Upcoming Interview with Lynda Williams on August 2, 2013

Lynda Williams and I have been corresponding for a while, each visiting the other’s website and reading about various comments about Canadian SF. I was therefore very excited when Ms. Williams agreed to do an interview here. It is always very exciting to talk with an author who is comfortable deconstructing and analysing her own work, and whose keen observations add much to the discourse of Canadian SF.

Author and family photo courtesy of Lynda Williams

Author and family photo courtesy of Lynda Williams

In our upcoming interview on August 2, 2013, Lynda Williams discusses the power of close observation for an author, religion, culture contact, imbalances of power, writing LGBTQ or queer characters and giving them personal complexity and depth, engaging with issues around homophobia, gender stereotypes, the question of medical intervention, writing about trauma, and the importance of fan participation in an author’s world.

Here are some teasers from our interview:

Lynda Williams: [Science Fiction] “makes us think outside the box. People can have petrified attitudes about a topic due to past associations which aren’t necessarily part of the package. In science fiction, we can alter the stimulus. We can identify exactly what we want to show the reader and see if he/she has the same reaction without the usual triggers.”

Lynda Williams: “I’ve always been an observer of life requiring a conscious effort to mimic what comes naturally to others, and felt most at home in fiction where everything has some kind of meaning.”

Lynda Williams: “My hope is that by examining fictional cultures in conflict, readers might learn to think through situations in their own world on a case by case basis.”

Lynda Williams: “If there’s a message in this for readers it’s a complex one about responsibility for one’s actions while, simultaneously, registering the non-trivial nature of finding oneself on the wrong side of a cultural norm.”

Lynda Williams: “My initial interest in sexual differences sprang from something like rebellion against male and female stereotypes.”

Lynda Williams: “Let the LGBTQ characters be fully realized, even if that means they won’t always be perfect role models. I’ve had readers express impatience with Di Mon, for example, because he can’t “get over” his dislike of being homosexual. Really? Given what’s at stake for him? When the idea of Di Mon jelled for me, back in the 1970s and 80s, it was radical to contemplate a gay hero. Now, it sometimes feels as if he’s lost the right to be a character with hang-ups because he has to represent something.”

Lynda Williams: “Real people aren’t perfect. Neither are believable characters.”

Lynda Williams: “Amel’s history in the Okal Rel Saga also dramatizes the question of whether science should be used to “fix” people. For example, my father used to hate being on anti-depression medication because it altered his sense of who he was. But he couldn’t cope without it, either. As we become more and more able to directly intervene to change ourselves, medically, the questions Amel and his Reetion doctor, Lurol, dance around in books 1 and 5 will get nothing but more important.”

Lynda Williams: “The Okal Rel experience evolved out of playing with others, so it invites participation naturally.”

Lynda Williams: “I’m arriving at a stage of life where I’m losing interest in complying with marketing imperatives to make out that one’s work is “just like” something better known in order to ride on its coattails, or to define an audience niche and conform to its standards for acceptance. I count among my favorite readers high school students and university professors. What they share is a love of rich cultural settings, intense human relationships, and well-plotted stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic and always emblematic of some dilemma or concern that preoccupied the writer.”

Lynda Williams: “The Okal Rel Saga is the sum of my life’s work of making meaning of my world through fiction.”

Lynda Williams: “The pleasure in writing, for me, has always been about creativity and ideas. The heroes. The questions. The larger-than-everyday feel of SF.”

If you have not already had the chance, check out my review of Lynda Williams’ The Courtesan Prince at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/the-in-between-space/. You can find out more about Ms. Williams and the Okal Rel universe at http://okalrel.org/.

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Between Worlds

A review of Charles de Lint’s Mulengro (Orb, 2003)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Charles de Lint’s novel Mulengro: A Romany Tale is fundamentally about culture clashes and the competing interests of tradition and insularity against cultural assimilation. Mulengro is about a group of Gypsies (Romany people) who are being hunted by a man (called Mulengro by the Gypsie leaders) who is trying to hold on to his view of what the Romany should be. He views the modern Gypsies as marhime (impure) due to their exposure to Gaje (non-Gypsy) culture.  Mulengro’s ideas are born out of the Nazi concentration camps of WWII where Gypsies were tortured and murdered with the Nazi ideology of racial purity, but, rather than fighting against notions of racial purity, Mulengro internalises them and begins his personal quest to try to purify the Gypsies of any impurities from contact with Gaje and return them to his notion of what Gypsies should be. After reading this novel, even looking at the name “Mulengro” on the cover of the book inspires a shudder and the reader often worries that the echoes of the name in his or her mind might call something out from between the pages.

De Lint creates a sense of ominous horror in Mulengro where the shadows themselves are fearsome and the creep of the fog is the breath of spirits and spectres of evil. De Lint takes his reader into a realm of magic, but, as is normal for his books, that magical realm is both awesome and awful at the same time – it is a place of both incredible beauty and incredible fear and the awareness of magic is itself a step into danger. He reminds us that knowledge of the supernatural means that the supernatural now knows about us as well and not everything in the otherworld is happy and filled with light. De Lint’s world is one that is dark and terrifying where the reader questions everything and is reminded that his or her very foundations are shaky.

Mulengro is a novel of border-walkers, people on the fringes, straddling two (or more) worlds and trying to find their identity between socially defined boundaries. His characters are disenfranchised Gypsies, Romany who are trying to fit in with Gaje culture, a hippie trying to continue to live in the 60s as all of the idealisms of the era have dissolved around him, police officers who are haunted by the spirits of victims.

De Lint explores the clash that occurs when the insularity and secrecy of the Gypsies comes into contact with the insularity of the police; when the inexplicability of Gypsie mysticism confronts the police need for concrete, easily explainable answers. Yet, de Lint brings these conflicting communities into confrontation together, challenging them to forge a community out of difference, diversity, and distrust (and that community doesn’t just include the living).

Characters find themselves between the worlds of ethnicity and majority, tradition and modernity, flexible truths and The Truth, living and dead. Mulengro provides important lessons, challenges, and questions for those of us who straddle social borders – those of us who see the shadows at the fringes of the light because we are, ourselves, relegated to the fringe.

Mulengro is one of de Lint’s older books, but is still worth being discussed, and still socially relevant. You can explore more about Charles de Lint at http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/