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: Leo Otherland is a queer author, literal goblin, member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and lover of all things strange and unordinary from the arctic north woods of Wisconsin. This elusive scribbler acquired his passion for weaving stories of dark and broken things through a childhood spent huddling in books and dodging the unfriendly spirits that resided in the haunted house he called home.
Currently, Leo remains in disbelief his book, Inflicted, was actually a success, and has locked himself away in a very ordinary apartment hidden away somewhere unobtrusive. In seclusion, Leo continues to doodle out several different novels at once, as well as various “short” pieces of fan fiction. During the few occasions he is not writing, this finicky, unrepentant otaku enjoys reading web comics, watching anime, and playing Japanese role-playing games. And while it’s rare to catch this skittish wordsmith out in daylight, he can occasionally be located on his website, leootherland.com, or on Facebook and Twitter @LeoOtherland. For more frequent updates, subscribe to his newsletter: bit.ly/TheGoblinSpeaks.
Thanks so much, Leo, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Leo Otherland: That’s an interesting dual question because the answers are two incredibly different points in my life. *laugh* I think I knew I wanted to write almost as soon as I knew what books were, and that was long before I could read, much less write. Books were scared carriers of information that told stories, and I loved stories more than anything.
In my childhood and early adolescence, books were all I had and whenever people ask me something like this I say the same thing: Books kept me alive. When I was alone and books were my only friends, I dreamed of writing stories as meaningful as the ones I hoarded on my bookshelf. I fantasized about giving people the same kind of escape and joy I found between the covers of my treasures.
But of course, I never thought I was good enough.
My words lacked the force of emotion I needed to tell the stories in my head. My descriptions fell flat and sterile instead of conveying the beauty I saw when I closed my eyes. And my characters… well they didn’t know how to talk to each other.
I spent years feeling I wasn’t enough, and that no one would read my work. I remember a good five year period where I wrote nothing at all. And even now that I’m a “professional” with several publications under my belt, three of which are anthologies I was team lead on, I still find myself doubting I’m “good” at what I do.
Oh, I know I’m improving and that I must have some talent or I wouldn’t be where I am, but it’s difficult to shake the fears of my childhood. The thought I’ll never be enough lingers around, and I still have to chase it off with acceptance letters and positive reviews.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
LO: My first published work was a short story called “Last Scion” about a dragon and the far-from-fair queen she learns to trust. It was published in 2019 in an anthology through Balance of Seven, the small press I am now one of the LLC members of.
At the time, I had only been writing consistently for about a year and I was incredibly unsure of myself. I had no following and no idea what I was doing in the realm of publishing. All I knew was I wanted to write about LGBTQ+ characters and dragons.
Which seems to have worked for me.
My story was one of an initial 24 picked to be published in two sister anthologies, and despite having no clue what I was doing, my story being the only LGBTQ+ contribution to the book was what got us our Amazon #1 bestseller banner. I’m still pretty proud of that because it felt like I was able to give my fellow authors something.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
LO: Honestly, there have been a lot of heartfelt things my readers have said to me over the years. Gods, I have the best readers a guy could ask for, but that makes it incredibly hard to pick just one thing.
My writing… well it’s aimed at other people like me. People with deep emotional wounds. When someone who needs to find my writing reads it and finds a bit of their own pain inside it, they respond with visceral comments. I’ve had people tell me they’ve taken my book to their therapy session and discussed it, and the feelings it brought up in them. I’ve had people tell me they never expected to identify with that particular mental health issue I wrote about, and when they realized they did, they ugly cried. I’ve had people thank me for writing broken, damaged characters that were still strong and still fighting because it made them feel if that character could keep going, maybe they could too.
So, asking me to pick just one heartfelt thing is never going to happen.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in Inflicted, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
LO: My goals and intentions for this book were to write about pain. The ways we as people break, and the ways we heal. I guess I wanted to remind people pain is universal and it is never trivial. No matter the pain, no matter the reason behind it, what we as individuals experience is valid. I also wanted to remind people they weren’t alone in their pain. Each and every one of us has hurt at one point in our lives, and knowing someone out there understands that pain can make us feel less alone.
I wasn’t sure how well I’d done fulfilling those goals and intentions, once the book was written, but the responses I’ve gotten from readers tell me I’ve done well. *laugh* When you start by making your editor cry during production and go on to make people send you impassioned questions about why a character did such a thing mid-way through someone’s read of the book, you know you’ve done well.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
LO: The hardest part? The deadline! I sent off my book proposal with the knowledge, if accepted, I’d have a good year to write the stories. I received my acceptance and I hadsix weeks. I think I about died several times during the writing process. I would get up, go to work, write in every spare moment I had, which thankfully I had a lot of, go home, and write until I could no longer see my screen.
At least half of this book was written on my phone at random hours of the night, and I think I recorded a word count of over forty-six thousand the first few weeks of writing. I normally average half that in a month.
The next time a publisher asks me how fast I can write something. I’m going to go hide in a closet and barricade the door.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
LO: Okay, the answer to that is actually a duo of characters: Jess and Cole.
The two of them come from an extremely personal story in Inflicted, “Any Other Day.” The story is personal because Cole is a character I based on myself. Oh, he is different from me in a lot of ways, but he’s also ME in a lot of ways. Primarily in that we both struggle with suicidal depression.
