Kelly Robson goes after the Heroines

IMG_2509Kelly Robson’s first fiction publications appeared this year in Clarkesworld,, Asimov’s, and the anthology New Canadian Noir. She spent four years living a weird alternate life as the wine and spirits columnist for Canada’s largest women’s magazine. She’s @kellyoyo on Twitter, and her website is at

I asked her the same questions I put to the rest of the lovely folk who agreed to this run of interviews.

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?

Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew, Nancy Drew.

I’m sorry, is there anyone else?

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

I am blessed/cursed with vivid memories of my childhood, so yes, I sure can remember.

At the age of seven I had no real books, just a few picture books I’d long grown out of. I was a precocious reader but my parents were too caught up with the implosion of their marriage to realize I was starving for reading material.

Mom did occasionally take me to the library but she kept me in the little kids section. I vividly remember bringing stacks of picture books home, burning through them in 20 minutes, and then having nothing satisfying to read.

At some point my Dad and I went into the city – probably to take to the ophthalmologist – and we stayed with my Auntie Amy. I found three Nancy Drew books in her basement rec room. They were The Secret of Shadow RanchThe Mystery of the 99 Steps, and The Secret of the Old Clock.

I started with The Secret of Shadow Ranch. It was a transcendent experience — I fell into it like a hallucinogen. In this book, Nancy is knitting a sweater for Ned. I didn’t know who Ned was, so I imagined he was a kid my age, because then he and I could be friends and that would get me access to Nancy.

Auntie Amy let me take the books home. A million thanks to wonderful aunties! Mom thought Nancy Drew was too old for me (my mom was always invested in keeping me young). Dad never liked to see me reading. I don’t think they ever took books away once I got my hands on them, but they never helped me get any, either. To this day, access to books remains one of my hot button issues.

I could go on, but we were talking about Nancy.

She’s the perfect wish-fulfillment heroine: Not an adult but certainly not a kid. Completely independent emotionally, intellectually, financially, socially, and physically. Nothing is denied her. She can go anywhere, do anything. For me, Nancy was a drug.

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?

Nancy isn’t in anything I’ve written so far, but she does figure into some work I have planned, about characters who’ve been in my head a long while. The less said about them now, the better.

I’m interested in characters who, like Nancy Drew, have everything. What can and can’t they do with that power and privilege? How far will it take them? What barriers can’t be crossed?

I’m not interested in the person who comes up from nothing to achieve much. I’m interested in the person who has it all and finds out how little it does for them.

How do you feel about the word heroine? In these posts, I am specifically looking for female authors’ female influences, whether they’re other writers or Anne of Green Gables. Does the word heroine have a purpose that isn’t served by equally well by hero?

The term hero is no longer clearly gendered the way prince and princess are. It doesn’t require alteration the way fireman and chairman do. Hero is often a gender neutral term, much like actor.

If you asked me about my favourite hero, would probably have interpreted it as gender neutral and (being who I am) I’d probably have assumed you meant superhero. But since you asked about my favourite heroine, I understood your meaning completely.

I think heroine is a useful word that drills down to a specific meaning without contortions. Let’s not get rid of useful words.


About this post: The Heroine Question is my name for a series of short interviews with female writers about their favorite characters and literary influences. Clicking the link will take you to all the other interviews, with awesome people like Charlene Challenger, Gemma Files, Caitlin Sweet, and Jessica Reisman.

Also about this post: As I have mentioned, writer Alex Bledsoe recently asked about my use of the gendered word, heroine, in this series. I could have gone with hero, true, or “female heroes” since I was looking for women authors’ female influences. To be honest, my initial inspiration came from my ever-mature desire to make tacky-sounding drug jokes: Gemma Files on Heroin! Oops! Heroine! That kind of thing.

I hope to get up a post that takes the answer further than “I pun, therefore I am.” And I have folded a question about this word into the later interviews; you can see Kelly’s answer here.

