Category Archives: Interviews

Stark, simple, infinite: Sarah Gailey Inksplains her #tattoos @gaileyfrey

Posted on April 26, 2017 by

Hugo and Campbell award finalist Sarah Gailey is an internationally-published writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and she is a regular contributor for Tor.com and Barnes & Noble. Her most recent fiction credits include Mothership Zeta, Fireside Fiction, and the Speculative Bookshop Anthology. Her debut novella, River of Teeth, comes out in May 2017. She has a novel forthcoming from Tor Books in Spring 2019. Gailey lives in beautiful Oakland, California with her husband and two scrappy dogs. You can find links to her work at www.sarahgailey.com; find her on social media @gaileyfrey.

The first time I met Chamuco, I took my shirt off and he traced the outline of my back onto a sheet of paper and we talked about the shape of the universe. The design I wanted was stark, simple, and infinite.

Everyone wants to know what it is and what it means. The amount of explaining I do largely depends on who is asking.

Random guy at a festival who grabs me by the shoulder so his friend can take a photograph of my back gets “not your fucking business.”

Stranger at a con who asks politely, interrupting a conversation I’m having with a friend gets “it’s a tree.”

Casual acquaintance gets “it’s tree roots.”

Friend who I dearly love and who has just purchased me my third glass of champagne gets this:

Dendritic patterning is a motif that is already intrinsic to my body. It’s the pattern that’s found in neurons, and lungs, and blood vessels. It’s also the pattern that’s in tree branches, and lightning, and river deltas. It represents my faith. It represents the way that my past connects to my future. It represents the infinite smallness and infinite largeness of everything I am and everything I do. It represents all the terrible things in my life, and the way all of those terrible things came together to point to a path that I’m glad to be on, and the way all of those things will eventually prove to be small in the great scope and scale of my life.

The first time I met Chamuco, I told him what I wanted, and he responded with a sketch that filled the top third of my back. The session took four and a half hours. Chamuco started at the bottom and worked his way up. I braced my arms against the back of a plastic-wrap-covered office chair and told him about my life as he worked. At the very top of the piece, he shaved off part of my hair with a straight razor. The tattoo needle made my skull vibrate so hard that my vision blurred, and I saw what pain feels like.

When I came back, Chamuco put an octopus on my thigh.

I trusted him by then. I trusted him so much that I indicated a span of flesh ranging from the top of my pelvis to the top of my knee, and I said “put an octopus there, whatever you want.” Chamuco was pretty excited — it turns out he’d spent days and nights at the Monterey Bay Aquarium studying the way tentacled creatures move. He gave me my second tattoo in another 4-hour session.

 

I didn’t come back again for five years or so. I’d gotten a lot of skin covered in a short time. I didn’t want anything else yet. I sent friends and family to Chamuco, and I kept up with him on social media, and I followed his artistic career as much as I could. It felt like a shorter time than it really was.

When I came back, I wanted my upper arms covered. They had scars on them, and they embarrassed me in that way that things only you ever notice can be embarrassing.

“What do you want?” he asked me, after we caught up a little.

“White ink,” I said. I liked the way it looked, and I liked how it would make my scars blend in. “Something that will go with my back piece. Whatever you want.”

I was wearing a strapless dress, and I rolled it down so that Chamuco could see my back piece. I stood with my arms outstretched as he drew on my skin, freehand, with a sharpie. I looked in the mirror at the curling, lacy wings he was applying to my shoulders and upper arms, and I smiled. I asked for one small adjustment — a curl where there was a straight line — and within a couple of hours the filigree was permanent.

I came back a week later for touch-ups on my back and thigh, and I realized how good I had it — that I could come to someone and ask them for something that would be on my skin forever, and I never once had to worry about whether or not I’d love it. Chamuco’s additions make me feel like art. When River of Teeth comes out in May, I’ll be sporting a new piece — a blood-spattered water hyacinth. I won’t know what it looks like until it’s finished. I won’t know what he has planned for me until it’s done — but I know it’ll be good.

It always is, in the end.


About this post: Inksplanations (and variations thereon) is the name for a series of short interviews with a number of genre writers about their tattoos. Why they got them, what they mean, how getting ink did or didn’t change them–any and all of these topics are fair game. What drives a literary artist to literally become canvas for an image or epigram? Did they get what they were seeking? I wanted to know, especially after I got my 2016 poppies from Toronto artist Lorena Lorenzo at Blackline Studio, and so I did what any curious writer would do. I asked.

