Interview Ė this issue Suzie Mc. Carnas.

Itís fascinating to find out that the  Author of the book youíve read might turn
out a bit different than imagined.

FTL congratulates Suzy to her 62st birthday!
 

FTL. Did you ever have a coming out as gay/lesbian/transgender/bisexual? How
old were you then?

SMCC: I never did and am unlikely to, as to date I'm a boring old heterosexual,
married to the same guy for the past 30+ years!  I did have a very close
and intense friendship with another girl in grade-school that last a number
of years and might have turned sexual if events had not intervened and
separated us.  I was contemplating living a single life because men were
Impossible and women did not attract me, when someone who knew my family
And my husband's family suggested that he and I get together; we sometimes
jokingly refer to ourselves as the last "arranged" marriage in New York City.

FTL. When did you start writing?

SMCC: I used to steal dummy books from my father's desk -- he was an illustrator
of children's books, and dummies were the books of blank pages he did his
initial sketches in -- and make my own drawings and stories in them.  This
was at age six or so, and the stories were Westerns modeled on comic-book
heroes like Roy Rogers and Lash LaRue.

FTL. You write SF/F/H books with gay/lesbian/transgender/bisexual
protagonists. Do you have the impression that this made it more difficult
to find a publisher for your books?

SMCC: No.  What made them nervous was the fact that MOTHERLINES was all women.
One editor said to me, and I quote, "If this book were only about an all
male society, we'd take it in a minute."  Her rationale was that the vast
majority of SF readers were adolescent boys, which even then (1976) was
no longer true.
        There are and have long been editors who would not take a story
or a book with emphasis on "deviant" sexuality, but as long as I've been
publishing (since 1974) there have been editors who responded positively
the same sort of content.  You might have had to look harder, but they
were there, or how could all the ground-breaking books of the late sixties
and early seventies have been published in America?  They didn't all come
out of the same publishing house.

FTL: Have you noticed a change in that field
in the last years (more/less acceptance, more/less competition or
higher/lower demand?)

SMCC: Floods and floods of not-very-good-books, making it very hard for newcomers
to the genre to find their way around.  I think our very success has made
it difficult to attract new, younger readers: people often say when you ask
them, "Well, there's so much, I don't know what's good, I don't know where
to start," or "I picked up an SF novel once, and it was so awful that I just
never tried again."  SF is reputed to be the easiest point-of-entry to the
publishing of fiction of any genre, and this shows in the poor, imitative
quality of so much of it.

FTL. Do you diversify your income in terms of doing other jobs apart from
writing?

SMCC: I diversify my income by being married to a lawyer, who has supported
my "writing habit" all these years.  Now that he has cut back his hours at
the office, he is starting on a book of his own -- not SF, though.  The plan
was for me to write best-sellers so that he could retire completely twenty
years ago and write his own books.  You know what happens to the best laid
plans.

FTL. If you look for a template or similar society in our world in comparison
to the one you describe in your books: what would this be?

SMCC: For WALK, the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the plantation world
reflected in slave-narratives from the American South; for the rest, there
are no templates.  I can tell you where I did research for the later books
in the series, though, and that may shed some light: for MOTHERLINES, I read
about primitive, pastoralist, warrior societies like those of the American
Indians and the Mongols.  For THE FURIES, I read books about guerrilla war-
fare, and feuding in small backward nations like Albania.  For THE CONQ-
UEROR'S CHILD, I just wrote onward from the preceding books, drawing on my
own experience of attempts at consensual goverment, of shamanism, and of how
actions become distorted as they are remembered or recorded so that myths
and legends develop.

FTL. Would you like to live in a world similar to the one you describe in
your books (for example in the society of the horse women in the
"motherlines" series)?

SMCC: If I were born and bred to it, certainly the Grasslands would be appealing,
and I like the creative, rambunctious and sometimes chaotic excitement of
the re-making (in CHILD) of the Holdfast.  On the downside, though,there
isn't much room in Grassland society for the arts I most love (painting,
classical music, sculpture, literature, film, etc.); it's also a physically
hard life there, and I like my comforts.  Similarly, I'm no longer young
enough to actively enjoy the robust political push and shove of the New
Holdfast.  I don't think anyone would want to live in the slave-State of
the Old Holdfast, or the Free Fems' derivative Tea Camp society, or even
the Pool Towns' world, which is like a rural version of modern Western so-
ciety in terms of gender-relations.  Actually, the place I'd like to spend
more time (if not live a whole life) would be the swamp islands of Bayo --
if I had lots of mosquito netting and antibiotics along, that is.

