An Interview With Setsu Uzme

cover of Happily Never AfterI’m so excited to have my evil twin Setsu Uzme as my guest today!  Setsu and I met briefly at Convolution 2013 and after about five minutes of conversation she had already become my little (but much taller, and in many ways more mature) sister.  A couple of conventions and lots of Facebook chats later, Setsu and I revel in being the odd couple in an on-going buddy movie featuring giant purple butterfly wings, glittery skulls, and lots and lots of weaponry.

Setsu agreed to be interviewed for Geek Girl in Love.  She talks about her current projects, how her martial arts practice influences her writing, and the problems with erasure of bisexuals in literature.

Congratulations on being published in Happily Never After!  What can you tell us about the anthology and about your story?

Thank you so much! These are odd, off-kilter, strange and spooky tales that riff on fairy story themes. My story, The Rumpled Man, takes place in a far-flung future where the last city rests under an electrified dome that keeps out everything from animals to contagions. When two street kids steal from a strange new vendor at the Armer’s Market, their friends start disappearing. It riffs very loosely on Rumpelstiltskin, and I wondered what fairies and goblins would get up to once humanity had destroyed the natural world. I also loved Christina Elaine Collins’ story “The Law of Mirrors.” It’s a really great collection.

Tell us a little bit about your background in martial arts.  How does that background affect your writing?

I’ve been in and out of dojos since I was itty-bitty, and spent some time studying at a Daoist monastery in central China. I have a lot of fun writing fights from formal encounters to down-and-dirty brawls. Training has affected my writing because I have to read body language all the time. I can tell when two combatants are dancing, and when they’re trying to kill each other. Both are valid scenes as long as they’re entertaining and move the story along; but they’re only a small portion of the toolbox. The realism of a fight doesn’t draw most people in. What does is the meaning behind the fight, its causes and results.

Those causes and results are tied to suffering. Martial arts is much more about how to cope with suffering than how to inflict it on others. All of the push-ups and injuries in the world mean nothing unless you understand what it means to hurt. Those responses, conscious or otherwise, dictate how we’ll behave when our bodies are pushed past their limit, or when we’ve exhausted our options and hit a wall, or what happens when you reject your orders. What bolsters one student might destroy another, and any teacher worth their salt knows this.

Self-development, the hero’s journey, story arcs — they all follow the same idea: suffering brings change. In some cases it’s beneficial, and the person becomes more confident and compassionate. In some cases it’s too much, and they either internalize and inflict, or shut down completely. Those tells are all over a person, from how they move to their sense of humor.

As a bisexual woman, are there any representations of bisexual people in literature or other media that you find exceptionally praiseworthy or objectionable?  Why?  What are the common misconceptions about bisexuality and what, if any, stories avoid those misconceptions?

I can’t point to any characters that self-identify as bisexual. Jack Harkness from the Doctor Who franchise might be an example, but I don’t think his bisexuality defines him so much as his easygoing and flirtatious nature, which isn’t something you can expect of all bisexuals.

Erasure is still a pretty big problem. Many characters who exhibit bisexual behavior are quick to be labeled as straight or gay… as though it’s important to assign them to a ‘team.’ We’re often fetishized by heterosexuals, and mistrusted by homosexuals because of the misconception that we’re non-monogamous, or worse, going through a phase. I’ve been more welcome in lesbian spaces if I identify as ‘queer’ rather than ‘bi,’ which says a lot about that perception. Everyone’s still finding their feet, and it’s an especially loaded topic when civil-rights legislation is still up for grabs because of rampant ignorance and hatred.

As a personal preference, and I want to be clear that I’m not representing anyone else’s experience but my own — I think sexuality is a facet of someone’s personality rather than a defining characteristic, and I’ll extend that to men and women of trans experience. I feel relieved when I meet others who may have shared my challenges, but ultimately what makes a person interesting and engaging is who they are. That goes both for fiction and real life.

What projects are you working on now?  I have inside intel (from you) that you are working on a novel.  SPILL EVERYTHING.

I have two novels in the works. The first is a fantasy series about a woman raised by humans, who must choose between the humans she loves and the feral race that abandoned her. It’s a lot like “Frozen” for adults. The first two books are done and I’m working on the third.

Since those books aren’t yet available, let me direct you to some pieces available in audio!

Sherri’s Playhouse is putting on a production of my play about an accountant with a demon in her head, who must choose between normalcy and taking on a quest to understand exactly what that demon is.

I’m almost done with my first airship novel, and my story, “Burying the Coin” is a prequel to that. I wanted to write a swashbuckling, womanizing captain who is also a woman — and Karelia popped into my head. I asked her why she’s so carefree, and she told me it’s because she never wants to feel too deeply again. You can find out what she means by that on Podcastle.


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