Author Interview with Melissa Scott
Questions by Lauren
Books on Amazon
1. You have been writing for decades now. If someone were new to your work, where would you like them to start?
That's a hard one to answer, actually, because not only have I written a lot of novels - more than 35, at last count - but they're in very different subgenres. I've written both fantasy and science fiction, far-future space opera and cyberpunk, alternate history and secondary world fantasy and mystery novels that take place in fantasy worlds. Not to mention the television and movie tie-ins! So I can't really pick one. Let's see… If you like hard SF, I'd suggest Dreamships (freelance pilot Reverdy Jian suspects that an experimental computer construct might be true AI - and entitled to rights her human colleagues may not share). If you like space opera, I'd suggest the Roads of Heaven trilogy, Five-Twelfths of Heaven, Silence in Solitude, and The Empress of Earth. The science is based on Hermetic and neo-Platonic concepts like the music of the spheres, and in it Silence Leigh, who should be neither a pilot nor a magus, discovers that she holds the key to finding the lost planet, Earth. As far as fantasy goes, for a secondary world fantasy, you could begin with Point of Hopes (in which a pointsman - a police officer of sorts - and a mercenary soldier join forces to discover who is stealing children across the city of Astreiant) or if you prefer more closely related worlds, there's Death By Silver, set in a Victorian London in which magic is as fussy and complex as any other Victorian profession, and two young men struggle to solve a mystery that touches dangerously on their shared past.
The thing that these books, and indeed all my books, have in common is that they're written from a queer perspective, and mostly feature queer protagonists and secondary characters. Coming out in the '80s, I was fascinated (and delighted) by the play of masks and personas in the community where I lived, a play that was at once deadly serious, self-protective, and a bravura delight, and my work is still informed by that world. I'm also consistently interested in issues of class, race, and ethnicity, and how those things play into each other, but probably the theme that runs consistently through all my work is a simple one: who gets to be considered a person? If that's a question that interests you as a reader, you can pretty much pick up anything of mine and find something that speaks to you. I hope!
2. You have many awards - Lambda Literary and Spectrum Awards. Was there one that really meant something to you in particular?
That's a hard one, but I'd have to say that the Spectrum Award for Fairs' Point was especially meaningful. I had begun the Points series with my late partner, Lisa A. Barnett. We had published two novels, Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams, and plotted one more before her death from breast cancer in 2006. The voice that we'd come up with for those novels was something very different from either of our individual voices, and I was afraid I could never recapture what she had brought to the series. And, of course, for a long time the idea of going back to the world that we had built together, to the characters that we had created, was really painful. But as I moved past the first hard stages of grief, it also became painful not to revisit Astreiant, and Lethe Press's editor, Steve Berman, gently encouraged me to consider at least one more book. Well, the book Lisa and I had plotted, and the story of how Rathe and Eslingen, the main characters, had become lovers, because that had originally happened off-stage, between Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams. So I wrote the latter as a novella, which Lethe published as Point of Knives, and realized that I could get back into that world, that I could find that shared voice, and that I wanted to keep the series going. Lisa and I had plotted most of Fairs' Point before she got sick, though we were stuck on one particular plot development, and I decided that I would at least try to write the full novel. I had to make a decision about that plot point - and did so with a certain amount of trepidation; if Lisa's ghost was ever going to haunt me, it was going to be for this! - but I ended up being pleased with the result. I could carry on this voice in a novel as well as at the shorter length. And so it was especially sweet to receive the Spectrum for it.
3. Along with your own novels, you have done tie-in work for classics such as Star Trek and Star Wars Rebels. How did you get into this line of work, and what is it like doing this type of writing, as opposed to your own original creation?
