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Category: Interviews Page 2 of 3

The cover to "Those Who Make Us", an anthology co-edited by Kelsi Morris

Kelsi Morris on Myths, Monsters, and Fighting Marginalization

Kelsi Morris is a queer and neurodivergent editor who has channeled her passion for books into the Canadian publishing industry, specializing in speculative fiction and comics. She focuses on work that prioritizes and promotes the voices of marginalized communities. Her first co-edited anthology, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, published by Exile Editions, was nominated for the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award.

Outside of books, she finds happiness in black coffee, red wine, and dragons.

Kelsi Morris and I chatted earlier about her work on this anthology, how it relates to CanLit, and how she’s working towards making the Canadian SF/F scene more inclusive. Let’s take a look!

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


The cover to "Those Who Make Us", an anthology co-edited by Kelsi MorrisMe: So, first question: What was the inspiration behind Those Who Make Us for you and your co-editor [Kaitlin Tremblay]?

Kelsi Morris: One of the earliest foundations of our friendship was our shared loved monsters! We both noticed that we tended to feel more connection to the monsters/kaiju/alien creatures than the human characters in most cases, and it was only through many (MANY) conversations (and bottles of wine) that we realized that this was not actually all that weird.

These characters are the literal embodiment of otherness, and the treatment they receive from the human world will often resonate far more strongly with folks with marginalized identities than the heroics of the protagonists.

Kaitlin and I were both coming at this from the perspective of queer people who struggle with various mental health issues, and we wanted to see more stories that had the same empathy for the outsiders that we did.

I totally see that. I noticed in particular that the opening story in the collection was really emblematic of that focus. The one where the main character, Melanie, chooses to undergo bodymods to turn into a chimera.

Would you say that sense of empathy was one of the most important things you were looking for in the stories you chose?

Absolutely! That story in particular was exciting, because it really touched on the way marginalized folks are treated by society, while keeping the story very much focused on Melanie’s own journey of self-discovery. It wasn’t about her trying to fit in, or save other people from their bigoted ways. This was something she was doing solely for herself.

We wanted this anthology to be a space for marginalized voices to celebrate and/or explore their identities, as well as criticize/highlight the abundance of ways in which they are mistreated or misrepresented by society.

One thing I also noticed is that the anthology is in dialogue with a lot of tropes/notable figures in CanLit and Canadian history. Like, when I think of Helen Marshall’s story, it feels like a story Margaret Atwood could have referred to in Survival. And Dominik Parisien’s story heavily refers to Peterborough and to Catharine Parr Traill.

I’ve spent my entire career working as an editor in Canadian genre fiction, and it is something I am deeply passionate about. A lot of times publishers and/or authors will shy away from publicizing being Canadian in order to appeal to a wider market, and I feel like that is doing everyone a disservice. I am equally passionate about how entirely fucked it is that so many people seem to buy into our national identity of being “a country at peace”, where we no longer accept racism, ableism, queerphobia, or are party to systemic and institutional violence.

Speculative fiction has always been at the forefront of social criticism, and so it was especially important to me that this project both celebrate excellence in Canadian genre fiction, at the same time it acknowledges and calls attention to the fact that many voices are silenced for the sake of this national myth.

Who else do you see challenging that myth in the Canadian SFF scene?

While neither exclusively focuses on Canadian authors, the Toronto-based literary spec fic magazines like Augur Magazine and Anathema Magazine both have mandates that focus on stories from intersectional marginalized communities, and have been doing an amazing job at celebrating the work of queer writers, writers of colour, and writers with disabilities.

These kind of markets only exist because we have to carve out the space for ourselves. The need for this is what proves that acceptance and visibility within the mainstream publishing industry really isn’t there yet.

[Note: You can read my interview with Anathema here.]

I’m going to be having Augur on the blog too!

Good! I’m so excited by the work that they do, and I can’t wait to watch them grow. 🙂

Has it been hard to carve out the space you’re describing?

As an editor, my experience is obviously quite a different one from the unique frustrations that writers have to deal with. I try to use my position to hold space for marginalized voices, and take on the brunt of any tensions that may arise between the writer and the publisher.

It can be challenging, especially for anthologies, to wholeheartedly believe in a project, and have to convince a publisher that a focus on intersectional voices doesn’t immediately make it any less interesting to “the rest of the market”.

Do you have any other anthologies or projects in progress?

Oh, I have several dream projects, and would dearly love to just work on all of them at once!

This is such an exciting time for Canadian SFF. There is so much excellent work being produced, and so many incredible emerging writers and markets. I love this field, and I’m so excited to continue contributing however I can.


And that’s that! You can check out Kelsi Morris online and buy Those Who Make Us on Amazon, Kobo, and in stores.

