By this point, many of you have probably already soon this meme running around the Internet. Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, here are the Rules:
1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me!”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will post the answers to the questions (and the questions themselves) on your blog or journal.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions. And thus the endless cycle of the meme goes on and on and on and on…
This interview of me is courtesy of friend and scholar-writer Peter M. Ball. Feel free to ask me to interview you – but be warned, I ask tough questions!
1) You’ve recently signed on as a columnist for Fantasy Magazine – what can we expect in upcoming columns?
Much the same type of stuff you see here – a bit of bread, a bit of magic. I’ll definitely cover prose fiction and comics quite a bit. And with Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse starting up, The Sarah Connor Chronicles heating up, and Battlestar Galactica wrapping up, it’ll be hard to resist the occasional foray into television. One column I have planned will be titled something like “Battle of the Comic Book Mega-Crossovers: Final Crisis vs. Secret Invasion.” Another likely column will look at Boy Meets Boy and how its treatment of LGBT issues makes it, to some extent, a speculative novel, despite its lack of any overt fantastic element. Some will be light; others will delve deeper into the So what? of our fiction.
2) You write Spec-fic, which has a long history of being a very white, hetero kind of genre. How does that history affect your reading and writing within the SF genre?
Some people get taken out of a story when, say, the physics of a cannonball is handled inaccurately. The same thing happens to me when I see the treatment (or invisibility) of a character that’s queer, of color, or female colored by some sort of prejudice. I recently watched Night of the Living Dead (the original) for the first time, and while it was probably ahead of its time in featuring a Black protagonist, the helpless screaming female characters were pretty non-credible to me. I feel the same way when I re-read classic Heinlein novels, where the women are all secretaries waiting to transcribe Jubal Harshaw’s stories while posing naked (or some-such). When that sort of thing happens, the writer has allowed a learned prejudice to make his or her characters less human. That not only contributes to a certain group’s marginalization, it also makes the story a weaker story – less true-to-life, less complex, and less interesting.
As a writer, my cast of characters tends to be more diverse than much of SF has been. Part of that is because of my own experiences as a gay, multi-ethnic Puerto Rican guy, and because the world I know is a diverse one. But partly it’s also because the themes that interest me connect to issues of identity and marginalization, which touch so deeply on the core of our humanity. A lot of early, golden-age SF is less interesting to me because it largely misses those big themes. In more recent decades – starting with the New Wave, really – we’ve seen SF go into that territory – which seems a natural fit, really. What better way to explore gender than by looking at an alien culture that doesn’t have gender in the human sense (as LeGuin does in The Left Hand of Darkness)? What better way to explore race and class than by extrapolating to a near future where racial and class divides have deteriorated to the point of violent anarchy across the country (as Butler does in Parable of the Sower)? What better way to look at monstrous adolescent bullying than through a monster story (as Kelly Link does in “Monster”)? That’s the sort of stuff I’m most interested in, as both a reader and a writer.
(King of the world, sparkly vampires, and “the gay question” below the fold…)
3) You’ve been named king of the world for a day, and you get to pick one book you can make everyone in the world read. What’s your choice, and why are we all reading it?
First I’d try to figure out how the world had spontaneously erupted into a medieval monarchy on the global scale, and I’d set up a task force to find the best way to transition to a more transparent and democratic system – ideally before the end of the day, before some other, less enlightened dude is made King for the day and forces everybody to read Ayn Rand. Am I taking the question too literally? Okay, I would have everyone read Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, an amazing history of the U.S. civil rights movement, because it not only teaches us about our history, but about our humanity. Wait, no, then the entire world would resent me for assigning them a 1,000-page history book. How about Manuel Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, because it says pretty much everything that needs to be said about love and revolution – and what else is there?
4) You’ve expressed disappointment over Twilight after initially hearing about the new “sparkly vampire romance” subgenre. What was it that appealed to you about the version of that subgenre that existed in your head and why do you think it was missing in the book/film?
Recently, my IQ has been questioned because of my failure to appreciate the complexities of Twilight, so for the record, I actually found much of the book quite entertaining, especially the details about Cullens vampire family, e.g., their super-powered baseball games played during thunderstorms. I also liked the fact that Bella was quite nonplussed about many of the fantastic things she encountered – I’m a big fan of nonplussed. But there were two big things that disappointed me: (1) Despite living in the post-Buffy era, Bella was a largely passive female heroine; and (2) Somehow the term “sparkly vampire” made me think there would be irony.
5) I’ll admit that I came up with a bunch of questions about sexuality while putting this list together, though I discarded many of them as unsuitable because I didn’t want your sexuality to overshadow other aspects of your writing and personality. It does, however, bring me to the final question (in which I hope I’m not being condescendingly straight and muddleheaded, but probably am) – as an out, politically active gay man, would you prefer to have your sexuality at the forefront of any discussion about your work or leave it as one aspect of your life that informs what you do?
(Some time you’ll have to show me those other questions you self-censored, I’ll bet they were pretty interesting.) Basically you’re asking a sophisticated version of the question, “Are you a gay writer or a writer who happens to be gay?” I am totally a gay writer, dude; there’s nothing that “happened to” about it. My experiences as a gay man – of homophobia, of coming out, of having to question and overcome the assumptions and norms of a heterosexual world in order to self-actualize and even just to exist – have all had a profound impact on my life, and that’s something I draw on frequently in my work. In nearly every story, really, whether by overtly exploring gay themes or in more subtle ways.
Of course, I don’t want people to only think of me like, “Oh, Ben Francisco? Oh yeah, he’s that gay writer guy, right?” mainly because that’s not terribly interesting. But if they say, “Oh yeah, he’s that gay writer who does the weird surrealist stuff with the wry humor and the subtle social commentary,” then that would be perfectly fine by me.
All fiction is really just a long conversation. I definitely see myself as being in conversation with – and drawing upon – lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender fiction, as well as mainstream SF and Hispanic literatures from both the U.S. and Latin America (especially the magic realism stuff). Which is just a fancy way of saying that when I’m writing, I have a lot of toys to play with.