Waverly SM, whose poem ‘(baby don’t hurt me)’ is published in issue 7 of Lucent Dreaming, is a speculative fiction writer preoccupied with apocalypses, impossible choices, and the ambient trauma of living in the world. They’re a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow and have been mentored, as part of a cohort of emerging LGBTQ+ voices, by Benjamin Alire Saenz. Waverly studied English at Newnham College, Cambridge; since then, their work has appeared in magazines and anthologies both in print and online. They can currently be found trying to approximate the anchorite lifestyle in Oxford.
So, what inspired your piece ‘(baby don’t hurt me)’? Can you tell us a little more about what it’s about?
‘(baby don’t hurt me)’ is one of many poems I wrote about a visit to LA. I flew out late in the summer of 2019 to attend the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices. I’d been getting my heart broken in slow motion for about a year, by the time I arrived, and it turned out that being folded into a small world of queer solidarity and creativity for a week was exactly what I needed. I went into the retreat with all these qualms about love, or about being loveable, and within about a day, the people in my cohort were loving and supporting each other in ways I’d forgotten could matter, easy as breathing.
The nectarine in the poem was real — it was a mid-retreat birthday gift for Hannah Abigail Clarke, who brought a short story prominently featuring nectarines to our workshop. Likewise, two friends from my cohort went out of their way to find laundry detergent and spare change for me when I realised I needed to do laundry. Everything the poem describes is a small kindness I witnessed or experienced that week. I wanted to preserve all of them, so I’d always remember what love could look like. Hence the title: it’s from the song ‘What is Love (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)’ by Haddaway, because even when I am trying to build comprehensive definitions of profound human feeling, I lean very hard on ridiculous jokes.
What are some of your favourite books and art (including shows, videos, music) – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
I read a lot of genre fiction, and have recently loved A.K. Larkwood’s The Unspoken Name, as well as Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth and Harrow the Ninth — all three books do gorgeous, fearless things with language and narrative, and all three books are exceptionally gay. I also loved Victor LaValle’s The Changeling, which made me want to follow it on a walking tour of New York City, and I will never forget the experience of reading Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness while waiting for a long-delayed flight, wishing for somewhere cold and new. Sarah McCarry is serialising her novel The Darling Killers on Substack; it’s a delightful fusion of Tartt and Highsmith which has been sustaining me through long weeks in lockdown. Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room is probably my all-time favourite book, for the ways it resonated with me as a queer kid of fifteen, and for the very different ways in which it resonates with me at twenty-seven. All that being said, the shows I go back to when I need something comforting to wrap myself up in are shows like Community or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: sitcoms that are prepared to be forthright about how bleak existing can be, and then give you ways to laugh at the void. I think we could always use more void laughter.
What, if anything, are you looking forward to right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
The upheaval of the pandemic has put a lot of my plans on hold, which makes looking forward to things a little fraught! But I am hoping and planning for some substantial travel in 2021, border closures and financial circumstances permitting. In the meantime, I’m working with my agent on revisions for my contemporary cosmic horror novel, tentatively titled The Last Testament of Ethel Zhao, as well as preparing to draft my next novel-length project.
Can you tell us about how you got into writing and art? Is there anyone whose support or encouragement really inspired or motivated you?
I’ve been writing since I was four years old! Per my mother, my first ‘book’ was an illustrated compendium of all the Teletubbies (there are four Teletubbies, and one vacuum cleaner); my second was a picture book about rabbits who were also mermaids. I’m autistic, and writing is a way to connect with other people that I know I can always return to — I’ve met so many partners and friends through my writing, ever since I was young, and they’ve all been impossibly forbearing as I’ve pitched ideas, groused about querying, and drip-fed them snippets of zero-draft prose over the years. I will say that whenever my aunt enjoys something I’ve written, it feels like a monumental achievement! I know she has discerning tastes in literature, and wouldn’t hesitate to tell me if she didn’t like what I was doing, so her praise always feels earned.
Where can people see more of you and your work?
I keep a website at www.waverlysm.com, where you can find a list of all my publications — I have a short story, an essay or two, a handful of poems, and a text adventure game out there in the world. I am unfortunately very active on Twitter @waverly_sm, where I can usually be found enthusing about the ocean.