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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Holly Phillips


[Interviewer’s Note: This is a

series of interviews featuring the contributors of Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF edited by Jetse de Vries.]

Holly Phillips is the award-winning author of In the Palace of Repose and The Engine’s Child. She lives on a large island off the west coast of Canada, and is hard at work on her next novel.


Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what’s the appeal of science fiction for you?

Holly Phillips: Besides the sheer delight of the imaginative exercise, I think — especially with near-future SF — there’s a real value to climbing out of the little box of our present and looking at a wider view. I like to think it lends a bit of perspective. But mostly I just love going places I’ve never been or even conceived of before.


CT: Do you personally make a distinction between fantasy and science

fiction?

HP: I do. Although a lot of the mechanics of

building a world and investing your characters in it are the same, I

think fantasy is a lot more metaphorical and tied in to myth, while SF

tends to draw out more real-world issues and ideas, a slightly more

intellectual exercise. But obviously there’s such a wide range of F and

SF being written these days that the overlap just gets bigger and

bigger. The distinction I make in my own head might not be very

meaningful to anyone else.


CT:What made you decide to write

science fiction and fantasy?

HP: I’m not sure it was a

decision, exactly. I’ve been reading the stuff since, well, I learned to

read. And though I certainly read all kinds of other things, I find

that a story idea just doesn’t grab my interest until I unwrap it enough

to find something weird inside. Truth to tell, I’m impressed when

writers of mainstream fiction can make their stories sing *without*

building in a fantastical or speculative twist. To me, that’s the spark

that makes my fiction come to life.


CT: In Jetse’s

introduction to “Summer Ice”, he mentions that he interpreted this as a

science fiction story when it originally sold to Fantasy Magazine. How

about you, where do you see this story falling into? Both? Or is it best

left for the reader to decide?

HP: I think of “Summer Ice”

as a very liminal story. It is set in a near-future North America, and I

have no trouble in calling that science fiction. But the story is very

much about my character making a fresh start and finding a way to be

hopeful about the future, and the setting becomes a metaphorical

reflection of that theme in a way that might seem more fantastical. But I

like it when readers find ways to think about my fiction that I might

not have seen myself, and really, however a reader reads a story is what

that story *is*, at least for that reader.


CT:In previous

interviews, some of the writers you mentioned that heavily influence you

include Ursula K. le Guin, Ray Bradbury, and Mervyne Peak and they tend

to write with a dark atmosphere or have written dystopias. Locus’s

feature with you is even titled “Holly Phillips: Drawn to Darkness”. So

what made you decide to contribute to the Shine anthology? In general,

do you have an optimistic view of the world?

HP: In a

personal sense, I am actually a very optimistic person. Frankly, I don’t

think you can try to be a professional writer if you aren’t! But I have

a gloomier view of our future — in fact, “Summer Ice” was partly

written as a wish or a dream of a best-case scenario, that whatever

happens there will still be art and friendship and love. In truth I

think we’re living at the end of a golden age, not it’s height. Oddly

enough, though, when I was writing this story I though of it as a

tribute to Ray Bradbury. That golden glow of future nostalgia, and the

sense of people living their very ordinary lives in the midst of a

strange new world.


CT: How has Fibromyalgia influenced either

your writing or you as a writer?

HP: Ha! It made me write —

when I had to leave university before I got my degree and was desperate

to do something with my life! Okay, my mom gave me a nudge when she

offered to pay for a writing course, but I was already writing a lot by

then. Fiction turned out to be my default setting when the other options

fell by the wayside. I’m not so sure how it affects what I write,

though. I will say this: my characters are mostly young women who

struggle hard to take charge of their lives and move forward in a

positive direction.


CT: Do you think science fiction is

capable of changing the world? (For better or for worse?)

HP:

Honestly? I think *any* kind of fiction can do good in the world.

Fiction takes a reader inside other people’s lives and hearts and minds,

and I can’t think of anything better for teaching empathy and openness

to other points of view. But yeah, science fiction can offer warnings

about where we might be headed, and also hope that there might be a path

through the wilderness and a light at the end of the tunnel.


CT:

What is it about the short story format that appeals to you?

HP:

I love short stories! They are instant gratification. I have actually

conceived of and written a story all in the same day. That sure beats

the months it takes to produce a novel, especially for someone as in

love with variety as I am. Beyond that, though, to write a good short

story you have to strip fiction down to its bones. There just isn’t room

for the gradual build-up of character or plot or setting that might

draw a reader into a novel. You have to strip down to the essentials —

which is a great way to learn what the essentials *are*.


CT:

What projects are you currently working on?

HP: Too many to

keep track of! I’m doing a hard and fast revision of a ghostly suspense

novel called THE HOUSE AT HIGH TIDE, and as soon as that’s done

I’ll be getting back to turning “The Other Grace,” one of the stories in

my collection IN THE PALACE OF REPOSE, into an existentialist

horror novel for the young adult market. And once I’ve finished that

I’ve got a steampunk novel idea all lined up and ready to go. I’m hugely

excited about all of them, and I’m looking to have a very productive

year. (For progress updates, feel free to visit www.hollyphillips.com.)

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