“When I was young, I always wanted to be a writer, but I thought that one could write science fiction and then also write ‘serious’ literature . . . that I could be Samuel R. Delany, but I could also be F. Scott Fitzgerald. That I could be Dorothy Parker, and I could be Angela Carter. But I found that you tend to get pigeonholed.”
Award-winning author Elizabeth Hand joins the Virtual Memories Show to talk about her new novel, Wylding Hall! We also talk about her need to try different genres, that pigeonholing process, how abandoning the supernatural for her Cass Neary novels was like working without a net, how her success at writing may be attributable to the Helsinki Bus Syndrome, what it was like to be at the punk scene in the mid-’70s, how she learned to strip down her prose for her recent (and excellent) noir crime novels, just how she ended up in coastal Maine, and more! Give it a listen!
“In the ’70s, I really wanted to be a photographer. I wanted to be a lot of things that I wasn’t. I wanted to be Lester Bangs. I wanted to be Patti Smith. I wanted to be all these things, but I had no talent for any of them. I was in the position of being the fan, the participant observer.”
The conversation also covers the changing models and markets of genre writing, the importance of fan interaction, why she loves coming to Readercon (where we recorded this episode), why it ultimately paid off to opt in favor of experience over college classes, and why her protagonist Cass Neary is like her “if my brake lines had been cut when I was 20 years old and I’d never been able to come back.”
We talk about a lot of books in this episode. Here’s a list of ’em:
- Elysium – Jennifer Marie Brissett
- The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-Millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain – Julian Cope
- I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie – Pamela Des Barres
- Afterparty – Daryl Gregory
- Wylding Hall – Liz Hand
- Generation Loss – Liz Hand
- Available Dark – Liz Hand
- Mortal Love – Liz Hand
- Glimmering – Liz Hand
- The Silence of the Lambs – Thomas Harris
- Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Twentieth Anniversary Edition – Greill Marcus
- Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs – Sally Mann
- Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk – Legs McNeil
- Tapping the Source – Kem Nunn
- Edie: American Girl – Jean Stein, George Plimpton
- The Red Pony – John Steinbeck
- The Hobbit; or, There and Back Again – JRR Tolkien
- Find Me – Laura van den Berg
- Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Rob Young
- John Crowley, Scott Edelman
- Michael Dirda, part 1 and part 2
- Theodora Goss, Valya Lupescu and Nancy Hightower
- Maria Alexander
- Brad Gooch
About our Guest
Elizabeth Hand is the bestselling author of 13 genre-spanning novels and four collections of short fiction. Her work has received the World Fantasy Award (four times), Nebula Award (twice), Shirley Jackson Award (twice), International Horror Guild Award (three times), the Mythopoeic Award, and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, among others, and several of her books have been New York Times and Washington Post Notable Books. Her recent, critically acclaimed novels featuring Cass Neary, “one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes” (Katherine Dunn) — Generation Loss, Available Dark, and the forthcoming Hard Light — have been compared to those of Patricia Highsmith. With Paul Witcover, Hand created DC Comic’s early 1990s cult series ANIMA, whose riot grrl superheroine dealt with homeless teenagers, drug abuse, the AIDS epidemic and racial violence, and featured DC Comics’ first openly gay teenager (the series also once guest-starred Conan O’Brien). Her 1999 play “The Have-Nots” was a finalist in London’s Fringe Theater Festival and went on to play at the Battersea Arts Center. She has written numerous novelizations of films, including Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, and a popular series of Star Wars books for middle grade children. She is a longtime critic and book reviewer whose work appears regularly in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon, the Boston Review, among many others, and writes a regular column for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her books and short fiction have been translated into numerous languages and have been optioned for film and television. She teaches at the Stonecoast MFA Program in Creative Writing, and recently joined the faculty of the Maine College of Art. She divides her time between the coast of Maine and North London, and is working on the fourth Cass Neary novel, The Book of Lamps and Banners.
Credits: This episode’s music is Three Hours by Nick Drake. The conversation was recorded at the Boston Marriott Burlington on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Hand by Norman Walters.
“I’m never gonna be a parent, but if I were, I’d be like, ‘We’re skippin’ this Goodnight, Moon thing; you’re goin’ to Pale Fire.'”
Cartoonist Katie Skelly joins the show to talk about her new book, Operation Margarine (AdHouse Books), which is really just an opportunity for us to talk about Barthes, Edie Sedgwick, and The Maxx, before getting to the moment when she was 15 and read the least “YA”-friendly book ever for all the wrong reasons. Along the way, we also talk about how she manages to work on her comics while holding down a (respectable) full-time job, why she’d rather hunt for a rare comic than buy something new, what it was like to belong to a high school anime club that only had two members. Go listen!
“6 o’clock hits, it’s time to leave the office; what are you going to do with the four or five hours you have before going to sleep?”
About our Guest
Katie Skelly lives and works in Queens, NY. Her first graphic novel, Nurse Nurse, was published by Sparkplug Books in 2012. Her latest book, Operation Margarine, was published by AdHouse Books in 2014. You can find her on her website, on Tumblr, and on Twitter.
Credits: This episode’s music is Katie’s Been Gone by The Band. The conversation was recorded in my hotel room during the 2014 Toronto Comic Arts Festival on a Zoom H2n (I had some weird distortion/flutter on my usual Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder, so I went with my backup recording). The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Skelly by Amy Roth.
What I’m reading: I sorta defaulted into reading Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell. I was feeling kinda meh one evening this week, and it was on my Kindle, and I thought, “What the heck?” I’m enjoying it, but I’m waiting for the bizarre structural trick that characterizes Mitchell’s novels. Since this one seems to be a novel about his childhood and his stammering problem, it’s possible there’s no pomo wackiness to it. I don’t want to look it up to find out, preferring to let the book unfold itsowndamnself.
What I’m watching: More In Treatment (almost done with season 1), and Ric Burns’ American Masters documentary on Andy Warhol. It wasn’t as good as Andy Warhol: The Complete Picture, which I caught on PBS a year or two ago. There were a few problems with Burns’ doc: it grinds to a halt when it covers Warhol’s filmmaking (much as Warhol’s films were exercises in inertia), it has to mess with timelines for its segment on “casualties of the Factory,” it overemphasizes Edie Sedgwick and her death, and it spends about 15 minutes (of a total of 4 hours) on the post-shooting Warhol. After reading Bob Colacello’s book on the post-1968 era, Holy Terror, I think that phase of his career is immensely interesting, but Burns gives it pretty short shrift. That other doc I mentioned also does a better job of showing Warhol’s relation to his family, and the sheer weirdness of his mother living with him in NYC for 20 years. Anyway, the first half of Burns’ doc is pretty good, but I felt that it lost its way from about 1965 on.
What I’m drinking: Nyquil. Not for recreational purposes.
What Rufus & Otis are up to: Posing for Christmas pictures.
Where I’m going: Nowhere!
What I’m happy about: An old pal got in touch with me for general shooting of the breeze on Friday. It was great to just catch up with her.
What I’m sad about: The way this year’s just whirled by.
What I’m worried about: Getting most of my year-end 500-page issue done by Friday.
What I’m pondering: Whether I’ll finally get around to writing that “favorite books of the decade” post that I delayed since January.