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Author Chat: David A. Hill Jr.

Author Chat: David A. Hill Jr.

I’m super excited to bring you another author chat!

I reviewed David’s book, ‘Blood Flow’ a few weeks back, and wanted the chance to pick his brain. Here’s the result- enjoy! (Our discussion may contain some plot spoilers for the book)

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Literature Lynx: ‘Blood Flow’ touches on an impressive number of social issues. Did you know ahead of time what you wanted to talk about, or did things pop up throughout the writing process?

David Hill: Well, I didn’t make a plan to talk about any specific things, per se, but I figured certain things would come up. Parts of Blood Flow are autobiographical. Some are based on close friends. I had a friend who died in a drive-by shooting. My best friend in high school committed suicide. My protagonists each have facets of both of those two people, and of me.

There are certain things I can’t say that I intentionally touched on, but I should have expected I would. For example, LGBT issues are important to me. I’m proudly bisexual. So I’m going to write things that interest me. Straight-up heteronormativity doesn’t interest me. Dylan doesn’t pursue any male/male relationships in Blood Flow, but he does have a few crushes. Part of the reason for that was I knew his relationships were going to be really messed up, and I have a pretty weak point for same sex relationships that go haywire in fiction. I just finished the Van Helsing Netflix show. While I largely loved it, their treatment of a same sex relationship really burned me on the series. I lost all interest at that point. So while I might do that sort of thing down the line, this wasn’t the place for it.

If there’s one thing I planned to do, it was explore vampire fiction and what it means socially. Vampires have stood in for a lot of real-world issues over the years. Literary critics have given all sorts of meanings to vampire fiction, whether intended or not. From Bram Stoker’s exploration of exoticism and sexual liberation, to Rice’s treatment of taboo sex and male vulnerability, there’s a lot of room there. However, my career’s been dedicated to vampires for most of my adult life. I’ve worked on and played games based on vampires (Vampire: The Masquerade being the most popular) since I was a teen. And over the years, a lot of things keep floating to the surface, things I think people aren’t asking enough questions about.

My single favorite topic is consent. In Dracula, and indeed any fiction featuring mind control and sexuality, consent is a minefield. I personally believe “mind control” was a weird way Stoker expressed a sense of Victorian misogyny, presuming that women could not be sexually open without being controlled by evil outside forces. But in Blood Flow, I jump right in to consent within the first few pages. Dylan knows that controlling minds is fundamentally “wrong.” But, what if he does it in pursuit of a good cause? What if it’s an accident? What if the person consents to forgoing consent at later times? I didn’t want to answer those questions, but I wanted to ask those questions, and ask the reader to judge Dylan and others’ actions in context.

One thing I didn’t get a chance to do much with was mental health. Mental health advocacy is a very big deal for me, and mental health is a big part of vampire fiction. But, I’ve got some future plans to work on that.

LL: As a genre, science fiction/fantasy doesn’t have a great track record with diversity and inclusivity (at least the traditionally published stuff). Why are you drawn to fantasy writing? What would you like to see more of in this genre?

DH: I have huge problems with diversity and inclusivity in fantasy (and specifically urban fantasy). While there are a lot of great authors out there who buck the trend, a lot of the biggest names, the ones who really float to the top of the lists, tend toward really doing diversity poorly or not at all. If your series about a sorcerer in Chicago doesn’t feature any significant black characters until the eighth book, there’s a huge problem. Is there room to use that to examine racial issues? Of course. But let’s be honest: That’s not really a common take.

I like fantasy because it’s all about asking “what if?” And if you can ask a ton of “what if” questions about the physics and magic of your world, but can’t even bother to ask, “What if this character wasn’t white,” then that tells me you’re not actually reaching very far. If you’re afraid to explore characters that don’t look like you, how can I expect you to present fairies and dragons and wizards and werewolves with any real, human depth? Clearly you’re not comfortable examining the human condition. And to me, that’s what fantasy is—it’s using fantastical elements to ask meaningful questions about humanity.

