Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Archer Kay Leah – Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archer’s family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Thanks so much, Archer, for joining me!
Queer Sci Fi: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Archer Kay Leah: I started writing at six, but I was seven when all of it started falling into place through to when I was fourteen. After I wrote my first story, I was done for and totally sold on writing. It empowered me to write more and share my creative thoughts with others. It gave me a safe outlet to make things up and have fun whenever I was bored or lonely. Thanks to encouragement from my parents and first grade teacher, I wrote a second story, a third, a fourth… and I’ve never stopped.
The discovery that I was good at it came from the responses from my elementary school teachers over the years. Though the feelings were cinched when two of my stories were chosen to participate in a local event referred to as the Literary Guild, where a small number of students were chosen from schools in our region to share their stories with each other. It felt prestigious; special. By extension, I felt special – like my stories meant something. Like I could share something unique and actually feel like I belonged. For someone who never “fit” social groups, that opportunity and the encouragement from teachers to keep writing gave me hope and a place to feel good about myself.
QSF: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
AKL: Option #1: A writer and published author. I wanted to share my stories so bad!
Option #2: Something to do with animals. My family insisted I’d be a veterinarian like my uncle, but I wanted to do something else. I didn’t know what until high school when I discovered cryptozoology and animal behaviour.
Zoom into the present and here is the full score: I’ve published a few works with more to come, plus I have a zoology degree and practical experience in animal welfare issues. Not too shabby! (Yes, I’m a total nerd.)
QSF: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
AKL: Style: Easy with a love of laid-back dialogue within a relatively formal narrative frame. Diverse, too: I prefer writing with modern conventions, including a smooth variation in dialogue-narrative relationships, inner dialogue, and a full-on embrace of (proper) dialogue tags that aren’t “said”.
Genre: So. Much. Fantasy. I’m a total speculative fiction junkie, but fantasy is my main addiction. High fantasy, Epic Fantasy, and Sword & Sorcery are my specialties, but every now and then, something comes up science fiction or science fiction fantasy (I love blending genres). Sometimes I’ll come up with something dystopian, urban fantasy, or paranormal. Then I cross all of this with romance and LGBTQA+ fiction to come up with something this side of bonkers.
QSF: Describe yourself using a song.
AKL: For a relatively rounded description, mash-up the words and attitude of these songs:
(1) “Extroverts at Play” by Color Theory –As he says in the song: “Tomorrow we’ll take the whole day/to recuperate in a private place/sleeping or reading a book/our resilience now is our saving grace” and “We’ll hone our acting skills/Fake it ’til we make it, baby”. Yep, that’s me socially.
(2) “White and Nerdy” by Weird Al Yankovic – The fact I easily got every reference in this song and identify with the overall concept says everything. Also: Humour is good.
(3) “Savages” by Marina and the Diamonds + “Wazzup” by True Party – I’m cynical, heavy sarcastic, a bit philosophical, big on logic, science, and behaviour, kind of odd, and I have zero faith in politics. Between these two songs, most of the bases are covered.
QSF: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
AKL: Rule Breaker in the anthology, Won’t Back Down. It’s a short, high fantasy novella, set in the same world as my series The Republic, where it serves as #0.5. The story is about a mercenary, Gren, who lives his life by a list of rules to stay distanced from deep connections and routine. No attachments, no loyalty, no master, no nothing. Until he realizes that he’s absolutely in love with Tracel, a healer who is also his casual lover. She’s taken as hostage in a political situation and he has to decide just how far he’ll go to save her.
Worthy queer notes: Gren is pansexual and Tracel is transgender. They also show up in the rest of the series, with a whole book of their own to come.
QSF: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
AKL: George Orwell. Considering the world we’re living in, I’d love to chat with him about his headspace during Nineteen Eighty-Four and his perspectives on the happenings of the twenty-first century. Would he be horrified? Disgusted? Quit earth and opt for a mission to Mars? Or would he pen another book about where we’re headed in the current century? Prescribe new ideas to undo the things we’ve gotten into? And what would he think of the TV show, Big Brother, and reality TV in general where everyone’s being watched (and being scripted) as “entertainment”? How would he feel about the internet and what it’s become? Social media? Willingly opening the door to our personal lives and flirting with the dangers of exploitation? I’d love to know what he thinks about these things so many of us consider part of “normal life”.
QSF: What’s your writing process?
AKL: It starts with an onslaught of ideas that come out of nowhere. BAM! Right in the creative funny bone, and usually it’s heavy on character, plot, scene progression, and location all at once. That’s when the notes start flying and the pens start dying. Those notes go into a Notepad file and build until I can’t take the scattered format anymore. I sort all of that chaos into a single outline: character info at the top followed by notes on important people, places, and things, then notes on style and other details that help, and finally a chapter-by-chapter outline. My outlines include both general ideas and specific details, down to certain things I want characters to say.