Kelly Robson Talks about “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach”

The cover of Kelly Robson's novella "Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach", showing the main character, Minh, standing in a river. Kelly Robson is an award-winning short fiction writer. In 2017, she was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She was awarded the 2016 Aurora Award for best short story, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, and Sunburst awards.

Her latest novella, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach was just published by Tor earlier this week, and I was fortunate enough to get an ARC to read beforehand. Lucky Peach may be a shorter work, but this story about a set of environmental specialists in the 23rd century who have been sent back in time to research the ecology of ancient Mesopotamia is a surprisingly hefty examination of ethics, generational strife, and the effects of climate change. Plus, I tore through it in the space of less than 24 hours, so how’s that for an endorsement?

Robson was kind enough to chat with me over Twitter DMs for an hour earlier today, so this interview is hot off the presses. Let’s dive in!

(Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)


Me: So, one of the things I found really interesting about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is how the first two parts of chapter 1 really prime the reader to expect a huge, violent conflict — but by the end, the forms of conflict you actually see are completely different. Was that something you wanted to analyze going in, or did that emerge more organically?

Kelly Robson: I knew before I began the first draft that I wanted to have that structure — with a few paragraphs from King Shulgi’s point of view at the beginning of each chapter. And the reason is — really nerdy.

Oh?

When I was a kid, I imprinted on the novelization of Battlestar Galactica’s (original version) The Gun on Ice Planet Zero — which had that kind of structure. And I loved it so much. So I wanted to use the same structure — it’s like sprinkling candy in between the chapters. And because my main character Minh isn’t really interested in history, I wanted to be able to show what’s going on in Mesopotamia. Does that make sense?

Yes, totally. Part way through the book, I checked Wikipedia and learned Shulgi was an actual historical figure!

He’s so cool.

The wiki entry was pretty sparse about him, beyond the fact that he ruled for a while and was near the beginning of his particular dynasty. What made you decide on him versus any other Mesopotamian king?

I chose Shulgi first, because as far as we know, which isn’t much, his kingship was pretty stable, long lasting, and comparatively enlightened. And because Shulgi was actually a proven athlete, which is a detail that is rather telling. He was famous in his day for running a marathon to preside in a religious ceremony in two places on one holy day. Something like 200 kilometers. Impressive achievement of physical conditioning — especially for someone who must have had a lot of other demands on his time.

200 KILOMETERS?!

Yeah! But apparently long distance marathoners can actually do that.

Damn. I thought that was still out of reach even for contemporary athletes.

So this is something charismatic leaders do to seal their mystique — perform a feat that people consider impossible. That makes them special. It’s a public relations stunt. So I thought, Shulgi, you’re an interesting person! You’re the king for me 😀

And the thing is that the time travel point you chose is pretty early in his reign. It fits in pretty well with TERN’s statements that time travel doesn’t fundamentally affect the timeline. But in the end, we don’t learn enough to know whether that’s true or not. [Note: TERN is the agency that controls access to time travel in the story.]

We don’t know it’s true. Even Fabian — the project’s tactical historian — doesn’t know if it’s true. He just believes what the physicists tell him. But yes, as the writer, I can tell you that time travel doesn’t affect the timeline. I’m not interested in paradoxes.

The big question is, can you really say that what you do in the past doesn’t matter?

And that’s totally the kind of question only Kiki would ask.

Kiki is the moral conscience of the book. And she asks this kind of question because she’s not jaded. She believes in truth, goodness, and justice.

Yes! I remember thinking throughout that I was in complete agreement with her throughout the book.

So am I 😀

It’s a question we come up against in our post-colonial world. How do you go to someone else’s world, use it for your own purposes, and not do violence to the people there? You can’t.

Though I do wonder if you can delve into the generational relationships between Minh’s cohorts and Kiki’s cohorts. Kiki says that her generation is moving away because Minh’s generation has becme too self-centred. But we don’t see a lot of that outside of Kiki’s own perspective.

Minh’s generation, in Calgary and the other habs, are basically not willing to retire. They’re mostly rugged individualists and workaholics. They believe that they are the only people who can be trusted to do the important jobs. That means that with the economic contraction that time travel has created for the above-ground habs, that there are few opportunities for young people. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In a way, it’s all an illusion. The habs have universal basic income. Nobody has to work. But people like to work! They like to know their time is well spent and valuable. Kiki yearns to do important work. Kiki and her generation don’t want to feel their potential is going to waste.

But if there’s UBI, I’m not sure how that plays into the fact that debt, and banks, play such a large part in Minh’s decisions. As for the modern-day parallels, I totally see those.

Yup. So in this world — and this is implied, not delved into — economic competition, investment, and debt happens between the Habs, Hives, and Hells (basically these are all city-states). Personal debt is a function of accounting that allows you to access luxuries or easier/quicker access to some services, or more personal living space in your city.

