Sunday, May 10, 2020

An Interview With AJ Fitzwater, Author of “The Voyages Of Cinrak The Dapper”



I first got to know AJ Fitzwater when we both had stories appear in Tales for Canterbury (Random Static), a fundraiser anthology for the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011.

Since that time, AJ has gone on to attend the Clarion workshop of 2014 and her short fiction has been published widely, including in her home country of New Zealand and internationally. She is a two-times winner of NZ's Sir Julius Vogel Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: for Best New Talent in 2015 and Best Short Story in 2017.

More recently (April 6), AJ's first collection, in this case of linked short stories, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, was released to the world by Queen of Swords Press. I'm delighted to welcome AJ to Supernatural Underground today, to talk Cinrak and share the fun and goodness of a new-out book.


Helen: AJ, The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper is a collection of linked short stories chronicling the life, times, and loves of Cinrak, a pirate capybara sailing the high seas. So, if I may begin with a naive question for those new to your writing, why a capybara, in particular? And why pirates?

AJ: I usually answer this question with the double inspiration information — capybara were a running joke in my Clarion class, and I was into capybara memes from Tumblr. 

But there’s also something mystical and practical about capybara. They haven’t been mythologized in modern fantasy like rat pirates. They’re physically robust — broad of chest and shoulder, yet sleek and quick inside and out of water, which speaks of a sturdy fighter who knows the oceans. They’re a communal animal, the whole herd having a paw in bringing up their young, and chill with many other species — which suggests queer House Parents and loving of found family.

They’re also a great conversation starter. Some people have never heard of them, and I like being the capybara pirate whisperer.

Helen: I can imagine you as a capybara pirate whisperer, AJ! And I recall how exciting it was when you headed off to Clarion in 2014. So was there some special circumstance that made capybara a running joke for the class? And did anything in particular from that time carry through into the character of Cinrak?

AJ: Every class at Clarion (UC San Diego) in recent years has come up with funny names for the group. We never decided formally, but it was a toss up between The Were-Corgis, Were-Capybara, and Were-Chupacabras.
Capybara came up when we were doodling into an ARC of Authority that Jeff Vandermeer let us “vandalize” for him. People were slotting in random pictures or scene insertions of funny animals, and I put “Suddenly, a wild capybara appears!” with arrows into a very tense scene. I think Jeff was talking at the time about how much he wanted to pet a capybara.
Really, only the idea of a capybara as an interesting character stayed with me. It didn’t flesh out into something more until I learned of their chill, communal natures years later.

Helen: What about the character of Cinrak makes your heart sing, as an author?
AJ: Cinrak is square-chested, queer, and steady as ballast. A total butch, down to her suits and soft heart encased in a tough shell. She has oodles of love to share with her crew and family, something she didn’t get as a kit. She wants to make sure everyone has the space to be their best self. She loves learning from all the species of Rodentdom. She’s not always perfect — she pushes too hard and gives too much of herself, forgetting self care and spiritual release. She tries to be understanding of those who have wronged her, but her temper is slow burn and can make her quite stubborn.

Helen: Fantasy worldbuilding is my blogging theme for 2020, particularly on the Supernatural Underground, where I post at least once a month. So I’m particularly interested in Cinrak’s world of Rodentdom. Can you tell readers a little more about it and what makes it “tick” as a fantasy world?

AJ: Rodentdom during Cinrak’s time is in the midst of social and political upheaval — and they’re excited by it! Matriarchal leadership has been an undercurrent of their society, but its teachings have somewhat been corrupted by violence, greed, and expansionism. Pirates have been part of this, and modern Rodentdom pirates are in the midst of learning co-operation, fair distribution, and profit-sharing via unionizing and revisiting old scriptures (which have been usurped by conservatives, and upon research have surprisingly modern consequences).

They’re also learning hard lessons about how their expansionism has affected other species, chasing them out of or violating their historic homes, and how this affects ecosystems.

