Good morning, all!
Today’s special guest is the lovely Ana Mardoll! Xie is a dear friend who has, happily, taken some time out of xer schedule to stop by and talk with me!
You may remember my review of the short story collection NO MAN OF WOMAN BORN (if not, the title there has a handy link, so do the clickity click!), and if so, then you may recall that Ana is the the author of the collection. It’s a great bunch of stories about trans and/or nonbinary people taking on the myths and fairy tales we’ve grown up with, and it has a special place in my heart.
So today, I talk to Ana a bit about NMOWB as well as xer other novels and characters!
LEAH: Good morning, Ana! It is so lovely to have you here, thank you for joining us!
AM: Thank you, Leah. I’m really happy to be here.
LEAH: Earlier this year, you released NO MAN OF WOMAN BORN, a collection of short stories, which are retellings featuring trans and/or nonbinary main characters. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose these particular myths and fairytales to retell?
AM: The idea began in a conversation with Twitter friends, actually! Chelsea Cameron and Elliot Wake were talking about trans fairy tales — Elliot was playing with the idea of Cinderella as a trans man. I began thinking about prophecies and that iconic moment in Lord of the Rings when the Witch-King is taunting his opponent because no man can kill him and Éowyn reveals that she’s not a man. What if that, but with transgender characters?
The myths and fairytales in No Man of Woman Born are ones that will be familiar to fans of sword-and-sorcery fiction. Evil dragons and evil witch-queens and evil warlords need defeating. Arthurian swords need to be pulled from stones. A sleeping beauty needs a cure from the fairy curse that was laid at birth by a fairy who was annoyed that her invitation got lost in the mail. All these situations hinge on the gender of the protagonist — like Éowyn, they are not as they seem.
LEAH: That is amazing! And as you know, I adored the whole collection. *smiles* Your first published novel, PULCHRITUDE, is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is a darker and more complex story than the Disney movie would have us believe. What was it like to essentially go back to the roots of that story and write something with darker, more intense overtones?
AM: I wrote Pulchritude when I was fresh out of my first divorce and a very abusive situation. I had a lot of emotional baggage around romance with someone who had selfish, ulterior motives for the relationship and the Beauty and the Beast tale seemed the perfect setting for exploring those feelings. In Disney’s story, the Beast loves Belle enough to let her go — and that is the redemptive moment for him. He cares enough about her to put her safety and wellbeing above his own, even if it means remaining a beast forever.
My take on the classic story was more cynical, I’m afraid. I wanted to show how patriarchal systems grind us down and destroy us even while claiming that the harm is “for our own good”. No one is better off by the end of the novel, because patriarchal systems ultimately destroy us all. It’s not a happy book, though my thoughts have been returning to it often in the past few weeks as I go through a second divorce process.
LEAH: I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that, but I will say that the book is wonderful and I’m glad you had that outlet. Okay, so then there’s SURVIVAL ROUT, which I know features a lot of different pieces of you–from the several different disabilities found on page to the exploration of gender identity. Do you find it’s more difficult to write about different aspects of marginalized identity when they’re pieces from your own life?
AM: Yes, very much so! When I’m writing my own disability onto the page, it’s like there’s an entire audience looking over my shoulder as I go. Will the people without this disability key to the fact that this is a symptom, or do I need to explicitly explain that out each time? Will they dislike my characters for their disability–will the character with chronic pain who needs to be helped around the scene read as “passive” and will the character with depression read as “listless” or “lazy” or “annoying”? Will the depiction of my experiences be read as the definitive way to experience this identity? Do my characters need to give introductory courses to each other to explain their gender so the reader can follow along? It’s a lot to juggle and it takes so much longer because I end up weighing each word as I go.
LEAH: I can only imagine how much that takes its toll both as you’re writing and once it’s out in the world. Which character has been the most difficult to write? Which has been the easiest?
AM: The character who was the most difficult for me to write was Miyuki in Survival Rout. Xie wasn’t my first nonbinary character, but xie was my first demigirl and the first to use my pronouns. Xie was also the first to explain, on-page, that xie was nonbinary. I knew while I was writing xer that I was coming out onto the page — I also knew that some of the people in my life would not be okay with xer. I was right and I lost relationships over coming out with Miyuki, but xie was worth it. I love xer so much and xie will always hold a special place in my heart.
My easiest character was probably Claude in No Man of Woman Born. They’re my Sleeping Beauty and they have so much in common with me, right down to gender-fluidity and maybe-ace-maybe-aro-definitely-something-like-that feels. They want so much to do what is right for their family and their kingdom; they’re driven by duty and they don’t want to change that! But they can’t deny who they are and it’s complicated being an acearo genderfluid princess who is expected to find True Love at a young age.
In that respect, Claude is a callback in many ways to Pulchritude, actually: where the Beast Prince tries to work within the confines of the curse to arrange his own True Love, Claude instead throws up their hands and says “no, this is impossible”. They aren’t sure there’s any such thing as True Love for them in the first place, but especially not when they’ve got ulterior motives like “curse-breaking” whilst searching for it.
LEAH: Ah! Those are two of my favorites of your characters! *grins* I loved Claude from the first moment! *laughs* Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?
AM: I’m currently working on another Earthside book in the series, carrying on from the cliffhanger ending of Survival Rout. I’m very excited about that one. It’s a bit of a thriller chase as Mina hunts an Altered who works for the fae and supplies them with fresh human captives.
I’d also very much like to work on another short story collection, given how well No Man of Woman Born has been received. I wasn’t sure I’d sell any copies when I published, since short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve heard back from a lot of readers about the shorter format being easier for them to digest right now.