So, Kiki is in debt because she’s young. Minh isn’t because she’s been working for 60 years. But Minh’s type of expertise isn’t valued by the Bank of Calgary, so she’s not comparatively rich.

Ah, so it’s not actually a representation of money per se, but really a representation of privilege (for which money is a pretty good proxy).

Totally. What the banks really want is to have people whose expertise is sought out by other cities, then they can trade that person’s time for economic advantage.

I find it really interesting, though, that all things considered, Minh’s goals are incredibly valuable — long term ecological rehabilitation. So in one sense her refusal to retire is greed, but in another sense it’s a form of selflessness.

Yes — she has spent her whole life pursuing her passion, and you don’t retire from that. She did try — she became a professor who helped establish the University of Tuktoyaktuk and started teaching others to do what she does, but that venture collapsed when time travel was invented.

I worked for environmental scientists for 15 years, and what they really like — what’s easiest for them — is to do all the work themselves. Having to work with other people on a project is so much more work than doing it all themselves.

And they HATE mentoring people. Too much work! They’d rather work for 20 hours a day than wrangle other people to do the same work in less time. If they do it all themselves, then they know it’s all done right — or they way they think is right, anyway.

And thus Kiki’s choice to change her body to get on the mission.

Such a bad decision, Kiki! But you know, when I was 23, I would have done exactly the same thing.

I like how her choice is shown to be a painful one, but not a limiting one, ultimately.

It’s not limiting, but there would be social consequences if she ever wants to go back to Jasper, to be with her generation.

From your perspective, would you say that the society of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is more or less ableist than ours?

Overall the world is much less ableist than ours. In the habs, the above-ground cities where the plague babies are the dominant social group, it’s much less ableist. Some of the other cities — the Hives and Hells — would be slightly more ableist than the Habs.

I believe the future includes disabled people. Some people write the future like everyone’s going to be physically perfect, and that’s just not realistic. There will always be disabled people, and their contributions are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

And in the future, the ways in which people can adapt to different levels of ability will be far beyond what we can probably think of today. As you show with Minh’s prostheses, and also Kiki’s.

Totally. Which is the same right now. People can use prostheses to be extra-human — jump higher, run faster. Little difference between a prosthetic leg and a snowboard, really.

Are there any plague babies at TERN? Because I wonder if the cavalier way the time travellers treat past human lives is a manifestation of an overall lack of compassion or understanding of the value of human life, no matter the form or time it takes.

Right. No, there’s no plague babies at TERN. TERN is the time travel division of CEERD, which is an economic think tank, and they’re a bit insular. They’re not a hive, hab, or hell, but an independent economic unit kind of like a university, which leases living space from other habs, hives, and hells. They’re kind of like venture capitalists.

Basically, CEERD really likes playing economic games with other city states. And they play to win. So yes, you nailed it. Compassion and understanding of the value of human life? Not a priority for CEERD. Which is the essence of evil, really.

So in a way, it’s almost like the members of the time travel crew represent a spectrum of morality. From Fabian being the worst, to Minh, to Hamid, to Kiki.

Interesting! Yeah. Totally. Hamid’s off the scale, though. All he cares about is animals. 😀

He’d have loved memes and cat gifs. 😛

YES!

Moving back towards Shulgi, was he one of the major seeds of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, or did he get fitted in further along in the creative process?

Shulgi was the seed. There was a Mesopotamia exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, and it was fascinating. Alyx and I went about five times. One of the items they had there, from the British Museum, was a statue of a king carrying weapons which were specifically meant for killing monsters. Alyx and I were fascinated, because…

Imagine you’re this king, you have your monster-killing weapons, and your job is to kill monsters — keep the kingdom safe! But you’ve NEVER seen a monster! What do you think about it???

This was the seed for the whole story. What does this king think when no monsters show up? And what if monsters come and they’re not monsters at all?

Lucky Peach also hit a particular button for me, which is trying to explain modern technology to ancient people if time travel existed. Like, would you be able to explain a combustion engine or electricity to Julius Caesar?

Or even weather systems? You wouldn’t have the vocabulary.

Oh my god, yeah.

And if you tried to paraphrase to explain, it would sound all mystical.

Yes! “Electricity is lightning, but bottled in wires.”

“The air is more dense” “How can air be dense?” “Well, molecules…” “What??”

“The warm air is less strong than the cold air.” “That’s just dumb.”

Oh man. It’d be hard.

I think that about wraps it up,  but I do have one final question: In honour of Pi Day, what is your favourite flavour of pie?

PEACH! 🍑


And that’s that! This chat was a delight, and I appreciate Kelly’s time. You can learn more about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach on Tor’s website.

