Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about inclusion — I choose the term “inclusion” because I think it’s more honest than “diversity”. Specifically I’ve been thinking about the duty I have as a writer to be inclusive in my work.
One thing I’ve come to believe very passionately is that while including diverse characters and relationships in my books is great, the best thing I can do is support diverse authors, most of whom are already writing diverse books. These authors have often been snubbed by traditional publishing and turned to self publishing or small presses, which makes it even more important to support their work. So this year my interviews are going to focus almost exclusively on #ownvoices authors, starting with today’s guest, Lynn E. O’Connaught, and her asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid, Sea Foam and Silence.
Let’s start with the blurb for Sea Foam and Silence:
She warned of the pain. She did.
But no warning can prepare you.
How could I have known
What it is like on the dry sand?
We just watched.
It’s hard, not being able to ask
Questions, though I have learned some speech
With my hands. ˆ_ˆ
I miss my sisters.
I have made friends here.
I have laughed with them,
Learned with them, played with them.
I love them.
She said I would die if he loves someone else.
Will I die? At the beginning I wanted to. It hurts
So much. Life isn’t easy, will never be easy, but…
I don’t want to become sea foam.
- Can you tell us a bit about your book, Sea Foam and Silence?
I’d be delighted to! Sea Foam and Silence is a verse novel asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid. It’s told through the eyes of Maris, our little adventurous mermaid, and is divided into three different parts. The first part focuses on Maris as she tries to understand humans and gradually her curiosity means she feels less and less at home with her sisters in the sea. As in the original story, she loses the ability to speak after becoming human, though I’d imagined it was more down to the fact that, being a mermaid, she’s just never learned to produce human sounds. Instead, she learns sign language that lets her communicate with the world around her. The sea witch turns her human, on the condition that she has a year to find love or she’ll become sea foam. Most everyone around Maris has very specific ideas of what love is, but she just doesn’t understand it at all.
The second part introduces us to Bernhard, the prince. Bernhard is a sex-repulsed asexual and, being the crown prince, is rather beset upon by his family because he’s pressured to marry and produce an heir, neither of which he’s in any way keen on. He just wants to draw and be left in peace, bless him. Though it’s not named as such because neither Bernhard nor Maris are aware of the terms, he and Maris are in a queer-platonic relationship. Bernhard is quite sweet. He’s just not what his family wanted him to be and he’s not sure how to go about giving them what they want while being true to himself.
As for the foreign princess whom the prince eventually marries in the original… Well, she has her own thoughts about marriage as well, but I’ll keep some mysteries about the story intact!
- What inspired you to write an asexual retelling of The Little Mermaid?
I wish I could recall the exact details and share a lovely anecdote with you, but I think it just popped into my head as I was thinking about doing short verse retellings. Both in Andersen’s original story and Disney’s adaptation, the eponymous mermaid is a lot more concerned with studying humanity than finding a relationship. So… Why do all the retellings of the tale focus on her ending up in a (presumed sexual) relationship as the way she can stay human? Love takes many forms, so why wouldn’t her love for human life and land be real enough for the enchantment to become permanent as well?
That’s what I wanted to explore with the retelling: the ways in which we take it for granted that when someone says ‘love’, we’re talking about a very specific kind of love. Other forms aren’t less real or less valid, though, and I wanted to write an asexual retelling to explore how that might look. I didn’t expect Bernhard to be asexual as well, though!
- How long did it take you to get from first draft to published book?
Oh, goodness, I can’t even recall. I think it depends on how you look at it. Sea Foam and Silence didn’t go through too many revisions after I’d finished it, so in that sense… It took a couple of months, I think? I also serialized it, though, so it took about a year or so to get it published as a book, just because I was still running the serial online.
So… The short answer is: I don’t know because it’s complicated! (Also I’m terrible at anything that involves numbers in any way.) I’d personally stick to an estimate of about a year, though, just because I know that getting the formatting for the book just right took me ages.
- What was your favourite part of the writing process for Sea Foam and Silence?
Can I cheat and say ‘all of it’? I had a wonderful time working on Sea Foam and Silence. It was the first time I set out to write a story that included characters who were deliberately written to be on the asexual spectrum, so that holds a special place in my heart.
When I was younger, I wrote equal amounts poetry and prose, but I gradually settled into being predominantly a prose writer. Sea Foam and Silence was the longest I’d spent on writing poetry in some time. It was really lovely to go back to writing poetry and enjoying the challenges that come with it.
- As an #ownvoices author, how would you like to see representation change in the next five years?
Great question! Obviously, I would like to see more representation and specifically more #ownvoices representation in general. But I think what I’d really like to see is for mainstream outlets to show more of an interest in #ownvoices indie authors because right now we’re getting largely ignored in favour of traditionally published mainstream books, which makes it a lot harder for us to find reach.
