Brought to you by OBS reviewer Vicki.
- Be sure to read our review for “Tales the Wind Told Me” here at OBS!
- Don’t forget to follow author Rachel on twitter!
Rachel Eliason: Non-writers are always asking “Where do you stories ideas come from?” As a creative person I am often flustered by this question. Where don’t story ideas come from? Ray Bradbury in Zen and the art of writing compares ideas to the flecks of dust that get trapped in your eyes. Normally you look right through them, but the second you relax your vision you can see dozens of them swimming in your vision.
Most of these stories were written about ten years ago. At the time I was living on a small acreage about forty miles from the nearest city and seven from the nearest town. It was a great place to just walk and think, to let my mind roam. Often I would start daydreaming and by the time I got home from a walk I would have a fully developed story idea.
I lost that acreage in my divorce. Then through a series of events, I got it back. I had continued to write, but in different directions. I had a monthly column in a local LGBT paper Accessline Iowa. I was working on a young adult novel. The acreage had been abandoned for several years in the meantime and I hadn’t even thought about most of these stories in all that time. When I first went back to the acreage I found a box of old writing, journals and short stories. As I re-read them I found many of them were really good. (Many of them were also crap.) I felt like I should do something with them. This collection is that something.
As for the title, I struggled for a long time with it. It’s an eclectic collection. There isn’t a solid theme to hold everything together. In the end two ideas emerged that blended into Tales the Wind Told Me.
The theme that ties all these stories together is where I was when I wrote them. The defining feature of the rolling plains of Western Iowa is the wind. In the winter it howls down out of the north. In the summer it wafts up from the southwest. You can sit and watch storm fronts move in from miles away. People make fun of Iowans for always talking about the weather. But if you have never lived in a rural area you might not understand how the weather, the wind and the landscape for themselves on your attention, just as much as the traffic of New York or some other big city.
The second meaning behind Tales the Wind Told Me is that it is a nod towards my own style of creativity and my favorite book, the Finnish epic Kalevala. The Kalevala has a wonderfully descriptive opening section that talks about how the poet finds his stories in nature, “I ripped them from the heather…the trees added words…” This is very much how I feel about my stories. They were as much given to me by my surroundings as written by me.
Vicki: I cannot express how much I enjoyed Gemone. I’ve read it a few times now. Your early reviews seem to favor this story in particular. Did you anticipate this reaction? Any plans to develop Gemone into a full-length novel? (I am not above begging!)
Rachel Eliason: It is interesting to me as a writer to see how people react to my work. There is a local bookstore owner that greets me every time I go in by telling me how much he loved FLM. He did not like Gemone. Some readers really like Sleeping Betty, some get down right angry at the ambiguous ending. It’s really hard to predict.
Early beta-readers and personal friends who gave me feedback didn’t care much for Gemone. It made me sad because it was one of my favorites to write. Now I have several written reviews under my belt and those readers love the story as much as I do.
There are two stories, Gemone and Sleeping Betty, that I am often told have enough material and depth to be full length novels. Looking at them with older and wiser eyes I agree. Will ever come back to them? I am not sure. Novels take a lot more time to write and ideas seem to overwhelm my brain at times. I have synopsis’s for nearly twenty novels and four in various draft stages. I don’t know how other writers manage to keep up with themselves.
Of the two stories I think it’s more likely I would decide to develop Gemone into a full blown novel, but no, there are no definitive plans.
Vicki: Do you have a favorite story amongst the collection?
Rachel Eliason: That depends heavily on my mood. FLM was one of my favorites to write, it was a lot of fun writing all the description, including description of inanimate objects, to express the notion of size and obesity. If I am re-reading if for some reason The Troll and the Maiden is a favorite of mine, along with Gemone and Dancing with Death. If I am giving a reading Dancing with Death and the Transgender Fable are the shortest (and fit time limits best) and seemed to be well received.
Vicki: What are the major challenges that authors are faced with when writing short stories?
Rachel Eliason: When I wrote these stories the biggest challenge was what to do with a short story. The days of print magazines that cater to short stores like Asimov’s science fiction seem to be numbered. In fact there were only two or three paying markets left when I was first trying to publish these short stories and intense competition from writers to break into those markets. In the book market short story collections have traditionally had weaker sales than novels.
The current epublishing revolution has the ability to change all that. There isn’t a set length for a novel/novella/short story in ebook form. I think that’s a good thing. Writers should write the story in front of them. They shouldn’t cut it down to fit some editor’s idea of short story length and they shouldn’t pad it out to be a novel. Writers should simply focus on being the best story teller they can. Artificial constraints like it should be 60,000 words long to be a novel need to be dropped from our thinking.
