AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Sunyi Dean

"I want to see the return of the midlist as a solid component of publishing. A place where experimental fiction can push boundaries and draw in a devoted audience."

Sunyi Dean is a biracial immigrant and autistic single mom, living the inner-city life in North England with her two young children. When not reading, running, falling over in yoga, or rolling d20s, she sometimes escapes the city to wildswim in lonely dales.

As a writer of speculative fiction, her short stories have featured in places like The Best of British Scifi 2018 Anthology, Prole, FFO, and BBC Radio Leeds, among others. Her debut novel, THE BOOK EATERS, is scheduled for publication in 2022 through Tor (USA) and Harper Voyager (UK).

What do you enjoy most about writing? 

Somewhat controversially, I love editing. A good solid crit, even if it's piled high with my mistakes and lists of weak points, is strangely invigorating. I get excited thinking about how to make a manuscript better. I enjoy building an editing "toolkit" based on incoming feedback and applying it systematically across a story. I realise fully how nerdy that sounds, too. Drafting is really hard for me, so editing is like my little self-reward for having written new material. 

What is most difficult for you about writing? 

Cliche as it sounds, just starting is the real bugbear for me. I get overwhelmed by ideas, themes, and approaches. I struggle to pin down how a novel should start and what is too much or too little scope. Blank Pages Blues is real, and very scary! I'm really, really bad at outlining, and usually ignore my outlines once I get going, yet I can't seem to start without some kind of skeleton scribbled down. The whole process is messy and frustrating. 

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

Fairytales and amateur philosophy are both subjects I'm intensely interested in; my undergraduate dissertation was on the fairytales of George MacDonald, in the context of Plato's cave allegory. The novel I have coming out in 2022 (The Book Eaters) is built around the premise of eating books, and specifically a society of people where the women are raised to eat only selected fairytales in order to make them docile and unquestioning. I loved being able to examine what fairytales say about our society, and what we inadvertently learn from them (hint: sometimes those lessons aren't very nice!) 

What's the biggest thing about the publishing industry that you wish would change? 

I want to see the return of the midlist as a solid component of publishing. A place where experimental fiction can push boundaries and draw in a devoted audience, even if it is a little bit niche. Having these extreme blockbuster novels versus undiscovered gems feels like an extension of the aggressive polarising going on in our society at all levels (eg the increasing poverty gap) and I think our creative industry will suffer for it in the long term. A book does not have to sell a million copies to justify its existence! We need to invest in midlisters again, and not continue making publishing into a winner-takes-all industry.

Do you have any writing advice for other autistic people?

There's a fine line, sometimes, between making accomodations for neurotypical folk, and full-on autistic masking. In writing, a similar dilemma exists: accomodating a mostly-neurotypical audience, versus burying your authentic autistic voice. I have no hard answers on this, and I think it's something many autistic writers will wrestle with through the years; ultimately, it's a line you have to draw for yourself. But do draw it. Do consider it. Have boundaries in your personal life and in your writing for what is too much of an ask, or what is too much of an accomodation, for both neurotypical people and neurotypical audiences.