Seven Questions for the Finalists of the LeVar Burton Reads Writing Contest: AnaMaria Curtis

Is there anything more exciting than a new voice in fiction? (Spoiler alert: NOPE.)

We asked the three finalists of the LeVar Burton Reads Writing Contest a few questions about their writing processes and favorite books. Here we’re pleased to present a brief interview with AnaMaria Curtis. Check out her story “The Last Truth” here!


 

How does a story start for you—with an image, an idea, a line of dialogue that pops into your head, or some other way?

I used to write story ideas I got at work down on post-it notes that I’d stick to my monitor and bring back at the end of the day—things like “robot(ics?) marching band” or “paywalled emotions.” Now I just message them to myself to put in my “ideas” spreadsheet (I know), but the ideas still come in many forms—as images, character dynamics, ways a fantasy or sci-fi world could work, or sometimes just pinpoints of feeling that I want to try to capture. Often I’ll try to get a story started by sticking two unrelated ideas together (say an image and a character dynamic) until they make one reasonably happy whole and I can start building a beginning of a story.

All three of your stories include great worldbuilding. While you create an entire fantasy world, Grace P Fong and Vivianni Glass both use smaller details to skew a more recognizable reality. How did you each decide which details to leave in and which to leave out as you brought your stories to life? Do you have more stories planned in the worlds you created?

I know a lot of writers tend to start with worldbuilding and invest a lot of time into figuring out the details and systems in their worlds before they write their stories. I admire and respect that process so much, and I do the complete opposite. For me, the beauty of speculative fiction is that the entire world can be built around what the story is trying to say. In “The Last Truth,” I wanted to write about memory and selfhood, so the details I tried to weave into the world were related to Eri’s memories—the things she’s hung onto, whether on purpose or by accident. Those were the details that I built into the world from the beginning, and other more major elements, such as the role of music as magic, were much later additions. Because I build my worlds for the stories, I rarely consider writing multiple stories in a single world, though it does occasionally happen.

What was the story or novel (either told or written) that first made you want to be a storyteller?

My mom likes to tell a story about coming across me when I was about four, diligently drawing tiny straight lines over and over across a piece of paper in neat rows. So really, I wanted to write before I even knew how. But for me an absolutely life-changing moment was reading “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury in a sixth grade class. I have very few memories of school at that time, but I vividly remember sitting at my desk, absolutely reeling, full of so many feelings that I didn’t know what to do with. But I knew where they had come from. That was the first story that really made me realize what short fiction could do, and for better or for worse it made me want to do it to other people too.

The contest’s theme was “Origins & Encounters”—what was it about this theme that spoke to you?

I was really excited to see “Origins & Encounters” as a theme because it felt like one of those themes that’s universal—one of the threads that’s in every story, just needing to be pulled out and set at the center of something. I already had a draft of “The Last Truth” that I had been half-heartedly poking at occasionally, so taking the theme as a starting point and figuring out where to pull at that thread in my story really helped me build a more polished and coherent whole.

Building on that, many authors have a personal theme or obsession that animates all of their work. Do you feel you have one? If so, what is it?

I can hear my wonderful writing group cackling as I read this question because the answer is absolutely yes. I have a few themes that worm their way into almost everything I write—homesickness, for one, and longing for something or someone you can’t have. Sometimes I think I’m writing the same thing over and over and over in slightly different skins, but I try to make the skins interesting enough that nobody minds.

Many authors also feel like their work is in conversation with another work or author—do you have any specific books or writers that you feel you’re speaking with, either in these stories or in your work in general?

I go back to the work of Alyssa Wong and Amal El-Mohtar a lot when I’m trying to figure out how stories work. Once, during a period of very frustrating writer’s block, I tried reverse-outlining and deconstructing “All the Time We’ve Left to Spend” (by Alyssa Wong) just to remind myself why I like short stories so much. I am always aiming for the delicate balance and emotional resonance that I associate with their work. Their stories—and the work of so many other wonderful people publishing wonderful, brilliant, queer short fiction all the time—is what makes me want to keep writing. Because I want to be part of that conversation.

The other, shorter, answer to this is that I’m always responding in some way to Taylor Swift, without whose body of work I would be a worse and more miserable person.

Finally, in the spirit of Reading Rainbow, what book or author would you like to recommend for the kids at home?

This might sound like a cop-out, but I really recommend reading short stories! There are so many amazing magazines publishing short fiction right now, often for free (though you should support the magazines you love if you can!), and short fiction really reflects the variety of excellence across genres and styles. I’ve really enjoyed work in Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Strange Horizons, among many other wonderful magazines. Your favorite isn’t likely to be the same as my favorite(s), but I promise it’s out there.

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