Nina Varela: Crier’s War, a story of queer freedom

When you read Nina Varela’s words it’s clear that she is not afraid, neither to write about emotions nor queerness. She wrote a compelling young adult novel: Crier’s War, a fairy tale set in a sci-fi realm in which two girls, one human and one Made, an Automae, fight together to free themselves from an oppressive and patriarchal system that wants their respective kinds to be separated and different. Crier’s War is an inspirational story about revolution and power, but it’s also the story of falling in love.

We have met Nina through her words, she is humble and has a sparkling personality, she is determined to keep writing and she is really good at it. The other part of her duology, Iron Heart, will be published in September. While we hope for her amazing novels to be translated into Italian, we interviewed her because during this Pride month we wanted to give voice to someone whose art is entirely dedicated to queer readers. And there’s no fear, only joy in Nina Varela’s art.

Italian version here

In your novel emotion is a very central theme, in an interview you stated that writing is your method of expressing emotions “Writing is how I make sense of myself, all the big clunky embarrassing emotions I don’t like talking about” and your characters demonstrate the contradiction between “reason and feeling”. Why are emotions so important to you?

A big part of it is that I’m writing about teenagers, and teenagers are so, so emotional. It’s easy to write that off as melodrama, but the thing about being so young is that everything feels like the end of the world because in some ways it is. Your first love is your first love. Your first heartbreak is your first heartbreak. You don’t yet know that this hurt —this anger, passion, grief, loneliness — isn’t forever. As you grow older, you learn that all pain is survivable. You get your heart broken and you’re like, “Okay, this is awful, but I’ve been here before and I know it gets better”. But teenagers like Crier and Ayla aren’t there yet. They’re feeling everything, and I empathize so much with them and with all teenagers, because I remember what it was like. It was important to portray them accurately: Ayla’s messy, often immature anger; Crier’s naivete and hope and pain. They’re young and still learning about the world, still learning about themselves. It’s painful, but so necessary and beautiful. 

One of the elements that struck me most in your novel is the dedications and the acknowledgements part. You dedicate the book to the queer readers as quoted: “For the queer readers. You deserve every adventure” and in acknowledgements, besides the online readers who encouraged and supported you, you thank once more: “To the queer readers: for reading this book, but also just for existing. Some people will try to tell you your story doesn’t matter. That it is the biggest lie you will ever hear. Reader, everything you feel and experience and create is vital to this world. Never sit down; never shut up. Nobody else wants to write about us, so: screw it We’ll do it ourselves. We will make it impossible for anyone to pretend we don’t exist. Please tell your story – I’d love to read it. Thank you for reading mine”

How did your awareness of belonging to a community emerge and how did it influence your writing?

It took me a long time—longer than it should have—to realize and accept that I’m queer. I spent my teenage years being attracted to girls and then convincing myself it didn’t count, it wasn’t real attraction, I was straight. I didn’t come out until college, but when I did come out I was very open about it, and very open about writing queer stories. (I went to college for screenwriting.) And once I was out, I was able to find a group of queer friends—and “straight” friends that later came out as queer—and it was the most amazing feeling. I was able to be my true self, without omitting details about my emotions and experiences, without watering myself down or filtering myself out of fear or denial. It’s such a relief. There’s a joke about how queer people flock together like penguins, and it’s true—we find each other and stick together, because having that kinship, that shared truth, is so liberating.  

June is the Pride month: what stage are we at with civil rights today from your point of view?

Obviously better than we used to be in most areas, but there is still so much left to fight for. It’s hard to imagine what an ideal world would look like socially, culturally, politically. It is often easier to pass laws than to change hearts—and in order for that ideal world to happen someday, a lot of hearts need to become kinder, more open, less hateful and violent; a lot of people need to unlearn the oppressive systems they were born into and have spent their lives participating in. It will not happen within my lifetime. But I have to believe it will happen, someday, for some generation of queer people. And that’s who we are fighting for, even more than ourselves: that future generation. Our children, our children’s children. Their happiness

The current political climate and social inequality afflict the lives of Ayla and Crier. The two characters are very aware of how much their lives are being affected by their social status and both want to retaliate. The rebellion against injustice gives your novel a strong idealistic appeal, but it’s a very powerful element. Do you think that in order to rebel you have to be individually involved and have awareness of the reality that surrounds us or in some way the rebellion is already felt from within?

