You can read more about An Accident of Stars on Goodreads
An itinerant Australian, Foz currently lives in California with not enough books, her very own philosopher and their voluble spawn. Surprisingly, this is a good thing.
Sure! There are four POV characters in An Accident of Stars, and one of them, Gwen, is aromantic. She’s an older woman in her fifties who’s also bisexual in a poly marriage: she was born and raised on Earth in a black British family, but has lived most of her adult life in Kena, a nation in another world. She has an adult son and acts as a friend and worldwalking mentor to the teenage protagonist, Saffron, who follows her through a portal to Kena and gets caught up in the political happenings there.
It’s funny – Saffron is a character I’ve been trying to write a story about since high school, but it was Gwen who catalysed the early drafts of An Accident of Stars. She popped into my head and forced me to write about her: I had this really vivid picture of her in my mind of this self-sufficient, snarky, nomadic woman, and as I realised that she and Saffron belonged in the same story, I started to get a more detailed sense of who she was as a person and why she’d chosen to live in Kena instead of on Earth. I think I’d been peripherally aware of ace/aro identities before writing the book, but as I was working out the details of Gwen’s backstory, I came across a more detailed breakdown of them and realised that I’d been thinking of her as aromantic without remembering there was a word for it. After that, it was just a question of making it explicit in the text and trying to be respectful.
3. What did you find most challenging and most rewarding about writing an aromantic character?
I wouldn’t say writing that aspect of Gwen was challenging, per se, except inasmuch as I wanted to do her justice, but it was really nice to have that bedrock concept of a character who loves deeply and platonically to explore. I think there’s a common misconception that being aro means being cold, aloof, detached, unfeeling, as though it’s only possible to love romantically, or as though all other forms of love are somehow incomplete or insufficient if there isn’t romance in the mix, too, and that’s just nonsense to me. Gwen’s marriage is based on deep platonic affection, as are her closest friendships, and that felt very natural to write. I think we tend to forget that the modern Western emphasis on sexual-and-romantic feelings as the most important type of love has never been a cultural universal. Even for people who aren’t ace or aro, it does us all a huge emotional disservice to act as though platonic love and nonsexual intimacy aren’t important for everyone.
4. How did you identify the orientation of your characters on the page? Did you use the term “aromantic” in the text and how did you come to that decision?
Once I realised Gwen was aromantic, I made a point to use the word on the page; I did the same with Saffron’s bisexuality, too. Particularly in pure fantasy settings – as opposed to a portal fantasy like An Accident of Stars, where the characters have plausible access to modern English terms – I understand why some writers are conflicted about using what can feel like anachronistic words to describe gender and sexuality for their characters, not wanting to break immersion. Even so, if you put those concepts in your invented culture and explain them so that they’re still recognisable to the reader – which is what I tried to do for a trans character in Accident – then I think that works just as well. Ultimately, the thing I try to keep in mind is that, no matter how much I love my characters, they’re not real people: the readers are, and if it makes a difference to someone to see themselves unambiguously represented by a particular word or concept, then why not make the effort to be explicit?
5. In writing an aromantic character, did you do research and consult sensitivity readers or did you rely on your own knowledge or experience?
I did do research and consult more knowledgeable people for Gwen’s backstory, but it wasn’t about her aromanticism; it was about her experience as growing up black and British during the Thatcher years – a tiny detail in terms of the novel, but I wanted to understand it properly so I could write her better. Otherwise, I just wrote what felt right.
6. What was your first experience with seeing asexual or aromantic characters in fiction and media?
You know, I’m not sure! This is going to seem like a segue, but bear with me: there are a few characters in Jane Austen novels who I’ve always thought of as queer, not because she explicitly wrote them that way, but because I felt as though she was drawing on her experience of real human beings to write believable characters, and so recreated queer individuals on the page without necessarily realising that’s what she was doing. That being so, I think the same thing applies to a lot of characters in stories I’ve enjoyed over the years: they might not be explicitly ace or aro in text, particularly if they were written in a period before those terms were remotely in circulation, but they’ll be there anyway. That being said, it’s still important to include explicit representation – I’m just drawing a mental blank as to what that first experience was for me!
This is a potentially controversial example, as I don’t think this character was ever explicitly defined as ace in the text, but the Fool from Robin Hobb’s various Farseer and Liveship books has always read that way to me. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, but as a teenager, they were some of my favourites.
8. Do you know what you are going to be working on next and do you think we see more a-spec characters in your future stories?
At the moment, I’ve got a bunch of projects in varying stages of progress, but nothing that’s actually finished – as soon as I’ve got something done, I’ll be tweeting about it! I absolutely intend to include more a-spec characters in the future; it’s just a question of which stories they appear in and which ones I finish first.