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Author Interview: Nin Harris
2019-07-31 · by Natalia Theodoridou
Nin Harris is an author, poet, and tenured postcolonial Gothic scholar who exists in a perpetual state of unheimlich. Nin writes Gothic fiction, cyberpunk, nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction, planetary romances and various other forms of hyphenated weird fiction. Nin’s publishing credits include Clarkesworld, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, The Dark, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Lightspeed. Nin is the author of our August story, “War is a Mazed Garden” which was first run as a Twitter-based IF in July 2019.
This interview was conducted via email and chat in July 2019.
sub-Q Magazine: “War Is a Mazed Garden” shares a world with some of your other work. Could you talk a little about this world and the stories set in it? How did Sesen come about? What brings you back to it?
Nin Harris: Sesen was a world I created as a teenager and it was always this weird slipstream thing that I knew was SF, but I also knew I wanted to play with it so there would be some fantasy/mythic elements. The premise was that settlers on a new planet would build their own stories and mythologies. I’ve always been obsessed by the classics and with history and folklore/fairytales. As a kid I was a weird thing, frequently frightening adults with my solemn pronouncements. But as a teenager these ideas weren’t developed enough and I think I’ve spent most of my life learning weird things for “research”. Up till my mid-twenties I was working on “The Novel That Never Ends” which was basically part of my Sesen series of novels. I gave up on it and started writing other short stories and other novels — but I never forgot Sesen and in my mid-30s, just before I went off for my PhD, redid the entire worldbuilding system from the ground up and renamed everything.
Sometime in 2014, I wrote a suite of short stories to complement “Tower of the Rosewater Goblet”. And to my utter astonishment and delight they’ve nearly all sold (the only one left unpublished is also unfinished as of this writing). I started writing other stories and am optimistic about returning to the novel project after I am done with my Cantata of the Fourfold Realms project.
One of my major influences for the evolution of Sesen was Ursula K. LeGuin’s planetary romances. It tapped into what I always wanted to do with these stories — talk about the human condition in an alien setting. As a racially hybrid 13 year old going through various traumas, building this world saved me. I guess that’s as good an answer as any.
sub-Q Magazine: For the benefit of our readers seeking to read more of Nin’s Sesen stories, here is a list of work published so far:
sub-Q Magazine: What is war to you?
Nin: I don’t know how I can adequately answer this question. I think war is a horrible, ugly thing and the worst thing humanity can wreak upon the universe. But I’ve also been fascinated by the connection between humanity and war. Any student of history and literature would be. As that weirdo 8 year old kid I mentioned, I once stood in front of an entire classroom (we were supposed to do presentations on anything, most people talked about their pets, their friends, idek?), and I lectured them on “Why Is War Even Necessary” followed by a description of World War II, and then, staring at everyone’s faces at the end, awkwardly broke out into a rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (that saved the day, I think that was the only thing they remembered!).
sub-Q Magazine: Do you have longer work planned in this world?
Nin: The Yrole Triptych is definitely in the works. I already started revising the first novel (a much evolved version of The Novel That Never Ends) and will likely return to it after I am done writing my Cantata of the Fourfold Realms novels (projected as a duology), and Streets Eclectic, a Gothic fantasy set in my Penang-based laneworld storyverse.
sub-Q Magazine: What first drew you to Twitter-based games?
Nin: To be honest, #BungalowSariOne started as a whim. I’d been doing some polls randomly and people seemed to be enjoying them. Then I thought “what if I did a hypertext in poll form”. I’ve since discovered a few other people have also been doing poll games so I can’t claim to be the first but I did enjoy working on it a lot.
sub-Q Magazine: You also teach interactive/hypertext fiction to creative writing students. What do you think writers can get out of working with IF?
Nin: I’ve been teaching hypertext fiction and IF to students since 2011 after I got back from my PhD studies in Australia. While studying, I’d read several critical works on electronic literature and hypertext fiction that got me all fired up about doing something pedagogical with it (although I’ve been working on several hypertext projects since the 90s!). I think it’s particularly helpful w/ EFL/ESL students as it allows them to be intuitive and non-linear in dealing with narrative.
sub-Q Magazine: You are a working academic as well as a prolific fiction writer and poet. How do you find a balance between your academic career and your creative work? Not that these are necessarily antithetical.
Nin: I’d hardly categorize myself as prolific! I feel I’m massively underachieving compared to most of the high-flyers in SFF fiction/poetry! But yes, it is still a decent amount of publications. Some days, I honestly don’t know how I do it. I think about Edna St Vincent Millay’s “First Fig” a lot. My candle feels like it is burning on both ends. But I also feel both aspects of what I do feed into and inform each other. I am a literary academic who teaches creative writing. The research I do on narrative and discourse feeds into my practice as a creative writing instructor and as an author/poet. I just need to be careful not to overtax my reserves and manage my time wisely. These things do not always occur but I find it helps to have a plan. This year, I’ve tried bullet journaling and it’s really helped. Last year I had a planner system using word docs, but in 2019 it’s all analogue and it’s just really restful and meditative.
sub-Q Magazine: What’s next for you?
Nin: It’s the semester break right now. For academics, this means a flurry of meetings and planning for the next semester as well as catching up on writing deadlines. I’ve got a few articles to revise and send out to academic journals, short stories to finish, a novel to revise, an academic monograph to finish drafting and I’m running a fairytale conference disguised as a seminar series.
I also have two forthcoming short stories, “Colonized Bodies, Desiccated Souls” (postcolonial historical zombie) will be out at Diabolical Plots while “When Hope Is Lost, Touch Remains” (Gothic fantasy inflected with folk horror set in my alt-Penang laneworld storyverse) will be forthcoming from Podcastle at some point.