August 2012 saw publication of your first novel, Rituals (Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One), a dark and eclectic romp through history and myth which opens very appropriately with quotes from Nietszche and Cyndi Lauper. Tell us a bit more about this novel.
One of my characters says that people talk of magic as a technology of will, as if that were a good thing. I wanted to write a fantasy novel that regarded magic as pervasive and wonderful, but probably quite a bad and corrupting thing. Both my heroines are caught up in it – and compromised by that. Mara has spent millennia tracking down those who use torture and murder rituals to acquire power – which makes her both Justice and top predator. She pre-emptively bullies Aleister Crowley telling him tales of Aztecs and Atlantis, and her complicated alliance against Evil with the untrustworthy Jehovah, her former apprentice, and about her search for her occasionally incarnate dead sisters/lovers. In the early 80s, she casually saves Emma, my other heroine – who finds herself hired by a mysterious boss who talks through her dead lover Caroline. She sorts out various threats – elves, vampires, angels, Brit Artists, and a particularly dangerous invasion. Later volumes deal with the French Revolution, the Crucifixion and the end of the world.
Writers normally have lots of ideas and inspirations to choose from. What made this the novel you just had to write?
I wanted a loose baggy structure into which I could fit all my obsessions, and a lot of snarky dialogue – I justified my years of writing fanfic in terms of the book it was preparation for, which turned out to be this. And there are the critical books – a decade of film and television studies left me with lots of cool things I wanted to see done and no-one was going to. So a vast queer blasphemous book that’s full of cinema and comic book ideas that no one else was ever going to do.
You have a background as critic, poet, literary and cultural commentator, activist and editor – how does this shape and inform your fiction?
Some people have seen this book as a logical outcome of my drift back to anarchism and my complicated relationship with religion. It is certainly a critique of power – it’s also a fairly intensely woman-centred book with a major trans character in later volumes. Like my poetry, it is all about putting in what the great tradition leaves out.
It takes a long time to build up a rich and convincing backdrop for a novel – a series – like this. How long have you been working on Rhapsody of Blood?
I’ve worked as a publisher’s reader for decades and for quite a long time was reading a lot of historical manuscripts – I accumulated a lot of interests and those fed into this. And it also – as I just said – came out of my other interests as they matured.
With your diverse interests and career to date, why fiction, and why now?
I first wrote a novel back in the 80s – a mainstream novel about trans hookers in Chicago in the years before the epidemic. It’s quite good – it nearly sold a couple of times but I got discouraged when it didn’t. Then Midnight Rose came along and my fellow editors bullied me into writing for our own anthologies. I started a big space opera on the back of those stories but it died on me and I got sidetracked into memoir and fanfic and critical studies, Why now? Same reason as the return to poetry – old and tired and in a hurry.
What’s the schedule for the rest of the series? Is it written yet? Do you have publication dates?
I’ve finished a draft of Book 2 – Reflections – and started 3 – Returns. No schedule – there are also a couple of linked short stories, one of which may become a section of a later volume. I am planning to wrap it up in four books, total. Honest.
What are you working on now?
Book 3, some poems, a critical book on fantasy film.
Describe your typical writing day, if there is such a thing.
I tend to spend much of the day on my actual job – reading manuscripts for publishers and reviewing. Poems come when they come. I do most of my actual writing late at night. Or not.
Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
I think Kari Sperring doesn’t get the praise she deserves – I’m a huge admirer of Nora Jemisin.
If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Consume all the art you can – not just books but paintings, music, film.
What else do you have out now?
I’ve two books of poetry out at the same time, more or less, as Rituals, from Midsummer Night’s Press – one selects my poems about love and sex Dialectic Of The Flesh and the other What If What’s Imagined Were All True collects some of my poems about robots, and gods, and sf writers. I was poet GOH at Eastercon 2011 – pretty good a mere two years after I came back to poetry after thirty some years away.
Roz Kaveney has had a chequered career as writer and activist – she has had a bad attitude since her teens. She helped create Feminists against Censorship and was Deputy Chair of Liberty; she has worked tirelessly for trans rights and on broader LGBTIQ issues. She is probably best known for her books on popular culture Reading The Vampire Slayer, From Alien To The Matrix, Teen Dreams and so on, and for her involvement in the Midnight Rose anthologies.