Monday, July 13, 2020

C.T. Rwizi

Debut author 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.

Rwizi's new novel is Scarlet Odyssey.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My book features a long journey tinged with blood, on a world with a large red moon dominating the skies. I think Scarlet Odyssey does a fairly good job of priming readers to enter this world and travel alongside my characters.

Without reading the blurb, however, they might not know that this is an epic fantasy infused with elements of science fiction, based in an African-inspired setting. I considered a title with the word “savanna” or “plains” so as to be more evocative of the setting, and something magical like “mystic” or “mystical” so it would be immediately apparent that this was fantasy, but I liked Scarlet Odyssey a lot, and so did my editors, so that’s what we stuck with.

What's in a name?

My main character goes by Salo most of the time, but his full name is Musalodi, a fictional name I derived by combining the word “Musa,” which means kindness or mercy in Zulu, Ndebele and a few other Nguni languages, and the word “Naledi” which means “star” in Sesotho. In the fictional language of his tribe, I imagine that his name would mean “the stars are merciful” or “kindness of the stars.”

I gave him such a name because I believe it fits with his general temperament, and I think it’s a rather suitable name for the hero of a world in which celestial events will play an important role in the story.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

He’d probably be surprised that I wrote a book in the first place! But I doubt he’d be too surprised by the content. I have always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy—I grew up on Harry Potter and avidly consumed Dune and The Wheel of Time. But even back then the lack of black and specifically African representation in the genre was always a sore spot for me, so it would probably make sense to teenage me that the first book I wrote would seek to address this problem.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The endings have thus far been harder to pull off. I knew going into Scarlet Odyssey where the end point would be, but it was not easy to put the idea into practice. I had to go through several iterations before I was satisfied, knowing the whole time that the ending would be the last taste my readers would have of my work, that it would make or break their opinion of it.

But I believe I eventually managed something that weaves the narrative threads into a cohesive whole, bringing the story to a close at a natural point and giving the reader the sense of a complete story while leaving them ready to return for a new instalment.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters are different from each other and from me personally, but I think it would have been impossible to write them without giving them each a piece of myself. I’d say I gave the biggest piece to my main character, whose struggle against toxic masculinity is something I strongly relate to. I have at times found myself wilting under the pressures of my society’s expectations of manhood, to wit, the pressure to be stoic and self-reliant no matter what, to avoid asking for help, to DIY even when I know I’d be better off asking someone more qualified to do the job simply because I don’t want to look unmanly. The main difference is that, while my character refuses or perhaps fails to warp himself and change who he is in order to fit in, I still give in to the pressure to conform on a regular basis.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music. I swear it is the key to my most vivid imagination. I almost cannot write without headphones covering my ears. In fact, I’m rarely without my headphones, so you could say music is like a drug for me. From the west African vibes of Fatoumata Diawara, to the classical compositions of Eric Whitacre, to the synths of A.L.I.S.O.N, Memorex Memories and Eagle Eyed Tiger, to the mellow rhythms of Odesza, Droeloe, Illenium and Said the Sky, to the beats of Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd and Chris Brown; I built the world of Scarlet Odyssey almost entirely under the influence of music.
Learn more about Scarlet Odyssey, and follow C. T. Rwizi on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Scarlet Odyssey.

--Marshal Zeringue