Bewildering Stories interviews
You’ve been a regular contributor to Bewildering Stories for two years now, since “Venus” appeared in issue 53. What do you like about BwS? Are there any particular improvements or changes you would like to see made to the website?
I like BwS’ versatility, the varied material that appears there — admittedly, not all to my taste but it’s a good thing many different people can express themselves on this site. I am not sure what improvements can be made, except that I don’t seem to be able to register for using the forums! I prefer using my own password and not BwS’, but even trying to do the latter I was not accepted for some reason.
Do you have any other favorite speculative fiction web sites or on-line resources you would like to mention to your fellow Bewildering Stories readers?
Most web sites (as well as printed magazines) use more conventional s.f. and fantasy rather than really speculative writing that no one has tried before. To tell the truth, I like those I have seen published by Scifantastic, Void-Gallery, Tale Spinners, Adventure Fiction. Although not easy to work with, Unlikely Stories used to be better than it is now. I have never used any resources on-line.
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You have many recurring motifs in your stories, among them: mythological references (e.g. “Minstrel”), Biblical sources (e.g. “Sybil”), and prehistoric or pre-Biblical anthropology (e.g. “Venus,” “Ya’el,” “Sacrifice”). In many ways, you seem to be working out a new mythos in a sort of loosely interconnected story cycle. Would you like to tell us what inspires these key themes and motifs in your stories and a bit about your underlying philosophy?
I grew up on fairy-tales, the Greek myths and Jewish legends (including a close study of the Old Testament) and have always liked the imaginary approach to stories. When living in England (between 1964 and 1976) I discovered both Robert Graves’ White Goddess (my Hebrew translation was published some years ago), and the mythologies of many peoples. These drew my attention to the subject, as well as the anthropological explanation of them, and I enlarged my initial interest in imaginary stories.
I also discovered the theory, expressed in Elain Morgan’s book Woman’s Descent, that during the time human beings were developing on the African savannah they spent some time in the environment of water, which affected human development to be what we are today. Hence my story “Venus.”
“Sacrifice,” on the other hand, is based on Neolithic prehistory, which was based around Jericho (= Moon Town), near the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, which are an integral part of Israel’s history and geography. For me, all these themes (human development, ancient mythology and life in Biblical times) work together, even if the stories seem to be based on different premises.
From the very beginning, sexuality also seems to be a recurring motif in many of your stories. Are we correct in understanding it as an affirmation of personal bonds (e.g. “Ya’el,” Gaia) as well as cultural and political status (e.g. “Venus,” “Sacrifice”)?
The basis of ancient mythology involves rites of fertility, which is, in a simple modern term, sex. In these rites, women took the initiative and the main role, as they revolved around the existence (that’s the working theory, at least) of a great Mother Goddess.
The sexual act served as a homeopathic charm for the enhancement of the fertility of humans, animals, plants, all belonging to Mother Earth, or Gaia. Without that fertility there was no life possible. In our modern, technological life, we don’t realize how it was in prehistorical times, without all the facilities existing today.
But we can’t help feeling there’s a lot more to the theme. Can you tell us how this theme fits into your philosophy, especially as it concerns the role of women in today’s world?
My philosophy — and I see myself ideologically as a pagan, minus the rituals — is twofold: to try to advance women’s position in the world as close as possible to their prehistorical (at least in theory) high position in society; and to work as much as I can toward the preservation of the Earth, for the future of all life on it, not only that of humans.
A kind of footnote to the previous questions: As you may know, violence is a commonplace theme in North America whereas sexuality is semi-taboo, and prudishness reflects deep-seated fears ingrained in the culture. Are your stories equally “strong medicine” in Israel? Or do you expect your stories will have a degree of “culture shock” anywhere they are read?
This is a very insightful question, and the answer is Yes. I am not much accepted by Israeli society in general, which is much bound by Judaism, or even by those completely irreligious, who break every command in the book. But Israeli women have a poor standing in society, and there hardly any regard for the environment except by a few nuts and the Ministry for the Environment, which has very little in the way of funds and power.
I have been lucky, however, to have found a small pagan society that has a great affinity for my ideas. My articles about mythology and literature are being published in Hebrew on a number of websites and are read and appreciated.
That said, I must add that sexuality is not the problem in Israeli culture that it may be elsewhere; our writers commonly use sex in their writings much more strongly than I do. The “shock value” — if one can call it that — of my writings comes from their pagan ideas, which are completely unacceptable to most Israelis and even to my own family, even though most of them are not at all religious and don’t even believe in the Jewish God.
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Tell us a bit about yourself: a slice of life chez Tala!
I was born in a kibbutz in the Biblical valley of Jezreel, and spent my youth climbing the hills around it, picking flowers and being subject to the breeze from the sea... I studied Indo-European linguistics at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I lived for five years, and Hebrew Language and Literature at London University.
My postgraduate work, for which I received an M.Phil. degree, was about the interpretations to the Nobel Laureate Hebrew writer S. Y. Agnon. He included many myths in his writings, and I wrote a book of my own interpretation that I find very difficult to get published.
The rest of my life I spent in teaching Hebrew and English (which I studied after finishing Hebrew), until I retired and could dedicate my life to writing and painting. I am married but have no children; but I have good relations with my husband’s children and grandchildren from a former marriage. For lack of more funds, we are living in a small town in the northern part of Israel, a lovely, countrified town, which I would find difficult to exchange for the big city!
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How do you find inspiration? Do you keep an idea notebook? Is there any part of writing you find especially enjoyable or difficult?
