Interview with Foxmonkey

This interview was conducted on January 9, 2000, by Foxmonkey, as part of a series interviewing the authors on the KSA mailing list.

Thamiris is one of the most prolific writers on the list. Her work is beautifully detailed and descriptive, weaving historical fact, classical mythology and series canon into stories that challenge and educate as well as entertain. She's strong, smart, and funny, qualities she shares with three of her frequent narrators - Ares, Caesar and Autolycus. She also shares a certain fragility with Iphicles, another of her favorite characters. This fragility and strength combine to create an author whose work can be as simply, sensitively wrought as Melt, or as layered and involved as Rules for the Tragic Poet. Her work can be found on KSA and Thamiris' Ares Slash.

Tell me about yourself.

I'm thirty-three, a lapsed vegetarian with no faith in anything but slash, medieval art, KSA, and a few friends, including my husband.

How'd you get your nick?

I picked it from a biography of warrior women. 'Thamiris' was a smart bitch who hacked off a king's head when he annoyed her. Although she might've simply been a misreading in a manuscript. I've also since discovered that there's a male version, a notorious lover of boys.

Thamyris, I think? I've seen that. I think his story is more fitting of yours. Actually, you're a blend of the two.

I think I'm a blending of all three: bitch, lover of men, and typo.

How'd you get into the show?

I was interested in the idea of a strong, physically-aggressive woman, and had taken a few peeks at XWP. Then I saw Calli, and that was the figure I identified with. (I know--what does that say about me?) So I started watching the show haphazardly, and then in November of '97, I turned on the tv and saw...HIM. The god. Sitting in his throne, so ripe and ready, so powerful and commanding...I'd never been in a fandom before. I didn't even know that fandom existed. But when I saw Kevin Smith in The Furies, something snapped, crackled and popped inside me, and I jumped online to do a search.

Had you started writing any fic at all at that point?

When I was young, about 13, I'd been writing what I now realize was fanfic. I had a crush on Paul McCartney and Marc Bolan of T-Rex, and I wrote a tag-team effort with a friend of mine (who liked Ringo Starr). We wrote hundreds of these little stories. My parents found them, actually, a few years later, and I was quite mortified, since they were vaguely erotic.

You wrote at 13, then lapsed?

I didn't really do much writing after that, other than some really puerile poetry. But of course I was reading a lot--I've got most of my PhD in medieval lit--and then I married a writer, so I'd decided just before I went berserk over KS, that I'd try to write a novel, a gothic romance set in rural Ontario, featuring the more lunatic members of my family. So getting into fandom was some kind of confluence of elements. And I'm lapsed at many things.

The stars aligned and Thamiris was born.

And the sea turned red with blood...

I was going more for the cherubim in the background version...

I know. But I'm not a cherubim sort of person. More screaming demons and hellfire.

What's happened to the novel?

It's on hold. Many things went on hold when I fell into fandom.

So Ares sparked your interest in writing again?

Not quite. I'd begun work on this gothic Canadian novel, but the writing of it was difficult, because I'd had no experience. But Ares helped spark my interest in writing. I began to read those Mary-Sues scattered on the net, and while I read some decent stories, I was looking for something a little more intense, and a lot more explicit. So I decided to try my hand at writing. What's funny is that in my first-ever fic, Ares was really marginal to the story, which featured an OFC and a sort-of OM one. The story is pretty atrocious, but I had a wonderful beta reader whom I'd met on an Ares list, and she taught me a thousand lessons on writing. Unfortunately, since there are millions, her advice, brilliant as it was, only went so far.

When did you discover slash?

