In co-ordination with the good folks over at EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing—and as a small part of their online event 18 Days of Tesseracts (September 18 to October 7, more information here)—I hereby present Part Eight of the interview series Writing Gods, featuring email chats with a number of the many authors who’ve contributed to EDGE’s newest (and eighteenth[!]) Tesseracts anthology Wrestling with Gods.
Today’s interviewee: J.M. Frey
J.M. Frey is a voice actor, author, fanthropologist and professional geek. She’s appeared on podcasts, documentaries, and television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. She also has an addiction to scarves, Doctor Who, and tea, which may or may not all be related.
The first of her feminist meta high-fantasy novel series, The Untold Tale, debuts December 2015. Her novel Triptych was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards and a CBC Bookie, won the San Francisco Book Festival award for SF/F, and was named to The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011 and Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2011.
Tell us about your story, “The Moral of the Story.”
It takes place in a near-future where all technology has suddenly just failed. I don’t really explain it, as it’s told from the POV of a narrator who wouldn’t have access to this information, but I thought it would be interesting to take Gaia Theory one step further and create a world where the Earth got so ill from all the technology that magic returns to the world and snuffs out all electricity. And with magic comes the creatures of fairy tale and legend that had been previously hiding in the shadows.
This story takes place on a lake in Quebec, where a young woman fishes to feed her family, and in return is hunted by a flesh-eating siren.
In this age of pop culture, we deify characters—Iron Man, Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter are known all over the world. They are worshipped in their own way just as much as Jesus and Muhammad and Buddha.How did your story come about?
For me, one of the interesting parts of being a writer is seeing how much stories are a part of how human kind interprets the world around it. We tell stories explaining natural phenomena and call them “myths,” and stories about how events happened and call it “history,” and stories about our hopes for the future and call it “fiction.”
In this age of pop culture, we deify characters—Iron Man, Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter are known all over the world. They are known, looked up to, and worshipped in their own way just as much as Jesus and Muhammad and Buddha. I wanted to tell a story about how stories affect what we believe, and how it informs the world, how fiction can turn into religion given enough time and interest.
What is it about “genre” writing that makes it an effective avenue for theological discussions?
Science Fiction and Fantasy have the great ability to talk about Us and Now by discussing Them and There. Making everything one step removed means that you can talk about issues without directly offending.
Who’s your favourite god?
Straight up, it’s Loki. Even before the charmingly ginger Tom Hiddleston dyed his hair black and donned extensions, I always preferred Loki because he was a redhead. I wrote a book way back when I was in uni about a redheaded goddess who goes on the run from the Egyptian Panthenon and ends up spawning myths all over the globe, and Loki was one of her incarnations.
It may seem far fetched, but it was grounded in biological realism—Ramses II was a redhead, though not the bright carroty shade of ginger we’ve come to associate with the term. In doing research for this book, I learned that a lot of trickster gods usually came from outside the pantheon, and were usually depicted as redheads. Loki, Kitsune, Nephtys, Gwydion, and sometimes even Anansi and Coyote were made redheads.
But of all the Ginger Gods, Loki was my favourite because he very much followed the tenant of “I do what I want”. He was genderfluid, nonbinary, and made up the biggest, dumbest, most wonderful pranks and lies. I also felt he was punished disproportionately to his crimes in a lot of the tales, so I also felt sorry for him. (I mean, if I was chained up and had poison dripped into my eyes for the rest of eternity just because I mucked around in a dress, I darn well would be peeved enough to start Ragnarok, too.)
If you were a god for one day, what would you do?
Abolish religion. Faith is marvellous, faith is wonderful. Faith brings hope and soothes hurts. But religion? A set of rules, and lists of Dos and Don’ts? A list of who is a sinner, and how people who are not like you must be converted to be saved (or, as it is sometimes interpreted, killed)? That garbage causes wars.
When writing about theological subjects, do you worry about upsetting someone?
Sometimes I do, but then I remember that reading something upsetting about my own childhood religion was a lot of what made me a critical thinker. It was the first time in my life I stepped back and thought, “Now, why would this person say that? What reason do they have to question this? Who is right, here? Could it be that I’m in the wrong and I’m reading this differently?”
What’s your favourite story with theological over/undertones?
As much as I didn’t feel it fit in with the rest of The Vampire Chronicles, on its own Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice was fascinating, a very interesting look at what it means to be a prophet in the 20th Century. I also really liked the Lucifer comic series, and I love how they’ve made Chuck The Prophet in Supernatural a best-selling pulp-novel author.
If there is something beyond this reality, what do you hope will happen to you post-life?
I’d like to think that the soul is eternal, that we’re reborn or that we get to keep pour intelligence and consciousness. But I’m also a pragmatist and I know that there is every probability that when we die, we just go offline and start to rot.I’d like to think that the soul is eternal, that we’re reborn or that we get to keep pour intelligence and consciousness. I’d like to think that there is more than just this, where humans can be wonderful and inspirational, and generous but also so selfish and petty and cruel. But then I’m also a pragmatist and I know that there is every probability that when we die, that’s it. We just go offline and start to rot. I hope in my heart that there’s more, but I know in my head there’s probably not.
In that sense, I try to make sure that everyone of these limited moments I have as a sentient and conscious being are used to make the world I’ll be leaving behind a better one for those who come after me.
What’s the best thing about religion? What’s the worst?
Best: A system of belief that allows for people to hope. Worst: A set of rules that strips the humanity from specific segments of the population based on their interpretation.
If it turns out there is one god ruling over all, what’s the one question you’d ask?
Why mosquitoes? Seriously. Just. Why? Why would you make those? Was it a prank?