Today I’d like to introduce author Meredith Katz. Her Pandemonium series of fantasy novellas is filled with a cast of remarkably varied queer characters. She’s shared some of the process behind her most recent novella, Hair to the Throne, along with her views on representation in publishing–and how we can all work to improve it.
I hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with her!
The city of Flecton is ruled with an iron fist by Demon Prince Vehr, whose human citizens suffer under demonic enslavement and live in fear of her ever-watchful presence. The prince herself is never seen, living in her underground palace and sending demons to kidnap skilled humans to serve her.
Ten years earlier, Merle’s best friend and closest confidante Abeille, a promising silversmith, was taken to Vehr’s palace. Now, Vehr seeks a hairdresser, and Merle has exactly the skills she needs. Surviving the hairy situation will take more than wits—it’ll take good people to rely on, old friends and new.
Can you tell us a bit about your book, Hair to the Throne?
Well, The Cobbler’s Soleless Son, the first book in the series, mentions three types of cities that the protagonist knows of: cities where demons and humans live in some degree of harmony (which Cobbler is set in), cities where humans have more or less managed to keep demons out entirely (which Behind Bars is set in), and cities where demons rule viciously over humans. Hair to the Throne is set in the last and, needless to say, it’s not a great place to be.
Merle, the protagonist, has been scraping by on the surface of the city as a hairdresser; she works with several other girls who are also estheticians of various types, and their manager takes most of their pay in exchange for providing them some measure of protection. She’s a feisty, reckless person, so she’d probably have tried to escape the city at some point, except that basically she doesn’t give up on seeing Abeille again for a full ten years, and at that point, the Prince calls for another servant: the city’s prettiest hairdresser. This only makes it harder to escape, but it reunites her with Abeille, both of them now adult women.
Although Merle is overjoyed to be reunited, Abeille is less so—it’s dangerous down there, and it puts Merle directly in the path of Prince Vehr’s sadistic games. Abeille is terrified that if anyone knows she and Merle were close, they’d use that against them for fun, but on the other hand, she doesn’t want to leave Merle with nobody watching out for her. It’s in this situation that they have to learn who they’ve both become over the years, and try to change things, or escape, or at least survive.
Fortunately (?), a friendly demon at court has a vested interest in helping them out with all three options.
What part of the story came to you first?
There’s a scene where Abeille shows Merle an underground garden that a mysterious benefactor has been maintaining. It was this image—two young women, alone at last and able to start relaxing a little, exploring an impossible garden deep, deep in the earth, in the bottom (top?) floors of an inverted castle, that most of the rest of the story was built around.
Vehr is a character who is based entirely on “watching” rather than acting, so the passive versus active aesthetics in the story end up really important. Most of the time I come up with plot and characters simultaneously, then start to fill in the setting around them, but it was the inverse for Hair.
Hair to the Throne is the third book in a series. Were there any challenges you faced that were specific to this series?
Pandemonium is the first series I’ve ever written, and I wrote Cobbler originally as a stand-alone novella. It wasn’t until at least halfway through the editing process that I tripped over the line mentioning the other cities and thought, “I really want to explore those too!” As a result, probably the later books all seem more serious than Cobbler does, which on one level is fine (that’s who Renart, Cobbler‘s protagonist, is as a person!) but also probably provides a little bit of whiplash for readers.
It’s funny you ask about challenges—because I actually did set a few “challenge” rules for myself for the first three books. Since I wanted all three to explore the different ‘types’ of cities, I wanted a couple of anchor point parallels to tie the three books together even though the stories are totally different. So all three have working-class protagonists whose struggle is tied into the nature of the city they’re from, and all (in some capacity) end up working with a specific type of demon (an incubus or succubus, which I call cubants in this). A different type of challenge than you meant, maybe, and one that I’ll likely drop for later books that aren’t about the cities so much, but definitely still one that was on my mind!
What was your favourite part of writing Hair to the Throne?
Merle is reckless and instinctive as a character and has no guile whatsoever, which is a nice break after my previous two protagonists, both of whom are very clever (and self-aware about their own personalities), albeit in different ways. It was nice to have a character who just follows her heart and is focused on the here and now and it led to a lot of funnier moments to help break up the tension. Her character voice was just fun!
What was your biggest challenge in getting Hair to the Throne published?
I’m not sure this question entirely applies—Less Than Three Press has been wonderfully supportive of the Pandemonium series and it’s been a painless process.
How would you like to see representation change in the next five years?
More of it overall. More support for small presses that focus on it and more publicity to their attempts. I’d love to see the major publications and awards deliberately focus their attention toward the small presses out there that push for representation of all kinds, and be more open to reviewing and promoting self-published works as well.
And more mainstream work as well. Less “hiding” representation in blurbs for mainstream works too—nothing drives me crazier than walking into a bookstore wanting to stumble over a new read and being expected to have psychic powers to be able to determine what might actually offer some representation. Sure, I can use the internet—but why wouldn’t I just order it online then, instead of browsing in person? I had a big realization a few years back that, finally, the industry had changed so I really could read just queer fiction if I wanted to and never run out of reading material.
I also think that ownvoices will likely (and should likely) become more integral to the experience as the internet becomes more and more integrated in our purchasing and reading decisions (as it has done and will only continue to do as phones get ever smarter and sites like amazon more predictive). Writing representation of all kinds is super important to me, but there’s of course a big difference between me writing things that aren’t ownvoices and things that are—namely that I can’t speak with a voice inside the community, and for anything that’s not ownvoices I want to keep in mind that I can present these characters with respect and love, but not necessarily write stories specifically about their experience of being (x). But I’m too familiar with reading works where it never even seemed to occur to the author that someone like me could exist in their world to want to do that to others. In Hair specifically, Merle and Abeille are poc, Abeille is trans, Sestin is genderfluid—these are all things I want to be included in my world. Merle and Abeille are also lesbians; that’s the only point this one ends up ownvoices!
So on the one hand representation like that is good, obviously, but I feel like however ownvoices gets integrated into the experience more as time goes on, it can only help to promote those writing from their own experience, since, as I said, that’s a different sort of element than those who are writing to represent and include in their worlds. And—well, heck, like I said, I had the realization I could choose to only read queer books. Ownvoices integration will also give people the opportunity, if they need or want it, to only read experiences closer to their own, or coming from a place where they can trust the stories that little bit more.
What are you working on next?
If I had a dime for every work in progress I have on my hard drive, I could afford bus fare. But the story that should come out next (no release date yet) is a m/m/m poly novel. It’s called Empty Vessels, and it’s about a young man with anxiety who is haunted by the ghost of the man who died saving his life in the same accident that awoke his psychic powers. He’s seen monsters ever since that day, and refused to get involved—until he learns that the monsters are being hunted by something even darker, and realizes he might be able to help.
Meredith Katz lives in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, Canada with her lovely wife-to-be and their sensitive poet cat. She is the author of several novels and novellas, including the Rainbow Awards “Best Debut Lesbian Book” award winner 2016, Beauty and Cruelty. She loves tea, monsters, and sweet things that go bump in the night.
Her works can be found on Less Than Three Press and are available to be purchased from most major online retailers.