Welcome to the fourth in a series of author interviews. Today I’m talking to Hector Kopczynski about sexuality and gender in writing, building a truly foreign fantasy world, and reading with a critical eye. Hector is currently working on both an epic fantasy project and a gritty spy thriller.
Sarah: Currently you’re working on two very different projects. One is a slow-paced, deliberate, and elaborate fantasy, with much focus on world-building, the other so far is a spy thriller. Are there common threads that run through both? Is it hard to switch between them?
Hector: By and large, I don’t see a lot of similarity between most of my works. I actively focus on developing a specific style, cadence, and atmosphere unique to each piece. Not just in characters, their particular speech patterns, or in point of view, but as far down to the bones and foundation of the story as I can manage. The structure, the syntax, the pacing. I look at each story as a different exercise in expanding my style and voice.
As for switching between them, it’s usually pretty easy for me. Some days, I just happen to be more in the mood for one or the other. I read a few pages to get back into the particular flow and just dive in. While each provides its own challenges or pitfalls for me, they’re all also as familiar to me as a well-worn sweater–after just a minute or two, it all comes back to me and I can settle into it comfortably.
Sarah: You like to play with gender norms and reader assumptions about gender. I get the sense, reading your work, that it’s a deliberate choice on your part. It’s not something we often see in fantasy or thrillers. Was it difficult to bring this perspective on gender and sexuality to those genres in particular?
Hector: Gender, sexuality, and their impact on the human condition has always fascinated me. I’d dare say they’re some of my biggest interests, double-entendre fully intended. In that, it hasn’t been difficult for me to weave them into any of my works.
I’ve always wondered how sex, sexuality, and gender would impact fantasy settings, and I was always disappointed that those themes were so often glossed over within the genre. Whenever they did come up, they were usually treated as if the general “average American” feelings about sex and gender were the norm and there was nothing else to say about it. There was no discussion, no deviation. I found that a terrible lack of imagination, curiosity, and understanding. So, I wanted to fix that.
As for my more modern work, it’s much the same there. I felt these areas were largely ignored in the media I saw, so I set out to write the characters and stories I myself wanted. Once again, I feel that sexuality and gender are just so intrinsically human that including and exploring them just feels natural.
Sarah: In your work, you break a lot of rules, from gender norms as I’ve mentioned above to rules about writing and plot. And in your fantasy novel, you’ve created a very foreign, non-Western, and rather unique world. Do you think being a bit of an iconoclast has helped you make a world that feels so different from what we expect of the fantasy genre?
A: Hah! I don’t think I would have ever called myself an iconoclast, but I certainly will take that as a compliment.
Again, much of my inspiration comes from things I wanted to see. I was curious about certain elements that were never explored, or I was frustrated by how other creators handled certain themes or ideas. So, when I picked up a pen myself, I set out to do what I wished they had done.
In the end, really, I don’t feel I set out to break rules. I set out to follow my passion, express my own voice, chase my own interests. I’ve learned from things I’ve loved and things I’ve hated, and used them to refine what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I feel if a writer is genuine, passionate, and true to their subject matter, their readers can tell and their words become infectious. If my take on another world and time truly feels so different, it’s because of that. Everything else is just paperwork.
Sarah: You’re currently working as an editor, which makes me wonder, when you read for pleasure, do you read with a critical eye? Or are you able to turn that internal editor off?
Hector: I never have been able to turn my internal editor off, and I’m not at all sorry for that. It’s always been my natural inclination to dissect and study any piece of writing that’s put before me.
So yes, even when I read for the fun of it, I always have a critical eye. I know a lot of people would feel this would ruin their enjoyment, but for me, it’s always enhanced the experience. I *like* picking apart what does and doesn’t work in a line of text or a scene. I find it actively rewarding to wonder why an author chose the words they did, and if I would have done differently. When something has touched me, taking the time to study it often reveals intricacies or subtlety that I may have missed if I hadn’t taken that extra time.
I think that tendency just comes from my passion for the very craft of writing. I love to immerse myself in the words as much as I do the worlds. And, when I finally pull my nose out of a book, I often feel that I’ve learned a great deal and am chomping at the bit to try something new in my own works.
Thanks for being with us, Hector! Keep an eye out for Hector’s works in progress, which you can read about here, and check out his blog, where he posts musings on the craft and glimpses of the worlds he’s creating.
Catch Hector on social media here: