Friday, 27 February 2015

Interview: Margaret McGaffey Fisk

Today I welcome fellow Fantasy and Romance author Margaret McGaffey Fisk to Romance Spinners. I've asked her some deep questions and she's come back with some thoughtful and rather interesting answers.
Margaret McGaffey Fisk living the wild life.

Her official bio says, 

Margaret McGaffey Fisk is a storyteller whose tales often cross genres and worlds to bring the events and characters to life. She currently writes romance, science fiction, and fantasy but will go wherever the story takes her.

A daughter of diplomats, her early years were filled with many cultures, both very much alive and long turned to dust, and people who both pondered the great thoughts and were grand pranksters. Whether from wild adventures into the desert to climb sand mountains, poking around little known archeological sites, or visiting bazaars and inner cities, she came out of that time with a love of culture and an all too sharp awareness of culture clash.

She currently lives in a Nevada desertscape with her husband, and a rotating collection of cats and sons. When not exercising her creative muscles, she has been known to tame the relatives of beasts in the wild–feral cats.

In a different time, you’d find her before a bonfire or with a mug of ale and a lute spinning tales for all who are in earshot. Now, though, you can read her explorations of loyalty, love, and cultural conflict wherever you might be.

Darn tooting she's got some stories to tell.

HWK: You and I share a love for Sweet Regency Romance. What do you love about this genre?

MMF: I was a bit of an Anglophile growing up, in part because I had many British teachers, but it's the contradiction of the Regency Era that draws me. On the one hand, you have strict, rigid rules of society and position (though not as strict as the Victorian Era), and you have a heavy drinker/partier as Regent, following on the heels of a king gone mad. The rules were broken left and right, but if you did it within the wink and nod, there were no consequences and even approval. Someone like Beau Brummel could rise from the rank and file to drive society, and could just as easily plummet back down. It's upheaval with a veneer of civility. Young women raised never to let a hint of scandal touch their names while lovers climb out of their mothers' windows in the night and their fathers are off watching lewd shows.

But that doesn't answer the sweet, and to be honest, I don't have a good answer for that beyond reading a ton of Georgette Heyer and having Pride and Prejudice as my one consistent reread. I enjoy visiting the period whether or not the novel is sweet or explicit in nature.

As to why I write it, the answer is a little different and yet much of the same. When I first started the Uncommon Lords and Ladies series, Beneath the Mask met the contemporary romance expectations, but there was so much to explore in their social situation that ultimately the sex brought nothing to the table. I cut the scene during edits and have never looked back.

HWK: In BENEATH THE MASK your heroine Lady Daphne chooses to pursue a career on the *gasp* stage! How terribly scandalous. Why did the theatre arts such as acting and dancing have such a bad reputation in Regency times? Today, they are considered rather respectable crafts. Why do you think this changed?

MMF: I believe the scandal had to do with performance and exposure, both physical as the costumes were often revealing (at least for the times) and social in putting yourself on display for any comer. The strictures on acting and dancing by the 19th century were most likely in part a reaction to earlier excesses, such as the queen performing partially nude in the 17th century, but could also be a simple consequence of the low salaries. Those who were attracted to the arts would come from the lower classes, and their best hope would be to find wealth and elevation by catching some nobleman's eye either to become an accessory or a lover. With randy noblemen on the hunt for light skirts, no father would consider it an appropriate occupation even for a spinster or widow, nor would a husband. Though wealthy widows might have had some aspects of freedom, the men controlled the women in most of English society.

The theatrical arts themselves, especially acting, were quite appreciated and often an anticipated part of a country visit. The guests would take parts and perform a play, but their audience would be the guests themselves and perhaps the household staff. Certainly no strangers would be invited off the street to observe.

A feminist (and well supported by the evidence of the times) view would say the wives and daughters of the wealthy were bargaining chips worth too much to expend on a stage open to the masses. A wife's reputation and contacts among the upper class and nobility could open doors, but even with mistresses from the lower classes accepted into some parts of society, a wealthy or noble woman could only reduce her reputation by associating with such outside of the constraints of society itself.

In terms of the modern impression of the arts, I'd have to say all the scorn of the 19th century is still alive and well for any who do not achieve the spotlight, as are more questionable venues for both dance and theater. Few children are encouraged to pursue a love of the theater or dance, and often pushed to see it as a hobby with a more stable career as the main even when they are. Unless gaining early fame and fortune, that is. At the same time, there is more opportunity in the arts, and more methods to find a viable audience now than there ever were. The main difference is that a man is not considered a wastrel and a woman of loose virtues now. Instead, the focus is on income.

HWK: In your Uncommon Lords & Ladies series, you feature heroes and heroines who balk social conventions. What is so appealing about this kind of rebellion?

MMF: Aren't we all rebels at heart whether or not we act on those desires? The status quo offers two approaches for interesting stories: someone outside who comes in or someone inside who moves out. That's a simplification, but it's what creates the larger than life drama that feeds both the romantic and adventurous hearts.

To be honest, though, I didn't set out to choose these characters. Daphne told me what she was up to and I was hooked. Rebellion opens the possibility of mystery, adventure, and the chance to let the characters stumble so they can learn more about themselves than a normal life offers. Sometimes, they're balking as much from the modern perception of the era than the actual, but it lets me talk about the conventions without conforming to them. Which is more interesting? Having Lady Scarborough tell Daphne dance is scandalous or having Daphne cross that social line to experience the trials and expectations faced by the dancers?

HWK: What modern societal convention do you think needs to be rebelled against?

