Conversations Between Writers

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Keffy R. M. Kehrli

Keffy is one of my most favorite people in the world. He’s brilliant, kind, funny, and clones things in labs. He’s also a speculative fiction writer and is currently fundraising GlitterShip an LGBTQ SF&F fiction podcast. You can find out more about Keffy at http://www.keffy.com/ and follow him on Twitter. You can support GlitterShip at Kickstarter, check out the website, or follow them on Twitter.

Minerva Zimmerman: How are you doing? I missed you at Rainforest this year!

Keffy Kehrli: I’m doing ok. Things have been kind of up and down for the past few months, though.

MZ: It seems like you’ve got a bit of a bidding war going as far as grad school positions. You’ve been on the road more than home recently.

KK: Well, bidding war is kind of inaccurate, but I do have more than one acceptance, so I’m going to have to disappoint at least one school when I make my final decision. Everyone has an April 15 deadline for that, though, so I should know by some time next week where I’m headed in August.

MZ: That’s still pretty cool. Scary. Exciting. But different.

KK: Not *too* different. I’ve been working in a lab for the past five years, so I suspect that the PhD programs will be fairly similar to what I’ve been doing. Research most of the day with occasional classes.

MZ: I’m jealous though. I feel a bit like I missed out on grad school. I’d really like to do more research and analysis work, but it feels like I’m pretty settled at this point.

KK: If you could go, what degree would you go for?

MZ: Cultural Anthropology focusing on Religion in the United States, pretty much an extension of my BA focus.

KK: Cool!

MZ: Kind of a weird focus, but I find it interesting.

Lots of revival culture, conservative politics, superstitions, magic, you name it.

It’s pretty weird, because doing field research in the rural area where I live would be pretty much perfect… but there’s no way to do it and still live here afterward.

Even if I used pseudonyms for everyone I’d have to include enough personal information about them that anyone who actually lives here would be able to figure out identities.

KK: Eep

MZ: So, I content myself with working at the museum and writing fiction. It works out better. Less torches and pitchforks.

Can you tell me about any of the potential projects you’d be going into with grad school?

KK: I don’t really know exactly, yet. I want to focus on genomics, and I’m really interested in bioinformatics and/or non-coding DNA/RNA, but the exact projects will depend on which advisor I end up with. Luckily, most schools have “lab rotations” for PhD programs (at least in the biological sciences or genetics), so I should be able to try out working in a lab or three before I make my “final” decision. Then you’re pretty much set once you decide who you want to work with until the PhD is done.

MZ: yeah, personalities of the people you’ll be working with are important to feel out. I am pretty ignorant of a lot of the research in those fields. I’ve been interested in the nanobot cells that are delivering medicines and such. Also a little bit of some of the stem cell advancements, but other than that I know I’m terribly ignorant of some really amazing science. What’s caught your attention and perhaps your imagination as a writer?

KK: What’s funny for me is that my science work doesn’t really drive my science fiction much at all. I feel like the more I learn, the more I realize why most of my science fictional ideas are kind of ridiculous.

I’m interested in the “non-coding” DNA because most of the human genome doesn’t code for proteins at all – we have about the same number of protein genes as nematodes but are way more complex organisms. (Nematodes have about a thousand cells in their bodies, total)

So a lot of what makes us different has to do with when and where our genes turn on or off. Some of that is regulated by the “non-coding” parts of the DNA.

MZ: Oooo.

More the coding than the building blocks?

KK: Some of it is also regulated by “epigenetic markers” which are like little chemical chunks that attach to DNA or the proteins associated with DNA.

MZ: Which we might be able to trigger to treat certain conditions or symptoms?

KK: Maybe?

Shhh, don’t tell anyone but I’m more interested in how things work than curing diseases >_>

MZ: 😀

KK: I know I’m supposed to be all “YES I WILL CURE EVERY CANCER” but I’m more interested in “what does that button do?”

There is a ton of research devoted to the question you asked, though.

MZ: You need the curiosity to find anything out

KK: If you look up, like, “personal medicine” or “personal genomics” and stuff like that.

