I'm back! And on the blog today I get to interview a super cool author who I think likes chocolate. All of it. All the chocolate. Now.
Check it out...
AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. A Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and graduate of Clarion 2014, their work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, and various anthologies of repute. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater
Set sail with Cinrak the Dapper, the most valiant and chill capybara pirate captain in all of Rodentdom, and her bold crew. Let the good ship Impolite Fortune take you to the Edge of the World and beyond in a series of adventures about finding your true self, creating found family and searching for the greatest secrets of the deep. Step lively, the North Wind is filling these sails.
How has the journey to this point been? (Where did this start?)
I'm a late bloomer. For 35 years I lay cubby in warm soil, only sticking my shoots above the loam to test the air, then getting scared and going back to wintering underground. I used to scold myself for not reaching for the sun hard enough. But when you don't have the right words, the right nutrients, to fertilize the soul, to understand what you want to be (thorn in the side, or rose in bloom? Reaching vine or deciduous tree?), one can drown from over watering or shrivel up from too little.
To stop overly torturing the metaphor, 2010 was the start of massive personal growth. I had a good hard talk to myself: What did I want to achieve by 40? What had been my dreams 20 years previous? Where had they gone? And why? Who WAS I?
Thanks to a dive into the deep end of feminism and queer theory, I started finding answers to the questions I didn't even know I had. I found the air for my breath. Questioning identity, culture, and the chains of the invisible narrative, I realized fear, a lack of information, and a lack of community had been holding me back. I wanted to have a different conversation with the world, through my body, my gender presentation, and through fiction.
Quite simply, I wanted to destroy the patriarchy.
Speculative fiction had always been my first love since discovering it in my teens. It was a place to hide. But now as I poked at the edges of change, I wanted to return to that dream that had been squashed out of me by the capitalist, hetero-normative, cisgender ideal. Speculative fiction was my way to tell stories I felt lacking in the world, test out ideas, reveal, imagine different ways of being. The seeds of my soul long left dormant slowly began to sprout.
Just as I was beginning to find myself, another soul-shaping event occurred - the Canterbury earthquakes of 2011. Some people say that living in extremis bears fruit for the creative soul, but why should I have had to live through trauma to be thought interesting? I'd prefer not to live with PTSD. It sucks all the nutrients out of my soul soil some days. I've written some stories around it, and that was enough (pithy summary of ten years of processing, but it makes me so tired).
I could do the easy summary; the numbers, the achievements, the workshop. But what it really comes down to is the people I've met along the way. The people who have become my critique partners. My queer community which is a big intersection of my writing community. The mentors. The friends. The readers. They are the people I'm having the conversations. The conversations changing my soul. Changing the world.
What's been the hardest part of your writing/publishing experience so far? And the most enjoyable?
The hardest part has been the rejection. Maybe it was a foolish thing to begin submitting my stories so early in the piece, but it taught me resilience and a hard lesson in seeking out help. I'd always been self reliant - my stories are the best! How can they suck?! - and I didn't understand how a core group of critique partners (having that conversation with the world!) would make me a better writer. My ego took a serious bashing asking for help. Once I found My People, they made me realize I'd been using editorial feedback as critique (and not learning to write the stories for myself) and using the submission process as the punishment I always thought I deserved. I stopped counting my rejections, but it is a number I am not proud of.
The most enjoyable part of the experience has been how much I've learned about the world and myself. It's not just about the words on the page and learning the rules of writing, it's about learning how to break them, finding what conversations are important to me. I've refined my themes and techniques as I learn more about the history of feminist and queer speculative fiction, about what stories need to be told now, about what emotions and realities need honoring. It's about coming to understand my privilege, making space for others, realizing certain conversations are not mine to have or require the utmost care, and honoring my place amongst the ecosystem of literature.
Would you go back and change anything?
