Edition 8: Interview with Tonia Brown
Interview by Sophie Yorkston
Who were your greatest female role models?
My mom was a military wife, bore four daughters, raised them in a military environment with a husband that wasn’t always around (because of work) and constantly on the move. Once we all grew up, she followed her own dreams, returning to nursing school and eventually becoming an RN. I’ m proud/envious of her. I only hope to achieve half of what she has managed in her life.
What do you feel is your greatest achievement as a writer to date?
When someone tells me a story made them laugh or cry or sacred them enough to actually put it down for a bit. Forcing reactions in folks. Making them care about fictional characters to the point of tears. That is gold to me.
What are the challenges female speculative fiction writers face in today’s publishing environment?
Folks like to say they don’t measure a writer’s worth based on their sex, but I have been told more than a few times that someone was “surprised a woman was able to write such gore and violence.” I think readers subconsciously expect a women’s work to be gentler. But in reality, women have just as twisted imaginations as men.
I also get a lot of mixed reactions for writing from mostly a male point of view. Men often tell me how impressed they are that I nailed the inner narrative of a man, while women ask why I don’t write more female leads considering I am a woman. As if owning lady parts obligates me to write from the perspective of a female. I write from a male point of view because I consider it a challenge.
What do you think sets women writers apart?
Truthfully, I don’t think anything sets us apart. To me a writer is a writer. If you choose to write stuff particular to your sex, then good for you. It’s no different to me than other genre specific writers. There are folks who only write erotica, or only write fantasy, or only write comedy. If a woman only writes stuff about women, for women, from a woman’s point of view, then I am all for it. It’s not my bag, but I totally support you.
Many of your works have a strong historical element. How long have you had a love of history? Do you research time periods you are writing in?
Funny enough, I do not consider myself much of a history buff. I just like western movies. True story! That’s how I got started doing historical stuff because I like the Victorian time period, but specifically the old west. When I developed an interest in steampunk and began writing it, I chose to set most of my stuff in the American West because there was so little steampunk set in America—and again I was mildly familiar with some history through film exposure, as well as plenty of troupes. Later I wanted to run a web serial, so I set it in the old west because I always thought of it as a time of adventure and action, which was the basis for Railroad! in the first place. Other stories followed suit mostly because I had already done the research for the time and place. So in short, I write historical stuff mostly set in the old west because I am lazy.
You interview other writers and artists. Why did you start this process and what does it mean to you?
Years ago I was sort of roped into doing an online radio interview thing by a now defunct publisher. I think she chose me because I’ve got such a big mouth. After that one fizzled out, I worked with Lori Titus on Flashes in the Dark radio for a number of years. We still do that one from time to time. A few months back I was asked to host my own show, Tonia Time, which airs on www.tmvcafe.com Saturdays at 9pm EST. I also interview folks occasionally on my blog.
I suppose I do this because I like talking to other writers in general, just to share burdens and ideas and stuff. But I also like how the radio shows and blog interviews allow me to promote other folks. Giving others a platform to promote from gives me a sense of satisfaction. I am only happy to help. And, not to mention, I get to talk to some really awesome folks!
What do you enjoy about steampunk as a genre? I notice many of your stories are based in steampunk worlds and that in some of your profile pictures you have dressed in that style.
I’ve been fascinated with steampunk from the moment I learned of it. I love to write in the genre because it allows me to create an alternate history side by side with factual history. Steampunk history is such a malleable thing—you can have airships in 1868 while you’re still building the transcontinental railroad. And then gadgets! Oh goodness, I do love to make up mechanical nonsense and trying to make it sound as plausible as possible. I also love blending factual folks with fictional characters. Railroad! Volume Eight: Buffalo Gals includes a lesser known historical figure, John J. Critchlow, and his work with the Uintah Ute Reservation. As far as dressing the part, I just like wearing a corset. I’ve got the rack for it, so I figure why not play up my assets.