C/O Pasha Malla

The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself. 

Pasha Malla: My name is Pasha Malla. I’m the 2021-2022 Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer in Residence. I'm also teaching a class in [the arts and science department], a special inquiry class on speculative fiction.  

What is your role as the Writer in Residence?  

I'm available to the McMaster community and the broader Hamilton community via the Hamilton Public Library for manuscript consultations, which means that people send me excerpts of their work, poetry or prose and I read them and give them some feedback. Then we have a meeting on Zoom and have a little conversation about it. That's part of it. The other half of the program is various workshops and talks. Tonight, I have a workshop on suspense and urgency that I'm posting on Zoom. I'm doing the art of writing workshops through the Hamilton Public Library and business writing workshops through [McMaster University].  

How have your meetings been so far?  

I've been having the best time. Because the program includes people outside the [McMaster] community, regular old folks from wherever can join as long as they're affiliated with Hamilton in some way. It's been a really nice and diverse group of people and quite a nice variety of kinds of writing that folks are doing. It's been really encouraging and inspiring and kind of fun to read for people and have conversations with folks who are at various stages in their writing. I'm working with some published writers and some new writers. It has been really enjoyable in all kinds of ways.  

What inspires you to write?  

Lots of different things. Writing has been a nice place to just experience a little bit of joy. I've been working on this project that just makes me laugh and I have fun working on. Each project has its own goals and intentions or whatever else and results.

Lately, writing for me, it's been a nice little diversion and a place that I go for laughs. I make myself laugh, which is kind of weird, but nice when you can make it happen.  

Do you mind elaborating on the project?  

It's actually a sequel to the last novel I had out which is called Kill The Mall. It's an absurdist story with supernatural elements. This is a sequel to that, it's actually the second book in what I think is probably going to be a trilogy and I'm going to finish it before reading week, probably.  

Are there any people or another writer who inspires you in writing?  

There are so many writers whose work I read who are just so far beyond what I'm doing. I find that trying to achieve things that other writers are doing is motivating. Most recently, I've been reading a writer from Argentina whose name is Juan José Saer. I'm just blown away by this guy's genius. Reading something like that makes me, as a writer, try to pick it apart and see how he's doing what he's doing. So yeah, I get inspired by reading a lot.  

Have you encountered any challenges in your own writing or within the Writers in Residence program?  

No, this program has been terrific. That's a testament to how great the people who are sending their work in, who I've been meeting with and [who] have been attending these workshops with [all] are. That's the reason why I did it. If there's any challenge, it's just seeing each piece to try to figure out what the writer is trying to do and then doing my best to help them get there. Giving different suggestions and feedback that will be, I hope, encouraging and motivating but at the same time rigorous constructive criticism.  

Is there anything you would like to say to aspiring writers?  

Go into engineering school so you can get a job. No, I'm just being facetious. I think there's all kinds of generic advice already. You know, you should read, you should write. For me, I think being a curious person in the world is the most important thing. To ask questions, to speculate, to wonder. To tap into that thing we all had when we were kids where there's so much imagination and possibility is a large part of who you are and how you engage with the world. I think that is more important than figuring out the craft. Really being curious, engaging in curiosity about other people, about places, about experiences, about yourself.

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At the recommendation of a friend, I started 2016 with a series called All For The Game. The first book was free on iBooks, and the other two books in the trilogy were less than a dollar each.

Although I was confused why they were so cheap, I didn’t pay much thought to it. It wasn’t until I was halfway through the second book in the trilogy that I found out it was self-published, and at that point the occasional typos and the unexpectedness of the character backgrounds started to make sense. A particular one was that the trilogy, in the barest of summaries, features a sport loosely based on lacrosse. In this case, however, the author took some liberties and applied her own changes. The most significant changes were that each team can be open to both male and female players, and that each team can contain a mix of both. In fact, one of the founders of the sport itself is a woman.

This was information I tucked away for further musing until earlier this month I stumbled upon another self-published book, The Posterchildren. It’s a superhero story with a POC main character and diverse sexualities throughout the board. A friend informed me, after I’d started telling them about the book, that the author had gained a substantial following in the fanfiction community, and that the book itself was largely influenced by already existing material from the DC Universe.

This got me wondering, then, if an author needed to self-publish to guarantee that their book, which features people of colour identifying as members of the LGBTQ community, will be published. I think the answer might be yes.

Some mainstream authors look down on what Forbes is now referring to as “indie publishing.”

Of course, there are non-self-published books out there featuring diverse characters. That’s not to say, however, that the world of fiction isn’t lacking at all in diversity. The LGBTQ genre of fiction mostly features gay men, and a significant share of the genre are stories with unnecessarily tragic endings to cater to a teenage audience ready to gobble it up and cry about their doomed OTP. There’s also always the well-written coming out stories, and while some of these stories are needed, it doesn’t make sense that the genre is, quite literally, defined by coming out and tragedy. It doesn’t make sense that, while the rest of the YA genre gets yet another girl-falls-in-love-with-bad-boy series, the LGBTQ genre continues to struggle with redefining itself with other aspects of fiction such as lesbian superheroes. As a consequence, some authors have to resort to self-publishing to incorporate some diversity into a genre that’s overshadowed by mainstream stories.

