Writer, Poet, Essayist. Seeker of Truth, Conveyer of Stories.

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Most recent short story featured in Bloodchildren 

Latest news: BFSA short listed for Song Of The Body Cartographer

Tell me about the moment you found out you got into Clarion West. How did your life change from that point onward?

I have a hazy memory of the moment itself. It was early in the morning and we were getting ready for the day when the phone rang and it was Neile Graham telling me that I had been accepted to Clarion West. I might have been a bit incoherent, although Neile told me that I did say thank you.

At that time, I was still unsure about writing as a Filipino. I struggled very much with the idea of putting my culture on display. Someone said to me that I was so lucky because I had all this culture I could mine for story. It was something that confused me because my culture was part of who I was and I didn't see it as something I would incorporate in story just to entertain readers or to make my work different.

I struggled with questions like: what if I write it wrong? What if I’m not a good enough writer? What if I fail and make everything even more stereotype than it already is? Am I commodifying my culture when I write about it?

It was very good then to have Nalo Hopkinson as one of my instructors. She gave me such strong, wise words and I drew lots of encouragement from her presence as well as from the presence of writers like Nisi Shawl and JT Stewart.

These were women I admired and whose work I had set before me as my inspiration. I wanted to write SF like that. To be true to my heritage, to be true to my culture, and at the same time to have the same freedom white writers had in exploring their imagination.

I think being in conversation with these women helped me understand and see more clearly what it was that I wanted to write. Also, one conversation with Nancy Kress really impressed me. I told her that my background wasn't scientific but I really wanted to write SF, and she said to me: "Well, just go ahead and write SF. If it's what you want to do, do it." 

Clarion West helped solidify my convictions regarding what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write. Interestingly, someone telling me to write magical realism because that's what people like me do best, is what made me even more determined to write Science Fiction and Fantasy the way I want to write it. I learned to experiment at Clarion West and to be unafraid. My stories were read by a group of awesome, awesome writers...what could be more terrifying than that?

What are your feelings about the portrayal of minorities in contemporary science fiction and fantasy? How do you feel it's changed over the past thirty years?

My quarrel with the depiction of minorities in fiction lies in how these minorities are often looked at through the lens of the West. I'm not saying that all fictions with minorities fail, but a good many of them do fail because of the way in which a Western writer positions the minority person in his or her fiction.

They are, more often than not, subjected to the Western gaze, exoticized and commodified and put on display because the West demands a supply of something different. I'm not saying that Westerners shouldn't borrow or should simply confine themselves to writing white things. What I'm saying is that if the West chooses to borrow, they should do so realizing that these things are not theirs to take possession of. They should be treated with respect and afforded equality.

I do see how this is changing because there are sensitive writers out there who don’t go “Oh shiny, exoticlandia. Let me incorporate that in my fiction.”

I know we want to see this change take place yesterday, but change, particularly when it is an institutional thing, is very slow to happen.

As the world grows smaller and reader response arrives quicker, I hope we will see more changes in the depictions of minorities. For one, minorities are more easily heard and those whose cultures are utilized speak up louder and are heard more quickly because of the internet.

I do hope to see more writers of color and more writers from third-world nations coming in and writing their own stories. I believe the only way we can have a true and honest discourse is when we allow diverse voices a space of their own. There should be room for each of us in the grand conversation of SFF. And if right now there is no room, well then, we should make room.

And really, white people shouldn't panic...because it's not like colored people want to take over the genre. What we want is to be heard, to be seen, to be acknowledged as equal, and for people to understand that there are so many different aspects and visions of genre that we can only be enriched by giving space to different voices.

How has your life experience shaped you as a writer?

That’s a rather complex question and not one that gets answered in a sentence or two. I think that everything influences our work and the writer just as the work is in a state of constant flux. We are always changing and being changed and that’s a good thing.

Lately, I also keep thinking of how the work of a writer of color is political as well as personal. Because we are always thinking in terms of visibility and in terms of increasing diversity and in terms of writing for the people who we want to read our work, the work takes on another dimension. Its function is not confined to entertainment or self-expression. The work carries with it a certain awareness of the place it will take and what it will mean to people in the community I come from.

Experience has also taught me that individuals are very complex. A villain is not always completely evil, a hero is not always completely heroic. Even in my own life story, I recognize just how very flawed I am. Circumstance shapes us. Our choices also shape us. And success...well...success is ephemeral. I laugh at the way we measure success because these measurements are often materialistic, shallow and fleeting. The important thing is knowing that you're being true to yourself and to the vision that you see when you sit down to write a story. Success is when I manage to do that.

What's the bravest story you've ever written?

I think different kinds of stories take different kinds of courage to write.

The story I wrote for the Bloodchildren anthology had been festering inside me since 2009. I think I approached it from several different angles before I found the one that made me go: Ah, that's it. That's the story I want to tell. (You should see the number of drafts on my hard drive.) I struggled with it as well because a lot of it is born from the real experience of being othered. My own migration experience finds reflection in it, as well as my own struggle to free myself from the shackles of colonialism. When a story is personal as well as political, it’s like baring yourself to the world. I don’t know that I would have the courage to go and walk naked on the beach.

I've written another story (unpublished as yet) which was even harder to write. And that was one story that made me shake when I wrote it. It's rooted in my country's personal and political history and confronting that was an emotional experience. I don't know if it's a story that's acceptable to a white readership. I also don't know if it's a story that's acceptable to a science fiction readership. I might have written something that doesn't belong anywhere. But I think I'm used to that. Even when I was in the Philippines I was writing stories that got sent back to me with notes that read: Unfortunately we don't publish this kinds of stories.

I have a story coming out in We See A Different Frontier (a postcolonial anthology) which terrified me. Writing that story terrified me. Sending it out terrified me. And knowing that it's going to be read terrifies me. Why? Because it doesn't present a pleasing or comforting aspect of colonization. There is no narrative of gratitude or peace. I found it terrifying to write because it tells the truth of what happens when a people's innocence is violated. Being faced with the violence of my own feelings was rather terrifying and I have often wondered if I should have changed it in some way, if I should have made it milder, but then I think: but the story is meant to be that way and changing it would be a falsification and a betrayal of what art is all about.

If you had to give a piece of advice to someone who's applied for the Octavia Butler Fund scholarship, what would it be?

Write from your heart and write your best. I think we often focus on what can I get from the genre, or what can I get out of this workshop, it would also be interesting to think of it in terms of what can I bring to the workshop and what do I bring to the genre. I believe that we, the minority, hold up a mirror to the genre and question the things that have been taken for granted and it’s a good thing to hold up that mirror because once a genre becomes self-satisfied and self-congratulatory that’s when we stop growing and all the good things we love about this field die.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipino writer of science fiction and fantasy. A graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, Rochita was the recipient of the 2009 Octavia Butler Scholarship, and the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, and in Weird Tales (when edited by Ann VanderMeer).



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