Category Archives: True Stories

Anecdotes from my past and present.

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.

What We Inherited: Priya Sharma on Heiresses of Russ

Posted on December 14, 2016 by

What We Inherited opens today with author Priya Sharma‘s answer to my question about what a phrase like “lesbian-themed story” might mean in 2017: I think there’s lots of experiences under the umbrella term of “lesbian themed fiction” that have yet to be written about, from a whole load of different cultural and social perspectives. It’ll be exciting to read about those experiences.

I’ve asked Priya here as part of my series of interviews about the Heiresses of Russ 2016 anthology and her story, “Fabulous Beasts,” which originally appeared on Tor.com in July of 2015.

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 think it’s a step in the process of inclusion. If tagging a story brings that element into public consciousness and means recognition and debate around it, that’s good. The end point? People just wanting great stories that celebrates our differences and similarities. Is that naïve?

Ultimately I don’t want to be read because of my gender, sexuality or race, or because my writing features certain themes. I want readers to trust my abilities as a storyteller.

author Priya Sharma

author Priya Sharma

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

I hope it’s typical for me in that character is key. Characters aren’t window dressing or vehicles. When I write, my characters drive the plot. When they’re not vivid enough to tell me what they like and don’t like, whether they’re gay or straight, what they’d kill or die for, then my writing is at its weakest.

If you were to pick stories for a historical overview–Best Heiresses of Russ of the Previous Century, that sort of thing–what would be the first story you’d seek out?

Writers that have hugely interested and influenced me are Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters because of the excellence of their writing. They tackle the human experiences of love, death, power, personal mythology, subjugation and freedom head on. It would be something by them.

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’ve just read all the answers to The Heroine Question and enjoyed the varying viewpoints on the use of heroine vs. hero. I loved Juliet Mckenna’s comment about women not needing to be “faux-male” to be heroic and Louise Marley statement that being feminine is to be celebrated. However, I hope we’re redefining the words hero and heroine for the 21st century for both women and men. Heroic acts are genderless and not necessarily about physical strength. I personally prefer protagonist as it doesn’t have the shining qualities as a hero. Real people are more complex and fucked up than that.

I have no issue with “Heiresses of Russ”. Heiresses doesn’t have the same baggage that heroine does, or at least it doesn’t for me.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got a new story included in Ellen Datlow’s “Black Feathers” (called “The Crow Palace”) which is out in Feb 2017. I’m currently writing some original stories for my collection.

Priya Sharma’s fiction has appeared in Albedo One, Interzone, Black Static and on Tor.com. She’s been anthologised in several of Ellen Datlow’s  Best Horror of the Year series, Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror series, Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014, Steve Haynes’ Best British Fantasy 2014 and Johnny Main’s Best British Horror 2015.

Her story “Fabulous Beasts” appeared on Tor.com, was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, and won a British Fantasy Award.


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.

What We Inherited: Bo Balder on Heiresses of Russ

Posted on December 7, 2016 by

What We Inherited opens today with a quote from author Bo Balder: I think lesbian-themed fiction would have been a tiny corner of the market in the past, and now it’s much more out there, much more mainstream. Women in fiction are stronger, more diverse in every possible aspect than they’ve ever been before. We’re not talking Bechdel anymore, or Rayne Hall, it’s WOMAN across the board.

I’ve asked Bo here, naturally, to share some thoughts on the Heiresses of Russ 2016 anthology and her story, “A House of Her Own,” which originally appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of  The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

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 think it’s a step forward. Before we can say sexuality or gender or ability are sliding scales, first you need to draw awareness to the fact that differences exist and temporarily tag them to separate them out. But I’m looking forward to a future where these aspects are just part of the whole landscape of human variety, no more remarkable than frizzy hair or flat feet or sharp eyes.

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

I’d say emblematic. I tend to write issues involving women, or at the very least strong women, and I do love an alien. Because it’s so much fun to have aliens that embody both the surface more action-adventure part of the story and also many layers of symbolism underneath. I try to get the whole package.

If you were to pick stories for a historical overview–Best Heiresses of Russ of the Previous Century, that sort of thing–what would be the first story you’d seek out?

James Tiptree, “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” or Ursula LeGuin, “Winter’s King”

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?

No, I like Heiresses a lot. Because even when we’ve been trying to move away from gendered profession nouns, like actress, the default is usually the male version. Let’s do an Ann Leckie and use only female pronouns and nouns. Doctoress. Presidentess.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a near future thriller, with, shockingly, a male protagonist, I don’t know what came over me. Also a novella in the world of another (unpublished) novel, where the people are marsupial and children can be nursed by both sexes. And always more short stories with aliens, of course.

Bo Balder is the first Dutch author to have published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Clarkesworld. Her short fiction has also appeared in Nature Futures, Futuristica: Volume 1 and other places. Her sf novel The Wan, by Pink Narcissus Press, was published in January 2016. Visit her website: www.boukjebalder.nl.


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.

Where I’m going, where I’m at, where I’ve been

Posted on December 3, 2016 by

As I write these word I am sitting on a VIA train bound from Toronto to Ottawa; Kelly and I are going just for the night, to hang out with friends and bask in the wonders of an emerging arty phenomenon known as The Timberhouse. I had a terrific time in Ottawa when I went to CanCon in August, and am looking forward to getting to know the city better. Our nation’s capital moved up the bucket list as soon as Kelly and I arrived in Ontario, but it took us until this year to get there. I am predisposed to fall head over heels.

