One of my FAVOURITE things as an author is when I learn that readers are SO INVESTED in my work that they are just bursting with questions about it.
I got a really interesting, in-depth set of questions from Red Dog Reid about Triptych, and with their permission, I am posting my answers (and their responses to my questions!)
- How tall is Kalp? What is the height range for his species?
Kalp’s around six and a half feet tall; he’s a little runtish for his people, who can get to upwards of nine feet.
It’s probably pretty weird, then, since Kalp was short on his planet, for him to suddenly be tall. I know that feel. I’m 5’3 and was a stilt walker in a parade once; it’s quite an experience!
Yes, it must have been! Just one more thing to throw him off on Earth. He was frightened that he would accidentally crush a tiny human child quite often.
- What actors would you pick to play your characters if it was made into a movie?
Funny you should ask that; I just did a guest blog post about that elsewhere.
I like those picks. I wonder at Basil’s actor, though. He’s not pudgy at all (and can I say I love that you have a pudgy main character!), and a bit young, yes? But definitely a good actor!
Oh, I bet Colin Morgan would love the opportunity to eat a lot of fried foods! Originally I had Canadian actor David Hewlett in mind for Basil (inspired by his characters in Nothing and Stargate), but unfortunately if the film was to be made now, he’s aged out of Basil’s age range.
And yes, it’s important to me as well that I represent real people with realistic bodies in my novels. Perhaps not as important as it is in visual mediums like TV, film, and comics, but to have people with normal bodies – or bodies the best suited to their occupations – means a lot to me.
Basil lives a very sedentary life, and even his childhood hobbies meant he spent a lot of time sitting around, so he is pudgy. Gwen grew up on a farm, doing chores and running through fields, so she isn’t pudgy, though she isn’t a svelte unrealistic model either. In one of my upcoming books The Skylark’s Song, my female MC is skinny and her upperbody musculature is on par with a body builder’s because she spends all her time hauling machine parts in a city under severe rationing.
- Would you ever want to turn this into a movie? What about a sort of three-part series of long episodes/short movies? Tv show? (if a show would work somehow; not sure if it would with the format and all.)
Yes, I would love to see a dramatic adaptation of “Triptych”, though I think the complexity of the story would be better served as a miniseries rather than a feature film. There was some interest from a few companies, but it never ended up panning out. Of course, I’d love to see Starz, HBO, SPACE, SyFy or Showcase pick it up. Also, I don’t think there’s enough story in the book to stretch it out into a full multi-season TV series, but then again, someone with a great idea might prove me wrong.
But of course, an author, unless they work in or have ties to the television industry, doesn’t have much control over whether a book gets optioned for a dramatic adaptation. A producer/screenwriter/director first has to take an interest, and pitch it to their team, get approval and funding, option the rights from me, and then they make the show/film. I might be consulted, or ask to come on board a story consultant, or even be invited to write some of it. Or the production house may choose to keep me out of the production entirely. It’s their call, I have no say in that outside of whether I would agree to licence the rights to option my intellectual property, and if an invitation to participate is extended to me, whether I’ll take it or not.
(Unless I have a spare five million bucks hanging around and choose to executive produce it myself.)
I would love to see this made into a three-part series! By the way, you don’t happen to ever have made/thought about making anything in the way of merch? Posters or the like? (I ask because I’m saving up to open a bakery in Eugene, Oregon within the next three years, and I intend to have a book-trade/library area with book posters, and would love to put Triptych up! Or, with your permission, blow up the cover image and frame it?)
Oh, yeah! Definitely a three part series, each of them 90mins, like Sherlock? That’d be really swell. I think that would serve the narrative very well, especially if each episode was told from a single POV, like the book’s sections.
In terms of merch, that’s a bit more tricky. See, I don’t own the cover art. The publisher commissioned the cover art. It’s understood that I can use it in my marketing efforts – on postcards and bookmarks I bring to conventions, or on my website, or on things I give away for free – but to actually make money on the cover, to put it on teeshirts and posters and the like and sell those, I would need my publisher’s permission and a contract regarding licensing rights and who gets how much of the profit.
