WEIRD STORIES FOR THE BEAUTIFULLY BROKEN
Koji A. Dae
A born drifter with plenty of dark stories, childbirth is the closest thing to eldritch Koji has experienced. Now she finds herself strangely settled in Bulgaria with two kids, a cat, and a whole lot of responsibility. She writes about things mothers see from the corner of their hearts and all varieties of human relationships -- with each other, with technology, and with the greater universe. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Apex Magazine, Zooscape, Daily Science Fiction, and elsewhere.
I started writing for myself. Writing was a way to work through my mental issues, process my life, and stay sane. During bouts of depression and mania, writing has saved my life.
In 2014, after the birth of my son, I changed my focus to writing for other people. I started writing a middle grade novel for my son. As I made friends in the writing community and realized how publishing works, I began to write more and more adult work for strangers.
When I say I write for “broken people”, I most often mean people who have gone through difficult times in their lives. I have lived most of my life with various forms of depression. However, I think there is beauty to be found in every type of life, and my goal is to point out that beauty.
As someone who has lived most of my life with mental illness, I often see the world differently than other people. The easiest way for me to express these differences is through slipstream — writing that edges through contemporary, fantasy, sci fi, and horror. I like writing things that might be classified literary one moment and genre the next.
Women have complex lives, and I love teasing out all of the components that function behind a cool feminine exterior. Almost all of my writing will feature women or non-binary characters.
I openly identify as bisexual, gender queer, and polyamorous. I love exploring these things in fiction, as I feel they are often underrepresented.
I enjoy playing with the darker sides of technology similar to Black Mirror.
When writing horror, I focus on clean body horror and metamorphosis. I usually bring elements of horror into my dark fantasy or slipstream writing.
When I think about my writing influences and favorite authors, two distinct sets of people populate my mind. The first are the people who influenced me when I was growing up. Those mind-shaping books that created me as a young adult. Some of these aren’t fashionable in my circles these days, but I feel like denying them is denying a part of me.
Ernest Hemingway was my first literary obsession. You may wonder how this queer, dark fantasy writer is born of Hemingway. You might not believe it, but Hemingway allowed my baby queer to come out. I hated his short stories and then, in tenth grade, I read The Garden of Eden. The book introduced me to concepts of gender fluidity and polyamory that I highly identified with and had never seen before. After that, I read more and more of his work with a queer lens and, for me, a lot of my queer sexual identity was formed in the fires of Hemingway’s short, simple prose.
Jeanette Winterson probably doesn’t need as much defense or explanation. She has a way of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, literary and genre, and all sorts of genders.
Italo Calvino, as with Winterson, was introduced to me by one of my most influential friends. Calvino’s writing is wrapped up in that formative friendship, and so his writing became part of my personal development. I love the way Calvino writes people and cities and souls. Especially the souls.
I will be the first to admit that these are old, white, mostly men, and that’s problematic in the modern writing world. Especially for a queer, female writer. I’m happy to say in recent years my writing influences have expanded. Some of my current influences include:
Akwaeke Emezi. I highly enjoy modern Nigerian writing from female and nonbinary Nigerian authors. Emezi is one of my favorite writers, and their book, Freshwater, was inspirational to me both as a reader and writer.
Raven Leilani released the novel Luster in 2020, and it was an amazing read. It inspires me to write more honestly.