I’m so excited to have K.A. Doore on the site as this month’s featured author, because frankly, a lot of the books that make it onto this site are thanks to her working to increase visibility for them, making her one of my favorite authors to follow on Twitter. But in addition to being an A+ advocate for queer books and for queer adult SFF in particular, she is also, of course, an author, who happens to have just released the second book of the Chronicles of Ghadid series. She’s joining us to talk about the books, SFF, discoverability, and more, so take a seat and get to know K.A. Doore!
Congrats on the release of The Impossible Contract! As we all know, the second book, especially of a series, can be a complete nightmare, so what was the process of writing it like and what was the absolute best moment?
I have to admit I kind of cheated on my second book, in that The Impossible Contract was actually the book I wrote first. It was supposed to be a standalone, but when I was presented with the opportunity to write more in that universe, I jumped on it. I just, maybe, jumped a little backwards.
The Perfect Assassin turned out to be my second book, as well as the first in the series, which was its own specific kind of nightmare. I had to figure out how to write a book that felt like it had always come first, that was in some ways quieter, that laid the foundation of the worldbuilding done in the now second book without overshadowing it, that had its own stakes and characters and all tied up neatly enough to work on its own and also lead into the next book.
Hard, yes? And then do that all in nine months with a newborn.
That was the most difficult part, but that was also the best part. Having the chance to explore the world in greater detail, to dig into the myths and lore I hadn’t had the space to in the now second book, to share the roots of the family and the traditions of their world – I can’t imagine writing the series any differently now.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Chronicles of Ghadid series, how are the books, which have different main protagonists, connected? And can you tell us a little about both Amastan and Thana?
They’re thematically connected, each building upon the others’ answers – and questions – about what it means to be a family, what it means to take a life, and what it means to do the right thing, even when it’s the hardest thing in the world to do. They’re also, ultimately, a story about a city and its people and its history, and how each generation tells its own story about that history, deriving a separate but still valid identity from it.
I’m a historian at heart – if not quite on paper (does a Classics degree count?) – so exploring the ways the history of a people changes and shifts over time and is used for various purposes became the main thread of the story, and why ultimately this series is about the city of Ghadid more than it is about any individual person.
But it is still about Amastan and Thana and their fellow cousins. Those two are opposites in a lot of ways. Amastan is meticulous and highly risk-averse, preferring a quiet afternoon with tea and scrolls to any excitement. Whereas Thana wants to make a name for herself, she wants to stand out from her cousins and become a legend. I love them both and I loved exploring their stories and the way they feed off of each other – mostly for good, occasionally for bad.
The final book in the trilogy, The Unconquered City, releases from Tor on June 16th. What familiar things can established fans expect to see, and what can you say about it that should make clear to readers it’s time to get in on the ground floor?
Many familiar faces return in the third book and the story of a city and it’s magic that I’ve been not so subtly hinting at all along comes to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion. A lot of questions raised about the nature of spirits and what happens to them, as well as what, exactly, it means to be a healer and how that talent developed in a far-flung city like Ghadid are answered as well.
While The Perfect Assassin and The Impossible Contract both work well as standalones, The Unconquered City draws heavily on themes, events, and characters from both. I did have one beta reader go in cold and they still enjoyed the story, but I wouldn’t advise it. TUC is a story about overcoming trauma and resilience and rediscovering hope, a story I needed during a particularly hard time in my own life. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever written.
But it’s also full of fights and magic and conflagrations and angry arguments in jail cells. In a way, it’s more of the same, if under a different light. But it’s also an ending to a trilogy that has been bittersweet and hopeful throughout, and it stays true to both.
It’s no secret I’m not a huge adult SFF reader, so I am undyingly grateful to you for your incredible enthusiasm for queer adult SFF and your championing it all over the place. Where do you find about new queer SFF, and how do you recommend readers stay on top of new books?
My secret is that I’m friends/acquaintances with a lot of awesome queer authors who know other awesome queer authors and are good about tipping me off to forthcoming books. Beyond that, I keep an eye out and read reviews (Tor.com is very good about explicitly saying when a book is queer, thank goodness) and then use lists other people have put together to try and fill in the gaps. Even with all that, I still miss some. I’m only one person and I’m only human, so it’s inevitable.
I would advise readers follow blogs and accounts that are dedicated to spreading the word about queer books – like LGBTQ Reads :), but also Reads Rainbow. A little bit more time intensive, but I’d also advise checking out publisher’s catalogues and reading the advance reviews on those books, since oftentimes reviewers will mention the representation they saw. You will start to notice those reviewers who are very good about spotting queer books in advance, as well as talking about the queer books they’ve noticed. Follow them.
Speaking of incredible enthusiasm for queer adult SFF…what are some of your all-time and recent favorites, and what are you most looking forward to in upcoming titles?
The Winter Duke by Claire Eliza Bartlett comes out March 3, 2020 and is basically lesbian Anastasia on ice. It’s fun and smart and thoughtful and deliciously queernorm and it tackles such lofty topics of power, corruption, dictatorships vs republics, and fetishizing the other in a way that never feels like browbeating. Plus, it’s Bartlett, so you’ve got that exquisite, vivid writing as well and the softest f/f relationship ever.