I discovered slash when I followed a link in someone's sig, on this same Ares list. I had no idea about slash at the time, and all of a sudden, I'm reading Ares/Joxer. I find the pairing amusing and weird; Joxer's presence deeroticized the fic for me. But finding something that explicit was a profound thrill. So I began reading it very surreptitiously, feeling intensely guilty. It was the m/m aspect of it that concerned me. I've always had lots of gay male friends, and the surprise of finding what I considered homoerotica didn't faze me. It was the pornographic aspect that did. I considered myself very anti-porn before this--despite the fact that I was searching the net for dirty stories. I had these two impulses, and of course my preconceived notions about porn and its cultural and especially gender implications shattered. Because porn, to me, was about the oppression of women, and here was porn without women. So I embraced it rather enthusiastically.

Did you start watching gay vids around the same time?

No! Because I didn't think I'd want to see it. Remember, I didn't start writing slash immediately. I was reading it for awhile, then a friend recommended Hercfic to me, and I went there. At around the same time, I formed KSA, which was not a fic-list initially, but a discussion one. But rather quickly, thanks to Kelly, we saw more and more fic on it, a hybrid of het and slash. I wrote het initially, but found myself more and more attracted to slash. So, with Kelly's encouragement and help, I wrote my first slash fic. It was a comedy piece--I started off writing a lot of comedy. It was quite hysterical when Kelly beta'd for me. I was breaking some established slash rules, like using 'dick' instead of 'cock' on occasion.

Do you think writing humor helped you take those first slash baby steps? Made it easier, somehow?

Definitely! I think that by writing comedy, I was implicitly saying, 'Look--I'm not taking this seriously, so don't you take me seriously.' I was quite amused when Phone Sex--that first piece--went up on someone's rec page. That wasn't the only reason I wrote comedy, though (I can be quite the Fool in person) but it's part of it. It took the pressure off me. I was very intimidated by the wonderful writers I saw at the time. People like Rudy, who wrote the first Ares/Iphicles piece I ever saw.

Was that the first time you thought of them together?

Rudy's story rocked my world. You see, at the time, almost all of the slash was either Herc/Iolaus, or Ares/Joxer. The former didn't interest me at all, and I don't find Joxer particularly sexy or interesting as a character. So, to think about Iphicles and Ares together was a thrill. But it was really 'War Wounds' that turned me into an Iphy-slut. My first few slash pieces were A/J and A/H/Iolaus.

Yes! An Audience of One...Very unlike any other A/J I've read.

I wrote An Audience of One precisely because at that time, I was chomping at the slash bit. A/J tends toward schmoop, and, as I was discovering, I like the darker side of things. So what I tried to do with an AAOO was recreate Joxer. Externally, he was the same, but I upped his IQ by a few dozen points. Oh, and I turned him into a pervert. AAOO was about exploring boundaries for me as a writer. I wanted to explore the depths of my own depravity.

Are there depths you haven't reached yet?

I should clarify what I mean by depths. Because slash, for me, was about confronting my own preconceived notions about gender and desire, I wanted to see what other ideas I might hold that would break under scrutiny. Part of this exploration meant a study of my response to violence.

Which is why you're drawn to Caesar?

I'm drawn to Caesar for a variety of reasons. He's smart, and believably intellectual. He's a control-freak. He's dominant, aggressive, and he pisses people off. I identify with him.

So slash is a way to explore yourself?

Yes! That's it exactly. Slash, to me, is very much about self-confrontation, about exploration and revision. I reinvented myself through slash. It was like a really odd kind of Freudian analysis.

What attracts you specifically, to two (or more) men having sex?

What doesn't? But, to be honest, what attracts me most about two men is that there aren't any women. This changes the power dynamics, in my mind--the one thing about porn that had always kept me from it, despite aggressively-suppressed interest in it. Slash gave me the opportunity to enjoy erotica without the same level of guilt. I find that it's damned sexy for two men to admit attraction for each other, without thinking/worrying what others think. Ares wants Iph. He fucks him. And then there's the gorgeous flesh involved. When it's between two men, there's less baggage attached. When it's m/f, reality creeps in, worries about exploitation, pregnancy...Sex for women is just so damn complicated. I'm sure that it is for men, too, but as a woman, I know how much guilt and fear can go into it. M/m sex cuts through most of that, so I can just watch and enjoy. And I do enjoy it. I love seeing naked men.