Some mainstream authors look down on what Forbes is now referring to as “indie publishing.” A lot of the publishing process can be credited to the editors and publishers themselves, but I highly doubt it’s fair to dismiss self-published authors for that reason. Yes, there might be typos and awkward parts due to lack of professional editors, and it might be hard to find these stories without it being through a recommendation. However, no matter how much more diverse the fiction world is beginning to get, it will still be difficult for some authors to find the grounding they need to provide the representation they can. Getting published is hard enough as it is, and harder still for authors trying to release protagonists identifying with the asexual spectrum and sports with strong female players playing alongside “the boys.”

We shouldn’t look down at these self-published authors and scoff at them. There might come a time where self-publishing is the new mainstream, but I hope that, if that time does come, diversity and representation of minorities will have been properly incorporated into mainstream fiction.

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By Aelya Solman

 

So, you want to be a writer.  If you express that sentiment through ink and paper or by typing it out, you’re already six words into the whole ordeal. I want to be a writer. Maybe you’re sitting in a coffee shop or at home in front of a window or in a cubicle at work. The coffee shop is important because remember that no one ever wrote anything before the advent of complicated caffeinated drinks. Does it matter where you are?

You’re writing. Okay, this is getting boring. The coffee shop quip was clever though. You need to say something. But what? Maybe you say something that is a result of your imagination. You write of people and animals that do not actually exist. Or maybe they do - maybe these people and animals are fragments of your own self, pieced together to create something new that allows you to talk about yourself without giving it away. This is good. This is exciting. Look at those characters. Look at their trials and tribulations. You read everything over with a sense of ownership, pride, love, and criticism, not unlike those of parents. How many words now? More than a hundred, two hundred, four or five hundred. It’s happening. You are writing.

But, what of the other writing? Can writing, and in turn writers, be constricted to one definition? You think of the other writing. The caption contests you enter and sometimes (but not often) win. Advertisements on the insides of bus shelters, filmy from cobwebs. The jobs you lined up as a result of your Technical Writing minor. There it is again. Writing.

But what’s so technical about this writing that isn’t as meticulous and painstaking as any other writing? You wonder what Hemingway would have done had he worked for a pharmaceutical company writing medical labels. He would have still risen with the sun and worked for a set number of hours without interruption. He still would have raised a bottle or a glass to his lips - actually, no, just a bottle - and drank with terrifying ease and speed. The son of a bitch would have found a way to be cocky about his medical labels too.

Wait a second. Seriously? Hemingway? You couldn’t have found someone else? He’s not the only one. You think of advice given to struggling writers by authors. Think of the Russians. Who was that guy that wrote The Overcoat? Gogol. Listen to Gogol.  Men and women who wake up before the rest of the world, pick at their brains, and spit out words that because of how they have been arranged, make sense and are often beautiful. Joan Didion Margaret Atwood. But their words are not always beautiful, sometimes they merely tell us things we should know. F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever. Necessities for us becoming well-rounded, informed individuals. Miriam Toews, Jhumpa Lahiri. Write about the war, the First, the Second, the undocumented ones in hot countries, the one you fought in your heart for someone whose name you’ll forget before you’re 40. Write about the codeine content of this medication.  Write about the woes of gas prices in a caption no longer than five words.

Shit, how many words is this? You feel it’s getting boring. You should engage the reader. They want variety? Give it to them. Create conflict. Kill that character off in a way that is so heartbreakingly graceful your reader will love you and hate you in between taking sharp, deep breaths of air. Create fear, write about side effects and the possibility of death. Keep this away from your children. Only do this once a day. Whatever it is you do, keep them in your grasp. Tighten your grip in a firm, but gentle way. Make them feel as though they are ultimately in control when they actually aren’t. I can put this down at any time, they say. But they don’t. They stay ‘til the character is buried. They stay, and will often come back to refresh their memory, and that is what you want.

Several hundred words now. This writing thing is easier than you remember. Is it though? How do you end it? Even if it’s “technical” writing or fiction or a haiku scribbled on a napkin while you wait for your train, it has to come to an end. But how? The struggle to finish something properly, to do it justice in its resolution, is eternal and not limited to writing at all. When they leave your writing, they should remember the lessons you have taught them. But you worry about just that- the lessons. Who will listen, and to what? The glassy crunch of sand weighs in your mouth; you hoped to spit out diamonds instead. They should remember most of what you have said to them because they will not remember it all the first time.

They are just like you, remember, except now you are the one speaking and finally someone is listening. Yes, despite everything, they are listening. Maybe they will come back, maybe not. Whatever it is though, they should remember it in your voice. Be it the voice of a cold unidentifiable tongue reciting pharmaceutical fact, of ivory salesmen in the heart of the jungle, or of love. Whatever it is, it has to be yours.

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