Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Madeline Ashby (REV)
Madeline Ashby is a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant living in Toronto. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, and Tor.com.
Welcome to the Hive, Madeline. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
At the moment I’m reading HENCH, by my friend Natalie Zina Walschots, out soon from William Morrow. It’s about how difficult it really is to be a hench-woman for hire. I think people are really going to enjoy it.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I tend to play as a bard, and my favourite spell is Vicious Mockery. Is that a weapon? I treat it like a weapon.
It didn’t work out so well for Mike ‘Everest’ Evans in one particular campaign…
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I’m a big fan of Scrivener. I spent a lot of my career not outlining very much or very well, but after working on Orphan Black: The Next Chapter for SerialBox, I had to learn outlining in order to collaborate with the writers’ room. It gave me a lot more confidence in my ability to outline, and it really taught me the value of the process. Luckily Scrivener is really good for outlining!
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
My most significant female fantasy influences are Margaret Mahy and Ursula K. LeGuin. Plus Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter and Toni Morrison, who was such a stellar horror writer. A lot of academics talk about the function of horror in her work, but very rarely is she discussed as a horror writer. And yet her books are scary as hell. The opening of The Bluest Eye will scare the life out of you. I know it took her years and years to find a place for it. In terms of other women I’d like to work with someday, I’d really love to make a movie with Karyn Kusama or Cathy Yan or Lexi Alexander. When I was little I really wanted to direct, and I still have that itch.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
We’ve been doing a re-watch of Batman: The Animated Series. I had always been a fan of it, and so had my husband, but watching it again as an adult is such an eye-opener. You’re always worried that stuff like this, from childhood, won’t hold up. But this does. It really does. It still blows away so much superhero content out there. Like there are episodes of BTAS that I would happily choose over certain Marvel movies, and I think those movies are a lot of fun. But BTAS is truly special, and reliably great episode to episode, in a way that few series are.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Probably re-watching the Hannibal series on Netflix, which I would be sincerely tempted to do anyway.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
At the moment I’m working on a near-future thriller that’s sort of Silicon Valley meets And Then There Were None. And for myself I’m working on a fantasy novel, that’s sort of Avatar: The Last Airbender meets The Name of the Rose.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I wish I knew the answer to that. I think the answer is different for everyone. There are a lot of reasons to procrastinate, and discovering what your reason is requires looking at yourself very closely, so closely you might feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s that having kids is a lot harder than you expected. Maybe it’s that you’re distracted by a toxic feedback loop on social media. Maybe it’s depression, or undiagnosed ADHD. Or maybe it’s just that you don’t know what happens next in the story, and you’re afraid to admit that. Usually, though, procrastination is a form of fear. It’s how fear (or anxiety, or dread) manifests itself in the creative person. I think the real question you should ask yourself, when you’re unmotivated, is “What am I afraid of?”
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I would really like to visit my grandmother when she was a young girl living in Hollywood. I know it sounds completely banal, but I really would like the chance to get to know her better, to know who she was when she was younger, and to see Hollywood in its heyday. Although I think meeting my grandfather when he was a young man repairing fighter planes in England during the Second World War would also be pretty cool.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
I’m a big fan of Kusanagi Motoko from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Ayanami Rei from the Evangelion series. I’m also a big fan of Jane Eyre. I think people forget how funny that novel is. Elizabeth Bennet gets all the attention for being funny, and she is, but Jane Eyre has this incredibly dry wit. When asked what little girls should do to avoid being cast into Hell, she replies that she should keep in good health and not die. It’s priceless. And that’s the first chapter.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my husband David Nickle’s books here. He’s the author of a couple of different short story collections, mostly horror, and a few different horror novels, including Eutopia, Volk, Rasputin’s Bastards, and The ‘Geisters. They’ll be available this summer from Open Road Media.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
“Madeline Ashby’s work is like if Isaac Asimov’s books actually had characters in them.”
Thank you so much Madeline!
Madeline’s MACHINE DYNASTY series is available as an ebook-only omnibus special from today!