Please welcome Z.M. Quỳnh to The Qwillery. “The South China Sea” will be published in GENIUS LOCI: Tales of the Spirit of Place from Ragnarok Publications.
This is the nineteenth 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 about writing for you? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
ZM: Writing is like taking a walk through the routine peace of your life and noticing, usually somewhere that requires you to trespass and break other personal and property laws, an unusually unique flower, object, or phenomena that wrenches at something inside of you. Then for days, weeks, months, years…your life is spent strategizing on how to reach it, obtain it, possess it, own it, eat it (if that’s what you’re into) - just get near to it dammit. And once you actually are within grasping distance, you have to battle through a tangle of thorns that cut and bruise you until finally… and even then, once you write that story, it may still go through a dozen or more revisions and rejections from publishers before you can capture that special something that first caught your attention and drew you to it in the first place.
For me, the idea comes to me first and it marinates inside my head, haunting my dreams, invading my daydreams until I free write to get it out of me. When I free-write, invariably, some new twists will always come up that I did not imagine before. Then at some point, once I’ve reached a point where I feel like I have way too many words (and I type 100+ words a minute so…), I straight forget about it. I bury it in a pile of other ideas somewhere and I just let it sit. There is a point where our subconscious feeds our creativity. For a story to truly evolve for me, it needs to make that transition from my conscious world into my subconscious. Once it’s there, though, it begins to trickle into my dreams, and my brain begins to form crazy images of it.
It’s at this point that I do a plot diagram of the story. (I know that sounds so mundane!) Usually when I do this, I will plot it right to a point before the climax (on a three act system) - but then I usually have no idea what else will happen in the story - what is the climax? What is the goal? What is the resolution? So again, I have to sit and wait and marinate some more until those come to me. This can be a drag…especially if there is a deadline that is approaching.
Then I just wait. Its like planting a seed and you water it and you just wait. But there is no timescale. It will sprout when it wants to and in intermittent unpredictable intervals. Then someday, when I’m doing something completely boring usually - like driving, cooking, gardening - it will suddenly come to me - the climax, the resolution, the emotion of the piece. And then I drop everything and rush to my little writing corner and scribble like crazy until I get the idea out. Then I plot some more, free write some more. Finally - usually one day before the deadline, I sit and write everything out.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors??
ZM: I love writers with beautiful prose and hidden questions in their stories that stay dormant in your mind for years, surfacing at moments when you least expect it. Anita Diamante’s book, “The Red Tent,” made me question the validity of the mythology and history, and to look for the spaces in between stories that we sometimes bypass. T.S. Eliot’s poetry, especially “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (which I, the eternal nerd, actually memorized) made me wonder for years at the power of symbolism, imagery, and allegory. And every single brilliant word ever written by Octavia Butler who seemed to be channeling all the mysteries of the world from our internal philosophical struggles to the challenges of always striving to find equitable, fluid, peaceful, and natural social models within which to coexist.
TQ: Which question about your writing do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Are you sure you really really want to be a writer even though no one seems to want to publish your stories (especially that funky erotic one), you really have no time to write anyway, the day job is squeezing every last minute out of your day, you have tons of important stuff you have to do pay the bills, eat, and sleep. AND…when and if you do sell a story you’ll only make enough to pay for a meal at the Con you went to where you workshopped the story with a pro (that made a big difference!), you are way too shy to build a fan base - so are you sure you want to be a writer?
ZM: I am a writer. Being published does not make me a writer. What makes me a writer is that pull - that passion for the word that wakes me up in the middle of the night - usually around 2:37 a.m. or so when I know waking up and spending hours writing would be detrimental to my sanity for the rest of the day (and the safety of anyone that gets in my way) - but I just can’t help it - I have to get up and I have to write and my stories have to take flight.
TQ: Describe “The South China Sea”, which will be published in Genius Loci, in 140 characters or less.
ZM: The sea is death, is life, is hope, is a gateway. The sea will capture you, enslave you, free you. The sea is alive…
TQ: Tell us something about “The South China Sea” that will not give away the story.