Spec from the Margins: A Chat with Anathema Magazine

Anathema Magazine: Speculative fiction from the margins

Anathema Magazine is a Canadian short-fiction publication that accepts spec-fic stories, artwork and non-fiction work from writers and artists from across the world. Anathema published its first three issues in 2017, which included pieces by the likes of Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng, and Nibetida Sen.

Now they’re running a crowdfunding campaign until early March to continue work on years two and three. Anathema is filling a lovely role within the Canadian spec-fic space, so it’s my pleasure to chat with the editors and share their thoughts. Take a look at what they have to say and don’t forget to check Anathema’s fiction out.


Me: For those who are unfamiliar, what is Anathema Magazine?

Editors: Anathema is a tri-annual speculative fiction magazine for queer POC/Indigenous/Aboriginal writers and artists. The speculative element is very loose: we like a broad range encompassing everything from sci-fi, fantasy, and horror to slipstream, surrealism, absurdism, noir, etc. Mostly we want to see unbounded creativity.

Me: Tell me more about each of the editors. What have you all written/edited before? What makes each of you tick?

Andrew Wilmot: Primarily I make my living doing academic work—dissertation edits, mostly, in the areas of psychology, feminist studies, gender studies, and body dysmorphia/eating disorders. I also edit for a magazine called HOLO, which celebrates the cross-section of science/technology and art, do copy and substantive editing for several independent publishers, and review for subTerrain magazine and Publishers Weekly.

With respect to writing, I go back and forth between short fiction and novel work. I’ve had maybe 20 shorts published so far. One of which—“When I’m Old, When I’m Grey”—won first place in the Friends of the Merril Short Story Contest back in 2015. My first novel, The Death Scene Artist, is set for release this fall from Wolsak & Wynn’s Buckrider Books imprint. Most of my work straddles the line between either horror and surrealism, or science fiction and surrealism. Lots of body horror, synaesthesia, and mental health in my work. Such are the things that make me tick, among others.

Michael Matheson: I’m just going to cheat and mostly fall back on my publication bio. Which is to say: I’m a genderfluid writer, editor, anthologist, and occasional poet. I’ve been longlisted for the Sunburst Award, and I’ve had work published in Nightmare, Shimmer, anthologies like Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, and a host of other venues. I edited The Humanity of Monsters anthology, and I’m a former Managing Editor with ChiZine Publications and former Submissions Editor with Apex Magazine.

A Clarion West (’14) graduate, I’ve been a freelance editor for far more years than I want to admit at this point. That’s entailed working in multiple genres with a lot of indie clients and publishers like Ravenstone, Publishers Weekly, Harlequin, and others. And I’ve done a reasonable bit of ghostwriting over the years in a few different fields, so tracking down publications can end up depending on what I’ve signed an NDA for or not.

Chinelo Onwualu: I was born in Nigeria but now live in Toronto, Canada. I mostly do editorial consulting for international development organizations in West Africa and I am also editor and co-founder of Omenana, a magazine of African speculative fiction. My fiction and essays can be found in a bunch of places, including Strange Horizons, The Kalahari Review, Brittle Paper, Jungle Jim, Ideomancer, and the anthologies AfroSF: African Science Fiction by African Writers, Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond, Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa, and Imagine Africa 500. 

I’d say what makes me tick professionally would be a need to put down my stories and those of others in the clearest ways possible. I want people to read work that best expresses what the writer—whether it’s me or someone else I’m editing—is trying to say. I used to be a journalist for newspapers and magazines so I approach my non-fiction editing like a reporter. The goal is to be as clear and concise as possible. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible, while making sure everyone understands exactly what you mean. I try to get writers to think through their ideas because one can’t assume that everyone will get what you mean.

Me: What would you describe as the perfect Anathema story? What makes a story a unique fit for your magazine?

Andrew: I don’t know that we have a story that perfectly represents what we publish or are looking for. We don’t want to set such expectations because the best thing in the world is reading something incredible that you had no idea you were looking for in the first place. That said, I’m happy to rattle off some of my favourite authors, if it helps give people a sense of my personal taste: N.K. Jemisin, Amelie Nothomb, Lauren Beukes, China Miéville, Haruki Murakami, Roxane Gay, Charles Yu, James Ellroy, Amber Dawn, and Suzette Mayr. There’s not a lot of SFF in there, but that’s kind of the point for me: I love seeing genre work and lit crossing streams in unexpected ways.

Michael: It’s true, there’s no one quintessential Anathema story. As editors, we’re drawn to a huge range of styles and approaches partly because, as Andrew rightly noted, we love being surprised by things we didn’t see coming. Editorial taste will always factor into our decisions—we’re all drawn to strong prose work and solid and/or unusual structural choices, for example—but we’re driven more by a desire to find exceptional work and see how it fits together in the confines of an issue.

