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, Shakeil – Shakeil Kanish loves to write. The Sigil is his debut novel and he’s super excited about being an openly gay author and getting the chance to write about an openly gay protagonist.
Thanks so much, Shakeil, 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?
Shakeil Kanish: I think I kinda always knew that I wanted to write, as a kid I was a little loudmouth and always was lying thinking that if I exaggerated things people would like me more. So I grew up telling stories…whether they were true or not who knows but I loved it. That’s probably why I write fiction now it’s all I ever knew.
JSC: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
SK: Oh that’s a great question…um I’d probably wanna sit with.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
SK: I would say that it’s more….realistic? As far as dialogue concerns? I was SO worried when writing The Sigil : A Novel that the dialogue and speaking would be too….un-flowery? I know a lot of people love beautiful prose and quotable passages and I just didn’t feel like that was real people talking? I wanted all of the conversations in the book to feel real. As far as genre I’ve been describing it as LGBT Dark Urban Fantasy? Do I know what that means? Hell no. Is it a mouthful and sounds cool? Hell yeah.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
SK: This is actually my first published novel. I know, I know this much talent and only one published work? Kidding, kidding, but no seriously this is the first time I actually sat my own lazy ass down and just did it. Me and my amazing co-author Larissa Mandeville (who I couldn’t have done this without). Basically I wanted this to be a story about a young kid who just has never really been anyone special and always just felt like the dull one. Who by circumstance and certain tragic events is thrust into this world where he’s still pretty normal but he has to make a choice to either stay the same or fight to be something more. It sounds pretty simple but I was super excited to get to write a gay colored protagonist because I was always so sad growing up that I didn’t have a hero to look up to so I really hope that people get that in this book with Lake and Nova.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
SK: Oh God I’m awful with things like this. I always tell myself to write it down, but then I will do something and forget to write it down and I’ll go back and be like I had this great idea….and my friends will just watch me expectantly and be like yes? And then I’ll just have to sit there and be like “Damn. I forgot.” It’s tragic.
JSC: How long have you been writing?
SK: Seriously writing? 1 year or so. Just writing? Like 15 years.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
SK: Yes! There are queer characters, bisexual characters. People of color and the works, but they aren’t really seen as that in the novel? In this world color and sexual orientation aren’t a thing they’re all just people they don’t ask questions. In a world of magic and demons and whatnot the last thing on anyone’s mind is who is sleeping with who.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
SK: God no. I wish that would be super awesome, I’m actually a member of the USAF. It doesn’t really affect anything I love to write and I love my job and when you love something you just find the time to do it. So I do!
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
SK: Panster all the way!
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
SK: An idea totally yeah, I always start from the end and just kinda work my way and do character work and decision that lead them there afterwards. Just always been easier for me.
JSC: What was the most valuable piece of advice you’ve had from an editor?
SK: Find an editor that LOVES your work, they’ll be the most invested in your work.
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
SK: The Walking Game on Booksie.com. It was just the first time I’d ever finished anything and it was just super fulfilling and the community was amazing as well.
JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?
SK: I usually write about how I WISH my life could be, as opposed to how it is. I’ve always read to wanna get away.
JSC: What’s the funniest or creepiest thing you’ve come across while researching for one of your stories?
SK: I actually haven’t done any research so I’ll get back to you on that one ha.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for The Sigil?
SK: I just love magic, and fantasy, and I’ve also always wanted to be a hero but I’m just a normal guy so I was like damnit that can be enough sometime!
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
SK: Um they both are driven by the want and need to be something more. They hate that this could be ‘it’ in life and so they make their decisions and actions based on this constant obsession to be more than what they are currently.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in The Sigil, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
SK: Not yet! I want to be front shelf in bookstores for people to see the second they walk in the door! Baby steps though. I feel like I’ve succeeded in holding my book in my hand so that’s perfect for me.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing The Sigil?
SK: Just writing it. I am SO lazy so just writing it and whatnot was hard. But Larissa my co-author was a trooper and powered through and pushed me so I have her to thank for all of this.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
SK: I found the cover myself a few minor touch ups and lighting effects were done by Book Cover Art. And the picture was perfect we didn’t really have to design anything. I just googled random pics saw the photograph and was like that, that’s the one. Found the photographer (Blake Cheek) on Instagram and shot him a message begging him to use the picture and he said yes!
