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: Andrea Stanet’s fiction has appeared in several anthologies, an online literary magazine, the Nighlight Horror Podcast. She released her first independent novella, Spirit of the Wolf on Amazon in fall of 2022 followed by Umbra in spring 2023, the first novel in her Fey and Fate series. In collaboration with her husband, Andrea is developing role-playing game modules set in the Fey and Fate world. Lastly, she is wrapping up serialized short stories under the Anti-Villains anthology on Laterpress and is the founder of Dragonlight Press. While she doesn’t shy away from any genre, her passion is writing fantasy and horror fiction for various age groups.
Andrea spent thirteen years tutoring English and Essay Writing online. Her hobbies include studying Spanish, reading, gaming, running, photography, and walking in the woods near her home. Andrea lives in New York with her husband, two kids, and two cats.
Thanks so much, Andrea, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Andrea Stanet: My writing is fairly eclectic, and I write whatever moves me at any given time. I might write a fantasy followed by a contemporary romance and then dive into a horror. I have several works in progress that are mashups of genres. For example, I have one steampunk zombie romance where the main characters are dragons. I remember submitting it for a critique at a conference, and the editor loved the pages and the concept, but she said I’d have a hard time getting it published traditionally because it was hard to classify. This tendency of mine was a big factor in deciding to self-publish.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
AS: There are definitely underrepresented groups in my book. I am Afro-LatinE, so my main characters tend to represent my experiences in those cultures in some way. In Umbra, since the fey courts and the Dreaming overlap with the human Waking world, I wanted a multicultural cast of characters. Merc is a shapeshifter but generally remains in darker skin (make of that what you will in terms of their origin). The Summer Court queen is dark-skinned, inhabiting hot climates, while the Winter Court queen is very pale due to living in extremely cold climates. I envision the Dawn king as brown skinned (although he has blond hair), and the Shadow king is a bit fairer, but I see him as having the Latino features.
In addition to being multicultural, I decided that it made sense for Merc to be nonbinary/gender-fluid, with part of their arc in this book dealing with being able to fully embrace that after having to always “choose” one gender when dealing with humans. Dúl, while it’s not explicitly addressed here, is pansexual, and he creates a safe space for Merc to be whoever they are feeling in the moment.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Umbra?
AS: Back in 1999/2000, my husband ran a changeling role playing campaign in the Whitewolf system that I played in. He had created four fey siblings as non-player characters, and I played a were-panther named Tira. Several years later, he ran a 13th Age (another RPG system) version of that game in which I played a rogue. Around that time, I was participating in National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo—and I used the game as inspiration for Umbra’s world, putting my own spin on the courts, the siblings, and the Dreaming. Merc, who is a unique shapeshifter in this world with no understanding of their own history, came to life. I wanted to start exploring the idea of finding one’s identity and also the idea of awakening one’s own power. Merc’s shapeshifting intrigued me because growing up in the African American and Latin cultures, I often had to change the way I presented to the world depending on who I was with. This made for an interesting experience of figuring out who I am, so that greatly informed the narrative.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
AS: I designed the cover. It was a pleasant surprise to see how much I could do with Canva. The process was frustrating at first because I kept receiving feedback that was trying to steer me towards a more traditional fantasy cover, but that didn’t fit my vision. I knew I wanted to show Merc as a person of color and that I needed for the cover to read as fantasy in some way. So I used the pink and purple background to represent the sky and the raven to highlight the Shadow court. I really liked the silhouette, so that motif will carry over into the next two covers. The dreamy quality of the castle obscured by mist was my nod to the genre. This project and launching my imprint Dragonlight Press have gotten me more involved in graphic design, and I’m finding that I enjoy it a lot.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.