Individual involvement and awareness all the way. Crier’s journey is all about realizing how privileged and ignorant she’s been—she’s very smart, but she’s still young, and she believed what her father and teachers and history books taught her about the world. Once she starts realizing everything she knew was a lie, once she develops that awareness of how the world really works, that’s when she becomes radicalized. A revolution takes a lot of people, but each of those people has a unique position, unique abilities, unique knowledge—in order to form a truly strong collective, you have to value and listen to each person.

Crier’s War romanzo queer Nina Varela copertina

In Crier’s war there is a strong Fairy Tale component, the fairy tale is known to be a genre that in the past tended to be both moral and educational. However, the question is, has writing this novel taught you anything about yourself?

I ended up exploring my own queer identity and my beliefs even more than I thought I would. Crier and Ayla’s story isn’t about being queer—they’re just two girls who fall in love, they don’t have to deal with coming out, or homophobia, or any sort of identity crisis. It was really freeing to write a story like that, and because I had this sort of “perfect” zero-homophobia world to play around in, I was able to just focus on writing about love, both romantic and platonic, and all these emotional and political relationships, and I kind of went on a journey of self-discovery alongside Crier and Ayla. I definitely ended the duology more radical than when I began it, and I figured out what’s most important to me in a story, like what kinds of stories I want to tell: stories about queer joy, queer freedom, queer revolution. 

In your opinion, is there a prejudice about young and novice writers? Is it more difficult to feel validated as a young author? 

It’s complicated—a lot of the time, I think it’s kind of the opposite. Publishers LOVE young authors, it’s like a selling point: “Twenty-two year old debut author.” However, it can definitely be hard for young writers, especially marginalized ones. The publishing industry is huge and daunting and difficult to navigate, and if you’re marginalized, if you’re low income, etc., it can be so intimidating trying to break in, trying to get people to take you and your story seriously and make your voice heard. I was twenty-four when I debuted (I’m 25 now) and I still feel like a little kid sitting at the kids’ table sometimes, separated from the “adults” who are more established, more experienced, more connected. But of course what matters in the end is your story and how you tell it!  

Which are some of the queer authors you loved as a reader and from whom were you inspired?

Growing up I didn’t really read any queer books—they were hard to find in the library and bookstore. So these days I’m making up for it! Right now I love Carmen Maria Machado, Rin Chupeco, Malinda Lo, N.K. Jemisin, and the poets Chen Chen and Ocean Vuong

Can you tell us something about your writing process as well as the writing as a job? 

My writing process involves a lot of coffee. I have a full-time dayjob, so I write in the evenings after work and on the weekends. I don’t sleep a lot! Right now I’m stuck inside, of course, but before the pandemic I always went to coffee shops—I like having the ambient noise, and when I’m home it’s so easy to just nap or get distracted with a million other things. It’s best when I’m out of the house. In terms of my process, I’m big on outlines. My outlines have to be super detailed because I have such a terrible memory—seriously, that’s why! If I don’t have a detailed outline, I’ll forget what happened in the beginning of the book by the time I reach the middle. Once I have the outline, I just try to write as fast as possible to hit my deadline. I generally try to hit about 1,000 words per day…. but of course there are plenty of days I don’t. It’s all very unromantic! It’s just a lot of me staring at my computer, drinking coffee, trying to think.

Future plans? 

More writing! I just want to write books for teens and kids, I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I don’t dream about being famous or fabulously wealthy or anything like that. I just want to write. Hopefully I’ll be able to do so for a long time!

A song that you think is associated with Crier’s War?

Simmer” by Hayley Williams. Very Ayla!

Thank you SO MUCH for having me! <3

Copyright © 2016 Sguardi di Confine è un marchio di Beatmark Communication di Valentina Colombo – All rights Reserved – p. iva 03404200127 – Testata registrata presso il Tribunale di Busto Arsizio n. 447/2016 – Direttore Responsabile: Valentina Colombo