You can read more about Lynn's books on Goodreads
Lynn holds an MA in creative writing and literature and spends her time predominantly on the European continent, where she divides her time between all things (indie) publishing, editing and teaching English as a Second Language to students unfortunate enough to have to keep up with her. They seem to appreciate her even so.
1. Thank you so much for joining me for A-spec April! You have published quite a few books with a-spec characters so, for readers picking up your books for the first time looking for ace and aro rep, where do you recommend that they start?
Thank you for having me and organising A-spec April! It’ll be an absolute blast!
As for where to start with my works… Hmmm… That’s a tough question. I’d suggest picking up Sea Foam and Silence or The Princess who Didn’t Eat Cake, I think. I’m no good at general recommendations. I’d much sooner spend more time to get to know a person and their tastes a little to tailor the recommendations to them personally.
For example: Sea Foam and Silence, which I just recced as a good place to start, won’t work for people who absolutely hate verse novels. If you’ve never read one, enjoy them or are indifferent about them, I’d recommend checking it out, though. It’s a fluffy, polyamorous aromance with two a-spec characters in the lead. It doesn’t use the terms explicitly, but you’ll still know. I’d recommend it especially if you haven’t read much ace or aro fiction before because it’s about as close as my work gets to introducing them to a general audience. Also, if you like queer fairy tales, it’s a retelling of The Little Mermaid but arospec and ace.
The Princess who Didn’t Eat Cake is a literary fairy tale I came up with to kind of explain demisexuality through story as well as a couple of essays to explain it further for anyone who finds those helpful. It’s fairly rough, but it does its job. I wouldn’t recommend it to people more versed in asexuality, though, and absolutely not if you’re looking for aromantic representation. That doesn’t really get covered at all.
If you’ve read some aromantic or asexual books before and want something a lot meatier in dealing with asexuality and aromanticism, The Ice Princess’s Fair Illusion is perhaps more to your liking. (Again, though, not if you hate poetry.) That’s… more Ace and Aro 301 and is fairly unforgiving to people who’ve never heard about asexuality or aromanticism before. Illusion also makes a point of using labels explicitly as much as possible, so if you’re looking for a book that does that, this might fit your needs.
If fairy tales are absolutely not someone’s speed, I’d recommend A Promise Broken. That’s 100% secondary world fantasy. It’s about a little girl dealing with grief and bullying, and childhood depression, as well as her aroace trans uncle who is just trying to be a good dad in a tough situation. I’d recommend it especially if you’d like a book where characters being queer is just part of who they are rather than a big plot point.
I hope that helps people find a good place to start!
2. Have you always wanted to write asexual and aromantic characters into your stories or is this something that you decided to do later on in your writing career?
Neither and both. I’ve always written asexual and/or aromantic characters. I just didn’t have any words to encapsulate their experiences neatly when discussing them. From what I can tell that seems fairly standard for a number of writers and it’s certainly something that can be seen in contemporary commentary on books from even twenty years ago. Asexual and aromantic characters have always existed, but we discuss and frame their existence using the terms available to us at the time we write it.
So for me, writing was always very much a case of including a-spec characters without realising I was doing it. Then, when I learned about asexuality and aromanticism, something about my writing clicked and it made sense of a lot of stories and character interactions I had lying about. Some of them had always seemed a little off, but it wasn’t until I started to understand asexuality and aromanticism that I understood what and could articulate why. I certainly feel much better about my writing and myself for having these words and being able to explain, in detail, why the narratives are structured the way that they are.
3. What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about writing aro and ace characters?
The most challenging thing for me is writing across a spectrum without accidentally throwing another point on the spectrum under the bus. For example, it’s very easy to write a story about a demisexual character that’s aphobic and amisic completely by accident or to write a romance that includes arophobic and aromisic comments without realising it. You have to be alert and aware of the way you present your characters a lot.
A relatively easy way to mitigate that potential, though, is by simply having multiple characters on different points on the spectrum. If you have one character that undermines the point another makes that helps to keep the reader from internalising it as true.