I think most of the indie authors I know who write and publish #ownvoices do so because traditional publishing just isn’t welcome to them, and that’s a sentiment that you see across all kinds of #ownvoices. For a non-indie example: Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s HEX was originally set in the Netherlands. He rewrote the book to be set in the US to appeal to the US market. Joyce Chng is a fellow indie writer from Singapore and she often discusses the issue of traditional publishing rejecting her work because it’s ‘too Asian’. I think RoAnna Sylver and Claudie Arseneault were both asked to tone down their asexual representation by their publisher? I may be misremembering, but they’ve both definitely talked about making the asexual representation in their books much clearer in a second edition after regaining their publishing rights.
So… While I’d love to see publishers be more aware of and sensitive to #ownvoices content in the works they publish as well as seeing them publish more #ownvoices content in general, I’d actually just like more discussions about our works in general and for respected and larger media outlets to take our work more seriously and boost our work in addition to traditionally published books. That would greatly help a lot of awesome indie authors find an audience. We’re good at working together to spread the word of each other’s works, but our reach is only big when it’s pooled. A single Kirkus feature or review could make a massive difference to indie authors. I’d love to see respected outlets approach #ownvoices authors to help boost our work more than they do now. Right now, all I can think of that does such is Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO initiative. John Scalzi offers indie authors a chance to mention their books in comments around Christmas holiday shopping time, but it’s easy to get lost in the crowd of comments.
I’d also like to see things like Ko-Fi and Patreon become more familiar and acceptable. For a lot of #ownvoices authors, those are a great way to earn much-needed income, but there are people who look down on people who use them.
Basically, I just want to see #ownvoices representation to be more visible and present everywhere. I want to see my field diverse and vibrant, telling all kinds of stories in all kinds of ways. I want there to be so much #ownvoices representation that we can all find something to relate to. Not every #ownvoices book will resonate with a person it’s representing (just look at some of the comments on Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway!) and may, in fact, do harm to another person when its very purpose was to lift that person up. Having more books offering representation allows us to find representation that does work for us and that feels like it was written for us.
- Who is your favourite #ownvoices author right now?
Ooooh, I hate questions that only allow me to pick one person, and I’d like to point out that we don’t always write #ownvoices books. Still, I’d like to talk about Shira Glassman and her Mangoverse series. (She’s written other shorter works as well, but Mangoverse is the biggest setting she has.) All the books can be read on their own, though I’d recommend reading them in order so you’ve got all the background building up nicely, and though all of them are fantasy, they each mix it up with a different subgenre. It’s really delightful to see!
On the whole, though, the Mangoverse books are about a geeky Jewish lesbian queen who has food intolerances and her found family. The book feature a range of diverse characters too, that I’ll leave it for you all to explore in more detail. Overall, I think the description most used to describe her work is ‘queer Jewish fluffy comfort reading’, which is entirely accurate, but really does the range a disservice. I just… really want to highlight Shira’s work because it makes the world a much brighter place for me and I want to share that light with everyone else.
Shulamit is absolutely determined to do the best she can to care for her people and her friends. She’s brave, loyal and incredibly smart, albeit more book-smart than practical-smart or street-smart. Those fall to Aviva, Shulamit’s partner, and Rivka, her best friend, respectively. Those three already make up a team of awesome, but combined with Isaac’s might as a wizard and his ability to be sneaky and ruthless in a way that Shulamit isn’t, they’re an unstoppable team of awesome. (Just… do not mess with people Rikva or Isaac care about. It will not end well for you. At all. I heart them.) I just really love how happy this series makes me and others.
- What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?
Right now, I sadly feel like my work is progressing at a glacial pace because I’ve recently accepted a job offer in another country and I’m focusing on moving, getting settled, etc.
That said, I’m still chipping away at the first book in a trilogy about the adventures of a demisexual princess and that’s the project I’m most focused on at the moment. I’m really excited about it. I love the voices of the characters and I’m having a blast working on it. I’m just… really slow. And I’d love to be able to publish all three books at once. Ideally with a fourth companion to go with it. It is, after all, a romance, so I’d love to explore the romances starring who are currently side characters as well.
Realistically, once summer arrives, I expect I’ll switch gears entirely to something a lot shorter and quicker. Possibly another verse novel fairytale retelling to accompany Sea Foam and Silence because they’re relatively quick to write first drafts of, compared to a novel.
But for now I’m staying focused on the trilogy! I feel a little bad because I keep talking about it and I’m such a slow writer, but I’m just so happy and excited about it!
Most recently spotted in the wilds of continental Europe, Lynn E. O’Connacht lives on a steady diet of fiction. Her favourite treats are fantasy and soft science fiction. The lynnetbird is more commonly known as the lion-bird as cats have built up a positive symbiotic relationship with her. Sightings of Lynn E. O’Connacht are rare as she is a shy creature, most likely to be seen in the early mornings.