Right now(and until next Wednesday) I’m having the time of my life at The Grand Canadian Steampunk Expo, picking out the accessories that will become part of an epic Halloween costume(at least, that’s the goal.) I debated posting the usual interview and article anyway, but I won’t be here to respond to comments and I doubt I’ll even have time to respond to Tweets, so I’m just going to leave you with an inspirational image and hope you write something awesome while I’m gone:
This interview is part of a series featuring authors with LGBTQ+ characters.
Today’s guest is here to share a series involving several of my favourite things: an apocalypse, the plague, crazy inventions, time travel, a strong LGBTQ+ cast, and British English(okay, I’m mostly joking about that last one). But don’t let me tell you about it, let the blurb for Saruuh’s first novel, The Forgotten, tell you instead:
Forgotten London: The remnant of a solar disaster, London is a dismal place of soldiers, rationing, and a four-family-per-house regulation. Fatal diseases plague the city. Borders have been erected around London for the people’s protection, but fifteen year old Honour thinks differently. He thinks they’re kept inside the fence because someone is planning to kill everyone inside.
Victorian London: The Ravel siblings’ world is turned upside down when their genius father is murdered. His dying words are to hide everything he’s ever created, but when an invention goes missing, his children discover his work is linked to the future destruction of the world. But when they’re transported to a derelict, future place, how will they reclaim the stolen device?
1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Forgotten?
The Forgotten is a YA science fiction novel that takes place both in a future version of London and the Victorian Era. In the past, a device has been stolen that has the potential to scorch the world to ruins, and the son and daughter of its inventor set out to reclaim it. In the future, in the world destroyed by the device, a teenage boy suspects the world’s leader plans to kill everyone in his town, and he – along with his friends – becomes involved with a rebel organisation. Gradually, the lives in the past and the future come together as both their worlds are threatened.
2. What part of the story came to you first?
There’s a scene in The Forgotten where Honour witnesses officials shoot a man with a Strain – a disease that is rampant in his world – in the middle of the street. That came to me first, and from that glimpse at the state of the world and the Officials who controlled it, I built the world of Forgotten London.
3. The Ravel siblings are from Victorian London. Did you do much research when creating their backstories?
I’ve actually lost count of how many books and articles I read as research for The Forgotten, in order to get the world and setting just right, though I’m currently building on that research for the third book, The Revelation, and so far I’ve put in a collective 53 hours of research. As soon as I answer one question about the Victorian Era, I become curious about another.
4. What was the hardest part of writing The Forgotten and how did you get through it?
Because I have such a large cast of characters, the hardest thing was integrating each character’s arc into the main plot and not letting either one overpower the other. The way I got through it was to plan extensively, and write each character’s arc in a list format that was easy for me to keep referring to.
5. Some of the major characters in The Lux Guardians series are LGBTQ+. Did you deliberately set out to create a diverse cast or did it just happen that way?
The main queer characters, Honour and Branwell, fell naturally into a relationship from friendship, and I didn’t intend them to be LGBT or really know Branwell was gay until I started writing The Wandering. But another main character, Yosiah, is bisexual, and I definitely did write him deliberately bi. Around the time I started writing The Forgotten, I was just getting into the queer community and learning the many varied ways a person can be queer, though I didn’t know my own orientation at that time. Still, I felt I belonged to the LGBT+ community and I wanted to include a part of myself in one of the characters. Yosiah was written as bisexual, and I later identified as pansexual, but I still feel connected to him as a character.
7. How would you like to see representation of LGBTQ+ characters change in the next five years?
I’d love to see more queer girls in YA. It feels like there are several more m/m books for every f/f book I find, and I’d like to see that number equal. I especially want more ownvoices LGBTQ+ books to be published, so readers – particularly young readers like MG and YA – can read authentic queer and trans stories.
8. What are some of your favourite diverse novels?
Some of my recent favourites are Stormsinger by Stephanie A. Cain, Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember, Daybreak Rising by C. K. Oliver (which comes out September 21st), and The Pyramids of London by Andrea K Höst. All of them feature queer main characters in some form.
9. If you could give any aspiring writer only one piece of advice what would it be?
Write what you love most – and that passion will carry you through the rocky part of drafting any novel.
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I’m working on the last two Lux Guardians books, which will both be out in 2017!
SARUUH KELSEY lives in Yorkshire, in a house halfway between the countryside and the city with an absurd amount of books and craft supplies. She’s the author of The Legend Mirror and Lux Guardians series. Find her online at saruuhkelsey.co.uk or follow her on twitter at @saruuhkelsey. You can purchase The Forgotten here.
This summer I participated in a lot of conversations about increasing diversity in the publishing world, most of them on Twitter(where you can follow me @DiannaLGunn), and all of them with other writers. I’ve also read dozens of articles about the importance of representation, mostly at The Establishment and sometimes at Terrible MInds.
Many of these articles and conversations revolved around accurately representing a specific group of people. Sometimes an entire chat will be devoted to dismantling a certain trope and offering techniques for getting around it. Other chats discuss a broader subject like the overall treatment of LGBTQ+ chats.
What very few chats talk about is the diverse books that are already out there. The publishing revolution has already begun. Thousands of diverse books already exist, and I’m not talking about books written in completely different parts of the world or in different languages. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of diverse books are published on a daily basis in America, Canada, and the UK, the places where most of the authors you know come from. But you’re going to have a hard time finding most of them on a bookshelf because the diversity exists in small presses and self publishing.
How do I know these books are out there? Well, I’ve spent the past few months interviewing authors with diverse casts(focusing on books with LGBTQ+ characters) and almost every author who has approached me is self published or works with a small publishing house. A couple have even been published through small presses that only publish LGBTQ+ stories. Most of these authors have also published multiple diverse novels. Others are working on a series featuring a diverse cast. The point is, they’re telling stories the big five publishers aren’t–and they aren’t the only ones.
