Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview with DustWriter

Here's our interview with DustWriter, the infamous writer of gems such as The Heir To Panem and Bliss. Read on and see what she reveals about her fics, her writing process and the Hunger Games fandom!

LMM: Hey DustWriter! Thanks a bunch for allowing us to interview you :)
I’m thrilled to be interviewed, thank you so much for asking.

LMM: Firstly, congratulations on your recent win at the Pearl Awards for The Heir To Panem! How does it feel, to have your fics so loved by the fandom?

Thank you; I was honored with that win! Getting all those nominations made me dizzy with excitement; knowing my stories were that well liked was overwhelming. Heir was a long time in the works, so having that piece I loved so much win was fantastic. It makes me feel like a celebrity! Or at least like I have a connection with people all over the world that I didn’t feel before.

When I first publish a story, there’s always a little bit of terror; will people hate it? Will they find it boring? But when the Alerts and Favorites and Follows and Reviews come in, I feel like I’ve made a connection and given a reader something they were searching for with that story.

LMM: What got you into Hunger Games fanfiction? Had you written in any other fandoms before?

I wrote one fic before the Hunger Games a few years ago. My sister was really into Queer as Folk for a while and I started watching with her. She told me about some fanfiction she was reading to which I replied “Fanfiction? What’s that?”

I started reading a bit too. I came across a challenge and thought, “I wonder if I can write something.” So I tried it. I thought it was good, but my sister didn’t like it so I never published it.

However, when I finished reading Mockingjay, I felt very dissatisfied with the ending.  We’d enjoyed a huge build up with these characters; shared their lives for over a year and then – poof. Years written away in a few short paragraphs.
I remembered about fanfiction and went looking for an alternate ending. I read for about three months before I knew I had to give it a shot. There really is something compelling about this specific book; it’s impossible to forget.

LMM: You’ve said in your fanfiction profile that one of your favourite authors is John Steinbeck. Do you think you’ve always loved dark, gritty stories like The Hunger Games?

I do; I think it’s why I also like darker movies and TV shows like The Walking Dead. I know I personally flee to those realms because extreme circumstances allow us to explore our inner selves in a way daily life just can’t. Those moments of calamity are a rare gift to find the hero inside us; even if they are painful and frightening moments. I prefer to write them since I always want to find the hero inside even the meekest character.

It can get a bit dreary though; that’s why Truth or Dare and You’re Just You pops up. Who doesn’t love a bit of fluff?

LMM: You often write AU that have slightly transfigured canon elements: I’m thinking of The Heir to Panem, A Year With No Victor and Beautiful Scars. Do you think a good AU needs that canon elements to work?

I think I’d have to say yes to that. If it’s completely altered, is it still fanfiction or is the author just borrowing names? I think if you have characters with entirely different personalities and an entirely different plot - and I mean plot, not erotica (looking at you here, E. L. James) you’re writing an original work and should be excited that you are!

I don’t want to call fanfiction a crutch to getting you to the place of creating an original work; it’s a wonderful form of adoration that I love to be a part of. However, I do also have to acknowledge that my delving into what makes the characters tick helped me find who I wanted my original characters to be in the three books I’ve started.

LMM: But then of course, fics like Desert Blossom and The Fire Beneath do stray along way from canon...

Yeah they do. Not entirely...but yeah.

LMM: Do you think because of the nature of THG - war, killing children, manipulative governments - that it was quite easy to place Desert Blossom in a storyworld with the war in Afghanistan, with Peeta from the US and Katniss from there? What inspired you to merge the two? (I’m sorry, this is such a loaded question. Feel free not to answer.)

It’s not at all; I’m grateful for the chance to talk about this work since it meant so much to me to write it. It’s the first one that made me cry while I was typing. It’s a rather long story. It’s not pleasant either, so for your readers who are sensitive, please skip to the next question ...

I was listening to the radio one morning last winter and a news story came across the wire about a family that was being held for questioning while Afghani policed investigated claims that when their 15-year-old daughter in law had refused to become a prostitute for them they locked her in their basement and tortured her.
I looked up her name, Sahar Guhl, on the internet and the photos were horrifying. They broke her bones because she refused to sell her body.

