New Author Spotlight: Vera Vartanian
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I have always been a fan of the mash-up. Taking two things, so seemingly disparate, and cramming them together seems like it shouldn’t work, and yet sometimes the synergy is perfect and you create something greater than the sum of its parts. Being able to go to unexpected places or times, touching on how something familiar would be new or different in that context, is one of my favorite things about writing, and it’s what makes me want to write science fiction.
The theme for this issue is Unresolved Sexual Tension. Please talk a little about how your story reflects that. Did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
“Lifthrasir” is all about desires that can’t be fulfilled, and the heartache and tension that comes from that. Both Farah and Anya know how the other feels, and that they can never really be what the other wants from them. Despite this, they’re forced to rely on each other for the sake of survival. I actually wrote the original version of the story from Farah’s point of view for a creative writing course, but I found during revision that Anya’s perspective seemed more effective at bringing out the dissonance between the two.
“Lifthrasir” is surprisingly tender for a story set in a dystopian near-future. Was that an intentional juxtaposition? Or was it a quality that emerged during development?
The world Farah and Anya live in does seem at cross-purposes with a story about love, even if that love is ultimately rejected. However, while Farah’s romantic fortunes are as dead as the world around them, the two have a deep friendship, and care very much about each other. It really is the perfect reflection of their real-world situation, huddling around a fire to keep away the cold. The story of Farah and Anya has always been about that contradiction.
It’s typical for stories set at the end of the world to dwell on catastrophes and their social fallout, yet “Lifthrasir” is tightly focused on its characters and their immediate circumstances. Do you tend to focus on character development during your writing process and have their actions drive the plot? Vice versa?
Characters and their motivations have always been central to my writing process. I come to writing from tabletop roleplaying, as odd as that might sound, and so getting inside the heads of my characters is natural for me. When I write, I try to put myself in the position of my characters, and do what feels right, what they would do in that situation. Every so often they’ll surprise me and derail a plot completely, which is quite frustrating, but I feel like that makes what happens all the more powerful and real. Ultimately, while I might know the details of what happened in the world I created for “Lifthrasir,” it’s not as important to show them as it is to explore what it means for Farah and Anya.
Your story doesn’t follow an epic, fate-of-the-world story arc, so readers are naturally left wondering mainly about Farah’s and Anya’s immediate future. Do you have plans to write another story with these characters? Or will you leave what happens next open to speculation?
There is so much more to tell about Farah and Anya, and I would love to explore their world further. At the same time, it’s as though catching only a glimpse of their intertwined lives generates so much more pathos, so much more force, that going further might actually be counterproductive. Ultimately, I feel like the price of that sort of intensity is brevity. Perhaps I’ll revisit the world of “Lifthrasir” again, but it would likely be with different characters.
Speaking of what happens next, tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
Trying to write a novel for NaNoWriMo is what got me started on seriously writing, but I’ve never finished one to date. I have an idea box stuffed to the brim with index cards I’ve scribbled on, and many of them would suit a novel, but I really enjoy the tight, focused narratives possible in short stories, exploring one idea from multiple angles. I have a few projects on the back burner, ideas that I could never explore fully without the benefit of a novel’s length, but I feel like honing my craft is more important in the short term than trying to force the creative process. I’m sure a novel will demand its own existence from me at some point, but who can say when?
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
Despite being just a touch early for it, I’m very much a child of the wired generation, and when I write I need to disassociate myself from all those various devices and distractions. I’m a creature of habit, though, so I tend to stick with a couple of comfortable places for writing. I curl up in my Scriptorium (and yes, I really do call it that), surrounded by books, and put on some music (post-rock a favorite) to drown out the world beyond my walls. If not there, then the kitchen, and the dishwasher for white noise. Every so often I’ll feel restless, and go to a local cafe for a few hours. In all cases, tea is a necessity, and caffeine the fuel that keeps the words flowing.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
Nobody ever asks me why I write, which is amusing because I love to talk about it. It’s one thing to talk about what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’d like for it to accomplish, but that still doesn’t get at the core of it all. I think it’s especially relevant because I haven’t always been a writer. I’ve picked it up very recently, only to realize I’d been practicing for it all my life!
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
I tried for years to learn how to draw. My imagination has always been hyperactive, and I have always been jealous of artists for their ability to take an image out of their head and put it on paper, and make it so vivid and real in the process. I’d set my heart on being able to do just that, but every time I tried resulted in disappointment and a lot of crumpled up paper in the recycling bin, and every class I took trying to improve resulted in a lot of techniques I couldn’t use effectively. Eventually I just sort of gave up on it, and resigned myself to never being able to really share the worlds I’d dreamed up in my head, until on a lark I audited a creative writing course. What I can’t do with pencil and ink and paint, I can do so much better with words alone, and it’s so exciting to be able to share that with others!
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
Only that it’s important to never give up on something you need. I’m not just talking about writing, although I’m excited to be published for the first time in Crossed Genres and hopefully to share my work with others elsewhere as well. I’m transgender, and being who I am has made the last three years more meaningful than the almost thirty that came before it. Three years ago I could never have worked up the courage to submit a story for publication. All this to say, if you know what you need, and you refuse to give up on it, sooner or later you’ll find a way to get there.