-Interview by Desi D
- As someone who loves to travel, how has that inspired your writing? And do you have a favorite place that you’ve visited?
One of my books is called THE PILGRIM SOUL, and this is how I define myself. I love seeing new places, eating unfamiliar foods, meeting people who are not like me. I am at home nowhere and everywhere. The pandemic was particularly hard because all the places I wanted to visit, or revisit, were out of reach. So I started writing stories in which these places were transmuted into new planets or fantasy worlds. My latest novel, BLACK HOUSE, is about a house with infinite doors, each one opening into a new reality. This is how I imagine my own life: always looking for a new door to open.
As for favorite places, I am a city person, so even though I love wild nature (the icebergs of Greenland, the geysers of Yellowstone), it is big cities that stay with me and affect my writing. I lived in Hong Kong, whose phantasmagoric cityscape inspired my novel THE HUNGRY ONES. I lived in Venice, which generated a cycle of short stories, united by the watery magic of La Serenissima (the Most Serene One, which is how Venetians refer to their unique city). And I lived in London; and you know what they say about that city: If you are tired of London, you are tired of life. In every fantastic city in my books, there is a bit of London.
- What is it about speculative fiction that attracts you? And how would you describe your writing process?
Speculative fiction is true realism. We need fantasy to cope with, and understand, our strange and phantasmagoric reality. I started reading sci-fi as a child, and so I was ready for quantum computers and cloning. I always loved apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novels, so I was unfazed when the pandemic started. And what better guide to politics today than George Orwell’s 1984? Speculative fiction shines the light of our imagination into the darkness of our fears.
As for my own writing process, a lot of it is inspired by my dreams. I think it’s true for many writers. I start with a visual image that has stuck with me from last night. And then I tug at it and play with it until it unfolds into a story. I am not a plotter. I often don’t know how the story will end when I start writing. This means endless revisions and the fun of discovery.
I try to write every day but because I am working on many different projects at the same time, they tend to overlap and occasionally cancel each other out. But I cannot do it otherwise. Dreams come every night, and they are insistent.
- What author has been your biggest inspiration to your writing? And why?
When I say “Charles Dickens” in response to this question, people look at me strangely, even though I published several well-regarded academic articles about him. But really? A stodgy Victorian novelist? The point, though, is that I see Dickens as a fantasy writer. Greater than Tolkien, he created a world as strange, fascinating, and complete as Middle-Earth. The Dickens Universe has it all: sprawling cities; peculiar characters; violence, mystery, and melodrama. So yes, I am a Dickens fan.
But closer to home (and to our own time), there are several contemporary writers of dark fantasy and dark sci-fi who I regard as role models. China Miéville, the author of PERDIDO STREET STATION, is one of them. I disagree with him politically, but I admire the power of his imagination in depicting a vivid alternative universe populated by a whole menagerie of marvelous and alien creatures. And they are alien not only in their bodies but in their minds as well.
I am bored by monsters who talk like your next-door neighbor. Anybody can write about tentacles and jaws; it is much harder to write about creatures who think and feel differently from ourselves. Convincingly alien characters and cultures are quite rare. Miéville manages to evoke a real sense of wonder in his novels; and so does another writer I admire, Stanislaw Lem, the Polish author of SOLARIS and many other great sci-fi books. If I could ever write a novel of alien exploration half as good as Lem’s EDEN or FIASCO, I would be really proud of myself.
- Seeing that you are an academic, how has that influenced your writing? And, of course, what is the next story we can look forward to reading from you?
Being an academic who specializes in speculative fiction means you make a living by reading books that you would want to read anyway. So I consider myself incredibly lucky. The only problem is that you have to publish in scholarly presses and journals, especially in the first stages of your career, so there was a long period when I set fiction writing aside in order to focus on my academic books. I don’t regret it, and I am still working on several academic projects right now. But fiction writing and academic writing require different sets of skills. So sometimes it is hard to switch from writing about horror to writing horror. On the positive side, whatever I read can become grist for the mill of my scholarly publications.
As for my next book, I have finally embarked on writing my big sci-fi novel, tentatively called THE MEDUSA WORLD. It involves evolution, multiverse, and monsters. Seeing that my two forthcoming books are dark fantasy, I decided I need more science in my writing (though don’t worry, there will still be plenty of chills and scares). The forthcoming books are my collection, MY LADY OF PLAGUES AND OTHER GOTHIC FAIRY TALES (Weird House Press), and my novel, NIGHTWOOD (Vernacular Books). Both are strongly rooted in my love of fairy tales, and NIGHTWOOD echoes the war in Ukraine, though it was written before it started. Both of them will be out by the fall, and hopefully by that time, the first draft of THE MEDUSA WORLD will be done.