Jasmine Sawers (they/them), one of the four visiting writers for Ball State’s In-Print Festival of First Books in March 2023, just recently published “The Anchored World: Flash Fairytales and Folklore.” This debut collection of theirs is a finalist for the 2023 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection. Drawn to reading and writing literary fiction/creative nonfiction, they are drawn to stories similar to our reality, only something is slightly off.
Is there any genre or type of writing that you enjoy currently or any previous ones you come back to?
I’m exclusively interested in literary fiction/Creative Nonfiction (CNF) whether in reading or in writing; that said, my definition of “literary” is more like a Venn diagram in that it can overlap with many other genres, like sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realist, YA/MG, etc. I’m most drawn to work that is speculative, especially when the world of the story feels almost like our reality but something about it is just slightly off.
Would you say that your book is directed towards a specific audience?
Speculative literary flash fiction is pretty niche by itself. I think in order to be drawn to this particular book, you can’t be skeptical of flash fiction as a form, and you have to consider the fairy tale a living, worthy subject. This can be a tall order in mainstream literary circles.
I have been asked many times if this is a children’s book; it is decidedly not, but I recall my own childhood as a precocious reader quite acutely. I was allowed any book that struck my fancy no matter how supposedly age-inappropriate it may have been, for which I’ve always been grateful. That kid would have been overjoyed to find a book that reflected not only their interests but their heritage, and nothing could have stopped them from reading it. In many ways, this book is for the mixed race, fairy tale-mad, eggy little queer kid I was, and any other audience it receives is gravy.
What would you want readers to take away from your book and/or your writing?
I’m not super interested in dictating what messages or impressions readers should take from my book. I believe if I’ve done my job correctly, most readers will get what I was going for, or at least come up with a valid and affecting interpretation of it that hadn’t occurred to me before. Writing’s my job, interpreting is the reader’s.
What would you say is most important when discussing this year’s festival’s topic of diversity and inclusivity in publishing?
We’re seeing more writers of color, queer writers, disabled writers, etc. being published than ever before, but the fact is, the upper echelons of the publishing industry are still dominated by wealthy cishet white people who get to steer much of where the industry is headed as well as who gets published. We’re still contending with “there can be only one”-style tokenism that further marginalizes voices that don’t fit into the narrative of what those publishing big wigs imagine for our communities. The 2019 research into the demographics of published authors shook out at 76% white, 74% cis woman and 23% cis men, 81% straight and 89% abled. That’s a reflection of the fact we need more diversity not at the bottoms of organizations but at the top. More diverse publishing professionals, editors, and even agents will mean a more equitable literary landscape.
Do you have any advice for future writers?
Read extensively, especially in the genre you want to write in. That said, try to push yourself to read stuff outside what you think you might be interested in, as well. You might be surprised and it will enrich you. Reading is ultimately the best teacher. And, this likely goes against what others may say, but I’m a fan of putting books I’m not enjoying right down and not picking them up again (barring professional or academic necessity). There are infinite books in the world and not infinite time; why waste yours with books you don’t like? You don’t get extra points for reading through something boring or detestable.