FTL: Which are the three personal traits you value most in a woman?
SMCC: Intelligence, humor, and compassion.

FTL: Which are the three personal traits you value most in a man?
SMCC: Intelligence, humor, and compassion.

FTL: What are your favorite hobbies?

SMCC: I like to browse in antique shops, junk-stores and flea markets to see
what kinds of cast-offs people are trying to sell to each other; and I
do needle-point (usually my own designs) because I love the rich colors
of the yarns.  I have a *lot* of home-made pillows.
 

FTL:  I was surprised that you were married, how it came that way. Well, statistics prove that
arranged marriages are the most stable. Do you have children? Did raising  children yourself inspire you to write conquerer's child?

SMCC: Almost, in both cases.  My husband came complete with the part-time company
of two young children from his first marriage; they were seven and eight
years old when I met them, and I participated in the raising of them under
fairly difficult circumstances for as long as anybody can claim to be
still "raising" their kids (he's forty-eight now, she's just rising forty,
and both are married and living in California).  I'd felt reasonably confi-
dent in getting into this situation because my own mother was twice-divorced
and I figured that at least I knew the step-relationship somewhat from the
kid-side, which would (I hoped) make me a better step-parent.  Seemed to
work pretty well, though you'd have to check with the kids to be certain.
        As for THE CONQUEROR'S CHILD, I needed to write it to finish the
series, so it was really "inspired" by the preceding three books; but I got
the confidence to write about people relating to small children from my ex-
perience with my two grandchildren, who are now -- well, seven and eight,
as it happens.  They, and their friends and school-mates, offered a wonder-
ful refresher-course in little-kid-dom, to the point that I had to struggle
to keep them from taking over the story (which is really not theirs but
Sorrel's and her parents' story).  It's a good thing that stories are fin-
ished and get published so that you (the author) have to stop messing with
them eventually, because every time I visit the grandkids I see, hear,
and feel something about and with them that makes me wish I had put *that* in
the book, too.  The book is dedicated to them all, and not by accident.

FTL The image the fems (the ex-slaved women who rise up against their
male oppressors) regarding men in the FURIES  resembles actually very
closely the
viewpoint of  separatist lesbians, who also frequently regard men as
inherently dangerous, prone to
rape and violence and striving to  oppress others
- at least the ones I encountered a few years ago: they celebrated violence
against men and
some even considered not to raise male children but instead give them up
for adoption or abort them.
Where you in close contact with similar groups of the fringes of the radical
lesbian spectrum and somehow inspired by them?

SMCC: I can't claim that I've ever been close to such groups, no, since I've never
wanted to confuse anyone about my own sexual identity, and since I am not a
highly feminine woman to look at, I have often been in the situation of being
taken for a Lesbian by women whom I felt I had to let know that I was not,
lest they think later that I was sneaking around under false colors doing
research or something.  My mom was a very feminine woman, raised by her mother
in the European tradition of being very alluring but also being the brains of
the outfit in disguise -- in other words, manipulative as hell, which I found
repulsive.  So though I experimented with looking as svelte as possible and
"dressing the part," I soon changed course to follow the path of least resis-
tance, ie no makeup since I wear contacts and mascara in those days was im-
possible with contact lenses; weak ankles, so no high heels; etc.  I chose a
"natural" look that is certainly one of the many options of dress among Les-
bians who are not trying to appeal to men or to women who like very feminine
looking women.
        However, as I was also repulsed by the whole feminine mystique I did
read widely in feminist scholarship, polemic, journalism, etc. in my college
years and after, and I came across a lot of argument about seperatism which
certainly contributed to my thinking about the fictional world of the series
in its several permutations.
        It could also be said that Lesbian seperatist thought inspired
MOTHERLINES and THE FURIES in particular, in that MOTHERLINES was a direct
response to some scholarly assertions that there really had been at Amazon
society in the form reported through the myths of the Ancient Greeks.  I
thought (and still think) that this was highly unlikely, but I was intrigued
by the idea of a functioning seperatist society of a rough, pastoralist,
warrior nature -- the idea of the Ancient Amazons picked up and transplanted
into a future where they could develop without the distortions of confine-
ment within greater patriarchal societies around them.  In that sense, you
can see MOTHERLINES as a Lesbian seperatist thought-experiment, written by
a woman who doesn't happen to be herself a Lesbian.
        Beyond that, the inspiration took off largely from the anthropological
reports of details of the lives of real pastoralist societies, which I found
wonderfully inventive and rich.

