A Conversation Between A.B. Eyers and Delilah Bell
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We craft these things things out of words, and in those words are sweat and blood and little bits of self, and then we send them out into the world, where, we hope, they find readers for whom our words resonate. Part of finding readers is marketing, which is what we’re doing here. Marketing The Flesh Made Word, so that you’ll buy it and read it and tell your friends and twitter feed to do the same. But there’s no point in marketing that isn’t interesting. An author interview is hit or miss, that way. But, getting two authors together to talk about each other’s work? Well, for me, that’s more than just twice as interesting. We get to see not just what an author thinks of their own work, but what they think of someone else’s, and the interplay gets you much deeper glimpses than you’re likely to see with a series of questions and carefully crafted answers.
Today’s conversation is between A.B. Eyers and Delilah Bell. Both contributed stories to The Flesh Made Word that are very different tonally, but explore some of the same themes.
Bell: Hello! Success.
Eyers: Ditto what you said earlier about being cut off…my internet is not the most reliable.
Good lord. Now we have to actually do this thing?
Eyers: oh dear. I think I underestimated how anxious it would make ME.
Bell: Honestly, I think the hardest part was just making the connection. I have every faith we’ll be fine. Also, I took the opportunity to read your story and am really envious of the voice you gave your main character. I’m forever trapped on this hamster wheel of having to make my characters funny for some reason — which might work out better if I had a better sense of humor but as things stand, becomes simply a source of angst.
Eyers: Ha! My characters are seldom funny, and I’ve always wished they were. I tend to get trapped on the hampster wheel of Serious Sad Things instead. Maybe it’s just a case of wanting what you don’t have?
Eyers: Oh! So for saving the chat log, I was thinking I/we could just copy and paste the conversation into a document when we’re finished, and maybe edit out the irrelevant stuff, and…just send it along to Bernie to do what he will?
Bell: I was just wondering about that. There’s probably some more technically spiffy way of doing things but I like that plan for the simple fact that I think I can do it.
That was my thought. The technically spiffy things tend to fail dramatically when I try to do them, so this seemed safer.
So…I wanted to just start by asking how you got involved with this project.
Bell: My best friend from high school — which was a lifetime ago for me BTW — was generous enough to badger me into it. She’s still trying to badger me into writing my next piece but real life conspires against us.
Eyers: Real life does that!
Bell: Oddly, one of her reasons was that she liked that my characters were generally appealing and my stories happy? I suppose they are for the most part.
Eyers: Appealing and happy are probably a good place to start for erotica.
Bell: It’s a lovely genre, welcoming of all sorts of moods.
Eyers: Did you write the piece specifically for the anthology, then?
I read the prompt and almost immediately pictured golden writing on peach skin in the dark and that inspired me for — how many K was it in the end? Amazing really.
Eyers: Interesting…that image really stuck with me, actually. It was such a beautiful mental picture.
Bell: Thank you!
Eyers: Hmm. Maybe you should give a short summary of what the story is actually about? I’m not sure what’s being done with this interview, but maybe we shouldn’t assume that people have read it yet.
Bell: Starting with the basic world premise perhaps? That actually evolved a bit through the rewrites but the idea was to base these characters in a futuristic society not too unlike ours but where the element of wonder — supernatural? magic? — still existed, specifically in the physical form of a “prophet” who, when combined with another individual who was the “scroll,” would then be able to predict the future through the patterns that would form on the scroll’s skin. In this case, that pattern was — very helpfully – words.
I tried to play a bit with the taboo of touch, too. So the words would only form when the two touched but, because of the gravity of those words, they would be prohibited from touching each other except with an audience.
Eyers: Which led nicely into some interesting denial/exhibitionism business.
Bell: Denial. Ummm. Delicious, isn’t it?
I think that was part of what I liked about your story…there’s no tension without denial, and you built that up so well.
Bell: Thank you! In an odd way, I think the length constraints helped or I would very likely have left all of us in denial for far too long.
Eyers: Ha! Never too long.
