Monday, February 20, 2012

"Fat Girl In A Strange Land": Five Questions With Author AJ Fitzwater

Pickled Think is delighted to snatch a few moments with "Fat Girl In A Strange Land" (out now in ebook and paperback) author AJ Fitzwater. She's stopped by to answer five quick questions about the motivation behind her story "Cartography, and the Death of Shoes". Hi AJ, thanks for joining us! Or is it Amanda? What does the 'J' stand for?

Amanda: You can call me Amanda, just don't call me late for dinner. And the 'J'? Just wouldn't you like to know. Hey, does that count as a question?

PT: Just a little warm up, to see if you're awake. Let's get into it. So, "Cartography, and the Death of Shoes". What came first, the title or the story?

Amanda: In this instance, the title. It doesn't always work like that. It was originally "The Death of Shoes" because I wanted to write around the theme of an active fat woman, and seeing shoes as an animate object that lived and died and contributed to the woman's welfare really tickled me. I added the "Cartography" once the map-making theme became apparent.

PT: What drew you to the submission call by Crossed Genres Publications?

Amanda: It came up on Duotrope about the same time someone Twitter linked it, and it immediately grabbed me because it was in the realm of what I really like to write about - feminist science fiction and fantasy, social justice and body politics. For the last few years I've taken a keen interest in Fat Activism, and the submission call was the perfect storm. It gave me an opportunity to focus my thoughts into my writing. I dashed out two stories on the theme very quickly. One of them was spectacular and became "Cartography", the other craptacular and became my failed first attempt at a zombie fic.

PT: Why the shoes and the maps?

Amanda: One of the myths about fat people is they're lazy, they're slobs, they don't exercise. I wanted to work on dispelling that myth. I see amazing larger fit and exercising people every day. I like the idea of being so in love with an activity that you'll do it every day no matter the weather. I like to bike, but unfortunately I'm a bit of a wuss. I don't like biking in the rain, extreme cold or heat so I don't do it nearly as often as I should.

The maps were a logical process. If you walk everywhere, surely you need to know where you're going or the amazing and possibly magical places you could go. My character still lived with many insecurities from a lifetime of being berated for her fatness, so she chose to live her dreams of travel through maps. I liked the idea of being able to spatially place yourself within a map, feel and taste and smell the things it promised. Whenever I've gone on holiday or overseas, I've got a little pleasure from collecting and pouring over maps so I know exactly where I'm going. Unfortunately, I don't have the spacial sense of my heroine!

PT: You chose an unusual narration style. Walk us through that.

Amanda: I'm always looking to further my writing experience. I don't make it easy on myself and be an easily predictable writer. I had recently been researching second person narrative styles and had seen how it could be done effectively. I wanted to give it a go for two reasons: to see if I could pull it off, and use it as way to make the reader literally get into the shoes of the character. I wanted it to be confrontational.

You either like second person or you don't. It doesn't work for all readers, and I'm okay if it turns somebody off. I'd rather experiment and fail, than not try at all. I'm happy with the result, and obviously the editors thought it was an interesting approach too!

PT: What's the deal with the character of Vinnia? She sounds like she deserves a story all of her own,

Amanda: I like Vinnia. I like big, exuberant, exhausting, gorgeous women like her. I originally wrote Vinnia completely explaining her, but then I pulled her back. I like a little mystery, a little question in a story. I'm the type who doesn't want everything laid out in a story. It makes me think about it well after I've put it down, and that's a sign of a good story.

Vinnia's favourite haunt is named after a famous establishment here in Christchurch, now closed down. That may be a little hint.

PT: Another interesting character is the cobbler, who is non-gendered. How difficult was that to write?

Amanda: The difficulty is actually in the reader's understanding of gender presentation and androgyny. A lot of people find androgynous and non-binary people confusing, even threatening. These are more myths I want to dispel with my writing.

I've received criticism about my choice of gender-neutral pronouns in this story, and this is quite frustrating. Not frustrating that I've received criticism, I'm always open to that, it makes me a better writer! But frustrated in the sense that I'm struggling to find a gender-neutral pronoun that's universal. I used the singular "they"  in "Cartography", and I've used "zie/hir" in other stories. Both approaches have been met with mixed success.  The singular "they" may be more well known, but grammar anoraks find it hard to deal with. I've had a story published with "zie/hir" to denote an intersex character (and it was welcomed with open arms by the editor). However, I've had other feedback and criticisms that show others don't even know that these types of pronouns exist. Someone even pushed back quite hard against them, when a little Googling would have resolved their question.

I'm still researching the different types of pronouns too, it's an ongoing process. My usage here is by no means my definitive stance. Other languages have gender-neutral pronouns, but English speakers have been spectacularly resistant to the idea. There's even ongoing and changing discussion in genderqueer communities. One of the arguments behind it is that changes in the language are too slow moving. However, if text and LOL speak can enter our lexicons and dictionaries easy enough, changes of a decade or so, why can't gender-neutral pronouns? I feel it comes down to a persistent, conservative lack of understanding about genderqueer people.

PT: Thanks for your time Amanda. We hope "Fat Girl In A Strange Land" is a success for you.

Amanda: No, thank YOU!

Author AJ Fitzwater can be found blogging about her writing journey at, and on Twitter @BiscuitCIB. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand where the city skyline is a gap-tooth smile and its skin is a mass of wrinkles.

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