Incubus Honeymoon (Arcana Imperii #1) by August Li
Cover Artist: Blake Dorner
Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with August Li
Trans and Enby Characters, Own Voices, and the Challenges Therein
I’ve written a lot of blog posts to promote this book. I was happy to see Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words offered a series of interview questions and that I wouldn’t have to think up an entire subject on my own. The interview starts with the statement “You can answer any or all of the questions.”
I only ended up answering one. You’ll see why.
How much of yourself goes into a character?
Quick answer: it depends. Empathy aside, a writer really has to draw on their own experiences, and if not specific experiences, then similar emotional events. Everyone has love, loss, frustration, and inspiration to draw from. A writer doesn’t need to deal with exactly what the character does if they can find a time when the emotional impact was similar. That and some research is usually plenty.
The easiest characters are those closest to me in personality—in this book, Dante with his anger at the world’s inequity and injustice, coupled with a sense of futility, that nothing he can personally do will fix anything, came easily from my feelings about the world at the moment. I also work hard to make sure the nonhuman characters exhibit motivations that set them apart, so the differences are more than cosmetic.
But the truth is one of the characters in this book is more personal to me than probably any I’ve yet written.
I’ve always been very open about being trans, and I’ve even, to an extent, documented some of my physical transition. Yet it’s been many years now since I came out, but I’ve never used my Own Voice and written a trans or nonbinary character until now. Why?
One thing that made me hesitate is that I don’t necessarily want to shape people’s notions of trans and nonbinary people, and maybe especially not with this character. Jet can be kind of nasty. Jet uses their skills to harm people they don’t like or don’t agree with, rather than trying to understand those people or come to any kind of an understanding. While not a bitter or unhappy person, Jet is defined by what they hate—granted, that’s tyranny, racism, inequality, etc.—more than by what they love. Jet does not go high. Jet is not opposed to the use of force. Jet smokes a lot of weed and has a lot of sex with whoever strikes their fancy. Altogether, a hell of an introduction to a nonbinary person for those who have never met one in real life or fiction. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I debated on making Jet a cis person or toning down their more… controversial actions. But I couldn’t do it. Jet IS a nonbinary person; Jet IS a resistance fighter and one who thinks the ends justify the means. Jet likes to stir up shit and fuck with people. Remove any of these characteristics, and they are a different person. And in my opinion, they’d have suffered a tremendous loss. I’m curious how others feel about writing underrepresented characters who are morally ambiguous.
I also didn’t want to use it as a crutch. There are almost as many gay romances as straight at this point, and it’s hard to stand out amongst them. God knows it’s hard to stand out in mainstream fantasy. Trans and nonbinary characters are starting to get more attention—finally; yay!—but it’s still a much smaller pool. And it’s easier to be a bigger fish in a smaller pool. I really didn’t want that. I didn’t want my book to get attention just because there’s a nonbinary and an asexual character; the book and the characters mean too much to me. The solution to that was a simple, though brutal, one: I made sure this was the best book I could possibly write. I did everything in my power to construct a world and a plot that would compel readers, that is hopefully complex but not confusing. I revised and revised, weighing each word. My editorial team helped a lot too. A lot. Bottom line, I wanted to write a damn good urban fantasy. Some of the characters are queer. While that matters, I don’t want it to qualify the previous statement. I hope I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do.
Finally, and this is probably going to get a little personal, so if you’d rather skip to the blurb or ogle that gorgeous cover art by Blake Dorner, no foul. I won’t go into a lot of detail, but there’s some pain tied up with all of this for me. Since I came out as trans, I’ve lost people. People who I thought would always have my back turned against me. I wasn’t allowed to visit my grandfather before he died, and I won’t get to see my grandmother either. But on the other hand, I have a publisher, Dreamspinner Press, who changed my name on my entire backlist without me even asking. I have a community of friends who helped me raise money for surgery. I’ve met the person I hope to spend the rest of my life with. Still, it was scary to come out, and using my Own Voice and writing a trans character was similarly scary. It brought back some of the bad. But it brought back a lot of the good too, and I can’t wait to write more trans and nonbinary characters. As a reader, do you like reading about these characters? What are some of your favorite books featuring them?
As the so-called magical creatures go, I’m low on the hierarchy, and my powers aren’t much good to human mages. I’m a lover, not a fighter, through and through. I’m also selfish, lazy, and easily bored. But I’m damned good at what I do.
Too bad that won’t get my arse out of this sling.
Do one—granted, uncharacteristic—good deed, and now I’m held hostage to an arrogant faerie prince, trying to track down the one who summoned him while dodging gangbangers, gun runners, and Nazis. Add the powerful mage guilds scrambling to gather firepower for some doomsday event they’re sure is around the corner, and my cushy life of leisure might be nothing but a memory. On top of that, something’s compelling me to change on my most fundamental level. I’m not sure what I’ve got myself mixed up in, but nothing will ever be the same.
Featuring a new twist on urban fantasy combined with fast-paced action and intrigue, the Arcana Imperii series books are standalone adventures, each completely accessible to new readers.
About the Author
August Li plays every game as a mage. He thinks the closest thing to magic outside of games and fantasy is to bring things into existence from nothing, which he does in words and images. As a proud trans man, he hopes to bring diversity and representation to all those who want to see themselves in the art and stories they enjoy. He’s a perfectionist, travel enthusiast, and caffeine addict.
Gus makes his home on the coast of South Carolina, where he spends his days in search of merpeople, friendly cats, and interesting pieces of driftwood. He collects ball-jointed dolls, tattoos, and languages. He believes in faeries and thinks they’re terrifying… but still wants to meet one.
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