In The Book of Flora (47North, Mar.), Elison concludes a trilogy of novels about the postapocalypse lives of women and trans people.
Your work has a lot to say about how people mythologize and simplify very complicated events, identities, people, choices—what about that sparked your interest?
There’s a tendency—I think just about everywhere, but it’s especially notable as an American—to mythologize founders. I started thinking about the way the founder effect works in language and in culture, and the way we have taken traits that have nothing to do with the foundation of our country because we associate them with our founders. Like, our ongoing love affair with neoclassical architecture immediately comes to mind, because Thomas Jefferson had such a hard-on for it, we just can’t stop doing it. So when I was looking at creating societies that had survived the end of the world and had changed and morphed and adapted, I was thinking: what were the qualities of these founders that would become the Monticello of those people? If you had two really influential weirdos, in a hundred years you could have a colony of people in Virginia, like, worshipping Superman. That’s not even that farfetched, because we can make a myth into anything, and you can make a myth into a religion easiest of all.
Why did you promote Flora from secondary character to viewpoint character for this volume?
As I was writing the series, I became more and more interested in gender transgression. The further along these societies go with this extreme gender parity, the more I thought people would be freer to express transness or nonbinariness in a way that is not exactly pressured by the population and the way that we live today. So when I got to know Flora, and I started thinking about Flora’s unique position and the position of trans women in the society that I’ve created, she had the most interesting journey and the most interesting place in society. Also, not to give any spoilers, but with the specific ending of The Book of Flora and the way that humanity has to change over time, I thought that she was the best person to tell that story.
You portray characters with really intense compassion in a violent, brutal world. How did you balance those emotional modes while writing?
As a writer, it’s exhausting to continue to write hard and compassionless worlds. Flora was written over a longer period of time than most of my books, primarily because my work was derailed by the election of 2016. I had a really hard time facing what I had written and what I had put into the world. So I ended up tearing apart the last 40% of the book and rewriting it in 2017. I wanted to see the future differently, which is, I think, why everybody writes science fiction. It’s both that I want to write a cautionary tale and that I want to believe that something else is possible.