Snapshot 2016: Interview with Justine Larbalestier

Snaphot Logo 2016

I’m glad I was reading my interview with Justine Larbalestier during the day time when the sun was out because her insight into psychopaths and in particular women who are psychopaths is truly chilling!  I interviewed Justine as part of Snapshot 2016 and the interview is reposted here from the Australian SF Snapshot Project. #Snapshot2016


Justine Larbalestier author photoJustine Larbalestier is an Australian–American author of eight novels, two anthologies and one scholarly work of non-fiction, many essays, blog posts, tweets, and a handful of short stories.

Her most recent book, My Sister Rosa, is about a seventeen-year-old Australian boy whose ten-year-old sister is a psychopath. It’s set in New York City and published by Allen and Unwin in Australia/New Zealand and will be published on 15 November 2016 by Soho Teen in North America.

My previous novel, Razorhurst, takes place on a winter’s day in 1932 when Dymphna Campbell, a gangster’s moll, and Kelpie, a street urchin who can see ghosts, meet over the dead body of Dymphna’s latest lover, Jimmy Palmer. Of her other books the most popular are the novel Liar and the Zombies Versus Unicorns anthology which she edited with Holly Black.

Justine lives in Sydney, Australia where she gardens, boxes, and watches too much cricket, and also in New York City, where her game of choice is basketball. She’s a season ticket holder for the New York Liberty.

 

You were a WisCon 2016 Guest of Honour, what was it like returning to Wiscon having previously attended as a regular con-goer in comparison to attending as a guest? Also, what was your favourite part of the experience?

It was strange. Though I was once a regular con-goer there, I hadn’t been in ten years. Last time I was there YA had almost no profile. I was asked, “What is YA?” Some folks were sneery, “Why would you write about teens? Ewww.”  Which is part of why I stopped going. But ten years later that had totally changed. I felt very welcomed and there were many other YA writers and readers there.

Aside from being a co-GoH with Nalo Hopkinson and Sofia Samatar, who are both incredible, my favourite thing was doing a panel on evil women with Mikki Kendall. She’s been doing research on female serial killers and I’ve been researching psychopathic women. She’s one of the smartest, wittiest writers around, as well as being an historian. It was the most informative fun ever. I wish all my panels were with her.

Razorhurst - coverYou’ve been working through the ideas surrounding ‘evil women’ in your recent writing. What have you most enjoyed exploring about the concept of evil so far?

I’m fascinated by the idea that women are naturally good on the one hand, yet on the other, there’s all the stuff about women being diabolical temptresses on the other. I’ve long been obsessed with Femme Fatales. I watched too many Films Noir, I guess. Razorhurst was my first book that featured one, but it won’t be my last. (To be clear, I don’t think any group is naturally good or bad. Google Australia’s Katherine Knight if you want a really gruesome example of a woman killer.)

For a long time there was a belief that there weren’t women serial killers. Or, rather, that they were rare. Possibly because women aren’t seen as capable of that level of violence? Spoiler: they are. But it’s becoming apparent that many female serial killers were simply overlooked because they mostly don’t kill in a showy way. No chopping up bodies, no taunting letters to the police. The women don’t want to be caught. They tend to work as carers and poison/suffocate their victims. Not many people realise that Arsenic and Old Lace was actually based on a real life case and that that real life case was absolutely typical of how women serially kill. Women also tend to get away with their murders more often because their kills look more like natural causes.

The same thing with female psychopaths. Experts say that for every twenty male psychopaths there is only one female one. But when I tried to find where that figure came from it, turned out it pretty much comes out of thin air. Experts don’t know how many female psychopaths there are because little research has been done on them. I suspect female psychopaths are under-diagnosed.

The evil women that are part of our mythologies tends to be evil in terms of their roles as wives/girlfriends and mothers: Medea, Jezebel, Delilah etc. Even when women are being evil to other women in those stories it’s usually because they’re in competition for men. A lot of fictional depiction of female evil assumes heterosexuality and probably wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test. The obvious exception being all those evil lesbians, but they’re seen as evil because of their rejection as men, so it’s still an evil understood in terms of mainstream understandings of sexuality. I.e. the only reason you would turn your back on men as a woman would be because you’re evil.