I wanted to write a story about wanting to die that was darkly humorous and full of snark. Something that would make you laugh, while you cried over the fact you could see yourself in this character who just really doesn’t give a shit if he dies. And so I paired him up with the unlikeliest of characters. A wisecracking, government-employed killer whose job is to keep the population in this dystopian society capped.
Jess and Cole dance around each other with jokes and snarky banter, while Jess tries to figure out Cole and his want to die, and Cole just keeps complaining he could have been in bed by now if Jess hadn’t tried to whack him upside the head. I love the two of them for this and for the fact a lot of their quips are basically me and a friend of mine bantering to each other.
“Any Other Day” might be a little morbid, but it’ll give you a good laugh while you cry.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
LO: Oh, this is a good one.
The weirdest thing I had to Google was gravitational time dilation. Like, time DOES NOT pass the same on a planet with gravity as it does in the vacuum of space. Time in space moves faster than time on a planet, and having to figure out how all that would work was definitely weird.
Fun, but weird.
In the midst of my frantic rush to write Inflicted, I had to pause and do all this research on how time passes in space, and that was an experience.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
LO: Okay, okay, I love this question. Not because I know which of my characters I would kill, fuck, or marry, but because I know exactly which of my characters would KILL ME, if given the chance.
Karma isn’t in Inflicted. He is probably my first fully developed character and only appears in one published story, despite the fact I have a five book series planned out with him as the “main character.” Karma is my protagonist, but he’s far from a “good guy.” The half-breed son of a greater demon, out for “revenge” against his father, he is really more of an anti-hero.
And if he figured out he was a character in a book… he would gladly find a way to kill me for fucking him over as badly as I have. *laughs* I’d probably let him do it, too, because I can’t argue with how badly I’ve fucked with his life.
JSC: Would you rather be in a room full of snakes or a room full of spiders?
LO: Oh snakes, hands down. Give me all the reptiles! I will take them! Arachnids, though? Those are all yours, enjoy.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
LO: What aren’t I working on next? Gods, there are too many things. The main thing I WANT to be working on next is my novel duology continuation of “Any Other Day.” I fell hard for Jess and Cole and their dynamic, and I wanted to do more of that. It’s funny because we were still working on edits for Inflicted and I was starting Make the Grade, the first book of my continuation.
Make the Grade actually starts before “Any Other Day.” It’s the story leading up to Jess and Cole’s fateful encounter on the second night of the three day New Year holiday in their dystopian world. It’s this whole interconnected, back and forth, full of alternating chapters set in different years and points in their lives, right up to that night they meet. It’s going to be amazing.
On the other side of that is Qualifier, book two of the duology. Qualifier is everything that happens after the night shown in “Any Other Day.” In a way, it’s the consequence of Jess and Cole throwing a wrench in their government’s gears. It’s going to be an adventure full of snark and hijinks and a bit of romantic heat. Considering I’ve never had any of my erotica, or even mildly sexy scenes, published, I’m excited for the heat.
But, while Make the Grade and Qualifier are what I’m writing next, what is coming out next is another matter. I’m honestly not sure on that front. I am submitting to various anthologies and working on a few “secret projects,” but I’m uncertain what my next publication is going to be. That is going to be something of a surprise, and for anyone interested, the best way to keep up with what I’m doing is to subscribe to my newsletter: bit.ly/TheGoblinSpeaks
And now for Leo’s latest book: Inflicted:
“Pain is pain. It all hurts the same.”
Inflicted with dark desire, one man chooses between idyllic pretense and disturbing reality. Haunted by the silence of deep space, an engineer chases an eerie melody. Torn between penance and pride, a dishonored prince challenges the course of history.
Suffering cracks our hearts and splinters our minds. It scars and alters us in irreversible ways. Yet while pain breaks us apart, it also binds us together. Our broken pieces can never rejoin as they once were, but they fit together to create new and distinctive wholes. Like the Japanese art of kintsugi, we can fill the velvety darkness of our scars with gold.
Inflicted with life, an intelligent machine questions the illogic of family. Tempted by the desire to die, a shop clerk confronts the promise of his life. Offered the chance to transform his disfigurement, a ruined being looks to the smallest of lives for acceptance.
An amalgamation of science fiction and fantasy subgenres, Inflicted invites you to peer into your own pain, examine your scars, and remember you are not alone. Pain binds us all, and how we face our brokenness redefines us. Immerse yourself in the brokenness of others and come away with a new understanding of self.
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“I can imagine,” I said offhandedly. “I don’t really care if I die, though, so have at it.”
“See, there you go again.” He jabbed me with his grademaker, and I swatted it away with my palm, aggravated. “I don’t think I can follow the plan after listening to you. You’re just so . . . mellow. Like none of this phases you. If I just crack you over the head and walk away, I’m not sure I’ll ever get you out of my head. You know what I mean?”
“Not really. I’m not that interesting.”
“Do you want to die?”
“I mean . . . yeah, kinda.”
“See, I don’t know what to do with that. I’ve never met someone who wanted to die before. I don’t know how I’m supposed to do my job like this.”
“Sorry,” I repeated. “Anything I can do to help?”
He stared at me, dumbfounded, and I squirmed a little. “What?”
“Did you just offer to help me kill you?”
“I guess, yeah.”
“Why would you do that?”
“I dunno. Seemed like the decent thing to do. Feels like you’re having a hard time here.”
“There’s something wrong with you.”
“I think we’ve established that.”