Denver Comic Con is a gathering of all sorts of people. From comic book enthusiasts to TV show guests and know-it-alls, avid readers or authors to cosplays from a variety of universes, the annual celebration is host to a plethora of fanatics. Charlie Jane Anders, known for her works Six Months, Three Days (2011), and her latest All the Birds in the Sky (2016), is one of the many talented guest authors paneling at the event.
For those unfamiliar with Anders’ work, her novels blend science fiction and absurdism with poignant check-ups on the current society on earth. Interwoven within the commentary are narratives of relationships asking big questions and challenging the ethos of modern love. In Six Months, Three Days, one member of the relationship can see the future while the other can see many futures; bringing about the difficult conversation of determinism vs. free will. All the Birds in the Sky pits a witch together with a scientific techno-geek, as diversified philosophies put a strain on their outcast relationship.
While each book has won multiple awards, Anders is a frequent contributor to the blog io9, which was started by her partner, Annalee Newitz. Anders is transgender, incredibly imaginative and full of epic, heart-twisting tales. OUT FRONT had the chance to chat with Charlie Jane Anders in preparation for Denver Comic Con 2018.
How has the community surrounding you helped you continue to create?
I’m incredibly lucky to be part of several communities that nurture me as a writer and as a person. The larger community of science fiction and fantasy writers and readers is a wonderful group of people who love stories and new ideas, even if everybody doesn’t always agree on everything. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate to join the community of writers who are marginalized because of their sexuality, gender, or a whole host of other reasons. The rise of intersectionality in science fiction and fantasy communities has been giving me life. And then, here in San Francisco, there’s a ton of great literary communities, of all types, supported by a ton of great bookstores. I’ve been organizing a reading series called “Writers With Drinks” here, and felt incredibly lucky to be part of a really exciting scene of local writers and book fans. Hearing other people read their work, or talk about what they’ve read or written, keeps me going.
In particular, has the continuing awareness of LGTBQIA issues in today’s society brought more SOLACE to your work or life?
There has been a fantastic emergence of trans and nonbinary writers of science fiction and fantasy in the past four or five years. The annual series of Transcendent anthologies, collecting SF by trans/nb authors, is required reading. There is so much great writing going on right now.
You’ve accomplished so much in the past years with your writing; what advice do you have for writers wanting to build their reputation?
Don’t be a jerk. Treat everyone with respect, and try to remember that you’re surrounded by other people who are insecure about their writing or their reputations. Writers are a neurotic bunch, and there are lots of little opportunities to get competitive or compare yourself to others; try not to.
How much of yourself bled into Patricia and Laurence from All the Birds in the Sky?
I always end up drawing on my own experiences when writing characters like that, to some extent. Growing up, figuring out who you are and who you want to be, dealing with young friendships and people’s expectations, those are all super personal experiences. But I also try to listen to lots of other people, and I’m an inveterate people-watcher. I try to draw from everywhere in creating characters who feel like they have real emotional and psychological lives.
When writing a novel, with the amount of depth in characters, setting, plot, is there a formulated process for world building?
I don’t have a formula for anything. Every single time I have to come up with a new way to do it, and it always gets messy. I usually have a blank document where I’m just writing down bits of backstory or details about the world, and a few other docs where I’m trying to figure out other aspects. But sometimes I’m just writing longhand and seeing where it gets me. I always seem to have a worse process for each writing project than for all the ones before.
What’s the most absurd thing about today’s society, that if in a novel would read like something straight out of science fiction?
I think everything right now feels like a Philip K. Dick novel, crossed with some of Octavia Butler’s work.
Are there ever moments in your writing where you think “that is so meta”?
I really, really try to avoid being meta, if at all possible. I try to make every joke or piece of humor or reference actually illuminate something about the story or characters. It’s so easy to fall into being clever for its own sake, and it’s always the slow death of story.
What is the moment you know you have finished a piece? Is there a sigh of relief or a tear shed?
I almost always have a nagging feeling that I could be doing more, or that there are parts I could try to rework one more time. Usually I know I’m done when I can’t see any stuff that makes me nervous or uncertain, and I just can’t keep poking at it anymore.
You’ve been to Denver Comic Con before; do you have some favorite spots that you enjoy in the city to visit while here?
Yeah, I love Zoe MaMa. I also love to sit and write in Blush & Blu, where everyone is so friendly. There’s a lot of fantastic coffee in Denver. I really loved walking around the River North Arts District last time I was there.
Any last words?
I’m terrified of the red-eyed horse at your airport. But you probably get that a lot.
Charlie Jane Anders is a prolific writer, with pieces all around the internet. To stay up-to-date with the author, check her out on Tumblr or look out for the writer paneling at Comic Con!