“We are greater than we know. We are infinite.” @LAGilman Inksplains.

Posted on February 8, 2017 by

Laura Anne Gilman is the Nebula- and Endeavor-award nominated author of Silver on the Road and The Cold Eye(novels of The Devil’s West), and the short story collection Darkly Human, as well as the long-running
Cosa Nostradamus series, and the “Vineart War” trilogy.

Under the name L.A. Kornetsky, she also wrote the “Gin & Tonic” mysteries.

A former New Yorker, Laura Anne currently lives outside of Seattle, WA with two cats and many deadlines.  More information and updates can be found at www.lauraannegilman.net, or follow her on Twitter as @LAGilman

When I was younger, I thought I’d never have a tattoo.  Not because I didn’t like them – I saw some beautiful examples of ink work (as well as some terrible ones, let’s be honest) and I’d done enough reading to understand that they were deeply meaningful in many cultures-not-mine.

But I was also Jewish, and even if you were willing to overlook the proscription against altering your body (I have pierced ears and have an organ donor card, so obviously I am),  tattoos had a very different meaning after the Holocaust.

So yeah.  I admired them on other people, but didn’t seriously consider them for myself.  Especially when my then-husband commented on his distaste for them.

But somewhere around my 35th birthday (not entirely coincidentally around the time of my divorce), I started to think that maybe I did want one.  Something deeply personal, something meaningful. But I had to be sure.  This wasn’t a haircut that could grow out, this was a permanent addition to my body, one that would not be easy to erase.

So I waited.  And contemplated.  And gathered notes.  Because my idea of “on a whim” usually takes several weeks, at a minimum.

This took several years.  In fact, it took almost a decade.  And along the way, I considered and rejected a number of designs, including the Zen Buddhist ensō, before finally settling on the lemniscate, a geometrical representation better known to most of us as “the infinity symbol.”

 

It’s not coincidence that this occurred at the same time I was writing the first Devil’s West novel, Silver on the Road, wherein the sigil for the protector of the Territory was a lemniscate set within a world-circle.  There was something about the multiple ideas of the image that appealed to me, the sense of something that never ended, never began, could never be counted, and was forever complete.  It connected to the issues I was writing about, but also to how I see my life, and the world around me.

In terms of spirituality, that’s pretty much all I’ve got.  The sense that we’re all part of something far more than we can see, not so much swept along in it as part of it.  We can’t extract, we can’t step away.

So yeah, finally.  I had a visual I could see keeping on my body for the rest of my life.

So then I started considering where it should go.  With the aid of some henna artists, I tried it out on several different locations, starting with the shoulder.  But none of them felt quite right to me.

During all of this, I moved across-country, Silver on the Road and its sequels sold to a publisher, and my father, who had been battling Parkinsons’ for many years, was diagnosed with stage 4 osteosarcoma, and died less than two months later.

And I finally knew where my tattoo would go.

Not on the shoulder.  Not on my leg, or my back.  But on my arm.  Just above where the Nazis once tattooed serial numbers on the bodies of my relatives, to turn them from people into things.  A personal “fuck you” to those who try to erase us from the universe.

A memorial to my father, and all those lost over lifetimes.

I am not a thing.  I am not alone.  We are greater than we know.  We are infinite.

I also don’t have the urge to get another tattoo. Yet.  Check in again next decade…

 


About this post: Inksplanations (and variations thereon) is the name for a series of short interviews with a number of genre writers about their tattoos. Why they got them, what they mean, how getting ink did or didn’t change them–any and all of these topics are fair game. What drives a literary artist to literally become canvas for an image or epigram? Did they get what they were seeking? I wanted to know, especially after I got my 2016 poppies from Toronto artist Lorena Lorenzo at Blackline Studio, and so I did what any curious writer would do. I asked.

Lucky Break! Lara Elena Donnelly cracks a manifold (@larazontally)

Posted on January 18, 2017 by

I have been trying for some time to get a few of my favorite authors to come here to my blog and talk about a lucky break in their careers. Unexpected forks in the road, weird bits of random serendipity… you name it. Writers work hard to achieve success, but every now and then something happens that they couldn’t ever predict or reproduce. Some of those moments, I think, must have good stories in them.

(And what’s more, they don’t even have to come packed with a moral lesson! Nobody’s going to say: New Author, you should try to get a concussion at a con! Or: Hey, car trouble is the way to go if you want to hit the NY Times Bestseller List!)