It’s been said a million times that writers also have to be readers. Successful authors will tell you to read widely both inside and outside your genre. I’m telling you to take it a step further. Seek out diverse books. Find the small presses devoted to sharing the diverse stories big publishers aren’t prepared to take a chance on. Read their books religiously. Look for novels with every type of character. Even better, create a reading list with diverse authors telling stories rooted in their cultures and experiences.
There are many different ways to learn how to write diverse characters–and we must use several if we want to be authentic to each character–but it starts with immersing ourselves in diverse stories. If we continue to read exclusively books about straight white people who live in straight white worlds our minds will automatically create more stories about straight white people.
How do I know this? I live in the most multicultural city in the world and I have at least as many LGBTQ+ friends as I do straight friends, yet almost all of my stories revolve around straight white women who live in white worlds with castles and kings. Diversity only came into my books when I read diverse novels. Part of this was because I didn’t want to accidentally offend anyone, but it was mostly because the stories I thought up always came with well formed white characters who lived in white worlds. If we don’t read diverse novels we internalize assumptions about what fantasy & science fiction should look like.
Is there an ideal number of diverse novels to read? Probably, but like most things in writing the answer is highly individual. You might want to alternate between highly diverse novels and more traditional stories(I’m doing this right now, and all the books on my current list were chosen to help with different aspects of my novel). You may decide to intersperse them randomly throughout your reading list. The important thing is that you make a list and actually read them.
Not sure where to start? Check out some of the authors I’ve interviewed:
Already know some great diverse books? Share them in the comments section below!
Today I’m interrupting the series of interviews spotlighting novels with LGBTQ+ characters to introduce a co-writing pair who have done something I think is equally brave: co-written a novel while being married. I’ve worked with my fiance on some creative things but the idea of co-writing a novel with anyone freaks me out. Anyway, enough about me, here’s the blurb for their debut novel, Playing with Fire:
The rules are simple: Get in. Get out. Get paid.
Loner Renee Devereaux is a thief with a lot to hide, and trust is a risk she rarely takes. Stone Anders is a mercenary and hitman, but being a hired killer isn’t fitting like it used to. But while they are criminals, they are anything but common. Renee and Stone are Talents, and their supernatural powers give them an edge in a high stakes business where one wrong move could be their last.
It’s always just one job, and everyone scatters—sometimes in less than favorable circumstances. For Renee and Stone, that’s business as usual. But things change.
A chance at revenge draws Renee and Stone into a job they know they shouldn’t take. The job: Steal a dangerous magical artifact before it can be used. Along with the deadline, they’ll have to deal with a loudmouth hacker with problematic connections, a rookie who still believes in ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ and a professional liar with a cat’s curiosity.
Worse, something just doesn’t feel right.
But this is their job. They have a reputation to maintain, a paycheck to earn, and a score to settle….
And now to learn about how Playing with Fire came to be:
1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Playing with Fire?
Playing with Fire is an urban fantasy novel that features a set of supernatural thieves. This book follows two of them, Renee and Stone, through four different criminal jobs in four different locales and spans over a decade. Playing with Fire also introduces the three other planned point of view characters of the series during the fourth job: Rook, Carlos, and Grace.
2. What part of the story came to you first & whose idea did it start as?
The characters, Renee specifically. At dinner one night, Clare started musing about a magical thief that could turn invisible, and what that might mean in the criminal underworld. It ballooned from there. Stone followed pretty soon after that, and the story started taking shape as the relationship between the two got fleshed out. We had a ‘who’ and a ‘why;’ the rest was just figuring out a lot of ‘whats’ and ‘hows.’
3. How much planning did you do before Playing with Fire?
Before? Next to none. Just a concept and an idea, really. We hit the ground running, but we started planning as we went along—especially once it beecame clear we really had something worth pursuing here. The first fifteen pages (which covers the first of the four jobs in the book) was almost completely drafted (the first draft of it at least) before we started planning much out. But then we started nailing down details. As with most authors, we have a bunch of notes for stuff that doesn’t actually appear in the text. For now.
4. As co-writers, how do you split up the work?
We tend to alternate. First Clare will write a section (usually a few pages) before handing it off to Cris. He’ll then read through and edit/change/add to Clare’s work before writing a section himself. Then Clare will get it back and the cycle continues. Works great for when one of us gets writer’s block because we can see if the other will have ideas. We don’t disagree often, but when we do find ourselves with different ideas, we’ll stop and figure out which one fits better. Sometimes Cris is right. Sometimes Clare is. But there is a definite bonus in having more than one idea to play with.
5. Have either of you written novels on your own before/would you?
We’ve both written some stuff individually, but none of it is published or even to a point where we’re truly happy with it all. Clare has an unfinished historical, and Cris has a completed draft that was an attempt at horror and another epic fantasy that largely started as a joke between friends. But this is the project that’s gotten the farthest and also reached a level where we’re looking forward to sharing it publicly and publishing it.
6. Why did you decide to self publish Playing with Fire?
We did submit the draft to a more traditional publisher at first, but we never heard anything back. We considered submitting to others, but ultimately decided to put it out there ourselves. We didn’t want to let our work sit there—just waiting for the right moment—when we could share it ourselves. Who knows? Maybe we’ll try again for traditional publishing again; maybe not.
7. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned so far during the publishing process?
That Rise Against’s Give It All is remarkably inspiring when combatting a final 25-page stretch writer’s block, and Dr. Pepper and whiskey isn’t as bad a mix as one would think. More seriously, it’s that we work really well together so long as we keep from stepping on each other’s toes. We can think of several reasons why this project shouldn’t have worked. But here we are, and it’s a good feeling. But that’s writing the book, not publishing it. On the publishing side, the most unexpected thing has actually been how hard it is to sum up the 80k+ word book into a good blurb. Who knew that 200 words would be so challenging?
