Eye for an Eye: Talking Vengeance with R.S.A Garcia

Lex Talionis, out on May 30th from Dragonwell Publishing, is a full throttle science fiction novel that combines a strong female viewpoint with an extended meditation on vengeance and just how far we’re prepared to go for it. I talked to the author, R.S.A Garcia, about the book, her influences and what’s next for her.

GEEK SYNDICATE: How did you get started writing?

R.S.A Garcia: I was born with a pen in my hand. My mother was very surprised.
Okay, to tell you the truth, reading started me writing. I was a voracious reader from the age of 2 and by 9 I had fallen in love with Louisa May Alcott. I read somewhere that she first published in a newspaper at the age of 8. I was mortified. Clearly I’d been wasting my time. I resolved to start writing and try to catch up. I finished my first collection of fairytales at 10. One of them was about a goat afraid to cross the road. I have hidden these gems where you will never, ever find them.

GS: Which authors influenced you?

R.S.A G: All of them. Every single one I’ve read, whether it was a lesson in what to do, or what not to do, everything I read influenced me in some way. But if you want specific names, I can say I have read and admired all of these writers at one time or another: Phillip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Octavia E. Butler, William Goldman, Ed McBain, John Steinbeck, Katherine Kerr, Margaret Weis, Anne McCaffrey, Jack Vance, Carl Sagan, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L. Ron Hubbard, Michael Crichton, Roald Dahl, Nalo Hopkinson and many, many more.

GS: This is your first published novel. What was your learning curve?

R.S.A G: There’s a curve? Please let me know when I get to the end! In other words, I started putting words together at 10. In my twenties I realised they were coming out on the page almost like they were in my head. I got excited. I’m still excited. And I’m still waiting for them to come out exactly like they are in my head.

GS: Are there other novels waiting to be revised?

R.S.A G: There are about eight other novels that will NEVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY.

GS: Did you write short stories first?

R.S.A G: Well, I started off with a collection of fairytales, so that’s a yes, probably. However, the next thing I tackled was a novel. And I wrote nothing but novels until I joined the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in 2000. Then I wrote a few shorts in between. I’m very bad at shorts. But I did write one that an editor liked enough to buy, so there’s that.

GS: What was the biggest challenge in writing it?

RSA G: The biggest challenge in writing Lex Talionis was the same for all writers working on a novel. Finishing it. It’s the project I kept coming back to over the years, and there were five working drafts before I got the bones of the one that would become the published novel.

GS: What sort of research did you find yourself doing?

R.S.A G: There was a lot of filling in the little stuff that I didn’t expect. Talking to a practicing doctor from the US about how doctors operate in hospitals and how they are expected to treat patients. I had to get my medical technology right as well, so talking to a real doctor gave me a sense of what they wished they could do. There was research into amnesia and how it can affect a person. It was about getting the details if not completely accurate, then close enough so that I can tell the story I want to and credibility isn’t affected.

GS: What didn’t make the cut?

R.S.A G: I had originally written a few sections set in the three years of Lex’s life that would have showed up in the latter half of the novel. But it didn’t fit with the story that was the focus of Lex Talionis so I left it on the cutting room floor.

GS: Science fiction is known for two things; being a male protagonist heavy genre and sprawling in terms of scale. What were the challenges of writing a female driven piece of SF?

R.S.A G: The same as any other science fiction novel. Telling a compelling story in a realistic future that engages the audience is never easy. And though I love epic stories, I do feel like it’s important to keep some intimacy between the reader and the characters, or the readers will just not feel the stakes the same way. I don’t think the gender of the protagonist affects the writer’s ability to do any of that. I do think some people believe it affects some readers’ ability to connect with the main character. Right now, storytelling–whether in film or on paper–has made it less so. Lots of people of both genders are connecting with Katniss Everdeen, and when I was growing up, Carl Sagan’s Ellie in Contact blew my mind. The most important thing for me in writing this was in showing not only a woman, but a woman who challenges certain notions of what a ‘kick-ass heroine’ should be. And along the way I hopefully showcase some other kick-ass female characters that don’t have to carry a weapon to be seen that way.

GS: Why do you think the genre is perceived as skewing male even though it doesn’t?

R.S.A G: Because for a very long time mostly men wrote science fiction. It was a genre for and by scientists, and most of those were men. We know there were–and still are–very real barriers to women or people of colour (or both) entering the field of speculative fiction. It’s the same barriers that exist in the study of sciences on the whole. Writers write what they know, to a certain extent. So when a lot of men write in a genre, naturally other men are drawn to it because the genre will focus on concerns they find it easy to sympathize with. The mistake is to think that men can’t be drawn to fiction that reflects on and includes the concerns of women, whether between the pages or behind the pen. The current make-up of the writers and audience for speculative fiction and science fiction is changing as we speak so let’s hope that perception dies a quick death, along with the barriers that make it easy to accept it.

GS: Is Lex Talionis a done in one or are there plans for a sequel?

R.S.A G: When I started it, it was with the intention of it being a stand-alone. However, halfway through Lex Talionis I realised this was going to be a big story. So yes, there are sequels planned, but whether I get to write them rests on the readers and if they want to see more. *Looks at her readers with soulful puppy-dog eyes*

GS: What’s next for you?

R.S.A G: Only the Fates know. In the meantime, I’m working on the sequel for Lex Talionis, and the first book in a new science fantasy duology set in a matriarchal world where women control ‘real’ magic, and men control illusion. It’s a world built on the myths and legends of several cultures, chief among them my own Caribbean heritage, with African and East Indian influences as well.

Lex Talionis by R.S.A Garcia  is out on May 30th from Dragonwell who can be found online at http://publishing.dragonwell.org/

Reporter: Alasdair Stuart

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