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27 June 2002



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Elizabeth Hand: Chasing Muses July 2002

Elizabeth Hand, feminist author, critic, and "lapsed Catholic," whose work deals with moral issues, sex, and death, published her first story in 1988 and first novel, Winterlong, in 1990. It began an SF series, never-completed, that included Aestival Tide (1992) and Icarus Descending. Contemporary fantasy Waking the Moon (1994), which won the James Tiptree Jr. Award and Mythopoeic Society Award, was followed by science fantasy Glimmering in 1997, and contemporary fantasy Black Light in 1999. Story collection Last Summer at Mars Hill (1998) includes the Nebula and World Fantasy award-winning title novella. Among more recent short fiction, "Cleopatra Brimstone" (2001) won an International Horror Guild Award. Hand has also written movie and TV novelizations, and is a regular book reviewer for F&SF, Washington Post Book World, and the Village Voice Literary Supplement. She lives in Maine and London.
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘When I was writing 'Cleopatra Brimstone', I was exchanging e-mails with M. John Harrison, one of the writers whose work most excites me. I think The Course of the Heart and Signs of Life are two of the most brilliant books I've read — of any kind. The pivotal event in Signs involves a character who has spent his whole life on a destructive rampage. As it turns out, when he was a teenager, he had an erotically charged encounter with a green woman, a supernatural being. And this glimpse of the paranatural destroyed his life. That one scene seemed to crystalize everything for me. For my whole writing life, I've been trying to get that sense across. Because in real life, if something that strange were to happen to you, you'd lose it — you'd puke, you'd lose your mind. It would be like taking someone from 200 years ago, stuffing them into an airline seat, and then sending them up in the air. They would completely flip out. I've had scenes in my work where I try to get at that feeling, though usually, I've had people respond that way to the natural rather than supernatural world.’’


‘‘I suppose [my next novel] Mortal Love is just trying to get to the heart of the question, What makes somebody create something? What kind of 'dark matter' do we tap into when we try to write or paint or compose or perform? What fuels that? Whatever this dark matter is, it can be dangerous. Poets have the highest suicide rate of any professional demographic. Writers have the highest rate of alcoholism. Actors have the highest divorce rate. These are not model citizens; and yet they're producing things that people want to see, to experience.... I have no belief in the supernatural per se, but if something gives you a numinous experience, what do you call the thing that generates that experience? I'm fascinated by that question.’’


‘‘The Faerie mythos gave Victorian artists a framework in which to express a lot of their fears: their anxieties, their desires, notions of sexuality. This was their chance to draw naked women, naked children, people in chains or bound to trees. A great outlet! A British writer who did a non-fiction book on the history of fairies, particularly in Victorian consciousness, said that whenever we become culturally aware of what fairies stand for, we lose interest in them. That's when fairies disappear from popular culture, from genuine folklore. It's interesting that right now we're seeing a resurgence in fairy lore, fairy literature and movies. Obviously we need them again — but why?’’


‘‘As for being a Catholic writer, I certainly had a Catholic upbringing and education, moderated somewhat by the fact that my mother was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when I was seven. I've written elsewhere that I think the whole Catholic worldview can provide a template for the fantastic or supernatural, and certainly the most brilliant fantasists writing today — John Crowley, chiefly, and Gene Wolfe, but also people like Tim Powers, Gwyneth Jones, and James Patrick Kelly (who went to the same parochial school I did) — grew up exposed to the traditions of the Church. But that doesn't necessarily imply belief. It certainly doesn't in my case. Though I respect and occasionally envy people who maintain faith in some sort of divinity, I don't.’’

The full interview and biographical profile is published in the July 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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