Plus, the old feudal inheritance system is transitioning to a democratic monarchy, but not without it’s problems.

Helen: Are there other species in your world of Rodentdom? And how do they interact with the rodent species? Also what is the magic of Rodentdom and how does it all work?

AJ: Just like in any world, for an ecosystem to be effective, survive, and thrive, it needs multiple species. Being somewhat aquatic, it makes sense to have water-faring species. There’s the mer, part humanoid, part fish (does their evolution speak to humans in the far past? There might be something in the human-tales about that). Ogres are almost humanoid, but they are scaly and have more in common with the great leviathans of the oceans with regards to their size and communal spirit. And there are the leviathans themselves, the whales and kraken. Because of their sapiency, superstitions and rules about eating types of seafood are abundant — kraken are friends, not food.

The land and oceans and elements are the magic. Perhaps the whole planet is a living planet, but Rodentdom hasn’t got that far in their evolution, science, and understanding to see the world from outside its limits…though the kraken have! But Rodentdom has learned to treat their environment, the earth, trees, moons, water, food, with respect. Take one, put one back. Those with the most respect for the land and its elements have the greatest ability to touch it’s magic. This is where Cinrak’s “saltiness” comes from — her ability to interact with the winds, understand the needs and movements of the stars, and follow the currents of the oceans with an ease that perplexes other pirates.
Helen: I understand romance features in The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper. How would you describe those romantic elements?  And is there one significant romantic relationship, or several?

AJ: Cinrak, the marmot opera diva Loquolchi, and rat queen Orvillia are in an ethical polyamorous relationship. There are moments that go into their meet-cutes, and how they negotiate their relationships, but I haven’t written any stories that focus on their romance. Yet. 

Cinrak is terrible at romance. It’s cutely awkward. She’s happy to let Loqui and Orvillia be all the flowers and hearts and picnics, and they’re happy to make a fuss of her. She acts as their rock and negotiator. Everything works extremely well, because none of them would be happy married or stuck in the same place with each other all the time. Their relationships remain resilient because they value freedom, consent, and open communication.

Another major relationship of the stories is between Agnes the Kraken and the glass whale Xolotli. It’s a queer love that spans centuries and oceans. 

Helen: If challenged to describe The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper in three words, what would they be?

AJ: The book does have the promo line: Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate. Which is apparently delightful to many people, and their joy is a joy to me.

To take it a step further: Madcap. Magic. Hug. 

Helen: And  “Also, dapperness”, which I must admit appeals to me a lot, as does anything that offers magic and the madcap, along with a hug! Thank you very much for dropping by, AJ, and sharing your insider’s insights, as author, into Cinrak and her world. I am sure readers will be as fascinated by both as I am, and join me in wishing you and Cinrak every success in the wide and wild world of publishing, readerdom, and books.


More About The Voyages Of Cinrak The Dapper:

Dapper. Lesbian. Capybara. Pirate.

Cinrak the Dapper is a keeper of secrets, a righter of wrongs, the saltiest capybara on the sea and a rider of both falling stars and a great glass whale. Join her, her beloveds, the rat Queen Orvilia and the marmot diva Loquolchi, lead soprano of the Theatre Rat-oyal, her loyal cabin kit, Benj the chinchilla, and Agnes, last of the great krakens, as they hunt for treasures of all kinds and find adventures beyond their wildest dreams. Let Sir Julius Vogel Award-winning storyteller A.J. Fitzwater take you on a glorious journey about finding yourself, discovering true love and exploring the greatest secrets of the deep. Also, dapperness.


More About The Author:

AJ Fitzwater lives between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. A Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and graduate of Clarion 2014, their work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer, Giganotosaurus, and various anthologies of repute. A unicorn disguised in a snappy blazer, they tweet @AJFitzwater

Helen Lowe is a teller of tales and purveyor of story, chiefly by way of novels and poetry. Her first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.

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