Author Interview: Sabrine Elouali

One of the bravest things someone can do as a writer is expose their trauma’s to the world with full honesty and earnestness. When part of that trauma is fighting your own inner demons to begin with, this challenge is especially daunting.

Sabrine Elouali’s poetry collection, Where Darkness Meets Light, seeks to expose the struggle of mental illness from the perspective of someone who’s been there. I can’t help but wonder at her bravery and dedication to be fighting a battle on several fronts and come out of it all the stronger for it. It’s a testament to the project, to her devotion, and to the importance of her cause.

I was glad she took the time to answer some of my questions, and I hope you’ll take the chance to read my review on the poetry collection as well.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi there, my name is Sabrine, I’m 24 years old, live in London, U.K. and I struggle with anorexia and OCD.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

My favourite novel would have to be “Broken” by Karin Slaughter. It was written very detailed and open, the descriptions were quite vivid and I always try to get that same level of imagery In my poems.

Tell us about your novel/series.

My book is a poetry collection which sort of follows my journey from when I was young and at school till the present day. Detailing the trials and tribulations of my life as I struggled through many difficult traumas and events aswell as my own mental health issues.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book(s)?

I hope people takeaway that they are not alone and that it’s okay to struggle and have a hard time, but also that there is hope.

What is different about your novel?

My book is different because it’s real. There’s no smoke and mirrors, just pure truth and transparency into what it’s like to deal with mental illness.

What are your plans for future novels?

I currently have a second book in the works which will be a lot darker than my current release. I plan to be even more open to the harsh realities that come with mental illness and not put any boundaries to my truth.

What inspires you to write?

I get inspired by vulnerability and honesty. I always want to be as open and truthful as I can about my story, and it always inspires me when others share theirs.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I really enjoy the process of publishing, the upcoming excitement, the anticipation, the reading over of your work, it’s all quite fun and gives me a sense of joy. I struggle with the marketing aspect of publishing, being an indie writer isn’t easy and you have to manage all of the selling yourself which can be quite tiring.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

The greatest struggle writing would be having motivation and ideas. Sometimes I just go blank and become very frustrated with myself. I’d like to inspire others to overcome this problem by not being too hard on themselves, being patient with themselves and just simply trying their best. There is never any rush.

How can we purchase your book?

You can find my book on Amazon under “Where Darkness Meets Light” or on the Kindle store.

Author Interview: Whitney Hill

Elves. Weres. Vampires. Djinns. And a single, private-investigator, air-magic-based elemental—a sylph—who is in over her head. The Othersiders are anything but boring.

The world Whitney Hill has built in her Otherside series is a sandbox I’ve loved playing in but I’m thankful I can stand up and walk out of. The series is raw, nuanced, steeped in mythology and mystery. All in the middle of mundane North Carolina, proving you don’t need the glamour of LA or New York to create a powerful book. I was overjoyed to have a chance to ‘talk’ with her about the novel.

You can also read my review of Elemental here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a biracial/Black woman who’s been lucky enough to live in four countries and experience so many cultures from around the world. I love hiking and trail running in North Carolina’s state parks – they actually served as a big part of the inspiration for my first series! I’m also a huge mythology buff, particularly with ancient Egypt, and an astrologer. All of that colors my storytelling and the perspectives woven into my stories. Finally, I’m proud to serve as a board director for WriteHive, a non-profit providing free, inclusive events, programs, and resources for writers of all backgrounds.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

I love Kim Harrison’s Hollows series. The growth arcs for all of the characters were well done and I liked seeing how even the “bad” characters had relatable reasons, and the “good” characters had their flaws. It definitely inspired me to write; I wanted to explore a contemporary fantasy world but one where the story came from a perspective, background, and experience that was more like my own.

Tell us about your novel/series.

I write the Shadows of Otherside contemporary fantasy series, which starts with the award-winning and best-selling book Elemental. It follows a supernatural private investigator as she is first pulled into a deadly conspiracy and then has to fight to claim her magic and the power that comes with it in a parallel society in North Carolina.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book(s)?

That we don’t have to live in the boxes that other people put us in for their benefit, and while it might be a long journey with some screw-ups along the way, we can grow and find our voices and our people in spite of everything and everyone trying to keep us small.

What is different about your novel?

I weave in some real-life issues and explore how those impact supernatural beings who also present as humans from marginalized backgrounds. For example, what are some of the things a Black man has to think about when he’s not just marginalized in human society, but is also secretly a wereleopard? What does it mean to be mixed race and have to find your place with both sides of your heritage, especially when you have magic that nobody else does? It’s very much a fantasy story that readers have described as an escape, but it doesn’t shy away from what I’ve experienced as reality in my day-to-day life.

What are your plans for future novels?

I’ll be finishing up the five-book Shadows of Otherside series this year, and then kicking off a new project which I’ve already started but haven’t announced yet — stay tuned!

What inspires you to write?

Actively doing something to see more of people like me represented in fiction. I grew up rarely, if ever, seeing characters who looked like me included in books, games, movies, etc. I wanted to change that and also to inspire the next generation of creatives by showing them it’s possible, even if you have to take an unconventional path to get your work out.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I enjoy everything about the creativity of it. Just the fact that something started as an intangible thought in my head, and a few months later, I’m holding a printed book. It’s incredible. I struggle with the fact that many people seem to have some preconceptions about indie books or authors, and need a lot more convincing to try something not published by the big 5 (or need help finding it!). Unfortunately that takes a lot of money for marketing, but luckily, my background was in marketing so that helps.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Convincing myself that my stories are worth telling, and trusting that there are readers out there who want to read them. Putting yourself and the worlds you create out for everyone to see can be scary, but all you can really do to overcome it is work on your craft, participate in communities, and have faith in your voice. Hard work, community, and faith.

How can we purchase your book?

My books are all available as ebooks or paperbacks from any bookseller, including indies.

Contributors Interview: Just A Little Wicked

Put away your broomsticks and get out your cauldrons; it’s time to settle in for some frightfully delicious reads.”

A project like Just a Little Wicked is a massive undertaking; but with such stars as New York Times and USA Today spotlighted authors and at nearly 800 pages in length, the project is well-worth the price Lily Luchesi and others paid. (Of course, as a reader I can say that!)

I was honored that so many of the authors took some precious time out of their day to answer some of my questions.

(You can read my review of Just a Little Wicked here.)

LILY LUCHESI (Editor)

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi, I’m Lily Luchesi, USA Today bestselling author of horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal fiction.
I’m an editor by day, writer by night, who loves all things that go bump in the night. I have penned the bestselling Paranormal Detectives and Coven Series, as well as the horror novel Never Again.
When not writing, I can be found cooking, reading, watching crime TV, or going to concerts (COVID permitting).

What was the inspiration for your story?
I was inspired to write Morgana’s Revenge when penning the novel The Coven Princess.
The novella is my universe’s take on Arthurian legend, putting Morgan Le Fay, Merlin, and Guinevere in the magical Coven, at war against Arthur, who wants to banish all magicians thanks to a secret his father, Uther, kept until his death.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your story?
The #1 thing is that being different is not necessarily bad. Morgan and Merlin are outcasts, with Morgan’s sudden inclusion with their peers reason for suspicion. The Coven is hunted for being different from the Pendragons’ preconceived notions falsely contrived from the newly translated Bible.
Growing up different myself, both in appearance and personality, my characters are usually on the strange side. I write for teens like me, who need an escape from reality and find kids like themselves within the pages, especially now LGBT+ kids (and adults).
Morgan is bi, Guinevere is poly, Arthur is aromantic, and the Coven Queen is a lesbian.

What is different about your work?
I don’t want to say different. I prefer unique. I take common tropes — such as the Chosen One, enemies to lovers, prophecies, etc. — and put my own spin on them.
Perhaps the uniqueness comes more from writing for the masses while utilizing marginalized characters as my MCs. The ones we were taught SO HARD to hate are my MCs: the creepy Goths, the heathens, the LGBTQIA+ people. I don’t like to be normal or predictable in real life, why should my books be?

What inspires you to write?
I got nothin’. Seriously. Inspiration, for me, can strike from anywhere. I can be taking a walk and have to stop and email myself a story idea, or I will be watching TV and wonder how a detective would feel if faced with a vampire (literally, that was what inspired The Paranormal Detectives Series).
As to why I write, I have always loved making up stories. For most of my childhood, if I wasn’t playing sports, I was living in my head with imaginary friends.
Creating worlds was how I stayed sane, and it still is.

