An Interview with Genevieve Valentine6 min read
Genevieve Valentine has long been entertaining us with her self-inflicted viewings of terrible movies and the consequent reviews. She also writes some fine nonfiction and has become quite a popular blogger. Her first novel, Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, is a Crawford Award-winner and has been hailed for its originality. Along with the novel, the blogging, and the essays, Genevieve is a prolific and popular short fiction writer (even making her first appearance with her story “Wondrous Days“ in Apex Magazine way back in January, 2010, our seventh issue!). We’re delighted to have her in our pages once more, and we hope you enjoy our interview with this fascinating and talented author.
About “Armless Maidens of the American West”
APEX MAGAZINE: What was the genesis of this somewhat gruesome almost-fairy-tale?
GENEVIEVE VALENTINE: The original armless maiden stories are more than gruesome enough to start with, I think, but I wanted to examine the metaphor as it speaks to the other, the abused, the invisible women who feel and experience alienation because of their experiences. And there are those little empty spaces in the original stories; it’s such a lonely situation, though the story never wants you to think about it, and the loneliness of carrying something awful in silence takes a toll, and is often misunderstood by observers. I wanted to examine a mundane and a profound loneliness side-by-side, as that gap narrows.
AM: Second-person POV is a relatively rare perspective in short fiction. Why did you elect to use the second-person for this particular story?
GV: I think it lends it a familiarity and an immediacy by putting the protagonist and the reader at odds sometimes; there’s a tension between what you hope will happen and what you know the best course is, pushing against that, the protagonist’s initial ignorance, her missteps, the influence of those around her, before she begins to wake up.
AM: Was there anything particularly challenging in the writing of this story, or did it cooperate from the start?
GV: There’s a struggle in this story between the careless cruel ease of fairy tale metaphor, in which “he cut off her arms and sent her into the woods” is just setup for a story about the power of religion, and the particularity of the real; there’s a struggle between the general kindness of reaching out to those in pain, and Florence Nightingale Syndrome. It’s a hard balance to strike; I still don’t know if it’s something I’ll ever be confident about.
On Writing in General:
AM: In other interviews, you mentioned you hold down a day job along with your writing. How has that impacted your writing, for better or for worse?
GV: In terms of content, not so much; in terms of the time I’m able to devote to writing, obviously so. In terms of sleep I have given up to steal writing time, immensely so.
AM: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you loved The Last Unicorn when you were younger. What other books inspired you?
GV: A long list, which is all over the place, and which is constantly changing as new things inspire me. Contact, Oscar Wilde, O Pioneers!, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a translation of Herodotus, Emma Thompson’s diary of filming Sense and Sensibility, White as Snow…
AM: How do you approach writing a short story? Do you write it all in one go and edit directly after, or do you write a first draft and let it cool before jumping into the edits?
GV: It always depends, I think; every story has different needs, and some have been written in ninety minutes, and some have been written a paragraph at a time over weeks, as I figure out what the story is, what it needs, and how best to tell it.
AM: Do you plan your short stories out before you write them, or do you just jump in and see where they go? How about for novels?
GV: Again, it’s a case-by-case basis. Sometimes you can just start and see where it goes, and then sometimes you need to make sure you have at least a general idea of where you need to end up, so that you don’t waste time on false roads.
AM: How do you balance writing both short stories and novels (given their difference in time commitment and complexity)? Do you write them simultaneously, or do you keep them separate?
GV: I don’t have the patience to only write one at a time! For me, at least, they happen in different creative spaces, so it’s possible—sometimes even necessary—to take a break from a novel chapter to write a short story.
AM: What is your editing process like? Does it differ between long and short works?
GV: Nope. The process of going back and fixing what needs fixing is always the same, whether it’s two thousand words or two hundred thousand. (Spoiler: if it’s two hundred thousand words, a word count cut is probably the first edit there.)
AM: Marketing is one of those subjects authors rarely discuss except in small enclaves around a couple of cocktails in a dark corner of a convention bar, but I have to ask: have you found that having short story companion (or companion-like) pieces to Mechanique have helped drive the public profile of your first novel? Did these stories come out before the novel, or post-novel, or both?
GV: Insufficient data as to how they helped raise any public profile, though I suppose free fiction is rarely harmful in that regard? (“I would have bought that book, but there was some free fiction available, so I burned it.” —Not many people.) The stories themselves were written concurrently with the novel—each one came out of a lingering question I had while I was writing, and knew that, while the novel didn’t have room to explore it, I certainly wanted to do it somehow! (There are other Circus Tresaulti stories yet to be told; I had many notes.)
AM: You’ve done a lot of non-fiction for markets like Tor.com, Fantasy Magazine, and Lightspeed Magazine. Have you felt that being involved in the non-fiction aspect of the publishing industry has helped you when it comes to the fiction side, whether in contacts, or in having to examine fiction critically for reviews, or simply by having a deeper awareness of the publishing process from the inside?
GV: I have found that the only way to avoid critically-observing your own work into paralysis is to accept that of the few flawless works of art in existence ever, yours will never be any of them. That said, I hope my examination of some of cinema’s most avoidable disasters means that my stories will be populated with a minimum of characters who suggest that everyone put on their skimpiest negligees before they split up to avoid the serial-killer noises coming from downstairs.
AM: You’re a self-professed lover of movies, particularly bad movies, and review films, too. What film have you re-watched the most?
GV: Oh, gosh. There are a lot of movies I’ve re-watched because I love them and think they’re beautiful, and lots I’ve re-watched because they make me laugh, on purpose or otherwise. I do know that I watched the 1995 Persuasion and my MST3K Space Mutiny and Angels’ Revenge DVDs until they broke and had to be replaced, so I suppose that’s pretty damning evidence.
AM: What (if you can say) are you currently working on?
GV: I have a couple of novels in the works (including a historical and a YA), some short stories, and as always, a large list of terrible movies that are not going to watch themselves.
AM: If you could go back in time and give your younger writer-self some writing advice, what would you tell her?
GV: For someone who will be doing a lot of this in future, your posture is terrible. Sit up straight.