I haven’t discussed this with my publisher because it’s a small press, and I’m still a small author, and it’s a relatively unknown novel. The amount of money made on the merch probably wouldn’t offset the price of setting up the online store, or the bother of doing said paperwork. It’s probably not an attractive option for them.
Having said that, you never know until you ask, so contacting my publisher and expressing an interest in having the cover design available on their Zazzle store couldn’t hurt! And while you’re at it, I’m sure if you asked the publisher would let you know what they feel about letting you create a big poster for your store. I’m sure they’d probably have no problem with it.
And man, from my perspective? That is DARN cool and an honor. I’d love you to do it.
- What Earth language do you think is closest to Kalp’s language?
I’ve never really thought of it. Something lyrical, with a lot of glottal stops, I think. Funnily enough, considering that Basil is from Wales… maybe Welsh?
Welsh. That makes sense. I was reading it as sort of a Russian/Pashto blend. (By the way, is Trus’ name pronounced like “truce” or like “trust” without the t? Is ‘isk’ pronounced the Western way, just as it’s spelled, or does it have the more back-of-the-mouth feel like some other languages, where the the i is less ‘ih’ and more ‘ee’?) How about gramatically; does it follow a western grammar, or more eastern or perhaps Germanic, or like in sign language?
Oh, gosh, you’re asking me to think a lot more hard about this than I originally did when I wrote the novel! I didn’t do as much worldbuilding on Kalp’s world as I have since done for worlds like the one in The Tales of Kintyre Turn, precisely because I didn’t want the reader to know too much. The point was that Kalp found it all too painful to think about, so I didn’t overthink it myself. (And of course, I’m no linguist like Tolkien or Roddenberry!)
But to answer your questions, I imagined that his language is more like sign language in grammar – encompassing ideas and particular singular meanings that are given grammar by context, usage order, and familiarity with your conversation partner.
And as Kalp’s people have little snouts, I’d say the language is a little more nasal, and probably involves a lot of lips shaping the sounds.
Trus = “trews”
- Does Kalp’s society have abnormal relationships? How do they view it when/if only two get together? Four? Pairings of all-same-sex relationships who are thus unable to have kids?
Of course! Though I wouldn’t call them “abnormal” so much as “just not mainstream.” Like humans, like bonobos, like dolphins and penguins, of course there’s a spectrum of sexuality and relationship arrangements.
However as biological sex is a lot more complicated in Kalp’s people than it is in ours, no arrangement of sexual partners is ever biologically “unable to have children”, unless there is a medical reason for sterility. (Or a personal choice to use contraceptives.) There are Those Who Can Get Pregnant and Those Who Can Impregnate, but even that can shift, and alter, and is a finer line that it is here.
If an Aglunate of all one biological sort, their biology is adaptable enough that with some medical intervention, it could happen.
I wish I could live in that sort of society. As a queer transman, it sounds utterly ideal.
I wish we could a live in a society where any and all arrangements of romance, affection, gender, and sexuality are accepted and medical science is able to easily and freely help people have the bodies they know they are meant to have.
- This was your first book, right? Were you worried about writing about material that isn’t really socially acceptable, such as poly relationships, bisexual/homosexual characters, interspecies relationships, things like that, for your first book or even in general?
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the marketability of the subject matter when I wrote the book. The book evolved slowly, so in the first version of it (published as a novella titled (Back)), there was no interspecies relationship, no bisexuality, and no poly relationship. When I began to expand it into a novel, a friend who’d read the original novella actually said, “Wait, were Basil, Gwen and Kalp F@#$ing?” And I was like, “Wait, what? What?… um… yes? Yes! Good idea!”
I was more concerned about telling the story, and being true to the characters and the narrative, than the subject matter.
Having said that, it was also important to be to be respectful of the issues and topics that DID end up as part of the narrative through the organic evolution of the revisions. I did a lot of research, asked questions in the community, and read books.
