Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Futures Women Spin: Interviews with the Distaff authors part 2

Round 2 of the Distaff Interviews. The book launches tomorrow so this is your last chance to pre-order it at a cheaper price - but for now, come meet some more of the authors.

First up, Kerry Buchanan, a short story author who "has occasionally been lucky enough to win prizes – and the competitions weren’t even fixed".

1) This anthology came about from you all being members of the SFFChronicles forums. What brought you to the community and what does being part of it mean to you?

Jo Zebedee brought me to the community. She took me under her wing several years ago and whispered in my ear that any right-minded SFF writer needed to join Chrons. She was quite correct. My life became complete once I joined that merry band of humans, cats, spiders, and occasional aliens.

In Chrons I discovered a community of people as crazy as me (some even crazier), as well as a source of sensible critique and a sounding board for the good and bad things that happen in life. Other members are always ready with sympathy for each rejection and to celebrate the acceptances with me.

I've made some life-long friends through www.sffchronicles. For anyone interested in any aspect of the genre, whether reading, writing, watching or playing I can't recommend the forum highly enough.

I don't visit as often these days as I'd like to, because my caring responsibilities are eating into my time more and more as my Dad grows older and more sick, but I know that Chrons is still there, waiting for me, and that when I do get time to dip in I'll always find a warm welcome.

2) Of course, Distaff isn't just about Chrons, its about celebrating the many female writers who are part of it. When people talking about "Women in SFF", what do you think of?
KB: Women in SFF. I guess I think of all the talented female writers out there who feel as if they're imposters as they try to write SciFi, which can be a man's world. I think of the ones who adopt a fictional male/unisex name, or use just their initials to avoid being identified as female by publishers and readers, such as R B Kelly, Jo Zebedee, Julian May and James Tiptree Jr.

But then I think of the great female SFF writers, such as Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K Le Guin, Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, Lois McMaster Bujold, Tanith Lee, Pat Cadigan and Jan Siegal. They paved the way for us, and whenever I think of them, I give myself a mental kick, because if they can do it, some of them when female writers of anything weren't much respected, then I certainly can! The only thing that separates them from me is skill/talent 
*snort*. Skill, I can work on; talent is in the eye of the reader….
Women have been SF fans for as long as there's been SF. I was as hooked on the original Star Trek series as any boy of my acquaintance, although they seemed to be somewhat confused by my interest. I totally embraced Star Wars, read SFF from Wyndham, through Tolkien to McCaffrey and beyond and listened to Hitchhiker's Guide on the radio. Admittedly I was in the minority among my friends at our all-female school but I was already a pariah from the first day, when I turned up with horse hair all over my lovely new uniform and horse excrement stuck to the soles of my shiny new school shoes. Nothing I did after that could surprise the genteel young ladies who were forced to share a classroom with me.

3) Onto the stories! Where did the idea for your particular contribution come from?
KB: I love putting a twist in my stories, so that's always going to be a given, but I usually start out with either an idea for a character (in this case, Stephanie, the Scientific Officer) and/or an event. I'd been thinking about long-term space missions and how relieved the crew would be to see the familiar blue ball of Earth floating in their viewers. Then I thought: "How would it be if, just when they thought they were home and dry, something went wrong?" The rest of the story grew from that.

Writers talk a lot about architects and gardeners AKA plotters and pantsers; I'm the latter in both cases. As soon as I plot, I lose the notion to finish the story and it ends up gathering cobwebs on a hard drive somewhere. So Space Rocks just wrote itself, really. I didn't know what the twist was going to be until the first rock rumbled across the metal floor of the hold, and even then, I hadn't made up my mind.

4) Finally a question just for funsies - if you could be any female character in SFF, befriend any female character in SFF, and get to bring righteous retribution of your choice for any female character in SFF, which three would you pick?

KB: Ooh, fun!
If I were to BE a female character, it might be Kristin from Anne McCaffrey's Catteni series, because who wouldn't like to teach Zainal about coffee? Or maybe Menolly, female harper and friend of fire lizards from the Pern books, by the same author. She sacrificed so much to follow her heart and I'd love to have her musical talent. Or Susan Sto Helit from the Discworld series. Imagine being able to ride Binky between worlds and quell bogeymen with a stern look!
Sadly, there are far too many female SFF characters I'd love to be. *Sigh*
A female character to befriend. Hmm. Katniss Everdeen would be a useful sort of friend, if I could get past her prickliness, and imagine the excitement. You'd never know what was going to happen next! I think she'd be hard to get close to, but worth the effort. If I'd been a young adult myself when I read the books instead of a mother of three teenagers, I think I'd have been a little bit in love with Katniss.
Righteous retribution? Just hold on while I roll up my sleeves. Okay, for starters, Bella Swan. She really needs a good slap. I really dislike any character, male or female, who plays two lovers off against each other. I can't stand love triangles. Solution? Write her death in chapter 1, ripped to shreds in a grand battle between werewolves and vampires.
Another one would be Jean Grey from the X-Men, for many of the same reasons. She has so many men on the go, from Scott through to Professor Xavier, not to mention Logan and Warren. Maybe I'm just jealous of her flaming hair, her phoenix traits, her mind skills, her figure… *rambles off into grumpy silence*

I'm noticing a strong Anne McCaffrey theme to the answers so far. To find out more about Kerry's writing, click here for her website.