The train runs along the shore of Lake Ontario for a good portion of the route; it’s more of the same track I take to Scarborough when I am teaching there. The simple act of riding east fills me with happiness. I thrive on having a once-a-week gig at UTSC, commute and all. I undertand it would be a tiring slog if I was headed out there Monday to Friday, term in and term out. But so much of my incredible 2016 is caught up in memories of taking the Go Train out to campus, of starting and ending my teaching day with solitude, scenic beauty and comfort.

Like many people I had a difficult November: like many people, the heart of it was the turn in U.S. politics, but there were other things, too, like an old friend announcing bad diagnosis on Facebook, like a particularly feisty round of flu germs taking out me and Kelly simultaneously, like the unfortunate chance of my having forgotten that I always struggle with fiction writing in this eleventh month specifically. Usually when I see November coming, I try to plan around that drop in productivity, but this year I was wrapped up in other things, like you, and I only figured out the seasonal angle on about the 28th, when someone else spoke up.

Now it’s December, and my new book will be out on Tuesday, and meanwhile my agent and I have agreed on a schedule for finishing the next novel. I’m trusting that my natural creative rhythms will assert themselves. I want to draft about 1500 words a day between now and mid-February, starting Monday. That means I have this last weekend to fritter: Kelly and I went to see one of our favorite bands, The Weepies, last night at the Drake Hotel. It was a singularly delightful experience: we were eight feet from the stage, in a pack of people who just wanted to hear, and enjoy, and sing along.

Naturally, I’m excited too about seeing how this boho weekend at Timberhouse will unfold.

There have been good things, these last two weeks. Every moment of calm, every joy-inducing sight, every breath of warmth and comfort, every well-written sentence (whether inhaled as a reader or exhaled into my own manuscripts) has had a certain intensity, the fine-cut edges of a rare, faceted opal, flashing ethereal fire against the darkness, spark by spark. I am talking to strangers more, now that I can draw breath without coughing, reaching out. I see that desire to talk, connect, to just be damnwell be nice, mirrored in their reactions. The energy I have at hand for being kind and prosocial seems more abundant. And every moment with my family and friends seems a gentle sort of victory.

Science fiction writers are very good at worst case scenarios, and the part of me that has extrapolated our current circumstances to an exceedingly miserable and bitter end has, at least temporarily, overriden the part assigned to petty worries about the future. Different parts of the brain are chewing different stressors, I know, and while I’m not appreciating the things generated by the newly active neurons, the absence of certain habitual gnawing mind-loops has been a source of both relief and navel-gazy intellectual interest.

I have been dreaming more, and most of the dreams have been unexpectedly good.

I have also experimented with posting the occasional political thing on my social media. I try to be choosy, and in particular to talk about Canadian racism, Canadian responses to oppression. I’m not sure yet what I think of the response. There’s usually a sea of likes and good comments–naturally, I like those–along with one or two wanky pushbacks. These seem to be angry dudes with thin arguments–and I haven’t quite sorted out how much of that I want in my Facebook feed, particularly. I need to get the hang of ignoring them, probably. I don’t need to give everyone who posts a snarky comment a breakdown on why the CBC article didn’t actually say some thing being ascribed to me. The problem is a nagging sense that I owe them an argument, somehow, and that if I’m not willing to have it I should shut up.

What else? I read a book about DDOS actions and activism by Molly Sauter, THE COMING SWARM which talks (among many other things) a present-day tendency to measure all civil rights and other protest movements against a rose-colored-glasses view of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. It talks about how we are tempted to devalue civil resistance when it doesn’t look like Johnson-era marches led by Martin Luther King. This interests me, a lot, and I’m thinking about what I see as effective protest. (I think the book’s interesting and useful, and I hope to get some other recs from her soon.)

In the book I’m writing now (whose working title is WIN CONDITIONS) I’ve imagined a near future society where humanity has a light but geniune grip on a host of climate change problems, where people are laboring mightily to terraform the Earth to make it fit for long-term human habitation. I started this book early in the year, and it ties into some things I said in my SpecFic Colloquium talk: that we cannot simply offer visions of apocalypse, that SF writers have to imagine workable optimistic futures, scenarios where we get out of the political and ecological jams we’ve created.

People can more easily believe in a happy ending if we create it. They can grab onto possible solutions to our current cluster of crises if we imagine the solves, show them in place, and inpire our audiences to tweak and implement them here in the real.

By the time WIN CONDITIONS takes place, the Millenials have long since endured a period called the Setback. Their children barely survived the Clawback. Now there’s a cohort of grandkids who refer to themselves as the Bounceback generation. Bouncers believe humankind will save the earth, one ton of carbon and one reclaimed suburb at a time.

In one of the early chapters I make a passing comment about the first Setback presidency. I was envisioning our present situation, while hoping it wouldn’t come to pass quite so soon.

Still, I choose to believe the Setback will end, and not through some passive stroke of luck. Activism, courage, creativity and compassion will end it. People will end it. It’s easy to say, and much much harder to do, and I know that very well. Do keep me posted on how I can help.

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