By Joshua Hulford (JH)
Today, we're thrilled to have an exclusive interview with David R. Slayton, author of White Trash Warlock, and the soon to be published “Dark Moon, Shallow Sea.” We are also privileged to hear from Barbara Ann Wright who wrote “House of Fate'' and “Paladins of the Storm Lord.” We delve into their writing process, inspirations and what makes their stories so captivating. Read on to discover these fantastic authors' unique perspectives on creativity as an LGBTQ+ author.
(JH) How has your own LGBTQ+ identity influenced your approach to writing and storytelling?
(DRS) It’s been key in choosing what kinds of stories I want to tell and who the main characters will be. I grew up loving fantasy and space opera but so often LGBTQ+ characters were either absent, tragic or villainized. High fantasy especially — that’s a genre where we just weren’t portrayed.
(BAW) I wasn’t out when I started writing sapphic stories, at least not to anyone besides myself. But they resonated enough with me to prompt me to come out as bi. My original motivation was to write stories that I didn’t often see (sapphic fantasy), but I began to recognize that my need was to see myself in those stories, too.
(JH) Can you describe any specific experiences within the LGBTQ+ community that have directly inspired your work?
(DRS) I especially gravitate to writing about found families and the family you choose. I think that’s a very common experience for us: we often have to go out into the world and find the people who will accept and love us for who we are, not in spite of it. That experience and those people, have saved my life more than once and it’s something I give my characters, that I want them to find.
(BAW) Meeting other queer writers like David R. Slayton at the Backspace Conference in New York made me realize I’m not alone and gave me the courage to keep going. And joining communities like the Golden Crown Literary Society helped me realize the kinds of stories people want to see, specifically stories of unapologetically queer characters in worlds where no one gives a care about anyone’s sexuality.
(JH) How do you approach writing LGBTQ+ characters to ensure that they are authentic and multidimensional?
(DRS) I draw deeply from my own lived experience of course, but that’s not enough. I’m a white, cis, gay man. I use sensitivity beta readers and talk to others to gain insight to show a wider range of experiences than my own.
(BAW) By using the sage advice to begin crafting a character with the idea that they are a human being, with everything that entails. No one is a saint or a monster. Luckily, queer people are very comfortable with the idea that everything about humanity is on a spectrum.
(JH) What do you believe are the essential elements in creating relatable and realistic LGBTQ+ characters?
(DRS) Dig deeper, get past the cliché or the stereotype. Nobody is perfect and no one is purely evil. This is true for all characters, not just the LGBTQ+ ones. Saints and devils are out of our reach, but we’re all human. I was just watching one of my favorite movies, Were the World Mine, and it struck me how much of a brat the main character, Timothy, can be. I love that film and I love that character, but his lack of perfection humanizes him. I try to give all of my characters flaws, something for them to struggle with and work on.
(BAW) The same as with every other character: flaws and redeeming features. Every personality has many facets.
(JH) Are there any stereotypes or tropes about LGBTQ+ characters that you actively avoid or challenge in your writing?
(DRS) I absolutely avoid Bury Your Gays or unnecessary queer trauma. I generally stay away from coming out stories, AIDS, etc. I am weary of those tropes and stories. I want to read and see new kinds of stories, ones that are past those tropes. I want to see more queer joy; so that’s what I write.
(BAW) I try to avoid writing societies with homophobia. Since I can make my worlds from scratch, I never see the need to include it. Hence, I don’t have to worry about the coming-out trope, either. And since most of the characters I write are usually some flavor of bi or pansexual, I don’t have to worry about the “bury your gays” trope, where only the LGBTQ+ people in a story die. No one is safe in my worlds.
(JH) How do you perceive the current state of LGBTQ+ representation in literature, and what changes would you like to see?
(DRS) I think we’re in an interesting spot. More and more representation is making it into the mainstream. At the same time, I see a lot of exploitation and fetishization of us and our experiences. I’d like more nuance and I’d like more authors who share the identity and experience of their characters to get to tell their stories. I don’t want to exclude anyone, but I want a bigger table.
(BAW) I’m so happy to be seeing more representation in traditional publishing. I couldn’t find much when I started writing, and what I did find often had tragic endings. I’d like to see more journalists digging a little deeper when putting together lists like “Ten LGBTQ+ Books You Should Be Reading.” They’re always about books published by the largest companies in the world. Small and medium presses like Bold Strokes Books have been putting out queer content for decades, but readers might not be as familiar with them as they are with a huge publisher.