8. Who are some of your favourite self published authors?
Right now, there are more indie authors on our To Be Read list than on our Read one. So naming favourites at this point doesn’t quite feel right. Clare has done a lot of beta reading lately, so there are definitely some WIPs that she’s looking forward to seeing the final result. And Cris has read and reviewed an Advance Reader Copy for indie-turned-traditionally published author, Michael Munz. The ARC was for Munz’s first traditionally published book, Zeus is Dead.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice what would it be?
Don’t stop. We don’t care how bad that reads on paper, how stupid that sounds in your head, or how cliché that looks. Don’t. Stop. It can be fixed. You can do it better. You can revise. You can edit. You can update. But only if you get the words on the page, and Don’t Stop.
10. What are you looking at that readers can look forward to?
Well, Playing with Fire is actually the first in a series of books that feature these characters. We’re editing the second one, Fly by Night, now. And we’ve started working on the story for the third, Shifting Identities. The point of view shifts with each new book, so each one has its own voice and flavor and gives the reader a chance to get to know the characters in a way that can only come from getting inside their head.
Cris and Clare Meyers met in college, but didn’t start writing together until several years later. When they’re not writing, they can often be found reading (little surprise there, writers that also read). They also play a wide variety of games—some tabletop miniature games like Malifaux and Warhammer 40K (though the 40K is all Cris), an eclectic mix of board games, and of course, some video games. They live outside Chicago, but love to travel (though they don’t get to do that as often as they like).
Somehow the first eight months of 2016 have already passed us by, and if you’re anything like me you’ve created a list of everything you’ve accomplished this year and you can’t decide if it’s an incredible amount of work or not quite enough(the real answer, I suspect, is a little bit of both). But one thing’s for sure: there are only a precious few months left to reach as many of our goals for the year as possible. Now is the time to start working towards these goals with ferocious determination.
And one of the best ways to motivate yourself is to announce your goals to the world, so please share your goals for the rest of the year in the comments section — but first let me tell you about a couple of my own writing goals:
- September — Write 30,000+ words of the draft I’m currently working on(it’s a second draft but a complete rewrite), which will bring me almost to the end
- October — Finish the draft I’m currently working on and write a short story. The second part of this will actually be a way bigger challenge.
- November — Do final edits on a couple short things I’ve written and start editing the sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian, the fantasy novel I plan to self publish.
- December — Finish editing the sequel to Moonshadow’s Guardian(which will hopefully have a better name by then) and write a related short story.
I’m also working on a really intense series of blog posts about developing a diverse cast of characters to go with the interviews I’ve been doing, which will start next Tuesday. This month I’ll actually be attending multiple workshops on creating diverse characters, which I plan to write about in detail — but enough about me, I want to hear about your goals! Let me know what you’re getting up to this fall in the comments.
This interview is part of a series spotlighting authors who write about diverse characters, with a focus on LGBTQ+ characters. If you or someone you know has a book that should be featured please email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Today’s author has published one wonderfully diverse science fiction novel, Viral Airwaves, and is planning to publish an equally diverse fantasy novel called City of Strife this fall(which sounds so interesting I agreed to review it, but we’ll talk more about that when it comes time for the review). She’s also got some fantastic advice for those of us looking to incorporate more diversity in our own novels.
Please give Claudie Arsenault a warm welcome.
1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Viral Airwaves?
At its heart, Viral Airwaves is the story of Henry, one insignificant speck in the world, making a difference. He’s no one, and he doesn’t want to be. He loves his noodles, and he loves his recluse, tranquil life. Except, as good stories go, nothing is as simple as that! The novel itself explores heroship—how we rely on them, casting people into leadership position and sitting back on our haunches. How you can manufacture heroes from lies and people will accept them. How sometimes the line of what is heroic and moral is blurry. All of it through friends travelling the world with a clandestine radio show set up in a hot air balloon, and two long time nemesis forced to admit they have more than a little respect for each other, and maybe, just maybe, a little love.
2. What part of the story for Viral Airwaves came to you first?
Viral Airwaves premise started as a challenge with another friend, which I think neither of us had any intention of completing. It was a week before NaNoWriMo and we were throwing sources of inspiration around, and one was to combine two songs into a prompt. So at the very beginning, Viral Airwaves was Criminal Mind (Gowan) + Hot Air Balloon (Owl City) = “a hot air balloon conductor must fly a criminal over the border”. This gave me Seraphin, Viral Airwaves bisexual rebel leader, the balloon, and Henry, who was already a non-hero, but hadn’t discovered his love for noodles yet.
3. How much planning did you do before starting the first draft?
Nooone, haha. Not for the very first draft, which I started in the middle of NaNoWriMo, after having finished my first planned story halfway through the month. It was wild, and I do not recommend. To be honest, however, that first draft doesn’t look anything like the current novel. I spent eight years writing and rewriting Viral Airwaves, learning my craft as I went. I tend to think of Draft 3 as the real first draft—still very different from the final product, but it actually had the Plague + conspiracy in the background. For that one I had a scene by scene outline (from which I deviated but shh).
4. What was the hardest part of writing Viral Airwaves and how did you make it easier for yourself?
The first third of the book. Viral Airwaves takes a while to really get into the large-scale plot. Not that nothing happens, but before shit can truly hit the fan, Henry needs to decide he wants to be involved, and our friendly group of rebels need a little set-up. It’s a very character-driven start, even now, and it took a gazillion rewrites to make sure it hooked readers and brought them to the glorious follow up. The only thing I really did to make this easier was to commiserate a lot, trust my betas when they told me it wasn’t working well enough, and trust my instincts when they told me to scramble the order of scenes completely (twice).
5. Viral Airwaves features several LGBTQ+ characters. Did you deliberately decide to include a diverse range of futures or did they simply appear to you this way?