ZM: “The South China Sea” is a vignette of a side character (whose name I never reveal in “The South China Sea”) from a novel that I am working on (and working on and working on). The events that take place in “The South China Sea” serve as the character’s backdrop story. I am unsure if the events in “The South China” sea will make it into the novel, or if they will simply be referenced. “The South China” sea also has a companion short story that will be published in “The Sea Is Ours” by Rosarium Publishing. That short story, titled, “The Chamber of Souls” picks up where “The South China Sea” ends, following the same unnamed (sorry!) character through another adventure.
That’s the thing with these side characters - you give them an inch, and they demand a mile. Pretty soon, I’ll have to write a novel just for the side character even if they only have a bit part in my novel (which may or may not ever get published and may simply remain a running sitcom in my mind to entertain me and only me).
TQ: What was your inspiration for “The South China Sea”? Have you ever encountered a Genius loci?
ZM: My inspiration for many things - but in particular, for this story was Khanh, my cousin and a character in my story, whom I lost to pirates at sea during his attempt to flee Vietnam with his wife for a better world, a free world. My people, the South Vietnamese people, are also my inspiration. They risked everything to leave a world that was, to them, so insane and so cruel - to step into a rickety small fishing boat that was supposed to deliver them to freedom knowing they had a slim chance in hell to survive. But they did it anyway. I wanted to write a story where a group of Vietnamese refugees did board such a boat, only to be delivered to an entirely different world than any that they ever imagined (and believe me, America, at that time, was an entirely different world to Vietnamese refugees!)
I believe I have encountered a “Genius loci,” but you didn’t ask me where, when or what - so I’ll just hold that memory to myself…
TQ: Give us one of your favorite non-spoilery lines from “The South China Sea”.
“It was intermingled with the smell of misery and remorse and the taste of sweetened rust, as if you plunged an abandoned nail into sugar cane and then sucked on it for days on end.”
TQ: In which genre or genres does “The South China Sea” fit? In your opinion, are genre classifications still useful?
ZM: “The South China Sea” is an oddball with respect to most of my stories because I believe it actually fits in the genre of horror - this coming from someone who does not really read or enjoy horror (because its dern scary!) My mentor, Tananarive Due, however, who has written award winning horror novels, reassured me that the genre of “horror” is actually more broad than most people think it is. Tananarive described “horror” as “an emotion rather than a genre,” which puts an interesting twist on works that may fit within this genre. She also noted that horror can be “nestled within science fiction.” So, if anything, my story would be horror nestled within a steampunk alternative history…I guess my short story crosses several genres.
I think genre classifications are useful mainly because speculative fiction or literary speculative fiction can encompass so many different art forms that we truly should respect each one and provide the foundation for artists to create, expand, cross boundaries and genres, innovate, and evolve within their respective genres.
TQ: What's next?
ZM: I have about a handful of short stories I’ve been workshopping to try to see if I can see my name and said stories in big lights in a major science fiction or fantasy magazine. My very first short story that I ever wrote (ever!) is being published in SciPhi Journal (http://www.sciphijournal.com/) in some future edition. It is titled, “The Last Crane,” and is completely unrelated to anything else I’m working on. I’m hoping 2015 will start popping for me!
In the meantime, I have a novel I’ve been writing that is a historical speculative fiction novel that is entirely unrelated to “The South China” sea that has been slipping in and out of my consciousness and subconsciousness for over 12 years. It's demanding to be written. I just need to create the extra hour every day that will allow me to actually do that (sigh…).
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
About Z.M. Quỳnh
z.m. quỳnh huddles in a room tinged with blue nursing calloused hands worn down from the chronic transcription of restless dreams. past lives have included scattered jaunts through urban minefields with each misstep hinting at a life less easily mapped out by this amateur cartographer. irrationally drawn to moving mountains one stone at a time, quỳnh has tackled the tasks of labor organizer, juvenile hall literacy coordinator, artistic director of a guerrilla feminist theatre troupe, mother, mentor and best friend (all rolled up in one), civil rights advocate, guardian ad litem for foster care youth, waitstaff at one too many late night diners (hey…free food - what?), slam poet, urban horticulturalist, visual junk artist, passionate lover, and cocktail server/candy salesperson at all night rave parties (hungry people pay $5 for candy bars!). Genius Loci: The Spirit of Place will be quỳnh’s debut in spec fic.