Although. Perhaps not everyone would agree.
Bell: Probably not people who indulge in writing erotica though.
Eyers: Or reading, yes.
Have you written much erotica? Were you at all hesitant about writing/submitting the story?
Writing is usually a pretty intimate/personal thing for me, but this project kind of…exaggerated that for me. I can’t get much more personal than sex and words.
Bell: I love the more sensual side of stories and writing the piece felt a bit like sky-diving without a parachute — liberating but, oh, just a touch terrifying. I agree. The juxtaposition of sex and words proved unexpectedly escalated the intimacy of the writing process. Also, this is the first piece I’ve ever had published so loads of excitement all around.
I think my hesitancy about submitting the work circled more around the usual writer’s inadequacies of quality, skill, imagination perhaps?
Eyers: I published a few things in the literary magazine published out of my university, but I would consider this the first thing I’ve properly published, so I sympathize there.
(That’s ridiculous, by the way — I loved the world you built)
Bell: That’s been one of the most wonderful parts of this experience, I think. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary act, and a ridiculously precious one since real life has marginalized my opportunities to indulge in it. So having positive feedback about my work has been absolutely fantastic.
Do you have other writing projects on the go, or is this just something you do in your spare time?
Bell: Bit of both. I tend to focus on smaller pieces because I find I often lack time, stubbornness, something to finish longer work. So, a lot of what I write is usually in response to a posted prompt, call for submissions, or self-inspired fanfic which is a guilty indulgence. Writing other people’s characters feels odd but nicely challenging.
Eyers: I envy that. I tend to write a lot of between-genre stuff that it’s quite difficult to find a home for. The piece I wrote for this anthology was one I expected to sit in my hard drive forever. I was delighted to find a place that it fit.
Bell: I always feel like I should be writing more, though. Is that universal?
Eyers: Mmm. Maybe?
I tell myself that being a writer is 50% writing and 50% despairing over not writing.
Bell: That feels unfortunately accurate.
Eyers: Yes…it’s pretty cyclical.
Hmm. I have a list somewhere of the things I wanted to ask about your story, but I seem to have conveniently misplaced it.
Bell: Hah! Well, let’s see. What do these interviews generally cover? I preferentially write fantasy but have an addiction to — well — everything else. I’m currently juggling reading Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye comics (another guilty indulgence), an old Lisa Kleypas novel (because it feels like wool socks), and a Stephen Hawking treatise that’s making me weep blood.
Eyers: Ah! Yes to the Stephen Hawking treatise!
Bell: I’m crap at physics. I have no idea why I borrowed that thing. It goes back to original owner tomorrow, I think.
Eyers: I’m currently binge-reading The Invisibles and waiting impatiently for Catherynne Valente to write another novel.
And I read a fair bit of poetry as well…I’m pretty deeply into Don McKay’s work at the moment.
Bell: Oooh. Isn’t Valente’s birthday coming up? Maybe she’ll surprise us.
Eyers: I didn’t know that. Have you read “Bones Like Black Sugar”? It’s possibly my favourite of her pieces, but certainly the sexiest Hansel and Gretel interpretation I’ve ever run into.
Bell: No but it’s going on my list. I’m not sure I agree that every possible plot has already been hatched — unless defined in the most generic of terms — but I adore interpretations of classical pieces.
Eyers: Totally beautiful. All about regret and longing and womanhood.
Bell: Regret — true, deep, and abiding — is absolutely gut-wrenching for me to write. I can’t think of what else people cover in these things. I generally get inspired by a single image — like the one for “The Prophet Scroll” — that hopefully carries sufficient momentum to see me through the piece.
Eyers: I can probably talk about “Amanuensis” as well, but I might need prompting on topics.
Oh! I don’t know if you’ll want to answer this or not, but: you sort of…hint at kink in various places throughout your story, partly with the denial and exhibitionism that we talked about, but there’s also some hand-tying, and maybe a bit of dominance going on. How deliberate was that?
