Please welcome Vivienne Pustell to The Qwillery. “The City” will be published in GENIUS LOCI: Tales of the Spirit of Place from Ragnarok Publications.
This is the twenty-third in a series of interviews with many of the authors and the artists involved in GENIUS LOCI. I hope you enjoy meeting them here at The Qwillery as much as I am!
I am a backer of GENIUS LOCI which is edited by Jaym Gates. You may check out the Kickstarter here. GENIUS LOCI has been funded and reached the Deluxe format printed edition stretch goal! There are additional stretch goals!
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Vivienne: For a long time, I was just a pantser, but I've become a loose plotter. I usually have a start and an end destination in mind, but then I get terribly messed up in the middle bit. One of the hardest things for me is having a lot of characters—I tend to essentially take a magnifying glass to just one character, but I love stories with a great ensemble cast! I want to write that, but I really struggle with developing those exciting, varied groups.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences and favorite authors?
Vivienne: So many! Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles were huge for me growing up, as well as Tamora Pierce's Lioness series. They both have left such a huge mark on my writing. Likewise Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon and Anne McCaffrey's Pern. I would love to be able to write like Kurt Vonnegut—I feel like he has this perfect blend of absurd and funny meets painfully honest and human. His writing makes me cry-laugh, which is what I would like my writing to do. David Foster Wallace, too! I really love Lev Grossman's Magicians series—so dark, so clever, so intriguing. Arundhati Roy and Mary Rickert are two others—their stories are ostensibly set in reality, but there's something magical and otherworldly about them, and they use language with such beauty. I can sit and reread sentences of theirs over and over for the sheer pleasure of how amazing they are.
TQ: Which question about your writing do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Vivienne: Oh no! I don't know if there's a question about my writing I wish people would ask. I'm actually very scared of talking about it at all. Maybe “Can I get you another coffee and some cozy slippers so you can keep writing?” The answer would be “yes please.”
TQ: Describe “The City”, which will be published in Genius Loci, in 140 characters or less.
Vivienne: The city is disintegrating people--stealing memories, voices, and entire bodies. But how do you defend yourself against a city?
TQ: Tell us something about “The City” that will not give away the story.
Vivienne: I genuinely have no idea how the City became the way it is. I don't know what city it is, or what apocalyptic thing happened or how it got these powers. There is a lot of ambiguity and open-endedness in this story, running on the never-seeing-Grendel theory of scary—don't worry, dear reader, there is room for all of your neuroses and fears to come out and play!
TQ: What was your inspiration for “The City”? Have you ever encountered a Genius loci?
Vivienne: This story was actually originally a novel manuscript. The City was a dreamscape, rather than a reality, so I didn't have to figure out where it was or how it got that why or why it had powers. I still really like the idea, but I tried too hard to give it a happy ending, which is just not something I tend to write. Paring down what was going on to just a short story actually really improved it, which was quite the blow to my authorial ego. Oops! But I feel like I'm being more honest in the short version than in the novel-length one. It's more true? Something like that. The inspiration is that feeling of despondency that comes with being unsatisfied with life—the slow erosion of self, the mounting sense of loss, but not really know why or, if you do know why, not knowing how to fight it. How profoundly powerless we so often are. I was thinking a lot about friends and students and the frustration that they have expressed about having to minimize themselves to be accepted, whether its over race or gender identity or religion or any number of things. We lose so many beautiful people to the anonymous crushing of the world. And you can be angry, but how do you fight it? Kicking a building won't do anything other than hurt your foot. Finding a way to hold onto yourself is hard. As a teacher, I was constantly worrying about my kids and about myself. We were all getting eaten up. I spent a lot of time angry about what our society was doing to my kids. The City was just what was going on in my head.
I haven't had a lot of experiences with genius loci. Maybe one? I think I also could be reframing how I see places, because San Francisco is full of character. It's more that I tend to be oblivious than that they aren't there!
TQ: In which genre or genres does “The City” fit? In your opinion, are genre classifications still useful?
Vivienne: Oh my. I suppose it's fantasy? I'm not really sure. I don't mind genre classifications as a way to help people know what they're getting into—if I'm looking for a classic bodice ripper romance and I end up with military science fiction, I might be confused or disappointed. But outside of that, I think genres usually do more harm than good. I write in a lot of different genres, and I'd hate to be categorized as only able to publish in one because that's just how it's done. I think there are a lot of great writers out there who blend genres and cross lines, and I think that's great. I also think that too often genres are used as ranking systems, or ways of assigning value—like science fiction, by virtue of not being “literary fiction,” can't be literature. And we all know that's not true. I think genres can help people narrow down their search when they're looking for a book and just know they want a certain category or content, but I always get worried when classifying and pigeon-holding people and works. Nothing is ever as cut and dry and straightforward as we like to make it!
TQ: What's next?
Vivienne: Well, right now I'm pretty focused on finishing up grad school, but I'm working on a couple of other stories. I'm dabbling in military SF right now, which I've never done before, so it's been fun and interesting. Hopefully I'll have a few more pieces out and published by the end of the year!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Vivienne: Thank you!
About Vivienne Pustell
Vivienne Pustell is a graduate student at Stanford University and a former high school English teacher. She has presented her fiction at San Francisco's Litquake and to her cat. “The City” is her first publication.