One of the best parts of shaping a table of contents for any project is how the individual works interact and play off each other. And we’ve had excellent luck with our issues so far, finding themes and topical works that have come together in some absolutely delightful ways. We never know what’s going to happen with the next issue, and therein lies the fun of the thing.

Me: Related to that last question, is there a particular story already published by Anathema Magazine that one (or all) of you think is somehow quintessential?

Andrew: I don’t think I can play favourites with any of our authors or their work. Fact of the matter is, I genuinely love what we’ve published so far. We wouldn’t have published any of it if we didn’t love it. As Michael said, I don’t think we have a “quintessential” story, nor do I think it’s possible for us to have one.

Me: You’re running a fundraising campaign throughout February. What goals are there for the campaign?

Andrew: Our current month-long IndieGoGo campaign ends March 2nd and is seeking $6,000 to pay for two more years of operating costs. We’re also using the campaign to raise our fiction and non-fiction rates to $100 (CAD). We obviously want to improve our reach and our subscriber base in order to become self-sustaining, But ultimately we fundraise because we believe it’s worth paying our content creators—and paying them as well as we can.   Because they’re worth it, and their work is worth it.

Me: How do you work together to run Anathema Magazine? Do you find that you have a particular working style together?

Andrew: It’s pretty symbiotic, really. We were all quite close prior to starting the magazine, and while we all have different ways of operating and different demands on our time, we’re pretty respectful and adaptable (ie: if someone is facing a terrible deadline or is under the weather, the others are able to help pick up what needs to be done).

We also all have our individual strengths and try to play to that as much as possible: Chinelo far outstrips both Michael and I as a non-fiction editor, and is also quite busy with her other magazine, Omenana, so she primarily handles that corner of things while Michael and I do the bulk of the fiction editing. At the end, we all proof each other’s work.

Michael is incredibly skilled at communication, and is knowledgeable about so many more aspects of the speculative side of things than I am (I come mostly from the lit side of the industry), so they handle a lot of the awards submissions and solicitations, as well as managing our Twitter account. I have, on top of editing, some experience with production, so I handle creation of the PDF and ebook versions of each issue, and also manage the Tumblr account. We both manage the Facebook account.

Me: What has your feedback from readers been like so far since the magazine’s launch?

Andrew: Incredibly positive. While we’re still growing our readership and have yet to hit any kind of mainstream awareness, those who have found our content have been universal in their appreciation—for which we could not be happier.

Michael: It’s true, the response to the mag has been incredibly encouraging—especially as there was some early concern that what we were trying to do might be too niche in a variety of ways. Which is not to say we don’t get random asshats on social media calling us racist because we won’t publish white content creators. But, delightfully, those interjections have been few and farther between than we’d expected. Much of what we’ve heard from the communities actually reading Anathema has been people happy to see themselves represented. To see positive queer relationships in the work. And to see a variety of genres represented.

Hell, we’ve had readers enjoy the work enough to have three stories on the 2017 Nebula Reading List, and to have multiple stories from our first year’s issues show up repeatedly in both established and more personal short fiction reviews online. That’s a pretty good start.

How do you feel that Anathema Magazine is in dialogue with the rest of the short fiction field in SF/F?

Andrew: This is a hard question for me because—and this is where I reveal myself to be a terrible person—I don’t read that many SFF magazines. I adore short fiction, both reading and writing, but for the most part I’m an anthology/short story collection sort of person.

For me, Anathema is as much in dialogue with anthologies and collections as it is with online publications, because it’s an answer, in some small part, to a problem that exists within both realms: a startling lack of diverse voices, and an associated pushback against such things from a small but irritating and obnoxiously loud segment of the industry. These are people who think that “diversity” and “identity politics” are ruining their fun, not at all caring about who they hurt in their dismissals and attacks. To which we say: fuck that and fuck them.

Michael: It’s definitely true that Anathema’s in conversation with the wider field—specifically many of the conversations around inclusion in editorial and fictional spaces that picked up in intensity after Fireside’s #BlackSpecFic report came out in 2016. In 2017 a lot of those discussions bore fruit in the form of decolonialist magazines like FIYAH, Arsenika, and Koru.

But the work of decolonizing creative spaces can’t be placed solely on writers and artists of colour. White editors, for all their good intent, gravitate more readily toward fiction they see as accessible, or “recognizable.” And that means they’re going to gravitate to white-authored content, especially where white writers are writing “diverse” work instead of making space for authors of colour.

Anathema, too, treads a difficult line in this, given that two of our three primary editors are white. Hence why our mandate calls for only intersectionally-authored content, making space for marginalized creators. And that’s our contribution to the conversation, and our part in that dialogue: being a platform for amazing voices that are still underrepresented.


And that’s that! You can read the first three issues of Anathema Magazine online or contribute to their crowdfunding campaign until early March.