Where can we find your books?
You can find all my books on Amazon, many in Kindle Unlimited. http://smarturl.it/lilyluchesiamazon

STEPHANIE BARR

I’m a full time rocket scientist and single mother with special needs children who herds cats and writes fantasy and science fiction in her spare time.

What was the inspiration for your story?

My ex-MIL is an ordained pagan priestess and I like to work against disinformation about witchcraft and witches so I wanted to highlight those differences, between what people thought and what they do.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your story?

Appearances are deceiving and karma is always there.

What is different about your work?

Everything you throw me out comes out differently than people expect. My brain works in weird ways.

What inspires you to write?

Characters. I think up a good character and then they need a story.

Where can we find your books?

http://stephanieebarr.us

NOVA BLAKE

Hi, I’m Nova, a New Zealand author who loves to write magical, spooky, sexy, fun stories. I homeschool my three kids, love to read, and cannot live without coffee.

What was the inspiration for your story?

We recently got a new kitten, and she is so damn cute. She’s technically my youngest’s, but… Let’s just say she is also now my writing familiar. She loves to sleep on my desk, has no idea what a personal bubble is, and gets into everything. The little black cat in my story is definitely inspired by her!

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your story?

I’m just hoping that readers enjoy the story, have a few laughs, and fall in love with Tori and co. Right now the world is a rough place, and my aim with this piece was to entertain.

What is different about your work?

That’s such a tricky question! Maybe that a little bit of creepy tends to find its way into everything I write, even when I’m not trying… I am a bit of a genre slut (and proud of it!) and have a really hard time sticking to just one thing lol.

What inspires you to write?

So many things. I’ve written stories inspired by a loose thread on a piece of clothing, or from a snippet of overhead conversation, or a random thought. Literally anything can inspire me, it just depends on where my head is at.

Where can we find your books?

You can find them all here: https://www.amazon.com/Nova-Blake/e/B07FPV1P5M

S.K. GREGORY

S. K. Gregory writes urban fantasy, paranormal romance and dark fantasy books. She currently resides in Northern Ireland where she works as an editor. You can find out more about her books through her website – www.skgregory.com Tell us a little bit about yourself. I have been writing for most of my life, published for the last nine years. I recently branched out into mystery writing and my favorite characters to write about are witches.

What was the inspiration for your story?

I love writing characters who are not all good, and my character for this is downright evil. This story will spin off into a story about her daughter and how that kind of influence can affect someone.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your story?

That karma is a bitch and if you do the wrong thing you get what is coming to you.

What is different about your work?

It is the first time I have written about a character who is completely unredeemable. She does not care about anything other than gaining power for herself.

What inspires you to write?

Ideas pop into my head, sometimes for a character or a story idea and I build up a world around it. This can come from dreams, newspaper headlines, throwaway lines in a show, really anything.

Where can we find your books?

You can find them in all major retailers and through my website – www.skgregory.com

CORINNE M KNIGHT

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I have started writing after reading The D’Artagnan Romances by Alexandre Dumas and fell in love with the story of Louise de La Valliere and the French King Louis XIV. I felt like their tale needed a different ending and proceeded to write my own. It was only after a few years of perfecting my craft, that I became confident enough to start publishing.

What was the inspiration for your story?

I’ve always been fascinated by the supernatural. Witches, demons, vampires. I tend to use historical facts or items to back their stories.

What are some key takeaways that you’re hoping readers get from your story?

This is so hard to answer without giving too much away. Love knows no race or religion. Love is boundless.

What is different about your work?

This is the first time when I wrote these perfectly imperfect characters. It’s not just the heroine or the hero that is broken. They both have their own issues that they’re trying to overcome. They’re both overpowered as supernatural creatures, but it’s all great because they complement each other so well.

What inspires you to write?

Ideas keep coming up in my head, but music helps me the most. I usually listen to certain tracks, depending on what feelings I wanted to convey at the time. I can’t write without listening to something.

Where can we find your books?

You can find me on Amazon at http://amzn.to/38fkzm0

Author Interview: Lila Mina

There’s a very specific skill needed to pull off writing a book like Fated, something that takes a combination of knowledge and life lessons that are hard-won. It takes a lot of first-hand knowledge of language and culture and a lot of painstaking research.

Lila Mina may be one of the few, maybe only person that could have pulled off such a feat. Having spoken with her (and as you’ll be able to read below), I can see the breadcrumbs of her past in her novel, and I love how resourceful and unique the novel is.

I was delighted to speak with her, and reading her novel was a joy. You can read my review of Fated here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am a native French speaker from Europe, and I’ve been living in Japan for more than a decade with my family. Writing has always been my creative outlet, for as long as I can remember. I began writing short stories back in junior high school, then went on with writing tons of fanfiction for fanzines, in French and English, when that was a thing. I moved to longer original stories in my early twenties until my law school killed my creative spark. It took me fifteen years to get back to creative writing. That’s when I realized I loved writing stories with extra levels of steam. 

Today, I’m in my early forties, I run a couple of businesses and write whenever I can find the time. For years, even before moving here, I’ve had a deep emotional connection with Japan, and I find inspiration in what I see and experience in my daily life, as well as what I’ve learned over the years. Through my mother’s side, I grew up with a rich inner world based on Scandinavian fairy tales with strong ties to nature and the Unseen surrounding us. So the instant connection I had with the myths and animistic worldview prevalent in Japan that inspires most of my stories doesn’t surprise me.

You’ve had an exciting background yourself! Do you feel the adventures you’ve experienced and the worldliness you’ve attained as someone who’s lived in many different countries affects how you write your characters beyond their cultures?

Definitely! My world and life are so different from when I lived back in my country of origin. Being a foreigner in a vastly different country, with different worldviews, practices, expectations and social rules taught me so much about myself… and the reality of being foreign resident. I figured out what was the most important for me, and what seriously needed work and improvement, above all when disasters and catastrophe struck. It inspired me to write characters who experience life-changing revelations. That’s why all my books have this common point, because cultural differences create interesting tension, chance for character growth and teachable moments between protagonists. People can stay true to themselves yet grow at so many levels.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

It’s a very difficult question. I’ve had too many favorites over the years now, and it wasn’t any particular book that pushed me into writing. 

But if I had to think back to my formative years and the books that made a lasting impact, I think it’s a mix of classics – from Les Misérables, The Three Musketeers to Dracula and Water Margin by Shi Na’ain. Then later the Anita Blake series by Laurel K. Hamilton (my first steps into polyamory and paranormal universe), but also science fiction, historical novels and thrillers. I read Stephen King and Michael Crichton when I was 12-17 for example. More recently, I’ve binged on the Nordic Noir genre (like Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbø) and Chinese and Japanese authors in SFF and crime, notably The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin, or Out by Natsuo Kirino. Authors writing magical realism like Haruki Murakami, Jose Carlos Somoza, or Selma Lagerlöf always hit close, and their books have been a major source of inspiration when I began writing in earnest. 

Of course, I cannot forget the long-lasting impression left by James Clavell’s Shogun when I was 16 or 17. It was my first introduction to feudal Japan, led me to watch all Kurosawa movies, and when I began writing Fated, I realized that there was a strong connection with that novel I read 25 years ago.

I didn’t read a lot of pure romance books, and I think this shows in the stories I write. Although all of them have a strong romance plot (and/or extra steamy scenes), with a HEA for the love birds, I enjoy creating the kind of world-building that is more often associated with fantasy and SFF, and the darker side of crime and paranormal always thrilled me. 

It makes it harder for me to reach a specific audience, but genre-blending is a favorite pastime of mine. Reading books from so many cultures and styles also led me off the usual path when it comes to trope and story structure. Some readers find it disturbing, others enjoy the novelty. The only thing I will say is that you should read my books with an open mind and not come here for the fetishes.

Tell us about your novel, Fated, and The Temper Saga series.

Fated is an adult LGBTQ fantasy romance set between modern and ancient Japan, with a time-travel/soul transmigration twist (soul transmigration is a big thing in Asian fantasy). The four main protagonists live in Tokyo as a polyamorous family, raising their children together. One of them, Francesco, is a newcomer into the family dynamics. The plot revolves around him finding his place, along with the challenge of seeing another family member, Honda, get lost in time, replaced by the soul of the man he used to be four hundred years before, a powerful Japanese warlord named Date Masamune, who hates our heroine Lana because of a demonic conspiracy. Half of the story is set in modern times, the other half in a distant past. 

