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Autumn posted a blog entry in Artist AlliesIn this issue, we're chatting with author Russell Nichols about his piece, "Man of Straw." Russell Nichols is a speculative fiction writer and endangered journalist from Richmond, California. His story about a black vampire on trial in Boston was included in the Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1. Find his work in Terraform, Nightmare Magazine's POC Destroy Horror special issue and other anthologies. He left the States in 2011 to wander the world, living out of a backpack with his wife. Look for him at russellnichols.com. CICADA: Thanks for chatting with us, Russell! Can you give us an intro to yourself and your work? RUSSELL NICHOLS: Of course. I’m a natural-born writer, originally from Richmond, California. My wife and I sold our stuff back in 2011 and we’ve been vagabonding around the world since then. The stories I tell take many forms as screenplays, stage plays, speculative fiction and nonfiction. I’m a journalist by trade, a nomadic reporter unstuck in time, looking back to the future. CIC: “Man of Straw” is definitely set in the future, with its bionic birds and government-sanctioned cloning, but it is also a terrifyingly close and recognizable future in a lot of ways. How did you go about building the world for this story? How does setting this story in the future help you examine existing systems of oppression? RN: My first trip to this world was a few years ago, for a story called “u wont remember dying.” It was a shorter experimental piece set in a hospital, so I didn’t have time to explore the area. When I went back for this follow-up story, I was able to zoom in on details that stood out to me, reflecting themes of reality vs. artificiality, endangerment, fear, and so forth. A near-future setting like this one allows me to look at things from a different angle. It’s like a distorted mirror and, as a journalist, I’m constantly asking questions about how systems of oppression could evolve and what that might mean for the most vulnerable. Then I bring the answers back, tragic as they may be, to hold up to the present. CIC: Once he is discovered putting up the scarecrows, Marcus says, “That’s how they see me. Might as well own it, know what I’m saying?” Can you talk a bit more about the parallels between Marcus and the scarecrows? RN: Marcus would be the one to ask, but I haven’t seen or spoken to him since he went missing. From the outside looking in, I saw Marcus as a man grasping for identity. Here he was, murdered by a cop, then resurrected days later. This is post-trauma on a whole 'nother level. How do you process that? How do you deal with that survivor’s guilt? Without the necessary support, I think he began to fixate on how bigots saw him. He internalized their fear of him, their judgment of him, reciting straw man arguments that he was “brainless” and so couldn’t get hired for a job, for example. But again, this is just one man’s opinion. Maybe Marcus meant something completely different when he said that. Unless he turns up, we’ll never know. CIC: You describe yourself as an Afrofuturist writer—tell us a bit about what Afrofuturism means to you and to your work. What voices within that movement are particularly exciting to you right now? RN: Art Curator Ingrid LaFleur defines Afrofuturism as “a way of imagining possible futures through a black cultural lens." This has always been critical to our survival. If you can’t see yourself in the future, you can believe you don’t have one. That said, we can’t talk about tomorrow without the context of yesterdays. It’s this cycle of time that has Afrofuturist voices ride on, from W. E. B. Du Bois to Octavia Butler, from Sun Ra to Janelle Monáe, and so many more. Right now I’m listening to music by Flying Lotus, watching films by Wanuri Kahiu and appreciating art by Tim Fielder. For me, Afrofuturism means using science and technology like two turntables, mixing the past and future to spin new stories in the beat of the moment. CIC: Writers often write and rewrite and pick at a draft endlessly. How do you know when to call a piece “done”? RN: I’m from the school of thought that a piece is never done. But I know interviews can’t last forever. We’re all working with limited time here. I’ve got deadlines to meet and there’s only so many questions I can ask. Some characters want to go on and on, telling me their life stories, and I have to cut them off. Some run out of things to say early. Others run out into the night, never to be heard from again, and the ending writes itself. CIC: You mentioned that you and your wife have been “vagabonding around the world” since 2011. What’s one of your favorite experiences you’ve had since you started traveling? RN: That's tough, picking just one. But a definite highlight was staying with an Indian camel driver and his family in Rajasthan. It was this remote village in the Thar Desert, cut off from everything. Never seen so many stars in my life.
Rumi Hara was born in Kyoto, Japan. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, and makes illustrations and comics there. Visit her at rumihara.com. CIC: Thanks for talking with us, Rumi! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work? RH: I was working as a translator in Japan when I decided to come to the US in 2012 to go to an art school. I always loved drawing and was coming up with a lot of stories to illustrate, so one day I decided to learn more about illustration and comics. Now I live and work in Brooklyn, NY, and I’m working on a graphic novel called Nori. Nori is a nickname for Noriko, a little girl who often runs away on her own and finds out interesting things about the people and animals in her town. CIC: For many, a volcanic eruption would be frightening, but for Yuri, it’s an invigorating and inspiring event. What makes you feel connected to the natural world? Have you ever witnessed a natural event that inspired you? RH: I mostly grew up in Japan, where there are many earthquakes. The most recent major earthquake that I’ve experienced was the one in 2011. I was living in Tokyo at the time and although it’s pretty far from the Northeastern region where it originated, we still had a lot of aftershocks. One time I was sleeping with my right ear on a pillow and heard a loud rumbling sound that woke me up in the middle of the night. A few seconds later my whole apartment shook, and I realized that what I just heard was the force of an earthquake traveling through the ground. Although the frequent aftershocks were scary and the news about the tsunami, nuclear disaster, and other damages was truly devastating, I somehow felt invigorated at the same time. Suddenly my neighbors seemed nicer and friendlier. Everyone was willing to do something helpful, and we knew that even just smiling and saying hello would be something significant in difficult times. There was an amazing sense of belonging and community. It really depended on each of us to help and rebuild, and that empowered the ordinary people, I think. That was an important experience for me and also an inspiration for this story with Yuri. CIC: What kinds of stories are you drawn to? What is appealing about those stories? RH: I really like reading or hearing stories about a particular place. Any place has its own history, memory, and landscape that is different from anywhere else, and I like learning about those things. I’m especially drawn to stories with some kind of surreal element. Not like a scary ghost, but maybe like a talking dog. Because animals make everything better! CIC: When you’re in a creative slump, how do you pick yourself back up and find new motivation? RH: I try to rest a lot. I can’t make anything when I’m physically tired, but I don’t always realize how tired I am. So when I feel frustrated about not being creative enough, I let myself sleep like twelve hours and do nothing during the day. Just eat and sleep and take a bath. After a couple of days like that, I’m usually refreshed and ready to work again. CIC: If you could meet yourself as a beginning artist, what advice would you offer yourself? RH: “Try different tools and find what you like!” Because I was using Copic markers and acrylics at the beginning and for some reason thought that they were the only options. Also, “Reach out to people, even just a few people!” Because not reaching out at all doesn’t get me jobs. I still feel like a beginning artist sometimes, so I keep telling my self these things. CIC: If you could turn into any creature at will, what would you want to be? RH: A roadrunner. I want to be able to run like the wind and also fly. Just to tease coyotes.