The writing starts once I have enough of the story prepped and stuck in my head like I live there. In the last couple of years, I’ve relied on my laptop to do the actual writing, though I’ll use paper or whatever when necessary. The magic happens when I’m at home alone, butt on couch, plugged into my iPod stuffed full with all sorts of music to suit every possible mood and situation. I generally follow the outline, but most of the story happens organically. In the matter of “plotter”/”Architect” vs. “pantser”/”Gardener”, I’m neither and both and other. It’s one of those binary systems that I just don’t fit into. So I free-write inside a flexible frame to make sure it has overall shape and natural flow. It’s a totally awesome process – I find out the most surprising things about my characters along the way.
Once the writing’s done, everything goes into psycho editing mode. I’ll keep those particular horrors to myself!
QSF: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
AKL: Ohhhh yeah. I was more like a voracious velociraptor of books. I regularly got busted for reading after bedtime – especially since I was reading by the dim light in the hallway because turning on my bedroom light was totally a sign of “I’m not asleep yet”. (I thought I was being clever.) I read books everywhere – at school, at home, in the car, on vacation, at the dentist, and pretty much every conceivable location. I’d buy books everywhere, too– it was the only thing that made grocery shopping with my parents bearable, because when we got to the checkout lanes, there was a bookstore directly across the way filled with books begging to take my allowance. My bedroom was half library. It didn’t help that I’d developed speed-reading skills early on. I cruised through books like a fiend.
QSF: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names?
AKL: Silbhester, His Royal Fuzziness and Governor of Many Grumbles. Also fondly referred to as “Yes, dear”, “Supervisor”, “Mr. Fuzzypaws”, and “Perchbucket”. He rules the roost in all his feline glory… until we pull some human thing that ruins it. He’s 13 years old and hangs out with me while I write. My fun little working buddy!
QSF: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
AKL: Soulbound, Book #4 in The Republic series. While it picks up the day after book #3 (Blood Borne), Soulbound is also a direct sequel of Four, featuring Mayr and Tash as they figure out the next steps in their relationship. It’s more of the same high fantasy goodness found in the rest of the series with touches of light and dark, faith and fight, and a growing understanding of what being together really means… especially when danger and disaster come to play.
I’m working on finishing the first draft (it’s turned into a beast), then it’ll be subjected to my insane editing process with a literary chainsaw, so I’d say the ETA is early 2018.
And now for Archer’s new book: Four:
On the outside, Mayr seems to have it all: a successful career as Head of the Guard for a prominent politician, family and friends who adore him, and the attention of beautiful women. But appearances are a good way to bury secrets, including the fact that while Mayr is a romantic at heart, searching for the one person to share his life with, his lovers keep leaving him.
When his last girlfriend takes him back and suggests an intimate night with Tash, one of her lovers, Mayr reluctantly agrees. The last thing he expects is to fall hard for Tash, who is nothing like Mayr’s previous lovers—and about to undertake the Uldana Trials. If Tash fails, he’ll likely die. If he succeeds, he must give up Mayr, and become the latest to leave Mayr standing alone with a broken heart.
A Question of Counsel (The Republic #1) Buy Links
This time, it would work out. This time, he would not let Sarene slip from his life. Even if it meant destroying what remained of his fractured pride.
Not that it’s anything new. Mayr tossed his worn, brown leather saddle onto the chair in the corner of his horse’s cleaned stall, staring at the fresh hay covering the floor. Some people get wealth and family and everything they could possibly want. And the luckiest get a life they truly need. I’m just lucky enough to be one of the cursed idiots who gets to watch everyone else be happy. Thank you, oh, Reverent Goddesses, for your soured kindness. You didn’t have anything better to do the day I was born, did you?
Grumbling, he swept dirt off his black pants and turned up the sleeves of his black tunic. In the corridor behind him, Hetlan scraped the dark wood floor with one hoof. Mayr spun around to grasp the reins hanging loosely from Hetlan’s bridle.
“More like I lost a bet,” Mayr crooned, pulling Hetlan’s black nose to his. The thick scent of horse overpowered all other smells of the stable.
Hetlan stomped the floorboards. His large, black body shifted backwards a half step.
“What? That’s something that’d happen to me. You can’t honestly tell me it wouldn’t.” When Hetlan lowered his head with a subtle shake, Mayr frowned. “Yeah, of course you’d say that. Thanks for having my back, friend. Next time I gamble and lose, I won’t be looking for sympathy from you. And you can forget the extra helpings of ferat berries. I’m keeping them.”
Hetlan raised his head to sniff Mayr’s black hair, his chin jerking the long strands.