I got into each of the franchises in a different way. I got Star Trek because an editor at Pocket asked me if I was a fan of Star Trek DS9 (yes) and if I'd be interested in writing for them, as they were trying to expand their stable of writers - this was back in the early '90s. So I pulled together a proposal (which became Proud Helios) and sent it off to him, expecting an answer in a few weeks. Instead, I got a call within the week, saying that he had sworn up and down that he wasn't going to do any books with space pirates, but - I'd convinced him otherwise. Needless to say, I was rather pleased!
The Stargate novels happened when my friends and fellow writers Jo Graham and Amy Griswold proposed that the three of us turn our fannish mutterings about what should have happened after the final season of Stargate Atlantis into a series proposal. Fandemonium, the publisher of the Stargate tie-ins, was enthusiastic, but I honestly didn't think that MGM would go for the idea of a 6-book "virtual season" - and then they did!
The Star Wars Rebels story came about through Twitter. One of the Del Rey editors tweeted that women never asked her if they could do Star Wars novels, and weren't we out there? I immediately responded that I certainly was (I may have said something like "I would kill to write Star Wars") and as we talked, it became clear that I was a big Rebels fan, and, in particular, a Hera fan. I am still utterly gleeful that I got to write part of Hera's backstory!
The big difference, of course, is that this is work for hire - the copyright holder has absolute sway over what you write, and everything needs to be plotted out in advance in great detail. The proposal for the Rebels short story, for example, was as long as the proposal for some of my novels, and once it had been agreed to, I couldn't change anything without permission from the editors. More subtly, someone else - several someones, the writers and actor - have already done most of the hard work of establishing the character. Your job as a tie-in writer is to recreate that character, not to create it yourself; if you're very lucky, you'll get to expand on something that has already been brought in, but you almost never get to add anything completely to either the worlds or the characters. I think the challenge of matching the existing world/people is a lot of fun, and I'm always delighted when someone says "reading this is like watching the show." To my mind, that means I've done my job.
4.. What makes an LGBT+ novel, in your opinion?
That's such a hard question! The minute you try to define it, someone will write a brilliant novel that is obviously and unmistakably LGBT+ and yet breaks whatever rules you've just laid down. That said… I think what makes an LGBT+ novel for me is that it's written from an LGBT+ point of view, that the story is told through an LGBT+ filter. Obviously, this can mean LGBT+ characters, preferably at the center of their own story (and preferably more than one - we don't exist in a vacuum except under special circumstances that are themselves worthy of being foregrounded in a story). I don't think that only a story about LGBT+ characters can be considered LGBT+, but I also don't think there are enough LGBT+ characters at the center of the narrative for us to dismiss this as no longer important. And I think the key thing there is that those characters should be at the center - it should be their story. For years I had a quote from Vito Russo's Celluloid Closet on the wall of my office, though I lost the tattered note when I moved four years ago: "This is what the closet is all about - translating one's natural impulses into a heterosexual language." I think the reverse — writing from the LBGT+ pov, in that language, through that filter, without translation - is what best defines it.
5. What other LGBT+ books or authors would you recommend?
There are so many now! One of the great joys of editing Heiresses of Russ 2014, Lethe Press's annual collection of best lesbian SF/F was reading 60+ stories about queer women and not reading a single story in which lesbians were by definition evil, or who died tragically because that's what lesbians do. (And if you're looking for writers to follow, you could do a lot worse than to check out the three Lethe best-of anthologies, Wilde Stories, Heiresses of Russ, and Beyond Binary.) A hatful of random names, all of whom do wonderful work: Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman plus a whole gang of new writers to create a serialized prequel to Kushner's astonishing Swordspoint. Nicola Griffith. Don Sakers, who also reviews for Analog. Heather Rose Jones. Geonn Cannon. My co-authors, Jo Graham and Amy Griswold. Elizabeth Bear. Jacqueline Koyonagi. Hal Duncan. Anything from Cecelia Tan's Circlet Press. And I am forgetting more than I am remembering - one of the genuinely encouraging things about the shifts in publishing over the last decade is that it has become possible for more voices that don't fit well into the mainstream to find that audience that really wants to hear them.