Uncanny Magazine Author Interview: Jim C. Hines

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uncanny-magazine-issue-9-cover-400x600Weightless Books interviews Jim C. Hines, author of twelve fantasy novels and blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols.

Q: In a break from your novel-writing, you took some time to write an insightful essay about racism in science fiction and fantasy for Uncanny Magazine. Your starting point in the essay was the November 2015 decision that the World Fantasy Awards would no longer use a statue of H.P. Lovecraft as a trophy. Have you ever had to explain racism in SF/F to a child?

Hines: I’ve had conversations about racism with children before – most notably my own children – but it wasn’t specific to SF/F. It’s a challenging conversation, and depends a lot on the age and experiences of the child. My son has a very straightforward view that “treating people differently because of their skin color is dumb.” But then the question becomes how to talk about the historical and systemic roots of racism, the power structures that perpetuate it, the less obvious ways it plays out in day to day life, and so on.

So we talk about power and greed and fear. We talk about cultural misunderstandings and miscommunications. (We’ve been reading Janet Kagan’s Hellspark, which is a great book for discussing culture and taboo and miscommunication.) We talk about how things that happened decades or centuries ago still have a very real impact on people today, whether it’s housing segregation or the United States’ attempts to wipe out Native Americans.

Q: In the Uncanny essay, you ask “When we think about ‘prevailing attitudes on race,’ are we limiting our thinking to the prevailing attitudes of white people?” Why do you think this concept of “prevailing attitudes” has been allowed to persist for so long, and what can people do to rewrite the narrative?

Hines: History is shaped by those in power. Here in the U.S., that means our history has been taught through a dominantly white lens. While there are exceptions, we generally learn to focus on white figures and white voices, to the exclusion of other perspectives and attitudes.

As a white man in 2016, I think one of the most important things is to recognize those omissions in my own education and understanding, and to actively seek out other voices to start to fill those gaps.

Q: Your books and short stories are filled with protagonists and villains who are strong, smart, and funny regardless of their race, gender, or sexual identity. When did you first notice the gap between the portrayal of male protagonists versus female ones in the work of other authors?

Hines: Thank you. I don’t think there was a particular time or date when awareness switched on in my brain. Even today there are books I’ll read where someone else later calls out instances of sexism or racism or other problems that I completely missed in my own reading.

It’s something I try to be aware of, because when you’re flooded with representation in stories, it’s so easy not to notice when others aren’t. It’s an ongoing process, one that for me, required conscious effort.

It also helps a lot if you actively try to broaden the stories and authors you read. The more you read books that do a good job of portraying a range of well-written female characters, for example, the more it stands out when other stories fail to do so.

Q: Wealth and rights disparities can be a key component of science fiction and fantasy storylines nowadays. How do you think the future will judge those story lines and their authors?

Hines: That depends on the future, and whether we end up in the Darkest Timeline.

Realistically, the future will probably be as contentious as the present, with just as wide a range of opinions. I suspect people will look at our literature in the context of our times, just as we do to past works. And just as in previous eras, there will be areas where we fall short, where our own prejudices and assumptions shine through in our stories.

My hope is that the future judges authors and our stories honestly. Recognize the good without ignoring the bad.

Of course, this will all become moot when the ant people invade and put us to work in their vast sugar mines…

Q: “Rape Resources” isn’t a prominent link most SF/F authors have on their websites, but yours has that. Is it hard for you to move from talking with fans one moment about SF/F and the next about sexual assault resources?

Hines: Not really, no. Sexual assault issues are really important to me, and have been for more than half my life at this point. Statistically, we have so many people who have been sexually assaulted, and given the scope of the problem, we don’t do a fraction of the work we should be doing to combat that problem, and to support survivors. Posting those resources and writing about rape are small ways I try to change things.

Most of the time when I’m talking about rape with someone from the SF/F community, it’s either someone who wants to argue about it, or someone who’s been assaulted. The former can be frustrating, but I’ve done enough research and work to be able to present the facts for those willing to listen. The latter can be painful, but I do my best to listen and be supportive. It’s never easy, but it’s important.

Q: You’ve written more than a dozen novels, and you have a wide fan base that you stay in contact with through the internet, conventions, and other events. How do you keep life in balance?

Jim C. HinesHines: By falling down a lot. Balance is a daily struggle. Sometimes it depends on my deadlines. If I have a book due, I need to make sure I hit that deadline, which might mean neglecting the internet and not getting as much time with my family as I want. Other times, when I start to feel burnt out, I have to walk away from the writing and play video games with my kids. Going to conventions and chatting with people online can take up a lot of time and energy, but it can also give energy back and help to refuel my excitement about the genre or a particular project.

Lately, I’ve had to say no to more projects, which is painful. I’ve turned down events and writing opportunities that I’d love to do, but there are only so many hours in the day, and I’ve got to prioritize.

If anyone ever figures out an easy way to maintain that life balance, please let me know!

Jim C. Hines is the author of twelve fantasy novels, including the Magic ex Libris series, the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, the humorous Goblin Quest trilogy, and the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. He’s an active blogger at www.jimchines.com, and won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer. He lives in mid-Michigan with his family.

Uncanny Magazine is an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine featuring passionate SF/F fiction and poetry, gorgeous prose, provocative nonfiction, and a deep investment in the diverse SF/F culture.  Each issue contains intricate, experimental stories and poems with verve and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs from writers from every conceivable background. Uncanny is available DRM-free from Weightless in single issues and as a 12-month subscription.


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