Silly Interview with Anaea Lay (who wants to read your hate mail)

Anaea LayAnaea Lay

1) You were in Women Destroy Science Fiction–a project I greatly admire. What appeals to you about the project? What was your story like?

The Destroy series has been so phenomenally successful and huge that it’s hard to remember that it started as an announcement that basically went, “You know what?  Screw this.  We’re going to do a thing. Details forthcoming, let us know if you’re in.”  I’m both irritable and prone to scheming wild projects, so an announcement like that is a perfect recipe to pique my interest.  I sent them my info: i actually volunteered to read their hate mail for them since I get a bit of a kick out of getting hate mail.  I have a weekly quota of cackling I have to meet and reading hate mail makes it really easy for me to hit it.

They did not take me up on that offer, but did ask me to write a personal essay for a series they were putting up on their Kickstarter page.  There’s less cackling involved in that sort of support, but I was game.  It’s pretty short and you can still read it online if you want.  It’s mostly about how I found SF at just the right moment for it to assure me that I wasn’t as alone or strange as I thought I was.

What I like most about the Destroy project as it’s grown and developed is how conversations around it have grown and developed.  A lot of voices that were always there, but usually at the edges or hard to go find have been amplified and brought closer to the main stream of the conversation.  That’s the kind of effect that stretches beyond a single anthology or project.  Twenty or thirty years from now, I’ll get to be the pedant droning on in convention hallways about how this and that other thing taken for granted ties back to this project and here see all the ways I can tie them together.  People will humor me and act like I’m being terribly interesting, and when they finally escape, I’ll cackle.  (I’ll probably still have a quota to meet.)

You have an unpublished novel. You quote what John O’Neill had to say about it: “…an unpublished novel set in a gorgeously baroque far future where a woman who is not what she seems visits a sleepy space port… and quickly runs afoul of a subtle trap for careless spies.” Can you tell us more? How did you come up with the idea, and did it surprise you where it went?

That novel was a bit of an experiment.  I had a big, sprawling space opera universe that I’d been building in the back of my head for years while working on other things.  It was time to start actually working on things there, but while I knew a lot about it, things in the back of my head tend to be squishy and hard to work with.  So I decided to do a safety novel first, something that would let me touch on the major set pieces  without any risk of pinning myself in later or breaking something I’d need.

Which meant I had no idea what I was going to do with it when I sat  down.  I knew I wanted a pair of sisters as the protagonists, and I wanted the younger sister to do some protecting of the older sister, then just kept throwing things out there to see what happened.

I’m in the process of re-working on of the plotlines from that novel into a game for Choice of Games.  It’s serving as a learning workhorse for me again because I’m using it to experiment with all the things I learned while doing my first game with them.  Clearly pirates, spies, and snarky computers are the learning tools every modern writer needs in their workshop.

You used to podcast poetry–how do you go about figuring how to give a poem voice?

I hosted the Strange Horizons poetry podcast, but I did as little reading of the poetry as possible; that’s our venue for getting in a variety of voices and it seems to me that if people are particularly invested in my voice, they can get plenty of it in the fiction podcast.

That said, I would step in when we were short on readers or there was a poem that particularly caught my eye.  (Editor’s privilege is a marvelous thing!)  Reading poetry is both easier and harder than reading prose; poems are frequently crafted with a very deliberate ear toward how they sound, which means you’re not likely to find the text dull to interpret vocally.  At the same time, you then have to do justice to the choices made in how the poem was put together, and justify it being you doing the reading rather than any given reader’s interior head voice.  So I look for the tools the poet gave me, then look for the ways I’m best suited to using those tools and build my performance around that.  I’m a complete sucker for consonant clusters and sibilants.

What was wonderful about running the Strange Horizons podcast?

Running the Strange Horizons podcast is fantastic.  I’ve given the poetry podcast over to Ciro Faienza, who was one of our staff readers for the poetry podcast and the single most common provocation of fanmail the podcast has gotten.  That podcast takes a lot of work, and I’d gotten to the point where I was very aware of a lot of ways it could be better, but realistically wasn’t ever going to have the time to implement any of those improvements.  Ciro immediately made some great changes and I’m really looking forward to what he does as he gets into his groove.

The politic, and mostly true, answer to what’s fantastic about doing the fiction podcast is getting to read the stories early and then pull them apart and put them back together in order to give a good reading.  The slightly more true answer, which has been growing over the course of the podcast, is the responses I get to the podcasts from the writers and the audience.  I pretty much only consume short fiction in audio form these days, which leaves me very grateful to all the places that are making it available.  Every time somebody reminds me that I’m one of those people is really great, especially when they’re reminding me because they liked what I did.

But also, I really like getting to pull the stories apart and put them back together.

So, on your website, you claim that the rumors I am a figment of your imagination are compelling. What are those rumors and why are you compelled by them?

I actually exist as a multi-bodied individual quietly working to bring the world under the rule of a mischievous alien intelligence through widespread distribution of coffee and sunlight.  We’ve already conquered most of California and are making great headway in Washington.  Every sip of coffee you take, and every day with bright, clear skies, our agenda advances that much further.

Once, upon being informed of this (it’s no fun to subvert an entire civilization if they don’t know it’s happening – you have to advertise) the person I was warning expressed skepticism about the veracity of my claims.  Apparently, according to them, the very concept of a multi-bodied individual is imaginative speculation and the idea of being one even more so.

There’s not a lot I can do in the face of such claims.  There are people who don’t believe in the moon landing.  There’s not a lot I can do about people who insist on remaining skeptical about coffee and sunshine powered conspiracies.  But I do find such relentless denial of obvious reality to provide a fascinating insight into human psychology, especially when the stakes are this high.

The projects question: got anything you’d like to mention to readers?

The biggest thing I’m in the middle of right now is the Dream Foundry, which is a very cool new organization that’s connecting different types of creative professionals all across science fiction, fantasy, and the rest of the speculative world.  We’re running useful articles on our website and starting up some very fun programming on our forums.  We’ve got really big plans for the future (Contests! Workshops! Assimilation of the entire industry into our standards for compensation and professional conduct!) but we’re already doing some very neat things, which is great for an organization that’s less than a year old.
In the short fiction realm, I just had “For the Last Time, It’s not a Raygun,” come out from Diabolical Plots.  It’s a tiny bit a love letter from me to Seattle, though I’d understand if it looks more like hate mail to some people.
Much larger, my first game with Choice of Games, “Gilded Rails,” came out late last year.  It’s a huge (340k) interactive novel where you’re trying to secure permanent control of a railroad in 1874, during the very early days of the labor movement and age of Robber Barons.  You get to choose between fixing markets or helping out small scale farmers, you’ve got a possibly-demonic pet cat, and a supreme court ruling over inheritance law for a big tent revivalist operation accidentally turned society into a more egalitarian alternate history where just about the entire cast might, depending on what you choose, be female.  Also, I snuck in hot takes about the contemporary theater and poetry scenes, which is exactly the sort of timely, incisive commentary everybody needs in their business sim.  I spent roughly forever, and also an eternity, working on this, so I’m really thrilled to have it out in the world.  It could be said that I’m cackling over it.

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.