AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Rafi Kleiman

"[Writing] allows you to get into someone else’s head, investigate worlds and experiences you’d never have in real life, and do it all while still keeping it grounded in what’s true about humanity."

Rafi Kleiman is a queer, Jewish, neurodivergent author in a committed relationship with both urban fantasy and media diversity. They think it’s incredibly important that people of all types can see themselves reflected in the art they consume in varied, respectful, and well researched ways. They spend a significant amount of time thinking about mermaids that can actually kill people.

When you were learning to write, did you have non-neurotypical authors to look up to? Are there non-neurotypical authors you look up to now? Tell me about them, or if the answer to both is "no," tell me about someone else you look up to.

When I was learning to write, I feel like people were not only less open about being neurodivergent, but I didn’t really even know I was neurodivergent myself for a long time. Something was always a little off and set me apart from my peers, but I didn’t have a diagnosis of any type until my late teens. So when I was learning to write, I don’t think there were any neurodivergent writers I knew of, and I didn’t know well enough to seek them out. It’s possible some of the authors I loved best a kid were neurodivergent without being open about it, but I can’t say for sure. These days, I feel like it’s definitely been easier to discover a broader spectrum of writers, including ones who have talked about their personal experiences. One neurodivergent author I enjoy is Maggie Stiefvater, who has been very open about her experiences with OCD. Another would be Octavia Butler. I’m sure there are many more that I’m not aware of, or who have not outright stated that they are neurodivergent. I would also honestly say that I’d count some of my own friends among neurodivergent writers I look up to — and writers I look up to in general!

What do you enjoy most about writing?

It’s hard to pick an utmost favorite! Writing is one of the great loves of my life. I decided at a very young age that I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve stuck with it since, accumulating knowledge, and writing, and building my understanding of craft over the years. In some ways, I love writing because it helps me process feelings and explore ideas. If I had to pick something I enjoy most, I’d probably say the way it allows you to get into someone else’s head, investigate worlds and experiences you’d never have in real life, and do it all while still keeping it grounded in what’s true about humanity. Some other favorites are that feeling you get when it’s just flowing out of you without pause and you can tell it’s good, and the way that writing allows you to always keep learning and picking up new knowledge to utilize.

What is most difficult for you about writing?

Writer’s block is the most difficult hurdle for me with writing, probably in part because I love and rely on writing so much. Feeling stuck, staring at a page without coming up with any words even though all I want is to make progress on a creative project, is one of my least favorite feelings in the world, and can often be intensified during times of immense stress. I’m working hard to kill the perfectionist voice in my head, and develop better habits of writing more regularly even if I’m not happy with the outcome — the more I turn that faucet, the easier it is.

Tell me about a special interest of yours. Have you found yourself incorporating your special interests into your fiction?

This is funny, because in some ways I’d almost say writing itself is one of my special interests! I’m also definitely someone that experiences brief but intense hyper-fixations into different topics — internet deep-dives researching something entirely random, delving way too deep into a video game, gathering all the books I can find that work within a specific genre. However, one thing I’ve always loved is mythical creatures. I had a specific phase about ghosts as a kid (and have a number of books I’ve kept from that time), but it really encompassed a number of different subsections — I created a holiday about dragons, read tons of books about faeries, read and re-read tales about goddesses and mythology from different cultures, and declared myself a witch and received spell books for many subsequent birthdays. As someone who writes science fiction and fantasy, often especially leaning in the fantasy direction, I’ve definitely found myself incorporating that into my fiction in different ways. I even have a particular tag on a blog I keep that’s reserved for images or writing about different magical creatures and monsters, and which can often serve to spark inspiration. I love writing about magic. Witches, sea monsters, fae, and mermaids are particular favorites, but I also love lesser known creations that can be entirely new to the world I’m working within at the time.

What one thing do you wish more speculative fiction readers knew about autism?

Honestly, I think I wish most that people knew more about the diversity of the autistic experience. Being mentally ill and/or neurodivergent is already sorely underrepresented or misrepresented, but being autistic definitely doesn’t get portrayed often, and when it is it’s not with the nuance it deserves. Any type of person can be autistic, and what that means varies greatly. I want to see more diverse portrayals of autistic people, because I wish readers had a better understanding of what that looks like, feels like, and means.