But the thing is, people (and perhaps especially writers) are superstitious. To some extent it feels like inviting bad luck to go crowing too loudly about good luck. It has taken me awhile to find someone who was willing to take this particular interview plunge. And how fitting that the trailblazer is Lara Elena Donnelly, whose audacious upcoming novel Amberlough is out on February 7th. This book is going to seem to many of you as though it was written just yesterday, because while it does not quite happen on Earth, or even in the United States of America, it is nevertheless a chilling capture of so many things we have lately come to fear.

Lara says:

Generally, you wouldn’t count a cracked exhaust manifold as a lucky break. Not in your writing career, or in your life as a whole. But if not for a cracked exhaust manifold, my debut novel Amberlough might not be coming out in February.

The sequence of unlikely events and circumstances that led me to this moment began on a winter day when blizzard warnings were flying thick and fast as the snow would later in the evening. I got up early, got in my mom’s car, and we drove to Michigan.

I was incredibly excited, for two reasons. One: even though I wasn’t sick, I was getting out of school. Two: I was about to meet my idol.

Holly Black’s urban fantasy novel Tithe had me rubbing four leaf clovers on my skin and staring through hollow stones, devouring any other fairy lore I could get my hands on. And I had read, on her LiveJournal (yes, LiveJournal) that she would be teaching at the Clarion Youth workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just a couple of hours from my hometown. My mom pulled me out of school and put me in the car.

It was at Clarion Youth that Holly mentioned a sci-fi, fantasy, and horror workshop for teens in Pennsylvania, called Alpha, where Tamora Pierce taught every year. If you haven’t heard of Tamora Pierce, quick recap: she’s written dozens and dozens of fantasy novels featuring young women as knights, mages, cops, and spies. Her characters get menstrual cramps while jousting, use birth control so pregnancy won’t interrupt their espionage missions, and have frank discussions about sex with their partners in the midst of quests in the realm of the Gods. She writes fantasy with female characters who have the practical concerns of real-life women. She is amazing.

But Holly couldn’t remember the name of the workshop, and over the next year—which included my first summer job, my first love, and my first novel (a glorious disaster, if you’re wondering)—the idea of it leaked out of my overheated teenage brain. I found a workshop in Scotland I wanted to go to. I bussed tables and saved money. My mom sold home-baked bread at the farmer’s market, and saved money. And then her car broke down.

See, we got to the car eventually.

A cracked exhaust manifold ain’t a cheap fix. Scotland was off the table. But my mom, determined I would get my summer workshop, remembered Holly Black saying something about Pennsylvania, and Tamora Pierce.

The Alpha SF/F/H/Workshop for Young Writers was my luckiest break of all. Taught by a combination of visiting authors and dedicated volunteer staff (all of them also writers), it was the first place I learned I could write and sell short fiction. The first place I heard about getting an agent, about writing a query letter, about how to submit my stories, why I should go to cons. The first place, in short, where writing was treated as a profession and I was treated as a budding professional.

It was also where I heard about the Dell Awards.

The Dell Magazine Awards for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy are awarded at ICFA, the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, every year. The important thing about this award: All finalists, not just the winner, get free registration at the conference. If you can get yourself to Florida, you get a formal introduction to the field of SFF. You meet people like Kit Reed and Ted Chiang and Peter Straub and if you’re like me at age 19, you have no idea who they are, and when you learn you’re petrified. But you keep going back.

After I graduated from college, I wanted to keep attending ICFA. But I was unemployed, like every other graduate after the financial crisis, and I couldn’t afford conference registration. I couldn’t afford a flight. I couldn’t afford a hotel. But I knew, because of Alpha, that cons were a good place to network. Sage advice from author Jeffrey Ford—attend the same con over and over again, until people know your face—made me eager to get back to Orlando, especially since I had a finished novel ready for submission.

So I asked for help. I set up a GoFundMe and my friends and family sent me to Florida for a sixth time. Where, in an incidental conversation, I met Diana Pho, an associate editor at Tor, and mentioned my book.

“That sounds really interesting,” she said. “You should send that to me when it’s done.”

Reader, I finished revisions in a week. And after nearly a year of back-and-forth, revisions, agent queries, abject panic and brief flashes of ecstasy, I signed a contract.

Without that cracked exhaust manifold, I’d have ended up in Scotland instead of at Alpha. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have sold a book, eventually, but it might not have been Amberlough. It might not be coming out on February 7, 2017, or currently available for pre-order. Without that cracked exhaust manifold, I might not be turning this hypothetical into a bald-faced plug for my debut novel.