Like in the rest of the series, there are strong supernatural/fantasy elements in Fated, beside the obvious soul transmigration aspect. Japanese demons and deities interfere in the lives of my protagonists, some are foes, some are allies. Half of the protagonists are Japanese (Honda and Yuki), half are Italian (Lana and Francesco). Cultural background and communication differences play an important role in the way all of them come to be together and live as a family. 

In Book 1, Deference, the saga starts with how Lana meets first Honda, her martial arts instructor, then Yuki, his wife. The first trilogy (Deference, Dread, Deliverance) explains how they find out that their lives are directly affected by old curses that impact Honda and Lana. Processing trauma, resilience and healing through openness, love of others and self-acceptance are major themes. Francesco comes into the picture in book 4, Vindicta, set in Italy, when we get to dive into Lana’s traumatic past.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your books?

The Temper saga and my books in general are very explicit, extremely sexy – downright kinky at times. I want to show older, mature heroines and heroes exploring their desires together, as this is not enough shown in today’s romance. In fact, there is a major issue in today’s publishing world: once they hit 28, women are ‘unfuckable’. Women’s literature works on a closed-door policy and older bodies should not be shown. Finding your identity, exploring it, changing your life isn’t supposed to happen to women over 28 – the only thing women ‘can’ do is divorce, or remarry. This is of course ridiculous, because life is about constant change and growth, and it sends the wrong message. People can totally figure out their career, their path, their desires and identity (not to mention love) in their 40s and beyond! This is one of the biggest lessons that Japan taught me.

I also hope to make non-queer readers more open-minded about LGBTQ people and families around them. I would like to show that a book with a full LGBTQ cast doesn’t have to be only about them fighting for their identity, but simply living it as such. The core tensions and issues don’t have to be only about that. That’s how we can progressively move to a kind of representation that is truly inclusive.

Finally, I want to show that you can write about dark themes, BDSM and rough sex practices while making sure that explicit and enforced consent is at the core of the relationship. While non-con/dub-con is a sub-genre that has its place on the shelves, we need to see more books where it’s not supposed to be a theme actually show all partners involved having a say and power over what happens. I’m a huge fan of dark vampire stories and love books with huge power imbalance, so I will never judge. However, in more normal stories, whether there is power imbalance or not, but especially when there is, we need to see and hear about consent at all times.

What is different about Fated?

Fated was a bit of a surprise for me. When I was wrapping Vindicta, book 4 in the series, I thought the saga would end with that book. And then, there was a big reveal near the end that almost wrote itself, and I realized I needed to explore that path. It also helped me tie loose ends and offer more insight into my characters, on top of giving more room for Francesco as part of the Honda family and understand this part of Honda’s identity. 

Fated is the only book in the series that has multiple POVs (one per part), as the rest of the series focuses on my main character, Lana. Of course, with its double cast of characters and two timelines, Fated is quite different compared to the rest of the saga. That’s why I consider it to be a quasi standalone book that readers unfamiliar with my series can grab. It does contain some spoilers, but I was happy to see that for newcomers to my world, they were not an issue, rather an incentive to give the entire series a chance. 

Like the rest of the story, it is built on mutual acceptance and support of each protagonist’s identity and desire. They love each other also because each of them accepts that another partner brings something special, necessary and unique to their relationship. At the end of book 4, Honda, Lana and Yuki thought they were a triangle, but in fact, with Francesco, they are a diamond – a shield that protects their children and prepares them for the extraordinary path ahead of them.

What are your plans for future novels?

Fated ends the Temper saga but it’s not the last time that readers see my ‘Fab Four’. I have started a spinoff series, the Dragon saga, where they will be featured, and after so many years writing about them, I do plan to write short stories focusing on them. Book 1 of the Dragon series (How to tame a dragon) should be published later this year. On February 14, I released Platinum Nights, a contemporary romance that is completely unrelated to my Temper universe, but that also features a seasoned couple. It’s my personal take on the good ol’ billionaire trope.

What inspires you to write?

Usually, something I see or read will make me react – positively or negatively, and a plot bunny is born! I can spend months or even years chasing it, or sometimes it’s a done deal in a matter of weeks. It all depends on my current mood and available time.

There’s a belief that writers need to break out at a young age to attain significant momentum in publishing. Do you find that your age has been to your detriment in how others view your work, and/or do you also find that your age adds wisdom to your characters and plotlines?

Well, I cannot speak for writers in their early twenties who want to land a publishing contract. This was never my goal. Having said that, I find it restrictive, limitative and downright discriminatory to set aside a new author simply because they are considered ‘too old’. I guess this tells a lot about how a society sees ‘older’ people (knowing that ‘old’ seems to start at… 29?! lol).

Living in a country that respects the older generations and that praises skills and talents *honed* by years of practice in all kinds of fields, this makes me shake my head. Unless you are exceptionally talented, nothing beats practice, and when it comes to writing, your own life experience can breathe much depth to your characters. It’s quite exceptional (maybe even a fantasy) to have it all figured out at 25, including addressing past trauma, embracing your own identity or understanding your real aspirations.   

Also, this implies that you cannot ‘find your voice’ after you’ve hit a certain age, or that you cannot learn anything new or find your path when you’re over 26. That’s so wrong! All of us can find what motivates us, our creative spark or start from scratch regardless of our age. I started writing seriously at 35, but I also began martial arts at that same age. My teachers don’t care how old we are, it doesn’t matter. Only dedication and practice do. The same goes for writing or any kind of art. 

That’s why I took the self-publishing road. I don’t want to waste time and energy trying to pitch to people who are only motivated by big figures or by social media trends and have a very narrow set of expectations that you should meet. This isn’t real life, this isn’t what real people can and should aspire to, and it blocks so many diverse and minority voices from being heard.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I love sharing my babies with the world, but marketing efforts are a pain. It’s a solo job and I can’t be on all fronts at all times. Maybe one day I’ll be able to hire a PA, but that’s not possible for now. 

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Well, writing in another language than your native tongue is of course a challenge. But for me, the biggest hurdle is to find time for myself. Running two businesses next to writing means that I spend already most of my time in front of a screen, and when finally the day is over, it’s hard to motivate myself or find the energy to continue, even for a couple of hours. So I’ve learned to be kinder with myself and stop stressing over that. There are weeks where I don’t write at all, and then I will have the chance to write dozens of pages in one sitting. 

You talk about coming to writing again after a long break. What advice would you give to those who are considering picking up writing again after losing touch with the practice?

First of all, be gentle with yourself. Start with small. Write what you want, what inspires you, even if you think it’s silly. Share it on free platforms first if you are daunted by the self-publishing process. Find your community, even if it’s small, and join some of the awesome author groups on social media to find people with the same dreams confronted to the same challenges. 

How can we purchase your book?

All my books are available on Amazon stores worldwide. They are also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited!

Author Interview: Louise Willingham

There’s an old belief that as time goes on, pets and their owners begin to look alike. Scruffy faced old men begin to assimilate the look of their husky counterparts, frizzy-haired middle-aged secretaries take on the harried countenance of their mini-poodles. In as much as two different species can resemble each other, pet and owner form a symbiotic physical appearance.

I think authors take that a step further. There are some authors that their novels simply becomes them, as charismatic, solemn, sensitive, quiet, or thrilling as that person is in real life. Reading Not Quite Out, and knowing what I know about Louise Willingham, I can see clearly the earnest soul that penned it. Their light and spirit came to life on the page. It is such a delicate, intricate and sensitive piece of literature that has as much to say as its author.

It’s appropriate that this interview comes on Valentines’ day, as I choose to celebrate the relationships in my life that are complex, nuanced, and invaluable. The ones that go further than chocolates, flowers, and greeting cards, and tiptoe quietly into the life-saving and irreplaceable. Not Quite Out is a story of those kinds of relationships.

I was glad that Louise took the time to answer my questions. You can also read my review of Not Quite Out here.

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a nervous bi who has a lot to say! I live in Staffordshire, England, and spend most of my time walking around my village or chatting about new story ideas with my friends.

Tell us about your novel, Not Quite Out.
Not Quite Out is a slow-burn following a nervous bi while he tries to work out the best way of helping his new friend while trying to be honest to himself. Will is an over-thinker, and that really drives the whole book.

