Zanib Zulfiqar is a pre-medicine student at the University of Cincinnati, College of Allied Health Sciences, and has been writing since the age of nine. “Paper Boats,” first appeared in the literary journal for the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash branch as a second-place winner of their spring writing contest in 2017. Follow Zanib on Twitter @ZanibZulfiqar.
Her story “Paper Boats” appeared in Exoplanet Issue Two.
When did you start writing?
I have been a story-teller pretty much my entire life. When I was four, I had an imaginary friend that I’d construct fantastic adventures around. I think I wrote my first official “story” when I was nine years old. Something about a strange woman living in a house on a hill. Never really knew where I was going with it, but it was interesting to think about thirteen years later.
Why do you write speculative fiction?
Escapism. I’ve always found stories that took place in the mundane and everyday (boy meets girl, teenager in high school, old man coming to terms with his past mistakes) less interesting than stories that lived in constructed worlds. I know I’ve always loved vampires, werewolves, magicians, and dystopias, but it wasn’t until I actively started writing things down for Oblivion – the series from which “Paper Boats” originated – that I realized just how much I loved playing around in the realm of Science Fiction as well.
What inspired “Paper Boats”?
I think I can speak to a lot of imaginative people when I say that my best ideas occur in the shower. I was in the process of defining the mindscape of Oblivion’s main character, Alex Valentine, and was between several ideas that all worked for various reasons. There was something about an expanse of nothingness that spoke to the character’s deep-seated fears of confusion, isolation, and immobilization. My character is part of my universe’s super-SWAT units, the guy that kicks down doors and shoots anything that moves. Being alone in a knee-deep ocean of black water and rocky outcroppings seemingly in a world that was permanently asleep – being afraid of being in a blank, quiet world – says so much about Alex’s character.
What do you want to share most with your readers?
The world, the story, the characters, the troubles that plague them. Of course that’s the primary purpose of writing. But with that, I am eager to share the scaffolding and architecture behind the scenes. I’d love to share the maps of the world, sketches of Golem City, the previous versions of the storyline, where the ideas came from. I’d love to see how people construct their own worlds, and I think the best way to get that conversation rolling is to start with yours.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?
Let. Stuff. Sit. Just because the words “darkness” and “teeming” came up in a sentence doesn’t mean that I need to produce a detailed description of how they fit into my story that very evening. I don’t need to stare at a blank Word document for hours until I can scrape something together because I have this rough diamond of an idea that I want to see cut and polished. It’s okay – and often better – to write down fragments of ideas as they occur, turn the journal page, and allow them to stew for a while.