My mom’s still driving the same car, by the way. Honda Civics are tough little bugs.


The all-singing, all-dancing Lara Elena Donnelly is a graduate of the Alpha and Clarion writers’ workshops. Her work has appeared in venues including Strange Horizons, Escape Pod, Nightmare, and Mythic Delirium. Her debut novel, vintage-glam spy thriller Amberlough, drops on February 7, 2017 from Tor Books, but you can pre-order it now. Lara lives in Manhattan, but you can find her online at @larazontally or laradonnelly.com.


About this series: If I can find anyone bold enough to brag about their good fortune, Lucky Break will be another of my occasional interview series with authors, about bolts from the blue that aided their careers. If I can’t, I hope you and I will continue to enjoy new essays like those in my series: The Heroine Question, Let Me Inksplain, and What We Inherited.

Faith Mudge gets her Heroine from the Lowood School

Posted on December 28, 2016 by

Faith Mudge

Faith Mudge is a writer from Queensland, Australia, with a passion for fantasy, folk tales and mythology from all over the world – in fact, for almost anything with a glimmer of the fantastical. Her stories have appeared in various anthologies, including Kaleidoscope, Cranky Ladies of History, Hear Me Roar and Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists. She posts reviews and articles at beyondthedreamline.wordpress.com, and can also be found at beyondthedreamline.tumblr.com.

Is there a literary heroine on whom you imprinted as a child? A first love, a person you wanted to become as an adult, a heroic girl or woman you pretended to be on the playground at recess?

I can’t remember how old I was when I first read Jane Eyre, but I’m pretty sure it was in my early teens, around the point when I was devouring so many other classic novels that my written vocabulary started to sound like a teenage Victorian, the kind of prose that’s less purple and more a really annoying shade of magenta. I do not now like a lot of those books, but I’m always going to have a certain residual fondness. They were what I needed at the time.

Jane Eyre was different. It’s a favourite of my mother’s, so the copy I read was hers. These days I have two of my own, just to be safe. I’m lucky – mine was a childhood filled with stories and I had a small army of heroines to look up to, all of whom have contributed to who I am in different ways. It’s hard to pick just one! But Jane Eyre is one of those books that leaves a strong impression every time I re-read it, reminding me of just how good it is. The writing is decisive and elegant, the plot is strong. And most of all, I love Jane. She remains one of my favourite characters in anything ever.

Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?

Oh, that’s easy. Jane is indomitable. She starts out as this fierce, desperate little girl who craves love more than anything and grows into a woman with a quiet, cool exterior who is an absolute force of nature underneath, a woman who is strong enough to walk away from love when it isn’t good for her. She is an extraordinary balance of calm head and passionate heart,  with a rich inner life that she doesn’t share with people who don’t deserve it. In the depths of her despair, she decides that she will care for herself – which is a tremendously powerful statement that has always stuck with me. How many heroines, even now, are allowed to say that? The prickly edges of Jane and Rochester’s personalities mostly work together very well, but she’s only ever in his life on her terms and he’s very much aware of that. I detest St John, not just for being the unrelentingly unpleasant person that he is, but for getting at Jane’s weak point, which is a strong sense of duty that can be turned against her. She’s also a very loving person, amazingly non-judgemental given the times when she lived, and she doesn’t need to be pretty or socially important to have a story worth telling – or to be worth loving in return.

How does she compare to the female characters in your work? Is she their literary ancestor? Do they rebel against all she stands for? What might your creations owe her?

All my characters are very different people, of course, but that indomitability, that strength of will, is definitely a trait carried throughout my work. I like writing about women who say no. The complexity of duty and how to define your own moral compass, what we owe the people in our lives and what we owe ourselves, are big themes in Jane Eyre and often weave themselves into my stories as well. Jane is a complicated woman making difficult decisions and she’s never dismissed or punished by the narrative for being the person that she is. I love that. I try to treat my protagonists with the same respect.

How do you feel about the word heroine? Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served equally well by hero?

There does seem to be a trend towards the disuse of feminised words and that really bothers me. As a society, we need gender-neutral terminology. That’s very important. But it’s a big language! There is enough space for gendered terms as well, if they are useful, and I think the word ‘heroine’ is very useful. What’s wrong with a word that says, unequivocally, ‘I am a woman and I am amazing’? There are plenty of specifically feminine insults. Why not build up a lexicon of strength?


