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: I’m a 46-year-old trans woman with a degree in Astro-physics and a love of storytelling. I love science fiction, superheroes, and giant robots. My hobbies include collecting transformers, watching way too many crafting videos on YouTube, and complaining bitterly about the way a certain comic book company treats my favorite superhero.
Thanks so much, Molly, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
Molly J. Bragg: Sort of. I put a lot of myself into my characters because it helps me give them a bit of life, but I will also graft on personality traits from other people I’ve known over the years. One of the characters in a novel I’m working on in my superhero series is based in part on someone I went to college with, for example. The person was ethnically Indian, but born and raised in America, and had a sort of odd relationship with their culture. When I was creating the character, I took that particular aspect of the person I knew and grafted it on to the character because I thought it would make them deeper and more interesting, and so far, it’s working.
JSC: Do you reward yourself for writing, or punish yourself for failing to do so? How?
MJB: For me, writing is the reward. Writing is a sort of escape from my problems, and a way to process them at the same time. I always come out of writing feeling better about myself, so I look forward to it. Generally, when I’m not writing, it’s because I’m having a depressive episode. I live with clinical depression, and the worst part about it for me is that it interferes with my writing, which is honestly one of my greatest joys.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
MJB: Usually I don’t. If someone reaches out to me, or points out a really good review, I will read that one, but for the most part, I try to avoid reading my reviews. It’s not that I have a problem with people not liking my work or think I’m so brilliant that everyone should love everything I write. I just know from experience that sooner or later there will be someone who posts a review that completely misses the point of why I did something a certain way, or why I made a certain choice, and I will get frustrated. No one wants to see me frustrated. I don’t handle it well.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your books? If so, discuss them.
MJB: Being a trans woman myself, I try to include characters who fit under the trans umbrella into my works. For example, in my first novel, Scatter, the Dragons are described as being able to choose their gender when in human form, and one of the Dragon characters spends time in the book as both a man and a woman. In Mail Order Bride, my second book, the Sionnach, the alien culture that the book deals with, is a genderless culture. They are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning they still have what most people would think of as male and female members of the species, but they haven’t had a concept of gender in their culture for nearly ten thousand years. My third novel, Transistor, which comes out in August, has a trans woman as the protagonist, and two other trans characters in major roles, and my fourth novel, due out in November features a number of gender fluid characters.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Mail Order Bride?
MJB: Mail Order Bride was kind of a perfect storm of things for me. It was a combination of dealing with the Pandemic, and the isolation that caused, as well as dealing with the problems that come with being a non-passing trans woman. I wanted to talk about what it felt like to be failed by the society you live in because your emotional needs are at conflict with societal expectations, which is something I think a lot of queer people, and especially visibly queer people experience. The touch starvation a lot of people were experiencing due to the COVID restrictions when I started the novel turned into the perfect metaphor for that. The decision to make the story about a poly relationship came largely from the fact that it connected to the theme of finding happiness outside of societal expectations.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in the book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
MJB: I really wanted to talk about how sometimes the only way to find your happiness is to reject societal expectations and find your own path. I think I did a really good job of that with the story.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
MJB: Keeping the length down. Honestly, I had enough material in my head for probably half a million words, and so much of Sionnach culture had to get cut to keep the book a reasonable length. I really hope the book does well, because I would very much like to revisit the setting one day and deal with some of the material I had to cut.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
MJB: Oh, thank you for asking, because I love talking about this. Jeanette Eileen Widjaja has done all my covers so far. I discovered her on twitter, and had originally commissioned her for some Supergirl fan art, and when my publisher asked if I had a preferred cover artist, Eileen was the first person I thought of. She does wonderful Superhero art, so she was a natural pick for my first novel, Scatter, and when it came time to do the cover for Mail Order Bride, I wanted to stick with her because the Scatter cover was so amazing. The design process was fairly simple. I wanted a moment that kind of encapsulated the themes of the book, so I pitched the idea of the three main characters looking down on Earth from the window of a space ship with Sam and Orla together and Sorcha kind of off to the side, but still connected. My publisher and I went back and forth a bit about poses, but in the end, the cover was almost exactly what I originally pitched. Only one detail was changed.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
MJB: Torturing the Cinnamon Roll. If you ask any of my friends, they will tell you, I love picking the sweetest, kindest characters and then just making their lives a nightmare. There is a particular song that will cause one of my closest friends to just shout “DAMMIT MOLLY!” any time they hear it because of one of my stories. It always makes me smile when it happens.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
MJB: My next book is another superhero novel titled Transistor. It’s easily my favorite thing I’ve ever written. It’s about a trans woman who gets superpowers and ends up fighting an archangel who’s trying to murder her girlfriend. It’s due out in August, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone. Right now, I am working (slowly) on a fantasy novel, which is something completely new to me. It’s kind of this weird mix of high fantasy and the old west, with a very sweet love story in the middle.
