An Unlikely Interview with E. Saxey

The Librarian’s Dilemma deals with that tricky question of whether some information should be restricted ‘for our own good’, or whether all information should be free. You explore a similar theme in your story Melioration, which looks at free speech versus hate speech and ponders whether we’d be better off if people simply had hateful words plucked from their vocabulary entirely. What interests you about these questions? What led you to the varying approaches you took on the idea in these two stories?

It is tricky! I’ve been very influenced by writers like Foucault, and I think that power often works in the world through words. (An obvious recent example is the UK dispute over the terms ‘migrant’, ‘asylum seeker’ and ‘refugee’ – these terms impose identities, imply histories, and prompt specific responses.)
Melioration was a fantasy exploration of a desire I sometimes have, to stop people using certain words. A slur word gets charged up, made more concrete and powerful, whenever it’s used, and it also releases energy into the debate. Sometimes you just want to break that circuit.

Similarly, with The Librarian’s Dilemma: I’m sometimes furious at a book. At that moment, I want an omniscient wise person to wade in and whisk the book out of circulation/existence. But that’s, of course, rubbish: there’s no such person; there’s no objective answer to many ethical issues; any whisking will hurt vulnerable people first. And I don’t have a decent alternative suggestion for action.

These stories are both akin to worrying at a loose tooth – they’re not proposed solutions!

On your blog, you frequently write about sexuality, gender, and narrative theory. In a recent post, you talk about the classic coming out story and how it become the sole template for queer stories for a while. You point out the way it frequently shuts out identities that are not cis-white-males. Do you see a shift in the kind of queer stories that are being told today? What are the stories that aren’t being told that you’d like to see more often? What are some examples of narratives dealing with gender and sexuality that you would recommend?

I do see more stories with not-straight or not-cis characters, which aren’t about the fact of their ‘difference’ itself (e.g. coming out for queer individuals, transition narratives for trans people – I think these are valuable stories but can become limiting).

Recent reads: Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy, and Philip Reeve’s Railhead both take advantage of SF/Fantasy rules to have gender-ambiguous characters living intriguing lives, and pushing along the plot. I’ve just started Mary Anne Mohanraj’s The Stars Change, which is both raunchy and lovely, and I’m dipping into the anthology Long Hidden.

Do you have a favorite magical school from literature? If that school offered you admission, do you see yourself gravitating toward a particular subject or specialty? If you were offered a teaching position at that school, is there anything new you’d add to the curriculum?

I’d go to the university in Year of the Griffin (Dianna Wynne Jones). It’s trying to re-invent itself after years of being a training school for naff magical quests – the students and staff have been bogged down in very flimsy, showy magic. So it would be an exciting time to be on the staff: research going on, big debates in the early hours.

I’d like to work in the library, actually – I’d try to expand it, and bring in new ideas from different parts of the world. I’d keep it open late, have a kettle and some biscuits in the corner.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I worked for six months in a convent, a Victorian redbrick place built for hundreds of nuns. There were only a few sisters left, which left empty corridors round huge courtyards. I was lucky to stay there; after I left, it was turned into luxury flats, and the sisters went to live with another order. I helped with retreats. Guests came along to meditate and pray and be calm, and I did practical stuff to support that -- the paddling under the swan.

I’ve not yet written anything set in a convent but I do keep coming back to nuns. They’ve got a spiritual calling to live together, and a constant prayerful routine to their lives -- but then they’re still just cohabiting humans, sharing space 24/7 and getting on each other’s nerves. It’s a fascinating negotiation.

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