As the Lethe Press website says, Heiresses of Russ reprints the prior year’s best lesbian-themed short works of the fantastical, the otherworldly, the strange and wondrous under one cover. With that in mind, I’ve asked author A.C. Wise to come share some thoughts on the anthology and her wonderful story, “The Devil Comes to the Midnight Café.”
What do you think we achieve by categorizing stories, tagging them with qualities that highlight sexuality (or gender, ability, and race) ? Is it a desired end point? A necessary stage on some collective journey humanity is taking?
I tend to think of it as a necessary stage. Unfortunate as it is, narratives centering the straight, white, neurotypical, cis male experience are still seen as “the norm” and they dominate the majority of our media – in print, on screen, and otherwise. The argument can be made that labeling something as lesbian fiction is othering, but the fact is, lesbians have already been othered, as has everyone outside that straight, white, etc. model. There are people out there hungry to see themselves represented in fiction, in movies, in song, art, and even TV commercials. At the moment, I see labels as a necessary and helpful way to allow people who crave those stories to find them. Hopefully, one day, not too long down the road if the world is kind and fair, labels will be less necessary. We’ll have stories, full stop. They will encompass all of humanity, and straight, white, male stories will no longer be seen as universal, while everything else is niche or specialized.
Would you say your story in the collection is typical or emblematic of your work, or an outlier?
Well, it’s part of a story-cycle, if you will, collected in The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again, so in that sense, it’s representative of my first published book. The Glitter Squadron stories are a little more over-the-top than my fiction tends to be, but underneath the glitter and velvet, there are themes that echo across a lot of my fiction – chosen family, self-identity, darkness, and hope.
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 kind of like Inheritors, but I don’t have a problem with Heiress either (though it does conjure up a certain image of feuding family members in 1920s attire in a brooding mansion plotting to kill each other to get their hands on Great Uncle Ennis’ secret fortune. No? Just me?) To me, having a plethora of words lets people pick the description that suits them best. Some people might want to be heroes, others heroines, same for inheritors, heiresses, and heirs. I’m happy with anything that links me to Russ and her wonderful writing, both fiction and non-fiction.
(A.C. Wise’s Heroine Question interview is here, by the way.)
What publications do you have coming up next / what are you working on now?
My second collection, The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories, just came out from Lethe Press at the end of October. Coming up, I’ll have stories at Tor.com, in Ellen Datlow’s anthology Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales, and in For Mortal Things Unsung, Pseudopod’s 10th Anniversary anthology.
A.C. Wise was born and raised in Montreal and currently lives in the Philadelphia area. Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Liminal, and several volumes of Imaginarium: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing. Her collections The Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron Saves The World Again, and The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories are both published by Lethe Press. In addition to her fiction, she co-edits Unlikely Story, and contributes a monthly review column to Apex. Find her online at www.acwise.net, and on Twitter as @ac_wise.
Here’s a tweet featuring her Corgi:
About this interview: 2016 marked my debut as an editor, with the Lethe Press anthology Heiresses of Russ. 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.
The always-lovely Simon Bestwick invited me to do an interview on The Lowdown not long ago and as of yesterday it’s up and readable. In it, naturally, I talk about my upcoming novel and the books that went before it, current projects, and my writing process. They’re the sort of questions writers often answer. People, whether they’re mostly readers or are aspiring writers, tend to like to know how and when the words get made, to see if there’s any common ground, any insights to be gleaned.
This is a hers and hers interview; Bestwick also interviewed Kelly and her post will be up Friday.
Interviews happen well before they see publication, and one of the other things in this one is a bit of contemplation of how and when I might get the tattoo that became my 2016 poppies. The poppies, when I was conceptualizing them and as I actually got them, were meant as a celebration of the amazing year I was having. I wanted to celebrate, in part because so many people I knew were finding 2016 to be a bear.
All of that optimism and cheer, of course, predated the U.S. election result and the terror and despair spreading from that event. It seems a million years ago. I am generally upbeat and ebullient, but this is a blow. I don’t know when–if–I’ll bounce back to a sustained state of perkiness. I want to. At least one person has said a thing I can do for them is get back to my upbeat magical-unicorn posting habits. And despair, as you all know, just isn’t a great place to live.
Anyway. The interview is a slice of me-from-the-past, and if it seems tonally peculiar, that’s why. My hope is that there’s a me from the future who’ll be able to connect with it, one day in the not too distant, one who can lighten–if only fractionally–not merely my load but that one on your shoulders too, if you’re looking for it.
