‘We need delight to keep us going’: an interview with Metonymy’s latest author, Hazel Jane Plante

Hazel Jane Plante is a queer trans librarian and writer. Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) is her first novel. She currently lives in Vancouver on the unceded ancestral territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sə̓lílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

 

Zoey Leigh Peterson calls Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) “an exquisite, kaleidoscopic novel bursting with ache and delight.”

 

According to Hazel, it’s about “a queer, trans woman’s unrequited love for her straight trans friend who has died, filtered through this television series that they both adored. And it’s written in the format of an encyclopedia.”

 

In anticipation of the novel’s October publication, we sat down with Hazel to find out more about where the idea for the book came from, who she hopes will read it, and the power of art to distract, soothe, and mend us in tough times.

 


 
How long have you been writing and what drew you to this form of creative outlet?
 
The first time I tried writing a novel was when I was about 10 years old. And it was actually to try to impress a girl in my class whose name appeared in an earlier draft of Little Blue Encyclopedia. It was a mini sci-fi detective novel.
 
When I was in grad school I was part of a little writing circle. I started writing experimental poetry and more constraint-based writing, which I would say Little Blue Encyclopedia is. And almost everything I’ve written since that point, which was over a decade ago, has generally been constraint-based. I really enjoy not just the idea of like, “I’ll try to write this thing,” but “I’ll try to have this constraint that I think really lends itself to what I’m trying to write.” It adds an extra difficulty level that I think, when it’s done well, can be really interesting.
 
What was your inspiration for writing Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)?
 
There are a lot of different little threads. One is just realizing that a lot of people in my life were turning to television series as a way of giving themselves something that they needed, especially people going through really difficult things, and got a certain level of comfort from spending time with familiar characters. I remember I was at a conference and asking two people what they were doing later, and one of them was like, “I’m going back to my room to watch a couple of episodes of Buffy and then I’ll come back here and I’ll have a little more energy.” If things aren’t going well in your life, you can still sit down and go through the emotions of a show, and it’s pretty safe. You don’t really have to be vulnerable and put yourself out there.
 
I really didn’t set out to write a book about grief. The character of Viv just tumbled out of me and I kept discovering her as I went along. Looking back, I can see that I really needed to write about sadness and grief and loss. Halfway through writing, I realized that I really, really wanted to go back and keep the character of Viv alive. I found myself caring so much for her and just wishing that I’d had someone like her in my life. But relationships between trans women can be messy and thorny, so I wanted to get at some of that, too. I was trying, in some ways, to write the book that I wish had existed when I was first grappling with being trans.

 
What was your process for writing this novel?
 
The novel didn’t start as an encyclopedia. It was the merging of two different books that kind of dovetailed together with two different narratives. And there are other things that filtered in there too, like some of the stuff in the book came from things that I wrote over a decade ago. Like I wrote an oral history of a band called Teach Yourself Beekeeping for a three-day novel writing contest, which was a very different band than the one in the novel. But I really like that name for a band.
 
So a lot of those things found their way in because I was trying to cram so many things into a small novel. I really wanted it to be overflowing with details, but to also be airy. Like a Rice Krispie square. Seriously, that was one of the main images in my mind for the book that I was trying to write. And I wanted the square to taste like sadness and delight. It seemed like they needed to balance off of each other. Delight is a thing that I think about quite a bit. I just think it is terribly important. We’re living in dark times and I think we need delight to keep us going. So I wanted to be able to filter that into the book and give a sense of what that looked like for Viv, who was so exuberant.
 
Why should people want to read it and who do you hope to reach?
 
I don’t think people have ever read a book like this before. I think it’s trying to do something different than what I’ve seen most novels do. I think it’s ambitious. But I think it’s also funny, and sad, and emotional, and there’s a huge amount of stuff about Britpop in there. And it has 26 gorgeous illustrations — one for each letter of the alphabet!
 
Honestly, I wrote the book thinking it would never be published, that it would be too weird for anyone to want to read it. I thought to myself, what book do I wish existed that nobody else in the world would ever write? And that’s the book I wrote.
 
More than anything, I hope it reaches trans folks and queer folks. When other people started reading it and were telling me that it resonated with them, or how much they enjoyed it, I was a little bit surprised. I was kind of trying to write it for myself. Like, you know, a year before I transitioned, when most of the depictions I was seeing of trans folks were like, “Oh, when is this character going to get beat up?” I purposely didn’t want to have that stuff in the book. There are so many other stories to tell. I see trans writers, queer writers, BIPOC writers who are publishing narratives that have oftentimes never really been published before. And what publishers are even interested in publishing has shifted, and who you can write for has shifted. It’s a very exciting time.
 
Did you face any challenges in writing this book?
 
One of the things that was tricky is that I came up with dozens of characters for Little Blue, which is the fictional TV series in the novel. But until I started writing the encyclopedia, I wasn’t sure what I would highlight about any of them. So then as I would be writing it, I would be at the letter, you know, H or whatever. And it’d be like, “What am I going to write about this person? I have no idea. And what is the next thing that’s going to filter into the main narrative? I really don’t know.” And I kind of wanted to go back and retrofit it a little bit. But I didn’t let myself. Where people landed in the alphabet was where they landed.
 
I didn’t always know what I was going to write. It was a bit of improvisation with a little bit of structure around the television series. Any of the interludes between the television series entries kind of came in the moment. Where I was like, “Oh, this entry talks about this. And now, you know, here’s this thing that’s coming to me about the narrator and her relationship with Vivian.” So that’s largely how that worked.
 
It was pretty much written from A to Z — that was the way the first draft went. And then I would go back and try to refine things. But I didn’t let myself jump ahead to the letter K or something like that, when I was at B. So that was a little bit challenging.
 
What’s next for you beyond this project?
 
I’m working on a couple of things very slowly right now. I have several different possible writing projects and music projects that are bubbling up, but none that are going to come to fruition in the next six months or anything. This novel took several years to write, so mostly I want to collaborate on projects with creative people who I like to spend time with and who think differently than me.