If the cover art for Jasmine Gower’s new novel Moonshine doesn’t catch your breath, I don’t know what will. Fantasy stories are rarely set in new and different faux-historical settings, but Moonshine has an art-deco, prohibition-era aesthetic that’s all its own.
Moonshine is out now from Angry Robot books.
What drew you to fantasy romance instead of traditional romance?
Fantasy is my genre of choice. At the risk of sounding like the ultimate fantasy author stereotype, I decided I wanted a career in fantasy writing after reading The Hobbit when I was eleven years old. The romance element came in when I was older and wanted to find books with queer characters, but almost all of them were romance. (Unless they were about trans characters, in which case they were always contemporary tragedies. Ugh.) Part of the draw to fantasy romance was that it was the only form of fantasy that made space for positive queer narratives. And while I love writing romance, I myself am aromantic, so it has always been somewhat difficult and a little bit alienating for me to write in this genre, but not as much as it would be to write traditional fantasy about straight characters.
Things have been getting better in recent years, though, with traditional fantasy publishing more queer authors and the genre making more efforts to normalize queer characters without these stories necessarily being romance-centric. Moonshine is one such book (for certain definitions of “traditional” fantasy), since the relationship that most closely mimics a romance arc is a platonic and sexual relationship told from an aromantic character’s point of view. It still draws heavily on the reading and writing I did in the fantasy romance genre, utilizing a lot of similar tropes, but it makes a very deliberate point of being a non-romantic intimate relationship.
That said, I do still love writing fantasy romance and fantasy with heavy romantic elements. It’s just a relief not to feel quite as pigeon-holed as I did even just a few years ago.
Are there any romantic tropes that you really love or that really bug you?
I really enjoy rivals to lovers, as readers of my novellas could probably guess. I’m a sucker for witty, Wilde-esque banter, and that kind of dialogue works better when the characters are willing to be at least a little mean to each other. I like the kind of conflict that generates from those kinds of relationships, too, where one of the obstacles to the relationship is just one (or more) of the character’s mixed feelings about it. It’s just a bit more cerebral than jealous ex-lovers or disapproving families or other external conflicts that often come up in romance, and I find that kind of internal conflict helps you get in closer to the characters themselves.
Most of the romance tropes that bother me are ones that pertain to misogyny or heteronormativity, which unfortunately are still pretty widespread even in queer romance. I especially don’t care for romances where the only female character is a lone heroine or where female characters aside from the heroine are all cast as cold villains out to ruin the main relationship. Stories like that feel like they’re set in a weird parallel reality where women just don’t have friends.
You have content warnings for your most recent book – what prompted you to take such an unusual step?
A couple years ago I wrote a few short stories that I wanted to send out to beta readers, but it occurred to me that some of my readers might not appreciate being surprised by some of the content in them. In particular, I had one that involved needle imagery, and I have a friend who has a phobia of needles. I wanted to give her fair warning about it, and from there, it was easy to reason that I should just write out a list of likely triggers in case any other potential beta readers had phobias or other triggers they wanted warning for.
For A Study of Fiber and Demons, I posted such a list publicly because I knew one particular plot point would be a sensitive matter for some readers: an explicitly asexual character who has sex in the story. Of course, plenty of asexual people have sex and want to see characters like themselves in fiction, but other asexual people are extremely uncomfortable reading about it or are tired of narratives about asexual people focusing on the question of whether or not they have sex. Neither perspective is wrong and both groups suffer from miserably slim pickings in terms of asexual representation. I didn’t want asexual readers hungry for representation to be caught unawares of sex in the book if that wasn’t what they were hoping to find.
How do you balance being a writer and going to grad school?
Better than most people would probably expect, which is due in part to the fact that I’m working toward my master’s in book publishing. There’s a lot of overlap between my writing career and my schoolwork, and I’m even taking an independent study course that essentially provides me credit toward my degree for the promotional work I’m doing for Moonshine right now. The drawback is if I’m doing one thing either for my book or for school, then I get burnt out and struggle to do it in the other. I had intended to take a course on editing last term, but I decided to drop it because I had done several rounds of editing earlier that year for both A Study of Fiber and Demons and Moonshine, and I was just done with editing for a while.
What made you decide to set a fantasy story in the prohibition era?
As I mentioned, I tend to gravitate naturally toward fantasy, but I became really fixated on prohibition stories when I was in high school and started reading a webcomic called Lackadaisy, which is also an ensemble story about a crime syndicate that bootlegs and operates a speakeasy. The distinction for Lackadaisy, of course, is that all the characters are anthropomorphic cats. I came up with a rough proto-concept for Moonshine around this time, but I ended up putting that aside to work on another story that utilized a cast of characters with almost identical archetypes.
That story ended up being the most frustrating thing I ever wrote, and around the same time I was suffering through that, my interest in the 1920s was renewed during a college history course focused on modern East Asian history. We spent about a week in that class talking about the moga (or Modern Girl) movement in Japan during the 1920s. I then became much more interested in the flapper phenomenon as a global feminist movement, and how there are complicated elements of hyper-capitalism, western imperialism, and post-WWI cultural trauma tied in with it that often go unexamined in favor of focusing just on the cute dresses and hats. When I gave up on the story that I had shelved Moonshine to focus on, I had the freedom to return to my early Moonshine concept and incorporate more themes of feminism, queer culture, and class struggle. The magical prohibition concept I had laid out back in high school provided a great framework for examining 1920s social justice themes that were still relevant in the 2010s.
Jasmine Gower is an author from Portland, Oregon, where she studied English literature at Portland State University. Jasmine was drawn toward writing years before amidst a childhood of fantasy novels and 90’s video games and has a passion for exploring themes of gender, sexuality, and disability through the conventions of speculative fiction and fantasy world-building.
You can find Jasmine at her website and on twitter.
Buy Moonshine now.