For Viral Airwaves, I did it deliberately. Somewhere around Draft 5, I revisited the entire cast and included a lot more diversity. Five years ago, just about everything I wrote was very white, and straight, and filled with dudes. Basically what I was reading. I first became aware of this as my close circle became increasingly filled with LGBTQIAP+ friends, and then through listening to conversations about representation, and I knew my writing needed to change. It helped that a friend pointed at an early scene between Seraphin and Vermen, and whispered “I ship it”, and I thought … why not? That’s how it started. But really, I wasn’t even aware of my own asexuality (or rather, I had no term for it, just thought something was wrong with me) when I signed Viral Airwaves with IPB (which is the only reason I hadn’t revisited Henry as canon ace, because I would if I could).
Characters come more naturally with a wide range of sexualities and appearances today, but I try to stay very conscious of my choices, to avoid pitfalls and harmful tropes that might be a first reflex still. After all, if I was writing all-white, all-straight not so long ago, who knows how much I still have to unlearn? It feels important to stay wary of myself, to always be on my toes, and always listen.
6. How would you like to see LGBTQ+ representation change over the next five years?
More of the less represented letters would be a start. I’m always on the lookout for ace and aro protagonists, and always writing them (excluding Viral Airwaves, but my next book, City of Strife, has three of them) because the options out there are … very few, and not all good. I doubt Intersex and Pansexual are faring much better. In a similar vein, I would love more novels that feature LGBTQIAP+ characters without focusing on romance. I see a lot of them pitched as f/f or m/m which makes a lot of sense, but also gives little room to friendships, family (found or otherwise), qpps, etc. I DO enjoy a good romance, and they’re still very necessary, but I’d love to see both that and deep queer friendships!
The other thing is, I’d love to see more recognition for indie/self-pub authors. There’s a lot of us out there, and amazing work is being published that has diverse casts, excellent writing, original plots, etc. Yet it’s so rare to see them on rec lists! I emphatically think we both need LGBTQIAP+ rep to get bigger in mainstream, but to simultaneously support the flourishing indie market that exists and develops, especially for marginalized writers that are often pushed out of trad pub or asked to tone done/change/corrupt their voice by editors.
7. What are some of your favourite representations of LGBTQ+ people in the media?
CHAMELEON MOON has an amazing cast. I love everyone in it, and pretty much every single one of them is queer. You’ve got a loving and supportive poly f/f/f with a kid and a trans woman in it, you’ve got nonbinary Zilch and his qpp-like absolutely amazing relationship with Finneus, you’ve got anxiety-ridden ace spec Regan … and so much more, and all of it with superpowers, and a city bottled in a dome and sinking into lava, and so much raw hope despite the chaos and tears. It’s just my favourite thing ever. And the author, RoAnna Sylver, is every bit as awesome as their book!
For ace rep I would also recommend everyone read FOURTH WORLD, from Lyssa Chiavari, because the two MCs are both on the spectrum, and while there’s no One True Ace Experience, there is a scene with Nadin that hit me like a ton of brick with how much it resonated with me. The novel’s an archeological mystery on Mars, with time travel! Great book and great rep, basically.
8. How do you deal with hatred towards your LGBTQ+ cast?
Ooh, I haven’t had to, and hopefully never will. I’ve had to set my foot down on ‘they’ pronouns once, but nothing more major. Honestly, though … if people don’t like it, they are welcome never to read another book from me again. I’m not writing for them. And now that I self-publish and work with editors I trust, I know I won’t need to face ignorant bigotry from that side.
9. If you could give only one piece of advice to an aspiring writer what would it be?
Finish a draft. Lots of writers leave projects unfinished, or see so many changes that they want to start over halfway through. I heartily recommend you don’t. Go finish the draft. What I do is take down a bunch of notes of what needs to change and the impact I believe it’ll have on the story, then I keep going as if I’d made those changes (when I can). And I blow through the ending without care of the quality of the writing, sometimes skipping scenes or writing nothing but the dialogue, but I finish it. You learn so much about character arcs and pacing and tying up threads by writing your climax and resolution—both for the story proper, but for writing in general too. It might seem a waste of time, but if you’ve never finished a draft, do it. Finish this one. You’ll learn from it, and when you start your edits/rewrites, you will have a better idea of where you’re heading.
10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I am leaving science fiction behind to work on my first love, fantasy! More precisely, complex fantasy with several intertwined plot threads and a large political components. CITY OF STRIFE is the first of a trilogy, has a large cast of almost exclusively LGBTQIAP+ characters, and centers heavily on friendship and family. Not everyone’s orientation is stated explicitly in the first book because I’m giving myself the trilogy to establish everyone, but I’m also very open to sharing who’s what until then. You can add it on Goodreads here – I’m aiming for a Fall publication!
Stories have always been an important part of Claudie’s life. From reading to roleplaying to writing, characters have lived in her head for years, growing and evolving with her. Proud québécoise, asexual, and lover of squids and hot air balloon, she aims to provide awesome LGBTQIAP+ science fiction and fantasy. Her next novel, the first of a political fantasy trilogy, CITY OF STRIFE, comes out this Fall!
Do you write stories with diverse characters? Are you eagerly waiting for more? Let us know in the comments section below!
This interview is part of a series featuring diverse books. If you’ve written a science fiction/fantasy novel with LGBTQ+ characters & want to be featured please email email@example.com.
L. Taylor released her first full length novel, Epic, earlier this summer. It’s a unique fantasy story which uses some science fiction elements to push the boundaries of both genres, and it pushes even more boundaries by having multiple major LGBTQ+ characters. All in all, this novel is a lot of fun–and it’s the first in a duology.
But enough of that, L. Taylor can tell you much more about the book than I can:
- Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Epic?
It has been brought to my attention that “space teens fight monsters” is not a very professional description of the book, so I guess I’ll have to try something more formal.
Epic is my debut novel, and follows a group of teenagers as they help a queen possibly take over the universe. Anna Garcia and her friends are from Earth but end up on a planet called Eden, where they meet Queen Mayra, who convinces them to steal powerful objects from other planets. As the characters go through this journey, they see a lot of cool stuff but they almost die a lot. There’s always a downside, you know?