Interview Links – Speculating Canada, and more!

got the feverOne of the things that went live while I was away at Readercon was an interview with me, Kelly, David Nickle and Madeline Ashby on the Speculating Canada podcast. The theme of the interview was writer couples. Derek Newman-Stille is a great interviewer, and I think I can safely speak for us all when I say we had a lot of fun talking to him.
And here’s Kelly, talking about “Waters of Versailles” on Angela Slatter’s blog.
Last week, Barnes and Noble listed A Daughter of No Nation for presale. At the same time, a couple of my fans noticed the page I’d added to this site for the book. Some of those tweeted their excitement about the description of the book I had provided.
For those of you who may have missed that, here’s the link.
What was interesting about the Barnes and Noble listing was that even though ADoNN isn’t in bookstores yet, I was gratified to see it already has a People Who Bought This Item Also Bought line-up, which includes Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Lords and J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Shores of Spain: A Novel of the Golden City as well as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Does this mean anything? Nothing portentous, perhaps. It does mean a few people are keen to have the book as soon as it can possibly be had, and that is very gratifying indeed.


Three Awesomesauces, Kelly’s Birthday Edition

IMG_2509The first and most incredibly awesome thing about this week is that today, Friday the 17th, is my brilliant wife Kelly’s birthday. Do you want to give her a present? You do? Why not read up one of her recent stories and Tweet the living heck out of how amazing you thought it was. Kelly’s handle is @kellyoyo and I guarantee enjoyment. Try “Waters of Versailles,” creep yourself out with “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill,” or get the newest Asimov’s Science Fiction (August 2015) and read “Two Year Man.”

Meanwhile, I will note that the MCU is celebrating by giving us Teeny Tiny Paul Rudd in a super-suit. Which is, all things considered, pretty swell of them. And our yoga sensei Juan got us to sing her Happy Birthday while we were all in dolphin pose, so total strangers did serious core singing. There’s a high bar here! Just sayin’.

Second good thing, and another request, actually: one of the many wonderful people we got to hang out with at the enormous literary lovefest that is Readercon was Asimov’s editor Sheila Williams, and she happened to mention that the most prominent reviews on the Asimov’s Kindle page are complaints dating back to the magazine’s initial electronic launch, all complaining about technical issues that are now resolved. These reviews have gotten enough “Yes, this is helpful!” thumbs-ups that they’re at the top of the queue. Consider giving ’em a bump down. They’re not helpful anymore; they’re about the past.

Third good thing, with no strings attached: I got to experience the true and abiding smugness that comes of swanning up to the Porter flight crew at our Boston departure gate, and asking if we could get on an earlier flight. We could? Would that cost us more dough? No? And would we still be able to sit together? Yes! This got me adoring goggle-eyes of admiration pretty much all the way home.

Of course, I was able to do this because the “earlier” flight was delayed, but then so was the one we were meant to take. So really I got us home when we meant to be there, instead of two hours after the fact. Still. So savvy. I should teach classes in opportunism. Or something.

Bonus thing: I am 99.9% sure I saw three wild turkeys on a lawn when we were zooming past an office building on the Burlington highway. Turkeys!! Sadly, no pictures.

New Kelly Fic and follow-up on the weeing on Whedon convo

imageKelly’s story “Two Year Man” is out today! It’s  her first appearance in Asimov’s, and it is gentle yet thoroughly hair-raising. The August issue just hit newsstands; the virtual edition is available, and there’s even an interview with Kelly and some other Asimov’s first timers, by James Patrick Kelly, that you can browse for dessert.

Yesterday’s Joss Whedon post was something I’ve been cogitating awhile, and when I got the first few thinky grapes off the vine I took it to Kelly and the ingenious Linda Carson for a good stomp. It was an effective creative ferment, and I’m pleased with the essay. But things got said and thoughts got aired that didn’t quite make it into the final draft, which is why now Linda has tackled another piece here, in her essay: “Cutting Edge Doesn’t Mean Solo.”

