Meg Elison has a list of accolades many would sell their soul for. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award and was listed as a recommendation by the Tiptree Committee. Elison is also a writing machine and has created articles for various websites. One of my favorite pieces Elison has written was her piece for McSweeney’s, “If Women Wrote Men the Way Men Write Women”, and her latest novel is The Book of Flora. Wanting to learn more about her career and her latest book, I was able to interview her for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any that you still enjoy revisiting?
Meg Elison: I recently reread Bridge to Terabithia, which was one of my favorite books. I was delighted to find that it holds up pretty well. Whenever I reread golden age sci-fi, I get ready for the big cringe. Heinlein was particularly important to me as a kid, but I go back now to Citizen of the Galaxy and Stranger in a Strange Land and see all the misogyny and racism I missed the first time through. It’s a real crapshoot.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a writer? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Elison: I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I won an Arbor Day poetry contest in fourth grade. I got my first piece published and performed it aloud and the rush of it was something like I had never felt. I had to chase that high, and I loved the process of writing almost as much. It only got more fun as my skills grew, and the attention comes with money now. Can’t beat that.
Yanes: You write and publish a lot of content across a variety of genres. How do you find the time to write so much? On this note, what is your approach to writing and revising?
Elison: I write first thing in the morning, with a strict regimen of wordcount before coffee, before breakfast, before anything. I am always logging ideas, or drafting on my phone, or dictating voice-to-text so that I can refine the work later. I can’t help but write. I fit it into commuting, to walking, to my wake-up routine.
Yanes: Your writings are incredibly inclusive and your politics are clearly progressive. With that said, what are some of the biggest social changes that have impacted your writings?
Elison: It was very freeing for me to experience the nascent fat acceptance movement, and to see the way other writers engage with the subject. It was also important to me to read the way other writers embrace the exposure of their own poverty. These are both things that are hard to write about, and those changes affected me deeply. I was born to a wealth of queer liberation, and that part’s always been easy.
Yanes: Your most recent novel is The Book of Flora. What was the inspiration behind this story in The Road to Nowhere saga?
Elison: I read almost everything that’s been published in English about post-apocalyptic societies, and it was all from a man’s point of view, with white cis men at the center of the story. Heterosexuality is always compulsory in these books. I wanted to write something about the world falling apart from a woman’s point of view, where people are and stay queer.
Yanes: The Book of Flora is set in a post-apocalyptic America and written during a time in which real world politics could cause an apocalypse of some sort. How do you keep yourself from emotional exhaustion? Are there specific hopeful elements in The Road to Nowhere stories that keep you motivated?
Elison: I loved writing about the city of Shy, a city of all women with a lot of wealth and very different concerns. I like writing small moments of pleasure: sex, hot springs, something good to ear. It feels like taking a break. I have really good friends and an excellent support system in real life; that helps too. Sometimes my work runs a little too close to real life and I call up a friend and go hiking, go drinking, make soulless jokes for a while. It helps.
Yanes: Education and literacy are key features for many of the main characters. How does this mirror your own educational journeys?
Elison: I fought for every shred of my education. My parents were abject failures; we moved constantly when I was a kid and I missed a lot of school. My mother kept me out for an entire year when I should have been starting high school. I later dropped out because I needed to make a living. I worked my way through community college and then through Berkeley, and through all of it I saw the ceiling on my life grow higher and higher as I learned and read more. It’s the only way in which I have ever felt wealthy, so I cannot help but put that into my work. My characters are wealthy because they can read and write and think for themselves, even as the world tries to take everything from them. I’ve lived that. I know.
Yanes: As you were crafting the character of Flora and the narrative points you wanted her to hit, was there a moment in which she took on a life of her own?
Elison: It happened in The Book of Etta. I fell in love with her when she was getting to know Eddy, when she was so able to share herself despite what she’d been through. I pictured her petting little flightless silk moths and braiding her hair. She was so real to me, so lifelike, so like a lot of the women I have known. I liked her best when she was happy, and I hated putting her through heartbreak and terror. I knew I wanted her to have a long life, and that she would be the focus of my next book.
Yanes: When people finish reading The Book of Flora, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Elison: Hope. We live in terrible times, specifically difficult times for queer and trans people. The future I dreamt isn’t bright or safe, but it does carry hope. That hope is not just for the continuance of the species, but for the idea that we can grow and change in response to the way the world is changing.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Elison: I finished my first thriller novel, and I’m very pleased with it. It should be out next year. I’ve also got my first YA novel in the works, based largely in my own experience. I’ve got a lot of new work for 2020, and I’m looking forward to spreading out like a supernova.