Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine a spotlight on Ferrett Steinmetz, author of Flex today! Ferrett will be visiting our “bigger on the inside” bookstore at 65 James Street on Saturday, March 14, from 5:00-7:00 PM.
Welcome to our blog, Ferrett! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?
I’m Ferrett Steinmetz, and I write fairly weird tales. I was a pretty terrible fiction writer for years until I took the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2008 – a six-week writers’ intensive on science-fiction storytelling where such heady teachers as Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link showed me just how much work I had left to do. Since then, I’ve published over thirty short stories and been nominated for the Nebula Award in 2012. I’m also a voluminous blogger who talks a lot about polyamory and other alt-sex practices, and am probably best known for my essay “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex,” which went viral in 2014 and had over a million people read it. I also make a lot of bad jokes.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Flex?
Flex involves a lot of really psychotic magic – literally psychotic, because the central concept of Flex is that if you love something obsessively enough, you can start wearing holes in the laws of physics. So all the magic in Flex is ridiculously personal, and unique – there are bureaucromancers who ride the power of paperwork, and videogamemancers who whip out Portal guns, and Crazy Cat Ladies who’ve ascended to felimancers, and illustromancers who make Titian’s paintings come to life for them, and… …there’s magical drugs. Lots and lots of magical drugmaking. So the obvious touchstone here is Breaking Bad, which I get lots of comparisons to. Depending on who you talk to, this is either “Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files meets Breaking Bad,” or “Breaking Bad by way of Scott Pilgrim.” I’m okay with either. But one of the hallmarks of my short story work is that I take a weird concept and treat it absolutely seriously. The world is bizarre. But Paul, the lead character? He’s got a six-year-old daughter who’s going to have her life ruined unless he can find a way to control his magic. And that’s not a joke to him. This magic can be weird, but it’s deadly, and unless he can save his kid none of this matters. Let’s hope the kid doesn’t get hurt.
The sad truth of my life is that my actual life has more quotable one-liners than my fiction does. That’s because I’m a snarky jerk who’ll say anything if it’s funny, but the characters I write usually aren’t. So I make people laugh, but my stories – though enjoyable! – tend to be low on the flashy dialogue. Then I discovered Valentine. See, the lead of my book, Paul, is a straight-laced bureaucromancer. He’s a decent man who makes magic because he believes deeply in perfect filing, neat stacks of paperwork, getting every form filled out correctly. And I needed someone who was Paul’s polar opposite to force him to defend his positions. So I went, “Okay, the opposite of meticulous duty would be… videogames. Oh, I play lots of videogames. And Paul is fastidious, I need someone sloppy. He’s sincere, I need snarky. And I want a woman to be the lead – someone who’s unafraid of showing who she is.” And Valentine just exploded off the page. She’s pudgy, but she dresses like the hottest goth girl at the club because she thinks she’s beautiful. She loves her magic, channeling the power of videogames to go all Grand Theft Auto on people. She loves sex, refusing to be ashamed of her kinky habits. Yet for all of that, the thing she shares with Paul – what bonds them – is that she cares. And cares deeply. But unlike Paul, she masks it behind a façade of awful one-liners. But I get to write her one-liners. And that’s why I love her.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
My lead character Paul is an amputee – he had his right ankle crushed in a magical battle with an Illustromancer. I took a lot of Paul’s pride from my Uncle Tommy, my best friend as a kid, who was a hemophiliac with crippling arthritis but never wanted anyone to just see him for his disease. Yet while I knew what kind of attitude Paul would have, I didn’t know the mechanics of recovering from an amputation. So I did about three days’ worth of solid research, seeing how people learned to walk again, looking up endless catalogues for what kind of prosthesis he has. It didn’t come up that much – this is an action book, and like my Uncle Tommy, it would be a disservice to define Paul by his handicap. But it was fascinating, seeing just how much technology has been poured into amputated limbs (an unexpected side effect of the protracted Iraq war), and how much work you have to put into something that’s almost as good as a leg, and how big a gap that “almost as good” still is. I still have the prosthetic that Paul uses bookmarked. Because that stuff is just compelling to look at.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
At one point I was asked to do a blog post on “Five books that share a theme with Flex.” And that was one of the hardest posts I’ve ever had to write, because I wrote things I hadn’t seen in books a lot! Which isn’t to say I’ve written something completely unique – if you’re a writer, you find out just how tragically underread you are, so I know there are books that deal with these themes – but I love stories with platonic friends. I love adventure stories with strong father-daughter elements. I love stories with overweight women who are still strong, flawed characters. I love stories that have their roles subtly gender-flipped. And if I’d read more of those stories, I probably never would have written Flex! Technically Flex is Urban Fantasy, and I think it fits okay in there. But I tend to be write all the things I haven’t seen. And I tend to be drawn to books that give me stuff I haven’t seen before, sometimes repurposed – China Mieville’s utterly compelling landscapes, the staid weirdness of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the Greek philosophy-experiment of Jo Walton’s The Just City, the alien biology of Peter Watts’ Blindsight. Basically, if it’s utterly new to me as a concept, I’m gonna love it. And I think there will always be people drawn to newness. There’s nothing wrong with the folks who read mass-market fiction – my Mom will read endless serial killers in James Patterson books, and they make her happy. But me? I need that rush of “Oh, crap, I have zero idea of what’s coming next.” And I hope that Flex fits into that category.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
I blog and Tweet a lot. Like, a lot. Like, if you open up your browser and navigate to my sites, you will get a high-pressure hose of words opened up upon you, and broomsticks will begin marching Fantasia-style through your door. That said, I blog at www.theferrett.com, and can be found Tweetering at @ferretthimself.
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I have been enstalkenated for years, so I’ve got a pretty high tolerance for creepiness. I like people. They’re interesting. But if you wanna follow me, again, I blog a lot – so check the blog – and if you wanna share my awesomeness, leave a review of my work at Goodreads, or maybe on your blog or Facebook. Reviews help authors! Please do so even if you didn’t care for the book. I believe in the power of honest reviews. What I write won’t be for everyone, so saying what didn’t work for you is every bit as powerful as what did work.