Interview by Tansy Rayner Roberts.
Rivqa Rafael is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). When she’s not working, she’s most likely child-wrangling, playing video games, or practising her Brazilian Jiujitsu moves. She can be found at rivqa.net and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.
This has been a great year for you professionally, with your first pro short story sale. Tell me about your story for Defying Doomsday – “Two Somebodies Go Hunting”.
I was honoured and humbled to be included in Defying Doomsday, which is themed around one of the most important trope inversions I can think of. The “Two Somebodies” are Lex, whose chronic pain is due to a childhood injury, and Jeff, who’s autistic; they head out into the desert in a post-pandemic world to find meat for their family.
Thematically, I wanted to examine the differing needs of people with chronic illness and pain in the broader context of disability activism. Although this was something I’d had in the back of my mind, it was well articulated on Tumblr with a commentary on X-Men, which unpacked Rogue and Storm’s conflicting perspectives on curing superpowers, and the idea for the story grew from there.
From a craft perspective, I wanted to write a relatively small story – in the sense that there are really only the two characters on stage and the plot is a classic archetype. Nothing flashy, no cheap tricks, just two siblings who need to work together, and work to understand each other. It was very gratifying to have editors Holly and Tsana, as they really got what I was trying to do… so hopefully it succeeded!
You went to WisCon this year – I’m so jealous. What were some of the highlights of this experience for you? And why was this the US con you wanted to attend?
WisCon was a wonderful, enlightening, overwhelming experience. I met so many amazing people, some of whom I’ve long admired from afar via Twitter. The sessions I attended were interesting, varied and well run – and there was just so much to choose from. Livetweeting is how I take notes at cons, so I have a pretty comprehensive report up on Storify. But if that’s TL;DR, one personal highlight was the opening ceremony (really! Katherine Cross’s speech about trade unionism and treating hotel staff with respect yielded the first standing ovation of the evening, and the committee’s anecdotes about what the con means to them were very moving). The other was Sofia Samatar’s Guest of Honour speech: all three guests spoke brilliantly, but her words – about taking personal risks in writing beyond usual expectations – really grabbed me. And possibly made me cry.
As for why WisCon, I was mentally signed up from the moment I heard about the concept. Feminist sci-fi – what more could I want? I’d been thinking about overseas cons for a little while (WorldCon in Helsinki is still on my radar), and with membership capped at 1000, WisCon seemed like a great in-between step in a relatively safe environment. It delivered on all of my expectations in that regard (although the thought of a con with tens of thousands of people is still mildly terrifying).
You also won the Best New Talent Ditmar in 2016 – no pressure there, I’m sure! What can we expect from Rivqa Rafael over the next couple of years?
Will you believe me if I say it really doesn’t feel like pressure? I feel encouraged, not pressured, to write more and to write the best work I can. My next publication is a reprint of my first published short story, in Twelfth Planet Press’s Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015. And I have been writing, although I somehow got myself into a position where I have several stories (including a novel) in the works but nothing finished. I’m hoping to shift the balance soon, so I have something to show the world. I’d love for one of those things to be the novel, which is a YA sci-fi thriller, but it’s hard to say at this point (it needs a lot of work). More short stories, for sure, and other projects that aren’t ready for sharing yet.
I am also deeply appreciative of the Australian spec fic community – so many people have encouraged me from my first tentative steps into it, and with that in mind I do try to give back to it, in the form of judging the Aurealis Awards, participating in this Snapshot as an interviewer, running writing events, and beta reading for various other writers. I really do believe that we are stronger together (yes, that’s a Supergirl quote) and hope that I can foster that in some small way.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
One of the hardest parts of being an Aurealis judge is not being able to squee about all my latest favourite Australian science fiction shorts. There are plenty out there! So I’ll cheat and mention a couple of favourites from last year – Marlee Jane Ward’s novella, Welcome to Orphancorp, is a fantastic dystopic YA romp; Stephanie Lai’s “The Dan Dan Mian of the Apocalypse” (Review of Australian Fiction) is a gorgeously written inversion of superhero tropes; and Claire McKenna’s “The Marriage of the Corn King” (Cosmos) is weird, imaginative and wonderful. As for novels, Louise Katz’s The Orchid Nursery (Lacuna Publishing) has that terrifying Atwoodian quality of ‘that couldn’t really happen…. Could it?’.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
I think a living one would be best, less corpse stench… I’ll show myself out.
Jokes aside, I’d love a solid thirteen hours with Tanith Lee. There are so many questions I’d like to ask about her dark, irreverent fiction. Her work has captivated me for as long as I can remember, and if her stories terrify me a little – well, I can’t sleep on planes anyway.