Women of Science Fiction 007: Interview with Kim Wells

Women of Science Fiction

Interviewing Kim Wells honestly feels a little bit like a cheat.  She and I have become good friends since we both appeared in The Future Chronicles and have been working together on a number of projects, including the newly released UnCommon Bodies.  Kim is always enthusiastic and so positive, I kind of wonder if she doesn’t secretly have a Gimp in her basement to take out her frustration on. If you haven’t read her work, she’s as talented as she is awesome, and that’s saying a lot.

PK Tyler: What brand of science fiction would you say your work falls under, in general.

Kim Wells: I call all of my work Magic Realism with a Southern Slipstream flair. That’s because, honestly, I just write what I want to read, and it’s all in there. For now, the sci-fi I’ve written has been very cyborg-speculative medium science.  It’s not hard science, especially, although I did take care to make sure my science checked out on the stories, because I hate it when the science is stupid. I research the heck out of the smallest of detail, just for a passing paragraph.

I think I need a new category.

PKT: Religion and Myth plays a strong role in your work.  Why is that?

KW: I would say that I am a Jungian at heart. I believe that we have this core of mythos that speaks to us all as humans, and because of that, I’m hugely fascinated with how looking at mythic, balanced, older stories can mesh with what we know today about humanity. The collective unconscious wants certain stories told, because they can teach us how to get through the messes we make, and how to keep pushing forward into a beautiful, wise place, instead of muddling through in the mistakes of the past. My own muse likes to force me to think about these things at 3:00 am, so I just follow her lead or else she’ll keep me up all night thinking about song lyrics.

I’ve also gone through some deeply religious (unconventionally so) phases, and learned a ton about goddesses, and multi-cultural myth, and how that shapes everything about contemporary culture. We know a lot in Western culture about the Greek and Roman gods, and that’s cool, but it’s going to be an important task to bring non-Western myth into the mix, and I’m trying to do that, respectfully. It’s a fine line, though–I don’t want to appropriate anyone’s story, but I do like telling them. Nowadays, I’m just a pop-culture nerd who tosses out a Buffy reference at the same time as I debate whether we’re all part of a computer simulation and what Monty Python would say about that.

PKT: Is it difficult to weave together sci-fi works about technology and the world of more ethereal concepts?

KW: Not at all. Sci-fi is about humanity. Even if it’s octo-aliens on a planet made out of liquid diamonds, it’s still the human story. And those ethereal concepts–love, peace, war, kindness, cruelty–those are all the stories we’re trying to figure out. From Day One, when an artist stuck her hand into some paint and put that hand print on a cave wall, we’ve been trying to tell that same story–the connection between humans reaching out. The science just makes it more full of blinky lights and robot tech.

PKT: You’ve been in a number of group projects including The Future Chronicles, UnCommon Bodies, and Apocalypse Weird.  What is different about these projects from writing a novel?  Do you enjoy them more or less?

KW: I have really enjoyed the collective group writing process with the writers I’ve met in these three different online communities. We’ll throw out a song lyric and half of us will work it into a storyline, or say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a character that does XYZ,” and someone will say, “YES,” and then you see it later in their published story. All of the people in these groups are trying to build great stuff–quality editing, quality graphics, beautiful prose and stories. And I find that inspiring, and awe-causing, and humbling. Writing a novel all by yourself without groups to help can be hard, and lonely, and there’s no feedback. Just asking friends or family for help doesn’t work, because either they don’t feel qualified to comment or they just say, “Yay I like it,” and you get no improvement. I wrote Mariposa over the course of about 10 years, and kept putting it down. My friend Chris Cox told me to get back to it, and invited me to some author groups, and then his writing was so bold and unapologetic that I just had to finish it. Until I found the collective group of thinkers and philosophers in the online authorial world, I was just a dabbler. Now I really feel like I’m getting my feet under me, and it’s all thanks to the support and community of those groups.

PKT: You’re also spearheading the Independent Women Anthology project coming this Spring.  What made you want to do something like this?  

KW: I actually published an online magazine for years and years–since 1998–where I found beginner writers and poets and scholars and published them, sometimes for the first time ever. Women Writers: A Zine was one of the first online communities for women that I ever saw, and I made it happen! And it was great. It just got kind of hard to keep up with the HTML changes on the site, and my other commitments got too big, so I stopped actively publishing it. There wasn’t an indie publishing world on Amazon then, so creating your own site was the only way to do it. But it didn’t pay (at all, honestly)–it was all a labor of love. So it seemed like a no-brainer to do something like that when I saw anthologies like The Future Chronicles, and Sam Peralta’s way of passing on the buck and helping out other indies. I thought I could do that, too, but with my favorite focus of women writers and feminist theory.

You know how Ruth Bader Ginsberg said that there would be “enough” women on the court when there were nine? And then people said, “Wow, how could you imagine that?” and her response was, “There have been plenty of times when there were nine men, and no one blinked.” That’s kind of how I feel about publishing an all female feminist-womanist centered anthology. Yes, there are great male writers, and I love many of them. But a lot of times, in anthologies, there are one or maybe two female writers, and people think that’s enough, if they think about it at all. And sometimes people say, “Well, I don’t think gender matters–if you’re a great writer, the story matters.” And yet, that erases the very real things that do still matter about gender. There are a lot of voices that aren’t getting heard, and they deserve nine spots on the court sometimes. I also want this anthology to be a very inclusive space of gender, and multi-ethnic, and multi-culture, and different abilities, you name it. I really think I might have a great new mega-supernova hit on my hands soon.

PKT: What do you feel is the role of women in science fiction?  Are we just writers, or is there really a difference between women and men when it comes to sci-fi?