(JH) What are your thoughts on the importance of “own voices” in LGBTQ+ literature, where authors share the identities of the characters they are writing?
(DRS) I think it’s crucial. If you do not have representation of an experience written by the group that has that experience, you get the problems I mentioned above. You’re holding up a mirror but it’s bent and what’s reflected runs the risk of being harmful. There’s room for all sorts of stories and writers, but I’d like to see more own voice experiences getting exposure, and I’d especially like to see Sapphic stories written by bi or lesbian women selling as well ones featuring gay men.
(JH) Have you faced any specific challenges or prejudices in your career as an LGBTQ+ author, and how have you navigated them?
(DRS) So far I’ve been lucky. I get an occasional homophobic review, but they are far outnumbered by the emails or reviews I get from readers who are so glad to have found books that reflect their experience.
I’m also very lucky that I get to work with an awesome agent and publishers who get what I’m doing: writing stories about gay people that aren’t about being gay.
(JH) Can you share a success story or triumph related to your work as an LGBTQ+ author or in writing LGBTQ+ characters?
(DRS) Nothing means as much as those emails. So few people write about the rural LGBTQ+ experience, who write about characters like Adam Binder from my first series. Hearing that someone found Adam’s books (White Trash Warlock, etc.) and that they connected with him because they have a similar background, means the world to me. I especially know I got it right when they mention the food. Adam eats what I ate growing up in the trailer in Oklahoma. They often tell me how glad I am that the rural characters I write aren’t one dimensional, that I wrote what I knew and didn’t make them a stereotype.
(BAW) Being nominated for a Lambda Literary Award and winning two Goldie Awards were definitely high points for me. It meant a lot to be recognized by writers and readers and have my work labeled “outstanding.” And I always love hearing from readers. My first triumphant feeling has to be when I spotted someone reading one of my books in the wild, so to speak, at a hotel. I had to restrain myself from running over and freaking them out by saying, “I wrote that!” I just quietly took a picture.
(JH) What role do you see LGBTQ+ authors and literature playing in shaping cultural attitudes and promoting acceptance?
(DRS) We have to tell our stories. We have show that stereotypes are harmful, and that we aren’t just one thing. The more diverse stories we put into the world, the bigger picture we draw. I think young adult literature is doing a lot of heavy lifting here, but it’s also important that we make sure the representation is wide and experienced.
There have recently been some harmful reactions to representation, what is an acceptable kind of gay and what is not. Wider representation and mixing in more own voices helps combat that.
If the representation is limited it can lead to stereotypes. An example of this I often experienced when I was younger came from Will and Grace. Because that was the main example that straight people had at the time, they often wanted me to be Jack or Will, and I didn’t want to be put in either of those boxes. I wanted to be David and hated having those caricatures thrust upon me. I wanted, and want, to be seen for who I am, not just someone’s limited idea of what a gay man is because of limited representation.
(BAW) The more authors and literature there is, the more accepted we will be. We just have to keep marching forward.
(JH) How do you connect with other LGBTQ+ writers, and how important is that community to you?
(DRS) If you’re a writer looking to make those connections, I’d start with conferences or see if your local library has a meetup group. I find there’s usually a group of LGBTQ+ writers at most writing conventions. There are sometimes library clubs or local meetups. I’ve been lucky enough to attend conventions like Pikes Peak Writers or Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers here in Colorado and form critique groups with writers I met there. We have a way of finding each other.
(BAW) I’m a part of many different organizations where queer writers (and those who write queer characters) come together, the Golden Crown Literary Society being the main one. I’m also close with quite a few writers in my publishing house and many whom I’ve met at various writing conferences like The Writers’ League of Texas and Women’s Week in Provincetown. And also those I’ve met at fantasy and science-fiction conferences like ArmadilloCon in Austin. My community keeps me going.
(JH) Have you received any particularly meaningful feedback from LGBTQ+ readers about how your work has resonated with them?
