Author Interview: Nina Varela

Oh, do we have a treat for you guys today!!

I’m sure y’all are anxiously waiting for Nina’s book, as we both do. I mean, it’s the F/F book of our dreams! What more could we ask for? Turns out: a lovely & funny author, which is a perfect description of Nina.

On a side note, I’m (Anna) part of a blog tour for Crier’s War organised by Karina @ Afire Pages, so please look forward to my review of the book somewhen next month. Plus a little something extra…

Edit: the review & the playlist are up!

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Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first get into writing?

Both my parents used to be editors, so I knew very early on that “writer,” specifically author, was something you could conceivably do as a career. And I knew that was what I wanted. Always, right from the beginning, from before I can remember. Over the years it sometimes shifted—writer and English teacher, writer and editor—but it’s always been writer. I still have a bunch of those black-and-white composition notebooks from elementary school filled with my first stories, which were mostly about horses.

In middle school I started writing short stories and novels (all very angsty and romantic and Twilight-esque), then in high school I got really into poetry and playwriting, then I went to college for screenwriting. I’ve never had a backup plan, I’ve really just been careening through life with the incredibly healthy mindset of “I’ll make it as a writer or die trying,” which is not something I condone.

Anyway, yeah, always. Writing is how I make sense of myself, all the big clunky embarrassing emotions I don’t like talking about; it’s how I make sense of the people around me, the parts of the world that I find frightening or sad, the parts of the world that are frustratingly complex. It’s a job and a coping mechanism and an expression of self and a deeply ingrained habit.

This is so dramatic. I like writing stories about lesbians toppling the monarchy.

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What are your favourite genres to read and write?

I love to read short story/essay/poetry collections, low/urban fantasy, magical realism, swashbuckling adventures ft. queer kids and found families…. I like weird stories about love and magic and hard truths, it doesn’t really matter how long or short they are.

My favorite genres to write are YA fantasy and then, like, realist “literary” stories about melancholy people in small desolate towns. I just sort of swing from one to the other and back again. I think because I grew up in the woods of North Carolina reading fantasy books.

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And are there any genres or tropes you wouldn’t write?

Genre-wise… I don’t think I’m clever enough to write mystery. But even genres outside my wheelhouse, like horror or historical fiction, I’d be open to trying. In terms of tropes, I think the problem is less “this is a trope” and more “this is a trope and I haven’t done anything new with it.” Kwame Mbalia (Tristan Strong Punches A Hole In The Sky) tweeted the other day: “I thought I was tired of the ‘Chosen One’ trope but I think I’m just tired of who gets chosen.” That sums it up for me. I love tropes! I want all the tropes! But not if they’re given to the same characters who have played out those tropes over and over again for a thousand years.

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How do you get inspiration for your books?

Location. I’m not a J. K. Rowling type; characters don’t walk into my head fully formed. It’s always location. I get obsessed with certain places: the Outer Banks, Appalachia, the Ozarks, Louisiana bayou country, the Mojave Desert, liminal spaces in general, most recently the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales. I get obsessed and do tons of historical research and read stories set in those places and build a world inside my head. It’s all visual. The location informs the characters and story: What kind of people does this place create? What problems do they have? What is sacred to them? How does their environment affect how they speak and think and move through the world?

Crier’s War isn’t set on Earth, and Zulla is not based on any real-world continent, but environment still shaped everything for me. Cliffs of black rock over a freezing sea, jagged Himalayas-style mountains, hilly mining country like a cross between the foothills of Appalachia and the golden hills of Northern California. Once I have the exterior world, the characters’ interior worlds begin to form.

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Do you have a writing playlist? And if you do, does it focus more on the lyrics or melodies, vibe of the songs?

I’m actually one of those tragic people who can’t write to music. I work best in near-silence. Sometimes if there’s too much ambient noise around I’ll pull up a YouTube video that’s just 13 hours of Arctic wind howling across the tundra. That said, I do enjoy making character playlists, and those are all about mood and lyrics. Here’s a preview of the character playlists I’ve made for Crier and Ayla from Crier’s War:

CRIER
Pink in the Night – Mitski
Like Real People Do – Hozier

AYLA
Cold War – Janelle Monáe
Palace – Hayley Kiyoko

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What’s your writing process? At what point do you let other people read your drafts and who are they?

My writing process is wack. It’s very inconsistent. I work a 9 to 6 desk job to pay the bills, so I have to do all my writing in the evenings and on the weekends, which means that when I do sit down to write I have to write a lot. I focus best when I’m out of the house, so I just go to a coffee shop, open my computer, put on my noise-cancelling headphones, and make words happen, preferably in high quantities. I have a very detailed outline and I write in chronological order—my memory is terrible, so if I start skipping around there will be 500 continuity errors instead of a more reasonable 200. Some days I write 4,000 words in one sitting and most days I do not do that.

It’s all incredibly unromantic. I know there’s this image of The Writer, who is inspired solely by the innate need to Create Art, and if you’re not pulling all motivation from the depths of your own tortured soul you’re somehow less valid, but yeah, no, I just write to the next deadline, because this is my job. Roughly 3-4 chapters every two weeks. That’s not to say I don’t love writing. I do. But I also feel like it’s important to talk about how so much of the act of writing—the writing process itself—is tedious and stressful and that’s okay and it doesn’t mean you’re not a real artist.

