Interview: with Piper Mejia

Piper Mejia is an advocate for New Zealand writers and literature. She is the co-editor of Write Off Line (2012/2013) and Beyond This… (2012/2013), both collections by New Zealand intermediate and secondary students. Her story Lockdown was shortlisted for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction and fantasy writing. As a child, Piper stayed up late laughing at horror films. As an adult, she spends a lot of time being disappointed by plot holes and yet somehow she has never lost her love for Science Fiction; the one genre that continues to ask the question “What if …” Her story Little Fingers opens the third issue of Breach.

As well as writing, you founded Young NZ Writers, which is a platform for young writers to be mentored and published. What inspired you to start Young NZ Writers? And can you tell us a bit more about the program? Lee Murray and I founded the Young NZ Writers in 2011 with the idea of providing writing and publishing opportunities for young people outside of the school curriculum. We were excited about the idea of developing a new generation of readers and writers. Originally established as an offshoot of Tauranga Writers, our key activities have been facilitating two annual free-to-enter national writing competitions for New Zealand intermediate and secondary school students where every child receives feedback on their writing. We then produce print and digital anthologies of the most promising work, and run book launches to celebrate the students’ achievements.

From the outset participation was high, with the intermediate and secondary writing competitions regularly attracting around 400 and 100 entries respectively each year. A high school English teacher, I have also established a small regular writing group for young writers based in Tauranga where we invite writers and artists to speak to the group. Seeing how inspired and motivated students were by these experiences, we decided to instigate a series of annual writing workshops, beginning with a pilot workshop of 40 students, which I ran on my own. We have since run three national workshops of around 100 students each, in Tauranga, Wellington and Taupō. Since you work with young people so much, what do you wish you'd known as a young writer?

I wish someone had told me that I could write for a living - and I don't mean just the short stories I write for competitions - as I get older I meet more and more people who write for scientific journals, magazines, online content, corporate content yet no one every told me that this was possible when I was growing up.

Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of?

I don't think any trope is 'played out' but I do think that they need a rest period. For example, when Twilight came out I was introducing my students to Anne Rice (whom they had never heard of) and when The Walking Dead became popular I gave my students HP Lovecraft. Every time a 'new' trope becomes popular it gives us an opportunity to re-read, rediscover, the literature history of that trope. I mean, think about the rise of Trump and the current re-engagement with The Handmaid's Tale and 1984.

Published or unpublished, what's the hardest scene you've written?

I struggle when my characters are trying to reach an understanding. I guess it could be considered the 'reveal' scene - I want it to be authentic without being cliche. But most importantly - from a philosophical point of view - I don't truly believe myself that people are ever totally honest with each other - we are just honest enough but I am not sure, even now, if that is something I want my characters to reflect.

What books are beside your bed right now?

Restoree by Anne McCaffery, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, The People Collection by Zenna Henderson, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell and 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapirio. The first three I have read a number of times but I am rereading to help with the thought process of a science fiction story I am trying to write about an alien invasion. The other two are because they are my favourite authors.

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