Category Archives: Interviews

Ada Hoffman fires the Heroine Question into Space!

Posted on December 6, 2017 by

Ada Hoffmann is the author of Monsters in My Mind. She has published over 60 speculative short stories and poems in magazines such as Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and Uncanny. She is a winner of the Friends of the Merrill Collection Short Story Contest and a two-time Rhysling award nominee.

Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. You can find her online at http://ada-hoffmann.com/ or on Twitter at @xasymptote

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? Who was she?

My parents were careful to keep me supplied with brave, plucky, intelligent female role models as a child – The Paper Bag Princess, Princess Leia Organa, Princess Eilonwy, Lucy Pevensie, Ariel, Nala, Hermione Granger. It was the 90s, and even the Disney princesses were plucky. The woman who comes to mind most, though, was a real woman – the astronaut Julie Payette.
Julie Payette is an engineer, a pilot, a robotics specialist, and was the second Canadian woman in space. This year, she was appointed Canada’s Governor General. It’s a good year for Canadian women who want to go to space.
It’s hard to explain what space meant to me as a small child. There are forms of romanticism that don’t survive adolescence unaltered. There is something wonderful about the idea of blasting off into the unknown, going where no human has gone before. But it was simpler and deeper than that. I grew up on science fiction and fantasy, a literature of infinite possibilies. I knew that Narnia and Tatooine and Middle-Earth weren’t real – but space was. And without space the way I imagined it as a child, without its infinite array of strange new worlds, the Earth simply felt too small.

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

When I was five or six years old, I told a boy at school that I wanted to be an astronaut. He said, “You can’t do that, you’re a girl.” My parents rebutted that argument by showering me with books about women astronauts – people like Sally Ride and Roberta Bondar. (I don’t remember having a book about Valentina Tereshkova, but I certainly knew of her as well.) They took me to public talks at the local university, one by Bondar, another by Payette.
Both women caught my attention, but Payette was the one who captured my imagination. Bondar had already retired and become an environmentalist. I liked environmentalism just fine, but I knew she was never going back into space. Julie Payette’s space adventures were, at the time, still in front of her.
I must have stuck out, an eight-year-old child in a sea of college students, but I don’t remember feeling self-conscious. I do remember the signed picture of Julie Payette that my dad got for me, with my name on it. “Ad Astra!” it said. That picture stayed on my bedroom wall right up until I moved out.

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?

My female characters are really not much like Julie Payette, and it’s because of what happened after I was a child.
In junior high school, I stopped wanting to go to space. I was old enough to understand that modern space travel – cramped, crowded, physically and mentally grueling, and stuck in Earth orbit – was not what I’d thought. I was also old enough to know I could never be an astronaut. I had a bad autistic burnout in junior high school. I could barely attend class or make friends; my parents despaired that I’d ever be able to live independently, let alone train for space travel. I lost that dream, not because I was a woman, but because of my disability. It was one of many things I lost.
Most of the female characters in Monsters in My Mind, even the child characters, have more to do with my adolescent self than my childhood. They’re lonely; they’re struggling. They’re in danger in ways they can sense but cannot fully understand. They make bad choices. They hurt other people. They experience shame. They are, in some cases, literally monsters.
In many stories, though, they get what they want. In some, they’re happy.
And in one story, “Moon Laws, Dream Laws,” an autistic woman goes to space – although the result is not what she or her wife anticipated.
My story doesn’t have a sad ending, after all, and it’s because of my writing that it doesn’t. I had been writing little stories my whole life, but it took years to really work out what that meant. To understand that there were other worlds to go to, after all; worlds that had been there all along. Worlds of the unknown, worlds of infinite possibility. Worlds inside me.

How do you feel about the word heroine? When I started talking to people about writing these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

It’s a useful word. I grew up believing that women could do anything; I barely remembered the boy who told me otherwise. But I was able to do that because I had access to so many women role models. Their practical example was more important than any words. The word “heroine” calls attention to women heroes, and by doing so, it benefits the people – like me – who need them.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) 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 Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

Kari Maaren sneaks extra (moral!) fiber into the Heroine Question

Posted on November 29, 2017 by

Kari Maaren is  is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and university English instructor who lives in Toronto, Canada. She has just published her first novel,  Weave a Circle Round, an old-fashioned kids’ fantasy adventure. If you challenge her to a duel, she will choose a ukulele as her weapon, or possibly an accordion if she really has it out for you.

Her website is here and she is on Twitter as @angrykem.

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? Who was she?