On the readers side of things, short stories and novellas are also a really good thing. More and more people are reading on electronic devices. They are reading in new ways and in new places. It’s easy to have a kindle app on your phone and read while waiting in line, waiting for a meal or on the bus. Our choice of reading material will have to change and adapt. Riding the bus home from a busy day of work I might have the energy or desire to start a hundred thousand word fantasy novel, but a kindle single I can finish before I get home is perfect.
Vicki: Do you have a specific writing style? Where do you draw your influences from?
Rachel Eliason: A lot of writers and a lot of self appointed writing coaches talk a lot about developing your own style, your own voice. I have a slightly different view. I think the story needs to have it’s own style or voice. The author should tell the story as its meant to be told, in the character’s voice.
Take Gemone for example. The main character is a sexless being and a servant. The story uses passive voice far more than any writing coach would recommend, but it works because it puts the reader into the mindset of Gemone, who is swept along the story with little choice or control.
The Transgender fable attempts to duplicate the feel of a fable and requires its own style. The troll child mimics the crude language and culture I would attribute to creatures like trolls. Sleeping Betty attempts to capture the feel of the rolling hills and long gravel roads dotted with old abandoned farms of Western Iowa.
What are my main influences? I would rank Ray Bradbury top of the list. He was without a doubt my favorite writer growing up. What I love about him is how memorable his stories are. I can hear a friend talking about a story I have read in years and recall every detail. I don’t know how my style or voice compares to his, but I hope these stories are half as memorable.
Three of the stories, the Troll Tales, are consciously patterned after Charles De Lint. In the late nineties and early part of this century I was entranced by his novels and his fictitious Newford. The characters of those novel lived with one foot in the real world and one in his own fantasy/spiritual realm. I was seeking to put my own experience in the mid to late nineties in Des Moines as a new age/pagan into the same sort of context.
Vicki: Last year I was researching homosexuality in literature and I kept coming across theories stating that LGBT literature reinforced homosexual stereotypes rather than promoting alternative viewpoints. Personally, I think this theory is just attempting to evoke a reaction, which worked because I ended up basing my dissertation on it! What does your writing voice contribute to LGBT literature? Do you think that LGBT literature can help promote alternative viewpoints?
Rachel Eliason: This is a really complicated and at times a loaded question. Does literature reinforce stereotypes? I am sure critics could argue that Shelley (in Sleeping Betty) being a “butch” lesbian is a stereotype. And yet I know many butch lesbians in real life who would say it’s an honest portrayal of their life. The ending of that story touches on the even more sensitive subject of bisexuality. Is there hope for Shelley and Betty? The ambiguity forces you to confront your own feelings on the subject. A lot of readers, both gay and straight, want to see sexuality as black and white. Other readers can see a little wiggle room, maybe Betty is seriously considering “swinging” for Shelley. Its not me as the author making the decision, it’s you as the reader.
In the end I think the whole question of stereotypes in LGBT literature is best left for the literary theorist. Writers should be true to their own experience. They should write stories that reflect their lives and let others worry what it “means”. We shouldn’t be limited by stereotypes but we shouldn’t be afraid of them either. There is an incredible rich diversity in the LGBT community and we need to explore all of it; characters that defy the stereotype, characters that consciously used them to make a message (“flaming” gays who use stereotypical behaviors to make a proud statement about themselves) and characters that “just happen” to fit them.
What’s currently missing? The B and the T. It’s often, I feel, a reaction to the stereotypes. Transgender characters are largely missing from LGBT literature in part because we are the smallest minority. But its not just true transgender people that are missing, it’s the whole gender spectrum. I feel a lot of gay writers are scared to admit how much gender variance there is in the LGBT community because they think they will be reinforcing a stereotype. Sexuality and gender are fluid for many people but effeminate men, butch women, bisexuals of both sexes and gender variant people are largely ignored, even within the LGBT community because they challenge the lines that society draws around such behaviors.
Vicki: What are you currently working on?
Rachel Eliason: This is a beautiful questions because as I write this the final edits for my first YA novel are sitting next to me. I will be finishing those edits next and formatting that book for publication. The ebook should be available on Amazon by early November and the physical book before the end of November. The title is Run, Clarissa, Run.
Run, Clarissa, Run
By Rachel Eliason
Life in a small town can be tough when you’re a little different, but for a fifteen year old transgender kid it can truly be hell. Clark is harassed daily at school for his effeminate behavior and appearance. He has no friends and a brother that is as likely to be on the teasing as to prevent it.
When Clark is offered a job babysitting for the Pirella family, it seems like a godsend. The money is good. He bonds with the girls almost instantly. The father, Tony, works in computer security. Tony and Clark strike up a friendship based on a mutual love of computers and hacking.
As Tony becomes aware of Clark’s transsexuality and his growing feminine alter ego, Clarissa, things become incredibly complicated. Will Tony be Clarissa’s salvation, or her undoing?
A sample of the novel can be found on my facebook authors page.
Thank you to author Rachel Eliason for wonderful interview!