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New Author Spotlight: Rachel Bender

Rachel Bender has the kind of name that makes you think, “Oh, right, I’ve heard of her.” But the truth is, you probably haven’t – while she’s had a few stories published here and there, this is her first professional sale. While you may not have heard of her yet, my guess is that you will soon. Not only is she a fantastic storyteller, her voice has the kind of lyrical language that wraps you up and takes you along to entirely new worlds.

Here’s a bit of her siren song from Skin and Scales:

The full power of her voice hit me right in the heart and I shuddered, fingers curling into fists against my knees. Icessi’s song was wordless, a wolf’s howl scattered with flights of nonsense syllables. It was beautiful enough to squeeze tears from my eyes, but it was a mad beauty, a devastating beauty. Icessi’s voice could run ships aground and rend people’s souls for love of her. I rocked forward, my breath beating against my throat like a trapped bird, and squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t cover my ears, no matter how much I wanted to.

In this issue, Rachel’s voice again comes through loud and clear in her tale, “Wander“. Recently, she was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about writing, wandering, and worldbuilding.

Crossed Genres:

What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?

Rachel Bender:

Not really. I’ve always wanted to do things a little differently than everyone else was doing them. I get bored easily otherwise. Drove my teachers crazy – which is, of course, half the fun.

Crossed Genres:

In “Wander,” it seems that what Schal says is so often the exact opposite of how she really feels, based on her internal dialogue. Why did you choose to put those two parts of her at such strong odds?

Rachel Bender:

This is a story that has a lot to do with oppression and privilege, and the compromises the oppressed might make with themselves in order to get along in a world where they have very little real power over their own destiny. Schal is never really mistreated (in the course of this story, at least), but she’s very aware of the position she’s in, and her words reflect that. At least until the Prince pushes her just a little too far.

Crossed Genres:

If there was a power you could have to create change, a power like Schal’s, what would it be?

Rachel Bender:

Schal’s power is less about changing things than seeing them clearly and in depth. That’s a positive thing, but it takes action and courage to actually change anything. Which is all the superpower you really need, I think.

(That’s the official answer. The real answer: I’d like to be able to teleport.)

Crossed Genres:

Many science fiction and fantasy genre stories are about place — perhaps because there is so much world-building involved — but human lives are also often about place: Where we live, where we call home, where we came from, where we go. Why do you think we’re so fascinated by the concept of place as a species?

Rachel Bender:

This is kind of an interesting question for me, because as a military child who grew up in a series of suburbs, I have less of a sense of place than most people. I don’t ‘come from’ anywhere, whereas a lot of people do identify to some degree with where they live or where they grew up. It becomes a strong tribal-identity marker, wrapped up in everything from how someone speaks to how they prepare their food. I think that’s a very basic human impulse, at the root of a lot of our behavior. Being rootless as I am often makes me feel like an outside observer to that behavior, though I know I’m not as disconnected from that as I think as I am.

Crossed Genres:

Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?

Rachel Bender:

Writing is almost something I almost have to do on the sly. Most of my stories I furtively scribble out in little snatches of time at work, or on the Metro, or in between errands. So if you see someone frantically writing in a pocket-sized notepad with people going back and forth around her, it’s probably me.

Crossed Genres:

Your bio mentions that you can’t read a map, but that you kind of like that. If there was a kind of map that you could read, what would it look like and how would it work?

Rachel Bender:

It would be something like Tony’s floating workspace in Iron Man, with the gesture-based interface, but it would talk in the dialect of wherever I was at the time, point out good restaurants and toy stores and tell hilarious stories.

You can read Rachel’s newest story, “Wander,” in the current issue of Crossed Genres.

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