Saturday, February 27, 2010

M.K. Hobson on the grind and glory of writing

Meet Mary, aka M.K. Hobson. She's a creator of excellent humorous science fiction and fantasy, a member of Broad Universe and great fun to kick around with. Her first novel, Native Star debuts this fall closely followed by the second in the duology, The Desired Poison. She's the first to experience an interview with me face to face with my Blackberry recording. Email interviews are less work (for me, at least), but they're less interactive. See what you think.

(Photo by James W. Fiscus)

AW: When and how did your journey to speculative fiction begin? Both as a reader and a writer?

MKH: I definitely started reading speculative fiction quite young. Mostly starting with fantasy. Well, there was TV, obviously. I loved Fantasy Island. That was my favorite TV show when I was a kid. I thought Mr. Roarke was so freaking sexy. He was like my first crush I ever had. The first fan fic I ever wrote was fantasy island fan fic. That's a little embarrassing. I started reading, Ursula Le Guin, (The Earth Sea Tales were huge when I was probably 10, 11), a lot of Piers Anthony, which I just thought was absolutely hilarious. I thought the Xanth books were the sine qua non of fantastic, wonderful writing.

I found a little bit of what I liked in everything. I liked the humor of the Xanth books. I liked the beautiful writing of the Ursula K. Le Guin books. I liked the historical detail of the Little House on the Prairie books. But it was all just pieces. So, I guess, as a writer, I wanted to take all the elements that I really liked and make something out of them that I wanted to read.

AW: So when did you start writing?

MKH: I remember I used to write in notebooks when I was probably seven or eight. I would write stories and novels, as long as a novel was for me at that age in lined notebooks. When I was 10 or 12, my Mom brought home an Ozborn word processor. Remember those Osborn word processors, there was no operating system on it, you had to insert a floppy drive in it for it to have an operating system. She brought this thing home and I was agog. Actually, there was an intermediate stage between the notebook and the word processor, my Mom had a Selectric typewriter. There was something magical about typing.

And then she brought home the word processor. I just wanted to be on that thing all the time.

AW: Does it seem to you that women authors tend to put romance into their fiction? I believe there are more men reading SF than women so I write for them. And I find that I read mostly male authors. Is it a struggle for women to write for men?

MKH: It's not just romance. Women write about relationships.

In a lot of the sci-fi short fiction I've written, I've made conscious decisions keeping a male audience in mind. One of the stories I wrote for F and SF is called "Powersuit," and it is just a humorous little science fiction piece about a guy and his AI and it's told from a masculine point of view. It's a very masculine science fiction story and I found myself making choices in that story that I actually question like, 'I'm not really sure I like the way I'm depicting this woman in this story because she's kind of your typical sex object a bit,' but for some reason I was thinking that that's the audience that I'm writing for so I'm going to go a little more in that direction. And again, I don't know if that's the right choice. I don't know if that's an honorable choice to make but I think what you've put your finger on is very real.

And I definitely think that women are much more readers of fantasy as a category. I agree, men or women writing science fiction don't tend to think of women as being their readers. They follow the tropes and the expectations of what they think a male reader is going to want.

We live in a patriarchal culture; men are better at writing to the expectation of what is good writing. What is "good writing" is what is taught in colleges and what is decided on by critics. And critics and professors are mostly male.

There are female science fiction writers like Mary Rosenblum, for example. Louise Marley is fantastic. And Brenda cooper. I can think of four or five female science fiction writers in the Pacific Northwest alone, who are very good.

It's interesting, too, that they all write under female names. When I started writing science fiction, I very carefully chose a gender-neutral pseudonym because at that point I was writing a lot more sci-fi than fantasy. I thought that I had to do that to attract the male audience. Now when someone goes by their initials, they're assumed to be a woman.

I would love to hear about what those authors had to struggle with in terms of the expectations because they all write very hard science fiction.

AW: Where do you stand on the Google gobble?

As far as I can tell, it mostly affects people who already have stuff in print. As a relatively new writer, going through and looking at what I had in the Google database, it was pretty limited. It's a really hard question because I have many, many, many a time benefited from the Google search of books, to look up a citation or something. I'm not reading the whole book. The question becomes would I have gone out and bought the book to get that information? No. Is the world a better place because I'm able to find that information? I think so. It's definitely a better place for me. How much is it really impacting the people that actually put in the work? That's the question. Because, like I said, I wouldn't have gone out and bought the book so they're not losing any money on me. But I think over the aggregate it is an issue.

It's part of a much larger issue which is as creative individuals, as creators, who take the product of our mind and hope to get some tangible benefit out of it, we're being asked more and more to give a lot of our stuff away free, it's that loss leader mentality. And the problem with that is that there's just so much being given away for free. I do a lot of the research into class and class consciousness and it seams to me the creative people are being asked to sacrifice the most. And they're the ones who are already getting to be the most marginalized. Where we were once paid for our stories, now we're expected to be glad of and settle for the exposure. That disturbs me.

How that applies to Google? I think that Google's the camel's nose in the tent. We still have bills to pay. If I knew that I was going to have my housing paid for and my healthcare paid for and I lived in some kind of socialist paradise, I would say fine, I will just write beautiful things and everyone can read them, but we don't live in that world. We live in a horrible free market economy.

AW: Your process isn't linear. Can you describe it for my readers?

MKH: It comes to me in bits and pieces. I don't like the whole, 'it's my muse, it's my muse,' I think that's silly but definitely nothing comes to me and is revealed all at once. Light shines on different parts. And I think, "Oh, yeah, that would totally happen between those characters," and so I would write that scene. And that illuminates another area. For me, approaching a story is like walking thru a dark room with a flashlight. There was an Atari game called adventure. And u would go into this dark room and you would know nothing about the room or the maze or anything until you've gone through it. Once you've gone through enough of the maze, then things are revealed to you. I have no idea what a story is going to be until I start walking through it with my flashlight and then I know what feels right, like choosing the solid stepping stone to cross the river.

AW: Does it ever get away from you? How do you organize all the bits and pieces?

MKH I get very frozen at forks in the road. It's a lot like the iceberg, 95% is cogitating and working things through, and then 5% is writing. For me, the process is grinding; thinking as far ahead as I can, like several moves ahead in a chess game to figure out which way to go. You have to get to that one moment that stops you in your tracks.

AW: Then you work backwards sometimes?

MKH: Yeah, and it can take a long time to find the right course. I think a lot of people have this sort of process but it's not talked about as much. Writing 1K words a day is easier to blog about.

AW: I think it goes back to that inspiration thing we discussed earlier. If we're not inspired and crank out words to make a quota, it can be fodder that never makes the cut.

MKH: I never get big inspirations. I don't get inspired for a whole book. I get inspired for a scene. I envision a conversation or a fight scene.

AW: Do you start with plot, world, situation or character?

MKH: I think my first foundation of what I write is the "what if?" or the juxtaposition of two odd concepts. Like my book has 19th century America with magic. Taking two disparate concepts and fitting them together was very interesting to me. In my short fiction it's often not only juxtaposing different concepts but exploring interesting things in a different light. Like one of the stories I'm doing right now is about 1930s films with magic – a fantasy element to it. I find the secret true story thing fascinating. Everybody wants the real story to be more interesting than it actually was.

Learn more about M.K. Hobson.

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1 comment:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Informative interview!

I do think men and women write sci-fi differently. That said, my first book focuses more on the two main characters. Of course, there's no romance involved. Actually, there's really no women in the book, either!