Blog Interview – Tomas Marcantonio

Tomas Marcantonio is a novelist and prize-winning travel writer from Brighton, England. His short fiction has appeared in over a dozen journals and anthologies, including STORGYThe Fiction Pool, and Ellipsis Zine. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English and writes whenever he can escape the classroom. You can connect with Tomas on Twitter @TJMarcantonio.

His story “Plastic Lives” appeared in Issue Two.

What inspired your story?

This is a really unique one for me in that I actually didn’t come up with the idea for the story myself. My brother-in-law woke up one morning and sent me an essay of an email detailing the dream he had just had. I couldn’t believe the level of detail he’d created within his subconscious, and he just said something like: “There’s a story for you if you fancy it.” In the end I had to simplify the story and I just created a couple of characters to focus on, because the world he had imagined was so vast, it was like an entire novel. Of course, recent news about genetically-modified babies actually makes the story even more relevant right now; it’s almost at the stage where this isn’t science fiction any more, it’s just fiction.

Why do you write speculative fiction?

I love exploring new worlds and coming up with new concepts, and then finding the story within. It’s great to create a future society, for example, and then to wonder who the most interesting character is in that world, who doesn’t play by the rules, or what flaws can bring this society down. I’m currently based in Korea, where things often seem a lot more futuristic than they do where I grew up in England, so that provides a lot of inspiration, and the differences between eastern and western cultures always gives me ideas for speculative stories too.

What was the last book that blew your mind?

So far this year I’ve already read a few books that have stayed with me. The Point by Charles D’Ambrosio is an incredible collection of short stories; they’re so gritty and depressing and real, but laced with touching moments and brilliantly observed detail. Then on a completely different note, A Rose for Winter by Laurie Lee, who is one of my absolute favourite writers. Every time I read a paragraph of Lee’s writing I feel like I’m studying a masterclass in literature; his writing is so poetic and I can’t get enough of it. I also read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for the first time last month, and it was haunting. I love coming of age stories, particularly when they deal with anxiety and depression. These topics are more common in literature these days, but when the book was published I imagine it must have been all the more difficult to speak and write about.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your past self, what would it be?

Read more fiction. Actually, when I was growing up I mostly read fantasy through my teens, and then travel writing as a young adult, as I mainly focused on travel writing myself. When I started writing more fiction, I realised how much more I needed to read. Even now, in between reading books in the genres that particularly interest me, I’ll pick up classics that I probably should have read fifteen years ago.

What writing projects are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a novel based on a series of short stories that I wrote for STORGY Magazine. It’s a dystopian novel set in a neon-drenched island city located between Japan and Korea, where the government has introduced a host of policies to combat the ageing population. The main character is a one-eared ex-con who is forced to deform himself and go on the run after being framed for murder. It’s been a joy to write and it’s kept me busy for a while, but I also find time for short stories and travel writing between drafts.

Blog Interview – Zanib Zulfiqar

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.