Okay, is anyone else surprised that it's February?
I mean, where did January go?
Well, ONE good thing about it being February - and Monday! - is you get a new author interview!
Today I have Rachel A. Rosen. She lives and makes trouble in Tkaronto (Toronto) in the country currently known as Canada. A genre strumpet with an outlook darker than VantaBlack, her work straddles urban fantasy, cosmic horror, dystopian futures, and eco-fiction. Her stone-cold bummer of a first novel, Cascade (The Sleep of Reason Book 1), was published in 2022, and with Zilla Novikov, she’s the co-author of The Sad Bastard Cookbook: Food You Can Make So You Don’t Die. Her short stories can be found in Beyond Human: Tales of the New Us, Instant Classic (That No One Will Read): Torrid Tales From the Creative Trenches, and The Dance, A harried schoolteacher by day, she moonlights as a graphic designer, and you can often find her at a protest or under a cat.
Links:Author website: https://rachelrosen.ca/
Night Beats website: https://nightbeatseu.ca/
Instagram and Threads: @rachelashrosen
Star Trek or Star Wars?
A girl can like both! That said, if I have to choose, I’d rather live in Star Trek’s socialist post-scarcity near-utopia than Star Wars’ declining republic with feudal characteristics that slips into fascism every 20-40 years.
Firefly – gone too soon or overrated?
I can give you my Spicy Firefly Opinions, but instead I’ll say watch The Expanse instead for a well-thought out show that does the “found family of scrappy misfits on a spaceship” concept much better and without the racism.
A book you’re looking forward to release (by someone else)?
Maej by Dale Stromberg, which will be out in 2024. I had the pleasure of working on the cover for this literary, experimental epic fantasy, and I’m so excited for the rest of the world to read it.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My stories always start with a visual image that I can’t get out of my head. For the Sleep of Reason series, it was a woman in a ballgown running across a city while searchlights swooped overhead. If you’ve read the first book, Cascade, you might be saying, “Wait! That doesn’t happen anywhere in the book!” Turns out I had to write an entire novel to get to that point.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
My ideas tend to be shower thoughts while my research is a rabbit hole. For example, I knew Cascade involved a Canadian election campaign (something that I was involved with at the time), Indigenous land defense (I’m involved with solidarity actions), photojournalism (well, I’m a photographer at least), climate science, chaos magick, opera, far-right movements, Ottawa geography, deep sea exploration, children’s soccer…you get the idea. I end up spending a lot of time doing weird Google searches, listening to podcasts, reading obscure non-fiction, and calling in favours from friends with special interests to land the details.
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Read more, read more diverse books, but more specifically, read outside your genre. It’s of course important to understand the genre you’re writing (and hopefully you also enjoy reading it, or why bother?) but if you only read a narrow selection of what’s out there, you’re not introducing any new ideas into that genre. While I mainly write sci-fi and fantasy, I read a lot of literary fiction and non-fiction, and those are easily as influential on my writing as the SFF I read. Also, and especially if you belong to a privileged demographic, read more by marginalized authors.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
My co-author Zilla and I hear from the readers of The Sad Bastard Cookbook all the time! They tell us that our book saved their lives, that they read it to a significant other and couldn’t stop laughing, that they have a cool twist on one of our recipes, that they bought it for their kids. My favourite interaction was from a person in a refugee camp who asked if the recipes could be made on a hot plate. We were so touched, and we were actually able to get their address to mail a care package to them.
Do you like to create books for adults?
Yes. Because I’m a teacher, and to be honest, because I’m a woman, people tend to automatically assume that I write YA. That feels too much like my day job, and I prefer to both read and write books about cranky middle aged people making more mature mistakes.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I went to Tangiers because William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch imprinted on me at an early age, I visited Douglas Adams’ grave in London and Anton Chekhov’s in Moscow, visited the park that inspired Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, and hung out at City Lights Books, the heart of the Beat Generation, in San Francisco.
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Anything involving AI. It’s my latest bugbear; I don’t believe there’s any ethical use case for generative large language models (LLMs) as they currently exist, and I keep seeing authors, publishers, and massive corporations try to justify using it anyway. The worst I’ve heard lately involved a major publisher scraping the works of its authors for an LLM training data set without their consent. There’s already so much consolidation in publishing, which I think leads to mediocrity and fewer opportunities for writers; the last thing we need is machine hallucinations added to the mix.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
I did, but I wanted people in my real life to know that the reason I ignored them all the time was because I was writing books. Plus, I have a monumentally large ego and I wanted bragging rights. I probably should have thought it all out a little more, given some of the things I write about, but the potential repercussions are a problem for future, more famous me.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
There are a lot of good books out there. I don’t have a shortage of reading material. If I’m compelled to write one, it’s because I want to tell a story that I can’t read anywhere else. Cascade in particular is a story that probably has a very narrow, very specific audience and is, as reviewer James Nicoll put it, “a stone-cold bummer,” but the folks who liked it really liked it. (In James’ case, he meant it as a compliment. I think.)
