Tell us your biography in three sentences or fewer.
Born in Los Angeles, California, studied in Austria for a year, degrees are in German and history. After a brief fling in the film industry, I was a teacher for twenty years, and currently teach writing at Viable Paradise Writers’ Workshop. (Uh, or did until the pandemic put us in hiatus.)
How and when did you begin writing, and what was your first published piece?
I began sneaking paper towels out of the kitchen to make books when I was six years old. During first grade, while they were teaching the other kids the alphabet and phonics, because I already knew how to read I was permitted to draw. I made stories about flying kids who lived on an island without adults, which was highly disapproved of during the You Shall Conform fifties. So I learned early on to make proper stories about kids doing ordinary kid things for Them, and went covert with my own stories, which meant it was decades before I shared what I was passionate about, though I began sending “Them” stories to publishers at age thirteen.
First sale was in the mid-eighties, at first children’s literature, as at that time it was very hard to sell anything that was queer or poly-positive (see above, writing for Them as opposed to writing what I wanted to write). Eventually I did send out what I’d been writing since I was a kid. The adult stories set in that world sold to DAW, bginning with the Inda tetrology.
What’s so special about writing speculative fiction?
I believe spec fic is the oldest form of literature. What we write is always going to mirror our culture and experiences, and is going to be in conversation with everything we’ve read, but in consciously writing spec fic, we can speculate about the world as we’d like it to be, or as we’re afraid it’s going to be. Plus all the cool stuff, sense of wonder, etc. I read broadly in all directions, but spec fic has been and I suspect always will be my favorite.
What life skills and experiences, other than writing, do you bring to your work?
In retrospect, though I’ve had a wide variety of jobs, teaching had the greatest effect—I had to figure out how students process information in order to get concepts across. That led to my reading deeply into what I call “alien minds”—people whose thinking is radically different from mine in every possible way. Evelyn Waugh was one of my alien minds. Lord Byron was another. It’s been harder to get at women, whose lives were generally less published, but Mary Wortley Montagu was one, and Madame de Sevigny another. Anyway I bring this perspective to teaching writing.
Tell us about your most recent publication or current writing project.
In 2015 I got hooked on a Chinese historical TV series, called in English Nirvana in Fire, which is not even remotely a translation of the Chinese title, 琅琊榜; pinyin: Lángyá Bǎng. This was what I had been craving my entire life: a multi-layered story with ideas, complex characters, roller coaster emotions, tension that just keeps mounting, and utterly unpredictable. In a gorgeous setting. I was hooked so hard I began immersing in Chinese series, literature, history, and I’m trying to learn the language.
I discovered that wuxia, the tales of the outsiders, have been popular in various forms for two thousand years. Often in spite of governmental crackdowns. There are various forms of wuxia now, some more magical—xianxia— and some that deliberately combine elements of mythology and borrow cool bits from different cultures, called xuanhuan.
I’ve discovered how writers, mostly women, are subverting the government’s censorship and ban on homosexuality through BL stories—“Boy love” in the manga/anime world. While I didn’t much like the BL series that have turned up on TV so far, I cheer their enormous popularity—this is revolution without blood and guns.
Inevitably six years of immersion was bound to come out in story form. My pandemic project is the result, an adventure xuanhuan, which I’m running on Patreon.
Finishing up current project, and current series!