Join us as we peek behind the scenes of our upcoming anthology, ON TIME. Learn more about Amber Kim in her featured interview.
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
When I wrote “A Tree, a Hope, and a River” I was taking a year-long restorative justice class called Healing, Education, and Accountability for Liberation (HEAL), which is put on by Collective Justice. At the time we were exploring how our various identities impact the way we show up in different spaces. While thinking about how being an incarcerated white trans woman who struggles with mental health issues impacts my daily life, I realized how often I use the skills I have learned as a Wiccan and Buddhist to navigate difficult situations.
I wanted to explore those small moments of transformation where everyday people become the hero of their own story. Essentially, what does it look like to own our mistakes and difficulties, refuse the extra suffering society pushes on us, and keep moving, growing, learning, laughing, and loving.
Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?
Shawna is unbelievably average. Smart, but not brilliant. Pretty, but not gorgeous. You get the idea. She is sixteen years old on summer vacation between her sophomore and junior years of high school and is just beginning to grow into something resembling maturity.
Shawna is surrounded by strong positive role models, but she’s only ever felt intimidated by their success and competency. The thing which makes her special is that she is just discovering the depth of her own inner strength.
What is the most interesting thing about the world you’ve created?
I’ve created a world where small moments of transformation are shockingly and viscerally real. Tiny pivotal moments explode into internal journeys and epic quests. A world where what we call “guided meditation” isn’t something a person seeks, but shows up uninvited in full Technicolor and Stereophonic-Sound.
What genre or mix of genres does your story fit into?
I’m not entirely sure. Fantasy? Magical realism? Perhaps surrealism? Mostly I think it fits into the genre of “stories I am proud to have written.”
How have your personal experiences influenced this story?
Growing up, I was usually the “odd duck out.” Had nothing but trouble navigating social situations and it has always been hard for me to make friends. About six or seven years ago I finally started taking responsibility for my own choices and stopped shame spiraling over things beyond my control. This has resulted in me becoming friends with some of the most wonderful people who’ve supported me in dealing with my traumas and other issues–Thank you John, Megan, Sabia, Prya, and Martina–My experience of going from a child with no concept of accountability to an adult with a strong sense of accountability is central to my being able to authentically portray small moments of pivotal change.
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
I would like my readers to consider taking their own inner journeys and think about what doing so means to them in their daily lives. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna be messy. And sitting in the fire of all those feels and experiences is going to be infinity worth it.
What was your favorite part of the story to write and why?
I enjoyed writing the moment where Shawna is looking out on the landscape. I was able to insert a piece of one of my treasured childhood memories into the description of the forest, river, and sunset.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When did you write your first story, how old were you, and what was it about?
I wrote my first story in first grade as a part of a school assignment. I think I was five, so… [doing math] 1993? It was bad. Like epically bad. My father had just taken me to the auto show the weekend before so I wrote a story about driving a suped up hummer like a monster truck. Did I mention it was terrible?
What is your writing survival checklist? (Aka, what helps your write the best: music, snacks, coffee, complete silence, a stress ball, a cat, or an outline, etc.)
While a quiet space, good music, crunchy snacks, and my typewriter all help me write, the single most important thing to me writing is intellectually stimulating conversation.
One of the difficulties writers who are incarcerated face is keeping one’s thoughts bigger than the prison walls. Thankfully, I have an amazing community of awesome nerdy queer folx both in and outside of prison who challenge me and keep me sharp.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
I have always loved storytelling, particularly myths, legends, and folklore. The magic of those stories made me want to create my own. A few years ago, John began pushing me to share my writing with the world, and honestly, I never would have had the courage to submit my writing to Transmundane.
What font do you prefer to write in?
Does my own handwriting count as a font? Most of my writing is done on my typewriter and I only have the one daisy wheel, 10-point Prestige Pica. When I do have access to a computer, I’m partial to serif fonts, like Garamond.
Do you have any writing blogs/vlogs/podcasts, etc. that you would recommend?
Being able to read and be in dialogue with other writers on the internet would be amazing. However, because I am incarcerated, I am not allowed to have Internet access. The only blog I personally know of is my own, AmberFayefoxKim.WordPress.com, which I only have thanks to my friend and pen pal Megan.
What is your favorite and least favorite word, and why?
My favorite word is suplosion. Verb. To stamp one’s foot with emotion. Example: “Shirley suploded when she was told she couldn’t go to the zoo.”
My least favorite word? I’m not sure I have one, there are particular contexts which make me have an intense dislike of certain words, for example, I hate the word ‘out’ in the sentence “John ran out of ice cream.” However, I love it in the sentence “I am now out of the closet.” Context is quite important.
Why is it important for incarcerated people to be able to be published as genre writers?
Incarcerated people face many barriers to having our writing considered by editors. I am extremely grateful to Transmundane for accepting, considering, and ultimately publishing my writing.
Incarcerated writers are faced with an impossible choice. If I write about prison, there are many editors who will specifically seek out my writing, but my writing will almost exclusively be read by other prisoners. This means what I have to say will not, in fact, make it into the free world. Or I can tell the stories I want to tell in the way I want to tell them, wrapped in the metaphorical language of genre fiction, but then I face many structural barriers to submitting my writing (like a lack of internet access) and social stigma (for being a felon) which prevents my writing from being considered in the first place.
I believe this cripples the ability of incarcerated people to be successful upon release from prison and it destroys our ability to dream of a world without prisons or other forms of oppression. Genre fiction, has historically, been the place where people dream of a better tomorrow and critique the nightmares of today. From “The Time Machine” to “Animal Farm,” fiction has been a tool for social commentary and change, a tool incarcerated people are perfectly capable of utilizing if we are given some accessibility considerations. As I have previously stated, I am thankful and glad Transmundane has decided to give me that consideration.
Amber is a thirty-two-year-old trans woman serving life without the possibility of parole in Washington State. She is an activist, witch, student, writer, and not about to let some pesky prison walls stand in the way of her dreams.