AS: All of them? Seriously, the characters I want to dive into the most right now are Donny and Paris. Without giving too much away, in book 1, we see that Paris is an addict and has a problematic home life. He has some abandonment issues as well, which will come up later. Donny is a creep and a main antagonist of this part of the narrative. The trilogy is about 90% drafted, but as I’ve been editing books 2 and 3, I realized that I missed some opportunities to explore their back stories more, so I’m writing those in. I’m working on how to bring Donny’s family in by book 3 because mafia family ties are important. Both Donny and Paris are kind of jerks, but I’d like to give each of them more depth by revealing more about the traumas that shaped them.
Although he’s a lead character, I’d also like to do more with Dúl. I wrote one flash fic about him and will likely do some others because he’s so fun to write—snarky, sneaky, and sexy. I will definitely do more with him.
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
AS: To the best of my recollection, it was The Outsiders. I read it when I was about twelve, and I would read the last line and loop back to the beginning. I must have read it twenty times back-to-back. The two character deaths broke my heart every time I read it. It was a very emotional couple of weeks!
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
AS: Fun question! There are a few, but I think I would really love to sit down with Kaz Brekker from the Six of Crows duology. Kaz is so fascinating because he’s brilliant and kind of broken, but his challenges never stop him. He’s got a permanently injured leg yet moves with almost the same agility as most of the other characters. And I would love to see how he’s progressing in his journey to heal from his childhood trauma. He’s also great with money, so I think he’d give excellent financial and business advice—priceless for an indie author.
JSC: If you could choose three authors to invite for a dinner party, who would they be, and why?
AS: Stephen King was the first author who inspired me to write. I fell in love with his work when I was twelve after reading Christine. Although he receives a lot of criticism, I have always found him to be a masterful storyteller, and I would love to sit down and discuss horror with him.
Octavia Butler is revered as a great sci-fi writer, and while that genre isn’t usually my first choice I’ve enjoyed her work. Her ability to highlight the issues affecting people of color, particularly African Americans, within the genre is something I take inspiration from. Being a speculative fiction author, I hold Octavia Butler as one of my top role models.
Zora Neale Hurston is one of my sorority sisters and was committed to shining a light on the struggles of African Americans and African American women during the Harlem Renaissance. As an anthropologist, she researched folklore of African American and Caribbean communities, which would be fascinating to learn about from her perspective.
JSC: What’s your favorite line from any movie?
AS: One of my favorite movies of all time is The Princess Bride. I can probably just leave it there, and readers can probably figure out the line. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” I will never, never get tired of that scene or hearing those words.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
AS: I have two projects in the works right now. I’ve had a serial anthology going for most of this year which is coming to an end. Anti-Villains deconstructs the mythology around several powerful female characters who are traditionally demonized and villainized. Once the last novella is done, which is a thriller featuring Medusa, I will release the anthology in print this fall.
At the same time, I am working on editing the second book in the Fey and Fate trilogy, Umbra’s Winter. Merc has to make some adjustments to their new circumstances, and more will be revealed about the history of the Dreaming and the siblings, bringing Merc closer to unraveling more about their past and identity. Ideally, Merc’s Winter will be ready by this winter.
The last project I am collaborating with my husband on creating a series of roleplaying game modules based on the Fey and Fate world. We intend to release the first one around September 15th.
And now for Andrea’s new book: Umbra:
He’d cornered Merc at the back of the alley, her eyes going wide, first brown, then blue, then hazel. He could hear stray dogs fighting in the distance. One yelped, making the dirty little girl jump right out of her skin. Dropping to one knee, as if he were proposing, he’d fingered her hair—blond… red… gray… black—fascinated by the kaleidoscope effect of the changes that sped up along with her breath.
In the Fringes, where the undesirables of human society co-exist with changelings and fey, no one has time or energy to worry about the weirdness happening around them. Weirdness like me.
My adopted parents found me wandering the Po-Town streets—a seven-year-old shapeshifter who couldn’t control her changes. Lost and unable to remember where I came from, I didn’t recall my parents or what I originally looked like. Now, fifteen years after my rescue, I’m in high demand as a thief, spy, and champion of the changeling community against a mafia boss selling out his own people. I’ve made it my personal crusade to take him down along with the vampires he’s working with, preferably without dying.