MMF: There are half a dozen specific conventions I think have gone sideways, but the biggest weakness I see in modern society is the decline of personal responsibility. You might think that's not a convention per se, but it is something being supported by what society encourages and how it responds to those not taking responsibility.

It is, I believe, almost single-handedly responsible for the runaway nature of personal injury lawsuits that are crippling the United States and why medical malpractice insurance is so high doctors cannot afford their own practices. There is a place for both those legal actions, but when a person running down the sidewalk on an icy day can sue the shop owner for negligence over a patch of ice with no consideration to their deliberate failure to adopt a good speed (whether or not they win), everyone loses. It's the same on the medical side where doctors can be sued for less than optimum results in risky procedures instead of using the action to remove those who don't take the proper care. Then you have parents who are afraid to have their children's friends over because if they get hurt, as kids do, the other parents might sue.

If people would take responsibility for their own actions, then these legal remedies could be used to improve things rather than making everyone afraid of their shadow, while it becomes harder to separate action from consequence and therefore to cast blame where none belongs.

HWK: You're a hybrid author (published both traditional and indie). Why did you choose to go hybrid?

MMF: I have been making inroads on the traditional side in short form, and I appreciate every editor who gave my stories a chance. However, though I have had some encouraging responses, I never got past the barriers set up between readers and the stories they could enjoy with my long works. When the indie road opened, I ignored its call and continued submitting to the gatekeepers. I got frustrating responses about how even though the agents liked the book, they couldn't sell it among the "not for me" responses, but no one was willing to champion what I was sending out. Then one day I became fed up. I took a manuscript I had never sent out, but one which resonated with my creative spirit, put it through the wringer with edits and editors, and threw it out onto the court of public opinion.

Though none of my novels has broken out so far, as an indie, I can look to the long haul rather than those precious first three weeks. The response from readers has been good, so my stories clearly resonate. They just need time for the word to spread. That's something I would never have been given in traditional publishing because of how that model is set up, which is exactly why the agents passed on stories that resonated with them.

I'm not saying I would never consider a traditional contract should one be offered. What the indie path offers is what works for me at this point in my career and life. Should that change, or the right contract come along, I'd be happy to hybridize more than just my short fiction.

HWK: Eco-terrorists take over the government and pass a law banning all automobiles. What do you do next?

MMF: Cry? You have to understand, I am still driving my very first car some 25 years later. She's getting on in years (eligible for classic status here in Nevada), but she still gets better gas mileage than many new cars, is lovely to drive, and doesn't let me down.

Seriously, though, when I was in my late teens, I was working full time and didn't have a car. I went everywhere with bicycle, and mass transit when available, so I know it's possible in the right circumstances. Even eco-terrorists would quickly learn, however, banning automobiles without providing a viable alternative is unsupportable between the many rural areas without mass transit service and the trend, at least in the US, for suburban living. The economy would grind to a halt, resulting in people making worse decisions just to survive, so I don't think it would last all that long.

HWK: Preach it! If you could convince the world of ANYTHING, what would you want them to know?

Of all your questions, this is the easiest...and the most difficult at the same time. I would like to convince the world that negativity begets negativity. People wonder why everyone is getting more distrusting and isolated with each generation, but to me it's obvious. The media focuses on the negative while relegating the "feel good" stories to the inner pages if they warrant a mention at all. Do-gooders are scorned rather than held up for emulation while a slow news day searches out minor disasters in distant lands rather than looking at some of the good happening locally.

Know that old saying "you are what you eat?" Well, in my experience, it's the same with what you consume in other ways as well. Multiple studies have shown that even forced smiles produce the chemicals to improve your mood while I don't know anyone who can deny if you focus on the negative you start to see everything as negative. Why can't the same be true of positives?

I'm not saying everyone should go around rescuing people from burning buildings. I'm talking about the steps every single person can take on their own that don't require money or power. They require choice. Say hi to the commuter you pass on the street every morning or even just smile. If nothing else, their startled reaction will offer a chuckle to improve your mood.

I like the gratitude memes that have been going around. They encourage people to take stock of all the good that's in their lives no matter how dark might seem. Sometimes the good is a stray cat who lets you pet him or a sunshine day after three rainy ones (or vice versa). It does not take success, money, position, or any of those things people strive their whole lives for while trampling the flowers that would have offered joy for nothing. All happiness requires is you choose to see it in the little ways joy exists all around you.

You did say preach it, right?

HWK: Absolutely!

Margaret's second book in the Uncommon Lords and Ladies series is A COUNTRY MASQUERADE.

A Country Masquerade is the second in Uncommon Lords and Ladies, which began with Beneath the Mask.

Lady Barbara Whitfeld’s dreams are shattered when she overhears a harsh condemnation from the one lord she’s set her heart on. If he thinks her frivolous then she’ll show Lord Aubrey St. Vincent just how frivolous she can be. Despite popularity with the ton, and the gossip an absence will provoke, Lady Barbara is banished to her uncle’s farm in the hopes she’ll learn maturity.

Lord Aubrey believes in true love, but finds none among the season’s debutantes who provokes even the slightest interest. No one, that is, until Lady Barbara gives him a cut direct in Hyde Park. After fruitless searching, he learns she quit London before he could discover how he offended her. Lord Aubrey heads to the country to escape the season only to find himself drawn to a young farm girl, none other than Lady Barbara in country guise.

Can Aubrey overcome his qualms about her unsuitability before Barbara’s plans to teach him a lesson destroy any chance they might have?

Purchase links, because you really wanna buy her books:

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