FTL: Do you think that a social separation creates an enviroment is a
prerequisite for hatred or contempt
towards the members of the imagined other group or do you think that humans
just tend to grab any excuse to
segregate in groups once the population is sufficiently large?

SMCC: Well, some sociologists and psychologists say that the bitterest fights and
hatreds are between groups that are very close, whether actually intermingled
as in Bosnia, say, or shouldered up to two sides of a very clear demaracation
line, as in the Old South.  I think we all feel terribly threatened by the
idea of being afloat alone in the vast sea of humanity, so we start availing
ourselves very early of whatever us/them distinctions are current in our
society, so as to build ourselves as many protective rings of "us" as
possible, starting with man/woman and getting pickier as we go along.
        Any time economic and political insecurities make us extra-nervous,
it's very easy for any of these splits to become the focus of all our fears,
which translates into hatred: us against not-us.  And since there are no
economic and political systems that I know of that provide perfect, ongoing
security, those hatreds are always simmering away under the surface, ready to
be stoked up to full flame by monsters like Milosevic and the instigators of
the Tutsi massaccres in Rwanda.
        And population size isn't the crucial factor, to my mind.  Even small
settlements like the early towns of New England were ready to turn on members
labeled "witch," although the population numbers were not very high.  Scape-
goating like this is a scaled-down version of the group-hatred you ask about.
It's a product of fear: something is going wrong, *somebody* must be at fault,
and it *must* not be me or the "us" that I am a part of, so it *has to be*
__ THEM.

FTL: Regarding numbers, I think that the population in your world is to too
small to sustain both such an elaborated
system of oppression (the male hirachies of  old and young men, rovers and
cut-boys plus the fems), wouldn't a larger population be necesary to sustain the
system both economically and psychologically?

SMCC: Maybe.  I did some initial research about the numbers required just to
sustain a group economically, and tried to stick with them as my base-line.
As to the rest, I drew in part on my experience in Africa with the Peace
Corps, where social and linguistic inventiveness is very rich even among
small, ethnically distinct populations (Nigeria, where I served, had some-
thing like 450 distinct languages at that time, or so we were told).
        My sense of this was that where physical inventiveness is curtailed
by very strict external conditions (in Africa, the impact of climate on
wooden objects, comparative lack of iron and other metals, influence of phys-
ical disease encouraged by climate, etc.; in the Holdfast, a grimly reduced
edibles-base that kept everybody pretty well focused on food-making in ways
that they *knew* worked), the impulse and the creativity that would other-
wise go to building steam engines tends to simply flow into other channels --
artistic, linguistic, abstract, and social.  So I felt I could get away with
a rich social structure in a thin physical situation, even though the actual
population had to stay small enough to live on what they managed to scrounge
from a greatly depleted environment.
 

FTL: Well, in the end the society does not pove stable, the upraising is successful after all. So just a final question:
 Are there any scifi/fantasy books you would recomend, apart from your
own of course?

SMCC: Sure.  The last reading I did that I liked a lot in SF was Stan Robinson's
MARS trilogy, Elizabeth Moon's REMNANT POPULATION, and a new book by Nalo
Hopkinson (ROBBER QUEEN).  Murphy, McHugh, Fowler, Arnason, Kessel, good
folks like that -- love 'em all.  I also re-read "old" books from time to
time, like Stewart's classic EARTH ABIDES or something by Sturgeon or
Bester, and I always recommend to newer readers that they go find at least
some of their reading in the library, using past Nebula and Hugo final
ballots as their guides.  Regardless of what the commercial culture tells
you over and over, today is *not* the only day there ever was and not all
good things can be seen by looking ahead.

FTL: Thank you for taking the time to answer this.

SMCC: My pleasure, Sam.