It’s Valentine’s Day, so let’s have a bit of fun with the occasion! If your book had a dating profile, what would it say?
Oh my.

A rainy-day read with a hard-fought happy ending and a bed shortage searches for a reader who isn’t sure how to come out but has so much empathy it gets them into trouble. Must love coffee and/or jacket potatoes.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from Not Quite Out?
The absolute main one is that you can love someone without knowing everything about them. With an unreliable, limited first-person narrator like Will, it’s really fascinating to see the plot lines that happen “off-page”. A lot goes on without Will knowing, and it’s hinted at for the reader to pick up on, but it really drives home this point that everyone is allowed their secrets. It’s okay to not tell everyone everything.

You mention your main theme is that you don’t have to know everything about someone to love them. I find that to be a really refreshing take! Has this theme developed from something personal to you?
Yes! I think it’s so important that we don’t expect 100% clarity from everyone we socialize with—even our very best friends. No one should feel forced to talk about things unless they want to, particularly when it comes to sexuality and trauma. Those are deeply personal things. I think this comes from me realizing I really don’t have to explain every part of myself to the world in order to publish a book, just like I don’t expect other authors to out themselves (or be outed) just so they can write a book where the girl gets the girl. 

What is different about Not Quite Out?
For a start, the topics I cover. Being an indie book means I can talk about things traditional publishing doesn’t usually take a gamble on. We have an explicitly bisexual main character, which I think we all agree we need more of, and the love interest is an absolute mess of a human—but he’s full of good intentions.

Not Quite Out features a bisexual main character. How do you feel about bi representation in books currently?
I rarely read a book specifically for the rep. I think that’s dangerous because every bi experience—or every trans experience, asexual experience, gay experience etc—is different, so if you expect to connect to a character-based only on your shared queerness you’re asking for trouble. That said, I love stories where characters grow in confidence and learn to accept and embrace parts of themselves. When this is bisexuality, I feel a kinship to the character. I’m very happy with the surge in queer literature over the last few years and hope it continues so we get a broader range of queer voices. As I always say, there are as many queer stories as there are queer people. The more books with “rep”, the greater chance a reader will find a story similar to theirs.

Were William and Daniel influenced by anyone you know in real life?
Largely, yes. Much of NQO is based on things I’ve experienced, and I know some good friends will be able to point at specific conversations in the book and go “yep that’s me”. (I talked to them about it before I included it, of course!) A lot of the things Will says are things I find myself wanting to say to people I love, so really that’s the important thing. I’m sort of speaking through Will and even though he’s an annoyance a lot of the time I think that’s because I am, too! He’s definitely not a perfect character but I like to think it’s clear he always has the best intentions.

How would you describe the relationship between Daniel and William at the beginning of the book?
In the beginning, there’s a lot of caution. Will has no idea what he’s getting himself into, and Dan attempts to shield him from it. But, underneath it all, Dan is an extrovert. He needs to have people around him. He realizes that Will is probably the best person in the area for him to start trusting, so he gives it a shot. Will proves again and again that he has time for Dan and any and all of his problems, and that’s where Dan drops his guard and admits it would be quite nice to have a friend. That’s how they go from acquaintances to proper friends.

Are there aspects of the relationship between William and Daniel that mirror a relationship you’ve seen between persons(s) in your own life?
I have a very poor imagination, so most things I write about are directly inspired by things I’ve experienced. For this reason, the whole book is incredibly personal to me. William’s absolute need to look after Dan is something I firmly relate to—sometimes, you notice someone is suffering and feel like you’re the only person in the world who cares. Sometimes that person feels like you are, too. But, as Will learns, you can’t always be the one doing the helping. Will is under constant pressure throughout the book, and Dan notices. Dan does everything in his power to reassure and protect Will and I think that bidirectional flow of trust and support is super important. Any relationship—friendship, professional, romantic—should be built on mutual trust and respect. As one of the characters in the book says, it should also make you happy. These are things I make sure I have in all my relationships and I think they’re critical to staying healthy.

What are your plans for future novels?
I’m always writing and ‘spending time with my characters’, but I don’t currently have plans to publish another book. I have a few WIPs which will maybe one day become something I want to share, but that’s a long way off.

How can we purchase your book?
The best place to buy it is through your local indie! My local indie shop, Queer Lit, have been wonderful and had an early ARC to review before they advertised the book. If you’re in the UK, I’d recommend buying through them. Bookshop is great for the UK and US, but apart from that, the book is listed on all Amazon sites and by retailers such as Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.

Editor Interview: C. VanDyke

Writing is hard.
Writing and publishing a book is harder.
Writing and publishing a book with over twenty other authors?
Hell, no.

And yet, this was exactly what C. VanDyke set out to do with the Tales from the Year Between, first with Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone, and once again with Under New Suns.

I was able to take some time to talk with him about the history of Tales from the Year Between and Skullgate Media, as well as some of the Contributors to Under New Suns here.

You can also read my review of Under New Suns here.

What exactly is The Years Between?

TALES FROM THE YEAR BETWEEN is Skulgate Media’s flagship anthology series that exists at the intersection between Dungeons & Dragons and a story around a campfire. Part family, part cult, and part world’s largest writing prompt, each volume in the series is set in a different, unique world–a world that didn’t exist before the anthology itself. Twice a year it gathers a disparate group of authors from all across the globe to collaborate in shared world-building and creative writing. Contributors participate in a week-long “game” to create a shared canon of people, places, events, and themes. From this chaotic melange of ideas, each participant then creates their own stories, poems, letters, and even recipes, all set in the world they created together.

How would you describe the world in Under New Suns.

Under New Suns is set in the far future of our galaxy — it’s a space opera, so a lot of the classic tropes are there: Space Marines, a United Planetary Alliance, aliens and humans and plasma cannons. But there’s a lot to the world that you don’t find in traditional sci-fi: space-sharks, six-dimensional funk music, and a sentient space-ship that gives birth. The Ship is really “the world” where the book as set; all the stories in Under New Suns follow an eclectic crew who finds themselves trapped inside a living spaceship on the far side of the galaxy.

How did the idea for The Years Between anthologies come about?

I came up with the idea on May 27th, 2020  while quarantined in Brooklyn during the Covid-19 pandemic. I missed playing D&D with my friends, and although I was getting a lot of writing done while being stuck at home with his kids, I wanted to do something social. I’d just been recruited to be a contributor to Renee Gendron’s Beneath The Twin Suns anthology, and I started thinking about what I’d do if I had an anthology. I’d had an idea of running a massive game of this indie-world build building game called The Quiet Year for years, and it seemed like a good time to try it out. I put out a call on Twitter hoping for 10-15 participants, and in under 24 hours had more than 30. 

I spent the next week home-brewing custom rules for The Quiet Year, as the game is designed for 4 people sitting around a table, not 32 people spread from Dubai to Australia. And four months later we had Skullgate Media’s first book–Achten Tan: Land of Dust and Bone.

Who is at the center of the anthology? Is it mostly yourself, or is it a group effort?

I suppose I am nominally “at the center” of it, but only in the way that a Dungeon Master is “at the center” of a game of D&D–as an organizing referee. It truly is a group effort. Besides myself, there are five member-owners in Skullgate Media (Chris Durston, Debbie Iancu-Haddad, Diana Gagliardi, and Colleen Storiez) and they all helped plan and execute Under New Suns at every point of the process. Then there are the 22 other contributors, all of whom brought their own ideas and sensibilities to the project. While there needs to be someone at the center to keep everything organized and moving forward, I really do try my best to make sure that everyone involved has an equal voice in how each book in Tales From the Year Between develops. Just like in our first book, Achten Tan, there was no way I could have predicted how Under New Suns turned out. And that’s what makes it so exciting.

Who decides what authors become involved with the project, and how can authors apply?

The first book I took everyone who wanted to be involved–I just put out a call on Twitter, and my ambitions were very limited. I figured we’d have fun and the final book would simply be a free PDF hosted on my website. I got extremely lucky, as despite zero vetting I ended up with 30 incredible writers.

The process has changed since then. When I started there was no Skullgate Media — it was just me. As Volume 1 wrapped up, however, I knew if I wanted this to be sustainable I’d need partners for future projects. I asked some of the contributors who I felt had really connected to the project–and whom I’d personally connected with–to join me in forming an indie-publishing company. Shortly before we published the first book Skullgate Media became a full-fledged LLC. 

