How did “Red Is Our Country” originate? What inspirations did you draw on?
I wrote this story at Clarion West, where one of our instructors was the Australian editor Jonathan Strahan. I’d grown up in Australia, so I got it in my head that I’d write an Australia story for him. I’d also been tempted to have a go at a classic space survival kind of plot, and the two ideas fused when I hit on the parallel between central Australia and Mars—two red, arid landscapes that, to an outsider, don’t seem capable of supporting life. That image was really important at the beginning.
I had a notebook page full of every shade of red I could think of. I think about half made it into the first draft, and half of those survived revisions. Coincidentally, I like red a lot more now than I used to. Anyway, I liked the idea of a story where survival is actually quite simple (don’t shoot the dragon!), and the plot instead hinges on whether the protagonist can set aside their preconceptions long enough to realise it.
The last element was the decision to loosely base the story around the real-life Burke and Wills expedition. It made thematic sense, and it was also a shortcut to constructing the characters and the plot. Cutting corners is the best. (That said, I think my protagonist is a good deal more sympathetic than the actual fourth member of that expedition!)
Where are you in this story?
This was one of those delightful stories where I didn’t fully understand what I was doing until some time after I’d finished it. The first draft had almost none of the first person narrator (side note: I love direct address stories, but gosh is it hard to talk about the characters when I neglected to give either of them names), but that, unsurprisingly, felt confusing and unfinished.
Once I balanced it out, I realised the story was really a dialogue, albeit a one-sided one. (How’s that for an oxymoron?) A few months after that, it finally occurred to me that it’s an internal dialogue: like most people, I’m marginalised in some ways and not in others, and I came to think of the two characters in this story as representative of the ways I experience those two sides of myself—the privileged tourist (so to speak) in an unfamiliar land, thinking themself open-minded but underestimating how much effort is required to undo ingrained prejudices; and the unprivileged host, extending more benefit of the doubt than is maybe wise, because it’s comforting to think that others are putting in that effort, searching for that common ground, even when they’re not. I’ve been both of those people, and I’m still learning to be the best versions of those people. This story is part of that!
What led you into writing genre fiction?
My mother and her shelves full of science fiction. I read outside of genre as well, of course, but the books that form my foundation, the ones my family passed around between us on holiday, that became dog-eared and crease-spined, those were all science fiction—writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, China Mieville, Michel Faber. I have a particularly fond memory of a copy of Grass by Sheri S. Tepper, which all three of us read over the course of a family trip in Japan. It started off brand new and ended looking decades old. When I realised I wanted to write, it never even occurred to me to write anything else.
What trends in speculative fiction would you like to see gain popularity in the next few years?
I’m a shipper at heart, and I’ve really enjoyed the recent trend of science fiction and fantasy novels with prominent, well-integrated romances—the sort that are central to the book’s themes and plot. I’m thinking of writers like Arkady Martine, Samantha Shannon, Tasha Suri, and Everina Maxwell. I really hope to see even more of that in the future—especially as so many of these examples feature queer characters. There can never be enough queer SF/F! (On a corollary, I also really enjoy stories that treat platonic relationships with the same delicacy and depth of emotion that’s usually reserved for romance. A better phrase than romances might be love stories, in all the varied meanings of the word “love.”)
Sometimes I wish there was a market for short fiction along these lines, too, because the eternal problem I have with short fiction is how much of it there is. It’s great for dipping your toe in—you never know what you’ll find!—but if you’re in the mood for a specific kind of story, it can be overwhelming. So if anyone’s thinking of starting something like that, maybe hit me up?
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
My website, filiphdz.com, has a list of my published work. Other than my short fiction, I’m currently working on a novel—a sort of post-apocalyptic space opera—that, I dearly hope, will be finished by the time you read this. I’m also always writing fanfiction, but my AO3 handle is a closely-guarded secret.
Spread the word!