- What part of the story came to you first?
The first part of Epic I came up with was the concept of travelling through different worlds, though in the original idea, these were alternate realities rather than alien planets. I envisioned a story that took place throughout a group of dangerous but beautiful places, and then the rest of the story was built around this concept.
- How much planning did you do before starting the first draft of Epic?
I didn’t do much planning. I had a vague idea of the plot, characters, and settings, so I just started writing, letting the story go wherever it wanted. Over time, I changed the things I wrote and morphed the draft into a more clear vision of what I wanted it to be. That’s probably why it took me almost three years to complete the first draft!
- Epic has a rather large cast of characters. How did you make sure all the characters were distinct from each other?
My primary method in keeping the characters easily distinguishable from one another is to start off by giving each one a dominant trait. Sam’s trait is his humor, Mel’s trait is her carefree attitude. Then once I had those traits down, I developed their personalities around who I’d already established them as. With Sam, I expanded on him by making his humor a defense mechanism, with Mel I had the chance to turn her happy-go-luckiness into her way of dealing with certain things that happened to her in the past. I also like to make characters be opposites of each other if they’re going to interact a lot. Anna and Raven are the central love story of the novel, and while Anna tends to be cautious and logical, Raven is more impulsive. David is a sensitive, emotional person and Kat is the polar opposite, which makes their relationship a lot of fun to write. I think those two tricks are what makes the cast of characters so easy to tell apart.
- Some of your lead characters are LGBTQ+. Did you intentionally write them this way or did they just sort of end up this way?
I initially wrote Anna and Raven as LGBTQ+, but with James, Ben, and Sam, it just came out of nowhere. Ben and James’s characters, in the first draft, gravitated to each other and had a lot of chemistry and I thought “I like this dynamic too much, I want them to be a couple,” so I had to revise some stuff and work their relationship into the story. With Sam, I’m still not sure how it happened. I was just revising and then the realization hit me out of nowhere that he was asexual and aromantic. Nothing about the story or his characterization really changed, I just had to be sure to include that he’s not physically or romantically attracted to people.
- What advice would you give to a straight writer trying to include LGBTQ+ characters in their books?
I think the biggest advice I could give would be that the characters need to be characters first and LGBTQ+ second. While it’s important that they are LGBTQ+, don’t forget that they aren’t there to check off diversity boxes, you have to make them actual people. This means if you take away the fact that they’re LGBTQ+, you should still have a complete, well-rounded character left over. Give them as much attention and development as you do your cishet characters!
- What are some of your favourite diverse books?
See, this is where I lose all of my credibility. I haven’t read as much diverse literature as I would like to have read. A few months ago I read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (say that three times fast!) and it’s probably my favorite LGBTQ+ novel I’ve ever read. Some of my other favorite diverse books include the Mara Dyer trilogy, The Lunar Chronicles, and all of Marie Lu’s books. Every single one of them. I’ve also recently read Waking Up by Kasey Roper and I loved it, plus it’s the first book I’ve ever read that featured a prominent transgender character.
- How can we encourage the publishing industry to include more diverse voices?
Buying books about diverse characters and written by diverse authors is the only way the publishing industry is going to become more inclusive. The industry follows whatever is making money, and currently, it’s books written by cishet white people, about cishet white people, targeted toward cishet white people that get the majority of the recognition and sales. This industry is only going to change if readers change it to the point where the industry experts can see that the diverse lit is where the money is.
- If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice what would it be?
Although many of us dream that our books will be loved and accepted by everyone, that’s not going to happen. Not everyone is going to love your book and there will be people who hate it with a passion. These are the people a lot of writers try for years to impress with their writing and it’s pointless to waste so much time and energy on people who don’t matter in the big picture. Instead of trying to win over the people who will not like your content, focus on writing for your target audience.
When I wrote Epic, I didn’t think “I hope the highest intellectuals of the world will give this book a boatload of acclaim.” I thought “there are young readers out there who want to read a story like this, so that’s who I’m writing this book for.” I don’t really care if straight white people hate my book because Epic isn’t for them. Epic is primarily for readers of color and LGBTQ+ readers. If another group loves your work, that’s wonderful and is preferable to them disliking it, but if they don’t enjoy the book, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how you feel and how your target audience feels about what you’ve published.
- What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?
I’ve got a new book coming in just over a month! It’s called 93% Chance I Don’t Hate You, and is a collaborative new adult romance between myself and Amy H. Lynn. The book follows a young woman named Carter, who is preparing to take over her family’s journalism business, and a man named Ashton, an artist whom Carter does not have a high opinion of. Through a turn of events involving a dating app, the two end up on a blind date and throughout the course of the novel, they learn that perhaps they’ve been too prejudiced and don’t actually hate one another. 93% Chance I Don’t Hate You is a romantic dramedy and will be released on September 27th.
I’m also in the early stages of writing the sequel to Epic, a poetry collection, and a new adult retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth.
L. Taylor is the writer of the novel “Epic”, the first book of the Epic duology, as well as the paranormal thriller novella, “Hunted”. She is the co-author of the new adult romance “93% Chance I Don’t Hate You”, which will be hitting bookstores very soon. She dislikes talking about herself in third person, and when she’s not working hard at tormenting her characters, she can be found surfing the internet, petting dogs, and occasionally working on getting her Bachelor’s degree. She can be reached at leightaylorwrites.tumblr.com.
This is a somewhat rewritten post from last year about a point I believe will always be important.
You may be here to learn about writing but when it comes right down to it, the thing that drew most of you to this blog, the thing that convinced you to start writing, was most likely a love of books.
We all have books we’re passionate about, both well known and almost unknown. I have at some point been touched deeply by books from every genre, but the genres that have impacted me most deeply are fantasy, YA and science fiction, particularly dystopian fiction.
