1. When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
I remember in 4th grade I was writing a fantasy-horror story, and when I asked my teacher if I could share it with the class, she didn’t think to check it beforehand. What’s the worst a ten-year-old can come up with, after all? But it was actually pretty dark, complete with murder and demons. And while we mysteriously never again had time for me to share a new chapter with the class, the feedback I received after that definitely cemented the idea that I wanted to be a person who wrote stories and shared them with others. Seeing my peers actively enjoy what I wrote and complimenting me on it and wanting to talk to me about it – there’s something special about that kind of praise and engagement. I think it’s the desire for that kind of connection with other people that takes people from “I like to write” to “I want to be an author,” and while I think everyone loves being praised for xir work, that community engagement is what drives me to share these stories with other people.
2. Who do you identify with more: Cheri or Bel?
That’s a pretty hard choice. I worked on making each of them distinct from myself, but if I had to pick, I think I’d say Belkor. Zir bluntness resonates me; when I was younger, I was often told that I had no “traffic cop” to stop the words in my brain from leaving my mouth. I’m not quite as bad as Bel is, though. I’d also say I’m just as optimistic; for both of us, we’ll always find a way to spin a bad situation into something good or to see promise in the future. I can also identify with Bel’s struggle between optimism and depression, which you don’t see much of in this book but will become apparent in the sequel. The more distant Bel becomes from zir home and what ze once knew zirself to be, the more ze struggles with finding optimism in the future, and that complexity of mental illness setting in versus who you are as a person is a topic close to my heart.
3. Tell us a little bit about the mission you mention at the end of your book (to never write a straight MC).
Despite living with a mom passively supportive of the LGBTQ community, I didn’t know what a lesbian was until middle school, and when I entered high school and took on that label as my own identity, I was hungry for books about people like me. I loved The Demonata by Darren Shan and Rowling’s Harry Potter, and I wanted to see stories like this with characters like me. So I went book-hunting, but all I could find was contemporary novels about the (white, cis) experience of being a queer person. I read stuff like Annie on my Mind and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and I couldn’t find anything else. While these weren’t necessarily bad books, they weren’t the kind of stories I was looking for. Where was my gay Chosen One protagonist who was going to battle the Dark Lord? Where was my lesbian descendant of werewolves fated to either save the world or destroy it? Any fantasy books I found that had queer characters relegated them to the background. Nobody like me was the main character, only ever a sidekick.
I’ve talked at length before about my desire for a queer renaissance in media. There’s no reason I should have ever felt that people like me couldn’t or didn’t deserve to be main characters. There’s no reason I should have had to struggle so much to find something that not only had people like me but also had dragons and sorcery and crazy plots. Coming out stories and stories about what it’s like to live as a queer person are important, but it’s also important to see yourself as not restricted to those boundaries. It’s the twenty-first century, and I shouldn’t still struggle to find to find these kinds of novels, so rather than wait for someone else to write them, I’ll write them myself.
4. What’s the perfect writing environment for you?
A place without Internet, honestly! It’s probably the worst distraction I face. I don’t usually have that option, though, so anywhere I can be apart from friends or family is ideal – my room, a coffee shop, the library. I have a Pandora station composed of soundtracks from video games and movies to listen to while I write, and it provides the perfect amount of background noise and signals me to focus.
5. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
Usually there’s some plot element or world-building concept that sparks the idea for a story, and once I have that, I start developing characters to fit into the world. I figure out basic back stories and character traits that allow me to use them to explore the world. Once I’ve got my main characters figured out, I take the time to outline what’s going to happen, chapter by chapter. I’ll usually do that in one sitting, even though it takes a couple hours to get through. I write a first draft where I get all the story out, veering away from the outline if I have to but usually following pretty closely. While I’m writing, I’ll keep records of plot lines, characters, and world-building, writing down every detail that comes along so I can reference it later if I need to. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I have a much better idea of who these characters are, what the plot is, and what breadcrumbs I need to leave at the beginning to get myself to the end.
Without reading the draft I just finished, I rewrite the entire story from scratch. I consult the records I’ve been keeping while writing, updating and changing them when I need to. Once I get to the end of the second draft, I read through it and check my records to make sure there are no plot holes or inconsistencies. I’ll do some small rewrites at this point, but nothing huge, and I’ll make some notes on what I want to change later and what I want to ask beta readers about. When I finish, I send it off to my beta readers and don’t look at it again until they get it back to me, usually a little over a month after I send it to them.
I formulate a revision plan after I get their feedback and start revising and editing after that. When I feel that I’ve addressed all the issues, I read through it once more for plot, character, and world-building. If there are no issues on that front, then I run spell-check before doing a more careful read-through for grammar and spelling.
6. What inspired you to write this book?
Cheri, Bel, and Xandamore were originally RPG characters I created back in 8th grade. At the time, I was really into the “moody, stoic guy” thing, so Xandamore was the main character I role-played with while Cheri and Bel were just side characters. I wrote these characters pretty exclusively with a close friend of mine, and so they were on my mind and developed over the course of two years, being written about every day.
The plot of that RP was quite different from what Death Defiant became. It was all about prophecies and forbidden love, the kind of stuff I ate up at twelve years old. Eight years later, I wanted to write a novel about these characters and world concepts, but I didn’t want to use Xandamore as a main character; it didn’t feel right when he’d already had a thousand pages written about him. Cheri was a character whose concept I loved – a person caught between worlds with the inability to die – and I knew I couldn’t write about zir without also writing about the others who influenced zir life, which is how Bel and Xand got involved. But the world and plot had to be different than what I’d already written, and so I kept the world-building aspects I’d once loved – demons running businesses on Earth, angels who had shut themselves away from everyone and lived knowing one death could create a domino effect in the community – and created a new story.
7. What’s your ultimate writing goal?
I want to write books that affect people and foster community. I want to see people who like my work so much that they talk about it with their friends and write meta about it and create fanart and fanfiction because they love it so much. But as I said earlier, what’s most important to me is putting out work with LGBTQ characters, so all that fandom boils down to people seeing my characters and either identifying with them (if the reader is queer) or empathizing with them. I want my work to move people and allow for a better representation of what the world actually is, so if my work can help achieve that, then I’ll be happy.