I have the fantasy of going back in time and giving young me certain books, a push in a certain direction, a narrative to understand things that were happening to me. That's all very science fiction, and often not that helpful. How would that have changed me? I may regret lost opportunity and time, but that's what makes me me now. It gives me a lot to work with, and work on, for the rest of my life.
The easiest answer to this question would be "leave earlier, dream harder". I stayed far too long in the conservative town I was born in - I should have seen more of the world and met people with more experience, found mentors, found more of myself before my 20s. I also stopped writing, planning, and dreaming too early. I let my dreams go because of fear, because the fear was easy. The survival grind does that to you.
But though I stayed in a safe place for too long, it surprisingly gave me plenty to work with once I started writing again. I knew people, I knew my way around emotions, I knew my way around want.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time? And 10? Or, what are your plans for the future?
My short term plan is to find an agent. My mid term plan is to write a series of novellas and short story collections, and find great homes for them. I'd also like to do a writer in residence gig, for the sheer joy of being able to write full time (even if for a short period). In ten years, I'd like to be That Bitch everyone is talking about, you know, the story that went viral and everyone says will change the world, and locks me in to a life time of festival appearances and GoH invitations talking feminist and queer revolution.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to new writers just starting out?
I have three:
1) Don't stop dreaming. When a dream doesn't work out, find another one. (pithy, I know, and I rejected this when I was younger, so go ahead and reject it for a while. It will mean more when you work out how dreams fit into your world. One dream size doesn't fit all)
2) Make failure your friend. Failure is the best thing you can learn from.
3) Find your people.
Why this book now?
Cinrak is not the book I set out to write when I started this journey, but it's the one needed right now. I intended to write a Big Meaty Feminist SFF thing along the lines of Russ, Tiptree, Le Guin, Jemisin, Griffith. That's still in me, it will come.
But the last five years or so have changed (again) our need for joy, our capacity for revolution. The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is an accident of a book. I wrote a couple of stories of magical delight, not taking them all that seriously. My publisher, and then some mentors, saw what I could not at the time - that sometimes you can kick-start that conversation about revolution through kindness. So I grabbed the opportunity and got serious about writing the silliness - I worked very hard to create scenarios of triumph through community, kindness, queerness, and found family.
In the end it's a lot of glitter, sparkle, and warm hugs. And that's something we can really do with in these chaotic times.
And most importantly...
Ketchup or Mayo?
Tomato sauce for hot chips, mayonnaise for salad. My partner makes a mean mayonnaise with a dash of mustard and celery salt - just a bit of tang!
Night or Day?
Definitely a night person. It's when I get my best work done. Plus I'm an insomniac.
Inside or Outside?
Inside is where all my books are. But I'll do outside when it's Disneyland.
Dogs or Cats?
Cats. Give me all the cat pictures, please. My cat Bug is a real troublemaker, always out with his kitty gang rawking up the neighbourhood. And knows how to manipulate me with his cuteness, which I have no problem with.
Twitter or Facebook?
Twitter. All my brain farts happen there. Really wish they'd deal with their Nazi and abuse problems though. Would go a long way to making the world safer for a lot of people.
ebook or Paperback?
Both. ebooks are great for books I can't get into the country. And I love how treebooks are undergoing a renaissance as a collector piece and art form.
Sun or Rain?
Both. For different types of mood. Sun, good for a book and a cup of tea. Rain, good for a book, cup of tea, and blanket. Both involve my cat.
Keyboard or Pencil & Notebook?
Both. Keyboard for fast work if a story is spewing out of my head. And I ALWAYS carry a notebook with me - it's a repository for all my wild ideas and story prompts.
Comedy or Drama?
Usually drama. I don't like the secondhand embarrassment of comedy. Though feminist and queer comedy is teaching me a better appreciation. Hannah Gadsby is a revolution!
Chips or Chocolate?
Chocolate! Chocolate. Chocolate chocolate chocolate. And chocolate. Did I mention chocolate? Usually Whittaker's Dark Almond. And any type of chocolate pudding, dessert, or cake.
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