Some Thoughts with ... Salinee Goldenberg

26 Apr 2024

The Author/s

Salinee Goldenberg

Salinee Goldenberg

Salinee Goldenberg is a speculative fiction writer and multimedia artist who lives in Washington DC, and is drawn to outsider perspectives. A biracial, bisexual, diaspora writer, Sal often explores themes of identity, obsession and alienation in her work. A gaming industry veteran, Sal has created narrative trailers for titles such as Skyrim, Fallout 4, Dishonored, and Minecraft. When not writing, she likes to paint, listen to records, and play in punk bands.

The Interview

1.- How did you start writing?
I'm one of those "been writing ever since I could remember" kids. My grade school had a "publishing center" where they would print and laminate your book, and stock a little classroom library where your friends could read them. Props to Poplar Tree Elementary for that program! I completely abused the system with such hits like "Rats to the Past," "A Day in the Life of a Furry Pink Snake," and my teacher's favorite (to my utter confusion,) "The Adventures of Cock." 

2.- What inspired you to start writing The Last Phi Hunter?
I had the seeds for the story in a few different abandoned projects: a demon hunter that could talk to his prey, a Grimdark southeast Asian war epic, and a merc getting saved by a pregnant woman in a bar fight. After seeing non-western fantasy finally getting some love, I realized there weren't many stories based on Southeast Asian cultures. I found none inspired by Thai folklore. So I put it all together and got one sassy phi hunter. 

3.- How was the process of querying it? Any particular pitch you remember?
I've been querying various different novels since 2016, and started shopping this one around in early 2021. Querying is a slog through hell, you really have to be persistent and train yourself not to take constant rejection personally. I finally got my break with Angry Robot's Open the Doors submission period, where Ex the Hunter (original title) was plucked from around 900 entries! I felt really special, and it's been really wonderful working with them.

4.- Could you tell us more about the mythology that influenced this book?Mythology always fascinated me, especially Hindu legends and gods, the drama and seemingly endless layers to reality. I took from there to create a pantheon and different realms of existence. There's a lot going on under the hood, but I liked letting it remain mysterious. And I've always been interested in Theravadan Buddhism, and used some ideas and philosophies found there to create a magic system based on karma and reincarnation. 

5.- How would you describe the process of blending together Thai folklore with your own imagination?
There are so many cool things from history that went straight into the story without much diversion, like hungry ghosts, necromantic practices, and some of the gods and divine spirits, like the kinaree and Venara. But I made sure not to get too in the weeds with my research, since I wanted to put my own spin on things. I wasn't satisfied with the monsters being just that, I wanted to humanize them. I read about folk magic, and in combination with Buddhist traditions and rituals, imagined the phi hunters being these esoteric tradesmen that resembled a religious order. Since it's not historical fantasy, I had the freedom to let ideas snowball and become their own unique thing.

6.- Is there any particular character that you would consider your favourite? Why?
That's a hard call, but I have to go with Ex. I love how he's awkward yet earnest, as well as a real badass. But despite his strength and powers, he's got a soft heart. He was easy to write, I felt really connected. So naturally, I took great joy in traumatizing him over and over. After Ex, the other three main characters have my heart, but if I had to pick my favorite side character... probably Mali, the elderly hedge witch that won't hesitate to put you in your place.

7.- You are a multidisciplinary artist; could you tell us more about your other creative endeavors?
I like to paint, draw, and do crafts, and I'm also in an artist group called Kunst Kollectiv where we collaborate on different projects and put on shows. I've also been into  punk rock since I was a kid and love playing in bands. Right now I'm in a proto-punk band called Sexfaces, we're currently recording our first LP. I'm also a professional video editor, so I'm into digital art and motion graphics.I like creating art for the novels I'm working on, like the map that you see in the front of the book. I have way too many sketchbooks full of character drawings.

8.- What can we expect from Salinee Goldberg in the future?
I'd love to return to the world of Suyoram once more, if enough readers make their demand known. My first love is sci-fi, and I'm working on a cyberpunk space opera right now that I'm really excited about. I'm also outlining a cosmic horror, as well as kicking around some contemporary stuff. I think I might move to Venus just to get more hours in the day.