Carrie Cuinn is an author, editor, bibliophile, modernist, and geek. In her spare time she reads, draws, makes things, takes other things apart, and sometimes publishes books. Learn more at http://carriecuinn.com.
ACW: Congratulations on the publication of your first short story collection! For those who haven’t had a chance to dive into the collection yet, can you give readers a sense of what sort of stories they’ll find within its pages?
It’s got science fiction and apocalypse stories and magic realism and fucked up fairy tales, because I am a genre girl and proud of it. There are six previously published stories, two new ones, and a sonnet about a murderous robot.
ACW: In the introduction to your collection, you talk about teaching yourself to write short stories by starting with the shortest forms possible and working your way up to longer tales. This is fascinating to me, since so many authors seem to do the opposite – start with something long, rambling, and only after much trial and error do they learn to pare their work down to a sharp, well-told, and tightly-plotted tale. Have you gone back to novels or other longer form work since you started focusing on short stories? If so, do you find your method for short fiction has helped you in terms of pacing, or do you have to unlearn/relearn certain things when working in a longer format?
As I’ve progressed as a writer, I’ve written longer and longer stories. It’s no longer a surprise if I go over five or six thousand words. What I’ve held on to from that short work is that I don’t write something unless I need it. I also go back and edit out every extra bit that slipped into the tale. If it insists on being over 6,000 words, it is, but if it doesn’t absolutely need to be that long, it won’t be. I have no problem writing a 1,200 word story if it encompasses everything I’m trying to say in that moment; I still do, quite often.
I do have longer stories in progress as well, including a fully-mapped out novel, and something that I think will be a novella when it’s done. Those are much harder for me now because I constantly ask myself, “Does this have to be in here?” I read novels that have huge, rambling, sections (usually at about 2/5 and 4/5 of the way through), and I wonder why the author thought it was okay to use extra words that weren’t furthering the story, characters or setting… I think my work is much better because of the short fiction practice, but it’s also more difficult to create. I will probably finish my next collection before I finish a novel.
ACW: You also explain the collection’s title, Women and Other Constructs, in the introduction, as something that encompasses many recurring themes in your stories – relationships, robots, gender, self-identity vs. outside perception and expectations. What draws you to these themes? Is there something in SF/F/H which makes it particularly suited as a medium for exploring these ideas?
I like the set dressing of speculative fiction. I am interested in how we can use it to tell the stories that are more often found in mainstream literature. I don’t think you can say that speculative fiction is “particularly suited” to explore relationships, gender, or self-identity, because those ideas pop up in every kind of story. I do think it’s important not to rule out those themes in your work just because it’s also about robots.
There’s two parts of a story: what it’s about, and what it looks like. A story about a man and woman negotiating the end of their relationship can also be about a man who’s bought an artificial woman from a black-market dealer, and has to return her when she shows up a day early and tells his wife about their relationship (“All The Right Words”). A story about a man who doesn’t know how to tell when a woman likes him, because he has no real experience with women, can also be a story about a man falling in love with a pair of legs in a zombie brothel (“Mitch’s Girl”). A look at the expectations a man has for the woman in his life—like expecting his demands to be followed without having to say, “Please,”—can also be the story of a customer service call to a robot factory (“Call Center Blues”).
As far as why I’m drawn to these themes in particular… I am directly affected by both the interplay between men and women, and the evolution of speculative fiction to include strong female characters, because I am a woman, and I read SF/F/H. I always have.
ACW: In addition to your own fiction, you’re the publisher of Dagan Books, LLC, and edit several of its titles. How does your editing work inform your writing? What’s your favorite thing about the editing/publishing side of your life?
The worst part of also being an editor is that I will proof my own work a dozen times and still catch an error after it’s already out in the world. That kills me! So frustrating—I keep thinking that I should have caught it. No one can spot all of their own mistakes, especially when you add editing, formatting, proofing, ebook creation, and more, to your writing, so the best I can do is to make corrections as soon as I can.
The best part is getting to put new fiction out into the world. I’ve been lucky in that I like most of what I publish. That might sound weird but there have been a few times I thought a story worked perfectly, just not for me, and so I included it. They always end up being the favorite story of some other reader. But because of Dagan Books, so many stories I love now exist. They are in books. They are being read, loved, hated, critiqued, and talked about. Books made my life better, and now I get to do that for someone else.
ACW: As if all that wasn’t enough, you also frequently post writing advice on your blog, and promote the work of other writers, particularly under-represented voices and authors working with smaller, independent publishers who are less likely to get mainstream attention. At the risk of sounding like a hipster cliché, if you could recommend one author you knew about before he/she was cool that you want everyone to know about, who would it be?
I’ll give you an author I’ve just discovered, and you should follow her now, because you’re going to love her work. And you’re going to hate her, too. Jessica May Lin wrote a beautifully tragic flash piece called, “Mortar Flowers,” for Nature’s Futures section, and another for Daily Science Fiction. She’s attended workshops, she studies literature, and she’s one of those writers who knows that having an interesting life gives you something to talk about. She speaks a couple of languages, does acrobatic pole dancing (not the stripper kind), attends UC Berkeley, and if she doesn’t burn out or give up, I think she’ll be a good writer.
Oh, and she just turned 19. Yeah, I said you were going to hate her. But, read her too.
ACW: We’ve covered your writing, editing, and blogging, but an aspect of your life people may not know about is your ongoing feud with Fran Wilde and your plans for world domination, which began at Readercon 2012. Can you give us a hint of what’s ‘in’ this season in terms of Secret Fortress/Lair Décor, high-tech gadgetry, and the latest in Super fashion? Any hints as to your plans, or would you have to kill me if you told me?
This year I’m the head of Good, which is a lot more work than you’d expect. I was Evil last year and I think I’m more suited to it. I keep wanting to bribe my minions with booze and brownies. I still am, of course, but they’re nice brownies. Other than Wes Chu threatening to turn up in green tights, and Don Pizarro wondering aloud whether he could get Robin’s shorts in time, I think we’re going to go casual this year. Better to blend into the crowd. I have heard that Fran is dressing her minions, though. Something about sheep costumes? That does seem pretty evil…
With Readercon’s, erm, interesting, floor plan this year (if you don’t know, the hotel is undergoing renovation and we won’t have a bar or lobby) I think we’re going with a “party in the lair” theme in our decor. I can tell you one secret: we’ve decided to mutually de-arm at the end of the convention, in a grand ceremony where we’ll both switch sides, and hand over power to one of our minions. Who will it be?
I say we make ‘em fight for it. Oh. Right. Not Evil. Okay. I’ll ask Fran to make the minions fight.
ACW: Aside from world domination, what are you working on next? Do you have any upcoming projects you want people to know about?
I have been posting free PDFs of short fiction to my website, and I’ll keeping putting up one or two a month at least until the end of the year. I’ve got stories I’m writing for submission, so I hope you’ll see my name in a couple of new publications soon. I’m also publishing three novellas, two anthologies (Bibliotheca Fantastica, due out in a few days, and Cthulhurotica 2, which will come out toward the end of the year), and a collection of Mike Allen’s short horror stories. Plus, I continue to work as a volunteer for SFWA, trying to be a force for positive change. (We’re getting there. Really.)
ACW: Thanks for dropping by and answering my questions!
Thanks for having me, and for reading Women and Other Constructs!