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Interview with Samantha Garner by Maria Bolaños

Interview with Samantha Garner, Author of The Quiet Is Loud

Samantha Garner is a Canadian SF/F author living in the Greater Toronto Area. Her literary sci-fi / speculative fiction novel The Quiet is Loud was published by Invisible Publishing on May 4, 2021 and is available now in Canada; it will be available in the US in August.

From Samantha’s website: “Samantha’s stories and poems have been published in print and online, in publications such as The Fiddlehead, Kiss Machine, Storychord, WhiskeyPaper, Sundog Lit, and The Quarantine Review. She’s also been blogging since 1997. When she’s not writing, she’s out walking around, trying to photograph her long-suffering dog, playing a video game, or boring a loved one with the latest historical fact she’s just learned.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha on her debut novel, The Quiet is Loud. She gave wonderful insights into her writing process, tarot cards, some challenges of researching for a novel during a pandemic, identity and politics, paradexterity, and -- of course! -- which silog breakfast is the silog breakfast.

Can you tell us a little bit about your “origin story” as a writer? What drew you to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Speculative Fiction genres, and to writing in general?

It might sound like a cliché but I’ve been writing stories as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved reading and to me, writing felt like a natural companion to that. I’d written little stories all through my childhood, including a couple of “novels” when I was a young teenager, but when I was about 18 I decided I was going to pursue writing as a career. I wrote mostly poetry then, and moved to short stories after that. However, The Quiet is Loud is my first SF/F project. I’ve always been a fan of SF/F in books, movies, and TV, but somehow I didn’t feel like I could write my own. But thanks to my love of Kazuo Ishiguro and his genre-mixing novels and an idea I couldn’t get out of my head, I decided to take the SF/F leap with The Quiet is Loud.

What was your inspiration for writing The Quiet is Loud?

Many years ago, I wrote a short story called “Sorry Every Day,” which was published on It featured very early versions of Mary, Judith, and Brian, who would go on to become characters in The Quiet is Loud. This story focuses entirely on Brian’s controversial novel, a barely-fictionalized account of his childhood with his sister Judith. I really liked that aspect of the story - the destructive potential of creativity.

Around that same time I’d also written a story in which the main character has a vivid nightmare about her mother’s death. In this story, it’s just a simple nightmare. But years later, I started to wonder how it would be if the nightmare were actually a premonition.

So essentially those two kernels from two separate stories merged to form the framework of The Quiet is Loud. I started to think more about visions and premonitions, and it all flowed from there.

What was your writing process like for this book? Were there any key players who helped you on your journey to the finished work?

Because this was my first novel, I wanted to start with an outline, even if it was just a loose one. I did a lot of research upfront about nothing to do with the plot of the story, but about novel-writing in general. I don’t know if I psyched myself out or was just overwhelmed by writing a novel after years of poetry and short stories, but after a few months I didn’t have much.

I’d finished NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years earlier, and I remembered how helpful it had been, largely because you had to write a certain amount of words every day and post your results online. The fear of public failure is a great motivator for me! So I decided I would do NaNo for The Quiet is Loud. The thing was, NaNo takes place in November, which was also the month one of my closest friends was visiting from Finland that year. Of course, I wanted to spend a lot of time with her too. This friend (Susanna Kaapu) is an artist and photographer, so she really understands and respects the creative drive. I’d asked her if it would be okay if I spent a bit of time writing each day during her visit, and she barely let me finish the sentence before she enthusiastically agreed. In fact, she was more disciplined than I was! Every day she would make sure I wrote, even going so far as to push me bodily into my office sometimes, saying, “I’ll make dinner, don’t worry. Go write!” I really don’t think this book would have been written if not for her.

As readers of your book will know, tarot cards are an important element and recurring motif in The Quiet is Loud. Did you ever do a tarot card reading to help guide you in the making of your book, or perhaps overcome some writer’s block?

When I was writing The Quiet is Loud, my friend Teri Vlassopoulos (also an author herself!), gave me a book called The Creative Tarot, designed specifically to help creative people interpret tarot cards through that lens. With that book I did several readings for myself as I was writing, about specific plot points that I needed help picking a resolution for, or even readings for specific characters. It was fun and helped give me different, useful perspectives.

What’s your favorite tarot card? (And please explain what the card means, for the tarot newbies out there!) Why is it your favorite?

When writing The Quiet is Loud I did quite a lot of tarot research and found myself drawn to The Lovers, which is also a pivotal card in Freya’s story. In my deck (Morgan-Greer), it depicts a nude couple in a field of calla lilies. Taking the card at face value, you can determine it’s about romantic connection, and while it is a card of relationships (romantic or otherwise), I found it interesting how much it was about the self, too. A lot of this card is intended to make you evaluate yourself, what you’re willing to give or hold back in a relationship, what your own values are.

What was your favorite part about writing the book? What was your least favorite part?

