Interview with EM Blackwood

I’m lucky enough to know a talented writer and she just published her first book called Outside EverbrightI loved this book so much and I wanted to ask my friend a few more questions about it and genre writing in general. You should check out her website as well: http://www.emblackwood.com/.

everbright_promoSynopsis:

Temper Eve plans to waste her twenties the way she wasted her teens: starting barroom brawls and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down. Temper needs only two things in the world: action and anonymity. Her close ties with Everbright’s criminal underworld supply plenty of both.

All of that is destroyed by a stranger in a chance encounter.

Now Temper is on the run, host to an alien presence called the queen, and targeted by everyone from local law enforcement, who want to use her as a weapon, to the medical laboratories, who want to use her to cure the disease that kills everyone before they reach the age of forty.

So much for anonymity.

Temper has found a way to undo what’s happened to her, to get rid of the queen and return to a safely inconspicuous life inside the gritty hell of Everbright haven. But it means leaving.
And life on the outside is a death sentence even more certain than the husk.

Tell us a little bit about the dystopia you’ve written (world specific, not plot). What captivated you to tell a story set in this dystopia? What makes this society unique to you?

Here’s my premise: we worship youth in Western culture. Not just the physical beauty of youth — though that’s a huge part of it — but we’ve agreed as a society that we only have a short window of time to decide who we are and what path we’re going to take in life. If you hit thirty, thirty-five and you don’t know what you’re on Earth to do, the conventional wisdom says you might as well just switch over to auto pilot and coast along whatever path you’re already on. You’re done. You can’t decide you want to be an astronaut when you’re fifty. If you haven’t been on that track since your early twenties…it’s just not going to happen.

I remember when I was graduating high school, I thought it was absurd that there was such tremendous pressure to pick a college and pick the career path I would follow for the next few decades of my life. I wasn’t even legally responsible enough to consume alcohol, but I was supposed to know enough about myself and the world around me to choose My One True Path? I was an idiot, and I knew it. Why were so many older, wiser people encouraging an idiot to make enormous, uninformed decisions?

The world of the Mutant Eve series is an exaggeration of this absurdity. It posits a future in which a mysterious disease called the husk kills you somewhere between age thirty and forty. There’s no cure, and no one is immune. The world belongs to the young. And most of them spend their time the way the young always have: drinking, getting high, cliquing together, wasting time, loving fiercely, and tempting the world to destroy them. I can’t imagine a world more wild, passionate, hopeful, stupid, or savage than one populated exclusively by young people.

Temper Eve is not necessarily a “likable” character, which is sometimes a negative for female characters because of the expectation for women to be likable (ie. noble, vulnerable, soft, lawful good, neutral good, or just good etc.) in order to want to follow them on their journey. Male characters, on the other hand, can fit into a variety of boxes, even being psychopaths, and readers will revel in their awfulness without mention of “likability.” Can you speak to Temper’s character? What was her inspiration? Do you think she’s likable? Do you give a fuck if she’s likable?

I definitely don’t give a fuck if she’s likable. But I like her quite a bit.

Sometime during my college career (yes I eventually went,) I realized that the phrase “strong female character” was shorthand for “has boobs plus weapon.” It was such a shallow phrase that it was applied to almost every female character, like a quasi-feminist candy coating. But most of the time, the characters the phrase described were underdeveloped and over sexualized, apparently only present to add a flash of pretty-scowl or sexily tattered clothing to the scenery. I knew I was writing an action-adventure story, and I knew I wanted all the “boobs” in the story to actually be doing something with their “weapons.” More than that, I wanted them to have goals, plans, hard-won victories, colossal fuck-ups, and crippling regrets. Otherwise, you’re just watching boobs. And if that’s all you want, porn will probably deliver more of what you want in much less time.

Temper is a lot of things that women “shouldn’t” be. She’s callous, she’s impulsive, she’s unapologetically violent. She’s also vulnerable and uncertain, tempted to form relationships with the people around her even though she’s sworn off the obligations that come with giving a shit about anyone. She’s conflicted, opinionated, and prone to enormous, stupid mistakes. So fuck “likable,” she’s interesting.

Since this is going to be a series, is there anything you can tell us about the themes you imagine the books exploring in the future along with the ones explored in the first book? 

The main question I wanted to explore in this book is, “What would happen if someone received the power to save the world…and she refused to do it?” I wanted to discuss the responsibility that comes with power and more importantly, think about whether the recipient of great power is allowed to define the parameters for its use.

To put it in a less bloviate-y way: if you have the ability to save the world AND you have free will, don’t you also have the ability to decide that the world doesn’t need saving? As much as it’s your responsibility to use your power for “Good,” isn’t it also your responsibility to refuse to use your power if you think “saving the world” will only result in a lateral move?

There are other concepts wrapped up in the story: good of the many vs. good of the few, the arbitrary ethics that come with belonging to a group (i.e., “I’d kill to protect my family, but I won’t kill to protect that ‘other’ family”,) the value of taking any action, even if it isn’t the right action.  I think all of these questions are engrossing, particularly because I find very few convincing answers.

All that, plus there are tons of explosions. I like explosions.

What sort of tropes are you sick of seeing in the genre? Are there things that really don’t fit into your aesthetic?

Aside from the emptily strong female, I get bored with easy answers and obvious choices. You save the princess because she’s in danger. You kill the bad guy because he’s eeeeeevil. You save the world because that’s what’s always done.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve got no problem with the real world continuing to exist, and I would absolutely do what’s necessary to save someone in danger in the real world…but if stories are used to define our values, I think it’s worthwhile to think about the stories that exist in the lesser-explored negative space.

What if you don’t save the princess, and she dies and turns into a horrifying poltergeist hell-bent on revenge? Is she a good guy or a bad guy at that point? Do we root for her?

What if the eeeeeevil bad guy manages to execute the Dastardly Plan…and then despairs of his absence of meaningful companionship? What if he really just wants to be loved, and he tries to adopt a puppy at the shelter and they won’t let him have one because he’s eeeeeevil. Do we feel sorry for him or do we want to kick him some more? If he’s genuinely repentant and we can’t forgive him, are we the bad guys?

Why not let the world implode and see what happens to civilization? What things change? What things remain? And what does all of that say about being human?

My book is a sci-fi adventure story. A lot of people die, and most of the deaths would be considered murders; preemptive self-defense at best. It’s mushy ethical ground, and I think a society that is comfortable with these mushy ethics is compelling. More compelling is a character living in a mushily-ethical society who doesn’t necessarily accept the mushy ethics herself.

When can we expect to read more about Temper?

I’m working on the next book now and hope to have it out before the end of the year.

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