Currently, all five members of Skullgate Media are part of the selecting authors. It’s a different process than other anthologies. With your typical anthology, the publisher puts out a theme or premise, then writers submit final drafts of stories. The publisher then has a relatively straightforward job of choosing the pieces they want in the final book. But with Tales From the Year Between, our contributors don’t even start drafting their stories until they’ve been selected, so we need to be confident their writing is up to our standards. We also need writers who are flexible, comfortable thinking well outside the box, and willing to both take on and give up ownership over what they create. In the old middle-school teacher comment, we need people who “play well with others.” 

So our process is less one of submissions and more of an application to join a temporary club. We ask writers to send in a sample of their writing and answer a few questions about why they want to be involved. Then all of us at Skullgate read through the applications. We make our own personal rankings, then meet on Zoom to share our thoughts. In the end, we come to the decision on who to invite together.

We’re just starting the process of planning for Volume 3. Applications will be open soon, but right now if anyone is interested, they can visit YearBetween.com to find out more and sign up for our newsletter. All we know about the next book is that it will be pirate-themed.

What advice do you have on working with a team on a creative project, now with two anthologies complete?  

First and foremost–have fun! Collaborating can be a blast, and it’s a literary example of the whole being greater than the parts. Also, most of us aren’t making enough money on these projects to make them worth stressing over, so if you aren’t having fun you aren’t doing it right.

Second is to be open to new ideas. Even if you are the founder and creator of a group project, things are going to play out differently than you expect. Embrace and celebrate that.

When heads butt, what techniques do you use to calm the room and find common ground to achieve your creative goals?

Honestly, we’ve been extremely fortunate and that hasn’t happened a lot. The very nature of Tales From the Year Between means it’s flexible and wide-open to nearly every idea the creators can throw at it. I like to say it starts with a game where it’s impossible to break the rules. I’ve also adopted a motto for the series (in Latin, because I’m pretentious) — Factum Est Bonum. It’s all good. There have been a few times when ideas have butted heads or there have been some ideas I didn’t think fit the current project. In that case, I have pulled my “founder, president, and editor-in-chief card,” but I try to avoid that. 

Do you have any advice you’d give a group looking to publish an anthology?

See the advice about projects in general–have fun! Practically speaking, give yourself more time for everything that comes AFTER the writing than you expect. Editing, proofreading, layout, publication. Everything takes time, and with dozens of people involved, it takes even more time. If you want your book to look professional–and you should!–take the time to make it as perfect as you can.

What is the most important thing to consider first when building a new world? Alternately, what should an author who is stuck look at first?

This may be obvious, but I think all the best imaginary worlds are the ones firmly rooted in ours. Whether that’s Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Terra from Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness or Mieville’s New Crobuzon, at the core of their fabulous details and imaginary peoples is a deeply human element, one that speaks to society and struggles. An engaging new world is one that lends itself to conflicts and themes we can all relate to. So if you’re stuck, just look around you. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Small details and a lived-in backdrop. When reading a fantasy series, I’m less interested in a complex magic system with diagrams charts than the food people eat, the clothes they wear, the shops that line the city streets. For sci-fi, it’s less about the nature of the faster-than-light drive and more about the music they listen to, the asteroid bars where the characters meet between adventures. Alternatively, I love those vista moments, when you get a glimpse at what feels like a fully developed history and world off in the distance. My favorite moment from the Lord of the Rings is when they are at Weathertop and Strider mentions Gil-Galad, then Sam sings three verses of a song. Strider cuts him off and tells him the tale is too dire for a dark night, and the reader is left longing to know how it ends. That not knowing makes it more poignant than if you’d gotten the entire tale then and there. It leaves you believing that the world has a real, lived history.

Are you working on any individual projects?

Oh, I’ve always got way too many projects going on. I have a series of cyberpunk noir novellas that I’m self-publishing. The first two installments, Memory & Desire and Out of the Dead Lands are available on Amazon. I’m writing book three now and have outlined a total of 8. I’m writing a series of middle-grade fantasy books aimed at reluctant readers. I’ve written the first four books, and the first book will actually be published by Kindred Press this coming November. I’ve always got a few short stories going, some of which are currently available in anthologies and some of which will be published in the next few months. I’m querying a YA sci-fi romance, Love Songs for the Robot Apocolypse, and an adult supernatural thriller, Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic. My weirdest project is probably the erotic choose-your-own-adventure solo-role-playing game I’m working on.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

I never planned to get into publishing other people’s writing, and when making Achten Tan I was surprised how much I liked it. It really hit me when a few of the contributors were posting on Twitter and Facebook how excited they were to finally be published. It took me a moment to realize they were talking about the book I’d put together–that I had helped them realize a life-long dream. Up until then, I’d just thought of it as “this little thing I was doing,” but to many of the writers involved, it was their first time seeing their name in print. It was incredibly rewarding. So I love that I can do that for other people. I also love working with so many talented writers. It’s humbling to see how much unpublished talent is out there, and I’m honored every time they trust me to help bring their words to the world.

What I struggle with is promoting the books. I became a publisher about sixth months ago, and I feel I’ve good a good grasp on most of the logistics–from recruiting submissions to making a cover, laying out a manuscript, getting an ISBN, every part of publishing a professional quality book–but I haven’t figured out marketing. The one thing that makes me feel better is that as I ask around, it doesn’t seem that ANYONE in indie-publishing has figured it out. The barrier to publishing is so low that the market is saturated with self and independently published books. Standing out in the crowd is hard.

What do you love about writing, and what do you struggle with?

I love nearly everything about writing. I love outlining, drafting, revising. A lot of writers complain about the process, but every stage of it brings me joy. I love getting the stories that live in my head out into the world. Even if I never make any money at it I’ll still keep writing, as ideas come to me and demand to be written.

What I struggle with is time. I’m a full-time high school teacher and parent of two, so finding time to sit and write isn’t easy. And now Skullgate takes up some of my time as well. That’s a labor of love, but it is one more responsibility that needs my attention. The hardest part is making the time to get my finished projects out there–whether that means querying agents or self-publishing. I love the crafting, but find everything that comes after the story is finished tedious. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

I feel I’ve talked about myself a lot, so I want to make sure I shout out my fellow Skullgate members, Chris Durston, Diana Gagliardi, Debbie Iancu-Haddad, and Colleen Storiz. I may be listed as the founder and president on the website, but we really are a team and I couldn’t do this without them. Chris and Diana produce our podcast, Sounds from the Year Between, which is fantastic. Colleen and Chris both edited Loathsome Voyages, our recent horror anthology, and are invaluable as thought partners to bounce ideas off of. Debbie runs our nonsense writing prompt on Twitter, #AchtenWrite, which is a fun way to join us online. She also headed up an AchtenWrimo group, where half a dozen writers from Volume 1 used the world of Achten Tan as the center to NaNoWriMo projects. Debbie wrote an entire novel, Speechless, set in that world, and we’re hoping to publish that later this year. And Diana is a general logistics and enthusiasm marvel who helps the world-building game run smoothly and always has great ideas

Contributor Interviews: Under New Suns

Under New Suns (Tales From the Year Between Book 2) is an anthology written and illustrated by over twenty authors and illustrators, detailing an epic space opera told in the form of star maps, illustrations, comics, poetry, flash fiction, short stories, verse, and even a stage play. 

I was able to get some time to talk to C. Vandyke, Editor of the anthology, but I was also excited to get the chance to get some tidbits from some of the contributors as well.

 

Emily Ansell

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

My favorite part of working on Under New Suns was the collaborative aspect that brought an unpredictability to the world building/story crafting process that I usually don’t have as a solo writer. It was so much fun opening the game files to see where others were taking things, what new revelations came with each turn. And then when we got to the writing part, to see how each person interpreted the characters, and what they do with them. Then now, seeing how each story fits into the greater whole of the book. We had this whole universe just spring to life in real-time, with all these incredible ideas coming in from all different places, it’s really unique and wonderful.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

An imagined world comes to life for me through the characters and when little tidbits of culture and history that sneak their way into the story without being a big, expository thing. I love it when it just gets dropped in there casually and organically, no differently than we ourselves would reference something from our own history or pop culture without a second thought. It helps you see the bigger world without having to lose sight of the characters you’re following. I’m also an anthropologist by training, so I’m sure that plays a part.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

Writing advice? I guess I’d say do your thing and not worry about what everyone else is doing or says you ‘should’ be doing. Write the story you need to write, what resonates with you. I certainly did that here. I wasn’t expecting to write what became deep-dives into two of the setting’s characters, but when it all hashed out, those were what stood out to me and I felt needed to be written. Also, if you have the opportunity to take part in a volume of The Year Between, do it!

