The Cupboard Interview with SJ Sindu
SJ Sindu, author of Marriage of A Thousand Lies (Soho, 2017), will serve as the judge of Cupboard Pamphlet’s Seventh-Ever Contest. She has some politics to discuss. She has some advice for you. And she tells us what kind of haircut we should get.
Authors and contest judges: what do they know? Do they know things?? Let's find out!
Marriage of a Thousand Lies takes place during the 2012 presidential election. How did the political atmosphere influence your writing? What are you expecting or hoping for from contests submissions—presumably written against the backdrop of an election so different in terms of issues and outcomes?
Woo, man! I wish I’d known what a weird atmosphere this book would be coming out into. I originally set it in the 2012 presidential election because I wanted the right kind of backdrop atmosphere in Boston. Post 9/11, when the normalcy of the War on Terror has set in. But pre-2013, when the Boston bombing happened and Islamophobia rose again. I wanted the protagonist, as a brown-skinned person, to feel some sense of safety in Boston, while at the same time feel at odds with the queer people around her. In the 2012 election, it seemed like the queer community had a false sense of security, a feeling that the march of progress was inevitable. More and more people were coming out. More celebrities embracing their queerness, more queer representation on TV than ever before. The white cis gay community was enjoying an interesting and unprecedented time of finally being able to taste equality. But for the protagonist of Marriage, who is dealing with a super homophobic South Asian American community, this sense of hope and security isn’t there. And that places her at odds with and apart from the queer community she secretly wants to join. So I wanted to capture all that in one fell swoop, and setting it during the 2012 election seemed like the way to do it.
I’m excited to read these contest submissions, because they’re coming at a time when the political pendulum is swinging the other way, and I hope to see some pieces that are galvanized by the regression we see happening around us. Not to say these pieces need to deal directly with the political atmosphere, but I think it’s impossible to escape that context.
The dressing, decoration, and spatial placement of bodies carries significant metaphorical weight in Marriage of a Thousand Lies: the cut hair, dancing clothes, wrestling mats, and jewelry that surround each character are the pressure points upon which relationships are negotiated and argued. Can you talk to us about this intensive concern for the body? To what extent will you be looking for body-oriented writing in finalist submissions?
I’m not going to say I’ll be looking for body-oriented prose, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it. There’s something about locating emotion in the body that I enjoy. I also like weird body stuff—especially body stuff that incorporates fabulist elements, so I hope to see some of that!
You write prose! What is it in prose forms that most excites and compels you?
I think prose is really exciting, because it’s about the meat. What I mean is that you can’t just make some really good line breaks or weird arrangements on the page and expect those to carry the weaker elements of your writing. The writing itself needs to hit it out of the park, because that’s all there is. I like that challenge, and I like also the challenge of telling the narrative, constructing the scene, and linking together the larger stories.
What wisdom would you give to emerging writers who are trying to make it in the literary world?
I got three things:
Play the long game. Don’t just be worried about immediate rewards like publication or getting an agent or getting into that MFA. In the long game, it’s really about making yourself into the best writer you can be.
Have follow through. Talent means nothing if you can’t actually finish anything.
Curb your professional jealousy. It’s a distraction and makes you a shitty member of the community. Bury it, say your daily affirmations, or go to therapy. Just get rid of it.
What advice do you offer those who enter the Cupboard Pamphlet’s Seventh Ever Contest?
Take risks! I love to see people experimenting with form and content. I like fabulism, perhaps because it’s hard to pull off, and I also like really cerebral, heady discursions on theory.
We want to cut our hair. How short should we go?
SJ Sindu was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Massachusetts. Her hybrid fiction and nonfiction chapbook, I Once Met You But You Were Dead, won the 2016 Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest and was published by Split Lip Press. She was a 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow and is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Florida State University. Marriage of a Thousand Lies is her first novel, and will be released by Soho Press in June 2017.