Good afternoon fellows, and welcome to another Talk Tuesday to Us! This week we have the wonderfully amazing Alyc Helms, author of the urban-fantasy-with-dragons Missy Masters series, which comprises of The Dragons of Heaven and The Conclave of Shadow, the latter of which will be out in the US two weeks today!
Before we get to Alyc’s answers, I’d just like to direct you to this amazing picture of her dancing…I’m not sure where, but look at those moves! Feet in the air, look of pure, joyous concentration on her face. You’re inspiring us to quit publishing and tread the boards instead, Alyc! We’ll have an Angry Robot stage performance to you for Christmas.
With that thought to scare the life out of you, to the questions!
The Princess Bride, though I’d also direct folks to its conceptual grandparent, The Court Jester.
The book I give to other people (I’ve bought and given away around ten copies now) is Connie Willis’ collection, Impossible Things. It includes one of the first short stories I remember reading, “Even the Queen,” way back when I was a teen. I didn’t know stories could be that funny and insightful at the same time. Also, it has the incredible “The Last of the Winnebagos” which is a story that guts me every time I read it, and it has “Jack,” the story that first made me interested in the Blitz.
One book to burn:
Nope. Can’t do it. I don’t think all stories are good, but you can never know how a story you think is crap might have a positive, meaningful impact on someone else. I always kind of knew this, but it was driven home for me when I was reading Malala (the biography of Malala Yousafzai). Throughout the book, Malala talks about her two favorite American media – Ugly Betty and Twilight.
Twilight. I groaned. I thought about all the issues it has in the way it represents the control over and disempowerment of young women. But Malala talks about going on a school trip and playing ‘Twilight’ with her classmates, running around the woods pretending to be vampires. And you start to realize, to a girl facing the kind of repression she was, it must be very empowering to encounter a text where women can be vampires, can be as powerful as the men, can have agency, can freely attend school.
The chapter ends with some of the local imams making problems for the school because of the field trip, and Malala comments that she thinks it must be much easier to be a vampire in Twilight than it is to be a girl in Pakistan.
Yeah. I’m not taking that from anyone.
(Interesting side-note: The British nurses treating Malala after she was shot tried to show her the movie Bend It Like Beckham, thinking she’d appreciate Jess’s story. Malala was shocked by all the girls showing their legs and asked the nurses to turn it off halfway through.)
Hamilton the Musical has been playing in my head on a constant loop since September 2015. I actually considered getting exorbitantly priced secondhand tickets so I could go see it. I settled for getting the season subscription to San Francisco’s local theater so I could be sure to see the tour.
One creative person you’ve always wanted to be:
My best self. The one who wakes up early so she can make tea, light a candle, and get an hour of writing done before work. The one who transcribes her writing every evening so it doesn’t pile up. The one who remembers not to make weekend plans so she can hermit up and spend two whole, glorious days writing until her hand cramps. I love it when I’m her.
One book you wish you’d written:
Is the next one on my list to write. But it won’t be that book by the time I finish it. It will be some other book.
Do you have an unusual talent or skill?
At least a half-dozen of them. No, really. I’ve bounced around hobbies enough that I’ve got a decent list of skills built up. I can sew well enough to make a fully boned Victorian corset in six hours (which I did once, as part of a full, six-piece Victorian day ensemble that I churned out in a week). I’ve costumed major musical theater productions on a budget of less than $300. I dance – Scottish Highland, Irish step and ceilidh, English, Morris, ballet, tap, you name it. I can sing pretty well (though my chest voice is way better than my head voice). I know how to work on and run an archaeological project (Phase Ia through Phase IIc). I used to be able to change my own brakes and oil, but I’ve long since passed the point where I feel like I have something to prove, so I’m good with paying other people to do that now. Oh, and I recently taught myself to crochet!
Best place you’ve ever visited?
Cape Wrath, also known as Ultima Thule. The end of the earth. To get there, I had to take a plane (to London), a train (to Inverness), a bus (to Thurso), another bus and then a POSTAL TRUCK (to the Village of Smoo), a bike (to the Cape Wrath tour meeting point), a jeep, a boat (across the Kyle of Durness), and then another jeep.
I sat on the very edge of the cliff with my feet dangling over the ocean, watching the birds below me while I ate my lunch.
Favourite building or structure?
The Rialto Theater, an old 1920s movie and vaudeville theater in South Pasadena. This was the theater that I did The Rocky Horror Picture Show in for several years. It was my spiritual home during a tranformative period of my life, and a lot of the more bohemian aspect of Missy Masters are drawn from those times. In The Dragons of Heaven, the Rialto makes an incognito appearance as the Pagoda Palace (sadly, the real Pagoda Palace was condemned over twenty years ago and torn down about six months before the book came out). Connie Willis has a short story called “At the Rialto,” (which is her name for a Hollywood hotel in the story) and I keep forgetting to ask her if the Rialto hotel in her story was named after MY Rialto theater.
Things were looking grim for the Rialto for a while, but recently there has been an upsurge in local activity to save and restore the theater as a mult-arts performance venue. I really hope it succeeds. It’s such a gorgeous building, and I have so many happy memories associated with it.
What keeps you awake at night?
My cat. Sometimes he’s just nudging my head out of the way so he can claim more of the pillow, but sometimes he takes it into his head to chew on MY head.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
Favourite fancy dress costume?
I’m particularly fond of the late Victorian era. Once you get into the bustle and the natural form shapes, Victorian fashion is the bomb. Mid-century Victorian, on the other hand, is… let’s put it this way. Someone once looked at me in my 1840s togs and said I looked ‘hideously Victorian’… and that was a compliment; it means I got it right.
I also very much love men’s fashion before the 20th century and have made and lost several frock coats and waistcoats.
We’re buying, what’ll you have?
Tea. Lapsang Souchang if they have it (few places do).
Would you write full time if you could?
Absolutely. My favorite thing is when I’ve managed to dodge making weekend plans and I can just hole up for two days, writing. My other favorite thing is to travel with my mom. She likes to go on cruises. I like ‘at sea’ days. I will camp out at a table by a window so I can watch the ocean go by, and I will write from 7am to 7pm and be so, so happy. And then we get dinner and see the show and rinse and repeat.
I am so boring.
Where would you like to be right now?
The Pacific Ocean. Always.
Complete this sentence: rewriting is…
Something I discovered rather late, and I’m so happy I did. My writing got much better once I realized I didn’t have to get it all right the first time.
Complete this sentence: blogging is…
Something I struggle with. I’m reluctant to write on most common topics because I feel like everything has already been said, often by someone smarter than me. Unless I have a useful intervention to make, I’m better off writing stories.
Where would you like to travel?
Everywhere. There are so many places I haven’t been.
If you could share one recipe, what would it be?
I have a ceviche recipe that’s pretty good, and I have a guacamole recipe that people who don’t usually like guacamole tend to love (mostly because mine is about half lime juice!)
Would you rather fight one giant mecha or ten duck sized cyborgs?
Do I have to fight the duckling-sized cyborgs? Couldn’t they just follow me around in a little train?
What’s your karaoke song?
“Part of Your World” with a “Poor Unfortunate Souls” chaser. I can do a decent Ariel and a KICKASS Ursula.
Thanks for joining us, Alyc! The Conclave of Shadow will be in all good bookstores on July 5 (US/Can) / July 7 (UK/R.o.W).