I’ve read a lot of TG fiction. A lot. I started reading TG fiction before the Internet, scouring used bookstores for out of print books like Thorne Smith’s Turnabout, or eagerly devouring the occasional TG book that came along in the Science Fiction book club, like Beyond Rejection. Now, I am always on the lookout for new writers who have something fresh to say, or a new way to say something timeless.
In this episode of genderfluidnews, I would like to introduce just such an author, Alice Duffield. Alice posted a notice on the TG Comics discussion board inviting people to take a look at her latest works, and I did. I saw right away a writerly quality to the work, and a fresh voice. Here is my interview with Alice. Enjoy, and please take a minute to check out her writings. Links at the bottom.
1. How did you become interested in TG stories?
It’s a good question. Transgender issues have always been ones that interested me, as has gender fluidity. I have friends and acquaintances who have dealt with the issue of being in the wrong body. Some just choose to cross dress privately, others have taken the courageous step to live outwardly as the gender they identify with versus the sex they were assigned at birth. I wonder constantly about what it would be like to be in the body of the opposite sex all of a sudden (probably because of my writing). I am not a full-time writer, but I am asked to write a fair number of non-fiction, industry or professional type articles and I just find it’s not as much fun! I like telling a story and I like telling TG stories because it’s a genre that interests me. Not all my stories actually have a TG angle to them though and I like to work on stories that don’t come as easily to me as a challenge. You’ll find a few fan fiction stories I’ve thrown in for fun.
2. What are a few of your favorite TG stories, books or movies?
I hope I don’t disappoint your readers as I spend so much time writing I don’t do a good job reading. Circe’s “Ghost Writer” and “Death Mask” I thought were both excellent stories (Fictionmania), KannalArt’s “Raan’s Doll”, “Femail” by TGTrinity, “Second Chances” by tfes8. I also am constantly amazed at the artistry of some of the work posted to TGComics – TGTrinity, Lilac Wren, Sturk Wurks, LenioTG just to name a few. As for movies, I don’t have too many, but “Switch” with Ellen Barkin and Jimmy Smits comes to mind. It was probably the first film/story that ever got me thinking of TG as a genre. I haven’t seen it in a while, so I don’t know how it holds up, but it definitely had an impression on me.
3. How would you describe your artistic philosophy?
Hmm…That’s a tough one as I haven’t spent the time to really reflect on it. I will say that to me, if I’m going to write a story and put it out into the world, it is first a reflection on me as a writer, so I do set a high bar for what I’ll publish. Second, I take the reader into consideration and try hard to write the story in such a way that they’ll appreciate that I spent time crafting sentences and paragraphs that have some sophistication. I’m not interested in smut, or as you put it Taylor, “stuff that reads like low-quality VHS porn movies.” Anyone can write that stuff and it is fairly prevalent on many TG sites. I’m not graphic for the sake of being graphic and when I am graphic, it’s because it’s important to the story, the characterizations or the plot. Even then, I try to write the scene in such a way that it isn’t crass or pandering. It’s my job to give the reader a scene in such a way that it doesn’t debase the character, story or my own aesthetic.
To that end, I really try to stay away from material or story lines that are inappropriate or offensive. I think it’s important to reflect what are very real-world issues respectfully. For example, I have preferred to show corruption of a character instead of brutality. I think you can take a story to a similar place, but in a more interesting way, if you use subtlety and nuance versus say, blunt force. I don’t depict brutality, violence or inhuman acts and frankly I don’t care for humiliation as a story theme. The world has enough bad mojo in it, I don’t want to add to it so you are more likely to find tenderness and respect in my stories.
4. Which writers influenced you? (TG or Non)
Outside of TG, lots of mainstream authors have influenced me. Aaron Sorkin, Joyce Carol Oates, Gillian Flynn, Jonathan Safran Foer…the list goes on. I think one of the things I take from these writers is the twist on the plot, the new angle, or at least the interesting angle they take to a story that has maybe been told before. I think it’s helped be make my stories less straightforward and more interesting. I still have a long way to go.
As for TG writers that is a shorter list for sure. Circe on Fictionmania is a writer I really respect and appreciate. I’ve been fortunate to have some back and forth with Circe about our various stories which has been incredibly helpful. One story that’s just come out lately that really struck a chord with me is tfes8’s “Second Chances” on Fictionmania and DeviantArt. It is a great example that a strong story, well written, can capture one’s heart.
