I don’t think I can actually express how excited I am to host the Great Elizabeth Bear in my Author Interview series! Seriously, seriously awesome! I may have a heart attack.
She is one of the greats in Fantasy and Sci-fi in my opinion and I just finished drooling over “The Tempering of Men,” book 2 in her Iskryne World series that she wrote with co-author Sarah Monette.
(Squeeee! Ok had to get that over with.)
If you want to find out more about her or her work, here’s an…
Author’s Name: Elizabeth Bear
Author’s Genre(s): in the continuum of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Featured Title or Work: Dust, and the Iskryne World Series
Author’s website: http://www.
Additional Blog: http://matociquala.
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/
Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/#
GoodReads Account: http://www.goodreads.
Library Thing: http://www.
Shadow Unit Project: http://shadowunit.org
Agent: Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Agency: http://www.maassagency.com/
Publisher: Tor, Spectra, Prime, Subterranean
About the Author
Elizabeth Bear writes science fiction and fantasy. She lives in Massachusetts.
Now, without further ado, here she is!
MF: In your novel Dust, there is a lot of play with the concept of gender. I find all angles of this intriguing and you explore a lot of them. Can you talk a bit about where your interest in gender comes from and what it means to you in your own life?
EB: Well, I grew up in a very non-traditional family–my mom is gay–and I, myself, identify as bisexual and probably a bit genderqueer. At the very least, I’ve never been very good at conforming to societal expectations for what women want and do, though I’ve generally considered that far more society’s problem than mine. Probably because I grew up surrounded by queer and a few trans people. There was a long period of my childhood when I didn’t really know very many straight adults.
It’s weird to me to see worlds where everybody is straight and cis. It doesn’t map to my experience.
MF: I have a character who is neither male nor female in one of my novels and pronouns were a definite challenge. (He, she, it, oi!) I was fascinated by your use of gender pronouns for your transgender character in Dust. Can you talk a bit about your choices with that and where they came from?
EB: Well, there’s a neuter character, who gets old-school ungendered pronouns… and then there’s Mallory, who gets no pronouns at all. That took some serious stuntwriting–to make it sound natural and flow well, when in reality I was avoiding any mention of gender.
I wouldn’t call Mallory “trans,” though–although another character mistakenly identifies that as the case. Rather, Mallory does not perform a gender–Mallory refuses to identify as either male or female. It’s a false binary.
Which is pretty much how I feel about it, too–as ingrained as it is in our society, this idea that there is male and female and that’s it–I kind of think it’s nonsense.
MF: Where do you feel we are at culturally with regards to gender? Do you witness / experience real equality? What, if anything, is missing from your perspective?
EB: We’re nowhere near real equality–but I do believe that the current misogynist backlash is evidence that we’re getting somewhere. It will take generations, but the bad guys wouldn’t be quite so aggressive if they weren’t scared.
Sadly, that leaves modern humanitarians in a position of fighting a holding battle. We have to not allow ourselves to be pushed back, while taking every opportunity to advance the cause of social justice–for women, for ethnic and social minorities, for trans people and queer people. No big victories, I’m afraid. Just a long, determined slog.
I believe we’re on the right side of history, though.
MF: Do you feel Fantasy and Science Fiction are a unique playground for exploring gender and if so, how do you personally want to take advantage of this freedom? What would you most like to see from other authors?
EB: I don’t know about unique, but they definitely offer a lot of opportunities. Where else do you get to build a whole society from the ground up just so you can run experiments on it?
As for other authors–I write my own stories. It’s not my job to control the ones other people write. Every artist works from deep personal drives that they may or may not understand. It’s not something you can just decide to do or not do. The thing that you care about is the thing that you care about.
MF: In A Companion to Wolves, the homo-erotic elements were very intense. How did your editor and publisher react to this? Were there boundaries that you were advised not to cross?
EB: We turned down one offer on the book because the publisher wanted the disturbing sexual content removed. Which, as far as Sarah and I were concerned, completely defanged what we were trying to do and illuminate.
But Tor printed what we wrote.
MF: The idea that men find girl-on-girl sex exciting is pretty common in our culture. Do you think the same can be said for how women react to sexual content featuring “mano-à-mano?” How do you feel these 2 things are different or the same?
EB: It’s not really a kink of mine, and I don’t generally write romance or erotica. (I have almost no patience for reading romance, so I don’t try to write it.) Because of that, the sexual content in my work is not particularly intended to be erotic, but to be part of the character and thematic and plot development. So I’m probably the wrong author to ask those questions of, because I don’t really care what people find erotic unless I happen to be in bed with them!
MF: I’ve heard other authors talk about sexual content and not wanting to be “gratuitous” or having sex for titillation’s sake. Are there rules that you follow or boundaries that you’ve made for yourself?
EB: I follow the same rules for sex as I do for every other scene in a book. If it’s not doing at least two pieces of useful work in the narrative, I cut it.
I do get really offended by critics–usually straight male critics–who make snide comments about my work being slash or yaoi. Slash and yaoi are perfectly valid genres of writing, and a lot of people enjoy the fuck out of them, and I like it that there are slash fans who enjoy my work and want to read about other-than-straight people–but for me, a non-slash-reader using the terms dismissively comes across as incredibly homophobic.
Because of course the only reason gay people might be in a book is to be titillating to somebody–not because gay people exist in real life, and should therefore exist in stories.
That makes me want to say, “Gay people happen. Get over it.”
