The CSFG’s next anthology is Unnatural Order, a celebration of monsters and the monstrous. Publicity manager Rivqa Rafael had some questions for editors Alis Franklin and Lyss Wickramasinghe. Prospective authors, take note, because there are some great tips here for you! Submissions are open to Australian citizen and resident authors until 31 October; check out the guidelines for more info.
The Unnatural Order Kickstarter ends on 3 September, so check it out and help us pay authors better rates by backing and sharing with your networks.
Where did the idea for the theme of Unnatural Order come from?
Alis: Honestly I just really like non-human protagonists, and stories about non-human protagonists, and stories told from the point of view of non-human protagonists. These tend to be hard to come by, though with things like Shape of Water winning an Oscar and Zen Cho’s “If At First You Don’t Succeed” and Martha Wells’ Artificial Condition their Hugos, it seems finally they’re in fashion!
Lyss: I was coerced into it by Alis. She knew my weakness; monstrous beasties with sharp teeth and sexy horns.
But seriously, Alis approached me with the idea of making an anthology focusing on giving weird and wonderful creatures their time in the spotlight. We wanted to create somewhere where the beasts are the protagonists, and the monstrous is celebrated.
How do you define monster?
Alis: It’s a bit of a loaded term but specifically for Unnatural Order it’s a physical thing; “non-human” is probably a more accurate descriptor but it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so neatly, plus it runs into the problem of defining something by what it’s not rather than what it is. Using the term “monster” I think helps raise those questions about what, exactly, is monstrousness; is it something someone is… or is it something something does?
Lyss: For the purposes of Unnatural Order: monsters are physically inhuman beings. Whether they be fantastical, constructed or ineffable, they are physically distinct from humans in a way that is clear and obvious.
“Man as the real monster” has been explored quite thoroughly, so I really wanted to see what could be made when prompted to make a traditional monster the protagonist of a story.
What do you love about monsters, and what do you hate about them (or more precisely, how they’re portrayed in media)?
Alis: Like most Australian kids my age, I grew up watching Monkey on TV – and as a teen read the admittedly-not-very-good-but-readily-available Arthur Waley translation of Journey to the West – so I’m a total sucker for a heroic/enlightenment narrative told from a non-human point-of-view. I also love the humanity-from-the-outside perspective that more commonly pops up in sci-fi (where “monsters” tend to have a bit more leeway to appear as sympathetic aliens), of the character who doesn’t hate humanity but has a bit of, ahem, distance from some of our more destructive or negative institutions and can use that to encourage us to question our participation in them. And, just on a more visceral level, I love creature design, so the more fangs and fur and the tentacles, the better!
For the negatives… cure stories! There’s an implicit parochial assumption in cure stories – the idea that humanity is some kind of desired state of “normality” to aspire to – that I’ve both never related to and that, uh. Has some… unfortunate real-life implications. I mean, everyone knows the end of Beauty and the Beast, where Beast turns back into the boring human prince, is the worst bit!
Lyss: I empathise a lot with monsters. They are almost always framed as outsiders or outliers within their stories, and they are rarely the focus of a story. Unless of course they are the villain, destined to be defeated and return the status quo. Young little Lyss, who had never seen anyone like her in the media she consumed, latched onto these other outsiders and their parts of stories. Is there was never going to be a princess or a hero I could see myself in – fine. I would be the dragon.
Recently, stories challenging the traditional ideas of a monsters role have been appearing throughout media, and I am absolutely living for it. Stories like Wired and Nerves by Marissa Meyer, Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Miller, or The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison all bring the side characters to the fore; even movies like Venom are all contributing to the idea that there is power in the strange and abnormal, that being the magical protagonist is not restricted to glittering knight or fiery beauties. It’s the rise of the outcasts, filled with teeth and claws. And it’s AWESOME.
Similarly to Alis, I hate cure stories. It’s just another way of restoring the status quo. Particularly when telling stories of love and acceptance. “Oh, you’ve gone on this long journey of acceptance and self-discovery and have come to terms with yourself and how awesome you are? Cool, as a reward, you’re now just like everyone else! Yay?” Screw that nonsense.
Help some writers out: what do you really want to see (or not see) in the slush pile?
Alis: So my ultimate wishlist item is always going to be a sympathetic/heroic hive-queen story. Visuals like the Xenomorph Queen from Aliens or the broodmothers from Dragon Age are pretty much the ultimate manifestation of the male fear of female sexuality and power (with some Red Scare imagery thrown in to boot!), and it’s taken as such a given that this kind of eusocial role is horrific that it’s hard to even think of examples of the trope done positively; the kelda of the Nac Mac Feegle in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels is the one that comes immediately to mind, and Clive Barker has a sort-of-go at it in “The Madonna”, but otherwise there’s really not much. It’s a trope that’s totally (a har) fertile grounds for a subversion, in other words!
For DNWs, cure stories (as mentioned above), plus anything that leans too heavily into monstrousness being a thinly veiled stand-in for real-world marginalised groups, without unpacking or deconstructing that in any way.
Lyss: I’m a sucker for a good monster love story. Kept PG of course (save the smut for another time). What can I say, bi girls love tieflings…
But in all seriousness, I love stories that merge traditionally conflicting ideas. I love to examine the shock people still experience when faced with two images they don’t naturally assume will match, and analyse why these ideas are considered opposite. So, have a demon possess someone, only to spend their time begrudgingly keeping their host alive. Let an asexual succubus run the world’s worst nightclub. Find ideas that don’t usually go together and explore them.
Things I’m not super into: anything where the monster conforms to your every expectation of them. Dragon steals princess; AI takes over world; monster under the bed eats you. These stories have been told well already. Try out something new.
What are you reading, watching, or listening to right now?
Alis: I just finished season 1 of The Terror and, to make this at least a little bit relevant, quite liked its take on the creature-feature genre. Its monster is definitely monstrous in the physical/supernatural sense of the word, but since it’s only defending its lands from invaders, it’s hard not to feel sympathetic for it, particularly when its human victims are monstrous either through individual actions (murder, racism) or institutional ones (colonialist expansionism).
Lyss: I’m really enjoying some fun monstrous webcomics at the moment. I just caught up with The Crooked Kind and The Croaking, and I’m always a sucker for Boyfriend of the Dead and Immortal Affairs. They’re all a little fluffy and soft, but I think that’s part of why I’m enjoying them.
I just started My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland and I can see classism and the struggles of disadvantaged communities are going to be continued themes. I’m keen to see where it goes.
Alis Franklin (editor) is a chronic fangirl, author of queer speculative fiction, and occasional artist. Her novels include Liesmith, Stormbringer, and other works featuring monsters, video games, Norse mythology, and feathered dinosaurs. In her spare time, she runs a fandom-community Mastodon instance, fandom.ink.
Alyssa ‘Lyss’ Wickramasinghe (editor) is Monstrous-Trash, an editor of speculative fiction, and 2019 judge for the Norma K. Hemming Award. She has worked as a freelance editor for many independent publishers, including Odyssey books and IFWG Publishing. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong, and a Postgraduate Certificate in Editing and Publishing from the University of Technology Sydney. A coloured hair enthusiast, she can be found on Twitter as @slushrottweiler.
Rivqa Rafael (publicity manager) writes speculative fiction about queer women, Jewish women, cyborg futures, and hope in dystopias. Her short stories have been published in GlitterShip, Escape Pod, Crossed Genres’ Resist Fascism, and elsewhere, and she recently co-edited award-winning feminist robot anthology Mother of Invention. She tweets as @enoughsnark.