MZ: and it sure seems like the body has a whole heck of a lot of “panic buttons” that get pushed randomly like a toddler in a space capsule

KK: Living things are kind of weird

I mean, my BS degree was in physics. So I started off in science doing the whole, “Ok, assume that everything is a point in space, and now do some math.”

MZ: Remind me not to play you at pool for money.

KK: The more I learn about what happens in cells, even bacteria and archaea, the more I’m surprised anything is even alive.

I’m terrible at pool. But I confuse people by playing ambidextrously … uh…

oh! living things and panic buttons, yes.

So, part of the reason that living cells are so complicated is that things go wrong. I mean, constantly.

Or things just break down. Most proteins and cells & etc have some sort of “planned obsolescence.”

Plus, living things are always in flux from generation to generation — from mutations, gene shuffling, sexual reproduction, you name it.

MZ: Yeah that’s the “hey if we can turn this off, we can all not age” thing about cells.

KK: The problem with that is that’s basically how you get cancer.

MZ: Right. Or prions

KK: Prions creep me out. They’re basically just misfolded proteins, and then other proteins get misfolded the same way, and parts break off and “infect” the other proteins.

MZ: It’s like Ice-nine from Vonnegut

KK: I haven’t read that >_>

MZ: but inside everyone’s bodies

it’s a molecule that turns everything it touches into itself, basically ((EDITORIAL NOTE: I misremembered the exact use of ice-nine, it solidifies all water including inside living things, I still maintain it is prion-esque))

KK: Oh… well, this isn’t *quite* like that, because the amino acid sequence won’t change. But they kind of bend in the wrong way and get stuck. Protein folding is one of the interesting structural questions in biology. It’s extremely hard to predict how proteins will fold just based on their sequences.

But yeah. Things go wrong in living things, so there are tons of “back up plans”.

MZ: Aaron participates in FoldingAtHome which borrows computing power from idle computers to predict protein folding patterns

KK: Is that a game thing, or just a “we need computing power” thing?

MZ: like, uh what’s those guys looking for Alien Life

KK: SETI?

MZ: Yeah, it’s a program like that, you run on your computer when you’re not using it.

KK: Oh, that’s pretty cool.

MZ: and you get points for so many cycles or whatever to plump out your nerd cred

KK: There are actually a lot of “help science at home” things that I’ve been noticing.

Like, there’s Galaxy Zoo, where they train you to look at pictures of galaxies and then help classify them into types of galaxies.

http://www.galaxyzoo.org/#/classify

MZ: Ooo neat! Speaking of galaxies… we should probably talk about GlitterShip

So you’re Kickstarting a really awesome podcast. Can you talk a little about what it is and why you’re doing this? I know you’ve been talking about doing this for awhile so I’m excited about it.

KK: GlitterShip came out of my desire to make an ongoing LGBTQ-focused SF/F magazine. I had initially shelved these plans last year when Vitality (an LGBTQ zine) was initially running their own Kickstarter. I think they’re planning on being ongoing and are going to run another fundraiser for their second issue some time soon. I’ve also wanted to do a podcast for a while but could never think of a good topic. I figure that after watching the nonsense I tweet constantly, there’s unlikely to be anyone interested in listening to me ramble for an hour a week or month or whatever. But then I decided, hey, why not combine the two.

Although I think it will be great for people who write LGBTQ SF/F to have another place to send their reprints, I’m not really doing it for writers so much as I am for readers. Sometimes when I’m at conventions, I’ll have people ask me for recommendations of places to go for LGBTQ fiction, and I find that it’s hard to know where to point them.

I usually end up saying, “Well, look in the backlist at Clarkesworld or Lightspeed or Apex and you’ll find some.”

MZ: I just started looking into reprint markets myself, and there just aren’t as many as I thought there were.

KK: It depends on the story and what you’re looking for. But, yeah, reprints are usually a bonus, and a lot of them tend to be in one-off anthologies, which are only sometimes open for submissions.

MZ: I’m particularly excited when I find LGBTQ fantasy.

KK: But yeah, I mostly just wanted to make something where those readers could go and access great SF/F stories with queer content without having to scatter around chasing down disparate recommendations.