I also really loved The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht and Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh, two novellas put out by Tor.com this summer, each delicious and well-written, each queer af. The former is gory and sharp, dark as all get out and just as sumptuous, while the latter is… not exactly a happy ending, but a lot softer, a gentle hug of a book with a fierceness at its heart.
In addition to your novels, you also write short fiction, which is wonderfully available on your website with Ao3 tags and all. What is it about short fiction and long-form novels that each speak to you, and what fandom is it that brought you to Ao3?
I have to first admit that I was only ever briefly on Ao3 – I cut my fandom teeth on fanfic.net way back in the day. Sailor Moon was initially what brought me in and taught me the ropes of writing a story that was season-length, aka novel-length, if by ropes you mean writing and rewriting and rewriting the same story but never actually finishing it. While I haven’t written fic for a long time now, I still love that particular art form (and yes, it is an art form) and if I ever have time again, look forward to swimming through comfort-fic.
But novels are where I started and novels are where I stayed. I’ve always naturally gravitated toward longer form, since it gives me more room to layer worldbuilding and play with characters. The pay-off of a particular moment that has been subtly – or not so subtly – foreshadowed for most of a book is one of my favorite things about writing, along with the way characters continue to surprise you, two things I find are much more difficult to do satisfactorily in short form.
Short form is also, in my opinion, a whole lot harder to write than novels. Which is probably why it took me so long to even dip my toe into that particular pool. In fact, I thought I was incapable of writing them up until this year, when I needed to work on something in between edits on The Unconquered City. I wasn’t ready to leave Ghadid, and I didn’t have the brain power to begin building a new and separate world, so I played with shorts. They helped me tie up loose ends and begin to move on from a story and world I’d been immersed in for the better part of five years, as well as realize that maybe, maybe, I could learn to do this short story thing after all.
People often think of SFF as an “escape from reality,” but in truth, it can be some of the best ground for exploring topics such as identity and bigotry (including the internalized kind), as you well know. What do you think it is about working outside the bounds of “reality” that makes such a great setting for discussing some of the hardest parts of our reality, especially in the current political climate?
It’s the ability to imagine a different reality, and in so doing come to realize it can be our reality. I write queernorm worlds – that is, worlds where homophobia isn’t a thing – because being able to imagine a place and time where we don’t have to worry about our identities, where it simply isn’t an issue and society works with us can help us believe that such a reality, or a form of that reality, is obtainable here. And that first step – believing it’s even possible – is how we obtain it.
It’s also, generally, easier for fantasy to take on such large ideas and truths because the reader is having a fun time and often doesn’t realize that their worldview is shifting along the way. A fantasy adventure makes it easier to internalize truths like treat others well, corporations are inherently selfish, and maybe people are just… people. Of course, the flip side of this is that fantasy can propagate harmful stereotypes and ideas just as easily.
If anything, while writing fantasy I’ve realized I have to be a lot more conscious of the ideas and truths floating just beneath the surface of my world and story, of what I’m saying if I make the antagonist a queer woman or the oppressive power structure a matriarchy. If I do make the antagonist a queer woman, then I’d better make sure there are other queer women in the story doing positive things. If I do make the oppressive power structure a matriarchy, then I’d better make it damn clear the oppression is because of humans being humans, not because of their gender.
Fantasy is the most powerful tool we have to imagine a better future, and thereby a better now.
Your kickstarter for the anthology Silk & Steel is seriously killing it! What was the process of putting that together like, and how can people help it come to fruition?
That is all Macey and Django’s doing! They are the architects behind the scenes, setting up the Kickstarter and organizing a literal cat-bag of writers. I just volunteered my services and yelling and the amazing writing community has boosted it from there.
As with all things queer and fiction-related, the best thing any single reader or excited patron can do is yell about it. Share it with your friends. Your coworkers. Your enemies. Being loud and obnoxious about the things you love is in, dontcha know.
What’s the first LGBTQIAP+ representation you recall encountering in the media, for better or for worse?
Does Xena count? Xena should absolutely count, although I don’t think I quite connected the dots until later. But her relationships were all pretty queer and even baby!Kai could read between those lines.
Once the series is over, what’s up next for you?
I have a few things in the works, and they’re all pretty queer, but nothing yet set in stone. I’ve got some potentially big life changes coming up, so no guarantee there will be anything soon, but whatever comes next will continue to be queernorm fantasy. 🙂
K.A. Doore grew up in Florida, but has since lived in lush Washington, arid Arizona, and cherry-infused Michigan. While recovering from climate whiplash, she’s raised chickens, learned entirely too much about property assessment, photographed cacti, and now develops online trainings while writing fantasy and wrangling a small child, none of which has anything to do with – or perhaps has everything to do with – her BA in Classics.
The Chronicles of Ghadid is her trilogy debut, beginning with The Perfect Assassin from Tor Books.