An Unlikely Interview with Sean Robinson

Minotaur: An Analysis of the Species takes minotaurs beyond Greek mythology, and posits them as essential to every culture. Are monsters and stories about monsters an essential part of humanity? What do a culture’s monsters tell us about that culture, what they value and what they feel? Why did you choose minotaurs in particular for your story?

From my perspective, monsters are what looks back at us when we look in the mirror. They’re a reflection of ourselves stripped bare. It’s the face that we would see if we didn’t wrap ourselves up in the packaging of society’s rules. It’s somehow both exceptionally beautiful, and exceptionally terrifying. So yes, I think stories about monsters are essential to what it means to be human. Whether it’s a child-eating lamia, or a shiny vampire, monsters speak in a voice that’s so often otherwise silent. I think monsters say the things the culture is afraid of, gives voice to its honest truths and fears (which aren’t always different). It’s letting go. I came to the idea of minotaurs because they’re always depicted as singular. There’s only one, and its trapped in the center of a labyrinth…waiting. Waiting for the Atheneans to feed it. Waiting for Theseus to slay it. Waiting for Minor to love him, or Pasiphaë to save him. I think all of that speaks so much to the human experience.

On your website, you state that a particular area of interest in scholarly research for you is queer themes in fairy tales. Many people tend to think of fairy tales in their sanitized versions, stripped of the majority of their violence and sexuality. What queer themes and stories can be reclaimed by going back to older versions of these tales? Do you have any plans for your scholarly research, such as a non-fiction book somewhere down the road?

Oh gosh. You went to my website! Ack. Faerie Tales are such a rich place when you go looking. As you said, the stories we’re told by Disney in modern day have been scrubbed of its incest, cannibalism, and creative murders. Which is sort of a shame. If you look at the history of stories, you see depictions of relationships between people that don’t have labels but are--from my perspective--queer. Gilgamesh and Enkidu in Mesopotamian mythology, Achilles and Patroclus in Greek mythos. More modern stories, like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” also echo some of these themes. Andersen wrote “The Little Mermaid” in response to the marriage of his long time, unrequited, love Edvard Collin. I think they’re all interesting places to go. I’ve had the fortune of presenting at MythCon, the annual convention of the Mythopoeic Society. They were kind enough to let me read a paper on queer themes in CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was profoundly humbling. My day job keeps me busy, so no non-fiction book that I can think of at the moment. But I’ll keep puttering.

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?

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, in her Nyeusigrube series wrote about a place called Ramsa High School, in a town that borders the seat of government for vampires (non-sparkly, and written before that other series came out). As a teenager, I wanted to go there, so as one of the characters did, I could become a vampire. It’s not Hogwarts or Brakebills, but I’d be game.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

It is possible to pass out from laughing too hard. I learned this from personal experience while playing a game called “Telephone Pictionary”. I went to stand up and woke up on the floor about a minute later.

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 have been a professional firebreather for a couple of years, does that count? I’ve given the talent (craziness?) to one character that I’ve written. It got her out of a tough scene that neither of us could figure out a different way out of.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

So, I am a very mainstream kind of reader. But! Sharon Green did a series called “The Blending” and I love them. It’s eight books and while they are my dirty pleasure, I don’t know if they’re what you should drop into your TBR pile. The characters are really well realized, the world building is great. There is a major romantic plot line that is threaded through each of the (exceptionally) large cast and it maintains its structure throughout all eight books., the characters are distinct and I re-read the whole series a couple times a year.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

I’ve always got stuff on the burner. At the moment, my only solid publication dates are in 2016. I’ve got a short story about a drowning sailor coming out in Kaleidatrope and a fairy tale re-imagining coming out through Mirror Dance. You can always check out my site though about upcoming releases!

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