Nino Cipri's Homesick
by Kyle Teller, creative writing Ph.D. student
Author Nino Cipri; photo credit: Korbin Jones
Superhero dead girls, space weasels, and ghosts, oh my! These are the stories of recent MFA graduate, Nino Cipri, among many other fabulist and fabulous works of fiction featured in their debut short story collection, Homesick (preorder Homesick now through Dzanc books or Amazon.com; release date October 15, 2019). I met with Cipri to talk about their book Homesick, their writing and process, and their life as a “verbal terrorist,” to quote Cipri’s publishing biography.
“What is Homesick about?” I ask. It’s early in the evening on the hottest day this spring. Cipri and I meet at John Brown Underground where the doors have just opened and we’re the only ones seated at a table.
“Homesick is a collection of nine short stories that mostly focus on the theme of home and our estrangement from it,” Cipri says. “Most of the stories center queer relationships and trans characters, and nonbinary characters as well. The stories are fabulist and are about what happens when the mundane suddenly becomes strange and unfamiliar.”
“For the folks at home," I say, "how would you describe fabulism?”
“For me,” Cipri says, “fabulism is a looser category under speculative fiction. I think of fabulism as similar to magical realism but not with the same cultural connotations and context. Fabulism is a mix of the mundane, the uncanny, the unusual, and the unfamiliar.”
“How did you choose which stories to put in this collection?” I ask.
“I chose these ones based on similar aesthetics, similar themes, and tone," Cipri says.
“So what’s the tone, then?”
“The tone shifts in various places," Cipri says. "There are a few stories in Homesick that I would consider under the umbrella of literary horror, and then there is the novella that I wrote for this collection that is funny and probably the least speculative work I’ve written and certainly trying to be the funniest. I wanted to write something funny that’s still dealing with hard issues. The novella deals with the terrors of graduate school [laughs] but also colonialism and the ways that white settlers have considered the earth a consistent resource to be taken, and taken, and taken and that includes the intellectual, the spiritual, and the dead.”
“What’s the title of the novella in this collection?” I ask.
“I refer to the novella forever as the ‘space weasel’ story [from the title of the original short story version.] The title is now ‘Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff’.”
“You mention working on your thesis and your short story collection Homesick," I say. "Did you work on this collection while a graduate student at KU?”
“The space weasel story I definitely wrote at KU and a couple of other stories as well, including ‘Presque Vu’ which is about being haunted both physically and emotionally," Cipri says. "Another one I wrote while at KU was ‘Which Super Little Dead Girl™ Are You? Take Our Quiz and Find Out!’ that was part of the collection and formed the premise of my MFA thesis. There’s a horror story called ‘Dead Air’ which I would not have been to write without having workshopped it in class.”
“What was your revision process for this collection featuring a novella?”
“The novella was a lot of revision,” Cipri explains. “It started out as a 10,000-14,000 word short story, maybe novelette. But it was shallow and didn’t get into the more political aspects, especially pulling fossils out of the ground and where that intersects with Native American land rights and tribal autonomy. I didn’t know anything about that research when I first wrote it, and then after writing the first draft I did a lot of research and interviewed an indigenous scientist friend and horror writer, Darcie Little Badger. I talked to her about her experiences as an indigenous scientist during graduate school and then rewrote vast amounts of the novella by trying to make the issue so much more deep by putting those conflicts at front and center.”
“Which story from the collection would you say best represents the overall book?”
“‘A Silly Love Story’,” Cipri says. “It nailed all the notes I really love. The story has a character who is queer and nonbinary, it has the slightly ironic yet earnest tone I like to work in, and it talks about monsters. This story has one of my favorite lines I’ve ever written: ‘What if I’m a monster underneath my clothes?’”
I ask Cipri what they look for when reading fiction.
“I’m always on the lookout for queer and trans fiction, I’ll own that,” Cipri says. “I’m most interested in fiction that engages deeply with emotion, more than even character or plot, whether that’s comedy, horror, romance, or a really gritty murder mystery.”
Cipri says they are also reading a lot of fanfiction as a break post-graduate school and is looking forward to finishing the book Docile by K.M. Szpara, "a friend of [Cipri's], very queer, who engages very heavily with sexual and emotional consent and capitalism.” Cipri is also looking forward to reading Rivers Solomon’s The Deep because of how Solomon engages with “history, trauma, and systems of oppression that Solomon deals with incredibly well” and catching up on the comic series The Wicked + The Divine, a series where gods are reincarnated as pop singers.
“Shifting back to Homesick," I say, "can you give snippets of your other stories in the collection, particularly ‘Which Super Little Dead Girl™ Are You?’”
“‘Which Super Little Dead Girl™ Are You?’ is written as a personality quiz and it’s about the origin story of a group of child superheroes that are made up of murdered children. In that vein, one of the other horror stories ‘Dead Air’ is told in audio transcriptions and is about two young women who meet, fall in love, and one of their pasts come back to haunt them in a very real way. In another story, ‘Not an Ocean But the Sea,’ a cleaning woman discovers an ocean under one of her client’s couches, which is partly based on my own experiences working as a maid. Her least favorite clients are my least favorite clients. There’s also my most recognizable short story, ‘The Shape of My Name,’ which is the story of a family of time travelers narrated by a young trans man and deals with how chronologies are disrupted.”
“What drives your writing?”
“Curiosity,” Cipri says. “Most of my stories begin with me asking, ‘I wonder what would happen if…?’ Or, for me, creative writing is research and intellectual practice, so the desire to intensely and empathetically research and then write is a drive. I’ll also write stories directed to people or to an entire genre to either please them or as a screw you. ‘Super Little Dead Girls’ was my response to how much I hate how the horror genre treats the dead bodies of both children and women—I hate it so much, I wrote about how I hated it in a very roundabout way.”
“If you were a revived, superpowered version of yourself, what would your superpower be?”
“Am I an embodied dead person?” Cipri asks after a minute of thought.
“If I was an embodied, superhero dead person with powers,” Cipri says, “I think I’d want to be a person who as they rot, everything grows nicely. I would have the power to nourish living things. Just imagine this dead, nonbinary uncle saying, ‘eat some more, eat some more.’”
“So a nonbinary uncle continuously feeding everyone else?” I say, laughing.
“Yes,” Cipri says, “and maybe the uncle who is a little disappointed in people just enough to get you to try harder. I expected a lot more out of you, but the important thing is you tried.”
“What are your plans now, post-MFA?”
“Homesick is coming out in October. I have a novella that is coming out in spring of next year, March or April, called Finna that is being published by Tor.com. It was a screenplay written in Darren Canady’s playwriting course revised into a novella. Hopefully, I will end up doing events related to those works, but right now I’m planning on moving to NYC to be near my partner and family.”
“Any last tips for new writers?” I ask.
“Finish what you’re writing, revise, and sent it out,” Cipri says. “Aside from the basics, try to find your friends and your community of writers.”
“How did you find your community of writers?”
“Online,” Cipri says. “Most of the writers I know are queer or trans, I’d read their work, give a shout to them on social media or at science fiction conventions, and people are really friendly in those spaces. My favorite conference is WisCon, and I’m heading there after this.”
Order Homesick through Dzanc books or Amazon.com; Homesick releases on October 15, 2019.