The Bluegrass Symphony Drive-by: L L Hannett

Lisa Hannett survived Clarion South in 2009 (inspite of my cooking), and in the eighteen months or so since she’s published stories in (but not restricted to) Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Chizine, Weird Tales, ONSPEC, Midnight Echo, Scary Kisses, and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s Steampunk Compendium. She is also working on finishing a PhD in Old Icelandic Literature (for which she went and learned Old Icelandic). She is, quite clearly, an underachiever :-P.

Lisa’s writing is wildly imaginative, beautifully rendered, and seemingly effortlessly crafted. She has stories coming out in Twelfth Planet Press’ Sprawl anthology, Tesseracts 14, and her collection of Blue Grass Opera stories must be read by those wanting their minds blown (someone should really snap it up, some smart, sexy publisher).

Here she takes time out from doing everything in the world to answer my random questions.

1)      I first knew I was a writer when…
… I got my first rejection. I mean, I’d been scribbling for years. Jotting down notes, working out plots, building worlds, creating characters. I had a totally lame epic fantasy in the desk drawer, and a stack of tragic poems (we all go through that tragic poetry phase, right?) but I was doing it all privately. Secretly, even. It wasn’t until I went through the process of sending out a story, waiting to hear from the editor, trying not to think about hearing from the editor, getting rejected – and then immediately setting myself up to do it all again – that I felt I was really a writer.

2)      A story can always be improved by the addition of…
… Pinkertons. And underground cities. And insane asylums. And bayous. And libraries with secret passages, trapdoors and revolving bookcases. And cemeteries. And peacocks. And haruspicy. Insane Pinkertons in an underground bayou searching for peacocks; finding them; gutting them; reading their entrails for clues; recording their findings on tombstones in a swamp library? Hmmmm. But, most importantly, stories are always improved by the addition of the ‘delete’ button. If I’d listened to my own suggestion, this answer would’ve been much more concise…

3)      Which sale caused you to Snoopy Dance around the room?
Every sale gets its own little dance. Sometimes I’m composed enough to do a little jig, but most of the time I jump up and down on the spot, often with arms flailing, kind of like a toddler not quite used to standing up. Any magazine or anthology willing to publish my stuff instantly becomes dance-worthy. But I suppose the biggest official Snoopy Dance™ I have done so far was when I sold a story to Clarkesworld last year. Honestly, reading that acceptance email launched me out of my desk chair so fast and so high, I think you can probably still see a dent in the ceiling.

4)      Who is your favourite fictional character, and why?
This is the most devilish question ever! So hard to choose! In fact, I’m incapable of choosing only one, so I’ll narrow it down to a few:

I usually fall for elusive, peripheral characters; the magical, trickster characters who tantalise us and then leave us wondering if we’ll ever see them again. When I was younger, it was Tad Williams’ ‘Sithi’ (pseudo-elves in his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy) that captured my imagination, largely because they were different enough from Tolkien’s elves to unsettle me. I must still carry a fondness for characters like that because one of my favourites recently has been the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair from Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which, by the way, is a brilliant brilliant brilliant book.) He is amoral, self-serving, and oozes magic – and he only makes brief appearances in Clarke’s massive novel (and have I mentioned it’s brilliant?). I also frequently think about the Fool from Robin Hobbs’ first three trilogies. I love that the Fool’s gender is hard to determine, that he/she is almost colourless, and he/she has a quick wit and an even quicker tongue. I love that the Fool doesn’t seem to be bound by one reality; much like the tricksters in Charles de Lint’s early fantasy novels, who are also favourites of mine.

But I also adore characters that are emotionally repressed — like Stevens, the ageing butler and narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day. His inability to express his feeling is absolutely heartbreaking, and utterly effective. It’s been a year since I read that book last, and I still think about it. And characters who are repressed for other reasons — like Robert Neville in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (the book! not the film!), or the father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, who are both forced to deal with isolation, the end of humanity, and, well, not getting eaten — are the ones I find most intriguing.

I could go on forever, but I’ll leave it with one last, potentially favourite, favourite: Al Swearengen, proprietor of the Gem Saloon, from Deadwood. If I ever write a character as complex as Swearengen I’ll have reached nirvana. He is a greasy-haired, craggy-faced, foul-mouthed, ambitious, murdering son-of-a-bitch. His compassionate side involves performing mercy killings and working out his psychological issues while getting ‘serviced’ by his favourite saloon girl. And he frequently seeks advice from a rotting head kept in a box in his office. What’s not to love?

5)      Donuts or danishes.
Donuts all the way. Preferably Tim Horton’s (anyone who has been to Canada will know what I’m talking about). The best are Tim’s chocolate glazed – and by chocolate glazed I mean chocolate cake glazed with translucent sugar. Not white cake with chocolate icing, no siree. These are like fluffy mud cake rings dipped in deliciousness. And the best part about Tim Horton’s is the Timbits! Ever wonder what happens to the donut-holes? Well, they wind up in variety boxes of Timbits, sold in lots of 6, 12 or, for the serious sweet-tooth, 18. Yum yum yum and yum.

She blogs here

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