Honestly, I think the answer to both of these questions is research. Some of my fondest writing-related memories involved research: whether it was making the chicharrón and labneh Javi prepares in the book, or lurking (and sometimes participating) in tarot-reading chatrooms as research for Oneira, the site where Freya works as a tarot-reader in the novel.

The flipside of that, of course, is that sometimes I had to research things that were extra tricky or took much longer than they should have. For example, in working with my editor Bryan Ibeas, we developed an alternating series of chapters set in Freya’s past relative to the main story. This was wonderful and made the novel that much stronger, but it also meant I had to do a lot of research on the city that Freya grew up in, Kelowna BC – on the other side of the country from me. This was challenging because, while I have been to Kelowna, it was well after the time Freya would have moved away, so I couldn’t rely on my own knowledge. And there were some things that a trip to Kelowna itself would have made much easier – if I weren’t writing those parts during a global pandemic. I’m happy the internet is so robust and full of the most random bits of information, however.

Your research really shines in your food writing passages. Speaking of food, we must know: do you have a favorite silog?

Longsilog! It was the one I had most growing up. As an adult I’ve come to appreciate a good tocilog, too – though I feel unfaithful to longsilog if I stray.

I felt that a core theme running through the whole novel was the idea of identity saliency -- the concept that we have some agency in choosing who we are, how we present, and how we conceptualize ourselves in a given situation. In what ways does identity saliency play a role in your own life?

It plays a bigger role than I sometimes realize. As a mixed-race person I grew up with an incomplete understanding of either culture, despite everyone’s best efforts. Now that I’m an adult I realize that even monoracial people don’t necessarily have a complete understanding of their own culture, but as a child all I could see were those little things I didn’t know that everyone else seemed to take for granted. I adapted depending on who I was with, and as a result I rarely felt like I belonged fully in either culture. It’s likely influenced many other areas of my life without me realizing it.

That’s not to say it’s all been terrible, of course. I love having the influence of two very different cultures in me. It’s been a unique lesson in balance and acceptance of sometimes clashing factors. It’s likely made me more sensitive to the way that people may feel isolated or excluded, and more encouraging of people who define themselves in a way that gives them the most peace.

Your novel seems to explore the ethics of action, and the ways in which the duality of action/inaction manifests: public vs. private life, the group vs. the individual, agency vs. passivity, accountability vs. denial. Many times, we see the characters (understandably) prefer privacy and shelter. What are your thoughts on the trend in current cultural discourse in western countries to favor constant visibility and outspoken action?

I think often the intentions are good, but it can be harmful to some. Like in the book, some people may feel unsafe or unable to speak out publicly, to draw certain kinds of attention to themselves. I believe there are lots of different ways to effect change, and all are as valuable as another. We all have different strengths. For example, I have an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to attend protests or rallies, but I’ll happily find and share resources, sign petitions, and write to my local government representatives.

I appreciate that you’re always so mindful of the unique strengths and skills in every individual. And speaking of unique skills: if you could have any paradextrous ability (and it doesn’t have to be an ability mentioned in the book), what would it be?

Because my eyesight is naturally poor, I’d love a vision-related ability. Maybe extreme distance vision to make up for my nearsightedness.

Have you tried lucid dreaming?

I have! A few times as a teenager and also while writing this book. Unfortunately, no luck!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

For me and for many other writers, finding regular time to write is the hardest thing. I encourage writers to find the system that works for them and try and stick to it regularly. There’s a lot of emphasis on daily word count, but for me it’s more beneficial to show up daily and write literally anything connected to my project, even if it’s two paragraphs of ideas. I don’t track my word count or how long I write; I just focus on writing anything. This way my brain relaxes, finds writing less of an esoteric thing and more of a habit that’s easier to slip into.

Thank you so much for your time, Samantha. Last but not least: how can your readers best support your current and future work?

Discussing and sharing my book is a great way to support my work, and hearing about the things people got out of The Quiet is Loud has been very rewarding. It’s honestly so humbling, and I’m grateful when people connect to the novel in some way. I’m pretty active on Instagram and am trying to be more active on Twitter. I also have a Facebook page, and more info on everything I do can be found at my website. On whichever platform people prefer, I encourage them to come and say hi!

Maria Bolaños (she/her) is the General Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is a Filipina-American poet and book reviewer and is committed to building spaces to nurture and showcase Filipinxao literature as well as Black, Indigenous, and POC literature. Her most recent poetry focuses on Fil-Am diaspora culture, and on retelling Philippine myths. Her writing has been featured in Touchstone, Antigone, Chopsticks Alley, and the International Examiner, among others. Outside of her work with this magazine, she has also recently begun working with a labor rights nonprofit organization. Maria lives on the stolen Gabrielino/Tongva land, Tovaangar. You can follow her poetry, essays, and book reviews on her Instagram, @mariabeewrites. If you wish to use prefixes, please use Ms.

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