Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
Across my time as a book blogger and a member of the book community, I have had the opportunity to bear witness the writing journeys of many people, especially writers. Following such journeys has always felt like a privilege; it is seeing writers develop and grow, and work on projects, stories, or poetry that feel meaningful and that help them understand themselves. Of the many people I have followed throughout the years, a particular person stands out to me – and that person is today’s guest for Asian Pasifika Heritage Month at the Pond: Alexander Te Pohe.
I’ve had the honour of following Alec’s journey for over five years now, and it has been such a huge privilege to have known him and see him grow after all of this time. Having him visit us at the Pond – and he visits us as a black wolf with green streaks! – feels like a homecoming, and I am so excited to share the interview that I did with him.
But before we dive into my interview with Alec, I have the privilege of sharing a few lines from one of his works, light bringer.
Excerpt: light bringer
my friend handed me a lilac rose saying ‘use this to call on me.’
her shine was too brilliant:
a multicoloured refraction expanding outwards forever.
i feared getting close would dull her to the nub.
Author Interview: Alec Te Pohe
CW: Tēnā koe Alec! A huge and warm welcome to The Quiet Pond. We have known each other for so many years, and I am so excited that you are finally visiting us at the Pond today! For our friends out there who might only be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Alec: Tēnā koe CW! I’m so happy to visit The Quiet Pond. My name is Alexander (Alec for short) and I’m a Māori trans man born in Aotearoa New Zealand and raised in Boorloo (Perth) on Whadjuk Noongar land. I’m a writer of prose and poetry, I review young adult fiction for Rabble Books and Games, and I work as an editor for Entangled Publishing.
CW: A huge congratulations on your gorgeous story, Where Stars Die, which appears in Issue 1 of the Portside Review! And what a story it is; the imagery was beautiful and I was immediately pulled in by the stakes and Riley and Charlie’s story. What was the ‘spark’ or inspiration behind Where Stars Die?
Alec: That’s a great question! Originally I wanted to write a young adult speculative fiction romance between Charlie (who is a “ghost”) and the merboy Riley. I loved the idea of these two young men falling for each other in a magical library in space, but it would have to be novella length if I wanted to tell the whole thing. For the purpose of the short story, I focused on Riley helping Charlie escape the library. The fact that they’re both trans and gay occurred naturally. As much as the spec-fic aspect is very much “me” so are the identities of the characters.
CW: I found Where Stars Die incredibly thematically engaging. You explore Charlie’s feelings of being imprisoned, unable to escape this powerful force, but there’s ultimately trans boy joy and freedom. What was the ‘place’ you were writing from when you explored these ideas?
Alec: During 2020 I wrote a lot of angst. I was dealing with the pandemic and a lot of personal issues and growth. By the end of 2020 I felt like Zuko in season 3 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’d used my anger to fuel my power, but I’d literally burnt it all away and I was ready to move on. Where Stars Die allowed me to have something about love and hope that’s also very trans and very gay. It’s incredibly freeing as an artist to show oneself that yes, writing with rage can be cathartic but writing joy, especially trans joy, is healing.
CW: Your poetry is wonderful; emotive and incredibly personal and vulnerable. (I particularly loved See Me and Light Bringer.) What inspires your poetry? And how do you approach developing your poems?
Alec: Thank you so much. My poetry is inspired by my life. It’s a way for me to express myself and release whatever emotions I’m feeling. A lot of my poetry writing is intuitive. I get an image that’s connected to a feeling and try to move through that line by line. This is usually done through a whiteboard. I sit down with different coloured markers and first write out the poem on the whiteboard. It’s a very free way for me to write because I can sit down, colour code sections, and erase and re-write sections on the fly. Once I’m happy with it, I sit down with my laptop and just write and re-work it until I’m happy with it. When a section or line isn’t right, I get this swirling feeling within myself. The difficult part is figuring out what exactly isn’t working. Sometimes that means I fiddle with the poem until it feels right and sometimes it means just puzzling it over in my mind. It may sound like a loose way to write, but it works for me.
CW: I also loved your poem, making bread, which felt so personal and tender to read. What was the inspiration behind this poem?
Alec: My Mum’s mum died when I was a baby. I grew up on Whadjuk Noongar land, away from my whenua. It’s a twice separation: once from my Grandma and once from my whenua. The poem is me puzzling over these complicated feelings of loss and how “authenticity” and culture works when one lives away from “home”. I still haven’t arrived at an answer for all of that, but I think that’s okay.
CW: I’d love to also ask you about your writing journey, which I’ve had the privilege of following for a long time. Can you tell us about the first piece of writing that you ever completed? How have you grown as a writer over the years?
Alec: My first piece of writing was a 200,000 words YA manuscript called Midnight. I wrote it as a teenager and included everything I loved at the time: a range of characters with elemental based powers (the main character is a fire user), a werewolf who was a wizard in his past life (the love interest), a vampire (the love interest of a secondary character who looks like his dead wife), a dragon (a Professor X type character), a witch (the villain!), a big battle at the end and time travel. Think Twilight meets X-Men. I had the idea for it one day at school and basically wrote the whole thing over a year or two. One day I wasn’t a writer and the next I got this idea. I haven’t turned back since.
My writing has grown so much since those early Sparks (the nickname of the main character in Midnight lol). For one, my cast of characters is far more diverse. When I wrote Midnight I wrote everyone to be cis, white, and straight. It took years until I wrote a story with a Māori main character and years more until I wrote characters that are Māori, trans, and bi like me. My writing has grown alongside me, with different manuscripts revealing another layer and showcasing how I’ve grown as a person.
CW: Let’s talk books! What are some excellent books that you have read recently? Give us your recommendations!
Alec: Basically all of the books I’ve read and loved I’ve reviewed for Rabble Books and Games. Outside of that some of my favourite recent reads have been: Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, Fly On The Wall by Remy Lai, and Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. Out of all of them my favourite is Cemetery Boys. Cemetery Boys was the first time I “saw” that trans part of myself in a way I understand. While I think books like Felix Ever After are vital, having a trans character in a speculative fiction story is a balm: it’s relatable and provides an escape.
CW: Ngā mihi for visiting us at the Pond, Alec! My last question is one that I ask all of our guests at the Pond: What is a food that reminds you of ‘home’ – wherever or whoever that may be?
Alec: Thanks for having me! My answer will probably change in the future, but right now it’s banana bread. My family makes banana bread every week and it’s always been a family favourite. It’s a simple stable that makes my house a home.
About the Author
Alexander Te Pohe is a Māori trans man living on Whadjuk Noongar land. Alexander is an editor at Entangled Publishing. He also writes prose, poetry, and book reviews. His work has been published by Centre for Stories in their anthology To Hold The Clouds as well as by Djed Press, Portside Review, and Rabble Books and Games.