I've heard a lot of people complain about the difficulties of writing sex at all Initially, when I began writing, I was horribly, horribly embarrassed. My first sex scene had me giggling and blushing like a Victorian virgin, even though it was pretty P-G. When I began to write m/f erotica, that embarrassment lingered for awhile, especially because I had to talk about female anatomy. It was easier to talk about cocks than cunts. But I wrote so much that eventually I could just sit back and get off on it. Unlike many others, I'm not bored writing sex, even now, even after writing a thousand sex scenes. Perhaps that's because I do it less. For better or for worse, I consider myself a writer now, and take more care with my fic, instead of cranking it out, as I used to, terribly worried that if I waited too long between stories, people would realize that I was a talentless hack. (Of course, they doubtless thought that, but were nice enough to encourage me, regardless).

What do you like best about writing sex?

I try to make it relevant to the plot, although I still worry about big chunks in my stories where there's no sex. "Will they still read it?" I become even more anxious about my abilities as a writer. But when I do write sex, it's pure pleasure. I get all warm and tingly still, even when I'm weighing penetration against emotion, orgasm against diction. There's no particular aspect I like best, I think. I do like writing blowjobs, but that's partly because there's an established vocabulary for that, as opposed to anal sex. I don't like overly anatomical descriptions, so anal sex can be a challenge, if I want to be explicit and not coy, but still sexy.

It surprises me that someone so obviously talented is anxious about her abilities. Do you think it's because you started writing a little later in life? Writing more seriously than in the past, I mean?

I'm anxious about my writing because I'm not that good, unfortunately. I want to be good. That's my goal. Someday, to be a good writer, and have people go, "Wow! She's brilliant!"

Which story of yours should be filmed by Renaissance?

Ummmm...I don't think Renaissance will be knocking on my door any time soon, unless they're doing something x-rated.

Let me turn this into a more believable question then (marginally). Let's say you've got the resources to turn one of your stories into a movie. Which one would you actually like to see made flesh?

My writing, too, is full of introspection, which doesn't translate well onto the small screen. Or the big one. I don't think I could stand seeing my work displayed like that. I much prefer to have it contained to a readerly medium. I'd be running out of the theater crying at my failings.

Which story are you proudest of?

I have a love/hate relationship with my fiction. The stories I like most tend to be the ones I'm currently writing, before I develop true objectivity and see all of their pimples. Not that I don't hack and hone and cut and snip and raze my fic while I'm writing it. I do. And I have beta's. But at this stage, it's still mine, and I can still believe it might be good. So, to answer your question, my favorite story is the one I'm writing now, which is Lawrence Hayes/Methos set in Jack the Ripper's London. It's 40 pages right now, and I'm nowhere near finished. I've done masses of research, and some very obsessive (that word again) writing. It's got plot, character, sex, description...At this moment, I quite like it. Sort of. It needs a lot of work, of course.

How do you come up with ideas? What inspires you?

That's one thing I don't have problems with. I have ideas for a million stories. It's like they're somehow hanging in the air, like stars, and I just reach out and grab one. That's just a cheesy way of saying that I have no idea at all. It's just like they're there, waiting for me. I don't have to do anything. I am attracted to ideas/characters/plots that are different. Except for Ares/Iphicles. But they were different, once... I like moving beyond what I see as convention. It doesn't necessarily work, but that's how I see my writing. I've realized that means going places where no one wants to be but me, but I'm finally getting comfortable with that. I mean, who's going to want to read a story with Lawrence Hayes and Methos in late 19th century London? Talk about an audience of one.

You think Ares/Iphicles' dance card is too crowded?

No! I love Ares/Iphicles, and there are some great writers out there who do them brilliantly.