 

B.K. Bass

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

For me, it was watching the universe and major storyline unfold organically as so many different voices gave input on the process. Things I never would have imagined made it into this world. Even my own story was something I wouldn’t have thought of without the context of the situation to inspire it.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

I always say the devil is in the details. Be it fantasy, sci-fi, or even contemporary fiction, it’s the tiny nuances of life that transports the reader into the world of a book. Brass-clad towers glittering at dawn, the smell of smoked fish in a market, colorful silks flowing from a caravan; it’s these kinds of things that bring a book to life.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

Going back to those details, use those to bring your stories to life. Don’t worry so much about the big picture of the world. Reveal it in the moment as the characters experience it. Get us in their heads, and show us what they see, hear, and smell. That way, we may feel we’re there too!

 

Jayme Bean

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

The collaboration was by and large my favorite part. Being able to come together with twenty-odd different authors from all over the world to explore different aspects of world-building and character development was amazing. I made some great new friends out of it and was able to experience a myriad of writing methods and planning.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

For me, it’s all about the characters. Setting is fantastic, but unless you have an interesting character to explore that setting, it’s just a stagnant painting. Adding complex and interesting characters turns that painting into a movie.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

Collaborate! Even if you’re not working on an anthology or collective piece, collaborating with other authors can only raise you up. Having multiple people to bounce ideas off of and rally behind you in support is so helpful to the creative process and will pay off tenfold in the long run. 

 

Darius Bearguard

Author of The Sand Runner, featured in Achten Tan, Land of Dust and Bone

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

One of the pieces I did was entirely collaborative with the team of authors. I wrote a book report from the perspective of a little girl, and everything from alien names, to dates, to the title of the contest, was done with the assistance of the other authors as people shouted out ideas and suggestions and we voted on outcomes of events. We even paid the daughter of one of our authors to contribute artwork. It was very much the highlight of this go around for me. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

For Under New Suns, it’s a lot of the little pieces of flavor authors threw in. Music in the new galaxies, space otters, histories of alien species… It’s that background text that makes me go “Huh… I wonder what that’s about?” And that questioning is what gives life.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

I personally suffered a tragedy while working on this, something that had me in so much darkness. But being able to write and imagine in this world we created kept me from sliding too far in. Especially in these times of great turmoil I think it’s easy to forget how important community and imaginative minds can be. Talking with people, collaborating, and then breathing life into a new universe, to maybe leave our own if only briefly, can be so soothing to the soul. I’m so thankful for TFTYB2 crew for this opportunity.

 

Zackery Cuevas

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

Being on the page! I’ve been a part of the creation of a book for years, but it was always on another end, either on editorial or production, so my favorite part of this whole thing was actually writing a story that would make it into a book.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Character. If a character works for me and is real to me, they will paint the world for me. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

The hardest part about writing is starting. Once you’ve started, you’ll find it hard to stop.

 

Chris Durston (Skullgate Member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns

I think the coolest part for me, as I worked on the book as an editor but wasn’t part of the world-building game, was seeing it all come together. I didn’t have the same pre-knowledge of the world and the characters as the writers did, so I got to gradually learn about each of those things in different stories. It’s what makes Tales from the Year Between unique, I think: no one story explains every part of the world, but experiencing all of the stories gives you this greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience: a view in snippets and little glimpses of this huge, bizarre, but somehow consistent and singular thing. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally? 

I love implications. If there’s a certain magic or tech, showing me how it’s had an impact on every aspect of the world and the characters’ lives makes me happy. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share? 

If you get the chance to be part of something collaborative, do it. I’d never have imagined that just replying to a tweet and saying ‘sure, I’d like to join your random crew of writers on a weird adventure’ could have led to Skullgate and the opportunity for so many more huge adventures. 

 

Diana Gagliardi (Skullgate Media member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

My job on Under New Suns was to help guide the game itself- 30 people, each with 2 turns where we asked them to respond to a choice of prompts, update the projects that others had started, and put all the info in a format that we all could read and build off of.  The crew had to be designed- each person created a character on their first turn and added to the background of a DIFFERENT character, created by someone else, on their second.  It was a lot of creativity, spreadsheets, and the occasional stubborn writer who had a REALLY GREAT IDEA…but it wasn’t their turn.  Like a pre-school teacher with a bunch of hyper-creative toddlers; I answered questions, held hands, asked probing questions about their thoughts, and very rarely had to say “no”! The end result was pages of universe-building that could be harvested and expanded into an anthology of short stories.

My favorite part was interacting with each person- we are in many different places around the world and in various time-zones; for two weeks of the game I was checking up on everyone so that no one would miss out on a turn or not have answers when they needed them- my sleep scheduled already is pretty off-kilter, so 2 am conversations with someone on the other side of the world weren’t too out of the way and I hope that no one had to wait too long for help!

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

So frequently joint worlds involve consensus- everyone has to agree with how the society is being run, who is doing what, etc.  Year Between gives a consensus framework without anyone having to restrain themselves and their creativity; on their turn they can be a crazy and dynamic as they like, no one will tell them it’s stupid or not allowed.  Whether other people will like it or use it is a different issue, but so much of the bizarre might not make it in if you work towards the most comfortable denominator.  There may be grumbling that something is “silly” but it won’t be tossed away.  Some of our most centering aspects have been “silly” (specifically thinking about ribs and space sharks, fr).  So…allow some silly to give contrast to the serious.

 

E.R. Hoffer

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

I really loved the world-building phase. When I threw out my ideas for resources, my heart raced with nervous energy, hoping that one of my kooky artifacts would be picked up by the group. Like school, waiting on the sidelines, never picked for the volleyball team. But one of my room ideas got into the book, so I was on cloud 9. 

Then I loved taking turns in the world-building game. I camped in front of my screen, refresh, refresh, blown away to see what each writer added, introducing an amazing new character,  twisting the story in a new direction as we moved through all four of the phases of the journey home.

The fantastic never-ending chatter on Twitter. We exchanged jokes and stories and supported one another throughout the writing and editing process.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Sensory details experienced through the emotional filter of a character. If writing can paint a picture, add smells or tastes, and illuminate the yearning inside a character, I’m immediately engaged. 

Fran Wilde gave a recent workshop on World-building for Futurescapes. She asked us to describe a meal in our story. What is consumed tells us about the flora, fauna, and other elements, what is scarce or abundant. Who prepares it and how it is served tells a lot about relationships, rituals, power structures, society. And the mechanics, like energy, needed to create the food hint at tech, evolution and other factors. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

In this strange global moment, many opinions and situations are radically changing the way we live. We face an enormous inflection point where we could collectively turn toward the light or head in a negative direction. That’s one of the interesting thing about the Skullgate projects, the process to create a shared product. It isn’t always easy because we have to negotiate our points of difference as we strive to put out a collective work from a diverse group.

In my writing, I focus on enviro-futurism. Fiction engages people in stories, and gives us a way to change hearts and a mind, to motivate us to do the hard work to transform society to an inclusive and sustainable model. 

 

Debbie Iancu-Haddad (Skullgate Media member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

I love the brainstorming part of creating a world together. Having a group of people from different cultures and backgrounds each contribute a few details that give me new ideas and send me in directions I might not have thought about on my own is really exciting. I love it the most when silly parts of the conversation take on a life of their own and suddenly instead of a joke they are part of the combined story. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

For me, it’s all about the characters. I think each of us channel a bit of ourselves into the characters we create (even if it’s a yellow and teal shape-shifting slug). Having the character interact with the imagined environment is where it really comes to life. 

 

Jeremy Nelson

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

Letting go! Being a useful part of the project meant letting go of preconceptions of what the project was going to be. Even ideas that seemed promising in the early stages of our collaborative process would sometimes be left by the wayside. Yet there was always another intriguing path to take, another scenario to explore. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

The collaborative process brought to mind the first rule of improv: always say yes. There was no way to predict where we’d end up from the first pile-on of ideas, but we not only emerged with a coherent story but also some unexpectedly heartfelt twists in the telling. It’s made me reconsider how I draft my own work, and whether I give those more creative (read: outlandish) impulses the consideration they deserve. Say yes, and you never know where you’ll end up. 