The cover to "Markswoman", the debut novel of Rati Mehrotra

Rati Mehrotra Talks about “Markswoman”, Math, and the Mahabharata

The cover to "Markswoman", the debut novel of Rati Mehrotra Speculative fiction has long imagined dystopias and post-apocalyptic worlds where the ruins of long-gone civilizations mingle with everyday elements of life that we more readily recognize. Today’s interview is with Rati Mehrotra, the author of Markswoman, a novel that takes these SFnal elements and plays with them in new ways.

Most notably, Markswoman takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of Central and South Asia. I’ve written about other books set in similar locations, but Mehrotra’s debut — the first book in a YA duology — takes readers down a road that may be less familiar than others.

Today’s interview, which was conducted over email, gives us a taste of the book and discusses her creative process. Markswoman was released by Harper Voyager on January 23, 2018.


Me: Can you give a quick summary of what Markswoman is about, for the uninitiated? What themes in the book resonate to you the most?

Rati Mehrotra: Markswoman is set in an alternative, post-apocalyptic version of Asia, 850 years after a Great War has destroyed a very advanced civilization. The only remnants of that civilization are the Transport Hubs, and the lore of the Ones — aliens that came to Earth and left, long before the war. Against this backdrop is the story of Kyra and Rustan: elite warriors tasked with upholding the peace and meteing out justice.

Me: What was the seed that inspired the story?

RM: Markswoman was born of my fascination with stories of the Goddess Kali. What if there was a group of women devoted to her worship, women who wielded the power of life and death over others in a post-apocalyptic world? And thinking of this, I had my world and my main character — Kyra Veer, the youngest Markswoman in the Order of Kali, an orphan with a burning need for revenge.

Me: In a recent article published on Unbound Worlds, you talked about how the Ramayana and Mahabharata contain elements that today would be considered very SFnal, or predictive of today’s technology. How has that influenced the technology shown in Markswoman? For example, do the katari blades have a basis in Hindu lore?

RM: Not particularly. In form and shape, the kataris are inspired by the Jamdhar Katari of the Hindukush. The kalashiks are inspired by Kalashnikovs, the most common assault rifle in Asia. As for their being sentient, I have no clue where that came from. The world, as I have built it, reflects my multiple loves and influences — mythology, science fiction, secondary world fantasy, and post-apocalyptic literature.

That said, the Goddess Kali is almost always depicted with sword and dagger. The central cavern of the caves of Kali (home of the Order of Kali) is covered with ancient paintings of the Goddess vanquishing demons with various weapons. Hatha kala, the style of fighting unique to the Order, was inspired by these depictions.

Me: What was your path to publication like? Can you tell me more about the editorial team that you worked with?

RM: My path to publication was long and hard. I started writing this book eight years ago. While I knew my world and characters quite intimately, I did not yet know my craft. I revised my manuscript over and over again, based on feedback received from beta readers. At the same time, I started writing short fiction and joined a writing group. This helped me improve my writing no end. I queried many agents, and was rejected by dozens, before I found Mary C. Moore, who got me my book deal with Harper Voyager. They asked me to submit a revised version of Markswoman and turn my proposed trilogy into a duology. I then made significant changes based on feedback from my editor at Harper Voyager, Priyanka Krishnan, and all of them have made the book much stronger.

Me: I love the fact that math plays a role in Markswoman, particularly the use of prime numbers. What was the origin of that element in the story? Hell, where did you manage to find such a lovely set of prime numbers for your pyramid?

RM: Primes — numbers that are only divisible by 1 and themselves – are the most fundamental numbers. They are the building blocks of number theory. Every number greater than one can be expressed as a product of primes. Primality is independent of the numbering system, and mathematics is the universal language of the universe. My theory is that the Ones used Primes for their codes long before they came to Asiana. On Earth, they adapted to the numbering system used by humans – base of 10 – and our writing conventions.

I found the pyramid of primes at http://primes.utm.edu/ – a fascinating site run by Professor Chris Caldwell. He advised me that the correct reference is: G. L. Honaker, Jr. and C. Caldwell, “Palindromic prime pyramids,” J. Recreational Math., 30:3 (1999-2000)”

Me: What would you say is your favourite moment in the book, either to write or to read aloud?

RM: My favorite moment is when Kyra finally confronts Tamsyn. A lot of different threads come together at this point. I deeply enjoyed writing it. But I never read it aloud, because it comes near the end of the book and would be a total spoiler.

Me: You’ve mentioned elsewhere that the Asiana books are a duology, What can readers expect in the sequel?

RM: Readers can expect their most burning questions to be answered! And some new surprises…


Way to leave us on a cliffhanger, Rati! Markswoman is available online as an eBook and in stores now.

The book cover for Ada Hoffmann's debut anthology "Monsters in My Mind"

A Talk with Ada Hoffmann About “Monsters in My Mind”

The book cover for Ada Hoffmann's debut anthology "Monsters in My Mind"Welcome to the first Canadian SF/F author interview of 2018! We’re off to a great start by chatting with Ada Hoffmann.

Hoffmann released her debut collection, Monsters in My Mind, last year. I was at her book launch party, where she gave away prizes, unspooled some humour, and read selected pieces from her collection.

When she said that we was going to be doing additional work to promote her book, I jumped on the opportunity, and read her collection over the Christmas break. It’s a great read, with a combination of short stories, longer stories (in the novelette range), poetry, both original work and reprints.

Hoffmann is well  known online for both her fiction and for her “Autistic Book Party” series of reviews, where she reads fiction that features autistic characters and analyzes of how accurate/respectful their portrayals of autistic experience are.

This snippet from her site’s bio page provides more context about the value of these reviews, and the perspective from which she approaches these works:

Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. Her Autistic Book Party review series is devoted to in-depth discussions of autism representation in speculative fiction. Several of her own stories and poems also feature autistic characters.

I was conscious of this aspect of her experience while reading Monsters in My Mind, but there were several other themes that kept popping up throughout the pieces in her collection. So here’s a look at them. I conducted the following interview with her via email.


Me: Many of the stories in your collection deal with motherhood or with mother/daughter relationships, especially those at the beginning of the collection. For example, there are mothers who don’t understand their daughters’ cognitive needs, daughters dealing with grief over the deaths of their mothers, and mothers trying to protect their children from malevolent forces. Can you talk about what particular resonance the mother/daughter relationship brings to your work?

Ada Hoffmann: Mother/daughter relationships can be so intense and complex, and we don’t see them explored in fiction as often as fathers and sons. People in Western culture often take mothers, and the astonishingly intense maternal protective instinct, and the grinding physical and emotional labor of motherhood, for granted. I’m not a parent myself, but motherhood is freakin’ hard stuff. Yet, from a child’s perspective, mothers are also complicated. We grow up dependent on them and can be hurt deeply by things that may not even register for them, or things that they view as necessary for us.

The result is that there can be tension between mothers and daughters, and affection and loyalty at the same time, and that contradiction is a fruitful creative place. It’s an especially complicated thing for disabled people, whose care is often disproportionately foisted on their mothers, and whose mothers are often ableist, misled by ableist doctors, or simply at a loss for what to do with them.

Me: Many of  the prizes at your book launch at Can-Con were related to creatures that show up in your stories and that people often fear or are disgusted by in real life: squid, centipedes, lampreys, etc. Can you elaborate on how these sorts of “monstrous” creatures capture your attention?

AH: You know, I was going to say “I think they are cool!”, but it varies. Like, I’m not actually that fond of centipedes? I wrote “Centipede Girl” because I was afraid of centipedes and had had a close encounter with one, and I needed to somehow write those feelings out. Squid, on the other hand, are just awesome. I think culturally we project our dark sides onto strange, non-human creatures, but different creatures get different parts of the dark side, and we relate to them accordingly. I think what binds them together is that they all have striking and memorable appearances, and they can hold webs of negative or intense association that would be too much for realistic humans.

Me: How did the title Monsters in My Mind come about?

AH: The title came about very late in the process; I sold the collection to NeuroQueer Books without a title. (For a while, thanks to Krista D. Ball, I was calling it “the Ad-ology”.) “Monsters In My Mind” was a title that just popped into my head one day. I like it because it alludes to some of the dark content of the collection as well as the neurodiverse content. I’m not the first person to have used the phrase or something like it. I suspect that I was experiencing a bit of cryptamnesia, because a few weeks later I remembered that the same phrase pops up in a song that I like, “Happy Hurts” by Icon For Hire.

Me: Your works contain an interesting blend of respect for technology for how it can be used to unite people (for example, in the poem “Evianna Talirr Builds a Portal on Commission”) and skepticism towards how it can be used to divide them (for example, in the story “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World”). What is your own personal relationship to technology like?

AH: It’s really interesting that you should use those two specific stories as positive and negative examples, because I think of them both as deeply ambivalent. I mean, sure, Ev is using technology to unite people, but she also spends the entire poem luring someone into a scary portal to another dimension that will literally tear apart their consistuent molecules and kill them. (Or at least, that’s my interpretation of the poem; perhaps there are others.)

In “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World” I was deliberately trying to avoid certain dystopian tropes. I came up with the story because I was annoyed by the polarized way people talk about social media; either “it will destroy human relationships and society” or “it’s great, everything about everyone should be public, there is no downside.” In my experience, technology never destroys the fabric of society (nuclear weapons may be a possible exception to this rule) and it never creates a utopia, either. It just makes things different, and people adapt to that difference in varying ways.

