An Interview with D. A. Xiaolin Spires, Part 1

A sample hilt of a tenegre swordToday’s interview is part one of two with D. A. Xiaolin Spires. Her story for Battling in All Her Finery includes an element that spawned an entire post of its own, which will appear on Thursday. In the meantime, here are the answers to four of the questions we asked her!

DV: Tell us a bit about yourself!

D. A. Xiaolin Spires: I’m a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Hawaiʻi, though I have traveled and lived widely. One of my favorite activities here in Hawaiʻi is savoring all the delicious fruit available at markets: from lychees to pineapples to mountain apples to chico/sapodilla. I also currently train in Southeast Asian martial arts, specifically Filipino styles (though I’ve trained in other styles of martial arts in the past). I mention this because it’s related to my story!

DV: What inspired you to write “The Weeping Bolo” for Battling in All Her Finery?

DS: I think my inspiration comes from a confluence of various forces and interests and it’s hard to pinpoint one single thing. Usually, it’s an image or an idea that strikes and takes on from there. But, for the sake of constructing a retroactive dissection, I’ll try to name some catalysts. I’m constantly intrigued by how legends are created and propagated and how narratives transform as they are passed along (whether that transmission might be oral, written, performed or otherwise). My story is about a young woman from the Ilocos region in the Philippines who must fight the monsters of the old Bikol legend, the Ibálong. As I mentioned, I train in Filipino martial arts (arnis/eskrima/kali) and have met many masters (around the world and in the Philippines), as well as custodians/curators/collectors of Filipino weapons. I remember discussing with a particular weapon’s curator (who has swords, shields and spears in his collection) about his interest in these martial weapons and he said (I’m paraphrasing here) how these weapons have lives that outlive him and he was more of a caretaker than an “owner.” I think this perspective of a weapon possessing a life and legend that outlives and transcends any particular human, a kind of artifact animated with spirit, biographical existence and protracted longevity, is something that really struck me (even as it’s a subject raised in many stories and legends). It’s an aspect featured at the heart of the story.

I also wanted to give voice to a female fighter and one who is still trying to find her way to defeat formidable foes, someone who might not be “perfect” or even completely assured in her actions and training, but still persists. I also thought to highlight a tenegre sword, referenced in the title of the story, “The Weeping Bolo.” Tenegre swords feature beautiful and stylized decorative hilts, as one of its most distinctive characteristics. These swords are generally from the Visayan region. Speaking of which (regions in the Philippines), I did sometimes employ a looser interpretation in incorporating aspects from various regions, as there is movement of cultural objects and customs, but also because the story is set in the future, where there might be even more intermingling. But, at the same time, I also tried to convey the understanding that the Philippines actually comprises various regions and tribes, with diverse and complex cultural histories, traditions and languages—and these distinctions are still present in the background and foreground of the story. I hope that came through!

DV: You’ve been published prolifically. Do you have any other stories featuring similar themes that people who enjoy “The Weeping Bolo” might want to seek out?

DS: Thank you for the kind words. I have quite a number of stories swimming around in my head and more that I have jotted notes for and are waiting to be penned. Some unfortunately might not ever make it to paper or digital ink, as I typically have more ideas than I can act on. Some that have reached the light of printed day range from anywhere from robot stories to alien contact fiction to ecological cautionary tales to culinary horror and beyond. Many involve bravery, family, struggling despite the odds and many include cultural aspects not as frequently portrayed in English language fiction (though this is changing).

One story that has resonant themes with “The Weeping Bolo” is “Twisted Knots” in Clarkesworld #131 (August 2017) which is also a lot about the act of storytelling, narratives and personal experience of a young woman. I don’t want to give too much away, but she does facilitate the telling of her own biographical narrative, in a way.

About the persistence of the past and dealing with issues of (cultural) identity and heritage, I might suggest “Bristling Skim” in the Upper Rubber Boots anthology Sharp & Sugar Tooth, edited by Octavia Cade, whose female protagonist must come to terms with her identity and also includes historical aspects, in this case post-WWII and Occupation Japan (and Taiwan, as well).

For those interested in geological science, I also have a story, “Pele’s Tears,” published in Issues in Earth Science, which includes a female protagonist whose family now lives in Japan, but is on school trip to Hawaiʻi, her ancestral homeland, and includes elements of heritage, as well as uncovering truths about volcanic glass and provenance through analysis of chemical composition and fingerprinting science.

I write poetry as well, and for those looking for Filipino cultural themes in my writing, I would suggest “martian rover jeepneys” in LONTAR Issue #9 (August 2017).

DV: What’s on the horizon for you?

DS: I have quite a few stories forthcoming, including ones slated to be published in Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge, Fireside, Starshipsofa, Outlook Springs, Upper Rubber Boot anthologies, etc. I’m excited for each and every one of them. I also work on poetry, as well as longer works, such as novellas and novels. My poems are forthcoming in Grievous Angel, Star*line,and Mithila Review.

My novella is set in Taiwan, involves chimerical creatures, portals and dragon boats, stars bold female protagonists. It’s currently making its way through the submission process.

I’m keeping mum about my novel-in-progress for now, but, yes, I’m working hard on it.

For updates, check my website: or follow me on Twitter @spireswriter.

I’m excited to be a part of Battling in All Her Finery and to have my story published alongside such wonderful tales of bravery.

Thanks! We’ll have the final question in our interview with D. A. Xiaolin Spires on Thursday!


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