And now for Damaris Browne, former solicitor who now writes about "SF alien judges and fantasy characters in historical settings"

1) This anthology came about from you all being members of the SFFChronicles forums. What brought you to the community and what does being part of it mean to you?​

DB: In 2008, full of the confidence of the blissfully ignorant I sent off my incredible bright new wonderful SF novel to agents, and – naturally – got an immediate crop of rejections. But John Jarrold mentioned Chrons, so I looked it up. I’d never even heard of forums at that point and when I visited, I wasn’t sure it was for me. I came back a few times, though, just lurking and reading odd threads, then took my courage in both hands and joined. Three days later I made my first post, about editing, and a few days after that gave my first tentative critique, and that was that.

As for what it means, to me it’s a haven where people understand the importance of reading and the use of words, where I’ve made friends, where I’ve learned things about both writing and life, and, I hope, helped others learn, and where there’s usually something interesting, witty or wise to read. Also, since I’m a mod, it means bashing spammers and wielding a very sharp virtual sword against would-be trolls, which is always satisfying.

2) Of course, Distaff isn't just about Chrons, its about celebrating the many female writers who are part of it. When people talking about "Women in SFF", what do you think of?​

DB: Hmmm. I’m not sure whether to answer this with (a) what I think about how women are depicted in SFF, (b) my thoughts on the position of women SFF authors in general, or (c) a list of women SFF authors I admire. So I’ll do a little of all three!

As to (a), before now I’ve ranted about the – perhaps unconscious – sexism in older SF, such as the Early Asimov collection of short stories reprinted in 1972 with commentary from Asimov himself. There are no women in 10 of the 12 stories, yet in his comments there’s nary a word about this omission – evidently even then he couldn’t recognise his failure to envisage a future world where women could thrive in non-traditional roles. Women are plentiful in more modern works, but we find rape glossed over, authors unapologetically flaunting misogynistic characters and societies, and a pervasive view that male-dominated interests and activities are more important than those of women and therefore more deserving of space in a novel.

On (b), well, we think this is one of the first SF collections of new short stories all by women, but I’m willing to bet there are many SF anthologies where every author is male. Fewer women writing SF? Fewer women invited to write? Fewer women pushing themselves? Fewer opportunities generally? I don’t know. It seems to me there are more female names appearing in lists and prizes, so perhaps Women in SFF is exactly the same as Women in Anything Else in Society. Better than it was, not as good as it could be.

As to (c) my own SF favourites are Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, both of whom straddle the SF/F line, and in fantasy I’m a fan of Carol Berg.

Sorry this is such a long answer – did you know lawyers used to get paid by the word?! (editors note - I was hoping for a long answer). Anyhow, overall: Women in SFF? We buy it, we read it, we write it, we watch it, we draw it, we appear in it. We’re here and we’re not going away.

3) Onto the stories! Where did the idea for your particular contribution come from?​

DB: Some time ago I stumbled across an American competition for SF short stories which provided the title, or perhaps the theme, “The Color of Silence”. It intrigued me, but as usual, inspiration was lacking – if I’ve got a muse, she’s permanently on holiday and never answers her phone. I was walking with my partner down Lymington High Street moaning that I’d got no ideas (this is a common occurrence; the moaning, that is, not walking through Lymington) and he suggested it could be the name of a ship. So a ship she became, and it was clear that both colour and silence had to be repeat motifs in the story. In my SF WiPs I’d concocted a backstory of eco-terrorism which had resulted in millions of deaths, and it was a short hop from that to a deliberately engineered virus which killed children, and the ship became their last, best – only – hope. The story ended up gathering virtual dust on my laptop, but when we started discussing the anthology I pulled it out – the muse was vacationing yet again, and traversing Lymington High Street seemed too much effort – gave it a good going-over with a metaphorical duster and can of Pledge, and sent it on its way.

4) Finally a question just for funsies - if you could be any female character in SFF, befriend any female character in SFF, and get to bring righteous retribution of your choice for any female character in SFF, which three would you pick?​

DB: If it’s not too arrogant or Mary Sue-ish, if I could choose to be any woman character I’d pick my own female lead from my SFs, the Lady Verity, a Judge of Truth. I’ve given her a terrible childhood trauma for a backstory, some pretty unpleasant events in the present, and grief in her future, but she’s intelligent, brave, strong, complex, and can read people’s minds, so what’s not to like?! Failing that, in SF perhaps Asimov’s Dr Susan Calvin (he wrote at least one decent female eventually) or in fantasy, Savarien, the physician in Carol Berg’s Lighthouse duology, another formidable intellect who speaks her mind without fear or favour.

For a to-be-befriended character, in SF the only one I can think of is Balveda in Banks’s Consider Phlebas, who would be great in dangerous situations, but I’d prefer my fantasy choice of Clara Annalise Kelliam of Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin series. Her husband is executed, one son is sent into exile, another is claimed by the spider-cult so cannot be trusted, and the third is effectively required to disown her. She loses everything – home, wealth, family, status – and suffers greatly, but she stands firm and takes the initiative in the fight against tyranny. She’s also warm, wise, intelligent, caring, more than a little manipulative, and would make a marvellous friend.

I’m all for righteous retribution, but I can’t think of a woman character upon whom I’d need to visit it. Over the years there have been plenty I’ve wanted to slap, with a firm admonition to grow up and stop being so [REDACTED] stupid, particularly in fantasies, but their names escape me now, largely because if I have that reaction to a character I invariably get rid of the book pretty damn quick, and expunge it from mind and memory.
The redacted there is hers, not mine. I wouldn't dream of redacting Damaris' work; only admire her ability to forget annoying characters.

Also, I never thought I'd see Lymington feature as part of someone's influence for a story, even in the most passing of ways...

Thanks for reading. As I said, the anthology is out tomorrow, which means my full review of it should be out tomorrow or the day after as well - and after that, Part 3 of the Authors Interviews.

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