Are you doing Hayes/Methos in one go, or will you serialize it?

I'm doing it in one go, although I might post it serially, since it's going to be very long. I used to write only serials, probably because I needed the feedback to keep going, for validation. Now I just figure, fuck it. I love writing; it's delicious and challenging and wonderful. Not that I still won't do serials. Sometimes it helps me get motivated.

Have you ever written a story that wouldn't bend to your will? Not something you've consciously changed, but the characters - or the story - just didn't want to go where you'd planned?

Lots of my stories are very disobedient. They usually lead me around by the nose.

Which character do you most enjoy writing?

Hard question. I write from the POV of a variety, although I keep coming back to Iphicles, Caesar, and Auto. Of course, now I'm doing Lawrence Hayes, and I adore him. But he fits in, because I'm very much a minor-character slash writer. I prefer writing when I'm not strangled by expectations and canon convention. I like Iphicles because he's twisted, emotionally-convoluted, and I can throw myself into his psyche and pick it apart. I like Caesar for the identification, but also because I like cracking him open, exposing the seething mass of insecurities and resentments and jealousies that lie beneath that contained exterior. I like Auto, even though he's more canon than the others, because he's funny, dammit, and I can't write doom and gloom, angst-ridden pain all the time.

So, though the seas boiled red with blood when Thamiris was born, she's a funny demon, damn it.

I like bleeding my characters, in the older sense of the world.

You identify most with Caesar?

I identify with them all. I just choose my fragments for that particular narrator, and go with it.

He's most like you, you think? A little different from the first question. Highly intelligent...

I'd like to think that I'm a hybrid of them all.

What's your position on feedback? Also, how do you feel about story critiques?

I love it, although, tragically, I also realize that 90% of the time, it's just my friends offering me support, so I shouldn't take it as gospel, and believe I'm the second literary coming.

What about critiques?

Unsolicited story critiques, in my experience, are too often rooted in personal opinion. Once my story's out there, I probably won't do any heavy revision to it. I'd rather move on. So that kind of criticism feels a little petty. Whatever my flaws, I'm not a newbie writer, and for me, those are the ones best served by some advice. I have beta readers to help me out. I talk about my fic when I'm writing it; I ask for opinions and help. Do I really care that someone feels that I've failed in some way? I have enough self-doubt without swallowing that, too.

What's the hardest part of writing for you?

I'm tempted to say 'none of it.' It's all hard and easy at the same time. I struggle over sentences; I like my writing to be concise, but evocative. And I really love the process, the battle with language. But maybe you're really asking about what I don't like in my own work. Or maybe that's how I can answer the question. My fic is cold, unemotionally-involving. Technically, it's good, well-crafted. But I can't break through that emotional barrier. It's too dry, too. Hard.

Setting my personal opinions aside, why do you find that barrier hard to breach?

Because, perversely, I don't want it to be too emotional. I'm not a romance writer, but I'm jealous of those who are.

Violence and anger are emotions, too, emotions that you write well. Do you think your violent fic is unemotionally-involving?

I write unpleasant characters. Not good guys or nice guys, for the most part. I like making them a little ugly. I'm not saying that I don't give my characters emotions. I do. My characters are often brimming with anger, hatred, jealousy, insecurity. But I think they come across as too much of any or all of those emotions to be engaging to a reader.

You don't want your fic to be too emotional, or you don't want to put too much of yourself into it? Don't want to get too close in case it's snubbed?

People don't cry at my fic. They don't get warm and fuzzy about it. They don't get angry. They just go, "Eeew. This guy's too -." But I can't stop. I like to rip out my characters' insides, and that usually means depicting them in ways that readers don't like. Of course there are great writers out there who rip out their characters' guts, and people respond very powerfully to it. I just don't do it in a way that works. But I refuse to give up!

When you say your fic is hard, do you mean difficult for the average reader to grasp?

No, I mean 'hard' as in it shuts readers out. Impenetrable.