I don’t know how I find inspiration, it simply comes from everything around me: a book, a TV program, a trip, or anywhere possible. Sometimes just a word someone says. I sometimes put ideas down, knowing I have a poor memory. I like all kinds of writing, even those that are sometimes difficult.
It’s the stylizing that is difficult, and sometimes I have to stop and think about it. Also, sometimes I have to take a break in order to get the ideas right, if they are too nebulous to put on paper. But I enjoy it all — I am a sucker for difficulties — but avoid only what is basically contrary to my ideas.
Do you have any favorite authors, and what makes them your favorites?
I have many favorite authors, as I’ve been reading a great deal all my life (at the end of school, I tried to put down all the books I had read, but stopped counting when I reached one thousand...)
In s.f. I particularly like the four futuristic writers, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Anne McCaffrey, and — I forgot — Roger Zelazny. In school time I loved women writers like Pearl Buck and (an Austrian writer, I forgot her name...), but I also read a lot of adventure books like Jules Verne’s, H.G. Wells’, Kipling’s — the list is impossibly long, but you can see where it’s going: human interest, adventure, and imagination.
Do you have any favorites among the “new” generation of speculative fiction writers?
I’m afraid I don’t remember many names of today’s; I like the speculation but not the technology, and sometimes books about magic are far too technical to be of interest to me. Another thing I don’t like are the many wars these books are involved in: they sound too much like earthly wars, so I don’t see the point in it.
Do you have other reading interests (other genres, non-fiction, etc.?)
I read many non-fiction books, mainly about biology and human development as well as philosophy. In other literary genres I love detective stories. I once tried to write one but was told it was too obvious, so I left it, but I still read much of it all the time.
Where do you think the speculative fiction genre is headed? Do you think all the “great ideas” have already been done or is there still hope for new voices as inspirational and groundbreaking as the famous names of the past?
I could never answer questions about the future. I just have no idea. My own two futuristic novels express more my aspirations than a prophecy. In Hebrew we say (without trying to be rude), that since the last Biblical prophet, prophecy was given to simpletons, so there...
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What are your writing goals? Do you have anything you are especially proud of related to your writing?
I answer this question as I answer the question What is the goal of life? This one is, To live; and the other one is: To continue writing.
Now about anything special — this is what has been happening these days. Following my mythological articles in Hebrew, I received a call from the Israeli science TV channel, asking me about my ideas on the mythological background for the admiration of blond hair. My answer and subsequent meeting with one of the program’s women led to a television interview about the subject, due to appear in about six months. Nothing could make me more proud concerning my writings and my ideas — bearing in mind my own family shun them...
How are the plans for publishing your novel, Gaia coming along? Have you anything to share from your experience with others who might also try to sell their first novels?
I am still waiting for an answer about the novel Gaia, as well as about my two other novels, which I am trying to get published in English. I feel again they are not a conventional enough expression of the ideas I use, and most publishers today expect a best seller, no less.
Do you find writing a novel very different from and/or much more difficult than short stories? Do you write a detailed plot outline for your novel or does it organically grow as you get into it?
Of course, writing a novel is much more difficult than a short story, but some ideas can only be expressed in a longer format. I do make a plot outline, but not in details; I just write the headlines and let each one of them develop like a separate story, while the connections are made later on. I am not sure a novel can grow naturally into the outline you set for yourself without a critical guard: it can so easily grow wild off the initial mark. This can be good, sometimes, but it can also spell a disaster for the novel as a whole.
Do you make use of critique or writers’ groups? Do you think critique groups are useful to a new writer or not? Do you have any advice on exchanging critiques with others?
At the beginning, I joined a critique group of would-be and semi-professional writers. It worked for a while, until I found my own bearings and did not need them any more. You should learn to be your own critic: you know best what is better for your writing. I am all for independence in every way, and writing is one of them.
Norman A. Rubin’s “Hallelujah” reminded us somewhat of Gaia in the way its characters create a home and life for themselves in a new and desolate land. If we’re not being impertinent, do you and Norman read and critique each other’s stories?
I never thought of “Hallelujah” as similar to Gaia in any way, but there are some things in which Norman and I think alike. But he is mainly influenced by Westerns, being an American by origin who grew up there during the ’30s and has seen so many films on the subject.
We sometimes involve each other with our writing, but our styles are so different we simply can’t make it work well. I’ve just had a thought: it is possible that I’ve also been influenced by the same Western films as Norman has...
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You’ve mentioned that some of Don Webb’s interpretation of Gaia came as a revelation but that the approach was sympathetic. Well, the review article was intended to be both complimentary and radical. May we take it a little farther? Generally speaking, do you see yourself or your writing as favoring basic social, political or spiritual change? What world view would you like to see replace that of today’s world?
Definitely! I am basically a socialist, seeing people as essentially equal at least in the eyes of the law; the need to improve some peoples’ initial conditions in order to make competition more favorable for them is crucial.
I am absolutely against the idea of the commercial free market, as it gives advantage to only a few and goes against the many in many ways. As a matter of fact, I have written a utopian book as a sequel to Gaia, in which I express my ideas in a rather radical way; perhaps, with so many difficulties in getting it published in paper, I will send it to you in the end, to follow Gaia. It has, by the way, already been published on an Israel Online website and has received some interesting comments. It is going to be made into an e-book.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar and Bewildering Stories
Tala Bar discusses story and mythology in “The Minstrel in the Forest” in this issue’s Critic’s Corner.