Then again, there’s part of Blood Flow that’s simply practical. There’s a range of characters from a range of backgrounds in the story. It’s a story set in Southern California. It looks like my home growing up. To do anything otherwise would feel inauthentic.

LL: You identify as a ‘dirtbag leftist’ (an amazing phrase, by the way)- want to share a little bit about what that means for you?

DH: Absolutely! So, to me, what it means is that I’m very much a leftist. Labels are really hard with this stuff, but I’m basically Communist, or Libertarian Socialist ( Libertarian there has nothing to do with what most Americans think of as libertarianism—like I said, labels are tricky). The dirtbag part comes from the fact that I don’t have reverence and respect for institutions, traditions, and politics which I feel are hurtful.

There was a big moment for me that happened right after the November US elections, where Hillary Clinton said, we owe Donald Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.” To me? That’s horrendous. That’s unacceptable. The world doesn’t owe Donald Trump anything. Donald Trump is an elected official: He owes the world a lot of things. And, frankly, he’s not going to pay up. I think respecting him in any way is hurtful to the very real people out there with very real struggles, the people he’s going to hurt and kill.

I think that trying to respect harmful people and positions is a lot of the reason why the far right wing has taken such a firm hold of politics worldwide in the past couple of decades. I think we need to stand proud for what we believe in, and I think we have a responsibility to use irreverence, humor, disrespect, protest, and dissent as weapons against regressive politics. I think that when you treat someone with respect, you lend them an air of credibility. While I don’t have a massive audience, there are people who follow me who look to who I respect, and afford them the benefit of the doubt. I’d rather be brash and honest than reserved and polite.

LL: When you first contacted me, you said “art should be political” and I completely agree. Have you faced any backlash for sharing your thoughts?

DH: A ton. I’ve lost more than a small amount of freelance work over the years, from companies afraid of controversy. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told, “We agree with your politics, but a lot of our fans are conservatives who don’t, so we’d really rather not rock the boat,” I wouldn’t have to take freelance work. I’ve had groups talking about ethics in video game journalism bombard my employers with demands for my firing. It happens. But I’m of a mind that ideas need to be voiced if you want them to survive. Silence, for ideas, is death. Particularly right now, in a hostile political environment for left politics, I am afraid of the consequences of letting those right wing views drown out left and progressive voices.

From a purely artistic standpoint, I think art can technically be apolitical and still good, but it’s rare. In our climate, women’s bodies are political. LGBT identities are political. Human rights are political. I want a world where that’s not the case. But until that day comes, anything that claims to be apolitical is an endorsement of the status quo. And as far as I’m concerned, the status quo is not okay.

LL: Any ideas what’s next for Dylan and crew?

DH: Yes! I’m currently writing the direct sequel, Blood Letting. It’s about half from Dylan’s perspective, and half from Claire’s. It’s basically an exploration of the political situation after the end of Blood Flow. It has its own primary driving conflicts, so it’s not really about resolving that conflict, but it’s about feeling out its consequences.

I’m also writing a side story that ties into those events, called iHunt. It’s a story about vampire hunters in San Jenaro, who contract their work through an app. It’s basically Uber, but for monster hunting. So, the story is all about the implications of the gig economy, and what it’s like to be a poor millennial trying to turn a buck through ethical means when you can, and unethical ones when you can’t. The idea is that hunting monsters, like providing rides, is inherently a pretty good thing. But when you monetize it, when you commodify it, it causes some ripple effect issues which make it problematic.

At the pace I’m going, I feel like iHunt is going to launch first. Ironically, I started writing it because I wanted to do a little exploratory writing about vampire hunters for Blood Letting. I figured I’d just do a couple of shorts, and settle on the first idea I really liked. I ended up writing the first chapter of iHunt. Then the second. Then the third. And I realized right around chapter 10 that it was a real thing, and it had legs of its own.