It reminded me immediately of a story I’d read in Marie Claire a few years ago about a journalist who was able to sneak into a brothel in Dubai. Child trafficking is still rampant there. The girl was 7 at the time she was taken in the brothel; I can’t recall if her impoverished parents had to sell her or if she was kidnapped. She was 8 during the interview. When she refused to submit to the clients, the brothel madam put ground chilies on her genitals to torture her. She told the reporter the brothel owners would let her scream under the table while they ate. She gave in. By the time she was interviewed she was seeing over 25 men a day. At age 8.

I was so angry that any child, any woman, has to live like that. I cried at my desk at work.

About a week later the news stories had moved to other topics; the troop pullouts, the upcoming election year. Sahar was gone from the front page. That little girl in Dubai is gone too.

I had a moment where I wished I could make people care about her again. I thought, “If this were Katniss or Prim, people might think about her again.”
I started writing the fic that day.

I’ve always wanted to do something like what I have Peeta do. Make a difference; an extreme difference in one person’s life. I think I wanted to save Sahur and that little girl and this was the only way I could think of doing it, by reminding readers that the horrors of the Hunger Games are not so dissimilar to conditions that exist all around us if we just look.

I received a message last month from a high school student who told me that after reading Desert Blossom she thought she knew what she wanted to do in her life. She wanted to help people without a voice like Peeta did.

That is the best review I have ever gotten. I don’t think I can ever explain to her how much it means to me that my short story made a difference to her.

LMM: I’m going to be completely honest: The Fire Beneath is my favourite fic of yours! I really enjoyed the Jennifer Lawrence film Winter’s Bone and I know you reworked The Fire Beneath to not be a crossover with WB but still have parts like the plot inspired by it. What was about that dreary landscape that captivated you to connect it with Katniss and Peeta?

I’ll be honest too - it’s my favorite as well. Am I allowed to say that or is that like having a favorite child?

I’ve affectionately called “Winter’s Bone” Jennifer’s audition tape for the Hunger Games. Let’s face it; it’s really similar! The absent father, the vacant mother, the dependent children, the starvation, the risk of life and limb. It’s the same theme of a girl having to become a woman far too soon and dealing with much older, much more dangerous men and women who have no reservations about killing to maintain their power.

I loved that movie specifically because there was no romance for her. Ree Dolly frankly did not have time for it. But when there’s Katniss...there has to be Peeta.
The darkness of the landscape was perfect for what I wanted to do with him. I’d always been bothered that Collins glosses over his leg. He loses part of his body! It’s an enormous change for someone so young to face. Peeta should have been seeing a therapist long before Aurelius was introduced. I wanted him to have to deal with it and Fire Beneath gave me that opportunity.
*Sigh*. I loved writing that fic.

LMM: Did you find writing the dialect hard? Because man, the dialect in the dialogue just shone to me. I could really hear everyone speaking.

I’m originally from a Southern state. People still talk like that there. I love language (well I guess that’s a given for any writer), so butchering language in every day speech is like nails on a chalkboard.

But butchering it for a story was actually really fun. Every time my spellchecker said “ain’t” wasn’t a word I snickered.

LMM: Moving on to your more canon-driven stories... reading Beautiful Scars was when it really struck me that you have such a wonderful understanding of Katniss. A lot of people didn’t enjoy the ending of Mockingjay, but I think you expanded on it so well: some of my favourite elements in Beautiful Scars include the fact that there is some vanity in Katniss despite the healing process. She’s not a caricature, hating anything “feminine”, from the books.

There’s a great website called the Feminist Frequency that I adore. The brilliant host, Anita Sarkeesian, addresses issues of feminism in pop culture. She pointed out in her review of True Grit that frequently female characters are made strong by writers assigning them traditionally male characteristics rather than showing strengths through traditionally female characteristics.

I wanted Katniss to be allowed to be a woman, with womanly longings and desires. I feel like she spends a lot of time being genderless in the Games and the war. There’s no reason that a woman has to behave like a man to be strong.
 (P.S. - Anita has some great comments on the Hunger Games; but if you are a die-hard, no-one-can-say-anything-bad-about-the-books-or-movie fan, don’t watch the video reviews. She’s honest. Painfully honest.)