I really wanted to write a social media story in which people were adapting and surviving… kind of neutrally. They weren’t really questioning the fact that technology was being used to categorize them, even though that’s the part of the story that looks exotic and ominous to a reader. They weren’t trying to take down the evil technology empire. They were just regular people who were trying to get along within it, and who were questioning aspects of how it was used, and trying to subvert the parts that didn’t serve them.

I was raised by computer science professors. I was taught not to be an early adopter (wait a few years until they’ve got the bugs worked out and the price down) and not to be especially fazed by the way things change. I think there are dangers on the Internet; I think they’re not fundamentally very different from the dangers we encounter in other parts of our social lives. I think there is a lot to critique about the way that governments and large corporations use our information, but I don’t think that this is entirely a new thing, either.

It is worth thinking critically about how our thinking and living habits accommodate technology and are, in turn, changed by it, but I find that most critiques in this vein are oversimplified. Many are ableist (online things can be vastly more accessible to me than their real-life versions), ageist (“Millennials are killing face-to-face interaction!”) or just plain entitled (“how dare you talk to your friends on your phone instead of paying attention to me, a stranger”). I basically don’t like absolutism, in technology or otherwise.

Me: One of the stories I find most interesting is the one you wrote with Jacqueline Flay, “The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There.” In it, a vampire named Ishka has to face the prospect of sustained human settlement in a world where there wasn’t any before. Near the end, she thinks that what the humans have done is awful, because homes and cities are markers of Inside and Outside. However, it’s also easy to understand the attraction that such a life would have to the humans themselves, especially those who abandon her.

It’s a really well-balanced story where you fear Ishka and see her point of view, yet also completely sympathize with the people who want stable, settled lives. Was achieving this balance hard?

AH: I don’t remember that aspect of the story being hard. It’s a thing that happens all the time in different contexts; a state of affairs can be genuinely good for many people while excluding others, and everyone in that scenario is going to do what they feel is best for them. “The Screech Owl Also Shall Rest There” deals very intensely with the idea of what to do and where you fit if you are inherently a monster, and a lot of that aspect of it came from Jacqueline, although it fits in the collection really well. I don’t know that there’s a good solution. I don’t know if there’s any state of affairs, on the scale of a human society, that doesn’t cause someone to acutely feel the pain of being excluded.

Me: I find the story’s focus on Inside/Outside, Self/Other interesting in light of your own efforts to analyze how neurodiverse people have also been traditionally Othered. Is that something you can elaborate on?

AH: I mean, this is something I think about on a lot of levels, who we exclude and who we don’t, and how we decide that, and if inclusion is always to some extent an illusion. People talk about oxytocin, for example, as a potential treatment for autism, because it makes people more social and trusting. But actually, oxytocin is more of an in-group neurotransmitter. It tells you who’s in and who’s out. With more oxytocin, you trust your in-group more, but you pull further away from people you see as outsiders. So oxytocin’s not necessarily a cure for exclusion. And, of course, it’s usually neurotypicals who are excluding autistic people, not autistic people excluding neurotypicals. Teaching autistic people to view neurotypicals as their in-group won’t solve that.

I think anyone on the autism spectrum can tell you about the pain of being excluded. Extreme forms of exclusion, like “shunning”, are incredibly traumatic; extended solitary confinement is literally considered torture. Even garden variety loneliness can cause trauma. On the other hand, exclusion isn’t always a bad thing. “Never exclude anyone” is one of the Geek Social Fallacies, and it leads to bullies and harassers being tolerated in the group at the expense of the people who feel most unsafe around them. (And autistic people are often bullied, harassed, and abused, too; we’re often not taught how to set healthy boundaries or protect ourselves from these situations.)

For our own safety, humans need the right to set boundaries and exclude people. Yet excluding people genuinely hurts them, and people who have been excluded their whole lives know that best. Talking about who “deserves it”, and what kinds of crimes against the group do and don’t justify exclusion, can be useful. But it doesn’t resolve everything, because people will always disagree, and even people who very heinously and obviously deserve it are still people with emotions. So we need to hurt other people to protect ourselves. It’s a paradox and I think about it too much.

Me: In your story “The Mother of All Squid Builds a Library”, the title character says the following line when she’s told that her project sounds impossible: “Do you think that I cannot build a thing in my own way?”

I like to think of this piece of dialogue as a mission statement, both for Monsters in My Mind as a whole and for the inherent value of neurodiverse experience. Is this a line that had any particular resonance for you when you wrote it?

AH: Not at all. It’s simply the most logical response to the whales’ naysaying at that point. But I love your take on it. I’m going to think of that when I read that line now. 😀


And that’s it! You can buy Monsters in My Mind online through Amazon, Kobo, Chapters, Barnes and Noble, or directly from the publisher.

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