Love, Sex and Fireflies: A Q&A with Scott Gardiner

Love, Sex and Fireflies: A Q&A with Scott Gardiner

Posted on March 1 by Scott Gardiner in Interview
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How did you come up with the title?

Fire in the Firefly is novel about the differences between men and women, which is another way of saying it's a book about sex. 

Some people prefer to believe that sex is a social construct, that it's governed by culture rather than biology, that the differences between men and women is learned and therefore can also be unlearned.  "Other than the obvious differences," goes the argument, "Men and women are the same," (which always puts me in mind of the very old joke about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre: "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the show?").  Point being that you can't just wave away the most significant part of a story by pretending it doesn't exist.That's like launching a discussion about breathing with a dismissal of anything to do with lungs.  To suggest that something so essential should have no bearing on human behavior is ridiculous.  It's one of the more outstanding examples of our species' hubris.  Though I admit that there are lots of other good candidates.

 

Okay, but how does that apply to Fire in the Firefly?

 Fireflies are insects that emit light.  That light is strictly about sex, produced by males for the sole purpose of attracting females.  That's all it's for.  It's also a terrible liability. When a male firefly goes out flying in the dark lit up like a candle, he's also announcing his presence to every predator in the neighborhood, including some of his own species.  But if he wants sex (and here I'm using that other, more active, meaning of word), that's what he has to do.  Fire himself up and get out there.

 

"Antlers on the elk, lyre on the lyre bird",  and so forth....

Exactly.  It's a theme you see repeated everywhere in nature.  Only Male peacocks wear those crazy tails.  Eye-candy to the peahens, sure, but imaging dragging all that baggage through the underbrush while your being stalked by a leopard. Same goes with the enormous racks of antlers worn by elk or moose.  Females aren't burdened with those.  Antlers are heavy—just carrying them around is a huge cost of energy, never mind steering them through the woods with a pack of wolves at your heels.  If you want to attract the females, though, that's what you need to do.   What you're saying is:  Look! Revel in my handicap!  I'm a survivor.  I'm prime material.   I can haul this ten-foot tail around and still the leopards don't catch me; I can outrun the wolves even burdened with this stupid headgear; I can blaze bright colours or sing my heart out and betray myself to every predator for miles aroundI can even light up like a matchstick, and still they can't kill me!  Marry my genes to yours and our offspring will be survivors, too!" 

It's a function of maleness; our own species is no exception.  That's why you'll see teenage boys diving off garage roofs into wading pools, or riding on the hood of the car instead of inside it.  It's biology talking.  They're telling the girls: Look at me!  I'm so tough even I can't kill myself. I'm a survivor. I'm indestructible.  Choose me.

 

There's another key phrase in the novel:  "Choose me."

Fire in the Firefly is about a man who truly believes that the essence of being male is attracting females.  It's a principle he applies successfully to his advertising agency, less so to the rest of his life.  The marketplace confirms for him that women dominate the 21st Century economy.  Eighty percent of consumer purchases, he reminds his clients, are made by women. So whatever the campaign hit pitching—condoms, fishing equipment, whatever—Roebuck aims it squarely at women. 

 

"Only women count"?

That's right. That's another central phrase.  In fact, if you wanted to sum up the theme of this novel, that line would be it.  It's Roebuck's operating philosophy.  As a business strategy it’s wildly successful, applied to his personal life, well, it leads him into lots of trouble.

 

All sounds serious very serious. But Fire in the Firefly is an extremely funny novel.

Humour is an essential ingredient of storytelling.  Comedy is anchored in misunderstanding.  (So is tragedy, for that matter; you could argue that comedy is tragedy minus the corpses.)  Misunderstanding is believing you know the truth when you don't. This is also known as hubris and there's plenty of that in Julius Roebuck.  He's wickedly smart, but he misreads so much.  He is very funny.  Sometimes intentionally, sometimes otherwise. Roebuck is a thinker and, as with many thinkers, it messes him up.  He deliberately reverses the natural drive.  Whereas males of most other species take enormous risks to pass on their genes, Roebuck goes to absurd lengths to prevent his DNA from being shared.  Truly absurd lengths.

Another way of describing this book is to say that it's an examination of the sheer ridiculousness of the present state of relations between the sexes.  Our era is more sex-obsessed than ever, just check out Netflix. But on the other hand we are, in so many ways, more puritanical than the Victorians.  Roebuck understands that there has been no time in history than women have more power than they do today. He both exploits and is exploited by this power. We laugh at him and we laugh with him.

Scott Gardiner

Posted by Dundurn Guest on June 16, 2015
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Scott Gardiner

Scott Gardiner began his career in journalism at Maclean’s and has written for Toronto Life, the Globe and Mail, and Canadian Geographic. He is also the author of The Dominion of Wyley McFadden and King John of Canada.