Some of the books I loved are well known and loved: The Giver, Harry Potter, The Chrysalids, The Hunger Games, anything by Terry Pratchett.
Other books I’ve loved are almost completely unknown, like Lady of Hay or A Raw Mix of Carelessness and Longing. How popular a book is has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed it. I can list quite a few popular books I didn’t enjoy much, but I won’t bother. That’s not what I’d like to talk about today.
I’d like to talk to you about those little known authors whose books you love.
Those writers are struggling. Struggling to make a name for themselves, struggling to make a living–or even enough to go out for dinner once a month–from their writing. They might write the most amazing novel you’ve ever read, but without good reviews, their writing will never get the appreciation it deserves and they might well give up altogether.
Which means it’s your duty to review the books you truly love, especially when they’re written by an unknown author.
You don’t have to start a book review blog. You can do a quick review on Amazon and Goodreads and go on your merry way. In fact, it’s really these sites where the more reviews a book has, and the higher its rating, the more likely it is that the author will make some money.
With the sheer number of small presses and self published authors flooding the market with new books every day, book bloggers are always pressed for time. Even the best authors struggle to get reviews, because there are so many different authors competing for each spot on every book blog–and while there is lots of crap out there nobody can be expected to keep up with all the good books either.
Most people who enjoy a book won’t take the time to review it, but every person who leaves a positive review is helping build an author’s career.
Why is this so important? Well, it’s partially because the authors you love can write way more books if they’re actually making an income from their work. This is why all readers should review books they love. But for people like me–and I’m assuming you, if you ended up here–there’s another reason. Because we all dream of being authors too, which means we have a vested interest in the success of the publishing network. As a writer you should review great books for one more reason:
1) Supporting small presses and lesser known authors helps ensure that you’ll have many different publishing options in the future. There are hundreds of small presses, which means that there are hundreds of opportunities for you to get published, but it also means they’re all competing to be heard by the reading community. A small press usually also doesn’t have much–if any–of a budget for marketing, so they are more reliant than anyone else on your reviews.
If you want small presses to keep producing amazing books and maybe even eventually publish your own book you need to support them, which means reviewing their books. And you don’t have to do a lot of work on this–even a three sentence review with a good rating helps.
Support authors and small presses you love and they’re a lot more likely to stay around long enough for you to enjoy the publishing opportunities they provide.
Do you review books you love? Why or why not?
Today’s interview is part of a series featuring novels with LGBTQ+ characters. If your novel features LGBTQ+ characters and you want to be part of the series please email firstname.lastname@example.org your blurb & bio!
Heather Rose Jones has written a fascinating series of historical fantasy novels featuring queer female characters. This is a big deal since LGBTQ+ characters have thoroughly been ignored both in our history textbooks and our historical fiction. Oh, and Heather’s books are a lighthearted romp through history instead of the tragic tales that seem so typical of today’s LGBTQ+ stories.
Anyway, that’s enough rambling, it’s time to let Heather explain her wonderful series!
1. Can you tell us a bit about your Alpennia series?
The Alpennia series is, at its core, a fun, feel-good romantic adventure. I took a dollop of Georgette Heyer, a bit of Alexandre Dumas, a dusting of Ellen Kushner’s Riverside, but most of it was simply my dream of a complex, character-driven fantasy where the girl got the girl in the end. I wrote the first book, Daughter of Mystery, without any clear idea that it was going to be a series. I’d wrapped everything up. My characters were going to live happily ever after. But as soon as I’d finished, the question started nagging at me: which other character deserved her own story? The answer to that was clear. I’d fallen in love with Antuniet Chazillen despite–or perhaps because of–her being an antagonist in the first book. And as soon as my imagination turned to her, most of her story unrolled in front of me. After that, the threads just kept spinning out, weaving the cloth of the whole series.
The books have been marketed as romances, but that’s rather misleading. Although romantic relationships are a strong element, the series is driven more by the social and political challenges that my characters tackle to achieve their goals. And the magic. One major strand is how Margerit Sovitre learns that magic is deeper and more complex than what she first understood it to be. As the series goes on, a continuing theme is how she tries to integrate her experience of magic as a religious mystery with the ways other people around her experience it. Another continuing theme is the political and social transformation of Europe through the upheavals of the early 19th century, as seen through the lens of my little invented country. Yet another theme is experiencing all that through characters who are all, in some way, disenfranchised from power. Perhaps the most important continuing theme is the ways in which women create communities and networks that sustain them in the face of patriarchal society. And through it all, I want it to continue to be a fun, feel-good romantic adventure. I suppose I have my work cut out!
There are two books out currently. Daughter of Mystery is a coming-of-age romance between Margerit Sovitre, an unexpected heiress, and Barbara, her bodyguard. The Mystic Marriage continues those characters, but centers more on Antuniet Chazillen’s quest to redeem her family’s honor through alchemy, and her tangled relationship with Jeanne, Vicomtesse de Cherdillac, a social butterfly with more steel underneath than you might think. The third book is coming out in November 2016: Mother of Souls. This one introduces some new characters. Serafina Talarico is a frustrated scholar of mysteries from an Ethiopian immigrant family in Rome, and Luzie Valorin is her landlady in Alpennia, a widowed music teacher who aspires to compose opera. They all get tangled up in an international plot to affect the political balance of Europe through sorcery.
There will be at least five more books to finish the series as I currently conceive it. My standard answer on that point is “five more, or however long it takes to get to the revolution.”
2. What part of a story usually comes to you first?
I always start with one very vivd, emotionally-charged scene. Then I work outward from that scene to figure out how and why my character ended up there, and what consequences flowed out of it. For Daughter of Mystery, the “seed scene” was the confrontation over the reading of Baron Saveze’s will when Barbara discovers she’s been left to Margerit as a possession. For The Mystic Marriage, the scene was after the sweetheart divination at the Floodtide ball when Antuniet realizes she’s fallen in love with Jeanne de Cherdillac and knows it will mean nothing but heartbreak and disaster. For Mother of Souls, everything revolves around the climactic performance of Luzie’s opera.
