Not So Grim

11.18.2008

By Mike Berlin

You've written many plays and novels. But you're also a Lambda Award-winning science fiction author. What makes sci-fi so enticing?
What's irresistible about fantasy and science fiction is that they give you total control of the world. That's also what's irresistible about fiction in general -- you get to make the world up. So in science fiction, you get to make all of the world up. And in the novel that won the Lambda, [Kirith Kirin], I'm writing about a world in which there never has been inequality between women and men, in which gender relationships of any sort are healthy and where they encourage adults and teenagers to have relationships with one another. If you try to write that in a real world context, you're going to get all the moralists coming after you. But when I construct a morally driven science fiction world with those pretexts, it works.

How do you go about researching your writing?
Right now, I'm trying to figure out how to write a book about Facebook, so I'm delving into Facebook really deeply. I actually got addicted to Facebook and then started to think about the book. That's usually how research comes with me -- I'm in the middle of a new obsession and I realize what I'm really doing is trying to figure out how to write a story.

That's a loaded topic. What interests you about Facebook?
There's a layer of social interaction that it's building into itself. It's turning things into games that really ought to be played as games, like making certain aspects of having a crush or being jealous, for instance, really easy. It's also a metaphor -- the notion of owning people is so much like what you actually want to do with some people. There's also millions of ways that it makes it easier to stay in touch with people passively. I would never have thought this was good until I delved into it. Just by opening Facebook, I can find out how my Facebook friends are doing. In fact, I'm now at the point where I want more of my outer-world friends to be on Facebook so I can stay in touch with them that way. Because in some ways, I'm in better touch with my friends in Finland than I am with people who live down the street who are not on Facebook. And you can't explain that to them because my so-called 'real world' friends don't buy this. They don't think that there is anything real going on in Facebook.

Who are you reading right now?
My favorite younger, gay writer is Aaron Hamburger. I think he's been one of the freshest, extraordinary voices to come out in the last five years. I'm reading Scott Heim's new book, which I adore. That's probably who I would name at the moment. I'm hoping for a new book from Dorothy Allison. We've been friends since my first book came out.

I saw on your website that you're a fan of Top Chef. Are you excited for the new season?
My favorite thing to do is to wait until they run them all day, one at a time. If you catch the Bravo schedule sometime like four months from now, they'll run the whole series on one day and that's when I really try to catch it. I went to the beach last year and that's when I saw Top Chef for the first time. We also had Salman Rushdie at Emory around this time and, I didn't know it, but Padma was his wife.

Yeah! They got a divorced, though. I guess, after gaining Top Chef fame and fortune, she was ready to move on to bigger and better things.
Oh yeah.

Read the short story "The Virtual Maiden" from Grimsley's collection Jesus Is Sending This Message To You here.

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