We love verbose interviewees! When people are excited about a topic, their enthusiasm lights up the metaphorical room.
This week we are delighted to have K.A. Doore on the blog with more than enough enthusiasm to go around!
On your website, you call out what queer representation is in each of your books, alongside content warnings. Why is this beneficial for readers?
This all goes back to a round-table discussion at Sirens Conference a few years ago that discussed how to find books with queer characters, which is a trickier endeavor than at first glance. When queerness is the issue at the center of the book, it’s easy to find that in the book’s description and reviews. But when a reader wants to simply see themself in the story, existing and having adventures like any of the cis, heterosexual protagonists that once (okay, still) dominated the shelves, you have a catch-22.
Short of putting a little rainbow on the cover – which has its own bucket of issues, especially for those readers who aren’t living in spaces where it’s safe to read queer books – we must rely on reviewers, readers, and authors to make it clear that representation is, in fact, in the book.
And that clarity is key – for most of our reading lives, queer readers have had to put up with the breadcrumbs of subtext, of winks and nudges, of reading between the lines and hoping maybe, just this once, the girl will get with the girl instead of the guy. Only to have that soft queer rug yanked out from under us by the text or the author themself, yelling No Homo! Queer readers are primed for that reversal, never fully able to trust any story anymore unless it’s clear upfront that the characters are queer and the author intended them that way.
That’s why it’s been so important for me to be clear about the representation in The Perfect Assassin. I want the reader to know I’m not winking or nudging or in any way about to pull that rug out from under them. I put it on my website and I bring it up when I talk about it and I occasionally shout it on Twitter that yes, you’re reading it right, Amastan is asexual and that’s not subtext, it’s text.
And while I’d never say listing representation is the same thing as a content warning, it serves a similar function: letting you know what you’re getting into. I love content warnings, because sometimes I’m simply not in a headspace to deal with certain things, but also because I can check them for the absence of certain things and know, going into a book, that I don’t have to worry about this scene becoming rape or that scene becoming suicide. It’s trust, again, and a promise from the author saying I know this scene looks like it could go that way, but trust me – it won’t. Or, of course, the opposite, that the content warnings indicated the scene would go that way, so it’s a good time to take a break and a walk and come back, later, when you can handle it.
I don’t expect all authors to list representation on their website, but it’s helpful and I think it shows some trust in your readers to know what they want, what they’re looking for, and what they can handle at that time.
Sharing representation and content warnings on my website is a promise that all that subtext is text, that there are no winks or nudges here, only open arms and understanding, and that I trust them.
Do you think genre fiction is leading the way in terms of diverse representation in novels? Why is it taking so long for this space to open up?
I think the YA category has been leading the way for some time with diverse representation and adult genre has recently taken a deep breath and realized how far behind they are. I can’t speak to how genre is doing versus literary or general fiction, as I read vastly more of the latter; but of the literary and general fiction I’ve read recently, it appears to be opening up as well. Famous Men Who Never Lived by K Chess and If, Then by Kate Hope Day are both excellent literary novels that fold in queerness naturally.
While we’re seeing an explosion of queer-filled books written by women and non-binary authors, we’re still a far cry from the diverse representation we need. We’re still not seeing the number of POC authors we should be, and there are clearly larger barriers in place we need to dismantle to correct that.
A lot of the reason for that absence is systemic; not many people can afford the time it takes to write and edit and polish and submit and publish a novel, and the income is notoriously variable, unreliable, and much too low to survive off. On writing income, most people can hardly afford daycare, let alone health insurance, and working two jobs with a family simply isn’t sustainable for many. Until we stop assuming writers will have a spouse to financially support them or are otherwise independently wealthy, we will be excluding a large swath of diverse voices.
In the meantime, we must be aware of those gaps and barriers, of how much harder it is for women and POC and queer authors to get published, and stop ignoring and erasing the diverse authors who are already here. Extend a hand, crowdfund their travel, yell about their work, and maybe stop recommending the same five white male authors every time.
Your series is based in the already tropey fantasy space and then heaps even more tropes on top with a helping of murder mystery. How do you find these different set of tropes work together? Is there anything that works/doesn’t work particularly well?
Tropes are just so much fun! Usually I don’t think about them until well after the fact, even if I’m actively subverting tropes.
Murder mysteries actually fit in quite nicely to the fantasy genre, and the added elements of magic add to the tension and suspense. Sam Hawke merged fantasy and murder mystery together really well in her debut City of Lies, where the protagonists have to find a murderer in the midst of a siege on their city.
The shape and beats of murder mysteries lie beneath many popular fantasy works, even if often its less murder and more some other secret that must be uncovered – Harry Potter the most obvious example, as the characters regularly spend half their time blaming the wrong people for their problems. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall is another example, as the protagonists must sift through various suspects to find a blackmailer, all while the danger to themselves and their victim is escalating around them.
Fantasy, really, is the décor of the story, the pillows and sofas and colors, while the murder mystery is the layout, the maze spiral that doesn’t let you see what’s just around the corner.
What are some of your favourite representations of queer characters in SFF and what makes them so wonderful?
I have adored Ylfing in Alexandra Rowling’s A Conspiracy of Truths, who is just the softest, most delightful gay cinnamon roll. His open heart and ability to fall in love completely and deeply at the drop of a hat is something to aspire to.
The amazing disaster lesbians in Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter are just so refreshing. Often it feels like queers have to be on their best behavior, and almost all of the characters in this book are absolutely not, and they’re also absolutely queer and having a blast. It’s just so much fun.
Last, but definitely not least, I loved the glam queer god of death and necromancy Jaern in Lord of Secrets by Breanna Teintze. He stole the show in the best way.
Pitch us The Chronicles of Ghadid. Why should everyone be reading the series?
Queer assassins saving the day! If that’s not enough, then come for the moral grayness, stay for breaking the cycle of violence, and linger for the occasional deadpan humor. It’s a story about family and legacy, history and hearsay, legend and reality that’s all tied up in my own background as a historian (well, Classicist) and a deep-seated desire for adventure. Plus, it’s got angry ghosts, undead camels, and women who are strong and capable in a multitude of ways – and not just with a knife.
K.A. Doore writes queer-tastic fantasy and yells about it, too. The Chronicles of Ghadid is her trilogy debut, beginning with The Perfect Assassin from Tor Books. She also designs and develops eLearnings, gets up way too early, and wrangles a small child. If you ever see her, offer her coffee.