A photo of Rivers Solomon, author of Sorrowland, on a colourful background side-by-side with the interview title, 21 Questions, on a blue and grayscale background.

‘Write what terrifies you’: 21 Questions with Rivers Solomon

The author of genre-bending novel Sorrowland on Donna Tartt, reclaiming nature, and the formative ‘sexy horror’ of Anne Rice’s vampire novels.

In a move that reflects the multi-faceted nature of faer work, Rivers Solomon’s website describes faerself as “a dyke, an anarchist, a she-beast, an exile, a shiv, a wreck, and a refugee of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.”

Add “award-winning author” in somewhere: Solomon, who uses the pronouns fae/faer, did so with both of faer books to date; 2018’s An Unkindness of Ghosts and 2020’s The Deep were both speculative fiction novels that drew on literary inspirations like Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler and Alice Walker. Faer third novel Sorrowland, out this month, is a genre-bending work that tells the story of Vern, who after giving birth to twins finds that her body is undergoing a metamorphosis that she can only come to understand by digging into her history – where she unearths a story of violence and dehumanisation that mirrors that of our own world.

In time for the novel’s release, we reached out to Solomon to ask the young author about faer life in literature. Here, fae discusses the incredible work of Miriam Toews, “sexy horror”, and the surprising beauty of birdwatching.

Which writer do you most admire and why?

Miriam Toews is phenomenal. It’s now been two years since I read Women Talking, about a group of women deciding whether or not to flee their strict religious settlement in the aftermath of unspeakable violence, and I still think of it. Such an incredible balance of terror and heart that never settles for easy answers. 

What was the first book you remember loving as a child?

'I loved, in general, that genre I tend to think of as ‘sexy horror’. A bit gothic, a bit indulgent. Fun but never shying away from darkness.'

Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read at 7 or 8. It was my first ‘real’ book. Prior to that, I’d not been much of a reader at all. I mean, I did read, but basically only for school assignments and I didn’t get what the big deal was (I much preferred writing and making up my own stories!). Then, I had a teacher hand me the Wilson Rawls book and it opened me up inside when I read it. After that I became a voracious reader.

What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?

Oh, I was obsessed with all the Anne Rice vampire novels as a teen, The Vampire Lestat being my favourite. I loved, in general, that genre I tend to think of as ‘sexy horror’. A bit gothic, a bit indulgent. Fun, of course, but never shying away from darkness.

Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path

All of them, right? A butterfly flapping its wings and all that... But if I had to pick one, perhaps The Secret History by Donna Tartt. That was one of my, “Oh, oh, I need to be a writer so I can do this,” books. 

What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?

All of my jobs have been fairly typical. Nanny, barista, teacher, stuff like that. 

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

“Write what terrifies you.”

Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)

I’m actually not much of a re-reader. Too many books I haven’t read yet to get to.

What’s the one book you feel guiltiest for not reading?

I don’t tend to feel guilty anymore about not reading books. Life’s too short for shame over something so small. 

If I didn’t become an author, I would be ______

Sometimes I think I’d probably not manage to be much of anything at all, job-wise. I struggle immensely with most work because of my disabilities, and if I couldn’t make this writing thing work, I think there’s not a small chance that I’d be living in extreme precarity. 

What makes you happiest?

Intense, critical, political conversation where my assumptions get exploded. 

What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?

Birdwatching. I would’ve never guessed it’s something that I could get into. I’ve been quite alienated from nature, and so I’ve always feared I’d never get to know it properly. I’ve surprised myself with all I’ve learned.

What is your ideal writing scenario?

Comfy old leather chair at a hip, artsy cafe, headphones on, tea and a scone at the ready. 

What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?

'I would’ve never guessed birdwatching is something that I could get into'

Oh, this isn’t strange or embarrassing, but I found it really lovely when one of the service leaders at my synagogue – who’d known me for a bit – realised who I was, and did the whole, “Wait, Rivers SOLOMON?” thing, and was like, “Oh my gosh, your book is on my recommended reading list for the postgrad class I teach!” I felt like I’d made it. 

If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?

Probably some of my friends, as I can trust that their company would be restorative, and that’s what I need right now. I’d serve a dal and fresh bread, spiced roasted cauliflower, and almond butter dark chocolate chunk cookies for pudding. 

What’s your biggest fear?

Being misunderstood.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

I want to know everything.

What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?

Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead.

Reading in the bath: yes or no?


Which do you prefer: coffee or tea?

I really love both, but I’m more likely to be drinking tea on a daily basis. 

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

The previously mentioned Women Talking by Miriam Toews. 

What inspired you to write your book?

My love of ecology, and reclaiming my place in it instead of outside of it. 


Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon is out now.

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