You’ve heard about her dystopian debut, now let’s learn more about the worldbuilder!
Welcome book lovers to another Date with a Debut Author, a Bookstr series where we sit down with a debut author and get to know them, their writing process, and their book!
This week Honni van Rijswijk told us more about herself and her book, Breeder!
Date with a Debut Author gets you up close and personal with a new author you should be watching for, so let’s go meet Honni!
Conversations over Coffee
Since we’re just getting to know Honni.
Serena Knudson (SK): Which of your characters in Breeder would you be best friends with?
Honni van Rijswijk (HV): The main character, Will–Will is funny, complex, and loyal. They make a lot of decisions that I don’t agree with, but hey, all best friends do that sometimes!
SK: What is your favorite part of Breeder?
HV: The last third of the novel, when Will’s choices get more urgent and the stakes couldn’t be higher. I love reading a fast-paced story, and it was fun to write.
SK: How long did it take you to write Breeder?
HV: The initial idea was sketched out ten years ago, so I’ve thought about it for a long time! The first solid draft took about a year, and then I spent a few more months revising.
SK: What other books and authors inspire you?
HV: Reading is life for me–so many! Here is a short list of some of my favorites:
Roddy Doyle, PADDY CLARKE HA HA HA–for the way he captures the 10-year-old main character’s voice and point of view. It’s just magic. And it’s a really great representation of the trauma caused by toxic masculinity.
Alison Bechdel, ARE YOU MY MOTHER? Beautiful, moving, funny, and queer as hell
William Faulkner, THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Faulkner is a cis white man who really almost totally gets what it’s like to grow up as a girl.
Virginia Woolf, MRS DALLOWAY. Beautiful, heartbreaking, language to die for.
Carson McCullers, THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING. Tells the story of a young kid who falls in love with “a wedding”–the wedding of her brother and his partner. One of my favorite representations of a queer kid.
SK: What does your creative process look like?
HV: I’m both a pantser and a plotter–I have ADHD, so I need to change things around a lot! I try to write every day, usually early in the morning before work (I’m an academic).
SK: Do you play music while you write? If so, what’s your favorite?
HV: Yes! I love a 90s playlist or Decoder Ring.
Let’s Get Intimate!
Don’t you want to know more about this interesting author?
SK: What came first for you when writing Breeder, the plot or the characters? Why?
HV: A bit of both–I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic book that was an extreme version of our world (environmental collapse, evil corporations, conservative backlash against women and lgbtqi) and I wanted to place a young person at the center of it all who wasn’t necessarily a selfless hero, but someone who wanted the best life possible for themselves. And then I wanted to see what happened!
SK: What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with Breeder?
HV: BREEDER takes gender norms to the extreme–the gender binary is so stringent in this world, that your gender (and there are only two, boy/girl) determines how many Units you owe to the Corporation, and how you will repay them (through labor or reproduction). I wanted to challenge how powerful corporations have become in our society–so much so, that their power isn’t quite visible anymore. I wanted to challenge the gender binary by taking that binary to its extreme endpoint–then put a nonbinary kid at its center and find a way for that kid to navigate this world.
SK: Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
HV: Yes! I realized in writing Will how my own experience of gender is being nonbinary, which has been a huge revelation.
SK: You’re a lawyer, academic, and a senior lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, what made you want to be an author?
HV: I’ve always written fiction as a way to explore and feel comfortable in the world. Being published is a really fantastic next step in that journey.
SK: So many writers struggle to stay motivated, how do you stay motivated?
HV: For me, fiction is a way to speak specific truths. Ultimately, Breeder is the book I would have wanted to read at 15. I know there are a lot of kids (and adults) out there who need to read these specific truths, because fiction has been so important in my own life. That really motivates me! I have slow writing days like everyone, but I try to go back to the idea of speaking my specific truth and writing the stories that I want to read.
Fun and Games
Now that you’re well-acquainted with Honni, here are some fun questions and what she had to say.
SK: If you could write a spin-off about a side character, who would you pick? Why?
HV: I love villains, so I’d love to know more about Cate’s origin story–where does all that righteous anger come from? And I’d like her to be played by Sarah Paulson.
SK: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
HV: Live in the present, as much as possible
SK: If your book was chosen for a movie, who would act as your characters?
HV: This is SUCH a fun question!
SK: If you could have any other profession in the world, what would it be and why?
HV: Working at the edges of AI, DNA, and bio-engineering–they’re doing such fascinating work, wrestling with questions at the heart of the human condition.
SK: What was the worst lie you told as a kid?
HV: As a teen, I told my parents I was heading to Big Sur for a writing retreat, which I was–but I also intended to live there for a year in a yurt, which I only confessed after I’d been there for a month. After a flurry of parental communications, I returned home.
SK: If we were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, who are three people you would want on your team?
HV: My partner, my kid, and my BFF! My partner has karate skills, my BFF is a skillful trader, and my fierce kid would give the zombies a run for their money.
SK: What are some of your book recommendations?
HV: There are honestly so many books that I love, but here are the books I’m currently obsessed with:
Summer Sons, Lee Mandelo
Vanishing Falls, Poppy Gee
The River Has Teeth, Erica Waters
Breeder is a dystopian novel set in the Corporation where Will lives and works in the outermost ring called Zone F. In the Corporation a person’s value is based on your productivity which is translated by units. The right actions earn you units, while wrong actions subtract units. The biggest downfall is as a Zone F Breeder, Will was born into unit debt meaning it’s only a matter of time before they are sent to the Rator.
At night, Will sneaks around the Corporation into the Gray Zone in hopes of getting access to Crystal 8, an illegal medical drug. The Gray Zone is where life is less regulated but drugs and people are traded for gold. While in the Gray Zone, Will meets Alex, a Breeder in disguise and part of the uprising called the Response. After getting a job, money, and access to the crystal, Will and Alex take their chances to go on an adventure to Zone B, but nothing goes as planned and Will realizes their greatest fear.
Honni van Rijswijk lives in Sydney, Australia with her partner and their child. Along with being a new author, Honni is also a senior lecturer in the faculty of law at the University of Technology Sydney where their research is focused on the intersections between law, technology, and culture. Honni’s fiction has appeared in Southerly and was shortlisted for Zoetrope: All-Story.