It often takes me a lot of tries to get the rest of the plot to work out right, but the emotional core of that starting scene is always an anchor.
3. Most of your work revolves around queer female characters. Did you decide to do this or is that just how your characters appeared?
Back when I first started writing fiction, when I was in college, I wrote the same sort of characters that I found in the books I loved. So they were straight, and often the central characters were male. But over the years, I got more and more frustrated that I couldn’t find books with characters who were like me. Why should I always have to compromise and identify with a man? Or with a woman whose relationships are oriented toward men?
What seriously spurred me to start doing something with my writing was that frustration and hunger. If no one else was going to write the books I wanted to read, then I’d have to do it. The way I tend to describe it these days is that life is short, and I’ve chosen to prioritize writing those stories that center around queer women. I have a lot of other stories in my head, but I can’t write them all, so I’m writing these one.
So the characters didn’t just “appear” as queer women, rather I found those characters and asked myself what their stories were.
4. Have you found your queer characters more difficult to write than other characters?
Not at all! In fact, to some extent it’s much harder to write characters the more different they are from me. I had quite a challenge to write Jeanne de Cherdillac, because she’s such an extrovert and so good at social interactions, and she’s so strongly driven by her sexual desires that she’s made some unfortunate choices. But specifically writing queer character is easy. Not that writing straight characters is hard. After all, I have a lot more literary and real-life models for them! One thing that makes writing historic queer characters easier is that I’ve done a lot of research on historic understandings of sexuality. So I have a lot of models from history to work from as well. One of the most common missteps in writing queer historical fiction is transplanting modern people into historic settings. I always try to start from the history.
5. What are some of your favourite books with queer characters?
I’ll always have a soft spot for Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword, which was the book that both told me “you can write about this sort of character” and also left me heartbroken because Katherine loved Artemisia but they didn’t end up together. That was my moment of “Damn it, I’m going to have to do this myself!” Most recently, T. Kingfisher’s The Raven and the Reindeer was the book I would have given the moon and stars to have found when I was a teenager. My other favorite from the last year is a novelette “The Ghost Dragon’s Daughter” by Beth Bernobich, and some of the minor characters in her River of Souls series make me long for more books that feature them. The most unusual book I’m going to list here is a novel published in 1744, The Travels and Adventures of Mademoiselle de Richelieu. It’s an ungodly mess of a book, mixing together philosophy and lectures and travelogue. But the core of the book is the tale of two women who go romping across Europe together, both disguised as men, and who regularly declare their love and devotion to each other, and end up deciding to foreswear men and marriage and spend the rest of their lives as a devoted couple. There’s never any overt suggestion of sexual activity, but in every other way, it’s a lesbian romantic adventure. It just warms my heart to know that such a thing could be imagined and written in the mid 18th century.
6. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?
When I settle down to one, I’ll let you know! Seriously, it’s been different for every book so far. For Daughter of Mystery, I was a total pantser–had no idea at all where the book was going as I wrote it. I wrote that one mostly longhand at first, transcribing as I went along, and it took years to finish a first draft. For The Mystic Marriage, I had a much more solid notion of the basic plot to begin with. I wrote from an outline, but the outline changed drastically toward the end. For that one, I composed on the laptop.
Mother of Souls was even more tightly outlined. As I go along, the constraints of the existing background and the need to plant foreshadowing for the rest of the series means I have to be a lot more structured. I did a lot of composing by dictation for this one, making use of my commute drive to lay out the basics of scenes. Then I’d flesh them out more fully as I transcribed them. Mother of Souls was also the first book where I promised a delivery date before I had a first draft anywhere near completion. So my writing was a lot more schedule-driven. In the end, I took a week’s vacation to write a chapter a day to finish the first draft.
My writing has to fit around my rather demanding day-job and my commute. My basic princple is that when I have a project going, I write something evey day no matter what. But another basic principle is that I have to avoid imagining the story in too much detail in advance of writing it down. Otherwise the life starts bleeding out of it. So I could never be an extreme plotter. That would kill the story for me.
7. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why/why not?
Oh, it’s definitely a thing. I mean, obviously, if people experience it, then my belief is irrelevant. When I have trouble writing, it generally isn’t a problem with having the ideas flow, but simply with being mentally exhausted. My day-job involves a lot of writing and problem-solving–in many ways, it’s very similar to writing novels. So when work is being very intense, sometimes it bleeds away all the fiction-writing energy.
8. What has been the biggest challenge of your writing career so far?
I’d have to say that the biggest challenge is connecting with my readership. Mainstream fantasy readers don’t tend to look to the lesbian publishers for SFF books. There’s often a different flavor of genre than what they’re looking for. Conversely, readers who focus on lesbian fiction aren’t really used to the “mainstram fantasy” style of story I’m telling. They tend to be looking for something more much romance-focused and not quite so convoluted in plot.
So here I am, writing mainstream-style fantasy for a lesbian publisher who isn’t quite sure how to market my books. It’s being something of a long, slow slog to build a readership and communicate what my “brand” is to the people who are looking for exactly what I’m writing. But I can see it happening now, after two and a half years. In the year after my first book came out, I was horribly depressed, thinking I’d never make that connection. But one great thing about independent presses is that you get a bit more support for the long haul. There’s less of a sense that if you don’t make an immediate hit, you get written off.
9. If you could give an aspiring writer only one piece of advice what would it be?
If someone’s an aspiring writer, the only useful piece of advice is: write. That’s the only thing that turns aspiration into reality. And the second most important piece of advice is: read. Read widely. Read all sorts of books. Think about what those books are doing and how they’re doing it. Read non-fiction. Read about people living lives very different from your own. Get inside other people’s heads. Stretch your understanding of the world. But, write.