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (mostly) female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will allow you to browse all the other interviews, with awesome people like Linda Nagata, Kay Kenyon, and S.B. Divya. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

What We Inherited: Eugene Fischer on Heiresses of Russ (@glorioushubris)

Posted on December 21, 2016 by

What We Inherited opens today with author Eugene Fischer‘s answer to my question about categorizing stories–tagging them with qualities that highlight sexual preference, gender, ability, or race: I think that the purpose of this kind of categorization is to tell marginalized people, “Hey, you know that thing that’s really personally important to you but broadly culturally ignored? It’s important too! Here’s a cultural artifact the very existence of which implies your lived experience matters!”

That’s hopefully, at the very least, psychologically empowering. Empowering the marginalized is a virtuous pursuit. Any knock-on benefits of artistic work increasing the perceived humanity of the marginalized are nice too.

I have asked Eugene here as part of my series of interviews about the Heiresses of Russ 2016 anthology and his story, “The New Mother,” which originally appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Is categorizing stories in this way, then, a desired end point? A necessary stage on some collective journey humanity is taking?

Between desired end point or necessary stage on a collective journey, it’s definitely not the former. I’d certainly like to believe in the latter, but I’m uncomfortable thinking too teleologically about cultural development. One would hope for a society where polyphony, diversity, and individual dignity are celebrated on a level more fundamental than distastes and disagreements, and marginalization of any people seen to be abhorrent. (And, given the topic at hand, for that to be reflected in the way art is marketed and consumed.) But just at the moment I feel pretty pessimistic. It seems to me that cultural trends are, on the average, pointing in an infuriatingly regressive direction.

So: “Necessary?” Yes. “Stage?” Sigh. I hope so.

Would you say your story in the collection is typical or emblematic of your work, or an outlier?

My body of published work is still fairly small, but if I’ve been successful, it will be typical in the sense of being thorough and humane. Those are qualities I value in fiction. I like stories that take their aesthetic conceits seriously, and dislike stories that are reductive in their portrayal of individuals, cultures, science. My story in this collection is the longest I’ve published so far, and has been the most well-received, so there’s certainly a lot of positive reinforcement to continue working in the same mode.

One of my previous interview series, The Heroine Question, generated some interesting discussion of the gendered term Heroine. What do you think of Heiresses of Russ as a title for this project? Should it be Inheritors or Heirs?

I don’t think there’s any good reason for gender to be encoded in language, so in the abstract I’m all for ceasing to use the feminine forms of words. An actor is an actor is an actor; you’re only inviting biased expectations if you make some of them actresses instead. But, that said, we don’t get to live in the abstract, we live with the momentum of our very specific history. Part of that history–a part that Joanna Russ worked to combat–is the erasure of the contributions of women. So if ever there is a case where it makes sense to use the gendered artifacts of the language our culture has evolved, doing so in service of highlighting experiences that same culture has historically marginalized seems like the one.
Speaking personally as a man who enjoys being gender-nonconformist, I’m thrilled to have been designated an Heiress of Russ. But the world I want to live in is the one where it would be Heirs or Inheritors trivially, because a gendered expectation of what it means to inherit is so distant as to be quaint.
What’s next for you, publication-wise?
My upcoming publication is a short story in an anthology that I’m not sure has even has a set title. So I can’t talk too much about that, except to say that it will be my first pure fantasy publication, and, influenced by the pessimism I mentioned above, is probably my darkest story yet. Right now I’m working on my next piece of overly ambitious science fiction, which I can barely make out the narrative shape of and am unsure I can pull off–just how “The New Mother” felt when I started it. Currently, working on it means struggling through a lot of LaTeX compiled papers and highlighting bits that seem narratively exploitable. If it ever turns into something readable, I think it’ll be a story about different ways that people make decisions.


Eugene Fischer grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and currently lives in Austin. His most recent publication, “The New Mother”, is included in Heiresses of Russ, and has won James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award, come in 2nd place for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and been a finalist for the Nebula Award. For forthcoming work, see his website, www.eugenefischer.com


About this interview: 2016 marked my debut as an editor, with the Lethe Press anthology Heiresses of Russ 2016. I co-edited with the capable and lovely Steve Berman; our Table of Contents announcement is here. At that time I asked some of my contributors if they’d be interested in talking a little about the ideas behind their stories, about the idea of lesbian-themed genre fiction, or anything else that seemed interesting and relevant. These are their replies.

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