One night during a job, Dúl—a tall, dark, and irritating fey—makes me an offer that can change everything. The amount of money on the line could get me out of the Fringe for good. It could get my boyfriend, Paris, away from the drugs that are driving a growing wedge between us.
All I have to do is retrieve a stolen enchanted dagger, save a fey VIP who hates my guts, and avoid getting seduced into the fey courts I swore to never become a part of.
Two out of three isn’t bad. Right?
A pair of homeless humans huddled in an alley beside an abandoned storefront. They warmed their hands over a trash-can fire, their conversation wafting toward me on a frosty wind.
“Did you see that dude? Lit the fire with his finger.”
“Shit man, I don’t care if he lit it out his ass. We got heat for the night.”
In the Po-town Fringe, few humans—the ones human society doesn’t want—coexist with the changelings. Those who do share the community with changelings have better things to worry about than the weirdness around them. Weirdness like me.
Other than the homeless guys, the streets were mostly empty. I patted the pockets of my navy pea coat and those of my jeans—a final check before entering The Cache.
From the threshold of the club, I scanned the Saturday night crowd. I wore my most recognizable persona—oval face, big dark eyes, deep brown complexion, and two French braids almost to my waist. My target—a changeling with the height of an NBA power forward and the girth of a linebacker—leaned against the end of the bar minding his business. More accurately, he was minding his boss’s business. Good.
The Cache belonged to Donny, a low-level, changeling mafia boss. In the Fringe, it was either follow his rule or suffer. Most of the changelings in the Fringe preferred him to existing as second-class citizens in the Dreaming, under the thumbs of the stuck-up, full-blooded fey.
Hard rock music pumped from the speakers as I approached the dude. This might be a little more painful than I anticipated.
As I jostled my way through a tightly packed crowd, my foot slipped in what I hoped was just a beer spill. Cigarette smoke, alcohol, and dozens of different perfume scents all assaulted my sinuses.
When I reached Mega Goon, I craned my neck and smiled. “Hey! How’s it going up there? Just wondering—I came across some interesting photos. You think Donny’s wife might want to know what he was doing last night? Or who?” I wiggled my eyebrows.
The lackey lowered his gaze to mine and scowled but gave no other reaction. Still, the press of patrons around us eased as people cleared a circle around us.
Guess we’ll be doing this the hard way. Damn.
“Nothing…? Fine.” I backhanded him across the jaw.
Now that got me a reaction. Within moments, I was bound with zip-ties, eyes shut, apparently unconscious. I didn’t bother to fight. It didn’t suit my purpose.
Like I knew he would, the bouncer made a call from his cell. I could imagine Donny’s voice on the other end, “Throw that bitch in a cage and let ’er stew. I’ll show her some photos.” He wasn’t the most eloquent guy in the Fringe.
Mega Goon slung me over his shoulder and headed out of the club, undisturbed. Inside, no one had tried to help me. The changelings knew better than to interfere with Donny’s boys. I wasn’t mad at them.
Dangling upside down, I had to force my body not to shiver in the October air so my captor wouldn’t know I was awake. My hands throbbed as I let myself be carried through the dark, deserted streets. Just my beefy bouncer, carting me around like a freaking caveman. Bizarre shit like this was partly what kept most humans out.
The Fringes give off an energy, a “vibe.” To humans, it screams, Head the other way! This is not for you! To changelings and some other mythic races, it offers a hearty welcome.
There’s no magical glamour created by the changeling population. Who’d have the time or energy to maintain such a thing? Nope, it’s just a simple matter of humans’ innate ability to deny, shun, and avoid anything different. Uncomfortable. Other.