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
One of the most rewarding things about writing and publishing is that I’ve gotten to know other incredible authors. I’m on a number of writer Discords where we edit each other’s work, brainstorm, cross-promote, and give each other advice on the publishing process. A particular shout-out to the Night Beats crew, which is a collective of strange, brilliant people without whom two books I worked on (The Sad Bastard Cookbook and Instant Classic (That No One Will Read)) wouldn’t even exist.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
The Sleep of Reason series, of which Cascade is the first book and So Human As I Am is a prequel, is all one long story. But one of the cool things about the Night Beats collective is that our work all contains references (even non-fiction like The Sad Bastard Cookbook) to each other’s work. Query, by Zilla Novikov, is basically a coffeeshop AU for Cascade, involving substantially better outcomes for the main cast. With my latest story, “Do You Love the Colour Of the Sky?” I’ve created a framework that actually allows all the stories I’ve ever written to exist in the same universe. All that said, I don’t aspire to MCU levels where you have to read everything to understand anything; at least the first book and each of the short stories are self-contained.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez. It’s a very literary epic fantasy about two warriors and a telepathic tortoise escorting a dying moon goddess across a war-torn country to overthrow an evil empire, and also about how we tell stories, who gets remembered by history, and how. It’s hands-down the most beautiful book I read last year and deserves much more acclaim than it got.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
I do so in different books. The Sad Bastard Cookbook is very kind and loves you the way you are. Cascade is here to make you work for it, and if it ever manages to be comforting, it’s by accident.
Are you traditionally or self published? Or both? Do you feel there are advantages to one over the other?
Both. Cascade is published with the BumblePuppy Press; The Sad Bastard Cookbook is self-published (kind of; Night Beats is a writing collective that sometimes partners with tRaum, a small press). The advantage of traditional publishing is advances, a certain level of legitimacy, and easier access to bookstores, libraries, and author events, all of which are important to me. But you make more money and have more creative control with self-publishing. For me it really depends on the type of book; some genres do better in self-publishing than others, while some really need the push of a publisher behind them.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters, if anything?
I hope that by the time they appear as characters, they’re unrecognizable as the real humans who contributed bits and bobs of inspiration. That said, as an author, I owe characters interiority and humanity. No matter how monstrous their actions, I don’t include them unless they exist as fully formed people in my mind.
What do you have coming next?
My next publication is a short story, “Do You Love the Colour of the Sky?”, in The Dance by Dark Dragon Publishing. It’s about a multiverse art heist, a dodo, and two sad lesbians. My current big project is Blight, the sequel to Cascade and the second book in the Sleep of Reason trilogy. It takes place in a Canada transformed by magic, climate catastrophe, and totalitarianism, in which a scrappy band of would-be revolutionaries keep fighting, whether there’s any hope of victory or not.
“There’s a thing,” she said, instead of hello.
The last time she’d called unscheduled, it was to tell him that she’d come face-to-face with motherfucking Cthulhu and almost died. She sounded more frantic now, but the tinny distance and her own rush to explain masked any fear that a normal person, a civilian, might feel. Funny how, through all their fights, through the broken crockery and promises, they slipped so easily into their old dynamic when the pressure was on, Blythe racing ahead of him, breathless, and Jonah never quite catching up.
“And there are blips. Several blips,” Blythe added, quickly, translating from scientist-who’d-been-buried-in-this-for-months to regular person sans context. “But none recently. Until three days ago, when there was a temperature spike like the ones right before Y2K.”
What she didn’t say was, the ones that started the Cascade. Everyone, scientist or not, knew what a sudden temperature spike in the deep ocean heralded.
The world is ending. It wasn’t, really. The world is never ending. What ends is the subjective, personal reality that one has carefully constructed over a lifetime, the plans and human ties and ideologies and the physical trappings of home and family that always seemed immutable, permanent. The Earth itself would, in all probability, march on, as it had through the Black Death, through the bloodthirsty colonization of Turtle Island, through both World Wars, through the Cascade and each one of its horrors and wonders—though whether at the end of this blip it would continue to be able to support human life remained to be seen—but it wouldn’t end. It is only your own, personal, fragile world that is always in danger.