James Brindle on Writing Dragons (2014 Lesbian Fiction Appreciation Event)
My name’s Jamie Brindle, and I’m a man.
Now I’ve said it. I’m out.
Worse, I’m not even a gay man. I’m straight as nail, I’m in a long-term, committed relationship with a woman I love…and I’ve just written a story about lesbians. Well, sort of. Technically, one of them’s a dragon. But they’re both women, so I guess that counts.
I was very nervous when I was offered the chance to write a post on KT Grant’s blog. I really wanted to, but what if there had been some misunderstanding? I mean, “Jamie” can be a girl’s name, too, right? What if I wrote my post, it got published, and only after the fact was I found out to be a big, horrible, heterosexual, man? Terrifying thought. Luckily, I wrote to KT, and she was very kind and assured me that these facts didn’t matter in the least. So thank you. I can only blame my paranoid male tendencies.
So, what’s a heterosexual man doing writing a story about lesbians? About lesbian dragons, in fact? (Well, a female dragon who falls for a female human…actually, it would probably take me longer than this whole post to explain properly, so I’ll just leave it at that for now).
I suppose there are several answers to that question. The most simple is, I really wanted to write a story with dragons in. But I didn’t want the dragon to be the villain. In fact, wouldn’t it be much better, much more interesting, if the dragon was sort of the heroine? And wouldn’t it be better, if instead of going round despoiling and devouring, this dragon was, well, a bit of klutz? I mean, she tries, she really tries to fit in, to look how a real dragon looks, to go to the gym three times a week and only eat low-meat snacks…but she’s just a real dragon, after all, not some glossy magazine-ideal of how a dragon should be. Her name’s Tina, by the way. It felt like the sort of name a dragon absolutely should not have, so I decided that was her name.
Another answer to the question is: I’m in love, and I wanted to write a story about two people falling in love. As this was a relatively new experience for me, I felt like an outsider to the whole situation anyway. So the idea of love that was in some way deemed to be forbidden or at least frowned-upon appealed to me. And the way I felt – and feel – is that at the final analysis, love is about two people being drawn to one another for who they are inside, not for the color of their skin, or the shape of their genitals, or even – indeed – for the brightness of their scales (or lack thereof). It’s the people inside that count, not much else matters. (Of course, that doesn’t say much about sexual attraction, which is another issue…maybe I’ll write another story about that, and get nervous all over again. This one’s not so much about sex as about love).
A further answer might include that I wanted to touch on the idea of what it means to be a person. I mean, who decides? To most of the dragons in my story – which is called Modern Serpents Talk Things Through, by the way, and is out now from Less Than Three Press – to most of the dragons in this society, humans are not seen as much more than animals. Oh, they make simple shelters and rudimentary weapons, but what of it? Birds make nests, after all; and they’re not people, are they?
An answer I would not give is that I wrote the story to be deliberately provocative. I didn’t. Honestly, I rarely plan that far ahead with my writing. I tend to work – at least initially – on instinct. And my instinct with this story was that it should be about a dragon called Tina (who was slightly worried about her weight) falling in love with a human. It just felt right. It just felt interesting.
The golden rule I have with writing is: if I’m bored when I’m writing a passage, how can I expect anyone else to be interested when they read it? To this end, I tend to throw things away or chuck them in a different direction the moment I feel boredom come to the fore when writing. This has screwed up a number of perfectly nicely laid plans, but I’m glad it has, because those nice little plans were a bit…well…rubbish. Much better to surprise yourself with what comes out of your pen – or fingers, or mind, depending on how you look at it – and keep things a little off kilter, a little odd.
What about: how does it feel to be a man writing lesbian fiction? The simple answer is that I wasn’t sure it did matter, not to me at least. I was worried that it might matter to other people – and I’m genuinely sorry if it matters to you, dear reader – but I feel that at the centre of writing is empathy. If you can’t feel empathy with your characters, you’re lost. Without empathy, maybe a man could only write about men or a lobster could only write about lobsters. But if you can imagine yourself into the mind of a dragon…why not make it a gay dragon? Why not make it a gay dragon who’s worried about her weight and worried about what other dragons think of her? That’s the great thing about imagination: you can go pretty much anywhere with it.
Finally: why fantasy? Why not write a story about two lesbians living in New York who have to deal with not being accepted by their friends or families? The simple answer is, a) I’ve never been to New York, and b) I really like dragons.
Biography: Jamie Brindle has been writing stories since the age of eight. Sometimes, they are even published. He was raised in Bedfordshire, UK, by two ex-hippies who had a hedge maze in the garden and sold boomerangs for a living. He studied Biochemistry at the University of Sussex, before realizing upon graduation that this was deeply boring. He then worked in a school for deaf children (he went for two weeks work experience, and ended up staying for three and a half years), before studying Medicine at the University of Warwick. He is currently a doctor working in the East Midlands and training to be a GP. His first novel, The Fall of the Angel Nathalie, a dark fantasy/horror story about free will and the implications thereof, was published by Bedlam/Necro press in July 2013. Modern Serpents Talk Things Through is his second piece Less Than Three Press has been kind enough to publish, and is available now.
He lives with his girlfriend, Chloe, in Rugby and spends most of his time driving to and from various hospitals that are too far away. He writes speculative fiction largely as a way to ground himself after long shifts spent in the bizarre fantasy world of the NHS.
Modern Serpents at LTT.
The Fall of the Angel Nathalie at Bedlam Press.
The Big Deal, one of several short stories available free at East of the Web.