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A huge, huge thanks to David for chatting with me! If you have any thoughts to share, feel free to start a discussion in the comments. I’m happy to hear other viewpoints, but comments that are derogatory or disrespectful will not be published.

The first chapter of ‘iHunt’ is available on David’s website.

Author Chat: Ash Gray

Author Chat: Ash Gray

Hi all! I’m very excited to be bringing you my first author chat!

After reading ‘The Thieves of Nottica’ (click here for my full review), I had the opportunity to speak with the author, Ash Gray. As I mentioned in the review, Ash touches on a number of diversity-related topics, which I was eager to discuss with her. Just a heads up, there may be some spoilers.

As you can probably tell from the rest of this blog, I’m not really into small-talk, so we jumped right into the heavy questions:

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Author Chat: Ash Gray

Literature Lynx: ‘The Thieves of Nottica’ tackles a lot of different prejudices: race, gender, sexuality, etc. Did you start the book intending to cover these topics, or did they just appear as you created the world?

Ash GrayI didn’t set out to write this with an agenda. I recall saying once that I wanted to write a story with an all-female main cast mostly because I’ve never done that before. But most of what’s in the book now was not there originally. When I originally wrote this story in the distant ancient era of 2011-12ish, I wrote it just for me, with no audience in mind, never dreaming that I would one day share it with anyone. I never even shared it free online (I don’t think) while my other books have been shared publicly years before they were published with kindle.

The original story that I wrote five years ago had themes of social and economic oppression, but it wasn’t something examined at length the way it is now ( i.e. Lisa was not a robot slave originally). I embellished on it as I found myself struggling in our (America’s) crap-economy and starting to get more and more bitter and depressed about the state of it. Eventually, I got so depressed that one day I just sat down and took out the old manuscript and started rewriting it from front to back.

So I mostly wrote it to cheer myself up, basically. I rewrote the book because I was depressed and needed to vent my frustration. And it worked. Because after I wrote the story, I felt better. Oh, the power of expressing oneself.

 

LL: I really enjoyed the fact that the humans were the antagonists of your story. Can you tell me a little bit about your thought process there?

 AGI’m a sucker for those stories where “humans are the monsters!” Kind of like The Day the Earth Stood Still, where this peaceful alien came to Earth and then all the humans instantly tried to kill him and went nuts. I guess I was just following in that “trope,” one I love dearly.

I think it’s because the hardest thing for a person to do is to look in the mirror and acknowledge their own ugliness, and stories like that are an attempt to do so.  

You know, Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story? In that story, in order to reach the Oracle, Atreyu has to go through three tests (I think it was three?). One of the tests is for him to look at his true self in the mirror and have to face himself. It’s said that most people can’t get past the test because kind men look in the mirror and discover they are not kind, etc. When I was a child, I didn’t understand why this was so difficult. When I grew up, I watched clearly racist and sexist and homophobic people claiming adamantly that they weren’t racist and sexist and homophobic people. Then I understood.

We can’t acknowledge that we’ve done bad things. We all have a burning desire to be decent people, and yet it still takes a certain kind of bravery to admit that you aren’t perfect and that you’ve made horrible mistakes. So I guess this is why I love stories where humanity is put on trial for all the atrocities we’ve committed. And we have committed them.

And what’s sad is that we can sit here and admit it through science fiction (Planet of the Apes comes to mind) but we can’t admit it in moments that count. Like when we’ve said or done something insensitive to hurt someone else. Our first response is to insist that we meant well or we aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic whatever. Our first instinct is to think about ourselves and instead of acknowledging that we have done great harm to another human being, we’re quick to ignore and dismiss the feelings of the person we hurt.

When all we have to do is say sorry and actually mean it.

 

LL: In the last few years, the sci/fi fantasy community has seen some notable discrimination and hate: Gamergate and the Hugo awards drama being the most obvious. The (bigoted) argument is that authors who write about diversity are pandering and undermining the genre. I certainly have my own thoughts, but what role do you think social justice issues should play in speculative fiction?

