You can read more about Switchback on Goodreads
When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.
Sure! Switchback is the story of two best friends—Vale and Ash—who are trapped by an autumn snowstorm in the Rocky Mountains. The main character, Vale, is an aroace teen who has a great support and understanding in her online LGBTQIA community, but who struggles to talk about her orientation with people in her day-to-day life. Vale is on-the-page-aroace. There’s no hinting, no suggestion; it’s stated. She is both asexual and aromantic, and while Vale herself understands this, those people who are close to her tend to overlook it. Over the course of the book, she’s able to share that part of herself with her best friend, Ash, and become more confident in asserting her identity.
I always start writing my books with the characters in mind, and very early on I had a sense of Vale—who she was and what made her ‘tick’. In planning and prewriting, I frequently discover details that never make it to the final version of the book. These little snippets become my own “head-canon” and they shape my writing. But with Vale, her identity as an aroace teen were so strong from the first moment I put my pen to the paper. I knew I needed to include all of it into her story.
I never wanted Vale to be the romantic interest of this book. I didn’t want her to be saved (though she does a fair bit of saving herself.) What I was compelled to write was a complex character who happens to be aroace. I felt so strongly about that aspect of Vale, that I rewrote many of her interactions to make it clearer. Survival strips things away from us, but it also gives us clarity. Boy does Vale shine!
3. What did you find most challenging and most rewarding about writing an aroace character?
First off, there are always more rewards than challenges when you are writing a realistic character. I already knewgoing in that Vale was aroace and I wanted to make certain that—as a bi writer—I did Vale’s representation justice. I was determined to make Vale’s identity a clear part of who she was. I didn’t want the story to be about her being aroace, but I needed it to be correctly represented. I also didn’t want it glossed over or ignored.
The biggest reward was when beta readers, asexual and aromantic readers, and the aroace sensitivity readers who went through the early drafts embraced Vale’s story. I was overwhelmed by the support and love I received from them!
4. Without spoiling anything, can you tell us how you identify the orientation of your character on the page? Did you use the term “aroace” in the text and how did you come to that decision?
Something that has always bothered me in literature is when authors leave a character’s sexuality and orientation so vague that readers must decipher it through subtext. When I was a teen and I read the Anne of Green Gables series, I was certain that Anne and Diana were soulmates. I felt utterly betrayed when Anne ended up with Gilbert! My bi heart was broken! From the start of my writing career I’ve made it a point of saying what a character’s orientation is. In All the Feels, Xander—an on-the-page bi boy—says out loud that he is bisexual. In Switchback,Vale tells Ash that she’s aroace and she explains what that means. There’s no hinting, no pretending, just truth.
My decision to use the term “aroace” came down to honesty. I didn’t want cishet readers shipping Ash and Vale or wondering if a romance could have happened between them. Unless I made Vale’s orientation and sexuality clear for the reader, that was a risk. It’s why I use the term aroace, embrace it for this character, and why I explain it for those readers who might not understand it. I’m so glad I made this choice!
5. In writing an aroace character, did you do research and consult sensitivity readers or did you rely on your own knowledge or experience?
A book is never written in one go and that was certainly true of Switchback. I started with Vale’s aroace identity in mind, based on my own understanding (from several close asexual and aromantic friends) and from my knowledge about the spectrum of sexuality and orientation. Since aroace isn’t my personal experience, however, I knew I needed to go further. I needed to listen more than speak and that meant reaching out.
I talked to my friends who identify as aromantic and asexual as I wrote Vale, adding and changing descriptions and interactions as I went. When the first draft was done, I hired an aroace sensitivy reader, then rewrote / expanded parts that she noted. Once I’d rewritten the draft, I sent her the revisions and she read through them a second time. There was a brief moment of celebration. She loved the story!
With that done, I sent the polished draft off to my editor at Macmillan and she arranged for another aroace sensitivity reader—one who’d never read Switchback before. Again, the sensitivity reader had a few minor tweaks and even more positive feedback. I gave the book one more run through, making all the changes and polishing, before I let the sensitivity reader and beta readers go through yet again. The response was overwhelmingly positive in the final round!
Any book is a collaborative process, but especially when a writer is going beyond their own experience. You need to make every effort to do the best, most accurate job, that you can. I hope that you love Vale as much as I do!
I have two distinct memories of encountering asexual and aromantic figures. Both left a strong impression on me. The first was a moment in a long-ago Art History class when a professor was lecturing about Andy Warhol. He made a passing comment that “during his life, Andy Warhol always said he was asexual.” The prof then went on to say “but I’m certain he was gay.” That statement bothered me tremendously (especially as a bi woman who was only starting to come to terms with her own sexual identity.) In my mind, it seemed to me that if Andy believed he was asexual, shouldn’t we believe him too?
The second was when I discovered the character of Paks from The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon. Although it is never explicitly stated, Paks (to me) is the embodiment of an aroace woman. The whole premise of the book, in fact, is Paks stepping away from the life her family and society expect her to follow: romance, marriage, family, kids; and taking off on an adventure of her own. There is no romance, but friendship abounds. And when I finished that book, I felt so good about that character and her interactions.
Deed of Paksennarion aside, I absolutely LOVED Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love, which features Alice, a black biromantic asexual main who I know you will adore. If you haven’t read this one yet, you MUST! It’s soooooooo good!
8. Do you know what you are going to be working on next and do you think we see more ace and aro characters in your future stories?
Right now I have a couple projects in the works. The first is Fall of Night, a thriller. It’s along the lines of Tana French’s Into the Woods, and it’s the last book in my contemporary adult mystery series set in Waterton, Canada. Another of my projects is a contemporary YA, but it’s still in the early planning stage. It involves a group of D&D gamers, and it’s going to be SO FUN. (More on that soon!)
As to whether or not you’ll see more aromantic and asexual characters in my upcoming works… DEFINITELY! Representation matters, and I’m so grateful I’m writing at a time that diversity is embraced. We need those stories!
Thank you for interviewing me! I’m so happy that Switchback, my little aroace book, has found its niche, and that you’re taking time to support it.