"I Think New Fairytales are or Should be Made all the Time." Nin Harris on Delinquent's Spice & Truancy
Nin Harris is a Gothic scholar and a senior lecturer at the National University of Malaysia. She is the founder and editor of Delinquent's Spice & Truancy. She writes postcolonial Gothic and mythic fantasy fiction, nerdcore post-apocalyptic fiction set in South East Asia, amongst other things. Nin's publishing credits include: The Harrow, Jabberwocky 3, Goblin Fruit and Alphabet of Embers (forthcoming). She is also a bashful singer/songwriter, and visual artist who sometimes dreams in html/css/php. She suspects she’ll try any storytelling medium at least once and remains an advocate of the potentials of hypertext literature, which she teaches in her undergraduate and M.A. creative writing courses.
Interview by Alicia Cole
How did you develop the concepts behind Delinquent’s Spice and Truancy? Where did your need to create arise from?
I originally developed the idea when I was on the staff of Cabinet des Fees, I wanted to create a micro-project that could fit in-between issues of Scheherazade's Bequest. I have been running a couple of hypertext projects on the www since the 90s, and had been on the verge of launching another when I was recruited for CdF. So I adapted that model for DS. As for where my need to create arose from: I am passionate about hypertext fiction, and have a lifelong passion for folk and fairytale inspired narratives. I am also a non-firstworld South-East Asian and I often feel erased from the ongoing conversation about retold fairytales. I wanted to create a venue for all of the in-betweens, who don’t get a chance to be voiced, because most venues are very Eurocentric and do not seem to realize there are fairytales in every nation, and in every culture.
After going indie, I decided that DS was a bit too structured for more rebellious folk and fairytale revisions. We started out with Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) type categories for Volume 1 of Delinquent’s Spice (partially because I was affiliated with Cabinet des Fees and I wanted to give the project a start that was easier for CdF readers/contributors to relate to) but my inclusion of the ATU was always towards encouraging writers to subvert and undermine the traditional markers. We’re going to leave that behind in future volumes. As for Truancy, I actively encourage submitters to create their own folk and fairytales, or to find those tales that are not done to death. Although I HAVE accepted a retelling of a very popular fairytale type for Issue Three, because it broke that archetype in a very important way.
What does hybridity and the merging of boundaries mean to you in terms of publishing?
Being a cultural and biological hybrid, hybridity is not something I can avoid in my life. My PhD dissertation and my current work as an academic focuses on hybridity, liminalities and transgression as a means of taking a stand against the commodification of culture.
As a publisher, I hope to provide an alternative to overly prescriptive dictums about culture, about how writing should be. I find a danger in various venues claiming to be diverse in that they are still exoticising minority cultures, or expecting writers from certain nations or minorities to write in a certain way. As an academic, writer and editor, I am very against the commodification of culture, and this goes hand in hand with my belief that in a world that is becoming more and more hybrid, more transnational, we need to understand that no culture is static or free from hybridity. As a publisher, this means reading stories that falls in the gaps in-between cultures.
Are fairytale types vital to our modern age? If so, why?
I don’t think fairy tales will ever stop being vital to any age. As for fairy tale types, that question is rather fraught. We need, I believe, a strong alternative to Eurocentric classification systems. I think as we move into the future we will have newer systems of classification, and newer ways of understanding why the folk and fairytale is so integral to all of our cultures. I see new fairytales being made every day. Some of them start as urban legends, or as rumours, even. The need to pass tales down or to tell each other stories is such an integral part of human communication. I think new fairytales are or should be made all the time.
What is the current state of diversity and inclusion in modern publishing from your point-of-view? In your own publications?
I think that a lot of publications are moving in the right direction where diversity and inclusion are concerned, but there are still a lot of hiccups. I still see people grasping to include voices, but only those that are acceptable, or those that fit within the “template” of what seems to be diverse. I think we need to fully understand that cultures are fluid, and that none of the marginalized cultures that we seek to include in our publications fit within prefab templates. Fortunately, right now that conversation is taking place, and though it is painful, I hope it will resolve in far better inclusiveness than we have right now.
I also hope to evolve both of the publications so they are more diverse and inclusive. I’ve always had that as an M.O. but I’ve realized that the writers I want to reach out to are a little intimidated of the publication. I may be a bit scary! I’m working on that!
Talk about your own journey to the realms of folk and fairy tale.
I will have to try to answer this question without writing you a mini-thesis. Ha!
Fairytales have been my whole life. I don’t even know when it started, to be honest. I was one of those “gifted children” who read everything in sight and commensurately scared adults. I started out reading the usual stuff, Ladybird fairytale books, and other hardcover books. Very strongly remember Peter and the Wolf when I was around 3-4 years old, and both parents reading me fairytales. My dad used to do a pretty scary wolf impression! By the time we moved to the UK I’d already started reading books without pictures in them, and I was given two beautiful secondhand hardcover books: fairytales by the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson. It was rough at first for me to read and understand the old-fashioned language and small font (I was 5 years old!), and I had to be read some of the tales.
