Please welcome C. T. Rwizi to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Scarlet Odyssey was published on July 1, 2020 by 47North.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
C.T.: The very first thing I wrote is not something I’d ever let anyone read. Ever. It was a cheesy, racy drama featuring cheating spouses, oversexed neighbors, soap opera style twists, fast cars and lots and lots of clichés. It was laughably bad. But I was trying to get the hang of writing at the time so I chose to do so in a way I’d find entertaining. Surprisingly, it worked. I was motivated to keep coming back to my crazy plot, and along the way I refined a writing process that works for me. I never got to finish the story though, since halfway through I decided to get more serious about my writing. I do return to it once in a while when I feel the need to laugh at my past self.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
C.T.: Now there’s a fun word. Pantser. Pantster? Either way, I would say I am perhaps a tenth that. Mostly, I plot. I’ll have serious writers block if I sit in front of my computer and I don’t have a plan for where my chapter or scene begins and where it ends. Often, whenever I’m stuck, it’s because I haven’t planned things in enough detail.
What I usually do is create a skeleton of the whole book—i.e. beginning, middle and end—allowing for flexibility along the way. But I will plan each chapter in great detail before attempting to write it, and always with an awareness of what needs to happen next.
Sometimes, however, I’ll be in the middle of writing a scene and realize that it might work better if I deviated from the plan. When that happens, I stop writing, create a new plan to fit in this new idea, then continue. I almost never just write and see where things go.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
C.T.: Editing a completed first draft can be fun and easy because most of the hard work has been done. The story’s broad strokes have been painted and the manuscript is no longer a nebulous idea in your head. It’s real, and you can see what needs to be improved, what should be removed, what’s missing, etc.
Getting to this point, however, is not easy. It requires endurance and motivation. You need to believe in your project enough to keep coming back to it. And that’s one of the most difficult things about writing: maintaining belief in your own work. Resisting the temptation to scrap it and start all over, or simply to give up. It can be difficult to keep going even when you’re not feeling confident, but that’s part of the process.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
C.T.: The space operas of Alastair Reynolds and Peter Hamilton. I love books that impart a sense of awe at the size and age of the universe, works that deal with big ideas on a cosmic scale, and yet stay close to their characters. My work is not a space opera, but I vied to evoke the same sense of awe in my readers.
TQ: Tell us something about Scarlet Odyssey that is not found in the book description.
C.T.: The world on which the story is based orbits a binary star—i.e., it has two suns: one yellow, one white. It also has a red moon, and a blue comet that shoots across the sky once every year.
TQ: What inspired you to write Scarlet Odyssey? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
C.T.: I’d started a project based in a medieval European setting, but I was increasingly drawn to a supporting character from a southern continent, to the extent that I realized, based on the amount of time I was giving him, that I wanted him to be the star of the show, and to write about his society, which was more familiar to me than medieval Europe. Thus was born Scarlet Odyssey, a fantasy set in an African-inspired society.
As for what appeals to me about writing fantasy, I guess I blame my overactive imagination for seeking an outlet. I grew up reading Harry Potter like many other kids my age, though I craved to read similar works starring young black people like myself. But there weren’t many options at the time, so I was only stuck with what was available and my own imagination.
Things are beginning to change now, fortunately, with many writers of color being given the stage to write their own stories. Being a writer in the genre right now means I can be part of that change.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Scarlet Odyssey?
C.T.: The starting point for many of the ideas I used was personal experience or knowledge I acquired by virtue of having grown up in southern Africa. The drystone architecture of my main character’s society, for example, was inspired by the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, which are not far from my grandfather’s farm in the Masvingo province of Zimbabwe, and which I have visited on many occasions. The bullfighting ritual featured early on in the book was inspired by a similar ritual performed by young men in Eswatini at the king’s royal kraal. The beasts that appear are inspired by several African mythologies, from the tikoloshe of South Africa and Swaziland to the ilomba of Zambia.
So I was going off on myths and cultures I was already familiar with, and that are regularly seen or practiced or discussed among southern Africans. I did have to take my knowledge a step further, however, and I did this by reading scholarly research into African myths as well as the histories of the ancient Shona, Zulu and Swazi peoples.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Scarlet Odyssey.
C.T.: The cover was designed by Shasti O’Leary Soudant. It depicts a sunset in the savannahs, which definitely features in the novel as a significant portion of it takes place in grassy velds similar to what you would find in south and east Africa.
TQ: In Scarlet Odyssey who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
C.T.: The main character, Salo, is an outcast due to his failure to conform to his society’s standards of masculinity, which are higher for him since he’s the chief’s firstborn son. Though he’s a very different person from me, I empathized with him greatly because I myself am familiar with the social pressures born of toxic masculinity—to be seen as the strong one even when you don’t feel strong, to avoid anything even remotely feminine lest people question your manhood or sexuality, to repress your emotions at all costs. My personal experiences were handy as I wrote Salo’s character.
Conversely, the hardest character to write was the Maidservant, mostly because she has to do some pretty terrible things even though she knows they are wrong. I’ll admit; it was hard to empathize with her at times.
TQ: Does Scarlet Odyssey touch on any social issues?
C.T.: My book explores the toxicity of strict gender norms and the struggle of those who fail to conform to them. It also touches on tribalism and xenophobia, attitudes that still plague many African societies.
TQ: Which question about Scarlet Odyssey do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
C.T.: How much fun did you have writing this book?
Honestly? Lots. There were times I’d spend whole weekends in front of my computer without noticing the passage of time. This book is why I’ll be writing for as long as I am physically able to do so.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Scarlet Odyssey.
“I’ve seen people in glistening cities do the most savage of things, and people in the heart of the hinterlands do the noblest. I don’t think civilization is a place or a culture or a level of technological development. I think it’s simply the recognition that all life is valuable and must be treated as such. Everything else follows from there.”
TQ: What's next?
C.T.: Requiem Moon, the sequel to Scarlet Odyssey, will be coming out in the spring of 2021. It’s out with the copy editors so it’s very close to done. But that will not be the last you hear from me.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
C.T.: It has been a pleasure.
Scarlet Odyssey 1
47North, July 1, 2020
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 559 pages
Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.
Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
Salo’s queen is surprisingly accepting of his desire to be a mystic, but she will not allow him to stay in the tribe. Instead, she sends Salo on a quest. The quest will take him thousands of miles north to the Jungle City, the political heart of the continent. There he must gather information on a growing threat to his tribe.
On the way to the city, he is joined by three fellow outcasts: a shunned female warrior, a mysterious nomad, and a deadly assassin. But they’re being hunted by the same enchantress who attacked Salo’s village. She may hold the key to Salo’s awakening—and his redemption.
C. T. Rwizi was born in Zimbabwe, grew up in Swaziland, finished high school in Costa Rica and got a BA in government at Dartmouth College in the United States. He currently lives in South Africa with his family, and enjoys playing video games, taking long runs and spending way too much time lurking on Reddit. He is a self-professed lover of synthwave. Scarlet Odyssey is his debut novel.