An Interview With Topaz Winters
TOPAZ WINTERS is a writer in a raining city. Her poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in Wildness, The Rising Phoenix Review, Hypertrophic Literary, and The Best Teen Writing of 2015 anthology, and commended by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Jane Goodall Institute, among others. Her debut poetry chapbook, Heaven or This, has been downloaded over 15,000 times. She was born in 1999 and resides at topazwinters.com. At this moment she is learning of California poppies, the difference between warm milk and forgetting, and how magic behaves in times of desperate measures.
Today, our interviewer Olivia Hu is joined by the ever-so-lovely Topaz Winters. We are beyond delighted to speak with her today.
OLIVIA HU: Hi Topaz! Thank you so much for joining us. We immensely love your work and your gorgeous and delicate softness. How are you?
TOPAZ WINTERS: Oh, thank you so much, love. I am doing beautifully today—thank you for asking.
Now, we love your debut chapbook Heaven or This. Would you like to tell readers who haven't stumbled upon it yet what some of the inspirations or stories behind it are?
Heaven or This is the story in poetry of a girl who loves another girl, and all of the wonder and horror that entails. It draws from my own experiences in love, as all true things do—and I have, on that note, tried my best to infuse it with as much truth as possible. There is so much strength and soul, so much savagery and softness, that exists in all girls who love girls. I can only hope I've succeeded in my attempt at portraying that multidimensional enormity—both in my own forays into love, and in all of the countless other girls who lose and find themselves in it.
We love your writing on mental illness, women, and queerness. It is extremely moving. How has your identity shape your writing? Do your experiences play into every piece?
To be quite truthful, I don't think I could possibly hope to separate my identity from my writing—it is present in all I do and create, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I find that everyone I have ever met and everything I have ever experienced surfaces in my writing at some point; words are how I understand and process my identity and this great wide universe in its beauty and horror. Many a time I have had friends, family, and lovers point to specific pieces and ask, point-blank: is this about me? And the answer is, inevitably, yes: it is about you. It is about me. It is about the stranger passing by on the sidewalk who I have never spoken to and will never speak to, who I glimpsed once upon another time and who might perhaps, one day, stumble upon a book or poem of mine and see themselves echoed back, some method of holding on. Everything I create is a kind of remembering.
We love your ongoing projects Half Mystic and Six Impossible Things. Do you want to tell us a little bit about both?
Six Impossible Things is my home base in this vast Internet-sphere; it is where I share poetry, essays, small life snippets, tidbits of encouragement, and silver-sweet-soft-sharp inspiration with wandering souls. I send all of my blog posts on Six Impossible Things—along with extra, exclusive musings, announcements, and links—to my love letter list.
Half Mystic is a literary journal that I founded in July of 2015, and where I now serve as editor-in-chief. We publish writing, art, and lyrics dedicated to the celebration of music in all of its forms and are just now gearing up for the publication of our second issue, centred around the theme saudade: the drifting photograph—the ache so tender-willing—the shards of bitter-soft yearning just before the fall. I think I speak for the whole Half Mystic team when I say that I could not be more excited to share this thing we have created, only lovelier in its melancholia, purer in its heartbreak.
What sort of themes do you find weaving themselves into your writing? Do you have a particular style that you've coined as your own?
I try to avoid settling into one particular style—I am, instead, constantly trying to surprise myself, to weave words in ways that terrify and ground me, that feel indisputably right and unsettlingly wrong all at once. An assorted list of themes that I find tend to crop up quite a bit in my words—mental illness. Queerness. Bodies, human and water alike. Nighttime. Girls, wolves, and other wild things. Survival. Gentle ferocity. What it is to heal.
There are so many admirers and star-struck dreamers of your words. What is your inspiration for writing? Do you have a routine? How often do you write? Do let us in!
I write because I have never known any other way to comprehend the swirling humanity around me. Because it is the only thing I know to be real in a world where so very many things are too close to gone already. I must admit I have no particular routine—I write every day because I would perhaps go insane without it, because it is the one anchor I know of in these endless tumultuous seas. I am constantly creating. It is the only way I have ever known how to exist.
What is your advice for aspiring poets and writers?
This is a question I am fortunate enough to be asked rather frequently, and my answer is always the same:
Read. Read everything. Read stuffy literature and trashy 50-cent romances that you pick up from the drugstore. Read Shakespeare, and Poe, and Austen, and authors you won’t recognize simply from their last names. Read Twilight. Read Harry Potter. Read books everyone loves and books everyone hates and books no one has ever heard of. Read takeout menus. Read milk cartons. Read widely. Read diversely. Read woman writers and Asian writers and transgender writers and chronically ill writers and Asian transgender chronically ill woman writers. Read poetry. Read short stories. Read the backs of cereal boxes. Read books that make you feel gutted and books that make you feel unfathomably whole. Just read.
And then write. Write everything. Write in notebooks and on the computer and on crumpled, tea-stained napkins. Write on the subway. Write in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Write in coffee shops while sipping pretentiously-named drinks. Write poetry. Write short stories. Write novels. Write cereal box advertisements. Write takeout menus. Write because it is the only thing you know how to do or because it is the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do. Write until you have no more words left, and then write some more after that. Just write.
The rest will fall into place. I promise.
Topaz, you are so young (seventeen years old) and yet you have already accomplished so much! Where do you think you are going to take your writing from here? Do you have any particular projects coming along?
Thank you, dear friend! At the moment I am in the process of creating and editing and curating and compiling many lovely projects—I’m afraid I am unable to talk about any of them just yet, but do add your name to the love letter list for updates as soon as I am able to share. I am infinitely excited for all that is to come.
We noticed you really enjoy supporting independent artists and are very passionate about that. Why so? Also, tell us a little about your Patreon and the special goodies behind the scenes!
I believe so deeply that independent artists hold more power than any of us could hope to fathom. I despise the idea that art is something one must starve and suffer for—rather, it is a commodity as any other. A far lovelier one that most, to be sure, but artists deserve to be paid for the work they create just as much as, if not more than, a plumber deserves to be paid for fixing a toilet or a professor deserves to be paid for educating the next generation. Artists tell stories that reflect and shape the world as it is and as it might be. There is such power in that. And I think it is also the reason why I chose to create a Patreon page, where fans of my own art might support its creation. It costs less than a cup of coffee per month yet repays itself in dividends in the behind-the-scenes inspirations, stories, poetry, and other work that I share with my lovely patrons. Their support has been invaluable in allowing me to continue sharing my art with those who need it most.
Thank you so much for joining us, Topaz. Your work never fails to soften our hearts in the most delicate yet emotion-filling ways. What a pleasure to have you join us today. We wish you all the best, and nothing else.
It is my pleasure and honour. Thank you so much.