Today we’re joined by Cheryl Wollner. Cheryl attended my panel at C2E2 and it turns out she’s a phenomenal ace author. Cheryl is a fellow feminist author who specializes in speculative fiction. She also writes creative non-fiction and is an incredibly productive writer. I could not be more excited to feature her on Asexual Artists. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I’m a feminist writer, which to me is very different than a writer who tells stories which happen to be about women. In my work, most of my characters are female or gender non-binary or disrupt gender norms in some way. Most of my characters are queer, even if they are not ace. Being a feminist writer means I have to be aware of intersections of race, class, gender, ability and so much more because I’m not just writing a story, I’m offering a critique and (sometimes) a solution. I’m a speculative fiction writer because spec fic is the best place to create such critiques.
In my creative nonfiction, I’m proactive in a different way. I’ve published a few essays on my coming out story, being an asexual feminist as well as how speculative fiction and queerness play into my Jewish identity.
What inspires you?
I am the writer who carries around a notebook and pen everywhere. I’ll see a street sign or catch the name of a restaurant and know I want to use that in some way, even if I have no idea how yet. Images inspire me and a lot of times an image will stick in my mind and it’s only when I pair it with another idea that I have a story. For instance, there’s a huge clock without hands by the train station where I live and I knew I wanted to write about that clock. But I only had a story when I paired it with an existing drabble about a world where all adults suddenly vanish at the age of eighteen. The image helped me bring out themes of time and adulthood that might not have otherwise existed.
Like the story with the handless clock, I’m inspired by the bizarre aspects of the everyday. It gives me license to create worlds and characters similar to what we know, but alter them to be slightly off putting or unrecognizable.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
Growing up I wanted to be a visual artist, actually. My grandmother taught art in NYC schools and her house is filled with her paintings. For the first ten years of my life, I wanted to be a visual artist and paint like she did. In middle school I became more interested in theatre and for the next several years I dreamed of being on Broadway and attended a part-time Arts Magnet Program in high school to take theatre classes. It was only when I got scared out of a dance class that I took creative writing. It still makes me laugh because this was the last option available to me, and I sat with the program director and thought, “I already know how to write. I do this enough in school. Why would I ever want to write on my own time?” But I took creative writing all four years of high school and by junior year I knew it was what I wanted to major in in college.
So, yes I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but what that looks like has taken so many different forms. And I still love visual art. I draw on occasion and want to write for animation or comic books, so I’ll definitely be doing more with visual art in the future.
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
Well, I write about terrorism a lot. I write about political terrorism and view the systemic oppression surrounding queer people, people of color (or any other minority) as a form of terrorism. I’m fascinated in picking apart how one group controls another and what resistance looks like. A driving question in my work is: what is terrorism and who is a terrorist?
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Feel out your art because you’re far more talented than you give yourself credit for. There’s no need to pigeon hole yourself into just one art form or just one style. I went into college believing I’d write only fiction, but came out of college having written numerous scripts and creative nonfiction essays before I ever returned to fiction. I didn’t take a fiction class until my last semester in college. I didn’t start writing poetry seriously until this past October. There are never too many avenues to express yourself because you are an incredible talent.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I’m asexual and homo-romantic.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
I just posted a blog on this actually, but I haven’t encountered much ace prejudice and I think that’s because I’ve been identifying as a queer author and not an ace author. Letting myself fall under the queer umbrella means I don’t have to explain my sexuality to anyone. They can assume I’m probably a lesbian and I don’t have to correct them unless they ask. However, I’m making an effort now to identify as an asexual writer and make people recognize my identity.
The only interaction I’ve had with publishers about my sexuality was with <Wilde Magazine> (and I think one other queer publication) and I had a great experience. They said they wanted LGBTQ authors and I emailed the editor and said something about being ace and wondering if they would still accept my work. They said yes so I submitted. And while it sucks to have to ask if I count as queer enough, the editor didn’t make it a big deal.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
Especially in college, I would get a lot of people who censored themselves around me, thinking I was too innocent to hear others talk about sex and sexuality. I encountered heavy infantilization, as if my sexuality made me less of an adult. But thankfully, I usually had incredible people like my roommate to stand with me. Having even a few people who you know are your allies can make all the difference. My mother, for instance, has become my greatest ally and I am thankful every day that I can be open with her and that she will always stand up for me.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
There are people like you. You’re not an anomaly. You’re not broken. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Also, your identity can change. I considered myself aromantic for about six years. Definitely trust yourself and be willing to change. Being ace does not make you a robot or incapable of love or any other emotion.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
You can check out my asexual feminist blog: https://asexualfeminist.wordpress.com/
I am the blog managing editor for Luna Station Quarterly, where you can find my blogs on feminism in speculative fiction authors and favorite female characters. http://lunastationquarterly.com/magical-girl-rising/
I write literary magazine review for New Pages. http://www.newpages.com/magazine-reviews/a-cappella-zoo-fall-2015
Links to published work available to read free online:
“From the Sister of Superman” (creative nonfiction)
“Try to Forget” (creative nonfiction)
“The Resurrectionist University” (micro-drama)
Thank you, Cheryl, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.