Bell: Pretty deliberate. It cost me countless hours of heartache trying to define my main protagonist, Tanis. Mostly, I felt like Goldilocks. She can’t be too soft. She can’t be too hard. It’s a difficult dynamic to write in a short work especially if covering issues of consent and free will which I tried desperately not to gloss over.
About “Amanuensis,” however, I take it that you didn’t write the piece specifically for this anthology. I’m curious. What was the initial starting inspiration for you?
Eyers: It very much started with an image for me as well.
I’d been thinking about bruises that result from sex — I was just starting to explore kink myself at the time — and I kept seeing this woman standing on a toilet in her bathroom, inspecting these marks all over her body, and slowly coming to the realization that they were smudged words.
I wrote that scene first, and then tried to write the story around it, which is not a process I would recommend. It took me almost two years, and multiple drafts. I think the document at its messiest was about sixty pages long.
Once I started, it also became clear that I wanted to write about the separation between hope and desire.
Because…hope is a pretty universally accepted good thing. If you have nothing, and you’re given hope, you have more than nothing. But I was curious as to what would happen if you had nothing, then were given desire but still no hope. I’m not sure whether Kitty is left with more or less than nothing at the end of the story.
Does that make sense at all?
The story, for people who haven’t read it, is set in a dystopian future world, and focuses on a woman having an affair with her android secretary.
Bell: I loved that most about your work, though — the tension between words and bruises and the shadows between them. And it makes loads of sense. I feel she grew through the process though that doesn’t answer your question really. But it may be disingenuous to say all experience is more, even the tragic bits.
Eyers: I often start stories with a question like that, but…I don’t usually wind up with an answer at the end. Definitely “Amanuensis” was more an exploration of that question than an attempt to answer it.
Bell: Well, leaving the reader with a bit of work isn’t a bad thing.
Eyers: Writing it also coincided with the end of my first kinky relationship (which may be too much information) and I was not sure of the answer for myself, either. Awakening complicated desires can be problematic and frightening, and in some ways it’s easier if they stay subdued and quiet.
Bell: Not too much information. Maybe that’s what makes writing erotica so deceptively difficult. All writing is baring one’s soul to the fates but writing taboo, to some extent, demands exploring it and I felt like a lot more of me got exposed in this work than in my others. Good fiction cannot be entirely fiction perhaps. But, for me anyway, once a question is posed, I have a hard time not coming back to it again and again. Genie in a bottle?
Eyers: Yes, exactly.
That was partly what I appreciated about your piece as well. Erotica that touches on these things can often skim over the complicated side of them.
Sometimes that’s good, but I’m interested in the complicated stuff. I appreciated that Tanis felt like a real person.
Actually, the whole anthology makes me happy in that respect. There’s a lot of complicated sexy thinking going on.
Bell: Isn’t there, though? At least our research is relatively fun. Reference Hawking above. Sadly, I probably should sign off soon. Can you think of anything potentially fascinating that we didn’t cover?
Eyers: I think we’ve probably covered most of it?
Thanks for doing this.
Bell: Thank you for doing this! Proved less painful than expected and you were lovely to chat with. Have a lovely evening.
Delilah Bell is a freelance writer with a penchant for travel but a budget for fantasy. She has survived traversing an active volcano in Santorini, climbing the heights of Glastonbury Tor, and living for more than a decade in the South. She suspects she might enjoy learning to play the guitar and knit, and writes with the silent but palpable support of her family, both furry and otherwise. “The Prophet Scroll” is her first published work, unless you count the fan fic she wrote years ago.
A. B. Eyers lives and works in Canada. Since completing her bachelor’s degree she divides her time between the dubious civilization of Dawson City, Yukon and the wild mountains and rivers that surround it. She is better at making jam than plans, and is working on a philosophy of life based around hitchhiking and listening to trees. Her blog (under the name Mary Fraughton) can be found at https://frigidshootingstars.wordpress.com/, and she has published stories and poems in the 2009 and 2013 editions of Portal Magazine.
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