When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing for publication earlier this year (2016) after being laid off from my boring desk job and finding it extremely difficult to continue in my first career. In my personal life, I’d written short stories or poems that I shared with family or friends, but it’s been the feeling of shame and self-doubt, not knowing what I’m going to be doing next with myself, that’s pushed me to go further with this dream. I have no idea if I’ll ever be economically safe again, but at least at the end of a day spent writing my silly stories, I feel productive.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
As a child, a great many people told me they expected me to be a writer when I grew up, based on the stories I made up and the amount of books I read. Then, as mentioned above, I was laid off this year, and despite great effort, I’ve been unable to find a new job. A catalyst for me was having my grandmother die a few months after losing my job – I was the only person in our family she died still worrying about. I was also caught between aunts and uncles dealing with their own tensions, old rivalries resurfacing with their grief, and as the eldest grandchild, responsibilities for keeping the peace fell to me. I needed to be a voice for calm while also dealing with my own shame and self-loathing. After the funeral, I wrote out the whole experience. It was cathartic and pushed me to invest more and more time in writing.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I’m writing a pseudo-historical fantasy novel, in a setting where Native American nations remain overt, strong and independent barriers to colonization. I chose fantasy because I’m a fan of fantasy works like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but also because the magic gives me a convenient plot-device for changing history the way I want it changed to fit my worldviews, regardless of fact or evidence. I guess that makes me a Republican.
As for the history…in my opinion, colonization is the worst unresolved sin Western civilization has ever committed. The arrogance required to go to a new land, judge and demonize the cultures that lived in balance with the ecology there, displace them and establish an economy that consumes resources faster than they can be renewed, and then derides everyone different as either “primitive” or “extremist”? It’s terrifying; the world I’ve been educated in is terrifying. And I’m genuinely scared that, as a result, our world is heading for a population collapse in one form or another.
By writing stories where Native civilizations maintain an overt degree of control over the economic development and ecological health of our world, I’m giving myself a fantasy I can live with.
What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre that isn’t so?
That Native American cultures are “primitive” compared to Western cultures.
What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre that they need to know?
That ecology and economy are Native concepts, and the rest of us need to adopt their world-views, starting yesterday.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
At this moment, I’m a full-time writer who’s also job-hunting. That being said, my severance pay is about to run out, so you may see me behind the counter at Starbucks before much longer. I promise to misspell your name in the most creative way possible.
What are some day jobs you have held?
Dishwasher, security-guard, grocery-store cashier, literacy councilor, administrative literacy councilor, bursary and scholarship officer, self-indulgent drain on my parents’ life savings.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
Gladly! My story takes place in the early nineteenth century, and the American continents look very different to their real-world counterparts. Colonization has hurt a great many Native nations, but the main real-world cause of Native depopulation – plagues – has had a much more limited effect on Native nations, because of magic and fantasy and things. The Aztec empire has resisted Spanish conquest for three-hundred years; the Iroquois are an effective barrier to American western expansion; the Metis have declared independence from the British Empire; etc. etc. Europeans have effectively colonized the east coasts of the continents thanks to guns, germs, and steel, but the further into the continent you go, the more impossible Europeans find it to assert their dominion. Native nations are simply too effectively revitalizing themselves. The plot that follows this setting is all about the conflict between colonizer and colonized, between religions and ecologies, between fact and belief.
What role does research play in your writing?
Quite a bit. I have quite a bit of personal, professional, and academic knowledge of both Native and Western history and worldviews, but my main story takes place in an Aztec setting and I know very little, myself, about the Aztec culture. Representing them without, y’know, without colonizing them, without misjudging them, is my main concern. I have no idea how successful I’m being. I hope I’m not screwing up too badly. In some ways, I use magic and fantasy to cheat, to use the fiction to invent covers for the gaps in my knowledge or the limitations in my intelligence, and that helps, but I know I’m walking a line. So I research not just historical accounts, but also modern Native philosophies, in an effort to avoid imposing Western values on a foreign culture in my fiction. But I may fail at this. Beyond that, my story has a lot of the tropes of action-adventure, several battles and such, so I’ve had to research nineteenth-century technologies and tactics to try and create some authenticity.
Would you like to provide an excerpt?
I can remember this one time. Our father, he invited some traveling Baptized nun to come eat supper at our house. He bought the most expensive food, the nicest beans and squash and tortillas, the most premium coffee, even bought this nice cut of venison, made it out to be a special occasion, made her out to be an honoured guest. He was never, you know, listen, he was never sympathetic to Baptism, don’t get me wrong, but I think he felt it was special to give Patli and I a chance to practice our English with a free White person.
I remember sitting with the nun at our table, staring at her robes and habit, wondering why she’d wear so many layers in all the heat. She didn’t seem to mind much, she was real joyful, with a booming laugh and easy smile on her chubby, olive-skinned face. Patli whispered that she looked like a black-and-white toad… I dunno. I found her charming enough.
Patli had no patience for any of these invaders from another continent, waving their Bibles and singing their songs, telling us we were primitive and backwards and savage, telling us, you know, who to marry and who to fuck, telling us they alone of all the peoples of the whole wide world knew the One True Path to Salvation.
So in her sweetest voice, Patli pipes up at the nun, says,
“Excuse me, Sister, but do you need to be a virgin to become a nun?”
And without missing a beat, still carving her venison, the portly woman looks Patli in the eye and replies,
“You know, they never did ask me.”
How can you learn more about Itzcuintli and his work?