I’ll stop now as this is turning into a long-arse essay but, as you can tell, I have loads to say on this topic. Hence my writing yet another book about a female psychopath. This time she’s seventeen, rather than ten as in My Sister Rosa, and it’s from her point of view, not from that of her old brother.

My Sister Rosa - cover

Aside from the psychological thriller you’re currently working on, do you have anything speculative in the works?

The kind of psychological thrillers I’m writing are monster novels, which I think are definitely part of speculative fiction. Psychopaths have been figured as monsters for decades now. In fact, I’d argue that most monsters in horror, science fiction, thrillers etc. are human, and when they’re not like, for example, the Godzilla movies, it’s often the evil military trying to fight them, who are the real monsters. With good reason, we fear ourselves the most. And the psychopath, the person with no empathy and no remorse, is kind of the distillation of our fears about our fellow humans.

I do not mean that psychopaths are literally monsters. Just that they’re figured that way in the genre and, let’s be honest, in much reporting of real life cases. What interests me the most about the way we see psychopaths is that they are human. So how do we deal with that? Not very well. How do we deal with the fact that a great deal of the evil inflicted on humans is inflicted by humans who aren’t psychopaths. We don’t.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

This is so hard because I know many brilliant Australian authors but if I praise some of them I’ll be leaving others out. I also worry people will think I’m recommending them because they’re my friends, which I would never do, but it’s what some assume. Besides I recommend my friends’ books on Twitter often.

So I’ll recommend two Aussie writers I’ve never met. Check out Ambelin Kwaymullina. She has a fantastic YA trilogy, The Tribe, that’s not like anything else out there. In non-fiction I loved Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling by Larissa Behrendt, which is a witty, well-researched account of the Eliza Fraser story, but this time including Indigenous versions of what happened. It’s the best kind of history because it made me rethink what I thought I knew. A must read.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

Honestly, on most long plane flights there’s already an author sitting next to me. On the other side of me I think I’d prefer to have an interesting person from a completely different field. Lately, I’ve taken to questioning folks about the most common accidents in their occupation so I can figure out “accidental” ways my psychopath could bump people off. So sitting next to an expert on accidental deaths would be the best thing ever.

Karen Pickering on the secret feminism of the CWA

I had the chance to attend a free talk given by Karen Pickering the other day on the CWA (Country Women’s Association) and its secret feminism. Below is the blurb for the event, and I think it provides a very good overview for what the talk was as well.

The Country Women’s Association is not often thought of as a feminist organisation … if at all. But with the current interest in women’s rights and spaces, it’s arguably a ready-made grassroots network for women to connect with one another. And with baking, sewing, and general craftiness also enjoying a revival of sorts, seeing a huge resurgence in popularity and deemed legitimacy, why is the Country Women’s Association, keeper of such knowledge, struggling to attract new members?

Karen Pickering discusses the cultural importance and history of the CWA, Australia’s largest women’s organisation, which strives to improve the conditions of women and children around Australia. She wonders how we can arrest the decline in membership, instead of standing by as the CWA literally dies out.

I think what struck me most about the talk is the fact that several friends and I have talked over the past several years about wanting to create a network to do the kind of work that the CWA does – community service, political advocacy, practical service in making a difference for women, children, families and community. We talked about creating a network, without realising that one already existed doing just that kind of work, and making that kind of difference, one that is even represented at a national level on some key organisational boards, one that has in the past been able to wield considerable political influence.

Once I’m settled into a place to live, I will seriously consider joining a branch of the CWA – they made it very clear that it was for all women, and not just for country women, and that while the organisation had a vibrant and strong tradition, that it is also prepared to evolve with the changing membership.

