L.C. Spoering, a wonderful writer and blogger and also my best friend and writing partner, interviewed me for her blog last week. It’s well worth a visit and you should definitely follow her on twitter — be hipster and like her before she’s famous because, believe me, she will be!
Anyway, I found that the interview allowed me so say so much that was important to me — about issues like feminism and sexuality — that I want to repost it here.
Lorrie: Being as Laila and I spend 90% of our day in some kind of contact with one another, I asked her to answer some questions about subjects we’ve discussed both as writers and consumers of books and stories of all stripes. I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did.
Often decried as gratuitous or unnecessary, sex and otherwise adult scenes are something you are interested in writing, and include in your stories. How do you approach adult scenes in books?
Laila: I approach them as an intricate part of my character’s emotional journey. I actually find it quite fascinating that as a culture, we manage to do something quite unique to the experience of sex: we simultaneously place a general taboo on the subject and call it bad, dirty, wrong etc. and at the same time place a ridiculously exaggerated amount of importance on it, too. No wonder it is terribly complicated being a teenager.
For me, sex is part of the human experience. In certain circumstances it can be an extraordinary important part – in others, it is something rather ordinary and almost boring. Describing it in either way says a lot of about people or the state of the relationship which otherwise would have been lacking. I am not always a fan of the old adage of show don’t tell, but in sex matters I really feel cheated when it is all tell, or when the sexual component of a relationship is just ignored as something that can easily be omitted. And that after all the taboo and over-excitement drama! The fact is, that we all live in a culture that has made us acutely aware of our sex-life – so much in fact, that most people have some kind of insecurity or worries, secret fantasies and guilty secrets. That is such beautiful material to be explored.
I can easily imagine writing a story without sex in it — but then there is literally no intimate relationship present in this book. Otherwise I feel like I am omitting something. It doesn’t always have to drag on over pages, explicit descriptions can be stunning and hot and incredibly characterizing in just a paragraph or two, but I just disagree with glossing over them.
I would also like to loose some words on the idea gratuitous sex. I find that a difficult idea. Gratuitous seems to mean that it is just there for its own sake, but we only really notice it when it is bad gratuitous sex á la The Room. Or speaking in books, the kind where every 50 pages there is another sex scene that hardly varies from the last and doesn’t do anything for you – either to further the story, the character development or to turn you on. That is bad. Gratuitous sex where it isn’t boring – hell, I’m all for it! I like a multi-sensory reading experience where I’m laughing one moment, crying the next and then suddenly feel a tingling between my legs. All part of the human experience.
Lorrie: Many of the issues you approach in the book are viewed as more “contemporary,” such as anxiety and mental illness, self-harm and feminism. What did setting the story in a historical fantasy world do for your relation of these issues?
Laila: In a way, it helps to abstract them. You can write about them without a lot of preconceived notions and words that have become laden with prejudice and associations. Moira, for example, is clearly a feminist — but the word feminist is so laden with ideas and sometimes horrifying ideas about man-haters etc. The simple truth is that Moira has this notion that it simply doesn’t seem right that she is considered not intelligent enough to rule. She doesn’t have decades of a woman’s movement to support that notion but it is there. Similar things are true about her mental issues – by giving them names like anxiety, depression, self-harm etc. they are immediately pushed into boxes that we all naturally have. Setting it in a world without these words allowed me to describe them without giving them names, giving the reader the chance to let their compassion guide them. I find this a rather interesting instrument to talk about serious issues.
Lorrie: In order to be viewed as a “strong female character,” heroines often have to act MORE like a man (i.e. physical, aggressive, violent, etc). Moira is decidedly none of these things. What kind of efforts did you make to ensure she was both strong, yet uniquely herself at the same time?
Laila: It was important to me that Moira has her own mind. She is intelligent but because nobody expects her to be or needs her to be, that trait was never truly nourished. This is why her tutor Brock is so important to her and why they have an interesting relationship. At the same time, a lot of that undervalued potential ends up flowing into an almost petulant anger and frustration, searching for a way to be heard and understood.
The other thing that was important to me is her choosing Owain. For her, something as simple as love is rebellion, is leaving everything she knows for her freedom to choose a life for herself and to choose someone who doesn’t see her as a commodity. And with that one choice, she sets off on a path of empowering herself, which is something really wonderful to write about across this series. I don’t see it as him saving her, they are choosing each other, and the consequences inherent in that decision.
Lorrie: Gender roles play a large part in your story, as well as most historical fantasy. Many of the female characters in the book (Maeve and Niamh in particular) seem to eschew perceptions of what a woman can and can’t do. How did you approach that in the historical context, without making it seem glaringly contemporary?
Laila: Partly, there is that wonderful device in speculative fiction that allows you to simply transcend the historical context. If this was medieval history, characters like them could not exist. However, in By the Light of the Moon, Maeve and Niamh are fae. They come from a distinctly different culture. I have left a lot about the fae nebulous for a reason, letting the characters speak for it more than anything else, but from Maeve and Niamh – and even from Moira’s ancestral memory that something about her assumed subservience is wrong – it is easy to deduce that for Fae the distinction between male and female gender roles is far less stark. They are more fluid, value skills, beauty and knowledge rather than gender and they display the same fluidity in their sexuality. It is interesting to contrast that against such a patriarchal world as the human system.
Laila: We’ve been writing together! I’m going to make you talk more about it so I don’t look like I’m tooting my own horn.
Laila: We have indeed! Quite a lot actually. We have been working on two projects now (two and half-dreamed up one, really). The first was a very sweet, romantic bdsm story. In it’s first draft, that is actually finished. We have to go back to editing soon, and it’s making my heart ache it’s so sweet. And at the moment, we are writing something that we’d call a New Adult zombie post apocalypse novel — because everybody likes a good zombie fighter! … Right? It’s a lot of fun, packed with angst and emotions, and all those drama shenanigans.
We are also planning on putting together a kind of nerd/geek/dork porn anthology – basically porn about people like us and we people we like. Which now sounds a little self-serving come to think of it, but we think this just has to exist.