Wednesday, August 9, 2017

QSR Author Interview: Ana Mardoll

Please give a warm welcome to Ana!!

Q. Tell us a little about your books!

I’d love to! I have two lines of books, my fairytale retellings (Pulchritude, and an upcoming release I can’t talk about just yet! but am very excited about!) and my Earthside paranormal series (Poison Kiss, Survival Rout, more to come!). Both lines delve into my lifelong interest in magic and fairies, while dealing with queerness and issues like survivorship and rape culture. I like to write grim books with happy endings to them—although admittedly it took me a little while to hit that stride, ha!

Q. What made you write the stories you did? What do they mean to you?

Oh gosh. I worry that if I start navel gazing, I won’t come back up for air! Content notes for domestic violence below.

Pulchritude was my first novel and in some ways was a therapy book for myself. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, heavily seasoned with domestic violence. I’d just come out of an abusive marriage where I’d been physically trapped with someone I loved and yet who hurt me, and Beauty and the Beast resonated with that place in my heart. I wanted to show how a lover can be both a “good person” and yet do horrifically abusive things from a place of selfishness and control. In many ways Pulchritude is a redemption story, but not one with a happy ending. Pulchritude is also an early tree ring in my queer journey and it painfully shows; one of the characters is a blink-and-you-might-miss-it lesbian who is incredibly shy around women. She’s achingly subtle in part because I was still so scared of my own sexuality and afraid of coming out after being brought up in a bigoted environment.

But after Pulchritude, I realized I wanted happy endings in my books because I was coming to accept my own queerness and my need for happy, affirmative, non-shaming stories embracing my queer identity. If Pulchritude was me working through my abusive marriage, Poison Kiss was about my escape from an abusive upbringing and my embrace of a bisexual label for myself. My protagonists Rose and Lavender—who are both wonderfully bisexual—escape a world of control, forced heteronormativity, and sexual violence. They come out from fairyland to find an accepting “earthside” community of like-minded queer outcasts and survivors, and they work together with their unique magical powers to fight back against the fairy forces who seek to recapture them. It’s a straight-up unapologetic paranormal romp, but there’s allegorical elements of my own captivity as a kid in a violently anti-queer community.

Survival Rout, the sequel to Poison Kiss, uses those same elements of captivity to explore rape culture in a setting which is superficially set in fairyland but metaphorically an exploration of my first college experience. Men and women were heavily segregated at my Christian school and in many ways we were trapped—my dorm had the most incredible security features for locking down girls at night to make sure we weren’t out having sex—and yet in the midst of these trappings of purity culture, rape was rampant and heartbreakingly commonplace. Survival Rout focuses on a group of girls who, despite being trapped in this environment of purity and rape, fight back and use their powers to escape. Once out, they surprise their boy allies by not being as passive as previously assumed. It’s a book about power differentials between groups, and how allies can be genuinely good people and still not “get it” sometimes. One of the boys is a good guy who would never hurt a girl, but still has to be brought around to understanding the sheer depth of anger the girls have towards the boys who did hurt them.

My two upcoming works—a fairytale anthology and the third Earthside book—are about my transgender identity as a nonbinary trans person and my identity as a fat feminine person in a world that isn’t always kind to us. I’m very excited about these books and just need to write faster!

Q. What are some of your favourite things to read in queer books?

My favorite stories are huge ensemble casts that work together. X-Men stories, Star Trek stories, stories with lots and lots of people who are all weird and unique and who solve puzzles by combining those weird unique skillsets in new and exciting ways. That’s what I gravitate towards in my reading and writing: big ensemble queer casts where everyone is special and unique and so very queer. I like communities and cooperation and happy endings wrested from a harsh world intent on hurting us. Grimdark but with hope and triumph at the end. Hopebright? Is that a word? Can we make it a word? I want all the fat and queer and disabled characters to have lovely happy endings together.

Q. Got any fun summer reading plans?

I know this sounds so incredibly trite but I want to read Lord of the Rings again. Trungles did a read-through on twitter (which was lovely and the storify is glorious) and it reminded me how much I enjoyed Tolkien as a kid. I haven’t read the books since I was a baby—I’ve seen the movies and played the video games and I know the content, but I haven’t read the actual original words in forever—and I’d really like to go back and see how those books influenced me and where I can do better in my fantasy writing. I just have to steel myself to get through all the singing.

Q. Tell us one of your favourite experiences with someone who’s read your book.

The funny thing about writing books me is that when I set one free into the world, I don’t think about it much. I go from an intense one- or two-year time period where the book is my entire life and then set it free and move on to other things. So it’s always beautifully surprising when people message me about my books. I’ve had bisexual and polyamorous women contact me in tears to say how much Poison Kiss gave them the f/f/m triad relationship they needed to see in their lives. I’ve had abuse survivors write me about Pulchritude to say how much their experiences resonated with mine. Their messages are so touching and humbling and remind me why I do this; I really do write because I want to put words out in the world that people like me are thirsty for. Pictures of ourselves, doing amazing and magical things.

Q. I want queer vampires to become a thing in 2020. What is a thing you would love to see in queer books in the future?

Oh my god, I have all the feels about queer vampires. I have a WIP in my head, with a little dabbled on paper, with a lesbian trans woman vampire and her beautiful fat human Wiccan girlfriend and they fight crime (as naturally you would!) but I just need the time to get all the words to line up and march. I love noiry angsty vampire fiction and it is just so very much our turn to have fun in the sandbox here. I always feel so sad when people talk about vampires—or really any genre—being ‘played out’ when that genre still very much needs queer rep.

Speaking of, where are all the queer cozy mysteries? My mother loves cozy mysteries and I would like so very much to sneak some queer ones into her TBR pile. That’s the thing I love about queer fiction, the way it’s like a Trojan Horse onto the Kindles of bigotry. It’s harder to hate someone you’ve come to love for being an amazing character, and it’s harder to hate yourself when you see someone just like you on the page. That’s one reason why I try to keep my cover art very chaste and “stealthy”; my books are books I would have loved to read as a kid and would’ve sneakily checked out from the library under the veil of plausible deniability.

For my own books, I’d like to produce more and better ace and aro rep in the future. Earthside has ace and aro characters quietly in them, and an acearo character I strongly personally identify with, but I was still closeted to myself when I wrote the first two books and I fell into some stereotypes that I know hurt some readers. I want to fix that moving forward with better rep and with more rep all over so that no one person reads as “the” only way to be ace or aro. This goal is as exciting and scary for me as my First Bisexual Character and my First Trans Character were; it’s always thrilling and terrifying when I write myself onto the page and worry whether the self-portrait I’m painting is a masterpiece or a mess.

Q. What’s your favourite recent queer read? What queer book are you looking forward to?

I really, really want to read Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller; the protagonist is supposed to be a genderfluid assassin which sounds like the best thing ever. I’m a wee bit trepidatious because I’ve heard mixed reviews but honestly the big reason I’m waiting is because I’m trying to push to finish my own genderqueer project and time has just been flying by, ha. I’m saving Mask of Shadows as a reward for the end.

The most recent queer book I read was Snake Eyes by Hillary Monahan and the protagonist resonated with me so deeply that I honestly sobbed for a day afterwards because I just need more of this and forever and also retroactively as a kid, please. It’s a paranormal kitchen-sink urban fantasy book—which is my favorite and why I write my own paranormal settings—with a protagonist who is a lesbian woman who also possesses two working penises because she’s half-snake. It’s complicated. But she’s perfect and I adore her and she just hits me right in my genderqueer heart feels and the book is an amazing portrait of familial abuse and why and how it’s so hard to combat and overcome. FEELS.

Q. What’s something you always want to say in interviews but no one ever asks?

Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for using semicolons or adverbs.

Q. Favourite summer drink?

PINK LEMONADE. The minute the temperature spikes, I’m digging the pitcher out of the cabinet above the fridge and measuring out the pink dust and tap water and trying to get the ratio just right. It tastes like summer and childhood to me, and I can’t get enough. Then autumn will come around and the pitcher goes right back into the cabinet for the next seven months, ha. Sense memory is such an odd thing.

Q. Favourite thing to do on a rainy summer day?

This is going to sound silly, but I do my best writing on rainy days. I live in Texas and rain is a rare luxury here, so it’s always been a beautiful sound to me. Every time it rains here, you can hear the relief in people’s voices. “Lotta rain today.” / “We need it.” The bliss contained in that simple six-word exchange is so hard to convey to someone who hasn’t lived here. Rain kissing the driveway and pattering against the fireplace flue is the most relaxing thing in the world.

So when it rains, I write. If I can’t write that day because of a pain flare-up, I’ll read. I would always read on rainy days as a child. One of my fondest memories as a child is being bundled up with wet hair from the rain in my pink bedspread and reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Rain reminds me of those getaways, of being able to slip into another world through the power of words.

Ana Mardoll is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with two spoiled cats. Her favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. She is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories.

Aside from reading and writing, Ana enjoys games of almost every flavor and frequently posts videos of gaming sessions on YouTube. After coming out as genderqueer in 2015, Ana answers to both xie/xer and she/her pronouns. Find her at www.AnaMardoll.com, on twitter as @AnaMardoll, on Youtube at www.YouTube.com/c/AnaMardoll, and on Patreon.

The Poison Kiss and Survival Route art in this post was created by Laya Rose who you can also find @layahimalaya. It's gorgeous, and if I hadn't included art from the person who made the art for the cover of Chameleon Moon, Luci might actually have flown to Canada and murdered me.

Thank you so much for joing us Ana!

Peace and popsicles,
Laina

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