Interview about aphantasia with Chris Zett

Chris Zett

First of all, please tell us about your books! How many sapphic books have you written so far, and what’s your latest sapphic book about?

I’ve written two medical romances. Heart Failure is my latest book about a grumpy cardiologist (and new mom) meeting a kindhearted artist. At first, they clash on many levels until they find out that opposites do indeed attract.

 

What kind of imagery is affected by aphantasia for you? Is it just visual imagery, or is mental sound, taste, smell, and touch affected too?

Everything. The closest to “normal” is probably sound for me, I “hear” words and songs, but it’s not exactly like hearing them live. The difference is hard to describe. What I remember and re-live are my emotions. So, instead of seeing a romantic sunset in my mind, I just know that it was orange and red and the sand was refreshingly cool, but I feel the same happiness.

 

Do you have an inner voice or an inner monologue?

Absolutely. I talk to myself all the time, and when I do, I usually use the second person singular. For example, if I leave the house I would think: “Have you switched off the light?” and not “Have I switched off the light?”

 

Do you remember how you discovered that you have aphantasia? Did you grieve the fact that you don’t have an ability that the majority of people have?

I can’t really remember how I found out (I think you [Jae] told me about it), but it was only a few years ago. After reading some more about aphantasia, I started interviewing friends and colleagues and was surprised how rare it was. I used to think “seeing a movie in your head” was just a figure of speech and not reality for most other people.

I don’t grieve it at all because I don’t feel anything missing in my life. Even though I don’t see the picture of a map in my mind, I still know what’s on the map, or if I don’t hear a song, I still recognize it when it’s played. I have earworms all the time, just in a different way. I even think a too-vivid memory might be distracting.

 

How do you think aphantasia influences your life, for the better and the worse?

I have no idea if it’s true, but I think that lacking the ability to replicate sensory experiences in my mind helped develop my creativity. If I want to “see” a movie, I need to invent one.

 

How do you think aphantasia influences your writing? Do you feel your writing process is different from writers who don’t have aphantasia?

One important difference to readers and writers without aphantasia is I don’t really care about a character’s specific looks. Generic descriptions (Tall, short dark hair, curvy) are enough for me. I don’t need more and never imagine actresses or other people as these characters. That also means, I’m fine with most book covers depicting characters. Whenever I create a character, I need to remember to include these details and to note them somewhere I can find them again.

In my last book, I went a bit overboard with detailed descriptions until my editor pointed it out to me, as I didn’t know what was really needed or not.

Voices are more important for me, not the exact sound, but the rhythm of speech and how they stress one word or the other. I often “listen” to the characters “talk” in my head and try to replicate not just the words, but the emotions conveyed with them. As I said above, it’s not really the same as hearing, but closer than any other sensory experience.

 

How do you experience reading? Do you enjoy reading fiction? Do you hear a voice, e.g., a narrator, the characters, or your own inner voice narrating? Do you struggle with long descriptive passages?

I love reading fiction. I often “hear” the characters, but it really is my inner voice narrating the words. I sometimes skip descriptive passages, especially if they are just part of world-building that isn’t necessary for the scene or are overly detailed descriptions of clothes or faces.

But what I enjoy the most are emotions. I feel with the protagonists. Their fears, uncertainty, and love are as real to me as my own feelings. That’s why I prefer reading romance as it’s often focused on the emotional ride.

 

Do you struggle with writing description and have to consciously remind yourself to put descriptive details into your writing?

What I said about character’s looks applies to settings too. I often forget to write descriptions. Either me or my beta readers notice it during revisions, but this is actually a strength too. Whenever I include something, it’s a conscious choice to show something about the characters or to set a mood, never random information I “saw” in my mind.

 

Are there any tools you use when writing to compensate for your inability to visualize, e.g., maps, floor plans, photos of celebrities you cast as your characters, etc.?

I take a lot of notes and add them to my character or setting sheets. But I don’t need maps, floor plans, or pictures as visual aids don’t help me as much as written instructions.

 

When you are writing, do you have to remind yourself that your characters’ inner lives differ from yours, e.g., remind yourself to show a character have a mental image flash through their mind?

Yes! I need to remember that my characters actually remember scent and touch and are tortured by sexy pictures in their mind.

 

How are you doing with love scenes? Do you feel aphantasia has any influence on your ability to write steamy scenes?

Yes and no. As I don’t see the movie, I have to think a bit more about the choreography. But as love scenes should be more about emotions, I think we all face the same problems in conveying them.

 

Do you dream visually, and have you ever dreamed about your characters?​​

I don’t know if I dream visually. I remember my dreams the same way I remember everything else, not as a movie, but as an idea of the movie. I often switch between an actor and director role in my dreams. Sometimes I decide to rewind and redo several scenes. I have dreamed about my characters and some of their scenes, but I remember those dreams the same way I remember everything else.

 

Where can readers find you if they want to know more about you and your books?

You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and sometimes on Twitter. My newsletter is probably the best place for writing updates (and free short stories) and you should find everything about my published work on my website.

 

Check out other interviews with aphantasic authors of sapphic books

This is part of a series of interviews with aphantasic authors of sapphic books. To read the other interviews, check out Jae’s article on aphantasia.