Interview: Elliott Dunstan

Today we’re joined by Elliott Dunstan. Elliott is an awesome grey-ace trans writer who works in a couple different styles. He’s currently working on an online webnovel (found at Ghosts in Quicksilver), which features an ace main character. When he’s not working on his webnovel, Elliott also writes quite a lot of poetry and he has also published two zines. It’s very obvious that he’s incredibly passionate, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to him for taking the time to participate in this interview.

Deep in the Bone
Deep in the Bone

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a writer of poetry, mythic fiction and queer literature, and I’m happiest when I find those three things intermingling with each other. My primary project right now is Ghosts in Quicksilver, a web-novel about a 17-year-old wannabe private investigator who can speak to the dead. The book features characters from all over the queer spectrum, and the main character is an ace butch lesbian.

I’m also the author of two self-published zines, Deep in the Bone and Home Is Where The Ghosts Are, available in both print and digital formats on my Etsy store. They’re collections of poetry and a short story each, the first centered around mythology and the second telling the story of my semi-haunted apartment.

What inspires you?

Anything and everything. Music is a big one – certain songs inspire visuals which in turn become stories. I’m also inspired by the reflection of mythology onto modern day issues and vice versa; the story of Icarus projected onto somebody’s manic phase, the tale of the Golem in a world where AI is becoming a certainty, or the story of the forbidden love of Eros and Psyche recontextualized as a queer love story.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

Always, always, always. I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer; I learned to read when I was two and how to write a few years later, and even from very early on I was scrawling poetry in margins. Not very good poetry, but poetry nonetheless.

As far as my genres and medium of choice, I prefer to have a certain amount of control over my work, and the business practices of Cory Doctorow is probably what inspired me the most directly to do a webnovel. It’s also a testament to old Dickens novels and Stephen King’s slightly more recent The Green Mile; serial novels have always been around in one form or another. My poetry zines are a little bit more directly inspired by ‘zine culture’ in indie writer/musician circles.  

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I’m not really sure! I suppose there is symbolism I return to, but in general I think my ‘trademark’ would be the clash between darkness and humour. I have a very morbid sense of humour, so I manage to find something funny in almost everything I write. A girl seeing the ghost of her dead sister is scary. A girl arguing with her dead sister and hoping nobody else catches on is hilarious. Dionysus going to the Underworld is a myth. Dionysus catching a cab and striking up a casual conversation with the cabbie while terrorizing them into driving to the Styx is bizarrely entertaining.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

A couple things, I suppose. One, that the whole ‘keep writing no matter what’ phrase is true. It really is. But having a few bad days isn’t going to ruin everything. Two, your writing is never going to be perfect. But you have the right to talk it up like it is, to have pride in your own work, and to have the courage to open up to criticism and filter out the good from the bad. There’s a lot of culture around how you’re ‘supposed’ to talk about something you’re proud of, and I hate it. Be proud of what you’ve made, even if you know you’ll do better next time.

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

Oof. Uh, all over the place? Somewhere between gray-ace and demisexual, or both at once. Or maybe completely asexual – I haven’t been able to divide up how I feel about things accurately enough to really know. But I know I’m definitely somewhere in there. The actual label I think is less important than being in the right general area.

I’m also somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, although that one’s even harder to pin down. I just know I have a very different way and intensity of feeling those emotions, so

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I actually haven’t dealt with any direct ace prejudice in my artistic field, but I do see it a lot on the platforms where I try to market with social media. I generally deal with it by blocking and moving on – sometimes it means I’m cutting myself out of a potential audience but I consider it worth it.

Offline, it’s mostly the pressure to put romance in my books and stories even when it doesn’t fit, or sexual commentary on my characters when it really, really isn’t appropriate. I have no interest in explaining to people whether my asexual character is a ‘top’ or a ‘bottom’. I count that as ignorance because it’s the running assumption that I’m writing a YA book, it must have something to do with sex. Otherwise teenagers won’t pay attention. Whereas what I’ve discovered is that teenagers and young adults are actually thirsting for a book that doesn’t treat these topics as the be-all, end-all of human existence.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

You can’t be asexual and attractive. You can’t be asexual and still have sex. You can’t be asexual and gay. You can’t be ace from trauma. You can only be ace from trauma. If you’re aromantic, you don’t have a heart. You can’t be aro and ace, that’s just boring.

Basically, there’s too many to count. Asexuality is critically, functionally misunderstood in both mainstream straight communities and queer/LGBT+ circles. I think if I had to pick one, though, it’s the idea that asexuality is just ‘straight lite’ or ‘gay lite’. Being on the ace spectrum doesn’t make my attraction to men or women any less potent – it’s just a different way of feeling and expressing that attraction. And the ‘gay lite’ in particular upsets me because, if two guys are walking down the street holding hands, no homophobe is going to stop and ask if they’re having sex.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

That it’s okay to identify as ace and/or aro. Whether it ends up being temporary, whether it’s a reaction to trauma, whether it’s something you’ve known for years, whether it poked up its head yesterday – it’s okay to identify this way. A lot of people are going to try tell you that it’s not, or that it’s a phase (and what’s so wrong with phases?) and honestly? Ignore them. Your identity is yours to negotiate, nobody else’s.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

You can find me at moonlitwaterwriting.tumblr.com or at elliottmoonlit on Twitter. My Etsy is AnachronistPanic and linked on my Tumblr page, and if you want to read Ghosts in Quicksilver, it’s up to read for free at ghosts-in-quicksilver.tumblr.com.

Thank you, Elliott, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

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