I also appreciated that in Pickering’s recounting of the historical highlights of the organisation, that she didn’t shy away from the fact that it’s largely a white, middleclass membership. That there are parts of the organisational history that are perhaps less shiny. Pickering mentioned that although there was lobbying somewhere around the 1960s for Aboriginal women to be included as members, that there was also some concern raised that it was more about assimilation than inclusion – and indeed I imagine both things could have been or perhaps were true. In any case, it’s *still* largely a white/middleclass organisation, but from Pickering’s comments at least, it seems that there is room for and invitation for that to change.

I’m not a crafting person, but I do love cooking, and I love that the CWA represents a very visible way of valuing the domestic work that women are often responsible for. However much we would also like to be valued for other work, for other contributions we make to society, being valued for the quality of domestic work – and what that looks like, is actually pretty awesome. Preserves! Quilting (not me, but others!) Cakes! Slices! All kinds of other things -and the opportunity connect with, to learn from, to share with, to teach, with other women. Also the opportunity to make a real and practical difference to people, to communities and especially to women and children.

Apparently there’s a new ‘Brunsberg’ branch of the CWA that spans as you might have guessed, Brunswick and Coburg in Melbourne. I am therefore hopeful for a Fitzwood or Collingroy branch when I manage to settle in somewhere near there!

At the height of membership (so far), the CWA had over 120 000 members! Now, it still boasts over 20 000 members. That’s an amazing network of very dedicated women, with some incredible skills and the desire to share them. Personally, I’m all for it, and maybe you might be interested too?

CWA Cookbook - Classics cover image

CWA Cookbook – Classics

‘Womanifesto’ – Alison Lambert

Copyright Hecate Press, English Department 1992. 
Hecate. St. Lucia: 1992. Vol. 18, Iss. 1; pg. 105. 

Womanifesto 
by Alison Lambert 

When I’m writing I’m not Mills and Booning in his arms

When I’m writing I’m not learning 30 ways to please a man

When I’m writing I’m not dreaming up new ways with chicken

When I’m writing I’m not colour co-ordinating my wardrobe

When I’m writing I’m not trying to hold my tummy in

When I’m writing I’m not raising model children

When I’m writing I’m not taking his son to football training

When I’m writing I’m not decorating his weekend

When I’m writing I’m not getting my legs waxed

When I’m writing I’m not pretending to be 20 years younger

When I’m writing I’m not apologising for being 20 years older

When I’m writing I’m not keeping him off the streets

When I’m writing I’m not distributing Amway

When I’m writing I’m not vacuuming the shag pile carpet

When I’m writing I’m not hoping he’ll phone

When I’m writing I’m not feeling guilty about the washing up

When I’m writing I’m not cooking apricot barramundi caprice for his boss

When I’m writing I’m not worried if the grey is showing

When I’m writing I’m not listening to some man talk sexist crap

When I’m writing I’m not worried if I haven’t washed my hair

When I’m writing I’m not wishing my tits were like hers

When I’m writing I’m not going to the shops – again

When I’m writing I’m not thrilled that he’d kill me if he knew

When I’m writing I’m not even aware that I’m small

When I’m writing I’m not hanging back while he speaks

When I’m writing I’m not in tears if he doesn’t understand

When I’m writing I’m not pretending it’s fantastic if it’s not

When I’m writing I’m not apologising for having my period

When I’m writing I’m not apologising for not having my period

When I’m writing I’m not surviving on two lettuce leaves and a banana

When I’m writing I’m not at the doctor’s for tranquillisers

When I’m writing I’m not getting my beauty sleep

When I’m writing I’m not Mrs Somebody

When I’m writing I’m not anxious that he won’t like it

When I’m writing I’m not serving everyone else first

When I’m writing I’m not a nice little woman, not at all

————

Reproduced from online source without permission, but with no ill intent. I merely wish to share something awesome discovered amidst essay research. I think having looked at the writings of Joanna Russ, read several discussions around the publication of female writers and related difficulties, that this piece (like Russ’ work) remains scarily relevant today, in 2011.