LMM:  The sex was awesome, too. Did you have any apprehensions about writing a sex scene for a series that is quite PG in that area? (On a side note, our erotica fic recs post is the most popular on Nightlock. That obviously shows you what the fandom is looking for, haha!)

A little bit, but since they’re 18 in Beautiful Scars at least they were legal!
I think the popularity of erotica is why I feel like I am able to post without too much guilt. I know it is something people want to read; it’s a part of our human nature to be intrigued by “adult situations”.

So even though I still get shy writing it, the positive reviews encourage me to write more!

LMM:    You mostly write Katniss/Peeta - is it your OTP?

They’re the most developed characters; I feel I definitely understand them better than any other characters in the book. I find it easier to write situations when you know unfailingly how the characters would react.

LMM: Wires and Trees was a really interesting fic it read. Beetee was so cute and proper...and Johanna was kinda still a bit fuck you all. What inspired you to write a Johanna/Beetee fic?

I may write nearly all my fics around Katniss, but Johanna is my favorite character. She’s so strong and self-actualized. She knows who and what she has become because of the Games and she doesn’t pretend she’s anything else anymore.
I was playing the “who would you cast” game with my beta and I thought I’d love Sam Rockwell as Beetee. Because I adore him. And I thought “if I was Johanna, I’d go for that.” Enter idea light bulb.

It was fun to play that dynamic! She’s rough and tumble, he’s a science nerd but both have been through hell. They understand one another in a world where they each feel very alone. 

LMM:     I loved that it wasn’t just a single moment, but sustained. I think that gave the ship depth and believability.

That’s something I used to show Johanna could heal from what had happened to her. She began thinking this was just another “comfort”, but Beetee’s persistence showed her she was worthy of love. She was able to forgive herself and move on. 

LMM:  Now, I wanted to talk a little about Bliss. People finding love despite the social stigma attached to things such as teenage pregnancy is something that happens in a number of your stories.

I don’t know if it’s so much “stigma” as it is “disaster”. I love disaster. I like to amplify the challenges the characters go through beyond the mundane. It gives them something to push against, to grow within. Bliss was the most extreme example of that.

LMM:  Also, I have no idea how readers found that content graphic. I think Beautiful Scars and What To Fight For have more graphic sex and stuff.

“Graphic” was the term I assigned to it; I wasn’t ready to write “offensive” in my author’s notes. But it is offensive; that’s a completely fair judgement. It is a rape story, like the readers said: he said no, she still did it. It’s not okay. I don’t think I properly made Katniss face what she’d done; that was my fault. I wrote the first half of the story six months before the end half and I lost the emotional turmoil she was dealing with when I completed the version I posted on
The reviewers who disliked it are absolutely right - rape is never romantic; and what she did cannot be justified because Peeta loves her. I tried to fix that in the version I posted in An Archive of Our Own and on my DustWriterFics blog; I don’t know if I did it justice yet.

That is the advantage of reviews; they genuinely do help writers find where they didn’t hit their mark and can make changes.

That being said, the bullying reviews I’ve seen on young writers’ walls are completely unacceptable. There are many, many underage writers just starting out, using fanfiction to guide them in their discovery of this craft. Discouraging them with hateful words that have nothing to do with improving the story is downright cruel. Writing should be encouraged at all levels; we all have more to learn.

LMM: What did you love about Aimmyarrowshigh’s Dark Toast (which What To Fight For is based from)?

She’s a g*^%^$n genius. That was the start. All of her stories are so crisp and woven so perfectly. And she makes it seem effortless. The plots move at exactly the right pace, the details never contradict one another and the character interactions are riveting.

Dark Toast was so compelling, I didn’t want it to end. Katniss was much more feminine to me in that story too; she was allowed to be a woman. I thought about it weeks after I read it; it was haunting. I kept coming up with scenarios of how it could go on. How she could finally come to see Peeta was the perfect match for her outside of a world where they were forced together. Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer and messaged her to see if she’d mind if I wrote a spin-off and she graciously said yes.

