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26 November 2002




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Jacqueline Carey: Existential BDSM December 2002

Jacqueline Carey's first sales were a variety of stories and essays, followed by illustrated non-fiction “angelology” Angels: Celestial Spirits in Legend & Art (1997).

Her first novel, Kushiel’s Dart (2001), which begins the trilogy that features Phèdre, the exquisite “anguissette” who enjoys a god-given pleasure from pain, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Phèdre’s story, which stands alone in each volume, continues in Kushiel’s Chosen (2002) and will conclude in Kushiel’s Avatar (due April 2003).

Carey currently lives near Saugatuck, Michigan with her long-time partner, Julie Abel.

Photo by Charles N. Brown

Official Website

Excerpts from the interview:

“There was a time at the height of my awkward years as a young teenager, 12-plus, when my mother was concerned that I was very vulnerable to being converted by a cult. There must have been a big checklist circulating in the late ’70s and early ’80s — ‘Watch Signs: Is your child imaginative? Moody? Insecure?’ She just put down, check, check, check. It haunted me for ages. I finally confronted her when I was somewhere in my 20s: ‘Do you still think I’m liable to join a cult?’ She said, ‘No, honey. I think you’re a lot more liable to start one now.’ ‘Zen Pantheist’ was a term I coined that seems to best express my belief system as it is: contemplative, meditative pantheism.”


“The genesis of the whole ‘Kushiel’ setting came from a vivid dream snippet I had eight or nine years ago, in which there was this young man, shirtless and just wearing tattered pants of some sort, on the rocky, barren shore of an inland lake. He was hit by musket fire — three or four balls, spinning and turning and falling — and then roses were blooming in profusion on the barren stone. I’m not usually a vivid lucid dreamer, and I’d never done anything based on a dream before, but it stuck with me so much that I wrote a short story, ‘The Martyr of the Roses’. It was set in a sort of alternate Russia, but there was also a character from Terre d’Ange. That stayed with me: the idea of a highly sophisticated, decadent civilization contrasted with others that have been held back to a more barbaric phase. I think I was building that world in my subconscious for a long time.”


“Of course, the big question is: ‘How do you get away with having an openly, cheerfully masochistic heroine?’ That aspect crystallized when the character of Phèdre crystallized. I know there has been increasing mainstreaming of sadomasochism, and it has been prevalent as a subtext all along in a lot of fantasy. But I wanted to deliberately invert that and critique it; take it out of what had been a largely unspoken subtext and see what happens when instead of the naughty little covert element, it becomes frank and open and positive. And to use that to explore ideas of will and volition, and how these issues of power can play out between individuals on a broad basis. I had to do a lot of research to present that element. I wanted to try and get at the psychology behind the BDSM [bondage, dominance, sadism, masochism] community. I get a lot of speculation - people ask, ‘How much of you is in your heroine?’ I can give a long answer or a short answer. The short answer is: ‘Just enough.’ (The long answer is, ‘There’s a bit of you in every character....’ and so on.) People also come up and peer around to see if I have the tattoo. I’ve now got people sending me photos of their tattoos! [Some are displayed at] I’m still adjusting to being part of the fantasy community, especially after working in isolation for so long.”


“I am working now on something completely unrelated, a sort of ‘palate-cleanser.’ It’s a standalone with the working title Elegy for Darkness, an epic fantasy that adheres faithfully to the Tolkienesque model — except it’s written from a perspective sympathetic to its villains. Essentially, this is a postmodern Greek tragedy featuring the traditional ‘minions of the Dark Lord.’ I want it to tell a resonant, sweeping story that will engage readers, but I also want to critique epic fantasy and examine the tenets that lie at the heart of the genre, in particular the unquestioning acceptance of a dualist theology.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the December 2002 issue of Locus Magazine.


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