Science Fiction & Fantasy

Hawk by Steven Brust

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Sandra McDonald

Hi Sandra, thank you for speaking with us! To start off, what prompted your story, “Searching for Slave Leia?”

Thank you for asking—it’s one of my favorite stories. I was writing a guest post about female costuming for the blog Heroines of Fantasy when I hit a long-buried nerve in my psyche about Leia and that gold bikini. I remember seeing the overhead poster in the movie theater and being so disappointed that Carrie Fisher had been put on seductive display for Return of the Jedi while all the men were depicted as action heroes. Obviously that costume and pose had been designed for the male gaze, and were at odds with the situation the character finds herself in—enslaved, subject to physical abuse, and at risk of death at any moment. When I worked in Hollywood, I attended the American Film Institute tribute to Harrison Ford, and was just delighted with Carrie Fisher’s speech. She’s a sharp, funny lady who has overcome a lot of personal obstacles. Those experiences sparked the story and I had a lot of fun bringing them together.

There’s a lot of nostalgia here, from the books and movies of the 1980s, tied together with the protagonist’s own past. How important do you think nostalgia is to the genre?

Nostalgia is a persistent aspect of our genre. I’m not a fan of it, generally, because the sentimental longing for some golden aspect of the past often includes ignoring unpleasant realities of that same time. For instance, I love Back to the Future as a movie, but dislike how it glosses over the gender and racial inequalities of the 1950s. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of the Deep Space Nine depiction of Captain Sisko as Benny Russell, a black author facing prejudice as a science fiction writer in the same time period. The 1980s reflected a vast improvement in both publishing and television production, but notice that the narrator’s father in my story is only a fan of male authors—that was deliberate. When the narrator moves to Hollywood, she faces the gender discrimination that’s been prevalent there for a long time. I think that whenever authors revisit the past, we should move beyond nostalgia into more nuanced portrayals.

There’s a lot to do with the workings of a television show here: Is this something you’ve worked on personally, or is it something that you’d like to eventually do?

I studied television production at Ithaca College, and spent a lot of my senior year sending off spec scripts to TV shows that promptly ignored them. I was sure that I was destined to be a Hollywood writer. After an exciting detour into the military, I moved to Sherman Oaks, California and wound up working in the executive suites at Disney Studios and CBS Television. I composed Michael Eisner’s expense reports, walked Dustin Hoffman’s dog, talked to Russell Crowe and Lisa Kudrow on the phone, and once hand-delivered a script to Steven Spielberg’s office at Dreamworks. Lots of Hollywood fun! Production and administration are two totally different worlds, however. I deeply admire the women and men who work long, grueling hours on the set to bring drama and comedy to our screens. I’m very sure that I’m better off working in an office by myself. Of course, one day, when my works are adapted for television or film, I plan on finagling a set pass. Maybe even a chair with my name on it.

 Your character mentions Quantum Leap at one point; are there any other shows that have similar concepts that you’re a fan of, such as Life on Mars, Journeyman, or Awake?

I had to put Quantum Leap in there because I was a huge fan (except for that final episode, thanks much) and had a crush on Scott Bakula. The concept of Quantum Leap worked very well and the show itself did a great job exploring the lives of all sorts of characters. It balanced nostalgia with the social struggles of eras past. Life on Mars, the British version, is brilliant as well—though its finale was a disappointment as well. I’m saving Journeyman, Awake, Lost, Game of Thrones, and dozens of other genre shows for my final days in the nursing home, where the robot nurse can play them for me in my dotage.

Introspectively, how many lessons for the present day do you think can be found in our past?

You know, that’s an interesting question, because I don’t believe the past exists. We have physical records of it, and lots of inconsistent memories, but it’s not a place we can visit or access. The lessons of it are as fleeting as butterflies. They have to be relearned every generation. Social progress, for instance, is not a curved line steadily escalating toward some version of Utopia, but a zig-zagging, up-and-down roller coaster of forward steps and backward leaps. What I dearly love about writing fiction, however, is the chance to bring the past into the present and beyond, into our vast, unknowable future.

Andrew Liptak

Editorial Assistant/Book Reviewer

Andrew LiptakAndrew Liptak is a freelance writer and historian from Vermont. He is a 2014 graduate of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, and has written for such places as Armchair General, io9, Kirkus Reviews, Lightspeed Magazine, and others. He can be found over at www.andrewliptak.com and at @AndrewLiptak on Twitter. His first book, War Stories: New Military Science Fiction is now out from Apex Publications, and his next, The Future Machine: The Writers, Editors and Readers who Build Science Fiction is forthcoming from Jurassic London in 2015.

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