I want to say Meg Murry, but I know she’s been covered pretty thoroughly by other people. I’m still going to sneak Meg into my answers because I just can’t help it. However, for my main answer, I’ll go for Elizabeth from Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess. I was obsessed with Elizabeth when I was little. I can still quote sections of the book.

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

Elizabeth is the complete opposite of me. She’s girly enough to moon openly over a boy, but as soon as her One True Love is kidnapped by a dragon, she just hops into that paper bag and sets out to rescue him. I stopped being brave enough to tell boys I liked them after one of my friends made it clear to me, when we were both about nine, that I wasn’t pretty enough to do that. If a dragon burned down everything I owned and kidnapped my (secret) One True Love, I would probably go to pieces. Elizabeth was a girl who could get things done. As well, my middle name is Elizabeth, so when I was younger, I sort of saw Munsch’s Elizabeth as my secret identity. Maybe Kari would never have been able to do those things, but Elizabeth could. I also identified strongly with the end of the story, when Ronald rejected Elizabeth because she was dirty and dressed in a paper bag, and she called him a bum and waltzed off into the sunset alone. A lot of the other stories I heard at that age told me the girl was supposed to marry the boy and live happily ever after. Elizabeth could live happily ever after without marrying the boy. I wanted to be her so badly.

Sneaky Meg note: Meg is much more flawed than Elizabeth, which is why I love her. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that Meg saves the day not with her strengths but with her faults.

Sneaky Alyx Response: I loved that about her too!

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?

Weave a Circle Round’s protagonist, Freddy, starts off as more of a Meg than an Elizabeth. She’s singularly immature at the beginning of the novel, and while her faults aren’t the same as Meg’s, they’re just as pronounced. She’s very unlike Elizabeth in that she has to grow into her own competence. Elizabeth has an arc, but because the book is so short, her development happens very quickly. She goes from a princessy princess in love with Ronald to a paper-bag-wearing badass capable of tricking a dragon in the blink of an eye. Freddy starts as a social coward in denial about just about everything, and when she finds herself in a bad situation, she doesn’t snap immediately into Bravery Mode; she has to work at it. I still love Elizabeth, but she’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy. That isn’t a criticism—we need our wish-fulfilment fantasies—but I find that my characters tend to muddle through their adventures instead of facing them head on.

Sneaky Meg note: Meg’s faults will, I suspect, reverberate through everything I’ll ever write. Freddy doesn’t use her faults to save the universe, but they’re also firmly part of her, not superficial elements that are cast aside when she grows up a bit. As I tell my students a lot, there’s a difference between a “strong character” and a “strong person.” Strong characters can be weak people. In fact, many of the best stories are about weak people struggling against their own weaknesses.

How do you feel about the word heroine? When I started talking to people about writing these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether those women they looked up to were other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

I like the word “heroine.” Yes, it’s rooted in the word “hero” and can be seen as redundant, but the problem is that when we collapse the terms, we still treat the male hero as the norm and the female hero as a deviation from the norm. The term “male hero” seems redundant; the term “female hero” doesn’t. Therefore, when we speak of “female heroes,” we often mean women who fit the male heroic standard, not women who fit some gender-neutral heroic standard. The word “heroine” acknowledges that women can be heroic—in the literary or the broader sense—without necessarily conforming to a model regarded as inherently male.

I study and teach fairy tales. My course has a unit on heroes and a unit on heroines. The students tend to go into the course assuming that the heroes will be handsome princes and the heroines passive princesses awaiting rescue. What they learn is that while there are certainly plenty of passive princesses, they tend to have been made that way by writers such as Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. There are many “Cinderella”-like stories in which Cinderella doesn’t just sit around and moan because she can’t go to the ball. Fairy-tale girls go out into the world to seek their fortunes just as often as fairy-tale boys, and both boys’ stories and girls’ stories frequently culminate in marriage (not love but the economic transaction of marriage, via which both boys and girls can rise in the world). At the same time, the handsome princes the students are expecting tend to appear only as simple reward figures in female-centred stories, while the “heroes” unit is full of tricksters. “Hero” and “heroine” are both words with rich histories, and they’re more complex than a lot of people know. Getting rid of “heroine” because everyone assumes it’s a lesser, demeaning category does a disservice to the spinning women who used to sit around weaving tales about clever girls using magical women’s implements—spindles, carding combs, spinning wheels, needles, even laundry—to complete their quests. The sword is not the only weapon out there.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with (usually) 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 Faith Mudge, Stephanie Burgis, and S.B. Divya . If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.

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.

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