Someone suggested I try a spin-off of Upside Down Cake, but that one is completely perfect as it is for me. I couldn’t even try to touch that one.
Have you read the Tiny Peeta Diaries? Oh my God, adorable.

LMM:  Was the writing process any different for writing a fanfic of a fanfic than a fanfic from a published book?

Her story was as seamless as canon; it wasn’t any different for me. I still confuse what she writes for canon. (and in some cases it’s better. Sorry, Suzanne.)

LMM: Okay - in our interviews, we like to give authors the chance to let their readers know something or dispel some rumours. Any loose ends you’d like to gather? And fun facts you’d like to share about your fics?

Are there any rumors? I insist that is NOT my cat in my avatar.

Oh! Here’s one. I have gotten a number of requests to make my one-shots a chapter and keep writing the story. I immensely appreciate the love my readers show the story, but I can’t continue them once they’re done for two reasons: First, I have to write the whole thing all at once. Sometimes I’ll have a “eureka!” moment and find the perfect passage in Chapter Four, but then I realized I need to edit something in Chapter One to make the chronology work. I also proof my work to death even before I send it to my beta. Adjectives are changed six, seven, eight times. If I publish a chapter before I’m completely finished with it, I’d stare at the computer screen thinking “Ugh, I hate cornflower. I should have said cerulean.” for months. 

Second is that I’m usually writing two or three stories at once. I’ve got two open on my desktop right now. When I find a natural stopping point, I “close the book” on it and send it to my beta and pour myself into the next one. I think trying to continue something I’d made peace with would only degrade its quality.

LMM:    Most of your fanfictions are multiple-chaptered or novella size. Do you prefer to read a longer story or a one-shot?

Can I say both? I love that one-shots let me have a social life. When I’m holed up writing long fics I get a lot of text messages asking me if I’m still alive and where I am.

But those long fics are so escapist and enthralling. When a long story starts to unfold in my mind as I’m sitting in traffic, I get this sense of excitement and am so eager to get to my computer it’s nearly unbearable.
One-shots are like the comic relief of those escapist worlds; I know I won’t die from anticipation since I can do them in a day or two. 

LMM:  Finally - would you mind recommending some of your favourite fanfics for us to read? :)

Of course: Anything AIM has written. In fact, all of it. She’s going to be the next JK Rowling and you can say “I read her before she was on the NY Times Bestseller List.”

I love The Unrecorded Hours by hollycomb. Great handling of the disorientation and trauma after returning home. Some very hot moments too. *fans self*
Monroeslittle won best author for a reason. Knot Your Fingers Through Mine is just perfect. 

There was one I love that I’ve lost the name too, so if anyone here can help me find it again, please do! It dealt with a much more slow and painful process of how Katniss and Peeta came back to their sense in Twelve. The passage that sticks in my memory is where Haymitch has to remind Katniss that it’s Peeta’s 18th birthday. She goes to his house and he’s watching TV, rocking or something creepy, and he asks if she’s there to congratulate him, since he’s officially out of the Reaping now. He gives a maniacal laugh. That’s all I can remember right now, so if you know what it is, please tell me. I need to look over that one again.

If you will indulge me a few extra sentences, I have to take a moment to thank Darkened Ruby, eeg01, indiecullen and RoNordmann. These four women have cheered me on and encouraged me and I’m not sure I’d be trying to write novels without their support. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thanks, Dustwriter!

~ Little Miss Mionie


  1. Ah DustWriter! Seriously one of my favs.

  2. Ah DustWriter! Seriously one of my favs.

  3. love DustWriter so much, everything of hers is so well crafted.
    but does anyone know the name of the fic she's talking aboutin her lastparagraph before the thank yous?

  4. What an awesome interview of one of my favorite writers, thank you! "Finding Home" is one of my faves. Then to have the combo of AimMyArrowsHigh's "Dark Toast" and "What to Fight For" - **insert mind-blown gif**.

    The fic she asks about is another of my faves, "Sparks Amongst the Ashes" by silver sniper of night (I seriously scoured all my fave fics to find that, I love it and her so much).


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