t read them – I feel sorry for those people if they exist.

In terms of just released or upcoming release Mishell Baker’s Borderline blew me away and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway literally made me cry in spots.

I’ll stop here because I could go on and on.

RS: DRAG RACE DRAG RACE DRAG RACE

NT: My top three this season are definitely – Bob the Drag Queen, Kim Chi and Chi Chi
The ones I just wish would go away are – Acid Betty, Robbie Turner and Derrick Barry

flying toasterRS: If the old Ellen joke is true, and you get a toaster every time you convert someone to being gay, where are all the toasters?

NT: I’ve been hoarding my own and intercepting everyone elses so that one day, one day, I can make a giant toaster Mecha that will not only allow me to take over the world but have the best mobile breakfast diner ever. I shall call it Papa Waffles and we will serve every breakfast food but waffles. Mwahahahahahaha! I shall rule all I see through a vast empire of toasted bread!

RS: This space left blank for you to say whatever you want about upcoming projects, things you’re excited about, which drag race contestants are going to win, how to raise Octavia Butler from the dead, roller derby, River Song, or whatever other topic you’d like to bring up.

NT: The main problem with trying to resurrect Octavia Butler is the question of consent. Does she want to be raised from the dead, maybe she’s happier not dealing with all these fools. We don’t want to fall into a Buffy situation. Although if we could get consent, whoo boy! The stories that woman wrote, the stories that were still inside her? There are few authors who can make me read trauma so deeply and still make the book exciting and almost fun. She had a skill for portraying life as it is, a series of intense ups and downs.

As for upcoming projects, I’m working on relaunching my podcast with my friend Chris Chinn The *New* Adventures of Yellow Peril & Magical Negro soon where we talk geek shit from a POC perspective. I also have a podcast called The Worst Queers with another friend that I’m working on getting up and running. After that’s done I’d love to work on a webcomic – I’ve had a couple pretty specific ideas for a few years now that I would love to see turned into a comic.

Also I’m in the midst of trying to invent a working Time-Turner so that I can have time to do all the projects I want to. Either that or becomes extremely rich so I don’t have to work full-time. Whichever comes first.

Silly Interview with Spencer Ellsworth Whose Bedpost Notches Are Real People

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Spencer Ellsworth had been publishing short stories since 2009, and has work in PodCastle, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, F&SF and a number of other places. You can find his short story “Clockwork of Sorrow” in the anthology Ghost in the Cogs: Steam-Powered Ghost Stories (the cover of which you can see here).

Every time I see Spencer, I always ask the same question. You see, several years ago when Ann Leckie was running Giganotosaurus, I sometimes did first-round reading for her. And while Ann and I have very similar taste, we don’t have identical taste. So once in a while we’d come up against a story that I was jazzed about, but that didn’t quite cross her threshold. So every time I see Spencer, I ask about that one story that got away.

[Note: We conducted the interview a while ago, just after the Nebula ballot was released.]

RS: Haaave you sold the cool story about the alien kites yet? If not, perhaps we can leave a summary here to tempt an editor into opening their door.

I HAVE. IT SOLD. IT’LL BE UP AT TOR.COM… SOMETIME THIS YEAR HOPEFULLY OR MAYBE NEXT WHO KNOWS. THAT WAS A LITTLE ANTICLIMACTIC BUT WE’RE STILL KEEPING CAPS LOCK ON.

It’s called “When Stars Are Scattered,” and it tells the travails of a doctor on a homesteading planet, an atheist caught between Muslim missionaries, who have converted the quirky indigenous aliens, and homesteaders mostly of a Baptist stripe, who do not see the aliens as sentient, intelligent beings.

This story, man. I originally wrote a draft in 2006, scrapped it and rewrote in 2007, and that went everywhere and got nice notes from everyone, including you at GigaNotoSaurus. I took it to Viable Paradise in 2010, where it collected some nice comments and an invite to submit from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, then I took it home and sweated over the rewrites for four years, then finally sent it in and… they bought it.

WHEW

Ten long years ago, when I conceived the story, I was really pushing myself to tackle some bigger issues in storytelling. My favorite writer is Octavia Butler, partially because I could never predict, or even start to predict, how her stories would end. They were always about these terrible moral dilemmas and vicious relationships. So I decided to write one of the real world’s unpredictable conflicts, about faith and land and morality, and put some aliens in it.

RS: Conan the Barbarian. It sounds like you both love it, and know it has problems. What do you see as today’s cultural heirs to the tradition?

You refer to “The Child Support of Cromdor The Condemned,” which was a very well-received piece on Podcastle, and AHEMAHEM made the Nebula recommended reading list.

I wrote that story about the terrible male role models presented to me as a young man. James Bond, Conan, The Man With No Name, etc–all those taciturn, violent guys who have a girl of the week, conveniently gone the next week. It was difficult for me to reconcile such role models, whom society held up as the paragons of “manliness,” with my dad, who relied on peace and compassion to solve problems, and (gasp) treated women like actual human beings.

I got fan mail for that one. I quote “All the notches on Cromdor’s bedposts get to be real people in your story, even when they’re not directly onscreen.” I was proud of that, especially considering there aren’t that many women onscreen in the story. It’s very distinctly a story about the women who have been left offscreen, and humanizing both Conan and Conan’s wenches.

RS: You recently sold a short story that you wrote in an hour. Is that normal for you? How was it different–if it was–from your normal writing process?

About The Bear” was based on a true story, and that really fueled it. Writing all comes from unconscious processing, I think, but occasionally you hit a rich lode near the surface, and a real-life experience becomes great fiction. I really did know a guy who wrestled a bear and came out okay, although, as I learned upon pressing him, it was an adolescent bear. I plugged our conversation into my fantasy world, and boom: I had a flash piece that all came together, about one of my favorite themes: how stories change us.

RS: When you are teaching English, what’s the most basic thing you want to make sure all students leave knowing?

Ooh! Good question! And yet, I don’t really want them to “know” something, so much as I want them to love learning. A lot of students come into my classes at Northwest Indian College having had bad experiences in school. They were frustrated, stereotyped, endured racist microaggression either within or without the community, and their parents often went through the same or worse, especially if a residential school was involved. Many never received early intervention for dyslexia or farsightedness. They are turned off by academic learning, though most of them are very adept at learning and sharing traditional teachings.

I want them to leave with a love of books, a discovery that academic learning can be fun and empowering. When a student finds a body of knowledge that inspires them, that’s the best part of my job. A couple of cool experiences I’ve had lately: a student stayed up all night finishing the memoir of an American Indian Movement activist, a student shared with me his ideas for science fiction stories and we discussed creative writing for a while, and several students told me they loved my Developmental Reading class, which is not, in my mind, a Number One Fun Time Class. Oh, and we read “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love,” in that class, and had a spirited discussion about subtext and genre. They liked the story, all the more so for discovering the subtext. BE PROUD RACHEL. YOU ARE MIGHTY IN READING 091

RS: Tell me about Pawnbroker.

Quality used musicians! Prices negotiable. Pawnbroker is my band and we try to marry the 90s and the 60s, our favorite musical decades. Try us out for free.

I’ve always played music along with writing–I find the intuitive, experiential nature of playing music live makes a good companion to the more structured, studied creativity in writing and revising. The band has actually been on a little hiatus, though I’m sure we’ll make it work again one of these days. In the meantime, I’m working on a solo project that is like unto Nick Cave or Elliott Smith, which is my way of saying I can’t really sing but the songs will one day be covered by Scarlett Johanssen for a vanity project. PROMISE

RS: Projects? Notes? Please put them here!

Projects:

I’m currently working on a book called The Red Walker, which is SO MUCH COOL FUN TO WRITE. It’s about a girl whose brother dies halfway through his Epic Chosen One quest, so the little sister has to take up the quest, with the help/hindrance of a rogue sorcerer who is, um, a lot like Omar Little from The Wire.  As in, if Omar lived in an epic fantasy novel, this would be him.

Everyone say it with me: “Oh, indeed?”

Notes:

I recently read Six of CrowsBigfootloose & Fancy FreeSeriously Wicked, and The Shards of Heaven and loved them all. You should too.

Our Lady Of The Open Road was one of my favorite stories of last year, aaaaand it’s on the Nebula ballot.

You can put just about anything in chocolate and it makes it better! This stuff is amazing. Vote it for the Nebula in Best Chocolate. And this stuff in the Vegan Cheese Nebulas.

Why isn’t drywall reusable? That is so wasteful. Amiright?

Stop adding “punk” to things, writers! Cyberpunk IS punk; it’s an angry critique of materialist culture! Steampunk/dieselpunk/silkpunk/drywallpunk/bicyclepunk/godzillapunk/blerrrrghhfrpunk are killing the word “punk” and (all together now) PUNK’S NOT DEAD.

Bears, man.

Thanks very much for this opportunity to rant and share some answers to excellent questions, Rachel. As I’ve said many times, if you were a dinosaur, you’d be this one.