5. Walk us through your creative process
I love that you think there’s a process! Well actually there is to some degree. Usually I get a nugget of an idea, something interesting, something that is kind of a hook for me about the plot, so I’ll start a document and sketch out the idea. I may also give myself a challenge, such as the length of the story, or, like I did with “Lady of the Wood”, not to use any dialogue. I’ll sketch it out then ask myself questions as I flush it out. Why would the character do this? What is the back story that got her here? How do I explain why they are doing this or that, etc…? Once I’ve done that, I usually have the entire plot, at least at a high level, worked out.
Generally, it is fair to say that I try to utilize various writing techniques as well and so that needs to be thought about up front to some degree. For example, stories need to have pacing and that means there needs to be a reasonable plot. Aaron Sorkin speaks about it like this “To begin with, I worship at the altar of intention and obstacle. Somebody wants something, and something is standing in their way of getting it. They want the money; they want the girl; they want to get to Philadelphia. Then the obstacle to that has to be formidable, and the tactics they use to overcome that obstacle are what shows us the character.”
Similarly, there needs to be a reason the action is taking place. For example, the main character makes some sort of a contract (like the character takes an oath or makes a promise to her dying father) and is in some sort of crucible with the clock ticking. To do this though, you have to have plotted it out ahead of time or risk the story meandering or being disjointed.
From that point, I usually need to do some research to fill in the gaps and make things at least somewhat believable. I’ll find articles or sites on the topic and collect the links. I’ll even create Pinterest boards.
Here is an example of my notes for a story I wrote called “Shelter in Place”. It’s probably the closest I’ve come to writing a story that has a despicable inhuman act and in order to not go down the wrong path I needed to have a believable character that manipulated and corrupted our protagonist. Here are a sample of the notes I wrote to flush out the characters and the plot:
“She is a former psychiatrist and now Hedge fund exec, so she has both the means and knowhow to be evil. This [the story plot] is a game to her, she wants to see if she can do it and she is incredibly competitive. She had this idea for a while and found the man she wanted to experiment on (maybe thought about epidemiology before going into psychiatry?).
Saw the pandemic coming and reworked her plan for the shelter in place order
He is her boyfriend, 5-10 years younger? He loses his hourly job quickly after joining her in her home so becomes her assistant to pass time and make some money.
She transforms him over 12 months using drugs, manipulation and hypnosis
- – Uses fabrics and tactile sensory while he is hypnotized to help his progression?
- – cognitive behavioral therapy – makes him watch shows, videos etc…
- – She tells him he has gender dysphoria and or dissociative disorders
- – Manipulation – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation
- – Dopamine
In this case, I didn’t use all of these ideas but I wanted to get them down so I could incorporate good ideas without forgetting them. Then, it’s just a matter of writing and rewriting until it’s in a place I want it to be to feel good about publishing it.
6. What Themes do you prefer to explore in your writing.
As I mentioned before, I’ve always found the idea of corruption interesting. That can be a pretty wide theme, everything from taking a bribe to corrupting one’s soul. With that, I’ve explored what happens if the ‘good guy’ doesn’t win. Redemption and triumph can be very satisfying in a story, but I think it’s clear that not all stories end like that, at least in real life. The bad guy wins, not just a little bit, but a lot. So why should we always write that the protagonist triumphs? There are a few of my stories that explore this, for example one of my older stories “Vanitas” and a recent one “The Chosen Few”. In each, the main character is presented with evil, or what we’ve historically taken as evil in literature, and in some way gives in to it, becoming irreparably corrupted in the process. There is something provocative about that I think, something sexy and I do think plays well as a plot device for TG stories.
I’m also a sucker for women’s fashion. I adore it. It is a fascinating topic on so many levels. Fashion (at very least high fashion) and beauty are about aspiration more so than need and I think that is fertile ground for stories, especially TG stories. Thus, I usually take time to describe the character’s fashion or dress in my writing. I love thinking about how a man would feel in sumptuous women’s clothes for the first time. The textures, and the colors, the feel of them would be scintillating. So, in my process I actually get ideas for what the characters could wear by going to Pinterest and looking around until I find several outfits I want in the story. I’ll start a new board for each and pin different shots of clothing, jewelry and even décor for reference as I write. I even found shots of old mill houses for my story “Imperial Assassin” so I could describe it well.
Thanks, Alice. I can’t wait to see how your work develops and evolves!
Check out Alice’s writing on Deviant Art!
Support Alice on Patreon!