“Yeah, now you go for the sympathy.” Mayr held Hetlan’s head still. “Nice try. You just keep thinking like that, traitor.” He caressed Hetlan’s forehead. “Don’t think I don’t know you’ve been goosing Lira into feeding you sweets. She’ll spoil you rotten more than you already are, you pretentious mongrel.”
Whinnying, Hetlan stepped back and waited as Mayr picked up the brush from the bench beside the stall. Around them, the other horses made quiet noises, waiting for the stablehands to return and release them into the grassy field behind the Dahe estate.
Lost in the soothing motions of grooming Hetlan, Mayr thought of Sarene. The way she styled her blonde hair fashionably as though she were a prim heiress of one of the Grand Families instead of a woodcutter’s daughter. The bright light in her dark green eyes whenever she found an object she desired, sharing her infectious delight with others. The unpredictable times she would launch into a fit of giggles without a care about how ridiculous she sounded to passersby, combating ridicule with confidence.
The selfish way she had broken his emotionally-battered heart and kicked him aside.
The presumptuous attitude as she approached him twenty days later, saying she wanted him back.
The pathetic manner in which he had told her “yes,” betraying the fact he had not yet finished pining for her.
This won’t end well. Mayr sighed and brushed the dip in Hetlan’s back. But she says we can work it out. Try it again. Maybe find what we were missing the first time ’round. That’s worth something, right? The fact she came back and admitted she was wrong—that’s a good thing, isn’t it? She hates saying she was wrong about anything. It has to mean something.
“I hope,” he whispered, trying to forget the odd gleam in her eye when she had ended their relationship six weeks before. After being with him for eight months, Sarene had announced they were finished, citing vague reasons. Mostly that she was not getting what she needed and he deserved a different kind of woman.
Whatever that really means. Mayr snorted. More than one woman had claimed similar excuses before leaving him. The pattern was enough to make him think the words were code for a truth he could never know. Sarene was no different.
Except she had come back. No one else had. Her return meant a second chance. A second chance meant hope. Hope meant he could patch up the holes drilled into his life by loneliness.
Whoa, there, a voice nagged from behind his thoughts, resembling his father’s scolding tone. Before you start dancing naked through the streets and throwing flowers to the Goddesses, think about Sarene’s proposal. She’s come back, sure, but for what? Don’t you think her plan to fix things is a little much?
Mayr studied the brush, resting his other hand on Hetlan’s side. His doubts had a fair point. Three days after he had agreed to take her back, Sarene suggested they spend a night together with another man. A man she had slept with while separated from Mayr. “It’ll be good for us, you’ll see,” Sarene had said. “It’ll be exciting! Something new. We’ll have so much fun, and we’ll be doing it together, you and me. Isn’t that romantic? Not everyone can, you know. It’ll be special, just like us. And he’s a real sweetheart. Don’t you worry about a thing.”
But he did worry. It was never a good sign when the proposed solution to fix a shattered relationship and wounded trust was another man. Especially if it was the same man Sarene had left him for.
“Why am I so stupid?” Mayr asked Hetlan. “I mean completely, walk-into-a-wall-until-it-kills-me stupid? You’d think after the third time, I’d have smartened up.”
Hetlan did not respond, staring out the open doors of the stable.
“Great, you’ve got nothing, either.” Mayr brushed Hetlan’s mane. “I still haven’t given her an answer. It’s ridiculous how no and yes are equally excruciating to say. I choke every time I go to tell her my decision. Do you know how frustrating that is? And for a Head Guard, no less?”
Eye on Mayr, Hetlan turned his head.
“Yeah, guess that’s a stupid question, for more than one reason.” Mayr flicked his dark hair over his shoulder and tightened the thin tie holding it back. “We can stick you with a dozen mares for half a day and you’d have mated with most of them by sunset without arguments or fits. They just gravitate to you; even the ones I think will kick you. That’s it. Next life, I’m a horse.”
“Good idea, since you’re always talking to Hesalfemmer there like you expect him to talk back,” a woman’s voice teased from the other end of the corridor.
Mayr whirled toward Aeley Dahe, smiling as she sauntered up to him. Her dark blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders and embroidered green tunic in a lightly tangled mass. “He listens better than most people I know. The fact you still can’t remember his name’s Hetlan says it all.”
Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archer’s family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Archer most enjoys writing speculative fiction and is engaged in a very particular love affair with fantasy, especially when it is dark and emotionally charged. When not reading and writing for work or play, Archer is a geek with too many hobbies and keeps busy with other creative endeavors, a music addiction, and whatever else comes along. Archer lives in London, Ontario with a bigender partner and rather chatty cat.
Author Page at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/archerkayleah