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Hi, E. M. Hamill!


YOUR BOOK

* What factors led you to feature a genderqueer main character?  Do
you draw on personal experience (whether your own or other folks in
your life), or were you more intrigued by the concept of being
genderqueer?


I’ve been bisexual all my life, though I’m not genderfluid like Dalí is. It’s something I never had the courage to express when I was younger for a variety of reasons, and then it felt like it was too late. Now that I’m older, wiser, and one of my children has also come out as non-binary, I am finally comfortable expressing this part of myself. Especially after the last election, I felt compelled to speak out at last and be counted with all my brothers and sisters. It’s never too late.


Even though my main character, Dalí, has been shattered by loss, I wanted them to be a person who revels in the fact they are attracted to all genders, and doesn’t hide who they are. They accept this part of themselves without shame, as they should. It was kind of cathartic.



* Are there other gender-bending science fiction novels or
gender-variant characters in science fiction that inspire you or that
you're particularly fond of?



The show “Earth: Final Conflict” fascinated me. The aliens in the show, especially Da’an, were genderless, and I loved that.  Of course, Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who, that most omnisexual of beings in the universe! Who doesn’t love him? One that doesn’t get a lot of notice is Inara from Firefly, who was decidedly bisexual. Lastly, most recently, “Sense8” and it’s diverse array of queer relationships and actors spoke to me on a huge level.


* Some science fiction operates as a sort of "intellectual
laboratory" to play out "what if" scenarios, and some is more of a
vacation fantasy, creating a fascinating different world to put
characters into, and so on.  Is there a 'tradition' or sub-genre of
science fiction that your book is a part of?



I would call it a space opera in the vein of Star Trek or Star Wars, with deliberate allegories to modern day social and human rights issues. Aliens and humans work alongside each other, and deep friendships or relationships develop as a result. 


* Is this a stand-alone book or are you working on a series?


This can be read as a stand-alone, but I definitely left the door open for more books featuring this character. I’ve already started writing their next mission.


* What sort of audience do you anticipate for DALI?  When you were
writing it, did you have an audience in your mind that you were
writing for?



I hope it appeals to all readers of science fiction, but especially to fellow queer readers. I also hope it resonates with mainstream sci-fi fans, because fiction opens doors to new ways of thinking.


* If you could inhabit the world in which your story takes place,
would you do so for a weekend, a year or two, or the rest of your
life, or would you pass on that option entirely?


Oh, a year or two, because you can’t get from our solar system to Zereid quickly!

* Did you have the idea for DALI floating around in your mind for a
long time before you wrote it, or did you write it more or less as it
first came to you?


Once Dalí started talking, they didn’t stop. I finished the first draft in six months, which is really fast for me!

* Aside from the science fiction element of it, you describe the book
as an "adventure"; is it a suspenseful action-thriller, or a big
drama with large social forces squaring off, a personal odyssey with
a central heroic figure... how would you characterize the plot?



I would characterize it as a suspenseful action-thriller, or spy drama. There are elements of a personal odyssey as well.


* How long did it take you?  If you've written and published
previously, how did this one compare to the others in terms of the
ease and speed with which you wrote it?


My first book took me five years from start to finish, but only two after I got serious about it. The second book in that series was easier. Dalí took six months to write, six months to edit, and I signed a contract with Nine Star Press in early 2017. 


WRITING


* What's your favorite environment to write in?  Do you have a studio
or do you just work in any convenient place?


I have a big recliner in front of my picture window. I get up before everybody else does, because it takes silence and solitude to get me in the zone. I have a small writing space carved out in our utility room, but it’s less comfortable! It’s the place I go when everybody else is awake.

* Do you do a lot of formal planning, with notes and databases or
spreadsheets and research, or do you work more spontaneously and
impose any additional needed order later on?


Nope. Total pantser. I love that improvisational writing mode. I start with an idea or a single scene that’s been in my head, and run. I break a cardinal rule by doing some heavy editing as I write, and also afterwards. 

* What's your main writing tool?  Do you write using a standard word
processor, a dedicated book-authoring software package, a fountain
pen and a ream of parchment, dictate your tale into Siri, or
something else?  What do you like about your preferred tool?



My trusty MacBook Air. It goes with me when I’m waiting to pick up kids from extracurricular stuff, in doctor’s waiting rooms, on long car trips…it’s an extension of my consciousness by now! Tool wise, I love AutoCrit software. Best investment I ever made. 


* Do you keep the contents of your book private until you like the
form it has taken, or do you like to solicit early feedback from beta
readers and friends?



As soon as I have the first draft out of my head, I run it by my alphas to see if it sucks or not! My betas don’t get to see it until the later drafts. I have the best critique partners ever.  You can’t have them; they’re mine.


* Do you write in 3rd person past tense omniscient, 1st person
present tense, or some other combo of perspective and grammatical
tense?  How does this affect the ways in which you include the
thinking of your main character and, if relevant, the internal
thinking of other characters in your stories?  Is this something
you're consistent about or have you (for example) written some
stories as an omniscient narrator and some from a 1st person
narrator's vantage point?



I write in both. My first three novels are third person past/omniscient, but Dalí was my first person/past tense debut, other than a few short stories. I’m not a huge fan of present tense as a writer or a reader, with one notable exception: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.


* Who were and are your favorite authors?  Have they generally been
writers who write in the same genres that you write in?


Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula LeGuin, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Madeleine L’Engle, David Brin, Piers Anthony, Gregory McGuire, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Robert McCammon, JRR Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander…I could go on way too long!  I write sci-fi and fantasy of all flavors, so they’ve all influenced me in different ways. I am a lifelong, voracious reader. I make occasional forays into paranormal and historical romance, with a few well-loved literary fiction books.

* What has been the most useful feedback you've ever received about
your writing?


Every bit of feedback I receive is useful. This is why I value my editors and CP’s above all. Most recently, it was to pay attention to body parts, especially eyes, wandering off to do their own thing…LOL

* Have you ever tried cowriting or being part of a collaborative
writing experience?  Is that something you would recommend, or
recommend against?



I haven’t yet. I’ve only heard horror stories, but there’s proof out there that it can work with the right partnership.


E. M. Hamill: NineStar Press hosted author page, primary website

DALÍ will be available in print and in e-book format from Amazon.



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I am now echoed on DreamWidth, like many other LJ folks. My DW acct is here. Please friend/link me on DW if you are a DreamWidth user.

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ahunter3: (Default)
Naturally, once I had a publication offer from NineStar, I wanted to see who my colleagues were and get a sense of how my book would fit in among the rest of their line. NineStar is LGBTQ-centric but most of it is fiction with LGBTQ characters. My book is nonfiction but it's a narrative with (hopefully) the same kind of story arc and reader-identification with characters that makes fiction fun to read.

Anyway, one of the titles and descriptive blurbs caught my attention and I ordered it and, when it arrived, found myself quickly drawn into it. Yeah, I'm in good company :)

The main character in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL is a high school student named Sam. Sam's situation and experience is different on many simultaneous levels, I discovered, as that situation emerges a bit at a time. Sam's mother and teachers refer to him as "Amanda": Sam is transgender and is not out to anyone yet. Most transgender narratives follow the main character's musings and inner conflicts and put on display for us the process by which they come to realize they are transgender and need to come out and do something about it. We meet Sam as a person who has already done all that internal processing; he knows he's a guy, he's planning a post-graduation future in which he will escape the conservative Mormon-dominated Idaho town he's currently in and get himself to a more tolerant place. He's already made his way into a bar catering to gay lesbian transgender and crossdresser people (during a school field trip) and experienced what it was like to manifest outwardly as the person he is on the inside. And he's already thinking about hormones and surgeries.

In a previous review (Tea and Transition) I noted that it did not sit well with me to be deprived of that narrator's self-discovery process. In fact, it felt like I'd come in after the story's main drama, with her already self-identifying as transgender. That should, theoretically, have affected me the same way in THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL, but it didn't. I think it works as well as it does because Sam, despite his post-questioning confidence about his identity as one of the boys, is not generally out yet and is coping with daily experiences under the tension of being in girl drag and constantly misgendered, on the one hand, while being subjected to transphobic violence from a small contingent of hostile students who know his secret, on the other.

Stryker uses a concise canvas with a handful of well-developed ancillary characters: the teacher and secondary-story-narrator Todd Keegan; his sister with her own complex past, Julie, who also gets to narrate some chapters; Scarlet, his trainwreck of a mother; and his stunted brother Stevie. Other characters pass by in the background as part of the social scenery, but the main interactive tensions are between these people.

Switching the observational viewpoint from one character to another is a sophisticated and somewhat challenging approach to writing. It can be off-putting to the reader if the transitions aren't clear, creating confusion, and doing it well requires that the reader feel adequately comfortable behind the eyeballs of each character who narrates. There's a risk of context-switching within too short a sequence, usually because the author wants to reveal the internal thinking of more than one participant. At worst, this results in what authors and editors call head-hopping. But Stryker deploys it skillfully. Within the first couple sentences of each new chapter, the reader is made aware of who is telling the story, and it's done without boldface chapter subtitles. Sam is the primary vantage point from which we experience the tale, and his story is the central plotline; when we're inside Julie's or Todd's head, it is sometimes for the purpose of developing their stories and revealing to us things that Sam isn't present to see, but also on occasion to view Sam and his situation as it appears from the outside.

If I have any negative criticism to make of Stryker's writing, it's his tendency to describe a brief action snippet and then dive immediately into a long protracted internal monologue, often with a flashback to a previous incident, and then continue with the current action. It sometimes left me confused about what was happening in the current moment, requiring me to flip back and reread; and at times the action sequences were described without enough clarity about who had said what, where they were physically located, and what they would have seen or heard, so that I had some difficulty making sense of their actions and motivations. He does quite a good job describing people's internal consciousness, but describing scenes and people from an outside observer's viewpoint is something he does less well.

But there wasn't enough of that confusion and perplexity to keep me from turning the pages. The story itself, the situation in which Sam is embedded and the intrinsic tensions and conflicts thereof, creates a dramatic flow that held me and my attention sufficiently that I carried the book with me everywhere and read it pretty much nonstop from start to finish.

As has often been noted, there aren't enough stories about female to male transitioners. THE SIMPLICITY OF BEING NORMAL paints a very likable and admirable Sam, who is very much the hero of his own story.

The Simplicity of Being Normal. James Stryker. Albuquerque NM: NineStar Press (1970). Available digitally from NineStar or in print form from major retailers such as Amazon

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I am now echoed on DreamWidth, like many other LJ folks. My DW acct is here. Please friend/link me on DW if you are a DreamWidth user.

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