I am SO EXCITED to have Foz Meadows drop by the blog today for an interview! Foz generously agreed to answer some questions about her wonderful novella, CORAL BONES.
Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet. In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe; she is also a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Black Gate, and a contributing reviewer for Strange Horizons and Tor.com. Her third novel, An Accident of Stars, is due out from Angry Robot in 2016.
The Miranda in CORAL BONES is such a different Miranda than the Miranda from The Tempest, even in the flashbacks. So much sharper, and more clever, and in the present sections, she’s seen and done so much more. How did you take the source material, where Miranda is hardly even one dimensional, and flesh her out to deeper character?
The heart of all fanfiction – and let’s be honest, writing about someone else’s characters is always going to be fanfiction, even if it’s Shakespeare – especially if it’s Shakespeare, actually; we revere him now, but it’s not as if he shied away from making a dick joke or twenty back in the day – is always in the gaps. And Miranda, fundamentally, is a creature of more gaps than substance: her entire existence is conditional on her convenience to the male characters, because she was written, quite deliberately, as an idealised personification of feminine virtue. Which means, from a fanfic perspective, there are plenty of gaps to work with: all you have to do is find an entry point, and ask enough questions to get the ball rolling.
My entry point for Coral Bones was Prospero’s initial conversation with Miranda, and everything it implies. Prospero says he’s never told Miranda that she’s a princess, even though they’ve been stranded together for over a decade – and then, when her presence becomes inconvenient, he puts her to sleep. When she wakes again, it’s clear she doesn’t realise he’s responsible, which makes you wonder: how often has he done this? When did he start? And what does this say about how he’s raised Miranda? Because of the way The Tempest is structured, we’re not encouraged to think of it as challenging gender roles – Miranda’s marriage to Ferdinand rather gives the opposite impression – but the fact remains that Prospero has been raising his daughter as a single father, a task he is culturally and socially ill-equipped to perform. And he’s a nobleman, too: Miranda’s one flashback to life before the island involves multiple female servants taking care of her, so it’s reasonable to infer that Prospero, when they first arrived, was wholly out of his element.
That being so – and as the only resources at his command were magical – it makes perfect sense that, as a nobleman and a scholar, Prospero would delegate the primary care of Miranda to his androgynous servant, Ariel. Which means that, straight away, there’s going to be a tension in her that Prospero doesn’t necessarily recognise, because Ariel isn’t human – isn’t even male or female, but a genderfluid spirit – and so whatever Prospero tells his daughter about her role as a woman, which is later reflected in how she behaves with Ferdinand (and how, to a lesser extent, she behaves with him), it’s hard to imagine her being the same with Ariel when Prospero isn’t watching; that growing up under fairy guidance wouldn’t have an impact on her knowledge and curiosity. And we know, canonically, that Ariel is bound to serve Prospero, which gives them a kinship of sorts with Miranda, yet also curtails how obviously they can influence her, and in what ways.
This is what I mean when I say that Miranda’s existence, canonically, is conditional on her convenience to the male characters: all that matters is what they see of her, and so that’s all we see. But if you consider her as an individual – if you imagine her internality, separate to her perception, in the context of her raising – then you’re left to draw one of two conclusions: that either Miranda behaves as she would for a male audience at all times, even when alone, or there’s an enormous part of her that we’re not seeing, and a reason why it’s hidden. And as the second option is much more narratively interesting, even if it’s not what Shakespeare intended, that’s what I chose to write.
Years ago, I encountered a striking comment on Jane Austen’s writing: that she never depicted a scene in which two men were alone together, because she was worried that, never having witnessed such a thing herself, she wouldn’t be able to depict it with any degree of accuracy. And yet her male characters are wholly three-dimensional, because – to paraphrase what Dorothy L. Sayers once famously said on the same subject – she was nonetheless aware that men are people: that, even if they behaved differently when she couldn’t see them, those differences remained salient to their personhood without invalidating her perception of them otherwise. And yet there’s a whole body of supposedly classic male writing which fails to extend the same courtesy to women: which constructs them as though their visibility to men is the be-all, end-all of their existence. Which is, partially, the fault of cultures which have, for centuries, treated women as though this were literally the case; and yet it’s also a failure of imagination and empathy in a field which, by its nature, ought to abound in both. Women have never had the luxury of forgetting that men exist in spaces where they themselves are absent, because the business undertaken in such spaces has nonetheless directly impacted their liberties. Whereas a great many men, it seems, have been able to either ignore the existence or elide the importance of women’s spaces, because they believed – however inaccurately – that nothing which went on in them was relevant to men, or represented a threat to their freedom. That’s the difference between Mr Darcy and Miranda: even when viewed by women alone, the former is written as though he still exists beyond their gaze, while the latter is presented as nothing more than a construct of male attention.
Unless, of course, we dig into the inherent contradiction of any person being thus defined, and make a new story out of it.
What was your favorite part of writing CORAL BONES, and why?
It was immensely cathartic to write Miranda as genderqueer, but Puck was extraordinarily fun to work with, too. A Midsummer Night’s Dream has always been my favourite Shakespeare play, and I’ve got a decided soft-spot for mythology’s tricksters. Figuring out how to make Puck helpful without betraying his mischievous nature was very satisfying – as was crafting my own interpretation of the fairy courts.
Where does CORAL BONES fit with the other novellas in the MONSTROUS LITTLE VOICES series? Did you know what the order would be when you wrote it, or was that determined after the fact?
Once the editor, David Thomas Moore, signed the five of us on for the project, he set up a group pages where we could jointly discuss the stories we wanted to tell and the characters we wanted to use, complete with his own notes about the overarching structure – history, worldbuilding, magic – for use as references. We went back and forth with our ideas, and once it was established that everything could fit together without contradiction, we went to work. I think I was vaguely aware that Coral Bones was first up chronologically, but I didn’t quite realise that meant first in the anthology until the novella was being released!
Compared to your other work (say, your upcoming novel, AN ACCIDENT OF STARS) was it a different process to get the voice right for this piece? To get that hint of Shakespearean cadence and poetry in there without going overboard? Or do you tend to fiddle with style a lot anyway?
I was definitely worried about getting it right! I didn’t think I could pull off actual Shakespearean dialogue, so adopting a first-person poetic style seemed like a sensible way to reference the original language while still writing in my own voice. An Accident of Stars, by contrast, is written very differently – third person, multiple POVs – with an eye to different details. I’ve always had a fairly versatile writing style, but it’s definitely improved since I started immersing myself in fanfiction. The whole idea of writing something just for yourself, as a deliberate subversion of canon and convention, is immensely freeing, and it’s given me a much stronger idea of my own abilities. I heartily recommend it!
How can readers stay in the loop and get news about your projects and releases?
I tweet, tumble and blog as Foz Meadows, which isn’t exactly a common name, so I’m pretty easy to find online. I do tend to ramble about a whole bunch of stuff, though, so anyone who’s interested purely in my fiction updates – and not, say, a lengthy paean to my feelings about Dragon Age, Teen Wolf or whatever other dumpster I’m currently occupying – might want to brace themselves.
Anything else you want us to know? Shout-outs? Words of wisdom?
I AM THE LIZARD QUEEN!*
*Translation: I am a terrible dork.