Friday, July 6, 2018

Literary Sewing Circle: Interview with Nalo Hopkinson

Today's post is a special one -- author Nalo Hopkinson is sharing some thoughts on her novel and her sewing & creating with us! I hope you enjoy, and please leave any questions or comments for her on this post.

David Findlay, copyright 2016

1.         Can you tell us a bit about how you came to write The New Moon’s Arms? What was the spark behind this story?

2.         Agway's storyline is so magical, and utterly convincing at the same time. Did Agway or Calamity come to you first when you were working on this book? Or can they be separated?

I'm going to combine questions 1 and 2, and answer them in reverse order. When it comes to whether I imagined Agway or Calamity first, I don't remember! That novel came out over eleven years ago, which means I probably started working on it a decade and a half ago. One forgets details. I may not even have started by envisioning characters. I started when three fascinating subjects began to flirt with each other in my mind: selkie stories, the 12th Century tale of the green children of Woolpit, and the “aquatic ape” theory of human evolution. My original title for the novel was “Mammalian Diving Reflex.” But I kept “The New Moon's Arms” in reserve in case my publisher balked at my original title, which they did. They much preferred the second one.

3. I loved the main character, a woman of a certain age who is very herself, and yet not completely self-aware. Her development was so appealing, but at first reading she can come across as the dreaded “unlikeable main character”. How do you balance the complexities of writing this kind of character?

Heh. You should have seen the first draft of that novel; she was worse! But then I realized I didn't even like her, and as a writer, you have to be a bit in love with your characters, even the hateful ones. So I rewrote her to be more that person you can find in many families; the uncompromising one, the one who says the most outrageous things, the one whose life is pretty much a reality tv show.  You want to make some popcorn and sit and watch what they get up to next. And perhaps you find yourself charmed by them almost against your own will. Perhaps you become friends.

4.   I found it fascinating that Calamity's menopause is so vital to the story. What made you connect this time of life with the quite literal resurgence of her past? 

I was thinking about Stephen King's Carrie, in which Carrie's telekinetic power appears with her first menstrual period. It's not unusual, this concept of magical powers clicking in once one moves from being a teenager to being an adult. And I thought, suppose menopause could also signal the arrival of the power to do magical things? We think of menopause as an ending, but by that age of their lives, women have accumulated a lot of wisdom and life experience. That's magic. For many women, menopause can bring a certain amount of freedom.  Maybe you're more willing to say what's on your mind, or your kids are now adult and not particularly dependent on you any more, so more of your time is your own. Maybe you stop caring what number is on the scale or tape measure and you start dressing to suit yourself. Maybe you finally start managing to do some kind of exercise regularly; I think of that as being in training for old age, which is surely one of the most demanding marathons our bodies go through. So I gave Calamity literal magic when she goes into perimenopause (I misnamed it in the novel; her periods haven't completely stopped, so she's in perimenopause, not full on menopause).

4. I know that you are also a crafter and maker with a wide range of interests. What are some of your favourite creations, and where can people find out more about your creative pursuits?

I hated dolls as a child. They just sat there, not doing anything very interesting. I was much more captivated by impossible stories in books. I wasn't an imaginative child, so it amuses me that I grew up to become a fantasy and science fiction author.

And it has surprised to realize that, in addition to all the other things I make, I've gotten into the habit of making art dolls. I use my sewing skills a lot for those. I sketch the body pieces onto fabric, sew them together, then stuff, sand and paint the bodies. You end up with a skin surface which looks like fine leather. I make a lot of plump, brown-skinned mermaids. (Go figure.) Doing this kind of thing helps satisfy my yearning to see more varied representation in the literature I like to read and the movies I like to watch. I don't adhere to specific crafts/arts/making techniques or materials. I'll take on anything that catches my fancy.

I've made everything from wooden shelving units to silver jewellery. I also like recombining interesting found junk into new pieces. Some of my work is on my website, here.  It's nice to have some forms of art-making which I'm not doing to schedule or for a contract. So now I mostly make things on a whim, as energy and fancy allows. When I have enough dolls, I might look into getting them into a show. Last year, I made a downloadable pattern for sewing a small felt mermaid doll. They're cute and quick, and can be done entirely by hand. I put it up on Etsy.  Then there's my Spoonflower online space, where people can have my designs printed on fabric, wallpaper, or giftwrap.

My favourite piece is usually the one I finished most recently. In this case, it's my serpent goddess cage doll.  Next up are a bunch of outfits I'm making to do some cosplay at the San Diego Comics Convention, where I'm a guest this year.

5.         There are so many great online sewing communities. Have you explored any of them yet? Or do you have "in real life" sewing friends? 

a) Sort of, and b) yes.  I tend to be a silent member of online crafts communities. I don't follow the discussions regularly; I search them when I need to troubleshoot a problem. And I love YouTube tutorials. It tickles me that so many people make them out of a simple, generous urge to share information. As to sewing friends, I have perhaps two.

6.      Finally, there are many threads woven in to this story for readers to explore. What do you hope readers will take away?

You know, I rarely think of it that way? I'm more curious to hear what people tell me they took away. Though I guess one of my main goals was to depict a mature woman being gloriously disgraceful, instead of trying to fade away into invisibility, which is what much of the world still seems to expect of older women.

Thank you Nalo for sharing with us today! We look forward to sharing the makes you've inspired us to create by the end of this Literary Sewing Circle round. 

And for an extra bit of interest, I asked Nalo what she is currently up to -- here is her reply:

 Looking forward to seeing what people make. As to new work to promote, I'm very excited to be writing one of the new serialized graphic novels in author Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" universe. The artist is the talented Domo Stanton. The book is called "House of Whispers." It will be published in twelve issues, released monthly, beginning in September 2018

So keep your eyes open for new work, and meanwhile, please do enjoy this book!


  1. This is very cool. I'm going to see what I can do with the "gloriously disgraceful" line in my project.

    1. Indeed! This was a fun interview, with lots of extra ideas sparked by these answers :)

  2. Thanks, Melanie and Nalo! So great to hear from the author. I love that Calamity isn't easily likeable...she grows on you.

    1. Yes, she definitely grew on me, especially the second time I read this novel.

  3. Thank You Melanie and Nalo! Fascinating! Nalo your creativity is so inspiring! God Bless

    1. Isn't she wonderful? So many creative projects!


Share your comments, ideas or suggestions here -- I am always interested in hearing from readers. It's nice to have a conversation!