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 email@example.com!
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!