The Silence of the Wilting Skin is a striking anticolonialist story wrapped in surrealism and dystopia written by author Tlotlo Tsamaase (xe/xem/xer or she/her). Tsamaase is a Motswana author with short fiction appearing in a variety of publications, including Africa Risen and Clarkesworld. In this interview, Tlotlo Tsamaase discusses the motivations behind xer novella and how xe approaches a story.
GARCIA: On your website, it says you received a bachelor’s degree in architecture first before seeking your MFA in Creative Writing. What inspired that switch from architecture to literature?
TSAMAASE: I was initially interested in writing and decided to study architecture because it was considered a realistic pursuit; as an artist who was into reading and writing, it satiated my creative side. Architecture opened up an exciting world of design that influenced my writing and changed how I view the world. I tend to say that studying architecture taught me how to be a writer, that’s where I learned to exercise my creativity and turn it into something feasible.
GARCIA: I’ve read some of your unpublished short stories and loved them. I’ve never seen stories play so heavily with form and perspective. When you approach a story, do you map out these intentions beforehand?
TSAMAASE: It honestly varies from story to story. Usually, I have an idea first, but the voice is important, if I haven’t figured that out, it becomes difficult writing the story out. Sometimes the concept is too complex to figure out; for example, I had an idea to write a story about women being physically imprisoned in songs, but it felt too impossible to execute. My stories tend to focus on themes of gender-based violence against women, climate change, gender issues, colonialism, capitalism, etc., so I realized that this piece wanted to be a satire on the way women are represented in media, how their voice, body, and anger are policed. Still, more importantly, I wanted the women to have catharsis in overriding this oppressive system.
The story was published in the anthology Africa Risen, and it is called “Peeling Time (Deluxe Edition).” It is structured as a rap song that unfolds like the songs of a full-length album; as the plot advances, it navigates the violent structures that women encounter, both from the victims’ and the villain’s perspectives. Content warning, “Peeling Time,” deals with dark themes I had to confront. I find that other stories don’t need to be written in such a way that affects their form. I try not to interfere with how the story needs and wants to be told.
GARCIA: When we spoke, you mentioned you were from Botswana. What was it like transitioning from your life in Botswana to life in America? How did that impact your writing and perspective?
TSAMAASE: I am still processing everything, so I can’t talk much about that. It hasn’t interfered with my writing and perspectives, except for the workload.
GARCIA: What is your writing process like? Where do you write?
TSAMAASE: I prefer to write at home, in my comfort zone, as I can set it up how I want. I can’t write anywhere, though that depends. If what I’m working on requires heavy-lifting work on the writing aspect, I’d rather be home at my desk, where I can control the noise and temperature. If it’s lighter work, like edits that aren’t intensive, I can write anywhere.
GARCIA: The Silence of the Wilting Skin is a stunning novella about the loss of language, identity, and culture. What inspired that novella?
TSAMAASE: It speaks to marginalized people’s horrors as they fight the colonialist forces that erase their identity. It also deconstructs what precisely the erasure of the self means: the characters have no names, they can’t see their true reflections, they can’t speak their languages, their skin color is peeling off, and they’re soon turning invisible and getting kicked out of their own homes, which is the experience of many, and I poured it out into the novella. It’s told in a nightmarish prose whereby reality is not certain.
GARCIA: You have many publications under your belt, but Womb City will be your first full-length novel. Congratulations! How did it feel to learn it was getting published?
TSAMAASE: Thank you so much. It felt surreal, exciting, unbelievable!
GARCIA: You have such a poetic tone to your writing that blends ghost stories, folklore, and dystopian themes. Where does that desire to blend these come from?
TSAMAASE: For one is the desire for representation of myths and folklore from Botswana that I don’t generally encounter often in SFF. Secondly, genres are worlds of their own, and when you blend different genres, you can expand one genre’s boundaries by intersecting it with another. It is empowering the universes you create out of that. Thirdly, I love poetry’s beauty, power, and metaphors, and I’ve enjoyed dissecting the lyricism of specific authors. Combining these parts is an exciting alchemy that allows you to transform stories.
GARCIA: What are you currently reading? Any recommendations?
TSAMAASE: I’m reading Henneh Kyereh Kwaku’s chapbook Revolution of the Scavengers—he’s a beautiful, wise poet. I’d recommend Gothataone Moeng, a fellow Motswana author who just released their debut short story collection, Call and Response. I recently finished The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah—this book is mind-blowing, nuanced, and very eye-opening, and I wish we had more stories like it.
GARCIA: What advice would you give to writers working on their first novel?
TSAMAASE: Cliché, I know, but don’t give up, and keep writing. Someone out there needs your voice and stories.
Tsamaase’s debut novel, Womb City, will be released this fall! For other author interviews, click here.