An Interview with Sylvia Spruck Wrigley Stanley Lee
Stanley Lee: Why do you write?
Sylvia Spruck Wrigley: Well, I’ve always written since I was a child. I was always surrounded by books. I saw writing as important, something that one should do. And so I wrote. Diaries, essays that were twice as long as the next kid in class. I did journalism in college. But I convinced myself that I was a non-fiction sort of person.
SL: How did you come to that conclusion?
SSW: I’m not quite sure actually.
SL: How did the fiction start?
SSW: Well, for about the next ten years after college, I didn’t write any fiction at all. Until. Until, I met this guy, and I wanted to impress him, so I wrote him a short story.
SL: Tell me about that story.
SSW: Back then, at that time, I was a tour guide in Scotland, and I worked primarily taking German tourists around. At one point, in one of those tours, someone took me aside and said, “I need you to call this number.” It turns out that he was a German prisoner of war in World War II and back then, they didn’t keep them in camps because it was unlikely that they were going to swim their way back to Germany. Instead, they were put to work and on this farm that he worked, he fell in love with this farmer’s daughter. The war ended, he was sent back, and he loses all the information he has on her. Fast forward to the year 1992, our German hero is married, has his life, and he’s digging through these things, and he’s found an old photograph that has the house address in the background. So he writes a letter, hoping maybe it will still get to her. Turns out that the mother of the girl he fell in love with recently died and the family is in the middle of selling that house. She wrote back and told him her new address and number. So I phoned her to say that he was here and would she see him. I sat there and translated while the two of them got on like a house on fire while his wife just sat there and watched the whole time dourly. My story became less inventing something out of nothing but narrating this amazing sequence of events.
SL: And how did that turnout?
SSW: I was very, very nervous when I was sending it to him. I was thinking, “My God, I don’t have an ending to the story.” There was no real resolution. In the story, I ended up getting rid of the wife. But considering that the person I wrote it for is in the other room right now and we’ve been together for the past fifteen years, I’d say it went very well. He’s very supportive.
SL: And how did that progress into the career you have today?
SSW: I initially wrote super short flash fiction to post on a photography blog. It wasn’t a speculative blog, but all my stories were speculative. They had banshees in them. I knew about selling writing because I sold my non-fiction regularly. And eventually, the stories became longer and longer.
SL: Tell me more about your writing.
SSW: All my writing is fairly well grounded in the world of today. Frankly, I don’t believe my imagination is that good. I take real things and put this small twist on them. The power of a photograph. It’s the real world and a touch of speculative. A girl going through adolescence. But on a space colony.
SL: Menstruation. But IN SPACE!
SSW: Exactly. I think every woman is frightened of “What if I have nothing when it all goes wrong? What if I sit down on this white sofa and it all goes wrong?” I have this one friend who does not wear white for ten days out of the month. Whatever technique a woman uses, there is always a failure rate of 0%.
SL: Did you feel like there was a need for this story and stories like this?
SSW: I do try to write about grandmothers and mothers. I feel like all these coming-of-age stories are centered around these twenty-year-olds who are changing the world, but where are their parents? Where are they coming from? I always felt that it was important to write about women, older women, overweight women, women who were not represented in fiction or mainstream fiction. Look at all these women getting cooties over our really nice science fiction. So I sat and thought about what would most frighten a man who’s scared of women writing. It came to me: MENSTRUATION! I usually don’t start with a message, but in this case, I did. I began reading about menstruation in space. When Sally Ride went up for a week, one of the male engineers came and said, “We put one hundred tampons on board, is that enough?” This has been such a historical issue. The first Russian cosmonauts said that women shouldn’t go into space on their period because there’s no controlling that blood. So the women tested it. They agreed amongst each other to try and get up into space and support each other. They’d fight back together. And now here we are, all enlightened. That’s how I ended up with the idea. Space is at a premium in space. They’re not going to pack in one hundred tampons. It has to be a menstrual cup. So what would happen if you lost yours?
SL: Given the recent climate for writers of color and women writers in science fiction and fantasy lately, it’s very timely.
SSW: I had to do a lot of work to get through my own misogyny. As a child, I always hung out with the guys and was considered “one of the guys”, and for me, that was a point of pride. I didn’t realize that I felt that way because I internalized this belief that men were inherently superior to girls. But that belief would have never satisfied me.
SL: What has your experience in the industry been like?
SSW: I’ve been very lucky. It has never been awful. I’ve never been directly attacked. No one ever told me “You didn’t write this well because you are a woman.” But on the other hand, I have a novella coming out, and it’s about faeries, and men have come up to me and said, “You write these really nice Tinkerbell fairy stories. I like my faeries nasty.” But then I don’t write Tinkerbell stories. These faeries don’t care about us. They’re not wandering around trying to spring wishes upon us or throw their pixie dust around. They will snatch your child. People are obstacles for these creatures. The concept that men write the dark stories and women write these pretty pink princess stories came as a shock to me.
SL: Is that the case in sci-fi as well? We don’t have many pixie dust throwing princesses in sci-fi.
SSW: For sci-fi, it’s all tentacle erotica.
SSW: I actually did write one piece of erotica. I sent my mom a link to the anthology where my piece appeared. She said, “I knew immediately which one was yours. It was so tame.”
SL: Tell me about your day job.
SSW: I work for a multinational defense company, and my job is to write sci-fi about the technology they’re developing. A powerpoint would make the most exciting technology boring, so my job is to help these brilliant engineers dream and imagine. So I get to go to all these amazing sites and see all these amazing things that I can’t talk about.
SL: Final question. With Iggy Azalea’s departure from the rap scene and Nikki Minaj between albums, the rap throne is ripe for the taking. Is this your moment?
SSW: So, there is this rap song that came about after, quite possibly, too much drinking and irresponsibly browsing Fiverr. Someone was saying that they’d write a rap song about anything on the spot. So I showed him my moon cup story. He said he’d need a little more time. He came back to me in a few days with THIS.
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