by Maggie Slater
By day, a hard-working legislative editor, and by night a fiction maven, Eugie Foster is the Nebula award-winning author of “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast.” Her fiction has appeared in a wide range of magazines, from here with us at Apex Magazine to Realms of Fantasy, Drabblecast, Cicada, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Interzone, and many more. This issue of Apex Magazine features her fabulous tale of vengeance, karma, and a little bamboo, “Trixie and the Pandas of Dread.” To learn more about Ms. Foster and her upcoming projects, visit her website at eugiefoster.com.
About “Trixie and the Pandas of Dread”:
APEX MAGAZINE: “Trixie and the Pandas of Dread” is such a fun, dark tale. I particularly loved the intermingling of technology and religious dogma. I’ll get the perfunctory question out of the way first: What initially sparked the idea for this tale?
EUGIE FOSTER: First of all, thank you so much. There’s a great uncertainty factor with humor, at least for me, especially with dark humor, and I’m always particularly delighted and relieved when my forays into it are well received.
As for the initial inspiration for “Trixie,” it was the end of Georgia’s 2012 legislative session, and as is the case for every end-of-session (for my day job, I’m a legislative editor for the Georgia General Assembly), I was in a heightened state of alertness/boredom, somewhat slaphappy, and very short on sleep. I happened upon an online article about real-life acts of comic book vigilantism, and one act in particular snagged my attention. A professional football player got drunk and, without warning or provocation, started punching innocent people. A random bystander—smaller, shorter, way less brawny fellow—intervened, ’cause y’know, it’s wrong to assault people. Also, one of the assaulted happened to be a woman, which really offended bystander guy’s sense of right-and-goodness. Football player, backed up by his football-playing chums, took a swing at him. Bystander guy subsequently stunned everyone by knocking football player on his ass (whereupon, I chortled gleefully). Turns out bystander guy’s a UFC lightweight champion. And, of course, someone got the whole thing on video and posted it on YouTube (more chortling from me), which I, obviously, had to see. The video was grainy and low quality, but it was still full of comeuppance goodness, which kept me merrily chortling along… until I started reading the comments. They were a litany of racist profanity. Seems the football player was white and the UFC lightweight champion was not, which outraged some members of the Bigots R Us club who were of the opinion that a drunk white guy punching women is a-okay, but a non-white guy who stands up to said white guy is an unbearable affront to their manhood. And also uppity.
So yeah, I needed an outlet for vindictive catharsis. Voila, “Trixie.” Also, I think I might be on a general vengeance-theme kick, writing-wise.
AM: If you were tapped by the Karma Committee, what kind of goddess would you be, and what would you choose for your own vahana?
EF: I’d like to say that I’d be a munificent goddess of the arts, spreading joy and goodwill, but If I’m being honest, I have to admit I’d be more like Trixie. Most days, my cynical and stabbity impulses overwhelm my “glass is shiny and half-full, yay!” ones. As for my vahana, I’d want blue bunnies with wings, bright button eyes, and venomous fangs. They’d eat red velvet cake and cinnamon candy.
AM: Writing humorous stories can be a real challenge for some authors, often degrading into bad puns and painful attempts to be witty, but this is clearly not the case for you. When you approach writing a story like “Trixie” does the humor come out naturally from the first moment of inception, or is it something you have to pay specific attention to as you go along?
EF: Again, thank you! I love funny. It’s one of my favorite things to read (or watch). But compared to my body of non-funny work, I don’t write that much of it. As much as I love it, humor is so hard to pull off because it’s completely subjective. I’m really in awe of writers who can maintain it over a sustained period. I usually have to produce it in frantic bursts of inspiration, like I’m racing myself to finish before the funny well taps out. It’s a little Zen, a little superstitious, and a lot of swearing.
About Writing in General:
AM: Many authors begin their writing careers as a hobby pursued in their spare hours. What was the spark or the incentive to begin to treat your own writing as a professional pursuit?
EF: Well, I always knew I wanted to be a writer, side effect of growing up in a library, I think. But it wasn’t until I took Ann Crispin’s writers workshop at Dragon*Con in 2000 that I started approaching it professionally. It was really enlightening, having a successful professional systematically lay out the publishing industry: expectations, standards, procedures, guidelines, agents, Yog’s Law, everything really. It de-mystified the process, which gave me the courage to charge right in.
AM: No matter how successful one becomes, it seems that having a writing career goes hand in hand with coping with rejection. How do you cope when a story or a pitch is rejected, and what advice would you give to aspiring authors coping with more rejection than success in the early stages of their career?
EF: I always tell new writers that a thick skin is essential in this industry and to expect rejection. That way, when the acceptances come in, they’re a wonderful, thrilling surprise—which is so much better than periodic episodes of soul-crushing disappointment. On the practical front, I recommend having the next market(s) already picked out as part of the submission process. Then, when the rejections come in, you just address the e-mail/envelope to the next market and launch that baby right out again. Decreases the opportunity for stewing and soul-crushing disappointment.
And, when all else fails, there’s chocolate-covered potato chips and booze.
AM: Is there a general length you find you tend to write by default if you’re not aiming for a specific word count? Do you find that you tend to write a lot and then cut back during editing, or do you tend to write somewhat sparsely in first drafts and add more later?