Author Stephanie Burgis
Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She is the author of two historical fantasy novels for adults, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets, both published by Pyr Books. She’s also the author of over thirty short f/sf stories and a trilogy of Regency fantasy novels for younger readers, beginning with Kat, Incorrigible. To find out more and read excerpts from all of her books, please visit her website: www.stephanieburgis.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 imprinted SO HARD on so many literary heroines as a kid! It’s actually hard to narrow it down – Anne of Green Gables! Jane Eyre! Elizabeth Bennet! Meg Murry! I loved them all – but: when it comes down to it, I identified with Jo March (from Little Women) in SO many ways.
Can you remember what it was she did or what qualities she had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
She was a writer! (Which I already knew I wanted to be, from the time I was seen.) And she was fiercely ambitious with her writing from very early on in her childhood. In the book, she and her sisters even wrote a magazine as kids where she self-published her own stories – and as a kid, I actually did the same, circulating it ONLY among my own family members! Jo loved acting in plays that she’d written, she was wildly romantic, but she was also socially awkward and frequently messed up in important social situations when she most needed to do her best. She dreamed of traveling in Europe, just like I did; she was devoted to her family and she fought fiercely with them too. She felt real to me and she was wonderful.
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 MG heroines probably have more in common with her than most of my adult-fic heroines, but there are definite commonalities throughout. I love writing fiercely ambitious and determined heroines (of any age), in the same way that I’ve always imprinted on them as a reader.
In my new historical fantasy novel, Congress of Secrets, I set out to take the trope of the powerful, manipulative, woman who’s often portrayed as a villainess and make her the heroine of the story instead. Caroline, my heroine, has been planning her scheme for years, and now that she’s finally back in Vienna under the guise of a new identity (using the 1814 Congress of Vienna as her excuse for the trip), she’s ready to do whatever it takes to accomplish it…even if she has to resort to the same kind of dark alchemy that ruined her childhood.
However, while she is ruthless in her determination, she’s not unfeeling; like Jo, she’s actually devoted to her family, and her whole scheme is based around trying to save her father from unjust imprisonment. So, while she and Jo March might not have many surface similarities, a few of the essential qualities are the same.
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.
Fran Wilde is the author of the Andre Norton and Compton Crook Award-winning and Nebula-nominated novel Updraft (Tor 2015), its sequel, Cloudbound, newly out from Tor in September 2016, and the novella The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing). Her short stories appear in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Tor.com, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com. You can find her on twitter @fran_wilde, Facebook @franwildewrites and at franwilde.net. Here’s what she says about this lovely piece of ink.
My tattoo is still new enough that I’m not yet thinking about what I’ll get next (everyone tells me that’s coming). I have zero regrets.
Getting a tattoo was something that scared me, because I’d been told all my life that I was pain-sensitive and there’s a lot of discussion about pain thresholds when it comes to tattoos. But this summer, I realized that my fear was much less important than my desire to do something for my body and for me, after a long stretch of having things done to it.
The tattoo is, in part, a tiny bit of crypto, a bit of lotus, and almost all compass rose. Traditionally, the compass rose has a “safe passage over troubled waters” meaning. I wanted it on my spine because that’s the spot that needed celebrating most, and maybe a little bit of protection too.
Trouble was, everyone said that a back/spine tattoo would hurt more than other places. Was I willing to risk it? I didn’t tell many people what I was getting, and I didn’t tell nearly anyone where. Just in case I chickened out.
Turns out, I didn’t chicken out. Nor – to my surprise – did it hurt. I pretty much fell asleep on the table while the tattoo was being done. The inking process (by Clifton W. Carter Jr.
) produced some sort of pain white noise that was more relaxing for me than standing up, or sitting down, due to the pain I’m usually in. I cannot tell you how much this matters.
My tattoo didn’t necessarily change the world’s view of me (or if it did, I haven’t heard / don’t care all that much) as much as it changed my view of me. I know now that I’m not pain-sensitive, for one, and all the people (family, doctors, that one school nurse) who convinced me I was can go jump in a lake.
I know better now that when people tell me I am something — whatever it is –, to examine the whys of their statements, and to decide for myself who I am.
I know also that no matter what, the ink was something I wanted to do and I did it, even though it scared me.
At the beginning of this year, I declared a map year for me, my writing, everything
. At the time, I meant that I’d be exploring new ways of being in the world, and new ways of seeing. I didn’t realize then that I would become my own compass for that journey, and that the trip will continue for as long as I’m standing, or writing.
