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A Conversation with Craig Laurance Gidney
by Gavin Atlas
Craig Laurance Gidney is the author of the new novel, Bereft. He is also the author of the short story
Swallow Me which was nominated for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award for
Science Fiction and Fantasy. He was also
the recipient of the 1996 Petrey Scholarship to the Clarion West Workshop. He lives and writes in Washington DC.
Gavin Atlas: Hi, Craig! Thanks for talking to Out in Print! Bereft opens with a short introduction to the
making of masks and the observation that the perfect mask hides the face while
revealing the soul. What would your
perfect mask look like?
Craig Laurance Gidney: My mask would be Venetian. A rococo design with inlaid
mother-of-pearl, jewels and fringed with feathers. It would suggest some kind
of mythic, mystical creature, caught in the process of transformation.
GA: Your protagonist, Rafe, is caught between
worlds. He’s often uncomfortable with
the friend he calls Sideshow because of “ghetto” behavior, but Rafe doesn’t
relate to the wealthy preps at his new private school either The angel statues in his room, the broken
bottles and drunken homeless men on the steps of his building, and the
narrow-mindedness of both faculty and students surround him. While I know he’s in the process of finding
himself and his support structure, if you were to put him in a situation where
you think he’d be most comfortable, what would it be like?
CLG: I think he’d be most
comfortable at a science fiction convention. I can see him and his friends pawing
over obscure computer games and gawking at the stars of various movies and TV
shows. Rafe is a geek at heart.
GA: Could you tell us about your golden-boy
character, Toby, whom your protagonist Rafe sees in his dreams as Legolas the
elf archer from the Lord of the Rings?
In your mind, how bad a person is Toby or do you see him as more screwed
up than cruel? If you were to follow
Toby’s story, where do you imagine he’d be in five or ten years?
CLG: I see Toby as a Type A
personality. He always has to be the alpha dog. He is also a child of
privilege, and I don’t really envision him stepping outside of that way of
viewing the world. He won’t be taking any Women’s Studies courses at college.
In ten years I see him as a ‘dude-bro’, a member of a frat, forever climbing
the ladder to success. He might change, but it will be a forced change, not the
result of soul searching. He will become that type of person who begins
sentences with, “I’m not racist, but…”
GA: Because of the focus on angel statues and
masks in Bereft, may I ask what do you have on the walls of your room? How does the art or design in your space
affect your mood and your writing, if at all?
CLG: In my writing
room, which doubles as a bedroom, there are a few framed posters. Two are by
the surrealist artist Leonora Carrington and one by Max Ernst. Above my bed, a painting of a cobalt
blue woman’s mask stares out above me. A row of glass paperweights sits on my
chest of drawers. I must create in a sanctuary of sorts, I find. I turn on
music when I’m writing—both the visual and aural art help submerse me into my
fictional worlds. I also have to pick the right font to write my stories in!
GA: Rafe’s father makes Rafe aware of
cultural annihilation when mentioning his frustration with the white-only
characters in science fiction and fantasy that Rafe reads. He brings up stories about a “mischievous
spider and “a black mermaid who was fiercer than Ariel”. Let’s say a college professor teaching spec
fic wanted to combat cultural annihilation in the curriculum. When thinking either in terms of what’s been
most fascinating or most important, what stories or books would you love for
people to be exposed to?
CLG: I would direct
them to the works of Octavia Butler, an African American writer whose speculative fiction
focused on marginalized people. I wish I had read Philip Ridley’s work when I was
younger—he writes these weird, magical realist queer fairytales for young
adults. In the Eyes of Mr. Fury and Crocodilia are both out of
print, but snatch ‘em up if you ever find copies.
GA: When thinking of your other writing, do
you have any favorite stories or works? Are there any characters you’ve created that
you wish you could hang out with?
CLG: I would love
to hang out with Olokun, the African sea god who appears in the title story of
my collection, Sea, Swallow Me & Other Stories. Breathing underwater
would be such fun; I had a crush on Aquaman when I was younger! C.B. from Circus
Boy Without a Safety Net would also be a hoot to hang out with, as would
the avatar of Lena Horne, who also appears in the same story.
GA: Could you tell us about your favorite
music and film?
CLG: Well, a lot of the titles of my stories
come from music. “Sea, Swallow Me” is the title of a Cocteau Twins song and
“Circus Boy Without a Safety Net” is an adaptation of a phrase used in a Tori
Amos song. I tend to gravitate towards those works that are atmospheric and
have some imaginative flair. I can only write with wordless and vocal-less
music, so I like a lot of ambient music. I’ve been recently listening to a work
by an artist named Cold Specks. She’s an Afro-Canadian who writes and sings
what she calls “doom soul”: which filters folk blues through a Gothic
As for films, there are too many to list.
Recent films I’ve loved are Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pan’s
GA: I saw an interview you did with author
Hal Duncan, and you asked him a mischievous question, so would it be all right
to ask something similar? Who in the
world of speculative media – TV shows, film, and cartoons – is hot to you?
CLG: Let’s see. Glenn, Rick and
Daryl from The Walking Dead—though I imagine they’d be
hygiene-challenged at this point! Idris Alba from Prometheus. John Cho
from the reboot of Star Trek. And many of the men of the American Horror
franchise (Dylan McDermott, Zachary Quinto, etc.).
GA: Here is a question in two parts since you
create both real world fiction and speculative fiction. First, using real world rules, could you
describe your perfect day? Where would
you be? What would you do? Who would you spend time with?
CLG: A perfect day? I would spend
the day with a good friend of mine. We’d go to one of those indoor skydiving
places. Afterwards, go book shopping. Eat dinner at a Three Michelin Star
restaurant. And at night, see one of our favorite bands together.
GA: Okay, now could you describe your perfect
day, if it would be different with the help of magic, time travel, space
travel, or a pantheon of handsome demi-gods?
CLG: I’m torn.
Part of me just wants to
hang out with some dead famous authors. Share an absinthe with Arthur Rimbaud,
talk about art and madness with Sylvia Plath.
Another part of would love
to be Dionysus, the god of wine and abandon, just for a day. You know, wander
around and drive random people into wild frenzies.
GA: And last, what are you looking forward to,
in terms of writing projects or life in general?
CLG: I am currently
working on 2 novels, both with speculative/fantastic elements. I won’t say
more—I don’t like to jinx projects in progress!
Thanks so much, Craig!
Keep up with Craig at his blog, Strange Alphabets (http://craiglaurancegidney.com/)