LEAH: That’s great! And I, for one, would love another short story collection! Okay, now, let’s do some fun questions! Select five (5) of your characters and describe them using different beverages.
AM: I have outsourced this question to a writing partner of mine who, unlike my boring self, drinks more than just milk and lemonade! Kie reports:
– Keoki (Survival Rout) is a piña colada made with 151 rum: sweet, laid-back, beachy, and will lay you on your ass and you’ll never see it coming. (I can confirm this is 100% accurate and one of the reasons I love Keoki so much. He’s not fully “social justice aware” when it comes to a lot of gender issues, but he’s trying and he’s a sweetheart who just wants to protect his friends.)
– Heather (Survival Rout) is a fancy coffeeshop mocha made with espresso and dark cocoa and–this is important–no sugar or any other sweetener. (Haha, oh gosh, this is right on the nose. Heather is my baby; she starts out seeming like the “mean blond girl” who is cruel to the other girls, and only with time realize that she’s trying in her own way to protect them and hampered by her deep depression which makes her feel hopeless.)
– Miyuki (Survival Rout) is a glass of unsweetened iced green tea, cool and refreshing and soothing and wholesome. (Excuse me, but I’ll just be over here crying because Miyuki is my favorite and very much part of myself and my identity.)
– Rose and Lavender (Poison Kiss) are both smoothies, but while Lavender’s purple smoothie (featuring blueberries, pineapple, honey, and ginger) is as sweet and complex as it looks, Rose’s pink strawberry-and-banana blend is so loaded down with energy boosts and immunity boosts and other “healthy” add-ins that it has a chalky, bitter flavor. (Oh gosh, yes. Lavender is sweet and complex but also very much exactly what she seems in many ways. Rose is so laden with depression and guilt and my own PTSD that she struggles to even function sometimes. She wants to do the right thing and atone for her past sins, but the problem is that most of the wrongs she feels “complicit” in were not really her fault because she was a victim, so it’s hard to know where to even start.)
– Elric (Poison Kiss) is not just absinthe, but the whole absinthe ritual, burning sugar cube and all. An acquired taste, often off-putting, trying so very hard to be darkly romantic and melodramatic, and yet oddly compelling despite everything. (Ahaha, this delights me. Elric is my “trash baby” who is very much an… acquired taste. He has an upcoming book of his own planned, and this is right on the nose–he’s melodramatic and childish, and so desperate for any attention at all that he deliberately seeks out negative attention because it’s easier to get (and less emotionally risky) than positive attention, but like all my characters he has a lot of trauma to work through and I love him.)
LEAH: *laughs* Thank you, Ana’s writing partner, for these! They’re all so perfect! *smiles* What songs would be on Claude’s daily playlist?
AM: Oh gosh, music is hard, haha. After consulting with my writing partner Griffin, we have the following in no particular order: “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” by Flogging Molly; “Chelsea Morning” by Joni Mitchell; “We Found Love” by Rihanna; “Dance In the Circle” by Heather Alexander*, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra, and “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella.
[* Heather Alexander’s name is now Alexander James Adams, but (a) he has not recorded a new version of this song under his new label and (b) he has asked that his earlier repertoire be referred to under the name he was using at the time, so we have respected that request here.]
LEAH: I would 100% listen to this playlist! Now, if you will, please recommend five (5) books you’ve read and enjoyed!
AM: I haven’t been able to read much lately because my depression acts up when I read, but I’ve been blessed to get through some beautiful gems in spite of the brainfog. Dread Nation by Justina Ireland was amazing and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout–I don’t think I’ve ever loved a protagonist more. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton was lovelier than words can say, with absolutely gorgeous world-building and a wonderfully subtle dystopia. I cannot wait for the sequel to come out. Snake Eyes by Hillary Monahan was a delight and exactly the sort of fantastical urban/modern paranormal that I love to read and write. And I’ve been re-reading Animated Discussions by J. Blue because I looooove deconstructions of media and her take on Utena is so meaningful to me. Oh! Fifth would have to be Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh–a depression staple and so gentle and good.
LEAH: A great list! I’m a big fan of Hillary Monahan and her various pennames myself! What would be on Rose’s Must Watch list of movies and/or tv shows?
AM: Griff feels Rose would like Pushing Daisies on multiple levels, not just because she relates with the character who can’t touch the girl without killing her. She watches Once Upon A Time, though whether or not she genuinely enjoys it or is watching it ironically depends on the day. She’s got a few movies set aside for when she needs catharsis – Les Mis, the 2012 one with Hugh Jackman, is one example of a movie guaranteed to put her through the paces of rage and grief. After her relationship with Lavender and Clarent developed, though, she was surprised to discover she has a soft spot for light romances with fluffy happy endings–I agree and am certain she loves Last Holiday with Queen Latifah. The idea of one last joyful fling before certain death only to be saved in the end… it makes her cry every time, but in a good way.
LEAH: You definitely can’t go wrong with Queen Latifah. *laughs* Ana, thank you once again for stopping by! It was a joy to have you!
AM: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here and grateful for your and your readers’ time. ❤
Ana Mardoll is a writer and activist who lives in the dusty Texas wilderness with two spoiled cats. Xer favorite employment is weaving new tellings of old fairy tales, fashioning beautiful creations to bring comfort on cold nights. Xie is the author of the Earthside series, the Rewoven Tales novels, and several short stories.
Aside from reading and writing, Ana enjoys games of almost every flavor and frequently posts videos of gaming sessions on YouTube. After coming out as genderqueer in 2015, Ana prefers xie/xer pronouns. [xie (“zee” or /ziː/), xer (“zur” or /zɜr/)]
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