Interview with Rivqa Rafael

Interview with Rivqa Rafael

I’m delighted to be interviewing Rivqa Rafael today.

author photo of Rivqa RafaelRivqa is a queer Jewish 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). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. 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 and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

She’s also co-editing Problem Daughters, a forthcoming anthology of intersectional feminist SFF, which is currently crowdfunding to cover their expenses. You can find support them – and snag yourself a copy, or some very cool other perks – here.

Hi Rivqa! I hope you’re having a good summer. Could you start by telling me a little about Problem Daughters, and why it’s important to you?

You too, Andi! I’m not melting too badly, and my kids haven’t been bored too much, so I can’t complain.

I’ll start with our overview paragraph: Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, with a specific focus on the lives and experiences of women of colour, QUILTBAG women, disabled women, sex workers, and any intersection of these.

For me personally, Problem Daughters is about shouting out the myriad ways people can be women and feminists. While I’m privileged on most axes, I’ve become increasingly weary of being told (explicitly or implicitly) that I’m too ___. Too opinionated, too quiet; too caring, too bitchy; too career-focused, too family-focused. In the past, white feminists have haughtily informed me that my Jewish practices of the time were incompatible with feminism (while Jewish traditionalists found me too radical). I want this anthology to show that we contain multitudes; we are legion. Women might have common experiences that bind us, but also vastly different realities; if we can show a small portion of this, I’ll consider it a success.

Do you have favourite books, stories, or poems that might be considered intersectional feminist SFF, or that thoughtfully explore the experiences of multiply marginalised women?

Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories is a prime example for me. Four very different women tell the story, their lives overlapping through ethnic and religious conflict in ways that rang true to me (in a genre that rarely excels at depicting religion that isn’t Christianity). In the same vein, my dear friend Thoraiya Dyer’s Crossroads of Canopy, forthcoming from Tor, tackles religion, class, and sexuality – all with a female protagonist who’s gloriously scheming and selfish.

As far as shorter pieces goes, there are now so many venues doing wonderful work , it’s hard to keep up with them all. But I think short fiction is particularly important, as it can be a starting point for people who are sceptical about the push for diversity. Plus, with so much free online, there’s a low barrier to access it. That said, there are a few intersectional authors I’ll mention, rather than specific works, because I feel like a body of work can be so rewarding to explore: Shweta Narayan’s short fiction and poetry is consistently evocative; Nisi Shawl’s unique use of language is glorious; Stephanie Lai’s lush, unsettling fiction pulls no punches; and Bogi Takács’s clever, subtle writing always intimidates me as it delights me (plus, eir diverse and Own Voices recommendations are always excellent).

And on the flip-side, are there recurring problems you’ve seen in feminist SFF, or traps authors often fall into?

There are so many tropes that are overused ad nauseam, but I think the one I personally am most tired of is the stereotypical “strong woman” that many writers across media seem to think is now obligatory. Apart from her almost always being white, cis, able-bodied, young, childless, straight and thin, this woman is somehow just super badass (quite possibly because she’s been assaulted, but maybe she’s just an exception or has superpowers) and that’s it. And there’s usually only one of her. While there’s not necessarily anything wrong with being emotionally inexpressive, it’s disappointing to see this cookie-cutter character over and over and over.

People seem to think that they’ve added something by including this archetype, but I think it’s really holding us back. It places a lot of pressure on that lone character, for one thing. For another, it allows creators to pat themselves on the back for being diverse when they haven’t really. Part of what we want to do in Problem Daughters is show pluralities of experiences, and it’s impossible to achieve that with one female character.

You’re planning to include poetry, short fiction, and essays in Problem Daughters. Why did you opt for this model – rather than the more common short fiction anthology – and what do you hope including different types of work will bring to the anthology?

I should stress that it’s contingent on funding, but if we raise sufficient funds in our IndieGoGo, we hope to include essays as well as short fiction and poetry. We’re also accepting flash fiction. In our initial discussions, our thinking was that we wanted to be as inclusive and expansive as we possibly can. So while most of the book will comprise short fiction, regardless of funding level, we wanted to create space for other forms of expression.

Can you tell me about an imaginary place and a real place that you’d like to travel to?

Possible unpopular opinion here: I don’t really want to visit any imaginary places. Not really truly. Most of the places I read about are dystopias (no thanks), involve space travel (seriously, nope – I want humans to go to space, just not me personally), or lack the technology that I’ve come to rely on to keep me comfortable. At a pinch, I’d say Sofia Samatar’s Olondria, but I’d really only want a day trip. Specifically at the beginning of the first book, thank you very much.

In terms of real places, I’d travel anywhere if I had the means and the time. But relatively high on my bucket list is a trip to the UK. I’ve never been, but I have ancestors who were West Midlands canal boaters and their history has always fascinated me (it keeps sneaking into stories, too). Canal boating has become a trendy holiday experience, so hopefully one day I can gain some insight, however small, into how they lived while the Industrial Revolution improved their work out of existence.

If you could own any item of fictional technology, what would it be?

A teleporter. My friends and family are spread across the globe, and if I could visit without have to pay for, or endure, a plane ride, I’d be thrilled. Sometimes you just want to meet in person, even if it’s just because one party needs a hug.

Lastly, what else is on the horizon for you, as either a writer or an editor? Are there any projects in progress – or ones you’re itching to start when you have the time?

As far as editing goes, my other projects aren’t finalised yet, but Problem Daughters should keep me busy enough for the time being, so I’m not complaining!

In terms of writing, it’s almost impossible to write while my kids are on school holidays, so itching is definitely the right term here! I’m this close to finishing the fourth draft of my long work (it’s not sure yet if it’ll be a novella or a novel when it grows up). It’s a thriller set in far-future Sydney about corruption, secrets and family (birth and found). I always have a few shorts on the boil, but I think the next one I finish will be a steampunk whistleblower story, so I guess corruption is a theme I like to explore in different settings.

Thanks Rivqa! I look forward to reading Problem Daughters.

And a reminder to the rest of you: you can back Problem Daughters on their IndieGoGo Page. They’re approaching half-way, so I’m sure some nudges to push them over the line would be really appreciated!