Whenever I decide to include things that don’t fall within my own personal lived experiences, I always do very careful research and make myself aware of the negative stereotypes and pitfalls inherent in including them in my work. And if my best isn’t good enough, I’ll own up to it and invite feedback from people whose lived experiences I’m attempting to emulate in prose.
Do you ever worry about accidentally doing something offensive without knowing? Even with all the research you can possibly do, you can never be sure. I’m writing a book right now myself, or trying to, and I keep getting torn between not having diverse representation, and how horrible I would feel if I accidentally mucked something up. Any advice on this particular dilemma? Like, what to do if it happens (because I know pretty much all you can do to avoid it is research and talk to people.)
Constantly. One of my biggest fears is really effing it up and hurting my readers without meaning to. My advice in this case is to do your research thoroughly and via lots of varied sources that don’t reference each other, but come from lots of different places. Secondly, ask someone who comes from that community to read the book over, and give you suggestions or point out places where you’re making misinterpretations, mistakes, or accidentally reinforcing harmful stereotypes.
And if you do make a mistake, and are called out on it (even if the book is already published), thank the person, acknowledge the mistake, apologize, and learn from it. Readers are usually very respectful when you say, “Ah, right. I’m sorry. Thank you for pointing that out to me, and I’ll try harder next time.”
But also be aware that sometimes people misread a book.
For example, I’ve had readers complain that there’s too much sex in The Untold Tale for a YA book… but it’s not a YA book. I’ve had reviewers complain that the book was full of spelling and formatting errors, when I stated in my advance coverletter that the version they were receiving was the ARC, and that it hadn’t gone through final line edits yet. You can be explicit about the context of the book and people can still miss it.
And also be aware that you cannot take “werewolf cookbook” reviews to heart. (These are reviews that are essentially like: “This is an okay cookbook, but there are no werewolves in it. I only like books with werewolves in them, so I’m only giving this cookbook one star.”) Like, seriously? You’re leaving a one star review in the book because it didn’t meet your personal taste? Uhg.
Of course, sometimes there are people who just live to be offended, and no matter what you do or how hard you worked, they’re going to scream and say horrible things about you, and accuse you of doing it on purpose and being a bigot/racist/mysoginist/asshole. And sometimes they will threaten you and say horrific, vitriolic things about you, as Requires Only That You Hate/Winterfox said about me.
And in that case, I say try to ignore them and forget it ever happened. I know that’s actually hard, because it will hurt, especially if the attacks get personal. But remember, no reviewer worth their salt reviews the author – their job is to review the book, and ad hominem attacks are a sign of a cranky amateur. Haters gonna hate, and assholes love to hear the sound of their own voices. Take Elsa’s advice on that one.
- How do you feel about people doing art/fanfics of your work? Does it bother your or do you like it? (yes, I’m kinda asking permission. And yes, I do include erotica in that. >///<)
Welp, seeing as I started as a writer in fanfic and wrote my MA thesis on Mary Sues, I think I’m cool with it. I honestly love it, and knowing that my work inspires others to create in their own way fills me with all the warm fuzzies.
You go right ahead and fic/art/smut to your smol heart’s content!
I have more to say on that here, and here, and here.
The only caveat is this: if anyone is writing fic of something I’m actively working on – like The Accidental Turn Series – for example, I can’t read that, unfortunately. It’s for legal reasons, so there’s no chance I could accidentally steal an idea, or be accused of it later. You can tell me about it. But I can’t read it. Not yet, anyway.
But for anything else, I usually read the fic, or at least skim through it, and I definitely love the fanart, comics, and cosplays. I have a wall in my office filled with fanart that I’ve printed out and framed.
I find fanworks flattering af, and if you tag me/ping me on them, I’d love to see/read/adore it.
Here’s me on tumblr, and on A03, and here’s A03’s Triptych tag.
In that case, I went ahead and posted a quick doodle of Kalp on my tumblr. I don’t know if that’s really what he looks like, but I tried!