10. What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?
I’ve already mentioned Mother of Souls, which is currently with my editor. I tend to have a lot of projects sitting around in various stages–short stories, research project, ideas for novels that I need to think about more before I plunge in. The thing I’m trying to focus on at the moment will be my first book-length self-publishing project: a collection of the short stories I had published in the Sword and Sorceress anthologies, completed by a concluding novelette. The working title is Skinsinger: Tales of the Kaltaoven. I’m revising the original stories and starting to make connections for cover art and editing and whatnot. And then it’ll be time to start on the next Alpennia book, which will be a bit of a change of gears. It’s titled Floodtide and will be a YA story, focusing on a teenage working-class character whose life intersects with the protagonists of the series, but who has entirely different concerns and priorities.
Heather Rose Jones is writing a historic fantasy series with swordswomen and magic set in the alternate-Regency-era country of Alpennia. She blogs about research into lesbian-like motifs in history and literature at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project and writes both historical and fantasy fiction based on that research. She has a PhD in linguistics, studying metaphor theory and the semantics of Medieval Welsh prepositions, and works as an industrial failure investigator in biotech.
You can also find Heather on social media:
Did you enjoy this interview? Have questions or comments for Heather? Please leave them in the comments section below!
Many of the most fascinating characters in fantasy are immortal–the vampires Lestat and Armand immediately pop into my mind–but so are many of the most shallow characters, especially villains(I’m looking at you Sauron). I myself struggled for years to find the true voice of Riana, the cursed demigod who is the main character of Moonshadow’s Guardian, the fantasy novel I’m currently preparing to self publish.
There are countless examples of immortal characters who have all the feelings of a cardboard cutout or who mindlessly serve a single purpose even when it’s doomed but it is possible to write an immortal character your readers will like, even love. You just have to be prepared to put in some extra work. This article will explain how to develop immortal characters who have lived several hundred(or thousand) years.
The Challenges of Writing Immortal Characters
Writing a truly believable character is difficult even when your character isn’t immortal but immortality brings its own set of challenges:
1. A longer history means more world development
If your character has been alive for one hundred years you need to know what life was like in their world one hundred years ago–and something about how they lived during all the years in between. If your character has lived a thousand years or even ten thousand years the same thing holds true.
This means you need to do either extensive historical research(if your novel is based on a historical period and especially if it’s in a real place) or extensive worldbuilding(if you’re creating your own world). You probably won’t add a huge portion of it to the backstory even if the immortal character is your main character but you need to know it. What your character knows and remembers will have a huge impact on their personality. The more time you spend getting to know them, the more you will understand them and how they would think/speak.
2. It’s way more tempting to make them Mary Sues/Gary Stus
Most immortal characters also have some kind of special powers, usually related to the reason why they’re immortal. It’s always tempting to overdo these powers, to have the characters quickly win every battle, but that ruins the tension of the book.
Another thing you might be tempted to do is create an immortal character who has lived for eons and spent literally their entire life devoted to one thing. Unless your character is forced to do this one thing or was created specifically for that purpose(and designed to enjoy it) they will eventually want to do something new. Your immortal characters should have spent at least some time doing other things. Or had doubts about the one purpose they’ve always served.
It is true that we form most of our personality and long term beliefs in our first 10-20 years of life but almost every person goes through periods of doubt and upheaval. If your character has been alive for two or more human lifetimes they’re likely to have experienced at least twice as many periods of upheaval. Immortal characters who are supposed to be similar to humans in almost every other way but who never even doubted their purpose are kind of hard to believe.
3. It’s also really tempting to just fill their past with torture
Our goal as authors is to make our readers feel with the characters and frankly the easiest way to do this is to give them some past suffering to think about. And writing an extensive backstory is hard, which makes it really tempting to kill off all the people your character cares about quickly and have them spend the rest of their lives as sad hermits until your story starts.
This does work once in a while but as a general rule of thumb all of your characters should have periods of happiness they can remember–and an immortal character should probably remember at least a few more happy moments than your average mortal.
A good character feels the full spectrum of emotions(unless the story is about them not feeling the full range of emotions) and always has.
How to thoroughly develop your immortal characters
Properly developing an immortal character is very similar to developing a regular character but it will take you longer. I like to start by building an overall timeline noting only the ten or fifteen most important events in the character’s lifetime. Often the events will slide into place as soon as I’ve written the first one down but sometimes I have to ask the characters questions, usually things like “what was your worst memory”.
Once I’ve figured out these fifteen defining events and where they sit on the character’s timeline I can dive deeper. I write scenes about most of these events, always working in the first person POV(point of view) of the character I’m trying to develop. Sometimes I’ll write two scenes about a specific event, one from the POV of another character, to see how it affected different people or how other people see the immortal character.
As you research the history of the setting you’ve chosen or develop the history of your own created world you should also tie these into your character’s life. By this I don’t mean have them directly involved–your immortal character shouldn’t be involved in every single historical event during their lifetime–but they should have an opinion on at least the biggest events both local and worldwide. Even antisocial people who never go out except to shop hear the occasional rumour and develop an opinion on it.
Your character’s age will probably also impact the way they use language. Immortal characters will obviously have to keep up with changes in language to be able to communicate with people around them on a daily basis but they might adjust slowly, always speaking like an old fashioned person. Or they might adopt new slang immediately to avoid attention, especially if they’re the type of immortal who doesn’t age. Developing some slang for them to use–whether it’s old fashioned or extremely new to your world–will give your character more depth. Of course, you can overdo this pretty easily, so be conservative about where you sprinkle that slang.
The best thing you can do to properly develop an immortal character is take your time. You should develop more details about your character and your world before, during and after every draft of every story they’re in. Be willing to spend countless hours wandering through your world with your characters–both the immortal ones and the regular mortals.
If you’re still not sure where to start(or you’ve worked through the aspects of character discussed here) you should do the 16 quick character exercises I posted last week.