Author Interview: Malcolm F. Cross (Twitter @foozzzball) , author of Dog Country
See my review of Dog Country here.
I’m a judge for the Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC), and wanted to spotlight some of the authors in the contest! Specifically, I’ll have interviews from my team’s semifinalists. Without further adieu, to the interview!
First off, what’s a foozzzball [his Twitter handle]?
Malcolm: So there’s that table football game, foosball? A foozzzball is that, but lazy. And my internet handle, mostly for use in the furry fandom. It goes on my conbadges and everything.
How did you get into sci-fi?
Sci-fi has been around in my life for a long enough time it’s hard to say what the actual start was, but what absolutely cemented it for me was Diane Duane’s X-Com tie in novel. I was totally wild about that game, and I was… not necessarily a hesitant reader, but I was very much into non-fiction over fiction. The tie-in changed that. I saw this book that was about my favourite thing in the world, and I picked it out for myself. Which was, I think, the first time I’d really seen a book that just absolutely spoke to me. Which also goes to show, the works you don’t necessarily think will have an impact are sometimes the ones that will reach someone at exactly the right time to teach them how rewarding it is to explore fiction on their own.
You mentioned engaging with furry fandom. How has furry fandom impacted your writing?
The furry fandom is great. It’s an unusual fandom, since the majority of it is self-generated. We don’t have a central work to use as a canon, like a film or corporate-owned IP or whatever, so, we’re pretty much all fans of all the wildly creative stuff other furries do in the fandom. That’s been the major impact, honestly.
It makes it a wonderful community, and there are lots of places to go for support, especially as a new author. There are a lot of small presses (shout outs to Sofawolf, Furplanet and Fenris), which provide a lot of opportunities to pick up experience. There are in-fandom awards, there are some organized groups like the Furry Writer’s Guild, there’s pretty much always something going on and someone interested in hearing about what you’ve been making or eager to show you what they’ve made/drawn/written. As a result of all that support, most of my early publications went to furry small presses. And off the back of that I got a short story sold at a pro rate and did enough other professional-ish stuff to join SFWA – which is something several other furry-fandom involved authors have done, so I’m far from an anomaly like that.
The support the fandom gives has been helpful to a lot of authors. But that’s pretty much all strong community stuff, and not unique to the furry fandom. I could cheap out and tell you that writing in the furry fandom has resulted in me being unable to write a character without whiskers, but the truth of it is that the fandom’s helped me value tolerance and acceptance. Furries skew heavily LGBTQ+, and, learning to be a more mindful ally (I am far from perfect, but I try) has undoubtedly made me a better human being. And being around people who work hard to accept each other’s weird sides has helped me accept my own. And that kind of self-acceptance is really valuable for a writer – I don’t worry about what other people think about my writing, because I know that what I think about my writing matters more than other people’s opinions.
What inspired you to write Dog Country?
When the Arab Spring hit, I kept having one thought, which was, ‘these people have money, so where are the PMCs?’ PMCs, if you’re not familiar, are private military companies. Over in the US there’s Blackwater, which rebranded as Xe Services and then Academi, then Constellis, in a series of jumps to get away from a reputation for, y’know, war crimes. In the UK we have Sandline, who made bold claims about how private military companies could be used to end armed conflicts and replace international intervention efforts with a more efficient, more humanitarian, positive force for change in the face of authoritarian and genocidal dictatorships. Given that PMCs frequently tend to shut down, rebrand, and the same people mysteriously found new companies a few months later (Sandline is currently Aegis), I think it’s fair to say that the Blackwater situation is a little more realistic.
The basic issue is interventionism – it’s one of the defining elements of modern international politics, and the bread and butter for many PMCs. Arguably it’s a continuation of colonialist policies, but at the same time it’s terribly appealing to think someone could stop all the horrible things happening in the world. What if the Arab Spring protestors had someone they could call on to protect them from the violence of their own governments? (Or, as I now wonder, the George Floyd Protestors?) Would that change the situation and turn out better?
One thing that won’t change is that interventionism involves sending someone with no interest in local affairs to hold a gun somewhere nobody wants them to be. The violence that led them there should never have happened, and protection for the communities involved should be coming from within those communities. The fact this soldier is standing there is a geopolitical failure on a thousand levels, and yet they are standing there, holding a gun, getting shot at, and being told to kill people. And, I’ve always thought, it must really suck to be in that situation. And modern conflicts have put thousands and thousands of people into one just like it. But that’s just one aspect to the book.
Your focus on the internal life of the characters and how their actions–or inactions–impacted them is one of the things I enjoyed most about the story. Questions about colonialism, protest, and violence as a problem-solving strategy certainly abound throughout Dog Country.
Do you have plans for more works in the world of Dog Country? What else can readers look forward to from you?
Thank you! The close viewpoint and spotlight on the inner lives is definitely something I’m trying my hand at again – I’ve actually been off the writing-wagon for a few years, so, I’m very pleased to say that I’m in the middle of editing a standalone in the same San Iadras setting, Mouse Cage. The book features Troy Salcedo – a gengineered mouse-person who was built not as a soldier like Dog Country’s Edane, but as a surgical research subject. Also freed in childhood, his story goes deep into dealing with trauma and loss, guilt, a struggle to make an imperfect relationship with the love of his life work out, and the search for a way to be at peace with who he once was and who he now is. This one is very different, very little war-action, much more emotional psychodrama with some romance thrown in. A bit more detail sneaks in about how the setting’s cloned uplift furries came to be, given that Troy grew up in one of the labs making them. So in some ways a total shift in genre, in another, very much the same kind of close character study with a lot of parallels to Dog Country, just without guns. I am hoping to have that done and released in the vicinity of June, but timing is still a little up in the air.
Other than that, I’m trying to find an agent for a non-selfpub novel manuscript, making some notes for the next few self-pub book projects in the San Iadras setting, and thinking about trying my hand at finally writing a space opera I planned out a few years ago, which may or may not have one or two token uplift characters in it.
Finally, where can readers keep track of/follow/obsessively read about you?
If you want to keep track of me, I’m on twitter as @foozzzball, I have a Patreon which is relatively low on exclusive content, but fans can get a spot on my corkboard. And, finally, for anyone just browsing interviews who’s now curious and who’d like a smaller taste, there’s Pavlov’s House, a short story about a side-character who briefly appears in Dog Country, published at Strange Horizons.
Malcolm F. Cross can also be found on his author page on Amazon.
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