Interview with Author Sunyi Dean

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Aug 26, 2022

Sunyi Dean (sun-yee deen) is an autistic author of fantasy fiction. Originally born in the States and raised in Hong Kong, she now lives in Yorkshire with her children. When not reading, running, falling over in yoga, or rolling d20s, she sometimes escapes the city to wildswim in lonely dales.

Her short stories have featured in The Best of British Scifi Anthology, Prole, FFO, Tor Dot Com, etc., and her debut novel, THE BOOK EATERS, will be published 2 Aug 2022 by Tor (USA), and 18 Aug 2022 by Harper Voyager (UK). Available at all good bookstores, in ebook, hardback, and audio.

I had the opportunity to interview Sunyi, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! What can you tell us about your book, The Book Eaters? Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Inspiration came from many places! I love the ethical dilemma of vampires as creatures who must do terrible things to stay alive. Every culture, for as long as we’ve had written records, has legends about vampiric creatures of some kind, and I find that quite eerie, too. (I don’t love their cheesy Dracula-based reputation, but that’s easy to side step in one’s own writing.) 

I’m also interested in how we consume media, how it affects us, and what it says about our society’s psychology. All of those things folded together, gradually, into this book. 

How do you believe your neurodivergence affects your writing and worldview as an author?

In Chinese, ‘autism’ sometimes translates to ‘loneliness disease’ or ‘closed-self’ disease. Those are terrible, ableist terms in many ways, but there’s a grain of truth to them as well. Autistic life is often lonely, sometimes very narrow, and usually more inward-looking; autistic people are deeply self-reflective thinkers. 

Devon is not written as autistic, because I am not really sure what autism versus neurotypicalism would even look like in book eaters. But she, and many of my other characters in various stories, do tend to be isolated, reflective, sometimes lonely, and placed at the fringe of society. 

What inspired you to get into writing, particularly speculative fiction? Were there any writers or stories that sparked your own love and interest in storytelling?

Truthfully, it was actually book reviewers who inspired me to try writing. I love reading in-depth reviews which deconstruct a novel and engage with what the author was trying to do or explore. In particular, I remember reading a 5k-word essay about a classic sci fi novel and thinking, How cool would it be to write something which inspired 5,000 words of discussion from someone else? 

I write because I want to connect, to be heard, and to have conversations with folks through text, and the complexity of speculative fiction (as opposed to other genres) allows so much freedom in stories. 

As someone who is obviously inspired by fairytales, why do you think you yourself and other readers keep being drawn to these older stories?

Fairytales are a highly accessible “bare bones” medium that speak to cultural experience. They are safe ways to explore and work through things that we, as a society, collectively fear or don’t understand. 

A classic example is the mythology surrounding werewolves, and their use in talking about domestic violence. The language we have today for talking about domestic violence is very specific and detailed, but hundreds of years ago, that wasn’t the case. People instead relied on stories to process very complex experiences and common fears.

Fairytales were never meant to be something we aspire to. They were always intended to be something we talk about.

How would you describe your writing routine?

There is no routine, only chaos and prayers to the elder gods. Occasionally deadlines and panic. 

What are some of your favorite elements of writing? What are some of the most challenging?

I’m in the camp of people who despise drafting and adore editing. I love having written, but don’t enjoy it while I’m actually doing it. A bit like running: I love finishing a run, but I swear and snarl through the actual experience. 

What advice would you have for aspiring writers?

Writing is hard, and publishing (where self, trad, or hybrid) is harder. Be kind to yourself, especially if no one else is kind to you. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)? 

‘What is your favorite whisky at the moment’, you say? Well, so glad you asked! 😉 Seaweed and Aeons and Digging and Fire, cask strength. 

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about? 

I’m working on a few projects! One is a historical fantasy set in Hong Kong, featuring ghosts. Another is a near-future, retro-sci fi, set in rural Texas. Both are novels, both are early stages. 

I would also like to complete my half-finished novella, revamp an older book, and start making notes on 2-3 other books beyond that. 

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/ authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Do check out The Final Strife by Saara El Arifi, a glorious and bloody epic fantasy with a queernormative society and a sapphic lead MC. Came out June 2022! 

Recently, I have also loved Hench by Natalie Walschots (competent bi MC), Nophek Gloss trilogy by Essa Hansen (acespec MC with genderfluid characters), and Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson (sapphic leads again.)

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