The Joss essay is part of something larger. I am seeing signs, here and there, that a hearty portion of my corner of the Internet–in other words, the SF and fantasy writing community–is open to finding ways to counterbalance the online expression of ancient, vicious human behaviors. These are things that have been around forever: silencing, bullying, shaming, pile-ons. There’s some talk of developing tactics that take us beyond snark. Joshua Choplinksy, for example, lays this out:

That’s not to say snark can’t be done well. Kurt Vonnegut could be a pretty snarky motherfucker. But snark was just a single tool in his well-furnished kit. And let’s not kid ourselves with comparisons to a master.

I feel that this, which comes to me via Doug Lain, is the essence of an article I no longer have to write. I love a good snarky piece as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to write a piece of that kind without giving lots and lots of energy and attention to the thing or person you’re against. It’s a reward for bad behavior that also acts, fundamentally, as a tactic of escalation.

As I’ve said, I’d love to see a flowering of sharp, hilarious, infinitely readable clickbaity articles that didn’t involve taking someone down a peg. It’s harder to make praise or kudos or approbation interesting and giggle-worthy. I know this, because I write book reviews. Believe me, a brilliant novel is much harder to write about than an interestingly flawed one. But making up the word noises is our primary skillset. If snark has a comedic polar opposite, we’re up to the task of inventing it.

Setting aside the specific issue of pointed responses to oh-so-deserving stupidity online, I’m also seeing conversations whereby people are gathering up How-To articles on the healthy responses to trolling, bullying, and other kinds of internet pile-ons. (If you have a good resource, let me know and I’ll send it to the compilers of same.)

As for me, I’m hoping to get up some kind of Troll-Starving 101 post in the near, after I’ve had a few lovely ferment-style conversations with people at Readercon, and hopefully drawing on work that has already been done. My basic working concepts will probably be something like:

Instead of buzzing like a kicked-over hive of bees about the assholes, the assholes, OMG, the assholes, minimize attention to the bullying/trolling behavior and its perpetrators. How little can we actually say about or to them, whoever they are, whenever they arise, without descending into vagueblogging?

Meanwhile, maximize positive attention to targets of aggression. Find out what they need and give it to them. Post about how awesome they are. Offer to be the guy who reads their Twitter feed for them for a week and compiles a Block/Report list so they don’t have to take the poison in directly. Write about how they changed your life that year they taught at your Clarion. Repost the thing they wrote last year that rocked your world.

Where possible, feed the thing the trolls fear. Is someone pissing on Chuck Wendig this week? Is one of his books is going for $2 in the Kindle Store? Can you buy it, or give to his favorite charity, or something?  Awesomesauce!

The Greatness of Friday, with Pirates

CD705BB0-1279-4611-A3E6-503A5977A6B9Brain Food: Kelly and I spent a few hours at the Royal Ontario Museum‘s Pompeii exhibit, checking out the mosaics and the lava, the buried household goods and statuary, the centuries-old flash-preserved olives and figs and the plaster casts of victims’ bodies. Afterward, we went upstairs to Viva Mexico and marveled at the intricacy of the weaving and embroidery.

Kudos for the Deserving: There are some good reviews and kudos out for Kelly’s “Waters of Versailles,” here at SF Signal’s Women to Watch and at Quick Sips. There’s also a James Patrick Kelly editorial in Asimovs, about Kelly and some other people who’ve broken into that magazine lately. It’s called meet the firsties.   It’s meant, among other things, to remind aspiring writers that they might be… nextie!

Still Seeking Scenius: My regular writing date with Gemma Files and Madeline Ashby had a special guest star–author Charlene Challenger, whose The Voices in Between
is currently on the Sunburst and Aurora Award ballots for English Language YA. We went to a new-to-me place, the Istanbul Cafe, which was a completely lovely working environment, and where they played every hit of the Eighties that I ever wanted to sing along and/or boogie to.

My Teenage Cheeseball Obsession: The very best thing that happened this week was that I giggle every time I walk down to Queen Street, because the local shrine to vinyl here on St. Patrick, a store that often has some hilarious blast from the past in its window, had this:

pirate movie

And now this is happening to you, oh yeah: