Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Writer Lois H. Gresh is one of the rare people working today who has not only been lauded by critics and peers (nominations for the Bram Stoker, Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, and International Horror Guild Awards) but has reached the New York Times Bestseller List multiple times. Lois is known for SF, The Weird, Horror, YA and also her Companion books for other popular worlds. Four stories from her collection ELDRITCH EVOLUTIONS received Honorable Mentions and one story was short-listed for YEAR’S BEST HORROR 2011 (ed., Ellen Datlow).
Her latest hot seller is DARK FUSIONS: WHERE MONSTERS LURK! (ed., Lois H. Gresh, PS Publishing, Nov. 2013), an anthology of weird fiction, dark science fiction, dark fantasy, and horror by, among others, finalists and winners of the Bram Stoker Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Arthur Ellis Award.
1.) How did you become involved with Book View Café?
A.) For the past 5-10 years, I’ve been suggesting to other writers that the SFWA website include an e-bookstore for professionally written science fiction and fantasy. As I envisioned it, active SFWA members could band together as a cooperative and sell their e-books. I saw no reason to give middlemen 70% (or more) of our profits simply to upload documents to the web. Had I not been employed 60 hours/week as well as writing full time, I would have tried to make this happen.
At WFC, I happened to share a room with Nancy Jane Moore, a member of BVC. I told her about my idea, and she told me about BVC. Apparently, a like-minded group of professional science fiction and fantasy writers had already banded together as a cooperative to sell their e-books. I immediately asked Nancy if I could join BVC, and she kindly passed my name along to the membership. So here I am, and thank you to Nancy and everyone else!
2) What is it about the BVC organization that appeals to you?
I like the idea of a cooperative of professional authors helping each other create, promote, and sell their own e-books. I’ve already been fortunate to have help from some incredibly nice people in BVC. That these people also happen to be SFF writers I’ve admired for a long time is an added bonus, and in many cases, quite a thrill.
As noted above, I see no reason to give e-publishers a huge percentage of authors’ profits simply to upload documents to the web. From what I’ve seen, e-publishers don’t add enough value to take this much money from authors. E-publishing contracts tend to “rape the writer,” as I call it. It makes more sense for us to work as a cooperative, help each other, and avoid “rape the writer” contracts.
3) What made you pursue writing fiction? Did any particular writer inspire you, and if so, who?
A.) As a child, if I dared whine that I was bored on rainy Saturdays, my mother would say, “Go read the dictionary. It’ll give you something to do.” I found that I loved the rhythm of words, and I became very fond of the thesaurus. I spent a lot of time reading library books as well as an ancient set of encyclopedias that my mother kept in the hallway outside my bedroom. My mother wanted to be an English teacher but gave up her dreams when she got married. She made sure I knew how to use “will” versus “shall” and “who” versus “whom” when I was in kindergarten.
My father constantly read science fiction novels from the library. These were all classics by men such as Hal Clement, Frederik Pohl, and Isaac Asimov. In his early teens, my father dreamed of becoming a science fiction writer. On Sundays, I watched Tarzan, Godzilla, Hercules, and other old science fiction movies on TV with him.
In addition to my mother’s English drills and my father’s love of science fiction, I grew up with another strong influence, a fascination with science. At age 6, I wanted to design rocket engines. By 13, I wanted to become a biochemist or geneticist, and this desire continued until I was in my early twenties. By then, I’d accidentally become an engineer-programmer, working 60 hours/week while attending college at night—for the first two years in chemistry before switching to computer science.
The classic science fiction writers of my father’s age inspired me to write stories with female scientists. I grew tired of reading about male scientists who did all the fun stuff while the girls poured coffee and fed the brains.
At age 9, I wrote a 55-page science fiction story; at 12, a 220-page “report” about ancient Egypt; at 16, a 250-page book about poverty; at 22, a 500-page novel; at 23, a 400-page novel; and during college classes, I wrote horror stories featuring my professors.
By the time I was in my early twenties, a girlie engineer who worked almost exclusively with men, I discovered a new crop of science fiction writers, including women.
But the writer who made me want to spend my nights writing my own stories was William Gibson. He was my hero. He was like a rock and roll star. He wrote hard-edged cyber stories that made all the metal in my lab come alive. I wanted to explore that terrain. It was very exciting.
Overall, I was strongly influenced by many writers, including but certainly not limited to AE van Vogt, HP Lovecraft, Jack Williamson, A. Merritt, Clifford D. Simak, Edwin A. Abbott, Robert E. Howard, Roger Zelazny, CL Moore, Henry Kuttner, William Hope Hodgson, Murray Leinster, Edgar Rice Burroughs, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Walter Jon Williams, Nancy Kress, Kathe Koja, Maureen McHugh, Ursula K. LeGuin, Allen Steele, Greg Bear, Terry Bisson, Anne Rice, Pat Cadigan, Ted Chiang, and James Patrick Kelly. I’m probably forgetting to mention a lot of other writers whose work I enjoyed, and if we shift forward in time, I can easily add a lot more names.
4) ELDRITCH EVOLUTIONS contains hard science fiction stories as well as dark fantasy, mysteries, horror, and humor. What led you to write in such diverse genres?
A.) Science almost always drives me, along with characterization. I like to tell stories about people and creatures, what drives and motivates them, how they change and why, how their actions influence events.
Early on, I thought my stories were too “weird” for the straight tastes of magazines such as Asimov’s and Analog. I thought of my stories as sitting on genre boundaries. I may have been wrong, I don’t know. Some of these “weird” science fiction stories are Where I Go, Mi-Go, Psychomildew Love, Mandelbrot Moldrot, Digital Pistil, and CAFEBABE.
In the past year, I’ve sold 12 weird science fiction and fantasy stories to anthologies such as MADNESS OF CTHULHU, SEARCHERS AFTER HORROR, BLACK WINGS III, BLACK WINGS IV, DARK FANTASTIQUE, etc.
5) Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story–or can you already see themes and phrasing that reoccur in your work?
A.) My voice has matured over time. In the beginning when I was selling only short stories, I experimented a lot with style and rhythm. A common theme was the need for freedom and independence.
In short form, I still experiment with style and rhythm but in different ways from the earlier work. The themes have become much more diverse.
After moving to book form, my style became more clipped and less experimental. My first novel, a thriller called THE TERMINATION NODE co-authored with Robert Weinberg, featured a female engineer-programmer struggling for freedom and independence. I concocted a financial crime for the book along with a backbone of technical detail. I followed with three young adult adventure-fantasy novels.
I’m currently working on a weird science fiction novel with a strong mystery-thriller element.
I tend to write very close to character. This means I sit inside the characters’ heads, I ride them, and they unleash the stories upon me. As the characters and I roll along, I oversee everything as an editor, but the characters are always in control. I try not to let them get out of hand.
6) What have you learned from your own writing? To what concepts, intentional or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers? (Tolkien’s species, such as hobbits and sentient trees, having tolerance for each other. Heroines and heroes with almost inhuman patience, etc.)
A.) This is a tough question. I know that my early writing alleviated a lot of personal pain. I laughed and cried while writing the three young adult CHUCK FARRIS novels. Some of the stories, such as SMOKESTACK SNOUT NEUROLOGY, are quite personal, and oh yes, I laughed and cried while writing that one.
My fiction definitely reflects my thoughts about how people should treat each other. For example, I strongly believe we should try to be kind and help each other, not for personal reward but rather because it’s the right thing to do. I strongly believe we should try to be ethical, meaning we don’t steal other peoples’ ideas while knifing them in the back, we don’t screw them over to get ahead or to give ourselves a good laugh. My heroes and heroines tend to reflect these ideals. My villains, of course, have entirely different standards of conduct, although they often think they’re on the moral high ground.
I understand pain, and this is probably why many of my stories feature characters who must overcome pain. I know how it feels to be paralyzed for years. I know how it feels to be the victim of stalkers and harassment, of people who pretend you don’t exist, of people whose joy comes from hurting others, of bigots, of greedy bullies.
On the flip side, I also understand happiness, and this is probably why many of my stories feature characters who strive to find happiness. I know how it feels to be loved. I know how it feels to love. I know how it feels to act with the best intentions only to fail.
I don’t think writing fiction has taught me these concepts, but it has helped me explore them. In the end, writing fiction is all about story and character.
7) Has writing taught you anything you didn’t expect?
A.) Writing requires constant learning. Even if I live to be 100 years old, which I highly doubt, I won’t know a tenth of what I’d like to know about writing.
I didn’t expect to be obsessed with writing for this long. My teachers always told me that I was destined to be a writer. In fourth grade, I told my teacher that I did not want to grow up to be a writer because “writers starve in the gutter.” I actively tried not to be a writer at the companies where I worked, but somehow, seemed to gravitate to writing everywhere I went. I’ve always said that writing is a sickness.
If you’re driven to write, you’re going to do it despite the difficulties. I had a 60-hour/week job, went to college at night, had two children, was a single mother, and wrote books and stories in the middle of the night simply because I felt compelled to do it. I don’t think I had any choice in the matter.
8) What do you do to spark your creativity?
A.) Not much. I vegetate. I take hot bubble baths. I swim laps. I watch rain. I watch birds. I like to daydream.
9) Do you still read for pleasure? Fiction or non-fiction?
A.) I read a great deal, both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve always been a bookaholic. I also read a lot of magazines in a variety of subjects.
10) Whose readers do you hope will like DARK FUSIONS: WHERE MONSTERS LURK! and ELDRITCH EVOLUTIONS?
A.) Anyone who likes intensely weird stories, traditional weird tales, dark science fiction, dark fantasy, and/or horror will enjoy DARK FUSIONS: WHERE MONSTERS LURK! There are some excellent stories in here by some fantastic writers.
Anyone who likes hard science fiction—that is SF with a lot of science in it—will probably enjoy ELDRITCH EVOLUTIONS. If you like post-cyberpunk, nanopunk, or even quantum-punk, I’m your girl.
There are also some very dark fantasy tales in the book, such as Wee Sweet Girlies, which somehow found its way onto Ellen Datlow’s short list for YEAR’S BEST HORROR 2011. There’s even a weird sword-and-sorcery tale called The Lagoon of Insane Plants.
Anyway, thank you for this interview. I’m honored and thrilled to be part of Book View Café.