And now for Molly’s new book: Mail Order Bride:
Ten years ago, aliens from a Galaxy spanning government called the Hegemony arrived in the Solar system and ever since Earth has been on a long, slow journey to becoming a banana republic. Samantha ‘Sam’ Murray has spent her entire high school career doing everything her mom could think of to earn a chance at an off-world education that would keep her from living a life of poverty. But with just a few weeks left before graduation there’s no scholarship in sight and Sam has her heart set on getting an apartment with her best friend and crush, Jenny, and maybe finding out if they can be more than just friends. All of her plans come crashing down when she finds out her mom has signed her up for an arranged marriage on another planet as a way to get her the off-world education she’s sure Sam needs.
Sam arrives on Talamh, a planet ravaged by disaster, expecting to find herself promised to some rich alien prince. Instead, she finds herself among a species that has no concept of gender, promised to a beautiful alien that makes Sam’s little gay heart skip a beat every time she looks at them. There’s just one problem. Orla, the person Sam is promised to, is already in love with their best friend Sorcha. As Orla and Sam’s betrothal moves forward, they find themselves falling in love, but Sam can’t help but worry that Sorcha will come between them. At least, until she and Sorcha start to develop feelings for each other.
Will desire and jealousy destroy all their futures, or will Sam, Orla and Sorcha find a way to be happy together?
ORLA THREW THEMSELVES ON their bed with an unnecessary degree of drama. They knew it was wholly unworthy of them, but these days, they couldn’t seem to help themself. Their feelings and emotions seemed to be heightened to an unusual degree of late. Today, more so than most.
All they really wanted to do was lie in bed and daydream about Sorcha. Their hands had brushed as they walked to lunch. It was an accident, of course. Orla would never do something so untoward in public, and they were sure Sorcha wouldn’t either, but accident or no, it felt like it had lit a fire inside them.
Orla knew they were past the age when they should want such things, but they had always craved physical contact. Their entle Neesa had indulged them long after it was appropriate for such things, but Neesa still gave them the sort of touches that you would give a child who had not yet reached first ascension. They would sit in Orla’s chambers and Neesa would put an arm around their shoulder, or pet their hair, or even let Orla lean against them as they watched a video. It had always soothed them, made them calm and happy and relaxed.
Sorcha’s touch had the exact opposite effect. It had inflamed and excited them, and they’d spent most of the laethanta trying not to think of what it would be like to touch Sorcha deliberately. They imagined threading their fingers together and holding Sorcha’s hand, sitting on the couch with their head pillowed on Sorcha’s shoulder as they talked. They even imagined Sorcha reaching up and stroking their ears.
They knew they were being inappropriate. They had no right to think of Sorcha that way. Orla had received a genetic diversity token at birth, which meant that they were required to find an off-world mate, which meant that no matter how much they wished they could be, they would not be paired with Sorcha.
Which was the problem. They were letting their emotions cloud their judgement. They had been friends with Sorcha almost since the moment of conception. They had been gestated in the same birthing den, had played together as infants and toddlers, had been educated together. Orla had always had a weakness for Sorcha’s company, and by the time they had reached first ascension, Orla had been hopelessly in love. When Sorcha smiled at them, Orla had felt as if their heart missed its rhythm. They desperately wanted to be paired with Sorcha, to be free to hold them and touch them and indulge the longing they felt.
Instead, they had to sort through the list of candidates and find a mate that they could at least tolerate. They knew it was their duty to their House, their people, and their species, but that did not make it any easier. A bond mate was supposed to be your friend and partner in all things. They were supposed to be the one you were closest to, the one you shared your joys and sorrows with. They knew many bondings did not live up to that ideal, but that was what they wanted for themself, and they knew they had the foundations of that already with Sorcha. If they hadn’t received a token when they’d been born, they would have asked Sorcha to submit an application to Orla’s parents for their bonding. It would be a horrible breach of etiquette, but hardly the first the two of them had committed together, and being bonded to Sorcha would be worth it.
Unfortunately, they had received the token, which meant they had no choice in the matter. Well, technically they did. They could find someone who was willing to take the token in their stead. Their parent Nuala had even offered to make such arrangements, and at first, Orla had been tempted, but they had investigated how such things worked and been horrified. The tokens were almost always taken by those less fortunate as a way to lift their financial prospects. In the end, Orla’s own sense of duty and fairness wouldn’t let them do it. The token was their burden to bear, and they couldn’t bring themselves to push it off on someone who would only accept it out of desperation. It felt like a shameful thing to do, like something that would dishonor both them and their House.
But choosing to accept their duty did not mean they were eager for it, and Orla had put off reviewing the applications until Nuala had given them a stern word and sent them to their chambers until the task was finished.