OMG! Lookit at the wee Kalp, everyone! Look at its perfection!!
Kalp by Red Dog Reid
- Can you suggest any other authors for me to read who write things like this, things that go outside societal norms without making it disrespectful or offensive or a joke or queerbaiting or, well, all that?
Jennifer Roberson, Octavia E. Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Sands, James Tiptree Jr., Anne-Marie McDonald, Margret Atwood, Julie Czerneda, Tanya Huff, Ann Carson, and if you’re feeling like some good old fashioned ancient Greek comedy-erotica then Petronius’ The Satyricon is hilarious. Also check out the Lambda Literary Awards, James Tiptree Jr. Awards, Gaylaxian Awards, and the Bi Writers Association Awards for reading list suggestions.
I’ll try them out, thank you!
You’re welcome! Happy reading.
- What made you choose a triptych style for the book? Why did you decide to start in the middle at the beginning?
The format of the story – and indeed, the title – grew organically out of the narrative. I wanted to tell Gwen’s story, but from the POV of the people who mattered most to her. The original novella was written from Evvie’s POV, and Evvie’s section, so that left her boyfriend/husband and (later, when I decided Kalp would be in a relationship with them) her lover. That made three, so I decided to write three novellas, three separate tales from three separate voices. And what’s a word for three separate panels that combine to form one piece of art? A triptych! I actually struggled about whether to include the prologue and epilogue, but in the end, the story really did need those two extra snippets at the house, and on the farm. In the end I appeased my artistic sensibility by at least keeping the book in three POVs, if not three parts.
We’re always told to start a story in media res, or in the middle of the action, not in the lead up. And I decided to tell the story chronologically by year, not by narrative experience. That’s always a choice you have to make when you’re telling a time travel tale – which order do I tell the story in?
In the end, when I had to add the prologue and the epilogue, I thought it would be really nifty to literally start the story in the action, and at the climax, when the bullet leaves the barrel and the body hits the ground. It was a bit of a bold storytelling choice, and it took some finessing to make it function, but I’m proud of it. And yeah, it is the kind of narrative trick that, again, only a time travel story would let an author use.
I like the inclusion of the epilogue and all, I think it works well. And the first line was actually what made me pick the book up; such a bold choice really made the book seem interesting from the get go, no slow starts there!
- Do you think that Kalp would be considered some sort of non-binary gender, though he uses masculine pronouns? Or is he a cismale but doesn’t conform to traditional western gender norms?
Kalp’s sexuality and gender presentation isn’t really on a binary, it’s more of a … wibbly-wobbly gender-wendery ball of stuff. Obviously there are biological differences between Those Who Can Get Pregnant and Those Who Can Impregnate, but it’s less delineated than it is here, and gender presentation, especially on a binary, is unheard of in his culture.
Kalp’s people were introduced to the concept of gender when they arrived on Earth. They are baffled by this need to separate based on biology. What do your genitals have to do, after all, with who you choose to love, the media you choose to consume, the employment you can take or are suited for, the colours you prefer, and the toys, games, and entertainment you enjoy?
Kalp’s people had the option to choose to identify themselves as either male or female, but some also chose to identify as both, and some as neither. I imagine Kalp took an online personality quiz with a title like “Can We Guess Your Gender Based On These 30 Awesome Questions?” and based on that said, “Right, yeah, okay. I guess I’ll pick male. It’s simple to the point of being insulting, but saying ‘male’ is the least incorrect.” Kalp is a One Who Can Impregnate, and he works in the sciences, so according to our narrow Earth designations, that makes him more male than female. (But he also likes domestic tasks like cooking, he enjoys tidying, and he was really looking forward to being a parent.)
So he’s neither cismale nor does really consider himself male. He just chose the pronoun for the ease of communication. He isn’t really on the gender spectrum, either, because his people have no spectrum. They just are.
So, he chose male because English often demands that speaker does so. It was a communication shorthand. Not because he is “male” in the way we understand it.
