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Interview: Z.M. Quynh on Her GENIUS LOCI Story “The South China Sea”


Genius Loci is a new anthology edited by Jaym Gates that is due out in September. It’s currently on Kickstarter, and features stories by authors like Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu,  and more. In a special series of interviews, I asked the authors a few questions about themselves and their stories.

About Genius Loci (via Jaym Gates):

The concept of ‘genius loci‘ is indeed an ancient one, found in nearly every human mythology. Guardian spirits. Divine presences. Demonic powers. Ghosts. In GENIUS LOCI, the emphasis is on the locale as much as it is on the spirit inhabiting it.

We have a huge anthology of 31 all-new fantasy and science fiction stories drawing on the rich tradition of place-as-person. Within the pages of GENIUS LOCI, the authors present stories of sentient deserts, beneficent forests, lonely shrubs, and protective planetary spirits.

Today, I talked to Z.M. Quynh about her story “The South China Sea”

Z.M. Quỳnh huddles in deep east oakland in a room tinged with blue nursing calloused hands worn down from the chronic transcription of restless dreams. past lives have included scattered jaunts through urban minefields with each misstep hinting at a life less easily mapped out by this amateur cartographer. irrationally drawn to moving mountains one stone at a time, quỳnh has tackled the tasks of labor organizer, juvenile hall literacy coordinator, artistic director of a guerrilla feminist theatre troupe, mother, mentor and best friend (all rolled up in one), civil rights advocate, guardian ad litem for foster care youth, waitstaff at one too many late night diners (hey…free food—what?), slam poet, urban horticulturalist, visual junk artist, passionate lover, and cocktail server/candy salesperson at all night rave parties (hungry people pay $5 for candy bars!).

Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about your story in Genius Loci and what inspired you to write it?

Z.M. Quynh: My story is titled “South China Sea” and it is about a patch of sea between Vietnam and freedom where thousands of my people died attempting to bring themselves and their families to lands where they could create a life worth living. It’s specifically inspired by my cousin and his wife, both characters in my story, whose fates were sealed by Thai pirates and the merciless South China Sea.

KC: What do you like to see in a good story, and what authors or novels have influenced you the most in your work, and your life?

ZMQ: I like stories that make me question all the “isms” of our world and why we have them – stories that go to the root of human existence and make me envision a different world. The authors that inspire me tend to be those that find ways to make me appreciate everyday things all of us take for granted like Lawrence Yep, Anita Diamante, Andrew X. Pham, Sofia Samatar… But I am most influenced by my writing partners – writers whose voices have not even been heard yet or whose words are just being recognized and with whom I struggle through this artistry daily…my Nebs and Rona F.

KC: What would you say is the biggest challenge when writing short fiction?

ZMQ: The biggest challenge is spinning a good yarn that hooks readers, has all the elements of a plot diagram, and can make the reader feel as passionate, angry, compassionate, evil, giggly…whatever feeling you were high on when you wrote the piece – somehow passing the height of those feelings through your writing to the reader – it’s a form of sorcery I’ve yet to tackle…

KC: What do you enjoy most about reading, and writing, SFF?

ZMQ: I enjoy remembering all the past and current multi-dimensional and multi-universal lives I have lived and am currently living but have somehow forgotten ever since I became entangled in the vortex that is life on earth – happened sometime around my birth I think…

KC: What’s next for you?

ZMQ: I have been scrambling to beta run my time extension app which is poised to extend our Saturdays to an additional ten hours so that I can, hopefully, finish the novel (ahem…novels) I’ve been working on forever…and the dozen or so short stories that keep weaving in and out of magazine rejections and revisions. Its kind of a long way to go, but trust me…something tells me I’m on the right path!

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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