But eventually I grabbed those books away from adults and was reading them cover to cover. I moved on from that to Andrew Lang’s books. When we returned to Malaysia, I discovered a whole new set of fairytales, and was enchanted by Malay folktales, the legend of Hang Tuah, the tales of Sang Kancil, and that of the Princess of Mount Ophir. In high school, we learned classical Malay in short passages for our Malay Language classes. Those passages were not enough for me, I was greedy. I wanted to read all of the Malay Epics, so started with the Malay Annals. Reading a particular passage around the same time I was rereading Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream set a fire off in my head. I was 16 years old, and I knew I wanted to do something scholarly related to fairytales. This is not as dramatic as it sounds, since I also wanted to be a doctor, an astrophysicist, a writer, and a composer. But it certainly was the ambition that stuck! I later studied the Malay Epics in Form Six (our college/pre-U equivalent for people who cannot afford private colleges and didn’t make it into a scholarship programme) for Malay literature, and was in heaven. I was reading The malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu) and Hikayat Hang Tuah around the same time I was rereading The Nibelungenleid, The Mabinogion and a compilation of tales about Cuchulain. It was really fascinating to find correlations between the epics, and yes, that pretty much sealed my fate.
How does your own writing intersect with your editing?
Honestly, I do my best to keep the two aspects compartmentalized. As a writer, I do have a rather over-active internal editor but I do not think I should impose this monster on my writers. Honestly I think the aspect of me my writers see is actually the educator and creative writing teacher.
I’ve been in the publishing business off and on since 1999. I had my start in a relatively big educational books publishing company and was sent for editorial bootcamp. I moved on to different part-time editing gigs during my stints in grad school. Right now, my work as an editor straddles being editor (and publisher) of my publications, plus the work I do on a peer-reviewed, multi-indexed academic journal for languages and literature.
I’m learning a lot, and the more I learn, the more I am convinced that writers who are also editors need to learn to compartmentalize so they don’t impose their own creative vision upon other writers. Ego needs to take a back seat here!
It’s a learning process for me. It’s easier for me to step back in Truancy, for instance, whereas in DS, my creative touch as a writer is still needed. I set the prompts and in many ways design the framework of narratives. From the onset, however, I told myself I should step back from the storytelling process as much as possible. I provide the framework, but writers should be allowed to further, enlarge and expand upon the narrative. I’m always thrilled when they do, and it has been a very humbling experience for me. In the best way!
Where do you see your publications going in the future?
Well, I’ve storyboarded Delinquent’s Spice right up to Volume 4, but right now I’m just anxious about bringing Volume 1 out in chapbook form in 2015. As for Truancy, I am excited to see how it evolves. I have accepted fiction for issues 1, 2 and 3 thusfar, plus a fairytale serial by Mari Ness is going to be bonus content for issues 2 and 3. In the future, I plan to do more grassroots outreach for Truancy. I don’t want it to just feature established writers in the field, but newer writers, newer voices that deserve to be heard. One of the writers in Issue One, for instance, is actually a student of mine, who rather bashfully shared with me this intense, Gothic tale set in Yemen. It was a surreal piece of work that disturbed me, and I kept wondering what publication would accept such a deserving tale that didn’t quite fit the dominant discourse of how ‘diverse’ fiction should be. Then I realized that stories like Shada Bokir’s was why I created Truancy. So expect more of that in the future. I believe editing is not just about being passive and receiving submissions but figuring out different ways of getting unheard voices heard. One editor whose work reflects this is Rose Lemberg and I think a lot of us could learn a lot from the example she sets.
I do have a third project I want to bring out into the world, that hypertext project that I put on hold when I joined Cabinet des Fees. That would be a Mythic Folk side-project (Mythic Folk is a community I run which also web-publishes poetry and fiction by its members/our model is internal review/editing/comments by members).
What other publications would you recommend checking out in terms of fairy tales and fables?
Oh gosh, that’s a good question! I’d love to know if there are other publications in the biz, not just as an editor, but as a writer who uses a lot of mythic and fairytale tropes in her fiction!
Cabinet des Fees has another volume of fairytales coming out, I do believe! And some of the other big publications (Strange Horizons, Lightspeed etc) do occasionally publish revisioned fairy tales. I also highly recommend Goblin Fruit for poetry, and Unsettling Wonder, which is a wonder indeed. Lackington’s is an up-and-coming zine to consider, and I’ve enjoyed everything they’ve published. Stone Telling is not likely to go for more straightforward revisions of folk and fairytale motifs, but some of the heartbreaking beautiful poetry they’ve published have all had aspects of myth, folklore and fairytale, but in a boundary-breaking way. I’d keep my eye on that as well.
Alicia Cole, a writer and editor, lives in Lawrenceville, GA, with a menagerie of animals. As well as writing literary, speculative, YA and children’s poetry and short fiction, Alicia works for Rampant Loon Media as a copyeditor and proofreader, and volunteers at WonderRoot, an arts advocacy organization in Atlanta, GA. She has written for motionpoems and Bitch Magazine. Updates on her writing and editing can be found at: www.facebook.com/AliciaColewriter.