The most rewarding thing about writing ace and aro characters is simply knowing that there is more representation out there once I published it. I’m one of the first to push back against the idea that there is nothing out there for readers to find because there’s a lot more than people usually think there is, but the truth is that asexual and aromantic representation is hard to find because there is, objectively, not that much of it when we take a look at publishing numbers as a whole. (Aromantic numbers are especially abysmal, but we’re getting a few more books with explicit aro representation later this year, which is awesome!)
And, of course, readers reaching out to you to say your work meant something to them is pretty darned rewarding too. <3
4. How do you tend to identify the orientation of your characters on the page? Do you use the terms “aromantic” and “asexual” in the text and how did you come to that decision?
I actually did a couple of essays on this exact question back in January. The short answer, though, is that it’s a decision I make for each story individually. That said, I lean strongly towards showing the orientations without labelling them.
Some of that is down to bad experiences, notably authors using – and often explaining – the labels without any kind of follow-through in the depiction (sometimes getting it just plain wrong) or using the labels as a way to avoid accusations of writing Gay For You narratives. I vastly prefer not having a label and/or seeing it used in marketing only than having the label but the depiction in the book doesn’t ring true in any aspect.
Still, labels do matter and they’re important. If nothing else, using the label in conjunction with a narrative that actually shows the character’s orientations, allows us to see how the term applies to a variety of experiences and how it encompasses the whole spectrum of identities. Plus, including the label spreads awareness that is, currently, often sorely lacking. So many people discover asexuality and aromanticism because an author wrote an explicitly asexual or aromantic character.
It’s just not something I want to do in every book I write, you know? I firmly believe that there is room for both the books that use the labels explicitly and the ones that don’t. First, though, we should work on dismantling the idea that we can’t use labels to describe our own identities in fiction where dragons are utterly unremarkable.
5. When writing aromantic and asexual characters, do you do research and consult sensitivity readers or do you rely on your own knowledge or experience?
I mostly rely on my own knowledge and experience as well as research and a betareading circle.
For research, what’s most important is really just finding ace and aro voices to listen to. We all have vastly different experiences and that informs everything we do. One thing that I find helpful and would recommend to anyone interested in ace and aro characters, is reading as widely as possible within ace and aro literature to see not just how people talk about asexuality and aromanticism, but how that translates into narratives.
That research actually led to my picking up independent research into asexuality and aromanticism in literature in general and, honestly, I consider it one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. For example: Did you know that there are documents from the 1990s that use the term asexual and were sympathetic to asexuality? That Magnus Hirschfeld (and yes I mean that Magnus Hirshfeld, the one who championed homosexual and transgender rights), though likely pathologising it, used a term that is verbatim the modern definition of asexuality before the 1900s even arrived, never mind the 1990s or the 2000s? Also the Greeks had different kinds of love that they recognised and named, one of them being φιλία? You might recognise it from the English suffix -philia, and which originally meant something like ‘brotherly love’ or ‘friendship’ and may or may not be a good place to start tracing the history of asexuality and aromanticism throughout history. You know, for any ace or aro historians out there looking for a PhD topic…
Which I realise is drifting, but queer history is so fractured in general and ace and aro history is only just starting to get researched, so many of us often don’t even know these hints exist to be sought, let alone studied.
Anyway, so when I say ‘research’ I, personally, mean literally any kind I can do: I read books and sites where aces and aros try to explain their orientations and experiences in nonfiction, I read fiction where they do the same, I read nonfiction that is about asexuality or aromanticism (but, really, mostly asexuality at this point), I talk to fellow aces and aros about our experiences. And I avoid anything I can’t confidently write about until I know I can afford the sensitivity readers to make sure it works as-intended and avoids harmful stereotypes I missed. You can get a good sense of those stereotypes by reading reviews by asexual and aromantic individuals or by listening to them talk about the issues they deal with in every day life or in seeking representation.
The biggest issue I see in writing ace or aro representation is, honestly, not the stereotypes I usually talk about (although they exist and if you want to write ace or aro characters, you’ll write better ones if you know about them!) but the suggestion that it’s a One Size Fits All identity label (and yes I do mean a single identity) when they aren’t. Give asexuality and aromanticism in your fiction the save level of care and detail as everything else!
