The Aesthetic Impulse: Interview with Tyree Kimber (archive 2012)

I am starting a new interview series on aesthetics and ethics in literature and art. In conjunction with the Marginalia on Radical Thinking on philosophy, theory, and politics as well as Marginalia on Skeptical Thinking on philosophy and science, all of my interests are covered. It will be moving the Loyal Opposition away from it’s nearly completely politico-philosophical focus to something that more reflects my interests and background.

Tyree Kimber is the author of From the Bedside Diary of Brisins DeMar and Apocalypse Woman both released by Dark Roast Press His work could be described as low fantasy, with magic being accomplished through considerable effort and only at crucial times. The stories themselves are largely set in the realm of Malanas where everyday life is heavily bound up with the Church of the god Aratricon: a faith which is genuinely benevolent, yet capable of the dire protective measures that only the truly benevolent are. Tyree and I have been in dialogue for a decade now, and he is person who reminds me that genre fiction can have an artistic flourish and somewhat serious ethical concerns. We also argue about religion and politics a lot. In this interview we discuss the theology underlining his fictional church, the ethical considerations of erotica, and Milton.

Skepoet: What do you do think is the moral core of your fiction?

Tyree Kimber: Asking if Apocalypse Woman has a moral core might amuse some fans of the work. It is, after all, a story full of explicit and unapologetic sexuality. To that end, I can simply say I am a fiction writer who writes entertainment. But to leave it at that would be disingenuous because the hallmark of the series is women and men who forsake conventional morality to forge their own path. I think the moral core lies in that nebulous place where the spiritual and the carnal meet and co-exist without anger. I think the stories admit the possibility that there are pure and wholesome things to be found in the desires of our bodies, and likewise that there are primal, fecund things to be found even in the unbending structures of dogmatic faith.

S.: Is it important for it to have a moral core?

T.K.: Do I think it is important for my work to have a moral core? I think it is important for me as an author to allow for the possibility of it for the reader. I want to encourage readers to ask questions about the issues the story raises if they want to, but to also be able to enjoy it just as a fun, sexy thrill ride if that’s more where their tastes lie.

S.: Are any of the problems of your characters seeking out a new structure on their own rooted in any of your own moral or personal developments?

T.K.:  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with organized religion. I believe in the reality of what it says exists but nevertheless balk at many of its claims, particularly at how sex-negative it can be when I am by nature a very sex-positive person. Apocalypse Woman was a fun way to explore tropes in religion that have been personal stumbling blocks for me and imagine what their effects might be in a world where they are not just matters of faith, but can have real and immediate supernatural consequences.

S.:  What do you think is the root of organized religious sex-negativity?

T.K.: I think during the Axial Age – when much of the Bible was taking written form, Greek philosophy was on the rise, and Buddhism began to change the face of the East – people began asking necessary intellectual questions about religion. We are still asking these questions today. But it had the unintended side-effect of creating the impression that religion is more pure when it comes purely from the mind. We got into this mindset of mind = good, body = bad that has ebbed and flowed over the years and throughout various sects. It’s left us with a lingering abhorrence toward our own bodies and the things that are most natural to them.

I don’t hate the religions that have come down out of it by any means. I try to approach them with reverence and respect wherever it is due. But I’ve come to believe that their understanding of the truth isn’t as perfect as they claim. “God is too big for any one religion” may be a silly bumper sticker slogan, but I have come to believe that it is true.

S.: Why do you think that dualism has been maintained despite changing historical impetus because religions do shift, often quite dramatically, over time?  Both Buddhism and Christianity are quite different now, almost entirely different, than they were a 1000 years ago, and we have almost no legitimate knowledge on what they were 2000 years ago.

T.K.:   The cynical answer to why dualism is maintained and enforced would be because it empowers the authoritarian stance. “Do what I say or else end up like these guys who I don’t like.” While it has certainly been used for that, I don’t think it’s what lies at the core.

Historical impetus changes but humans have not changed much. We look to religion because we want something better. We recognize there are things in ourselves that can be quite terrible and it’s our natural inclination to personify. It’s hard to imagine a god that’s all-good. Even the most loving god gets accused of cruelty. But we can easily imagine gods and monsters that are all-bad. Our gods that oppose them often look more like us with all our flaws and vanity. But they oppose them in our name because someone has to, even if we don’t make sense of the job they do. How can they? It’s not like most of us can make sense of our own lives half the time.

Dualism is inevitable because we need to believe our choices matter, even if there are only two of them and one is obviously wrong. The Haborym, the fallen angels of the Apocalypse Woman world, rebelled because they were outraged at mortals being given free will. It suddenly made them stop trusting all the positive feelings they had toward their Creator because those feelings were not their own. They’ll tell you up front that their intentions toward the human race are not good but but they think they have honesty about it that Aratricon lacks and thus are the better guys. Abryax is the main Haborym we come to know through the storyline and he is very much a Miltonian satanic figure who would rather choose to reign in hell than be made to serve in heaven.

S.: How much Miltonic theology do you see as lingering in your work?

