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Monday, July 11, 2016

Bo Bolander and "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead"

I was thrilled to have Bo Bolander join us on the show to talk about her award-nominated story. I began by asking how "Trail of Dead" came to be, and she told me it was a pastiche of pulp, noir, anime, and Tarantino with lots of sweary shooty. (You can watch the video for the precise quote!).

She was asked to write a flash piece for a literary zine, but "it didn't want to be a flash piece," and "it took off. Bo said she didn't know how it would be received, and that she was taking a risk stylistically, but she woke up at four in the morning one night and started writing the rest of it. It took her two years to finish. I asked if she planned how long it would be, but she said of her stories, "I write until they're done."

She said that the voice really drove the story forward, but there were points as it got more complicated where she wanted to take a white board and organize some things because she wasn't sure how to get some points, some beats she wanted to hit.

Rhye, she says, is basically a replicant in the Bladerunner sense. The story is something of an homage to Bladerunner and to Ghost in the Shell. Rhye doesn't have good self esteem (understatement) and "she kinda needs a hand up." The character of Rack was complementary to her, and Bo only worked with his point of view much later. The two viewpoints are very entangled, and we get to see her view of him, and also how he sees her during the course of the story. (Spoilers!) One revelation about his view of her comes when she sees a version of herself that he has created as a security program. It's interesting to see her considering that.

Bo is working on a sequel to the story and having fun with it, exploring where the characters are going. She says she likes stories that don't spell everything out for you. "You have to do some worldbuilding," she says. She focuses on the character's voice and point of view. History, nuance and detail are not necessarily interesting or relevant to a story.

She says she does worldbuilding a little with what Rhye is thinking, because the world influences that. But it's not always a weakness not to map out the entire world. She focuses in on how the world has made Rhye what she is, beating her down.

I asked about Bo's use of metaphor and simile, which I think is one of the outstanding strengths of the piece. She said that Rhye is broken and mean, but in some ways a lot like her internal voice, so she was easy to write. Sometimes you have to stop and think about how Rhye would see things, because she's going to use what she knows. In a sense, any character is going to use metaphors and similes that reveal things about what they know to compare things against.

Bo says there are stories out there ostensibly using the point of view of (for example) someone from backwoods Florida, but the voice comes out as that of a postgraduate literary person. "If the voice is not there," she says, "I can't get behind it."

Rhye's past helps to construct her narrative, and that is coming into play in the sequel, with some experiences Rhye had between the last story and this one. She has changed. There are changes in story #1, but also more between 1 and 2. Bo gets into her backstory a bit more deeply.

The sequel is apparently a novel. Bo says, "I'm trying to expand everything."

She's also working on a fantasy piece right now, because she says, "I can't do the same thing twice. I get bored really easily." She expressed her admiration for patois and dialect use in the film Fury Road. She says most people don't mess with language much. She says the fantasy work is nice because it gives her a break from Rhye occasionally.

She has posted a snippet of the sequel on her blog.

I asked her about the submission history of the story, and she said one market thought "Trail of Dead" should be a novel instead. Some people objected to all the swearing, saying "Why does she talk like that? What made her like that?" Bo says that after two years of writing and reviews from people she trusted, she went with it despite uncertainty, and then took a breath, and then suddenly got nominated for awards.

Bo expressed her high regard for Lightspeed and Nightmare Magazines, and for the art of Galen Dara.

When I asked whether she had done any research for the story, she said that there had been no research component except that she used to go to the firing range a whole lot, and that helped her with the portrayal of firearm use, which she described as "a zen thing. You have to get out of your head." She had some experience with that having grown up around firearms.

She says it's interesting how much of yourself ends up in your story. "You put so much in, but you don't even notice."

Bo described her writing process as "I get it out in one draft, but editing the entire time." This story ended up with a few line edits at the start but none toward the end. You can't do that with a novel, though, she says, because you have to keep moving. "A novel is such a different beast. You can't make it perfect on the first go."

Bo also spoke to us about her experience with ADD. Never downplay the influence of prescription drugs on the ADD brain, she told us. Sometimes, she has found just sitting down and concentrating to be impossible. "Sit down and write," people always say, but sometimes it can't be done. "You're not lazy." It's not that you're unfocused, or that you don't care. You're not alone. Sometimes your brain needs help. ADD is underdiagnosed especially in women. She took particular issue with the term "airhead" and speculated it might be linked to ADD.

Bo described the feeling of productivity as "amazing" and was happy not to be "frozen in my own indecision." She says she hates portrayals of medication as turning you into a zombie, because that has been so far from her experience.

She says that she has lots of ideas, but not all of them are worth stretching out. "It has to be more than a cute hook. There's got to be something deeper going on." "What's the through line?" she asks. "What is the emotional underpinning?" It's possible to find the point of a story while you're writing it, but it's useful to have some hint of it beforehand.

Bo, thank you for joining us! Readers, if you want more detail, the video is below.

This week's hangout will be on Wednesday, July 13th at 10:00am with guest author Eva Elasigue. I hope you can join us!


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