Interview With Fiction Writer Benny Lawrence

Benny Lawrence is a fiction writer out of Toronto. Her published works are Shell Game and Ghost and the Machine. She recently agreed to sit in for an interview...

Benny Lawrence is a fiction writer out of Toronto. Her published works are Shell Game and Ghost and the Machine. She recently agreed to sit in for an interview with us.

TRH: Thank you for taking the time for the interview

BL:  My pleasure. Thank you for indulging my need to talk about books about gay bondage pirates. And to write them, apparently.

TRH:  Having read some of your other work, you cover quite a few genres. Even with your two published works, you have a fantasy world, and then a Gothic thriller. Is there anything in particular that just jumps out about the two worlds and screams “write me!”?

BL:  Mmm. I have wondered that myself. If I was tied to a pillar in a fortress of doom and threatened with instant death if I didn’t answer, I’d have to say…I like everything I read to incorporate an aspect of mystery.

Not as in revolvers and trench-coats, you understand, but I want what I’m reading to have the capacity to surprise me. I want to think that the author knows more than I know about where she’s headed. I think that that’s where I begin every time I try to write something. Everything else is negotiable.

TRH:  They both show quite a bit of research as well.

BL: I love the research part of it, frankly. So many fascinating, exciting, or plain horrible things have happened in the world to date, it’s impossible to make up something absolutely new.

TRH:  Tonally, Shell Game is very screwball in comparison to Ghost and the Machine. Yet you still manage to hit just as hard in the breadbasket as you do in Ghost and the Machine. Was that a challenge to weave those two elements together?

BL:  Actually, I think it made Shell Game a lot easier to write. I don’t know how to write without humour.  For me, it’s such an essential part of showing the wholeness and strength of a person that I’m writing about.  If I had a protagonist without humour, I wouldn’t be able to stand her.

The humour in Ghost and the Machine was a lot more difficult to handle, because it’s so much darker.  It mostly emerges from Kit’s total naivety and ignorance about how terrible her circumstances really are. It left me feeling a bit sick to my stomach most of the time.

By contrast, Lynn is such a knowing and self-possessed character, it was a lot easier to reconcile the two halves of her.  She has both a very keen awareness of the darker sides of life, and a constant internal monologue about the ridiculousness of it all.

TRH:  I think that is something that was very notable for me. Both Kit and Lynn have seen absolute horror, and have been treated terribly. Yet they both appear to be able to soldier through. You don’t shy away from the stark dreadfulness of their lives, but you don’t necessarily let them wallow in it for pages upon chapters. It happens, it’s terrible, but life still goes on. For Kit in a nuthouse ala My Man Godfrey and for Lynn with a very noble, but often very “clueless” pirate queen.

BL:  Yes.  It’s not that difficult to write a story about horrible things happening.  (Witness All Dogs Go to Heaven, and the generation of traumatized children that followed.)  The question is, why should we want to read about trauma at all? For me, the only reason is that it’s part of a larger story- part of the life of a person.  That’s not to imply that Kit and Lynn are typical in their ability to “soldier through.”  They’re not the typical cases.  They’re survivors. But survivors are the ones that tell their stories.

I think it’s pretty central to both books that there is a conceit that they actually are telling their own stories.  Not just that it’s a first person point of view- but that they are putting their own words on paper. It means that they have a reason to say what they’re saying. It also means that you can’t believe everything that they say.

TRH:  Right. That’s reflected in Shell Game with the different points of view between Lynn and Darren, which leads me to another point. I absolutely love that you’ve inverted the… “Xena” types for the two. I’ve read a LOT of lesbian fiction that does tend to fall into that type, so it was very refreshing to see Lynn have such a large, active role in the book.

BL:  Ha.

TRH:  Not that I’m disparaging another author, of course. The change of pace, however, is very welcome.

BL:  Well, here’s the thing.  I was never out to write “Xena” fiction.  The dreadful truth is, however, that hordes of women around the world will come rampaging to a computer to read something if one of the women is short and blond.

I wrote another piece (Rabbits of the Apocalypse, for which my publisher keeps very politely asking for the manuscript) in which the women absolutely do not fit into the “types.”  In fact, neither was white.

Some time later, I was snooping around for comments, as you do, and found a number of women saying that while they’d enjoyed the story, they’d ignored the racial descriptors and imagined a blond and a brunette anyway.

TRH:  I’ve noticed that as well.

BL:  I like short blonds as much as the next dyke, but goodness gracious, people.

TRH:  However, there finally seems to me some change in the air, at least on a mainstream front. Many of the same-sex ladies on television have at least one partner that isn’t white, ala Brittany and Santana on Glee, Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, and Emily and Paige on Pretty Little Liars. I’ve noticed it’s lead to a more representative mix in fanfiction at least. Do you think the current lesbian fiction audience is ready for this influx, or are we already moving in that direction? The direction being the two love interests not being a short blonde woman and a tall brunette, of course.

BL:  I think so.  Ideally, of course, one would wish that people could throw their hearts at couples not represented in the mainstream media, but the proliferation of lesbians in pop culture is wunderbar on so many fronts.  Maybe a good aspect of people writing fiction about EVERYTHING is that we get imaginary/fictitious queer women of every kind and description.  Peppermint Pattie and Marcie! Titania and Oberon post-transition!  Helen of Troy and some bisexual Trojan chick!

TRH:  Right. I don’t quite think we’re there yet like we should be in published fiction, but it’s wonderful to see more representative fiction like yours. Do you have any other projects you’d like to talk about? Besides your enjoyment of zombies, that is.

BL:  I was voted Lawyer In the Office You Would Most Want To Have Around With A Machete When The Zombies Attack.  I’m quite proud of that one.

Projects…well, naturally.  There’s a sequel to Shell Game which is growing by slow degrees.  The plan is to get back to it after Rabbits. There’s a sequel to Ghost and the Machine in progress which I will probably enjoy twenty times more than anyone else…because I love me some research about obscure aspects of the Austrian legal system circa 1839.

Maybe I can interest other people in it with the promise that it involves a real-life deranged Canadian psychiatrist who had his own ideas about locking people in boxes.  And oh yes, Rush is far from gone.

TRH:  So will Kit be back as well?

BL:  Yes indeed. People have been talking a bit about whether Ghost is a story about lesbians.  It is, of course.  It’s about lesbians before they could use the word.

Finally, there is a story that I have been promising to write since the beginning of time for a friend of mine – the same one to whom Shell Game is dedicated.  It’s about- well- it’s about a woman who conquers the world and is cursed to live happily ever after with her high school girlfriend.

TRH:  Oh dear

BL:  I figure all I have to do is learn to live without sleep, and I’ll be set.

TRH:  That is terrifying

BL:  That’s the point, really.

TRH:  And I’m sure many of us remember our high school significant others. *shudder*

I definitely look forward to seeing more of your work published, and again, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

BL:  Thanks for asking such fascinating questions!

Benny’s website can be found here