 

S.L. Parker

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

The ebbs & flows of ideas; how we exchanged and interplayed while crafting stories; these creative collaborative moments were the elements I most savored during this experience. And it was an experience, as we collectively built a world and then individually, or in tandem, filled it. A new spin: immersion writing. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

The imagined world came to life as I saw the threads which wove stories together, as well as the varying interpretations that added layers to the stories contained in this shared world. 

 

A.A. Rubin

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

My favorite part of working on Under New Suns was the freedom the process allowed me. Because we were accepted for the project based off a previous writing sample–and not, like most publications, based on the story for the actual anthology–I felt freer to take risks with my writing that I may not have otherwise, especially with a publisher whom with whom I had never worked before. My story, “I am I” is one of the more unconventional pieces in the anthology. It plays with language and syntax in a way that might make it a riskier piece to submit in a blind process to a publisher with whom I didn’t previously have a relationship. But, since I had already been accepted to the anthology, I felt more comfortable writing the story I wanted to write. I think the story, and, ultimately, the anthology is better for it.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

To me, successful world-building is worldbuilding I don’t notice. Characters speak and act as if they live in the world, not as if they are explaining it to someone who does not. Think of our world. Let’s say someone says, “I’m going for a ride in my car.” They don’t follow that by saying “A car is a petroleum-powered vehicle with an internal combustion engine, four wheels,” etc. I want to feel like I’m in the imagined world, full of magic and wonder, but also feel like the characters in that world are unaware of my presence. The difference can be seen in the original Star Wars trilogy compared to the prequels. When Han Solo says he made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we have no idea what the Kessel Run is or why that’s impressive, but the way he says it and the reactions of those around him that doing so was impressive. Similarly, we hear of the Clone Wars, the galactic senate, the regional governors, etc., but none of these is explained in any detail. They are taken as given by everyone in the world, common knowledge of which everyone is aware. Compare that to the prequels, where they tried to explain everything. In those movies, the worldbuilding got in the way of the storytelling in an obvious and noticeable way.  

Ursula Le Guin and William Gibson are two writers who are really good at building imaginative worlds that fit the paradigm I delineated above.

 

D. Storiz (Skullgate Media Member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

For me, it was the actual writing of the story once the characters and some of the background was already created. I like the creation part of the world/spaceship but I really enjoy the writing portion of it. It was fun to finally read through the final game and character sheets, choose a few characters that resonated with me and then make them come to life. Once I have a vague idea of what I can work with, I can usually jot down a quick outline and work from there.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Visualizing it in my head. I often write my stories as if they were a movie taking place before my eyes. I try to imagine the scents, the feel of the room I’m in, what’s the food taste like, etc. and try to put myself in my character’s position and see how I would work through a situation. 

For the story I wrote, The Long Way Home, I was actually one of the last (not the last, thankfully) authors to finally turn something in. I was having trouble putting myself into the space ship but then I decided to step away from it and just focus on something entirely different. But I kept my character, Nereus Thanatos, in the back of my mind and when I was completing a science experiment with my students—we were doing flame tests and seeing the reactions of magnesium in hydrochloric acid, it was then that an idea sparked. As soon as my class ended, I pulled out my laptop and I started writing and nearly wrote the entire story in one sitting. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

People often talk about being blocked as writers. I’d like to give my take on that. When a scene isn’t working and I feel… blocked… I take a break. I do something completely different like take the dog for a walk, go for a bike ride, or get in my car and drive on some country roads. I let the story linger a little bit and I think about it in my head but I try not to focus on it too much. When I sit back down, I reread the scene and I go back to the scene before I got blocked and I cut it out. I don’t delete it, just put it in a doc called “deleted scene’s” and I try to rewrite with a different POV or a different character because I wasn’t really blocked to begin with… I just didn’t have a good idea of where I was going in the first place. Most likely because I didn’t outline. I used to be a full-on pantser (write by the seat of my pants) and refused to use outlines but I’d often find I’d lose steam partway through; and that was because I had no idea of where I wanted my characters to go. So, now I start with my ending or at least a vague idea of how I want it to end and then I work backwards to see how I can make that happen. 

 

Phebe Yawson

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

Joining a new family and gaining awesome writer friends. Feeling like there’s this bottomless wealth of information I can tap into because everyone is so knowledgeable. I’ve never written Sci-Fi and everyone was so willing to help. Definitely some of the most fun of 2020.

Under New Suns challenged me and I learned so much. We created a world. Everyone came together during the world’s ugliest times and made something incredible. Covid didn’t destroy us, politics didn’t hinder us, Under New Suns a brand new world was made.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

The details given. Sounds. Colors. Expressions. Each writer has their own personality that made a very vivid world with witty, strong, beautifully flawed characters that made each story feel so possible. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share

Don’t be afraid to dream or be more than what’s expected even from yourself. Keep reaching the stars are waiting for you.

Author Interview: Shakeil Kanish

We all want to be next. The next superstar, the next star athlete, the next social media darling, the next intellectual prodigy. There’s this belief that excellence means worth, and that to be special is to be worthwhile.

Shakeil Kanish knows something about excellence. He wrote an excellent book with his co-author, Larissa Mandeville. He also knows something about the ordinary: a self-described ordinary gay boy, horror movie lover, and LGBTQ+ author. 

But sometimes, ordinary is exactly what the world needs. Sometimes, ordinary is magic.

(You can read my review of The Sigil here.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m just your everyday lover of karaoke and horror movies! An LGBTQ+ member who just wants to write amazing novels for people like me so that I can see myself in books. I work for the AF and am super proud to serve my country while also serving up some amazing novels! And I just hope it can only go uphill from here! 

Tell us about your novel, The Sigil.

It’s a story about a gay boy trying to find his place in the world after his brothers mysterious death, and just kind of accepting that you can be just as big a hero being normal. You don’t need fancy powers or magic. 

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

I really always loved A Wrinkle in Time. I don’t know what it was but something about just it being a normal everyday kind of day and then bam they’re just thrown into this crazy world with a crazy antagonist… it just always got me super hyped and it def inspired me to want to write my own novels. 

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

I hope they finally get to see an LGBTQ+ character and a POC being the forefront of novels growing up. We didn’t have enough of those so I really wanted to do that for myself and others who wanted that too. I want them to just see themselves in some of the characters and kinda of show that anyone can be a hero. 

What is different about your novel?

I think the characters are very unique. Nova is so brash. I think some people will think she’s over the top but she’s based on a real person I know so it’s important to know people of all shapes and sizes exist and not everyone has to be this quiet, like every other girl cliche. I think the twist at the end is pretty out of left field so I hope readers really enjoy that I LOVE twist endings. 

What are your plans for future novels?

So The Sigil is a duology so I’m actually working on the sequel as we speak so keep an eye out for that . 

What inspires you to write?

Just wanting to tell a story and hoping that even one person wants to listen is more than enough to keep me going. 

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

Getting to work and collaborate with other people and just making your novel the best it can be is super exciting and fun! As far as struggles just creatively sometimes we are not on the same wavelength so finding that balance is super important . 

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Probably just writing in general sitting down and actually putting words to paper is SO hard as any writer knows but sometimes you just gotta power through! 

How can we purchase your book? 

It’ll be available on Amazon and the 3 Furies Press website!

Author Interview: C.C. Luckey

I collect quirky authors like some people collect seashells.

Cory Doctorow. TJ Klune. Erin Morgenstern. Robin Sloan. Jenny Lawson. Those are the New York Times Bestselling big names of course, but there are many indie authors I count amongst them.

They’re like beach finds to me, from hours combing the sandy shores of bookstores, online book reviews, social media, and word of mouth. When I find an author I like, I follow their work, often reading outside my comfort genres, just to get another taste of their prose and stories.

When I read Kana the Stray, I had the feeling I was uncovering more than just a moment, but something that would alter the landscape of my reading journey for more than just one book. Like finding an intact conch shell—a beachcombers dream. In other words, C.C. Luckey, whether you like it or not: you’ve been added to my collection.

So needless to say, I felt quite lucky (sorry, couldn’t help it, it’s just the one I swear) that I got the chance to interview Luckey to talk about their writing journey and their future stories.

(And if you haven’t yet, you can read my review for Kana the Stray here.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I live near the ocean in Long Beach, California, and I have a few different hobbies. I play accordion in a rock band, go hiking one or two days a week, and collect oddities. But my true passion is writing, and my books mean everything to me.

