Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Quick Questions - Aidan Doyle of Sword and Sonnet

Hello and welcome to a new Quick Questions, my interview series where I sit down with people in short SFF and talk stories! Today I'm joined by Aidan Doyle, co-editor of Sword and Sonnet, a new anthology of short fiction featuring battle poets. But don't take my word for it! Here's what the anthology's website has to say:

Sword & Sonnet is an anthology of stories devoted to the union of battle and poetry. We successfully funded in December 2017 through Kickstarter; the book features genre stories about women and non-binary battle poets. Lyrical, shimmery sonnet-slingers. Grizzled, gritty poetpunks. Word nerds battling eldritch evil. Haiku-wielding heroines.

Art by Vlada Monakhova

And before we get into the questions, first a little about my guest:

Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. His short stories have been published in places such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Fireside. He has been shortlisted for the Aurealis, Ditmar, and XYZZY awards. He has visited more than 100 countries and his experiences include teaching English in Japan, interviewing ninjas in Bolivia, and going ten-pin bowling in North Korea. He co-edited Sword and Sonnet, along with Rachael K. Jones and E. Catherine Tobler.

And now, the interview:

So why battle poets?

AD: I liked the idea of poetry being used as a magic system. Sei Sh┼Źnagon was one of the original inspirations for my idea of what a battle poet could be. She wrote The Pillow Book, one of the classics of Japanese literature and was renowned for intimidating the men of Heian-era Japan with her knowledge of poetry. I hadn't seen any other anthologies that covered a similar theme. After we announced the Kickstarter, there were many writers who told us they were particularly excited by the theme.

You have the added caveat that the battle poets of these stories are either women or non-binary people. Is that because of the inspiration behind the call, then, or was there another reason you decided to focus in that way specifically?

AD: This was partly inspired by Sh┼Źnagon as well as by the idea of resistance. Ingrid Garcia's story "Dark Clouds & Silver Linings" is inspired by both Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace. It's the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein's publication, and that along with current political events in many countries, have focused attention on these themes again.

As a whole, do you feel that the anthology reflects a singular vision of what it means to be a battle poet, or were there some stories that completely surprised you with where they went with the theme?

AD: The anthology contains completely different visions of battle poets. There are stories where poets use their words to fight, as well as stories such as S.L. Huang's "Dulce et Decorum" which is a thoughtful meditation on the reasons for fighting. Alex Acks' "Siren" is a stunning bravura wordfest featuring a spaceship-devouring poet. Then there are gentle lyrical stories such as A.E. Prevost's "Labyrinth, Sanctuary." Being surprised at how writers interpreted the theme was one of the best things about the project.

Despite the stylistic and genre differences present in the stories, do you feel there were thematic threads that persisted through the anthology as a whole, aside from the presence of the battle poets?

AD: The theme of resistance is probably the most common thread. It's one we actively encouraged. Fighting against the patriarchy. Fighting against oppressive governments. Fighting against forces that want to erase you from history. In Suzanne J. Willis' story, "Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring" writing has been forbidden. In Osahon Ize-Iyamu's "A Voice in Many Different Forms" a slam poet struggles to make her voice heard.

Putting together a collection like this, how did you approach organization? Is there something you were trying to accomplish with the way you ordered the stories?

Elise was responsible for ordering the stories. She chose to order them mostly in terms of genre - beginning with weird western and moving on to fantasy and ending with science fiction. Of course there are some which are a mixture, but that was the rough order.

Interesting! What do you hope people take away from the anthology, then? Or, to put it another way, when readers turn closed the back cover, is there something you were hoping they'd be left with?

AD: Life is brief. Try not to let others shape your life into something that you don't want.


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