DinoRiderTrexARMORED

Silly Interview with Mary Robinette Kowal, intermittenty teal storyteller

© 2012 Rod Searcey

© 2012 Rod Searcey

Mary Robinette Kowal is a woman of incredible multiple talents — a professional puppeteer who sews regency dresses and narrates audio books — and wins Hugo Awards. Her first novel series, the Glamourist Histories — fantasy novels about Austen’s regency period — recently concluded. I even drew some fan art about it. She also teaches writing online — oh, just visit her website.

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RS: A lot of novelists let short stories lapse when they embark on their novelling careers. You keep publishing strong short fiction, like last year’s “Midnight Hour” in Uncanny Magazine. How do you make time for short stories, and what do you get from them that you don’t get from longer fiction?

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MRK: Honestly, these days I start a lot of the short stories while I’m teaching my Short Story Intensive. Part of the process is that I write along with the students in order to demonstrate how to start from a story seed and then develop it into a story. I often have a market in mind when I’m doing these, so the demonstration does double duty. The thing that I love about short fiction as a writer is that I get to experiment with a lot of different styles and ideas without the huge time investment of a novel. Plus, as a reader, I find that a short story can often deliver more of a sucker punch to the emotions and I kinda like that.
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RS: You have one of the coolest career histories of any working writer I know, having been a professional puppeteer. In fact, I am going to take this opportunity to link to your audition video for the Henson workshop because it is amazing. (insert vid) How would you go about presenting yourself in puppet-form? Feel free to be practical, metaphorical, or to alternate.
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MRK: Well… as it happens, I have been doing these videos recently in which a puppet answers questions about writing. In puppet form, I curse a lot more than I do in real life. And I’m teal. [RS: You can see one of her episodes here.]
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RS: You sew absolutely beautiful regency dresses which have served as award gowns, bridal dresses, and icons for Scalzi fundraisers. When and how did you start sewing? And if you’d like to share any pictures of your dresses, I would not object.
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MRK: My mom taught me to sew when I was in elementary school, and then the puppetry career refined those skills because you can’t buy an off-the-rack pattern for puppet clothing. The Regency gowns began as “research” but I keep making them because they are simple and fun.
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RS: Your glamourist histories are, in part, an hommage to Austen. Perhaps you would indulge me in some silly alternate history. Imagine Jane Austen living today, not as her historical self reincarnated, but just as a person who happens to be alive now. How might you imagine her life? 
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MRK: Her choices would not be as constrained today as they were then. I like to think that she and Cassandra would have a nice flat together and that Jane would continue writing. She’d attend conventions, like RT, and have a circle of friends that she snarked with on Twitter. If you’ve ever read any of her letters, you know that she was the queen of the cutting comment and would OWN Twitter. She would probably have to have a day job but would have picked something that she felt a connection to, not just something that made her life easier so perhaps social work or maybe an anthropologist — no. Wait. I’ve just remembered her childhood histories. I bet she would have gotten a PhD in history.
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RS: Like many writers, your artistic talents abound in many creative fields. What drew you to and kept you writing?
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MRK: I was one of those kids who wanted to do everything, and they all seem to revolve around forms of storytelling. What I like about writing is that there are no limits. I don’t have to worry about gravity or physics or a budget when I’m planning a story, or at least not in the ways I have to worry about them when I’m creating a puppet show.
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RS: I read an interview in which you said you dread the “what are your upcoming projects” question, and yet, I fear, such things are inevitable since interviewers have to give us a way to promote what we’re up to. You suggested the question “What are you excited about?” instead, which I’ve used myself. But this wouldn’t be a silly interview if I did something practical like listen to what you want to be asked. So, instead: if your next/current project was an adorable animal, what kind of adorable animal would it be?
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RK: A three-legged German Shepherd. Okay… I know, that doesn’t sound very adorable, but let me tell you about this German Shepherd. Her name is Ghost Talkers. She was a service dog in the war, and lost a leg saving the life of her human partner. She’s back home and healed now, and is so delighted and happy and enthusiastic, but can also very serious, because she’s a veteran. When she walks, it is a bouncing uneven gait that’s kind of funny, but when she runs you can’t tell that she was wounded. And if you let her, she would totally serve again because she’s kind and loyal and will save your life, then cover you with kisses.
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Quick “Making Lemons into Jokes” campaign note: At $155, “If You Were a Butt, My Butt” is close to having an audio version!
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If you want to support the Butts and send some money to Lyon-Martin health services (LGBTQ health care, offered regardless of the patient’s ability to pay), subscribe to my Patreon. You can stay in it for the long-haul, or just pay in for a single month so all your contributions go to L-M.
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