Then there are the humans who long for something more than what their mundane, mediocre world has to offer. The dreamers. If not for them, changelings—human and fey half breeds—wouldn’t exist. Dreamers wander into the Fringes or the Dreaming, subconsciously seeking novelty. They are perfectly comfortable with strangeness. They embrace otherness.
Finally, MG took me into an old brownstone and down to a ridiculously bright cellar with the two tiny windows covered by steel plates. Another of Donny’s thugs dozed behind a wooden desk.
“Yo, newb. Wake up.”
The overweight, no-neck guard jerked upright and wiped his chin. “Yeah! The kid’s secure. See?” He referred to a crying fey boy locked in one of the two steel cages that occupied most of the room.
MG said, “I got another one for you. Boss said do not take your eyes off her. Not for one second. Not for any reason.”
He dropped me into a ratty chair next to the desk and slapped my face a few times. The first one almost took my head off since I couldn’t tense up my muscles. That was going to give me a crick. Blood flowed from inside one cheek over my tongue.
The second slap made my ear ring. I moaned, more for the convincing performance than from pain. With the last blow, my head popped upright, and I cried out. “Damn it! What do you want?” My eyes rolled around as if I was dazed. “And it’s them, not her, you fucking misgendering fascist,” I slurred.
“Whatever. You’re awake, and I’m done here.” MG left. Somehow, he didn’t seem to cherish our time together as much as I had.
The doughy guard yanked me back up to my feet, patted me down, and stripped off my coat. He also relieved me of my tools—daggers, lock picks, a pack of gum, darts, and other assorted goodies.
I sized up Chubby. He was still close to a foot taller than my current 5’8” frame. That was manageable. And it almost guaranteed he’d underestimate me.
He tossed me into the empty cage like yesterday’s garbage. The lock clicked into place. A thick chain slid around the cage bars and was secured by a padlock that emitted an eerie red aura.
The guard fell into his chair and plopped his boots up onto the desk. His bulk made the chair legs creak. He closed his eyes and crossed his arms across a paunchy gut that was barely contained by a bulletproof vest. That’s new. When did they start wearing Kevlar? Who needed human weapons and armor when they had magic? Who did they think would be shooting?
Donny owned this building too. Under the fluorescent lights, I had noticed a few other new improvements. He had seriously upped his game in the past month since I’d last been here. Where had he gotten the resources for these renovations?
The walls had a new layer of steel over the old concrete. A ring of blue light glowed around the ceiling seams, and a new camera had been installed in the corner diagonal to where I stood, leaning against narrowly spaced cage bars.
I had seen the boy in the adjacent cell a few times around the Fringe. He was barely into his teens. The vampire blood they had drugged him with was probably wearing off. Thankfully, he had stopped crying. As far as I knew, he was the latest guinea pig sold to a vampire prince in the city who was looking to synthesize a fey-blood version of VampX—Ecstasy mixed with vampire blood.
A few paces beyond the guard desk, a shadowy stone stairway led up to a hall where I knew two apartments had been converted into Donny’s offices. Between those offices, another set of steps led to the second floor.
He owned several of these buildings and never stayed in any of them for too long. His thugs never knew where or when to expect him. I knew he’d be along soon to inspect the kid.
He’d also probably have one of his goons work me over, just for kicks. Good thing I’m a fast healer.
To try to convince me to work for him, Donny, who could freeze whatever he touched by concentrating on it, occasionally enjoyed chilling parts of my body just before the point of frostbite. If I was in my current female form, he’d put thick iron shackles on super tight so I couldn’t shift into a larger, more muscular form. Plus, he was a perv. I pitied his wife being married to such a douche.
If he captured me in a male form, he put me in steel netting so that shifting smaller wouldn’t help. Donny and I did this same pointless dance every once in a while. But I had no interest in the changeling mafia, so he was wasting his time and mine.
From the cage, I continued to scan the room, taking in every new detail until a plan jelled.
Now I could get to work.