KW: First and foremost, we’re writers, and the story matters the most. But there can be a difference between women and men because we’ve all seen different angles, different lenses or perspectives, on the stories we tell. Like–have you ever wondered what women space colonists might bring on the space-arc of the future? Would they secretly squirrel away a long-loved family quilt, or a scrapbook of baby pictures? What kind of story might that be and how would it potentially be different from something a man might bring? And what if the alien culture we encountered valued quilts and family stories, and no one had ever thought to bring those along? The gap in communication could cost everything.

In the 1970s, with Second Wave feminism, there was a lot of talk about the “woman’s way of knowing” the world. Yes, there must be a lot of overlap, but there has been and probably still will be a difference in what we value, what we learn. And sci-fi is the best ever place to figure that out, because you can imagine anything.

It’s not that those things are the only stories women have to tell, but mostly, they aren’t told. And they’re just as important as the terraforming, and the alien war, and the cyborg awakening. All of those stories need to be told.

PKT: When you think back about your career so far, is there anything you’d do differently?

KW: The main thing I would do differently would have been to go a little slower on the editing/publishing process last Fall with Mariposa. There are a few things in there that I would do slightly differently. I think the story is amazing, still. And I love it. But I would have promoted it better, and built suspense longer, and maybe released more than one story at a time.

The only other thing I would have done differently was put a sexy naked man chest on the cover, because those really seem to sell. (Not really. But maybe.)

PKT: Tell us about your next project “UnDead Cyber Girl.”

KW: She is a really neat character. The short story in UnCommon Bodies is just the first encounter with her, and she’s this mashup of cyborg and supernatural and human trying to figure it all out. And she’s finding who she is, what she thinks about the world–like she’s been reborn–and then she has to find her tribe, and figure out what she’s there for. Is she really a cyber-assassin, or will those skills be used to save/protect/heal others?

I wanted to write a Cyborg story, and I tend to search images online for inspiration. And I found this one in Deviantart that was so compelling that I had to write that story. I do that a lot–search stock photos and think, “Ooooh. There’s a story.” I guess that makes me a method actor?

PKT: What inspired you to write a zombie/cyborg mashup?

KW: Cyborgs are always hard sci-fi, robots, futuristic, etc. But the cyborg is also part human. And humans have this zombie metaphor too–the ultimate consumer, blasting into crowds and ignoring everything but that insatiable need to have more, more, more. Cyborgs are almost always depicted as more robot than human, but I think they’ll have (we do have, by the way–cause most of us are already cyborgs of a sort) human weaknesses and desires. And that’s what I want to explore with Undead Girl.

There’s this quote from one of my favorite ever sci-fi writers, James Tiptree, from a story she wrote called “The Girl Who Was Plugged In (she actually wrote it as Alice Sheldon, one of her other pen-names). 

Listen, zombie. Believe me. What I could tell you—you with your silly hands leaking sweat on your growth-stocks portfolio. One-ten lousy hacks of AT&T on twenty-point margin and you think you’re Evel Knievel. AT&T? You doubleknit dummy, how I’d love to show you something.

Look, dead daddy, I’d say. See for instance that rotten girl?

In the crowd over there, that one gaping at her gods. One rotten girl in the city of the future. (That’s what I said.) Watch.

And Tiptree, geniusly, explores the ideas of women’s connection to technology, and their bodies, and it’s from the point of view of the female-gaze, looking out at consumer culture and watching it. And that’s what I want to do with Undead Girl. Think about all those issues and write my version of that story.

PKT: What idea of someone else’s do you most wish you had thought of?

KW: Is it too late to claim that Harry Potter kid? That would be nice. 

Quick Five:

You’re in an air strike! Quick, do you grab a sonic screwdriver or a laser gun?

KW: Laser gun, but also, a machete. Because when those things in the planes land, I’m gonna need some help with the hand to hand.

If you had to pick, which would you rather mate with, non-humanoid alien or robot?

KW: This is a really hard question, by the way. At first I wanted to say sexy robot, a la cyborg Replicant. I mean, who wouldn’t want to program in your secret desires to a Rutger Hauer bot in his prime? Or even Sean Young then? (growl purr). But then I thought that maybe the aliens would have empathic emotions and be able to feel your own pleasure and then expand it exponentially, so that it would be the perfect, best experience ever, mind-blowing, galaxy defining, supernova causing… but then I realized that the aliens would maybe have tentacles, so I decided robot.

Dogs or Cats?
KW: Cats. Definitely. I like dogs, but cats & I grok each other.

(note from Pav – OMG you said grok!  I love you even more now!)

Do you write with music on or silence?
KW: Both. Sometimes, if I am in the mood for it, I make a playlist with the perfect music and play it quietly. But sometimes, I just need it to be quiet.

Green Thumb or Black Thumb?
KW: Completely black, with the chlorophyll laced blood of many poor, poor plants. I would love to be an ethereal plant goddess, but here is one of those places I’m definitely more cyborg.

About the Author:

Kim_OctoberKim wrote her first critically acclaimed (if you call her fourth-grade teacher a critic, and she does) short story when she was 9 years old. It was about Christmas in a Cave, and it featured such topical, ground-breaking subjects as homelessness & cave dwelling. She’s been writing ever since.  The state of publication depends on who you ask.

She has a Ph.D. in Literature, with specialties in American Lit, Women Writers, Feminism, Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Film Studies but please don’t hold any of that against her. She teaches academic writing and how to read literature at a university in her hometown and tries to convince college students that it really is cool to like poetry.

She lives in the South, has twin children (one girl, one boy) and a husband who is the model for all her best romantic heroes. She also has two cats–one black and sassy, one stripey and fat, and also kinda sassy. Her website.
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