On the verge of a new anthology, we are celebrating IN THE AIR with a behind the scenes view of authors and their stories. Here’s a look at Jean Roberta and her story “Carried Away”
ABOUT THE STORY
Tell me a little about your story and the world you’ve created.
Many fantasy stories are set in a vaguely medieval world, yet the size of families in that world tends to be distinctly modern: one to three children per set of parents. In reality, bearing and raising children has been a major occupation for women throughout most of human history, which is why access to effective birth control is so important.
I imagined a woman who has a valuable skill: she is an expert seamstress who works for the royal family, but that doesn’t raise her above poverty because she has four children to support, and her husband has gone missing. For better or worse, she has lost as many babies as she has been able to raise to the age of four or five, when she can afford to imagine them growing up. She wonders if the deaths of her children were her fault, if she drove her husband away, if she is doing an adequate job of raising the ones she has left, and if her privileged customers will be pleased with her vision of how they should look.
In short, she has as many challenges to overcome as a knight facing a dragon.
What came first, the plot or the characters?
The characters. I imagined Zephyr the seamstress plying her needle in luxurious silk for someone else to wear, while her children do their best to distract her.
If you had to describe your protagonist in three words, what would they be?
Creative, responsible, frustrated.
What is something about your protagonist that only you know?
- She has always wondered what it would be like to make love to another woman, and vice versa – but that becomes clear in the story!
- She comes from a long line of skilled seamstresses in a time when all clothing must be made by hand. She learned from her mother, who learned from her mother, and Zephyr is teaching her eldest daughter to replace her eventually. Zephyr could be an ancestor of mine, since all the women in my father’s family could sew well enough to earn their living that way. My late auntie took courses in tailoring, and once made a suit for her husband. My great-grandmother made costumes for Warner Brothers in the 1920s, in the era of silent movies.
Which scene was the most difficult to write and why?
The scene in which Zephyr loses her patience with her youngest child and threatens him. As far as I know, all parents lose their tempers once in awhile, then wonder if they are monsters whose kids will eventually write tell-all memoirs about their horrible childhoods. And every child is an individual, so there’s really no one-size-fits-all method of parenting that is guaranteed to produce good results.
What were you trying to achieve with this story?
Show why a fantasy of losing everything (material things and even the important people in one’s life) can be tempting. I also wanted to write about a character who is both ordinary and more alluring than she knows, since she has a certain wildness that she can’t see in herself but others can.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Between my day job (teaching in a university) and writing, there’s not much time left! I like to sing. (My wife and I were in a choir which folded.) I used to sew more than I do now, but I still like it, even when I’m limited to sewing on buttons that have popped off.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your stories?
Characters have their own wills. Other writers have said the same thing, so if my sanity is in question, I’m in good company! Once I’ve imagined a character or two, they seem to decide how they want the plot to unfold.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?
Keep track of your ideas. If you have time, keep a journal of your dreams. Read for inspiration, and not only in one genre or style. Jot down your ideas, and never throw anything away because a piece that doesn’t seem to work can be revised.
What do you think makes a good story?
Convincing characters and an attitude of generosity in the narrative voice, so that flawed characters get to breathe, start over, and find some happiness.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
A writer, a visual artist, a clothing designer (Coco Chanel, before I read her bio), an actress.
How would you describe your general writing voice and tone?
Fairly straightforward and matter-of-fact about extreme situations.
Share something fun or interesting:
Share a photo – favorite place:
This a photo of a boreal (northern) forest. I like to imagine going there once in awhile, although the southern half of the prairie province of Saskatchewan, Canada, where I live, is flat and naturally treeless. (The small capital city I live in has many planted trees.). Trees grow wild on the Canadian Shield.
Jean Roberta lives on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. She teaches literature, composition and creative writing in the local university. Her diverse fiction (mostly erotic) has appeared in many print anthologies, and in the single-author collection Obsession (Renaissance). Her historical fiction includes The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press) plus The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). A revised, expanded version of her out-of-print erotic novel, Prairie Gothic (set in a pre-millennial world of conflict and dread) will be published by Lethe. She coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her fantasy stories include “The Water-Harp” in Underwater and “Mysteries of the Dragon” in On Fire (Transmundane).