MF: Do you have favourite books that have influenced you and the way that you handle sexuality in your work? Is there a writer that you feel handles sexuality perfectly for you as a reader?
EB; Not really. I mean, I grew up on seventies feminist science fiction, and I always admired the way Diane Duane’s Door into Fire‘s protagonist sets off to save his beloved from captivity in a tower–his beloved happens to be a prince–and absolutely no hay is made about it. It’s just the way things are in the world she’s built.
I like reading books that explore gender and sexuality; I often find them very revealing and thought-provoking.
But when you grow up in a queer family, and you’re queer yourself, you’d have to make a conscious choice to exclude gender and sexuality from your work. And why would you do that?
For me, what’s weird is the standard nuclear family model.
MF: Your Iskryne World series was co-written with Sarah Monette and I’ve been dying to ask you, how on earth do you do that?! I mean just logistically… do you alternate chapters? Do you outline ahead of time? Do you have meetings?
EB: We have a general idea of what we’re doing and where we’re going–a broad outline–and then one of us writes until she gets bored. Then she sends it to the other, who edits what the first one has written and then writes until she gets bored.
MF: The creative collaborations I’ve done in the past have been extremely challenging. What challenges you have faced in co-writing? Have you found rewards or benefits to writing with someone else?
EB: The reward is not having to do all the work myself. Also, she goes through and cleans up all my prose. But in this, and in my other collaborative projects–like Shadow Unit (www.shadowunit.org)–they only work if everybody is willing to let other people have ownership of the property too. You can’t be jealous of your creation.
The best practice for me in this has been tabletop role playing games, which are also very collaborative.
MF: Do you and Sarah Monette ever argue about the story you’re working on together, and if so, what are the contentious bits?
EB: Sometimes we do. She tends to add a lot of secondary characters. I tend to break things indiscriminately. But we work it out–we trust each other as friends and as artists.
It’s like any partnership: you compromise.
MF: You have written both Sci-fi and Fantasy. Do you classify your work? Are the genre and sub-genre terms meaningful to you? Do you have a special place in your heart (I know I do!) for stories that cross and blend genres?
EB: I don’t really see a difference between the two. They’re a continuum to me.
MF: Do you think Sci-fi is, as Ursula K LeGuin put it, the “literary ghetto?” Have you ever experienced this bias? (http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/mar/22/where-no-one-has-ever-gone/?pagination=false)
EB: Oh yeah. I just don’t care. It’s a very nice ghetto, and who cares what ignorant people say about us?
MF: Which ideas are best explored in a science fiction or fantasy universe? Do these genres present opportunities that other genres don’t?
EB: I have absolutely no idea how to answer that question. I mean, yes, obviously, they present opportunities to stack the creative deck any way you like. But what ideas are best explored that way? My ideas, obviously, because that’s the genre that speaks to me and that I choose to write. But whatever your thematic argument is, I think any given author will find a way to explore it in whatever genre they are most comfortable in.
MF: Is there any advice that you would give to new writers that helped you when you were starting out?
EB: Generally, I tell my students that there are no rules. There are only techniques that work or do not work in any given circumstance.
MF: What new media, or social media do you think is most useful for writers? Are there unwritten rules that you follow online or that you wish other people would?
EB: Other people’s behaviour is so not my problem. As for online rules–well, I just try to live by the standard rules of netiquette, which haven’t changed in the twenty years I’ve been online! Social media… I think it can be a big distraction. It’s useful for networking, talking to fans and friends, and getting the word out–but I think it’s most useful when a writer doesn’t think of it as publicity but as a kind of low-key ongoing convention: a way to stay in touch with fandom and the genre.
MF: Is there any advice you would give to new writers seeking representation and publication in today’s market?
EB: Write, revise, submit. Write something different. Critique other people’s work. (This is more useful than having one’s own work critiqued, in general, because I think most people learn more from critiquing than being critiqued.)
The goal is not to write a publishable story. The goal is to become a good enough writer that you can write a very *good* story every single time.
MF: Do you see Indie and traditional publishing working well together somehow? I’ve heard authors saying that they are buying back the e-rights to their own work in order to keep their backlist alive as self-published e-books. Can you see a way in which self-publishing would be useful or appealing to you despite your established career?
EB: I self-publish via the Shadow Unit collective, so I’d have to say yes. And self-publishing backlist is a great way to keep it out there and available.
I think the self-publishing holy warriors are missing the point, however. Traditional publishing has an awful lot of value, still.
I can’t see how they wouldn’t work well together. I mean, they fill complementary roles in the careers of most of the professional writers I know–and at this point, I know a lot of professional writers. Kickstarter, e-publishing, free teaser content online–we’re all doing a great deal of this stuff right now.
It’s all very experimental, but as things develop, I suspect we’ll find some emerging patterns that work for various different career paths.
MF: Is there a release date for book 3 in the Iskryne World series? Is it true it’s not until 2013?
EB: It’s not written yet, so it’s highly unlikely it would come out before then!
MF: I noticed on Wikipedia that both you and Sarah Monette have donated your “archive to the department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University.” Can you tell us about this?
EB: Well, Lynne Thomas, the archivist at NIU, is building a research collection of the foul papers of SFF writers. For posterity! She asked, and I said yes.
It sure beats having boxes of old marked-up manuscripts cluttering the basement growing mold!
MF: Thank you so much for this interview Ms Bear! It was a complete thrill for me!