MZ: That not everything has to be the same old tropes and characters. That fantasy is a big and all-encompassing stage… Maybe that’s just me, but I mean fantasy has DRAGONS and it’s nice to see people realizing that it doesn’t have to just be about cis straight white people. *writes down idea for story about QUILTBAG dragons*

KK: Well, it’s still possible to use all of the old tropes and just genderflip a character or whatever, but yeah. Some stories have “incidental” diversity, some are entirely about the ways in which the characters are “other” and many are somewhere in between.

Both are fine by me. I get annoyed when I see people try to boil it down to “oh, the ways in which characters are ‘other’ should just be a non-issue constantly” or when they say “the story MUST always be ABOUT the marked state of the characters, because I think it’s better to have a mix. That’s one of the benefits of having an entire zine devoted to LGBTQ stories

I can have one where it’s just a fantasy story, but maybe the dude protagonist has a boyfriend or husband instead. And then another week, a story that’s essentially about what it’s like to be queer in the world of today (or the past, or maybe the future). None of the GlitterShip stories will ever have to stand alone as The gay story in the issue or The lesbian story in the issue.

MZ: 😀

KK: It’s getting to be less of an issue since as far as I know all of the major magazines in SF/F are open to and publish some LGBTQ fiction from time to time.

But I do think that stories can end up with the “token” problem just like characters can.

MZ: Still, there’s a lot of importance in going to somewhere you know is going to have it every time.

KK: Whenever a character is the only queer character or a story is one of a few queer stories, they end up having to shoulder more weight, so to speak. They become more of a stand-in for the whole group.

Yeah, I also think it will be nice for readers who are specifically looking for this stuff that they know they’ll get it from GlitterShip. Even if that’s just the few people who have asked me about it when I’m on panels at cons.

MZ: I know several years ago I came to the realization I most often wrote what I had read the most of, which was cis straight white male POV.

Which, is kind of super weird to realize since I am not that myself.

KK: That’s an issue for a lot of writers.

MZ: but it took a conscious effort for me to decide that my characters and my worlds needed to be AT LEAST as diverse as my own life and the people in it.

KK: I think it happens for the same reason that early fiction tends to lean fairly heavily on tropes.

When people are just working out how to write their own stories, they unconsciously pick one or two things that they’re going to focus on, and just take the rest for granted.

And unfortunately, due to the way that straight, white, cis male stories are the “default” a lot of writers will write about those characters without realizing that they’re doing that.

MZ: It’s part of the reason I decided to study Anthropology, I wanted to stop taking systems of culture for granted and pick apart a lot of my own assumptions about myself. I wanted to find out where all the buttons were 😀

Also, I used a lot of British spellings in my writing originally

KK: I used primarily British spellings when I was 16. One of my early pretentious things. So embarrassing.

MZ: at least I don’t randomly affect a British accent anymore…

gah, teenage years are so embarrassing, and not even for the normal reasons…

Ack we got off track again. Where can people submit stories and how can they support GlitterShip?

KK: People can submit stories to GlitterShip by sending them to the email address in our submission guidelines:http://www.glittership.com/submission-guidelines/

Right now, I’m only open to reprints between 100 and 6000 words long. By “reprint” I just mean that it’s been previously published … anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a “pro paying” market or anything.

To support GlitterShip, check out the Kickstarter campaign at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keffy/glittership-an-lgbtq-science-fiction-and-fantasy-p which will end sometime during the day on April 8th. The backer rewards include a collected ebook of all the stories that come out in the first year, and some of the higher tiers will involve me knitting scarves and such for people.

Right now we’re at about $3,300, which means that we’re beyond fully funded and are less than $300 from the next stretch goal, which is 4 episodes a month instead of 2.

If the Kickstarter manages to hit $6000 by the end of the campaign, GlitterShip will also open to original, unpublished fiction. 🙂

MZ: EXCITING!

I want you to make it, not just make it, but blast right on past that goal. I can’t wait to have you talking in my car to me as I drive to work.

KK: Thank you. 🙂

 

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