That’s what the ink is telling me, though, and I’m very excited to head out for new directions.
You can find Fran Wilde at her website, blog, on Twitter, or order her books at Amazon (US), Barnes & Noble, IndieBound and Powell’s.
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.
S.B. Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. When she isn’t designing high speed communications systems, raising her daughter, scratching the cats, or enjoying dinner with her husband, she writes. In her past, she’s used a telescope to find Orion’s nebula, scuba dived with manta rays, and climbed to the top of a thousand year old stupa. She holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, and she is currently Assistant Editor for Escape Pod. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards.
Her debut science-fiction novella, Runtime, was released by Tor.com Publications in May, 2016. You can find more online at www.eff-words.com or on Twitter as @divyastweets.
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 have two heroines for this list: Ariane Emory (from CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen) and Elizabeth Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). I fell in love with them in my early teens – later than the playground years, but I was busy running around at that earlier stage of my life and spent less time with books.
Ariane Emory isn’t someone you hear lauded very often even though Cyteen is Hugo-winning trilogy, maybe because she isn’t always the most likeable person in the room. Elizabeth Bennet, on the other hand, is practically a household name these days, but when I got to know her, she was an obscure character from a “required reading” book that most of my peers seemed to abhor.
Can you remember what it was these women did or what qualities they had that captured your affections and your imagination so strongly?
What drew me to both of these heroines is that they, like me, didn’t fit in with the mainstream. Ariane Emory is the clone of a genius scientist, raised with great privilege and loaded with expectations. She rises to the occasion, but in the process, she learns to embrace her individuality and use her intellect to her advantage. I certainly identified with her adolescent angst and her exclusion from general society – I was a top-of-the-class nerd, intended science major, and never quite fit in, either – and I admired her confidence and ownership of her capabilities. Those were two personality traits I didn’t possess.
Elizabeth Bennet isn’t as far removed from general society as Ariane Emory, but she’s also very intelligent, perceptive, and willing to rebel against the standard model of woman in her times. She’s more interested in the qualities of mind and heart than in fashion or status. She’s quick witted, something I desperately wanted to emulate as a pre-teen, and much like Lizzie, I had no desire to marry for money and social comfort. That may sound bland considering how popular Jane Austen is today, but at the time I read Pride and Prejudice it was my first exposure to the author, to that period and setting, and to the idea that there have always been women who resisted their expected role.
How does they compare to the female characters in your work? Are your heroines the literary ancestors of your characters? What might your creations owe them?
My main character in Runtime, Marmeg Guinto, is certainly a rebel, highly intelligent, and resourceful, so she has parallels to Ariane Emory and Elizabeth Bennet. I don’t think I’m capable of writing a female or non-binary protagonist who embraces traditional/conservative roles. I’m lucky that I came across examples of similar heroines at a formative age.
Unlike the two favorites listed here, my character, Marmeg, does not come from a place of privilege. As a kid, I found it romantic to have women in positions of power who could then exercise their will. That might also be an artifact of the 1980s, when feminism was just starting to hammer away at corporate and political glass ceilings. Today, I’m more interested in how we can empower women who aren’t traditionally seen as heroic.
I’m also more class conscious as an adult, and that informs a lot of my fiction. That’s covered much more in Jane Austen’s books than in CJ Cherryh’s. I love the way Austen uses Lizzie as a lens through which to examine society, and (now that I’m thinking about it) that is definitely something I have to credit as an influence. A couple reviews have said that Runtime is as much a work of social commentary as science fiction, and I take that as a compliment.
Another facet of both heroines, but especially Ariane Emory, is their moral grayness. Both of them are flawed, and that is something that my characters exhibit, too. I believe that our flaws and our moral choices are what make us interesting human beings, so I guess it’s no surprise that my favorites are far from perfect.
Bonus round: How do you feel about the word heroine? When I embarked on these posts, I was 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 don’t love gendered nouns, and I’m trying to break the habit of using them, but they can serve a purpose when you’re trying to highlight the treatment of women. For the word heroine specifically, I think it evokes a particular image – that of the Strong Female Character. Saying that a story has a woman or girl as the main character feels different than saying it has a heroine, in part because of the mythos associated with the root concept of a hero. A heroine by association must be active, in control of herself (as much as anyone is), and destined for greatness.
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 J. Kathleen Cheney, Linda Nagata, and Kay Kenyon. If you prefer something more in the way of an actual index, it’s here.