I’m a huge perfectionist and I don’t let people other than 1-2 of my closest friends read my drafts until I’ve already done like three passes. My parents have yet to read my debut novel. In my defense, it has kissing in it.

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Summarise your most recent/next book in up to 5 words and a meme.

Oh no I’m so bad at memes. Okay. Crier’s War: Useless lesbian. Chaos bi. Androids.

And here is my organic, home-grown meme:

gg.jpg

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Which three authors would you say influenced your writing the most?

Andrea Gibson, Sandra Cisneros, Markus Zusak. They influenced how I approach storytelling, and the kind of stories I want to tell in general.

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If (when!) your books were to be made into movies, who would you like to direct them?

It’s hard to come up with a film comp for Crier’s War, because it’s like—feudal fantasy androids? And I’d want the director to be a queer woman. Maybe Desiree Akhavan (The Miseducation Of Cameron Post)? She hasn’t done SFF before, but you know what, I trust her. Otherwise: whichever up-and-coming queer woman director understands the characters best! That’s my copout answer!

My dream producer would obviously be Janelle Monáe, Reigning Queen of Sapphic Androids.

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And for something that is also very important to us & what we put a lot of emphasis on when blogging. What does ownvoices LGBT representation mean to you?

The entire spectrum of voices. Speaking as a white queer, the publishing industry needs to be very careful to not use white queer ownvoices as like… a diversity shield, if that makes sense. Like, “We’re so diverse! We published 75 ownvoices queer stories this year!” Okay, how many of them were from authors of color? Trans and non-binary authors? Disabled authors? Ownvoices LGBT rep needs to operate on multiple axes of marginalization. It needs to emphasize the voices of queer people of color and queer people with other intersecting marginalizations. All identities, all voices.

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Rec us some great LGBT books you’ve read recently! One can never have enough recommendations!

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver
Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Her Body And Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado (currently rereading for like the 47th time)
And I just started Two Moons: Stories by Krystal A. Smith. It’s a collection of spec fic short stories about Black lesbians. The writing is gorgeous and the titular story is literally about a woman falling in love with the moon (WHO IS ALSO A LESBIAN!), which I think is a very relatable sapphic experience.

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What’s one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self?

It’s okay to feel this much, and most of it will get easier, and some of it won’t, and all of it is survivable. As a YA writer, I think about this a lot: how hard it is to be young, to be a teenager. I have so much love and respect for teenagers. I remember how hard it was. I was a horrible teenager; I was dramatic and messy and desperate for validation and often very sad. I remember getting my heart broken or whatever and thinking, “This hurts so much, this is going to hurt forever, I will never get over this, I don’t know how to make it stop.” And it’s so easy to write that off as melodrama, but the thing about being so young is that everything feels like the end of the world because in some ways it is. Your first love is your first love. Your first heartbreak is your first heartbreak. You don’t yet know that this hurt—this anger, passion, grief, loneliness—isn’t forever. As you grow older, you learn that all pain is survivable. You get your heart broken and you’re like, “Okay, this is awful, but I’ve been here before and I know it gets better.” Me, each winter, as I sense a depressive episode coming on: “Well, here we go again. But I’ll make it to spring. I always do.” I want to tell my younger self that we always do.

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If you could have dinner with one member of the LGBT community, dead or alive, who would it be?

Mary Oliver. She’s one of my favorite poets of all time. Her work is profoundly gentle, no matter the topic. Love or death or sex or sadness. She explores everything through nature, through the lens of being a lesbian environmentalist; her work implores the reader to be more present in their body and the natural world. I’ve been thinking about The Moths every day lately. I hope you don’t mind if I put it here:

There’s a kind of white moth, I don’t know
what kind, that glimmers
by mid-May
in the forest, just
as the pink moccasin flowers
are rising.

If you notice anything,
it leads you to notice
more
and more.

And anyway
I was so full of energy.
I was always running around, looking
at this and that.

If I stopped
the pain
was unbearable.

If I stopped and thought, maybe
the world
can’t be saved,
the pain
was unbearable.

Also, she received a lot of criticism (primarily from male critics) because she uses such simple language. She never pulls out the flowery 6-syllable SAT words, and critics equated that with childishness or lack of intellect. But that’s why I love her writing so much: It’s accessible to everyone. It feels very honest and true. Anyway, I’d love to get dinner with her—or, even better, go on a long walk through the woods.

 

Related: 6 sapphic songs as delicate as Mary Oliver’s poetry

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Nina Varela is a nationally awarded writer of screenplays and short fiction. She was born in New Orleans and raised on a hippie commune in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent most of her childhood playing in the Eno River, building faerie houses from moss and bark, and running barefoot through the woods. These days, Nina lives in Los Angeles with her writing partner and their tiny, ill-behaved dog. She tends to write stories about hard-won love and young people toppling the monarchy/patriarchy/whatever-archy. On a related note, she’s queer. On a less related note, she has strong feelings about hushpuppies and loves a good jambalaya. CRIER’S WAR is her first novel.

You can find Nina at any given coffee shop in the greater Los Angeles area, or at www.ninavarela.com.

Add to GoodreadsPreorder Crier’s War

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We’re so very happy we could share this little gem of an interview with you, guys! And we hope you also love Nina now and are on your way to preorder her book!

 

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