(DRS) I already discussed the emails about Adam Binder, but recently someone read my latest book, Dark Moon, Shallow Sea – set in a world without homophobia, racism, etc. A reader wrote to say that he’d always loved fantasy but couldn’t connect with it because he realized he’d been missing. People like us just weren’t on the stage. I teared up because he got it. He was feeling what I want to feel when I pick up a book, that there’s a place for me in that world and that someone like me can be a hero without dying a tragic death or existing just to move someone else’s story forward.
(BAW) I got one very poignant letter from a reader who saw themselves in Laret, a trans character in Thrall: Beyond Gold and Glory. I was a little sad that it took a fantasy book about lesbian and bisexual Vikings to see herself, but I was so glad I could provide that for her.
(JH) How do you hope readers, both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community, will respond to your portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters?
(DRS) I hope that people can connect with the characters, see themselves in the stories I write. You don’t have to be LGBTQ+ to understand Adam’s background and history with things like food insecurity or an abusive father. You don’t have to be gay to understand Raef’s loneliness in Dark Moon, Shallow Sea or his desperate hope to try and save his dying world.
(BAW) I hope my characters will resonate with everyone who reads them. I also hope readers will remember my stories long after they’ve finished reading, and that people can see themselves in the characters I create.
(JH) Who are some LGBTQ+ authors or works that have inspired you, and why?
(DRS) I particularly appreciate Gail Carriger’s diversity of characters and hopeful fiction. I love C.S. Poe’s Steam and Magic series. Anything by Shaun David Hutchinson is an autobuy for me. He does such an awesome job of marrying high concepts to very human stakes and feelings. Same for Cale Dietrich. He writes great books and loves to work in different genres.
If you like my stuff and want something adjacent to urban fantasy, I suggest K.D. Edwards’ Tarot Sequence, and if you’re looking for great Sapphic fantasy, check out Barbara Ann Wright and Helen Corcoran. If you’d like something gritty and down to earth, check out Gregory Ashe’s mysteries. Finally, my friend Trip Galey has a new book out called A Market of Dreams and Destiny. I was privileged enough to read an early copy and blurb it, and I definitely recommend it.
(BAW) There are so many, but I will restrict myself to two. David R. Slayton has to top that list with his Adam Binder novels. His perseverance as an author has always inspired me, and I love that he writes unapologetically queer characters. Radclyffe has inspired me by continually edging into areas where queer characters/writers haven’t been welcomed (like certain romance competitions) and continuing to submit her work and let people know that queer people are here and writing and not going anywhere.
(JH) What goals do you have for future writing projects related to LGBTQ+ themes or characters? How do you plan to continue evolving in this area?
(DRS) I’ve mentioned Dark Moon, Shallow Sea a few times. It was a real joy to work in a world without phobias or isms. I’d like to do more with that world and those characters. It depends on the sales. The first book definitely stands alone, but I’ve got sequels planned if the audience is there.
I also have a few more fantasies and a space opera set in worlds like that, where the conflict isn’t centered on the characters’ identity. One has dragons. One is an alternate World War I with necromancy.
All of my books feature a love story, though they aren’t romances. I do write romance and recently released one called To Catch a Geek. It’s exclusive to the KISS app for now. I’d like to write another of those and bring a bit more of lived experience to the genre.
Continuing the theme of moving past gay trauma, I have a spin off to the Adam Binder series coming out in 2024. It’s called Rogue Community College and in it I get to further explore found family and finding your home. I’m awfully proud of this one. It’s X-Men meets Doctor Who with a dash of Umbrella Academy. The best description I have for its genre is whatever the opposite of dark academia would be called. Cozy academia maybe?
I’m also hoping to continue the Adam Binder series. If I do, we’ll see a time jump and get to spend some books with Adam having moved beyond a lot of his hurt and family history.
Basically, I’ve got a lot of books in me. I hope to keep writing LGBTQ+ characters and telling their stories for as long as I can. I’m hoping I can keep creating characters that people connect with.
(BAW) Pretty much everything I write from here on out will have LGBTQ+ characters. My newest novel, Haunted by Myth, comes out in December. It’s a sapphic tale featuring ghosts and monsters and Helen of Troy. I don’t know about evolution. If my work gets any gayer, I might transcend to another level of existence.
A big thank you to these wonderful authors who shared their creative experiences through the lens of their LGBTQ+ identities! If you want to know more about them and their works take a look at their websites!