Today I interview the illustrious Alison Mcbain, author of numerous intriguing short stories and a couple novels in projects. We talk about moral border lines in fiction and more. Read on…
B.T. Lowry: Hi Alison. I have an idea. Would you like to be the first interviewed author for storypaths.net? The way I’d like to do it is to ask one question at a time, then my next question may be based on the answer. So the interview would come from a chain of correspondence. I think this is more interesting than having a set of questions which doesn’t change based on the answers.
What do you think?
Alison McBain: Sure! I’d love to. 🙂
BTL: Great! For the first question, I’ll start simply. Please tell me about what you’re working on now, and what excites you about it.
AM: I’m currently editing my book manuscript, entitled Kolonie. It’s a far-future story set on a distant planet that has undergone several waves of colonization. The current society is divided by both class and race, and becomes caught up in a revolution for equality.
Revolution isn’t a new idea, nor is class or race warfare. But I like to explore the edges of extreme ideas – the characters who are on the border between two sides, for any number of reasons. In my book, for example, one of the main characters joins the revolution because of the color of his skin, but he is reluctant to participate because he is more concerned with protecting his family than the ideals of the revolutionaries. Another character crosses class and racial lines to help out a widow and her child, but his motivations for doing so are questionable.
The movement between boundaries is where I feel a story becomes interesting – when a person chooses what others might see as the wrong path based on preconceived notions, or the right path for the wrong reasons. I think it ties in to the concept of extremism today. While some issues might be black and white, that isn’t where you can find the best stories about humanity. It’s the small quirks that make a story – and people – interesting. That’s the idea which captures me in much of my writing, the concepts of differences and transitions.
BTL: That’s very intriguing, that your characters are navigating the edges between groups and points of view. Please tell me, what are some issues that are black and white for you, and what are some which are relative? Especially issues that come up in your own life and writing.
AM: I feel that a general maxim to live by is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is how I try to live my life, and how I try to have the protagonists of my stories live their lives. That allows for a lot of room for error. Probably one reason why I like to explore boundaries is that I feel it is sometimes much too easy to see the other point of view in a disagreement. Not that I don’t have my own opinions about issues such as morality, politics, religion and relationships, but I find it hard to condemn others for their choices. I make my choice, you make yours, others make theirs, etc. What is black to me might be white to you, and vice versa. Perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to the gray areas. I don’t believe extremes lead to good choices, especially if those extremes are trying to say that their choice is the ONLY choice around. Aside from the basic idea of wrongdoing, which is causing harm to others, I feel that everything else is up for discussion.
BTL: Great answer.
Sometimes popular stories have very morally questionable characters in them. I’m thinking of Game of Thrones, or the film Nightcrawler. Do you feel that stories should be beneficial for the readers? Should the characters set good examples for how to live?
AM: I feel that what you’re referring to is generally referred to as “message fiction.” While I’m not opposed to it and write some of it myself, I believe that morally questionable characters are very interesting, sometimes more so than characters who walk the straight and narrow path. For example, I’m a big fan of the TV show The Walking Dead. The show follows a group of survivors after a zombie apocalypse. At first, the zombies are seen to be the main enemy of the group, for obvious reasons. But the longer the show continues, the more the group runs into living people who have reverted to the basic tenet of “kill or be killed.” So the two biggest enemies that the characters come to face are other people and themselves – for, as they continue to live in this brutal world, they become extremely brutal. Their struggle with morality and what lines can be crossed is a constant theme of the show.
I believe that seeing something repulsive through a fictional character’s eyes can help us redefine who we are. It raises the question: would we, if put in a similar situation of survival, also become the monster we fear the most? Again, this is the transitional zone that I like to write about – no one starts out life saying, “I want to be a horrible person.” But one can become a horrible person through a series of justifications. And these gray areas that fictional characters face are the same ones that we face, albeit hopefully less extreme in real life.
That being said, I’ve watched Game of Thrones and enjoyed it, but not for its literary or moral merit. It’s a bloodbath, essentially. But a highly entertaining one.
BTL: You make some good points.
This may sound old-fashioned and even pretentious, but I do feel that stories should help us live our lives in a more beneficial way. I feel that storytellers have a responsibility not just to gain and keep people’s attention, but to deliver something real and useful. But if the stories are simple black and white, they may not help us with the difficult gradations we deal with in real life. As you say, characters are not always models to emulate, but may push us to confront decisions which we otherwise wouldn’t.
Well that’s it for now. Thanks for the interview, Alison. Can you tell our readers where they can find your work?
AM: I have several stories coming out, including “Supply and Demand” at Bewildering Stories magazine and “The Godmother’s Bargain,” which just came out today in the anthology Once Upon a Scream. If you’d like to find out more about my work, I have a list of publications on my website, with links on where to read most of them for free: http://www.alisonmcbain.com/writing.html.
Thank you so much for the interview! It was great chatting with you. Take care.
BTL: Thank you.
Click on the pictures below for links to Alison’s work.