6. Does the fact that you write very diverse representation into your books impact your decision to self publish?
I… wouldn’t say so? At least not consciously. The only representation that’s impacted my decision to self-publish is the asexual and aromantic representation at times, and then because I’m a slow writer and I have several series in the works they of course get indie published too. Mostly, though, I self-publish longer works because the narratives are relatively niche. I focus on cosybright stories with low, intimate stakes compared to a lot of other narratives. They don’t often fit well into what you see traditional publishing produce (comp titles were a nightmare for ages) and you can see it do particularly well in self-publishing, so that’s a much larger factor in why I pursue self-publishing than diversity.
That’s especially true nowadays, where we’re seeing more diversity get published in traditional publishing. For all its many faults, the field is getting better nanometre by nanometre.
7. What was your first experience with seeing asexual or aromantic characters in fiction and media?
Ah, there are… two issues with me answering that question as it stands, so let me rephrase it a little: What was your first experience with seeing explicitly asexual or aromantic characters in fiction and media?
I’ve rephrased it that way because I’ve encountered asexual and aromantic characters long before discovering there were terms for these identities and none of them stood out particularly to me. I’d missed they were coded as asexual and/or aromantic until revisiting their stories after learning about asexuality and aromanticism.
Even rephrased, though, I’ll have to cheat a little. My memory is utterly terrible and I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you with certainty. I’m pretty sure that Every Heart a Doorway was the very first time I saw someone use the words in fiction, though. I adored it when I first read it and, though I’ve enjoyed rereads, I’ve found myself disappointed by the way it relies on unexamined stereotypes.
For aromanticism, I’m pretty sure that the first explicitly aromantic character I ever encountered was Vasiht’h from M.C.A. Hogarth’s The Dreamhealers Saga, though the word itself isn’t used. Vasiht’h is love, though. The books won’t be for everyone because it explicitly ties asexuality and aromanticism to biology and implies it’s both artificial and fixable (even if the narrative is very clear this is not something the arospec and acespec characters themselves want fixed), but to me they’re a little piece of home. They’re the first books that showed me, without question, that the kind of relationship I’d nebulously realised I’d want if any and had no way to articulate were not only possible but could be good and strong and wonderful.
Never ask me to name favourites. T_T This question is just cruel. How am I supposed to pick just a couple?
I’m extremely partial to Claudie Arseneault’s work (yes, all of it) and Lyssa Chiavari’s Iamos series. I have the biggest sweet spot for Becca Lusher’s Sing to Me and her Dragonlands Mastekh. I adore Vasiht’h from M.C.A. Hogarth’s The Dreamhealers Saga. (Seriously, Vasiht’h is love, and that is not hyperbole. He is made of pure love.) Sulien from Jo Walton’s Tir Tanagiri books is amazing. If you’re looking for badass aroace main characters, look no further. I loved Ceillie Simkiss’s An Unexpected Invitation. I adore Regan from RoAnna Sylver’s Chameleon Moon. Teague from Tamsen Parker’s Thrown Off Track is one of the best depictions of demisexuality I’ve read…
You see why this question is evil, yes? ;) There’s a lot of good representation out there. Not all of what I’ve just mentioned is ownvoices, but at least half of it is and all of it resonated strongly with me specifically for its a-spec representation.
9. 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?
I’m actually going to continue working on the pieces that I’m currently working on. I’m smack in the middle of a sequel to Among the Glimmering Flowers that I aim to have finished by the end of the year. So that one definitely contains ace and aro characters! I’m aiming to release it sometime in 2020.
Beyond that, I’m actually focusing my attention on finally writing an essay discussing the asexual representation in Chameleon Moon and I’m slowly letting a new Fairytale Verses story percolate. That one may or may not contain asexual or aromantic characters. I’m not sure yet. It’s still in the very early stages. Because it’s a verse novel and I find this much easier to write, it may actually get published in late 2019.
And, because this isn’t busy enough, I’m also slowly gathering up the material I need to set up a course in asexuality in modern literature! At the time this post goes live, the first one in the set is already available to everyone.
That… may be more than you wanted to know, but what can I say. I’m eclectic.