Meet Jes Battis, author of the urban fantasy Night Child (Penguin: 27th May 2008). Let’s learn…
Tess Corday, Occult Special Investigator for Vancouver’s Mystical Crime Lab, is used to seeing dead vampires. But there’s nothing ordinary about this case. Not the lab results on the cause of death. Not the teenage girl living at the address found in the vamp’s pocket, who may well be in thrall to a demon. And certainly not Lucian Agrado, the necromancer who is liaison to the vampire community. Agrado is supposed to be part of the solution, but Tess suspects he might be part of the problem.
Soon she finds herself in the middle of a paranormal conspiracy that will change her life forever – and possibly end it.
Tez Miller: You look a bit like Tory Belleci from Mythbusters…or am I incorrect in this respect?
Jes Battis: Well, that’s an awesome compliment, since I’ve always been secretly in love with Tory. I love whenever they cover him in ballistics gel and other goop.
I’d never heard the name Jes before you. How did it come about? Is it pronounced “Jez”, or differently?
It’s short for Jesse. I’m not sure when I started going by Jes – probably in middle school because it seemed cooler. Usually, people think my name is Jessica. Sometimes when I’ve given my name at Starbucks, the barista will call out “Jessica?” and I’ll have to grab my coffee with a smile. Friends from New Zealand tend to call me “Jiss”, or that’s how it sounds, which is actually a lot cooler.
Jessica? But you’re a man, baby! (Just as long as the Kiwis don’t decide to rename you “Jism”.) But you’re not just Jes – you’re Dr Jes! Tell us about your journey to doctorhood.
That’s a long and boring story, but I’ll give you the highlights. I didn’t actually plan on going to college – wanted to write full-time after high school and just pick up a few courses. But I fell asleep, woke up, and suddenly had a PhD. I started out loving medieval literature for its ties to modern fantasy, but wrote my M.A. thesis on a First Nations author (Eden Robinson), and wrote my doctoral thesis on LGBT fantasy writing. So maybe I just can’t make up my mind. I moved to New York last August for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was meeting great new people, working with a few of my academic idols, and finally finding good pizza.
Who cares about pizza? You have Tim Horton’s in Canada, which still hasn’t come to Australia, damn it! (Sorry, got a little angry there.)
Your postdoctoral research involves gay and lesbian teen literature. One of my favourite authors is Alex Sanchez. What other authors do you recommend?
Alex is great. I was going to have him come down for a YA reading series at the Harvey Milk School here in New York, which is a small school for at-risk LGBT youth that was created after the murder of Harvey Milk in San Francisco in 1978. But it didn’t end up happening. I can also recommend the work of David Levithan, Brent Hartinger, Julie Ann Peters, Zoe Trope, Scott Heim, and Mercedes Lackey. Right now I’m reading One For Sorrow by Christopher Barzak. Very little academic work has been done on LGBT teen literature. My project compares the type of novels listed above – mostly by gay adults – with work actually produced by teens themselves, including zines, blogs, online forums, and amateur writing. I discuss work from a variety of archives, including the New York Gay and Lesbian Historical Collection, the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Historical Society, the Gay and Lesbian Center in Toronto, and the Matthew Shepard Collection at the American Heritage Center in Wyoming.
You’re from a place named Chilliwack. Is it as spicy as it sounds? 😉
It is not. But we did used to have our own song in high school, called “We Are the Mighty Corn Village”. Chilliwack is about two hours east of Vancouver, and my parents still live there.
Corn Village? Are tortillas made out of cornflour? We can pretend the town’s spicy if we try…
Let’s talk Vancouver. Word in Australia is that it’s a lot like Melbourne (where I live). Is this an urban myth, or have you experienced both cities and can confirm? (For the uninitiated, Melbourne is famous for music, sport, comedy, coffee and legalised brothels.)
Vancouver is a study in contradictions. From what my Australian friends tell me, it is in fact a lot like Melbourne. Very mellow, full of artists and writers and hipster kids; but Vancouver has some amazing history. It has a significant Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and South Asian populations, as well as a number of intersecting First Nations communities. Sex-work is technically legal in Vancouver, although the Communicating Law makes it possible to arrest sex-workers who ‘solicit’ work (i.e. survival-sex workers who work at street-level). Escort workers are at risk. I talk about this situation (to the best of my ability, as someone who isn’t a sex-work activist but who’s done a lot of reading and had a lot of conversations with much smarter people) in the current book that I’m working on, Hextacy, which is the sequel to Night Child.
Speaking of Melbourne, my fellow Melburnian Keri Arthur blurbed your novel. Word is our nationalities share the same sense of humour. Do Canadians tend to get along better with Australians than Americans?
Yes. As I’m writing this in an America pub in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I fear for my safety. But yes. We do.
I don’t know the proper term, so I call people from Vancouver “Vancouverines”. Would the locals be cool with that, or have I unintentionally offended someone?
Vancouverites. Or ‘fucking hippies’. I get called that a lot.
Bugger that; “Vancouverines” sounds better.
Okay, so what’s Canadian you doing living in the USA? Is this a long-term thing, or will you return to the True North?
My dad is American, so I have dual citizenship (although I didn’t when I first moved here, which is a long, fraught story involving the DHS). I moved here because I wanted to be somewhere different, and because a lot of the academics I wanted to work with were living in New York. I taught in the Film and Media department at Hunter College last year, and am affiliated (not sure what that means) with the CUNY Graduate Center. I don’t know where I’ll end up, to tell you the truth, but I think about it a lot. Vancouver is a pretty big part of my identity.
What are the pros and cons of living and not living in Canada/US?
I have no health-care, and my oldest friends and family still live in Canada. So those are the cons. Also, race relations here operate very differently than they do in Canada. Canada is much more subtly and perniciously racist. In New York, you get to see race and class conflicts every day on the subway. In Vancouver, you might not notice unless you were living in the Downtown Eastside. Pros? Well, New York isn’t the United States, per se. It’s a microcosm. In some ways it’s both a fantasy and a parody of itself. One big pro is that they make much better bagels. And Manhattan really does have the greatest transit system, even if it is constantly under construction.
I so want to work “microcosm” into my everyday speech – thank you for the word, Wise One!
So you like Summer Heights High. (And who freaking wouldn’t? If it’s good enough for Perez Hilton, it’s good enough for you.) Who’s your favourite – Jonah, Ja’mie or Mr G, and why?
I love Jonah Takalua. The scene where he gets kicked out of school is so real and heartbreaking. That’s why I love the show. It can be just so unexpectedly good in those small, real moments. But of course I adore Ja’mie. Her justification for why there should be a Year 11 formal is amazing rhetoric. And the musical finale in the end? Come on. “She’s a party girl, with a…bad habit…a bad habit for drugs!”
It was kind of sad when Ja’mie’s boyfriend made her feel “less hot”. I do like what Mr G had to say about Annabel/Jessica: “She’s what the kids would call a slut. Which is a terrible thing to say about someone who’s just died. But apparently there’s no denying she was one.”
Okay, shameless pimping/whoring time: writing Night Child involved researching forensic techniques. Tedious study, or a craic? Do you think the creators of CSI should take a hike, or do you approve of their programmes?
I love forensics, so the research was actually exciting for me. I was always a big fan of Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter and Mo Hayder, but I wanted to see a crossover with fantasy. Lots of UF books feature great, noir-style crime-fighting, and I kept thinking: what if they had to do an autopsy? What would that look like? I wanted a cross between Blade II, Buffy, and CSI. And speaking of CSI…it’s a tough question, since I’m a big GSR fan (and Nick/Greg, of course). I think the first three seasons had great science, even if the time-factor was exaggerated (you have to imagine that their crime lab has an infinite budget, and very complicated DNA testing can be done within minutes and printed out as an easy-to-read Excel document). They’ve slipped recently, but I still watch for the character drama. Want to know how to write a painful but gorgeously complicated, adult relationship? Watch Gil and Sara on CSI. The Miami and New York spin-offs are fun, but the science takes a back seat to the pretty visuals (and outfits – why are they wearing Armani to a blood-soaked crime scene?) Bones is supervised by Reichs, who actually has a PhD in Forensic Anthropology. But the show can be boring at times. Maybe I just can’t see David Boreanaz in any other role but Angel?
The problem I have with Bones is that it’s too different from the books. Where’s Canada? Where’re the Canadians? Where’s Charlotte? And why did they have to make up the Jeffersonian and Booth, anyway?
You’ve written academia exploring Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape. What’s your next academic project? (If you’re doing sci-fi/fantasy, how about Red Dwarf?)
My next book will come out of the work I’m doing on LGBT youth, and it’s tentatively called Queer Future: The Writing Lives of Gay and Lesbian Teens. I have a volume of essays forthcoming from Lexington in 2009 called A Dragon Wrecked My Prom: Teen Wizards, Mutants, and Heroes. Just signed the contract for that one, and it will include scholarly essays on teen wizards and superheroes. Then there’s an as-yet-unattached project on gay and lesbian graduate students, called Trans/Scripts. I’m busy.
Am so I glad I live in a country where proms don’t exist…
Tanya Huff, Kelley Armstrong, Michelle Rowen/Maddox, Jes Battis…Canadian authors of urban fantasy are becoming more popular (and deservingly). Any plans to take over the world (or maybe just America)? 😉
Tanya Huff and Mercedes Lackey really defined the genre in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Lackey’s Tregarde mysteries are critically underrated, and Huff’s vampire series just keeps getting reissued, so people still love it. I love Armstrong’s Dime Store Magic. She writes amazingly hot sex scenes. And her emphasis on relationships and family has definitely been an influence on my own writing. I think Canadians like fantasy because they feel like the Canada/America border is a kind of portal to Narnia. We have an inside/outsider perspective.
Which reminds me, I still need to get my filthy mitts on Personal Demon…
Do you write in silence, or do you need some kind of sound, whether it’s music, TV or otherwise?
Oh, I’m very easily distracted. Right now, I’m listening to Wintersleep, Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Goldfrapp, the Rocky Horror Soundtrack, Greg MacPherson, Aesop Rock, Sage Francis, DAM, MC Solaar, Ani diFranco, the Cinematic Orchestra, M. Ward, Iron and Wine, etc. For TV, I love The Wire, Tell Me You Love Me, Lost, Supernatural (though I’ve lapsed a bit in watching), Rome, Carnivale, Six Feet Under, and Summer Heights High, of course.
Goldfrapp’s one of my absolute favourites! And I’m I’m looking forward to Madonna’s Hard Candy…
What published works of yours can we look forward to in the future (near and/or far)?
Well, there’re the ones I listed earlier. I have plans for a few YA books, as well as some more traditional heroic fantasy with a twist. I’d eventually like to write an academic book on forensics in literature, but that’s a long way off. And I have some ideas for screenplays.
Are you an outliner or seat-of-the-pants writer?
Both. I wrote my last outline on a ten-hour bus trip from Toronto to New York.
In which foreign countries/languages would you most like to be published?
Arabic. Spanish. German (they have the best covers).
And fantasy’s selling really well in Germany, I hear, which is even more good news.
Thanks for dropping by, and have a lovely day! 🙂
Thanks for the interview!
You can purchase Night Child online from: Amazon, Amazon CA & Amazon UK.