AGHmm. This is a hard question to answer. Personally, I try to stay away from all the drama, but I can’t help but know about it, unfortunately.

What’s amusing to me is that science fiction has always criticized society. Always. The most famous science fiction writer possibly of all time — Robert Heinlein – (no, I’m not a fan) had books that tore down, mocked, and criticized various social concepts. But no one is blasting him as preachy, huh? I mean . . . this is a part of the genre. Holding up a mirror to society and lampooning it is what science fiction has always been about.

The people who suddenly can’t handle it are people who feel they are personally under attack. They read a book by queer people and people of color or women who are tired of being two-dimensional stereotypes and they are reminded of terrible things they have said and done. It makes them feel like a bad person, and suddenly, science fiction is no longer “fun” but “preachy” and out to guilt-trip them.

I dunno. If you read my book and it makes you feel guilty or under attack (not, you, Gabby, the general “you”) then the problem is yours, not mine. People who aren’t racist, sexist, and homophobic can enjoy my books without feeling as if the narrative is “attacking” them or “trying to teach them a lesson.”

I mean, there are probably a thousand legitimate reasons to hate The Thieves of Nottica, but if you hate my book because Rigg is brown . . . that’s bigotry.

 

LL: What changes would you like to see in the publishing world, as a whole?

AGI live in fear of hoping for change, because I don’t think I can handle anymore disappointment.

I hate to be pessimistic, but I really don’t see myself living to see a real change. I see a bunch of people with good intentions trying to make a change and fumbling to do it but they don’t really know how.

I see a bunch of other people striking back because they feel threatened that – gasp! – other writers are finally acknowledged as having voices worth listening to.

I see literary agents and game developers signing on token brown/queer/female authors – because they only hire one — just so they can buy some peace of mind and not have to feel like bigots when they look in the mirror. It’s a fast and cheap way to pretend like you’re solving an issue that has been steadily building in layers for half a thousand years.

My book Qorth addresses this a little bit. In Qorth, it’s revealed that ancient aliens came to Earth and invaded prehistoric humans. They gunned them down, claiming they were “defending themselves” from “savages” even though the primitive cave people only had, what, rocks and sticks? The aliens found it hard to admit they’d done something atrocious so they tried to justify their mistakes by saying the humans were violent inferiors who deserved it anyway.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and the aliens are still abducting humans and using them for genetic experiments because they see them as inferior. If the story hadn’t been so short, I would have played with the idea of the aliens actually causing the sea levels to rise so they could take over Earth (they’re amphibious aliens).

Qorth is one of the few aliens trying to break the cycle of racism. He thinks he can make up for the past, but the main character Cameron teaches him that he can not.

The same principle applies to real life. We can not change the past, but we can learn from it. If we look back at what hatred has resulted in, the solution is to teach our children to treat each other with kindness and respect, like human beings, instead of viewing each other as a collection of prejudices (i.e. assuming the black person who just walked in the store is going to steal and that you have to follow them around while they’re shopping. If you understood how dehumanizing that was, you wouldn’t do it). And we aren’t, doing that, are we? Instead, we continue dehumanizing minorities with movies and books and plays and songs, all of which serve to teach our children the same hate mantra, and then we shrug our shoulders and wonder why all these cycles of hatred still go on.

It’s because racism, sexism, and homophobia is taught, and we are still teaching it.

It’s because we’re continuing to teach our children to see other people as costumes and caricatures instead of as human beings.

You know why I pretend to be a dragon? Well, first it’s hella fun to do so. But the second reason? I live in a world where saying I’m a dragon is more believable, more plausible than saying I’m a human being just like you.

I live in a world where I’m treated every single day as less than human. Might as well make a joke out of it and unhealthily cackle myself through the pain.

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Many thanks to Ash for taking the time to talk with me!

Want to read more? Head over to her blog, Smoke Rings and Shiny Things, or head to Amazon and start reading!