T.K.:   I think it speaks volumes to Milton’s skill as a fiction writer that he wrote a work of entertainment and people think it *is* theology. Milton’s work asks some great questions and really challenges the reader to step out of their spiritual comfort zone, but so do Anne Rice and Clive Barker and there’s just as much of their influence in my stories as well. Milton makes too great a starting point for a fallen angel’s potential mindset for me to not use it. But I tried to just use it as a starting point and not let it overshadow the work.

S.: What do you make of Milton’s attempt to undo the “infernalism” in his Paradise Lost in his later books?  It seems like Mitlon was out of his own spiritual confront zone.

T.K.:  He might well have been. It’s a common pitfall of artists, writers in particular, that you create something that’s a smash hit but isn’t representative of your usual work or gets you accused of advocating something personall that you don’t, and then you spend the rest of your artistic career trying to downplay it. Or he could genuinely have had second thoughts about it after the fact. Paradise Lost is a work that’s challenged a lot of people. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t challenge its creator as well.

S.:  Have you written something that hit you in your own moral or political gut?   By that, I mean, have you ever scared yourself?

T.K.:  Apocalypse Woman has brought me two types of scary moments, the ones that come during and after the fact. The after-the-fact ones are pretty wild. In communicating with readers I’ve been surprised to learn that frequently they wind up wanting Abryax to win. In my mind I thought I’d made it clear that he was the bad guy and not someone we should want to emulate but readers completely love everything about him. That leaves me to wonder if I failed completely as a writer or if I in fact succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.

The moments I genuinely scare myself during writing are fewer. They can be pretty harrowing because you’re having that scared reaction yet you don’t stop doing the thing that’s making you have it, i.e. writing. There’s One particular scene in the first novel where Abryax sets up the notion that God has tricked people into thinking that desire is like sharp rocks that you break yourself on, and later, how miracles are actually God panicking at doing something God himself didn’t expect. I had to stop for a moment while writing that scene. I was like “Whoah, this is some dark stuff. I didn’t know I felt that way!”

S.:  Has dealing with such theological issues let to any backlash?

T.K.:  Honestly I’m not big enough on anyone’s radar right now to have to deal with it. In the years since I began this story I’ve had a negative reaction from exactly one person. Keep in mind that the genre I’m classified under has already seen its share of sexy angels and demons alongside the sexy vampires and werewolves. Erotica is finally edging its way toward the mainstream but I think the general public still doesn’t really know what to do with us. So they just kind of shake their heads and go on. Right now I’m fortunate enough to be in a very selective niche and the people who are likely to take an interest in my work are the kind of people seeking the same experience in erotic writing that I was when I began my work. I’m okay with that. If someone wants to take me to task for writing about carnal lust in the setting of a fictional church I’ll meet them head on but it’s not what I got into this to do.

S.:  Do you think your work in erotica will have any affect on other creative output?

T.K.:  I don’t think it has any kind of effect on my creative output personally. I can switch gears pretty easily to topics that are nothing like erotica and that’s an ability I’m glad to have. Professionally I’m not too worried about stigma. Erotica is a long way from being “respectable” but I think genre authors have a lot of leeway with it. Then you have novels like those of George R.R. Martin or Richelle Mead with her Dark Swan novels where the sex scenes are frequent and graphic enough that it blurs into erotica territory without actually donning the name. What’s interesting for me is that now that I have the erotica outlet the love scenes in my other stories are less graphic.

S.:  What do you think are the moral considerations an erotica author must consider?

T.K.:   I could easily answer this with an accurate-despite-its-blandness statement like “just be true to yourself.” But when we have “Fifty Shades Of Grey” out there serving as erotica’s most successful push into the mainstream while simultaneously raising an outcry over inaccurate depictions of the BDSM subculture I think we could stand to evaluate our moral imperatives a bit closer.

A friend of mine once said she preferred erotica to porn on the basis that she likes naked people to be happy, not exploited. It was a statement that has stuck with me. The moral imperative that I follow in my erotica writing is that I want there to be joy and intimacy between people. Yeah, I write about some really dark things but at the heart of it all I want sex to be a thing of joy and wonder for the reader. I wouldn’t feel like I had behaved morally if I’d sent the message that it’s okay to go out and bone whomever you like and not care about them. But if I get lovers to engage each other and become more comfortable in their own skins, then I’ll feel like I have.

S.: Do you currently have a writing project?

T.K.:  I have been working on the Apocalypse Woman sequel forever now. I keep getting distracted by short stories I want to tell in that universe, and I may just wind up letting the continuation of the story gel in that format for a while. Either way, there will be new Apocalypse Woman material of some for before the end of this year. It will most likely be a short story or two.

I am also working on a mainstream science fiction project that deals with the resurgence of Nazi-ism in a post-apocalyptic setting. That’s been my baby for a while now. You might say I got sidetracked from it with erotica, but I do not regret the diversion at all.

S.:  Any thing you’d like to say in closing?

T.K.: Just that I think the erotica writing community is an interesting place to be right now and a fun one. It’s exciting to be involved in it during a time of such growth and opportunity. I don’t where it’s going to go next. I don’t even know where I’m going to go next within it but I’m really looking forward to finding out.

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