Monday, October 7, 2019

Why Capybara?

Since I've started giving the quick pitch on my upcoming short story collection "The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper" (Queen of Swords Press, April 2020) - dapper lesbian capybara pirate captain and the magical adventures of her queer found family - one of the first reactions is delighted chuckles at the idea of a capybara protagonist.

Why a capybara (latin: Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris; reader, remember this because there will be a test!)?

Because they're cute (not so) little chonks, famous for their grazing, bath taking, and being chill with all sorts of species. Did you know they can't synthesize vitamin C? Arh, me scurvy cavys!

Rodent worlds are standard fantasy fare, so when the opportunity arose to create one, I wanted a rodent lead character who was different from the norm. I knew she was going to be a lesbian. What sort of rodent looks a bit buff, a lantern-jawed butch, able to pull off a hecken handsome suit, and could be a house parent at the same time? Time to write that capybara I always wanted to.

Let's take the story back even further. At Clarion, Jeff Vandermeer shared the ARC of the final Southern Reach book, "Acceptance", with us. He told us to write silly comments in it to our hearts content. One night, we sat around getting progressively sillier and writing in random mutated wildlife. Proxies for ourselves? Could be.

Wanting to be smart and hip, I floundered for an interesting animal. "Suddenly, a wild capybara appears!" I scribbled.

That night, I wrote in my ideas notebook: "CAPYBARA PIRATE". I think I may have been drunk.

2017, and the Lexicon Short Story competition. Theme: rats. I didn't want to make my story same-same, so I made the rat a side character (all hail the birth of Rat Queen Orvillia!) and pawed through my ideas folder. Oh heck yeah, time to give that capybara pirate life!

Truth be told, Cinrak was born more from personal amusement than anything else, so I went to town with the ridiculousness. Glow worm butt fairies? Why not. Anthropomorphic celestial bodies? Sure! A pirate captain whose bow tie stayed firmly knotted in every situation? Magic.

And so was born "Wild Ride of the Untamed Stars". After taking second place in the competition, I was faintly bemused but happy it found a home at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I guess there's always a place for charming rodents on silly escapades.

Charming, silly, and kindness are the descriptors of this world that have stuck with me in the year since Cinrak The Dapper became a character people wanted more of. The Queen of Swords Press anthology "Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)" was the perfect fit for another Cinrak story, where I introduced the sweet trans boy chinchilla Benj, a genderqueer mermaid, and queer kraken-whale love in "Search For The Heart of the Ocean".

Then a few months later QoS editor Catherine Lundoff contacted me: would I be interested in writing a collection of Cinrak stories? DELIGHTED.

I have to admit, I thought my first published book was going to be more serious than fluffy pirate tales. Then I sat myself down and gave myself a good talking to. Things are Hard at this point in time. Queer communities are suffering under fascism at worst, neglect, exclusion, and disrespect at best. It's often hard to find joy and euphoria in a world that denies you them and is dedicated to upholding binaries. If I have the chance to create a moment of sweetness, spread some kindness by showing how queer families can find each other, live, and thrive, then that's some good I can put into the world.

So I took that capybara chill nature and anthropomorphized it into the queer kindness I wanted to see in the world. True to her chill nature that brings many together, Cinrak the Dapper, capybara pirate, is a (mostly) rock-solid house parent making space for her big queer fam, lifting them up, and bringing some starlight to their lives.

Cover of "The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper"
Purple and blue capybara silhouette with a starfield and pirate ship background.

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