Ziggy Schutz (Author Interview, Behind the Mask tour)
Please tell us a little about yourself, the genres in which you write, and your newest book or story.
My name is Ziggy, and I write primarily young adult speculative fiction. “Eggshells” came from a place of frustration in things so often skipped over in superhero stories. I wanted to see a teen girl take the role of the “strong and silent” type, and then I wanted to challenge that. I also wanted to talk about head injuries, because so often they’re used as an excuse to cut to black, no lasting effects. Can invulnerability or healing factors counter damage done to the brain? I think the more interesting answer to that is ‘no’, which is what I tried to explore a bit in “Eggshells.” It’s about a superhero named Pen, and a concussion, and how healing isn’t always about getting back to where you started.
What inspired you to write fiction?
I was given a book when I was about seven. Some guide for young writers? And I think that’s when I realized that I could tell the stories I wanted to read. In that book are some of the first concepts for characters I’m still writing stories for.
As I grow older, I am constantly inspired by the fact that it is still difficult to find books about people like me. As a queer writer, as a disabled writer, I have the chance to write the stories that would have changed younger me’s whole world. That’s the best kind of inspiration, because it’s a constant.
Tell us about your favorite hero/heroine from one of your stories. What do you love about him/her?
I’ve got a character named Cody, who from the very beginning casts himself as the narrator of his friends and their stories, effectively removing himself from any sort of ‘hero’ role. We get to see him slowly realizing he’s the one who’s set the limits on himself. I love that his story isn’t about him becoming a hero, but about him finding out he still has value even if he isn’t a typical main character.
What’s your favorite part of writing?
I think my favorite part of writing is surprising myself. When a character that I struggle with suddenly clicks and their story starts to come to me easily, that’s such a good feeling, and that’s also when your own characters start to surprise you. It’s such a satisfying feeling, to work and work on something and then suddenly everyone starts to come alive and carry their own stories.
What stories do you have in the works right now?
I’ve been playing around in the horror sandbox a bit, which is always fun. Trying to scare myself by writing a short about drowning on dry land. It’s gonna be supernatural and spooky, if all goes well. Then there’s my novel, which I am very close to finishing a very solid and potentially final draft of. That one is about small town kids struggling with stuff like interdimensional survival games and out of control powers and wanna be gods and questioning their own identities. You know, all that good coming of age stuff.
I also am trying my hand at writing a post-apocalyptic podcast, because why have one iron in the fire when you can have eight spread across multiple fires, right?
About Behind the Mask
Behind the Mask is a multi-author collection with stories by award-winning authors Kelly Link, Cat Rambo, Carrie Vaughn, Seanan McGuire, Lavie Tidhar, Sarah Pinsker, Keith Rosson, Kate Marshall, Chris Large and others. It is partially, a prose nod to the comic world—the bombast, the larger-than-life, the save-the-worlds and the calls-to-adventure. But it’s also a spotlight on the more intimate side of the genre. The hopes and dreams of our cape-clad heroes. The regrets and longings of our cowled villains. That poignant, solitary view of the world that can only be experienced from behind the mask.
Excerpt From “Eggshells” by Ziggy Schutz
Six months down the line, and still no one has noticed. She’s made sunglasses her thing, doesn’t even get questions about them anymore. If she makes her words frosty and scornful, no one will think their lack of speed is anything but intentional. The team doesn’t even fuss over her when she takes a hit anymore.
The problem is that the only time she can properly pretend she’s okay is when she’s in her suit. When her mask hides the way her pupils sometimes don’t quite react at the same time. When she leaves the speaking to her chattier teammates. It doesn’t matter that she finds herself forgetting simple words (Warehouse. Fastidious. Sneaky). It doesn’t matter at all.
Outside her suit, she feels like she is falling. Like the impact she doesn’t remember is still just about to hit. Without the pressure of her helmet, the cracks in her head threaten to rattle apart. This is a problem, because Pen is already a girl of few words. Pen is the one you come to when you need a door kicked in. Even before she went and scrambled her brain, she did not have the vocabulary to talk about feelings or ask for help.
So she doesn’t.
“Penny? Are you listening to me at all?”
“Hmm?” She isn’t, really. Jenny’s been going on about something for almost ten minutes now, and Pen tried to pay attention at first, she really did, but nothing was really making sense anyway. “Sorry, no.”
Jenny’s face crumples into an expression somewhere between annoyance and hurt. “What is up with you lately? You’re always grumpy. You never wanna talk. Are you fighting with your boyfriend or something?”
Pen doesn’t have a boyfriend, but people assume things about her and her team leader when they see them out of costume, and she doesn’t correct them because it’s easier for them to fill in the story than for her to tell it.
Maybe it’s no surprise: her approach to this concussion. She keeps her mouth shut and lets others assume her story, assume she’s okay, assume whatever they want. She has never really cared about what other people thought, has always been secure enough in her own skin that she doesn’t mind what people see when they look at her. She’s too busy saving lives, fighting supervillains.
She never really cared. But all of a sudden, the thought of pretending to have a boyfriend (the thought of pretending at all) is exhausting.
“We were never dating.”
Jenny scoffs. “You’ve been dating for ages; don’t try to pull that. You’re together all the time. Unless you guys were faking it . . . Oh my god, are you coming out to me? Is this what’s happening?”
Pen has been open about her sexuality since she was seven. It’s just that people look at her long blonde hair and her soft curves and they don’t ask. They don’t get close enough to realize that under every bit of fat is muscle hard as steel. They don’t wonder about the days she paints her nails rainbow. They see what they want to see.
“I’m going home,” she tells Jenny, and leaves before Jenny can splutter a response.