EF: There was a time when I’d be able to give you a concrete answer, but these days, especially after I finished my big novel push, not so much. I used to write pretty solidly in the short story range, but I find myself writing longer and longer of late. I was fine with it when I found myself hitting novelette lengths with greater frequency, but I’m less happy about cranking out novellas. They’re uncomfortably deep into the red zone of the “how sellable is this, anyway?” spectrum.
AM: What is your editing process like? Do you tend to use outside readers, or mostly stick it out alone? Do you tend to rewrite a lot? When it comes to editing, is there any specific advice that you’ve found particularly valuable?
EF: When I was getting started, I used to rely on a lot of critiquers. And I very much advise new writers who are still honing their writers’ instincts to join a critique group like Critters (http://critters.org) or OWW (http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/). But nowadays, I don’t have as much time to return crits as I used to, and I feel guilty asking folks to read my stuff when I can’t return the favor. So I tend to depend on just a couple readers for feedback, especially my husband, Matthew, who is my eternal, long-suffering, and much put upon first-reader.
As for my editing process, I do a lot of rewriting and cutting. I’m a pretty ruthless editor in general, and I typically assume any first draft I put down is a mess. I’ve found it useful-unto-crucial to take a few days away from a work before starting on a major editing pass or rewrite, especially if I’ve been intensely fixated on it for any length of time. A day or two’s distance frequently provides essential clarity and perspective.
AM: How—besides the obvious time limitations—has having a day-job influenced your writing? Do you find that having a steady income outside of writing allows you to explore, experiment, and play more in your fiction pursuits because it alleviates the pressure to produce fiction for a living?
EF: For me, having a day job is essential. It’s not just the stable income—although, don’t get me wrong, that’s definitely vital (as is having health care benefits)—but I seem to need the routine. Getting up at the same time, sitting down to work at set hours, having an established “step away from computer now/go home/eat food” time keeps me grounded, productive, and chipper. I was unemployed for about eighteen months several years back, and I found myself pretty quickly spiraling into scary-bad habits. I’d work fourteen-to-sixteen hours straight at my computer, fall comatose, and then wake up to do it again. Things like eating regular meals and sleeping normal hours fell by the wayside, and I began losing track of time, with days beginning to blur together. It wasn’t healthy, and I wasn’t happy.
Also, the particular day job I have is fundamental for happy-writer-me. My previous one was a soul-sucking, cubicle monkey gig, which I was desperate to get out of, but my current one is fabulous, very writer-friendly. Interestingly, the number of uber-gritty horror stories I’ve written since escaping cubicle monkey hell has gone way down…
AM: In the past, you’ve written a lot in the horror and science fiction genres. What would you personally consider the scariest horror idea/monster/theme to explore? What—in regards to science fiction—would you consider the most interesting concept/setting/technology?
EF: The human mind—cognition, personality, emotion, behavior—has always fascinated me. I’ve forever considered it the most fertile backdrop for horror as well as sensawunda SF.
I’m currently on a sleep research, dreaming, nightmares, and lucid dream theory jag, I suspect due to my perpetual and ongoing battle with sleep. Either I’m suffering from profound insomnia or oversleeping, sometimes up to fourteen hours a day, and still not feeling rested when I wake up. And I’ve noticed that my dreams often correspond to what sleep dysfunction I’m currently enduring. My dreams are more vivid and extensive when I’m over-surfeited, and they also tend to be more unpleasant. Whereas I don’t seem to dream at all between bouts of insomnia, but when I do, they’re quite mundane. It’s made me interested in the relationship between dreams and mental states, if and how dreams can be manipulated by the dreamer, and the stuff of dreams and nightmares—which, actually, can qualify as both horror and science fiction, depending upon the application.
AM: You’ve written a great deal of nonfiction regarding writing for children and young adults. For authors looking to break into that market, what would you consider the most important thing to consider when developing a story for that audience?
EF: Don’t write down to your audience. Don’t be afraid to challenge them. Children are remarkably savvy and sophisticated. They can tell when they’re being condescended to and won’t tolerate it any more than an adult reader would.
AM: I’m sure I’m not the only Apex reader who is always on the lookout to learn new things and expand my horizons. If you could recommend one nonfiction book that particularly sparked your interest, what would it be?
Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture, edited by Stephen H. Segal, is a terribly brilliant and fabulously entertaining collection of mini-essays by some of my favorite geeks, such as N. K. Jemisin and Genevieve Valentine, which examines and deconstructs some of the most popular quotes from books, movies, TV, games, and other bastions of geek culture.
AM: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the coming months/year (if you can say)?
EF: Um, lessee, I’ve got several short stories coming out soon: “Little Grace of the House of Death” is due out in Drabblecast later this month (December). These folks put out an amazing podcast, and I’m always impressed by their production values and the top-notch caliber of the job they do with my work. For young readers, “The Girl Who Drew Cats” is slated to be serialized in the February and March, 2013, issues of Cricket. And my SF tale, “Whatever Skin You Wear” will be in the anthology Solaris Rising 2, edited by Ian Whates, due out in March of 2013.
AM: Thank you so much for lending us some of your time, and for sharing “Trixie and the Pandas of Dread” with us!