Tell us about your novel.
Kana the Stray is a story about a young woman who lives on the streets of Chicago, but is pulled into another world populated entirely by talking animals. To survive, she must quickly learn about politics, become self-sufficient, and endure living in the wild without help—all skills which are new to her. The book is a new twist on animal fantasy for adults, with a hefty dose of science fiction and epic adventure thrown in.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?
My favorite book is a fairly obscure novel called The Book of the Dun Cow. It was written in the late 1970s by a pastor named Walter Wangerin Jr., and borrows some characters and ideas from Chaucer’s fable of Chaunticleer. It is technically biblical fiction, which is not normally an interest of mine, but when I read Dun Cow it just spoke to me. The story follows a rooster who leads his flock in a horrific war against an ultimate evil which lives inside the earth, and along with its sequel, The Book of Sorrows, it’s the most beautifully sad story I have ever read. Wangerin’s tale was definitely an inspiration for Kana the Stray.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers will get from your book?
I write primarily to entertain, but there are a few other important ideas in Kana, such as accepting one’s true self and persevering in the face of unfamiliar challenges. In a way, it is also an environmental disaster precautionary tale. But the most important theme, other than the pure joy of exploring a new world, is that family can be chosen. Family is whoever is most important to you, whether they are related to you or not. And a chosen family will always bring you happiness, even in the most difficult times.

What is different about your novel?
I’ve been told I write in a more classical style, ignoring current trends and tropes. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad from most readers’ perspectives, but it’s what I enjoy. All four of my books encompass realistic “low” fantasy supported by science fiction ideas while focusing on complex and relatable characters, who are often somewhat damaged. Kana is flawed. She doesn’t always make the right decisions. Her friends are flawed, too. But all that matters in the end is the bond they form with each other, and doing the best they can in a dangerous world.

What are your plans for future novels?
I am currently working on my first series! I have three historic fantasy books planned for release in late 2021 and early 2022. The series is about a late Victorian circus traveling across the United States, and has a divination theme, including both tarot and astrology.

What inspires you to write?
I’ve always been greedy with my life. I’ve never quite been comfortable with the fact that I get only one. There is so much in the world to enjoy, to explore. As long as I keep writing, I can live a hundred lives, have a thousand adventures, and—hopefully—bring some other people along with me.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?
I enjoy nearly everything about publishing, from developing loose story concepts to screening the final edits. I think the hardest part is getting feedback from people. Even readers who really love your story often forget to tell you!

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?
Much of my work doesn’t fit well into currently popular genres. I tend to hold story and originality over market demands, which makes it harder to reach people who I know would love my work if they found out about it. The feedback I have received from my readers has been incredibly positive, so I know my work has merit. What matters most for me, and for all other writers, is to just keep writing. Keep setting new books free into the world, and never quit.

How can we purchase your book?
Paperback and eBook versions of all my books can be found on Amazon. My eBooks are also available on Kobo and many other similar sites, and my paperbacks are also available on bookshop.org. My website is www.ccluckey.com, where you can find links to my Amazon listings and a contact form to email me directly or sign up for my newsletter.

Author Interview: Ash Knight

Sometimes, authors seem to come fully formed out of the aether, landing on Earth as some sort of gospel prophet ready to disseminate their work to the disheveled masses. There was a lot less holy talk and more steamy sex scenes, but this is the kind of story you get hearing about the book and success of Ash Knight.

Despite being someone who self-proclaimed didn’t like to read until later in life (as you can read more about below,) Knight was nominated for Best Debut Novel for Stay in the Goodreads Member’s Choice awards in 2020, and their novel is a #WritingCommunity favorite on Twitter. You don’t have to talk with her long to know why- she’s earnest, down-to-earth, and writes like someone who’s been doing it their whole life. What’s not to love?

I was happy to interview Knight below. You can also read my book review of Stay here.

Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I’m a wife and a mother of twin boys.  One of them has ASD.  I grew up hating to read, never enjoying books at all.  When I was 30 a good friend of mine gave me a book to read and then more and more and I  couldn’t stop reading, which eventually led me to writing.

Tell us about your novel, Stay.  

I wanted to write a story that wasn’t just about sex or some random meaningless made up characters.  I had this character in my head that was very loosely based on an adult version of me, my son with ASD, my parents, and just the inner me with a loud voice.  The character wouldn’t leave me alone and it turned into a story that I couldn’t let go of, which ended up being Stay.  In the end, Joe had to be male and his love interest would have to be male.  So I did some research, asked questions, made so many amazing gay friends along the way, and discovered a new world ourside of what I had grown up with.  So, in the end, this story about an autistic character ended up also, hopefully, showing the world that there’s hope for love for everyone no matter their background, sex, history, etc and there can also be a happy ever after.

What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How? 

The novel that really impacted and affected me was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  I felt like my entire world opened up when I read that book.  It broke through so many boundaries that I had in my head about what a novel should be.  There were pages of handwritten drawings and writings mixed in with the text and the love that just bled from the pages was incredibly profound.  It changed me and the way I saw books and the meaning behind individual words and how much impact they can have.

What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?  

I sincerely hope that a bit of the stigma around ASD is lessened because every single person diagnosed is different.  There is always hope for a ‘typical’ future for everyone with ASD.  I also want the world to see that two men can find love together, mean everything to each other, and be happy.  They can live happily ever after and should have the right to do so.  I hope the casual way my characters just both happen to be men comes across to show how casual we should feel about it in our own lives.

It sounds like you went great lengths to normalize ASD and gay relationships in your novel. Did you anticipate, or have you received any criticism because of your choices?

I didn’t really anticipate having readers at all to be completely honest, so it didn’t really occur to me to have criticism as far as writing my characters went, but yes, I have had some reviews indicating that I should have done some research on Autism before writing a book about its characteristics and struggles.  The truth is, there is no one box when it comes to Autism Spectrum Disorder.  I wrote Joe based upon what I see in my son.  He’s charming, hilarious, and emotional.  He is concerned for others, and he picks up banter from conversations and movies, etc, so he’s able to interact in a socially appropriate setting from time to time. 

On the other end of the spectrum, have you felt support from both the ASD and LGBTQ+ community now that the book is out there?

I have read many emotional reviews about family members of a child with ASD that have thanked me for giving them hope.  That has meant the world to me, because that is exactly what my purpose was in writing Joe’s character.  I have had so much support from the LGBTQIA+ community it’s been unreal and I’ve been so humbled by it.  Starting this story of these two men getting to know each other through more than just words and conversation was scary, as a cishet woman, but I wouldn’t have written Joe and Madden’s story if I didn’t have the support and assistance of those in the gay community to ensure I was giving their relationship a genuine feel.

What is different about your novel? 

I hope it’s the way my story is so character driven.  I have such a sense of my characters that I can picture how they sit, where they sit, what they look like when they’re happy, nervous, sad, excited, embarrassed, etc.  I know their tells, and I try so hard to be descriptive enough that it feels like you’re right there in the room with them.

What are your plans for future novels?  

I am just about to release a New Adult Romance novel about a man and woman that went to high school together and meet again in college.  The female character has been through a rough time and has shied away from social situations, but when her old friend sees her on campus, she can’t seem to turn him down.

What inspires you to write? 

My characters in my head tell me their stories and they so strongly need to get out of my head, I just have to write them down.  I also am a strong believer in love.  Specifically that everyone is worthy of love in their life.

What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with? 

Editing is the worst for me.  I just want to write and be done.  I get to the point where I feel like I’ve memorized every page and I just can’t read it anymore.  I’m also too impatient to let it sit too long, lol.

Do you see yourself pursuing traditional publishing in the future, or continuing to self-publish primarily?

I feel like it’s a dream come true to be traditionally published by anyone who wants to succeed in their writing career, assuming they end up on the NYT Best Sellers List.  I feel like marketing and promoting yourself is difficult, and if there was someone who could take some of that burden off, that would be amazing, but most of it would still be on my shoulders anyway, so I’m happy for now self-publishing as I am.  I’m happy to get my stories out into the world on my schedule.

What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it? 

I think my greatest struggle is patience.  Once I feel done, I just want to publish it.  I don’t want to wait for editing and beta reading and editing, etc.  It’s just really not my strong suit.

How can we purchase your book?  

Stay is available on Amazon only, but I’m offering signed paperback copies on my website as well, at https://ash-knight.com