Which of your stories has made the most emotional impact on your readers?

I have no idea.

Which story has been the most pleasurable for you to write? Is the research as much fun as the writing?

Writing is pure pleasure to me. And the further along I go as a writer, and the more I do it purely for me, without thinking about how people will respond for it, the happier I am. Paradoxical, because I want people to love my writing, too. As for research, yes, I'm an anal-academic type who finds research a bonus. It's one of the reasons I'm very attracted to 'historical' fandoms like this one.

Besides Hayes/Methos, what else are you working on?

I'm obsessed with those two, so I'll have to finish this off before I can return to the other stories I was working on, including Like a Virgin and House of Fame.

Do you have any literary influences?

Heaps. Scads. I'm a big fan of the gothic novel, in all its forms, and one of the most recent versions of that is Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, which is everything I like: history, murder, sex, perversity, psychology. Those five things summarize my interests as both a writer and a reader. It's why I love Jacobean dramatists, like John Webster, another writer who's been profoundly influential to me.

On the list, what do you enjoy reading?

Diplomatically, I'll say that when reading fanfic overall, I'm attracted to the writers who demonstrate both creativity and craft. I want to be challenged by the stories I read, although I do have a fondness for angsty romance. I love reading fic by a writer who has taken the time to recreate a world for me, to make it vivid and colorful and immediate. I hate reading crap that's been cranked out without any thought to the rudiments of writing, let alone clever narration or character development.

Has anyone in the fanfic world influenced you or your writing in any way? Other than betas?

I got into this branch of the fandom very early, as I said, and what was around then didn't interest me too much, because it didn't feature pairings that I really liked. Rudy's Victory Dance did.

What do you like about yourself as a writer?

I'm technically good. I put a lot of effort into that aspect of it: choosing words, honing my sentences, making it vivid. I think that I can write some decent description, although I know a lot of people don't like description in fic. There are some lines in fiction that I read while I'm editing and think, "Yes! That's it!"

Is there a story of yours that you've reread more than the others?

I rarely reread my fic after I put it out there. If I do, I see all of the flaws, and I have to do editing. Like I said, I prefer to move on. I've got loads of stories I haven't re-read; the only ones I have are usually short. It's dangerous territory for me. For instance, I have an Ares GOW/AresGOL/Iphicles fic called The Art of Love. Now, I thought that one was pretty sexy. And then I reread it, and it was like, "Oh god! This sucks!" So I try to avoid it.

If you had to recommend one story of yours, what would it be?

I like to think that I'm getting a little more honed as I go along, so I usually recommend the most recent ones, or the longest ones, like Triumvirate, Rules for the Tragic Poet, An Unkind Intention, Hell, and Cabbages and Kings.

What aspect of your fic do you want people to admire most?

All of it, babe. I don't mean that everyone has to like it. But I want a core group of people who think I'm great.

Why do you like writing from a male narrative perspective?

I don't actually find it all that different than writing from a female perspective. Granted, I do have a mental check-list of what's considered to be 'male behavior,' but then as a writer my female narrators haven't fit neatly into the niche of so-called female behavior. As a woman, I find that my own attitudes often fall into what's socially-constructed as masculine domain, so it's not that hard for me to be a man. Gender, for me, isn't that neatly-compartmentalized. So, while I try to avoid male narrators who behave like girls, I try to avoid female ones who do the same.And I know you want to know if I have penis-envy. I like being me, and being a woman's part of the package. But it would certainly be fun to slip into a man's body, if only because I'd really love to get a blow-job.

This is going to sound weird, but would you like to be an hermaphrodite?

In a certain sense, yes. I don't think I'd like to have both sets of genitals simultaneously, although I might reconsider that if it were possible to fuck myself. No, I'd like to be Tiresias, without the tragic part, and switch between the two. To me, that's what fanfic is, to a certain extent. Exploration and fantasy. And fucking yourself.

The End


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