Kelly Robson: Time-Travel Eco-Wars

Kelly Robson Locus Magazine Interview

Kelly Robson was born July 17, 1967 in Edmonton, Alberta and grew up in Hinton, Alberta, a small town just east of the Rockies. She graduated with a degree in English from the University of Alberta. Robson married writer A.M. Dellamonica in an “outlaw” wedding in 1989, and they wed officially in 2003 when Canada legal­ized marriage equality. They lived in Van­couver until 2013, when they relocated to downtown Toronto. Robson wrote a wine-and-spirits column for Chatelaine from 2008-2012, and regularly contributes non-fiction to Clarkesworld.

Robson’s story “Waters of Versailles” (2015) was a finalist for the World Fantasy and Nebula Awards and won an Aurora Award; “The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill” (2015) and “We Who Live in the Heart” (2017) were Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalists; “Two-Year Man” (2015) was a Sunburst Award finalist; and “A Human Stain” (2017) won a Nebula Award and was an Aurora Award finalist. Her novella Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach appeared in 2018, and a sequel, Time, Trouble, and the Lucky Peach is forthcoming.

Excerpts from the interview:

“Toronto is great. There are a lot of writ­ers here, and ChiZine Publications runs a monthly reading series about a 15-minute walk from where we live. That’s where my wife Alyx and I made all of our connections to the spec-fic community in Toronto, and there are just so many great people. When we moved in 2013, I’d just been laid off my job in Vancouver. I really loved that job and put a lot of my creative energy into it, so getting laid off was a huge ego blow. We already had friends in Toronto – Peter Watts, Caitlin Sweet, Linda Carson, and James Alan Gardner. We wanted to be near them because Vancouver doesn’t have a great creative community for spec-fic writers. There are writers there, but it’s not a communi­ty that comes together much. We knew Toronto had a real SF writer community, and we were both feeling that lack in our lives.

“The community here is so validating and accepting. We went to ChiSeries a few days after we moved. Sandra Kasturi, publisher of ChiZine Publications, welcomed us both with open arms and made a little announcement: ‘Hey everybody, Alyx and Kelly have moved to Toronto. We’ve got them – screw you, Vancouver.’ It felt good because previously I’d always put myself forward as just ‘Alyx’s wife.’ I hadn’t had the self-confidence to call myself a writer – but that instant acceptance, absolutely, just makes the community. There are very few writers who can exist in a vacuum. Our community is the most valuable thing – it cannot be overestimated how important it is. I love it, and it’s one of the reasons why I love doing conventions.

“I just got elected to the SFWA board as direc­tor-at-large. I’m really happy to do that, because I love our community so much, and I think SFWA is absolutely our strongest and best community gatherer. I’m hoping to further SFWA’s trans­formation into a bigger, better, more inclusive organization that values diversity on every level.

“Writers are trained to identify conflict and extrapolate how that conflict can come to really bad ends, so when we see a little bit of conflict in our community, we tend to overestimate how important that conflict is and where it’s going. We’re trained for drama. Every community thinks their world is more fractious and full of drama than anyone else’s, but every community is com­plicated, and it’s okay not to be harmonious 100% of the time. We don’t all have to be the same.

“I’m not one of these people who learned to read when they were four years old, but at a young age I had books that were really important to me. There’s a photo of me at age three in a blue fluffy onesie, zonked out with a Dr. Seuss book on my chest. I never had a lot of books as a kid, but they were always the most important thing that I had, and I was always passionate about books.

“My parents gave me trouble over reading. They wanted me to do other things. As I got older, my mom didn’t want me to read chapter books because she thought they were too ma­ture for me. When I got my hands on my first Nancy Drews at age seven, from my aunt, I just inhaled them. I read them over and over again. My parents weren’t passionate about books, but it was in my blood – I had to have books. When you have eight books as a kid and you read two of them a day, you basically have no books. You can only reread those books 400 times before you don’t get anything more out of them.

“The first SF I had was C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, lent to me by friends. I did not give them back. I had them for about a year and a half and I read them over and over. Their mom had to drive over and take the box set away from me. That was sixth grade.

“I was writing in sixth grade, too. I wrote a one-act play based on Lewis’s The Last Battle. The teacher actually accused me of plagiarizing the play. Soon after that, I read Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica novelizations. Perfect fodder for a kid. Those books stick with me to this day. There’s noth­ing wrong with media tie-ins. Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, I still remember that vividly. Also the noveliza­tion of ‘The Gun on Ice Planet Zero’ from Battlestar Galactica – it actually informed Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach a little bit. Is that an embarrassing thing to admit? Too bad. I’m going to admit it, because I have no shame.

“In fifth grade, I wrote a horse book called Born Wild. I read from it at a ChiSeries fun­draiser in Toronto the summer before last. It turns out the funniest word that you can say in any reading is the word ‘stallion.’ Every time I used the word ‘stallion,’ the entire bar just killed themselves. I wasn’t embarrassed of the writing or the content, but it showed what a scared little kid I was. I was really worried about promoting my own safety by sucking up to my parents and my step-siblings.

“I decided I wanted to be a writer at 16 when I read Connie Willis’s story, ‘Blued Moon’, in the December 1984 issue of Asimov’s. I’d been reading Heinlein, Piers Anthony, and various other writers, but it was the first time I’d read a contemporary science fiction short story. The sense of intellectual playfulness that pervades all of Willis’s work was some­thing I had never experienced before, and it sparked something in my brain I’d been missing. Very soon after, the editor of Asimov’s at the time, Shawna McCarthy, released an anthology called Space of Her Own, with SF short stories by women writers published in the early ’80s. That was huge to me.

“It’s impossible to describe the effect of well-written, current science fiction on a young adult in a constrained rural world with no internet and no access to books besides the ones I managed to scramble together for myself. Science fiction not only gave me the world – it gave me the universe. Science fiction was my lifeline, and if I hadn’t had SF as a teenager, I’m not sure I would be alive right now. I don’t think I would have made it through. That sounds overdramatic, but it’s true. Science fiction saves people, fantasy saves people, books save people, stories save people. Stories. All we are as human beings are story machines.

“With SF, fantasy, and horror, the power for me wasn’t escape, and it wasn’t about see­ing myself in the story – because I never did; those books and stories weren’t about anyone like me. The power was that they showed possibilities. My sense of what was possible expanded because of SF, fantasy, and horror. The world opened up to me and it became a much bigger, better, more interesting place. It showed that somewhere out there, I could find a place for myself, and I did. It’s no accident that I married Alyx at the age of 21, and she’s a science fiction writer, and I never wanted to be anything other than a science fiction writer.”

Interview design by Stephen H. Segal. Photograph by Arley Sorg.

Read the full review in the September 2018 issue of Locus.

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