Do they have words in their language for One Who Can Impregnate and On Who Can Be Pregnant?
I’m sure they do, but I haven’t made any up.
- Does Kalp hate heights in general, or did he just panic because he was in something that reminded him of the escape pods?
Kalp doesn’t have any particular issue with heights. Most of the dwellings on his homeworld were built amid the trees, so he couldn’t. He just flashed back to the escape pods and couldn’t handle the PTSD episode it brought on.
That panic attack was really well done, too. A lot of people exaggerated them, make it cliche. You didn’t do that. It was really nice.
Thank you. I’ve only had one or two in my life, but one of my former roommates used to have them a lot, and I remembered sitting up with her sometimes and talking her through them. I also know other people who get them, and spoke to them about what they felt and how they experienced the panic. I wanted to make sure it was authentic and an honest portrayal.
More questions! (If you don’t mind? Sorry, I’m a little over-eager; I’ve never actually been able to talk to an author before!)
I don’t mind at all. I think every author likes to talk about their worlds and characters. 😀 We don’t always have the time to do so, but we love it when people love our worlds, and characters, and our work.
- What are the sorts of physical differences one sees in the species from different regions of their home planet? Accent differences? Cultural?
Generally speaking, fur colour varies, just as human melatonin distribution varies, based on proximity to the equator. Greener near the rainforests, bluer nearer to the ice. There were only two continents, and of course there were cultural and linguistic differences between the continents. They’re probably quite varied, like the difference between Japanese Shinto culture, and Muslim Islam, and European Judeism. Though Kalp’s people weren’t particularly religious, there was a great deal of ritual, social hierarchy, non-verbal gestures with the hands and ears, and a rich culture of cuisine and storytelling.
Kalp mentions in the book that stories start differently on “the other continent”, but on his they start, “In a place that is not here and a time that was not now,” (or something to that effect, I don’t actually recall how it went). Again, this is one of those worldbuilding questions that I never asked myself, because I wasn’t writing about the differences between the cultures.
- How do Kalp’s limbs work, with the extra joints? A fluid bend? Like the tail of a monkey or cat, lots of little bones/joints? Are their legs different, three-part like a human’s, since it’s refereed to Kalp having knees? It’s always noted that he spreads his toes when he walks; is his species plantigrade or digitigrade?
Rather like a monkey’s tail, I would say, though there are major joints amid the minor ones that humans called knees and elbows for ease of reference.
I had to look up what plantigrade or digitigrade mean:
And the answer is… kinda both? It’s Digitigrade, but not to this extreme degree.
- What’s the name of their species? How they refer to themselves and/or a name humans have given to them. They can’t just be refered to as “the aliens”, right?
- You’ve written a lot since this first novel. Looking back, is there anything you would change if you could rewrite it?
There’s little I would change, but I would maybe choose to have written the whole book from Kalp’s perspective and involve more reference to his culture and history.
The one thing I really regret not doing is making the human character’s varying ethnicities more obvious. I hate saying “so and so is Black” or “so and so is Asian” because, of course, no one ever says in fiction “so and so is White.” White is the assumed default. I thought I left enough clues in the narrative by using non-European family names, and little hints, but I guess not. Many people assumed the characters who were not-white were in fact white, and I got a lot of crap about making a world-wide organization “filled with white people”.
It’s difficult to figure out how to balance the twin desires to have a wide variety of representation and not be pedantic, self-congratulatory, or condescending about describing everyone’s skin tone.
- How did you deal with the language? Do you have more words in their language that weren’t added to the book itself, like if you came up with the language beforehand? Or was it more a situation where, when you found something you wanted to add Kalp’s word for it in, you figured that out on the spot?
Ah… this is a bit embarrassing, but most of the words in that language are taken from things that were around my desk as I was writing. At that time, I was in grad school so most of the words are acronyms for academic grants that I didn’t get. 😛
Thanks for the Questions, Red Dog! Does anyone else have any more questions?