JSC: Tell us one thing about them that we don’t learn from the book, the secret in their past.
SK: Um, one thing you don’t learn from the book about their past…You don’t hear about Lake’s bio parents at all in the book but I always pictured them as very loving and caring. You don’t know how they died either, but I guess a secret to the readers would be how they left him wasn’t super tragic just sometimes things happen beyond our control. But they loved him very much.
JSC: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
SK: Oh Jesus these questions keep getting harder and harder, I guess I wish someone would ask…
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
SK: Lake I think was the hardest. I just had so much trouble finding his motivations, and just finding who he was as a character. I just wanted him to be someone who moved things along. He was SO passive in the first draft and it even frustrated me but I think I found a pretty great arc for him now.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
SK: Just the thought of someone reading it and just being attached to the characters and wanting more of them. And loving the fact that there’s a colored gay hero out there somewhere.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
SK: Stone! Which I will be doing a lot more in Part ii. He’s actually going to have his own POV chapters so I’m excited to delve into his brain a little more. He’s a mute who had a pretty tragic upbringing and I’m sure people want to know what’s going on inside of his head. I do too!
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
SK: Oh Nova for sure! She’s just a boss ass bitch. She’s based off my best gal pal from high school, and it was just a ton of fun hearing my friend talk just like how I was writing Nova it was just so easy, and it flowed.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
SK: Once again didn’t really have to do this so I will have to get back to you on that.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
SK: Nova: His black ass had me running from demons and I should not be running. My titties are sweating and stuff.
Knox: It was so awesome! I couldn’t stop beating up monsters! Pam! Pow! Get’em Jab!
Lake: I feel like he just kept making me pass out. Why did I keep passing out in the book?
JSC: What’s your core motivation in this book?
Nova: To be Respected.
Knox : To be a hero.
Lake: I want my brother back.
JSC: Are you happy with where your writer left you at the end? (don’t give us any spoilers).
Nova: You mean alone? Single? Horny? Sure, why not.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SK: I grew up all around! My mom was also USAF so I kinda had the amazing experience of doing half my life in Europe and half in the States.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
SK: Uh this is kinda the same answer as the one above I just feel like. Heroes for young colored and other races and the LGBT community are just so few and far in between. I just want kids to be able to walk into bookstores and know that they’re represented to. And adults as well, pretty much everyone. Yeah that’s a better answer.
And now for Shakeil’s new book: The Sigil:
Lake Smithson has everything a boy like him could ever want. Loving, adoptive parents and a brother who feels like his other half. So why does something inside him yearn for more? Fate has other plans for him. A tragic event obliterates his world, forcing him to find a reason to go on. His obsession to find the answers makes him question everything he has ever known and thrust him into a world that has hidden in plain sight for centuries.
Nova Rathers has always been looked down upon by those who are ‘gifted’. Determined to prove she can be more than her circumstances, she struggles to find a way to make a name for herself. Until an uninvited visitor makes their way to her world, setting off a chain reaction of events that go against her entire way of life. Leading her to make choices that could tear apart everything her people worked so hard to keep secret.
Joined by new friends, Lake and Nova attempt to piece together mysterious clues about what’s happening. Unfortunately, their hunt might lead them to something even more sinister. Something that could destroy everything that they have left.
Come on! Open it.” Mom stares at me, her red lips pulled in a wide smile. Her curly hair bounces as she fidgets around the table. She’s wearing her yellow blouse today, her lucky shirt.
Dad sits in his recliner, an expectant grin under his graying mustache. His dark brown eyes glow in the sunlight as he ushers me forward with his worn, leathery hands. My brother, Dev, is lounging on the couch just over my shoulder. He isn’t looking at me. Instead, it seems he’s trying his hardest to look anywhere else.
Usually, he’s the one jumping and screaming every time I get another letter from a school. I shake off the weird feeling tickling the back of my mind.
I use the sharp edge of my fingernail to tear open the envelope. This is my backup, my safety school. My hands tingle as I separate the single sheet of paper from the mailer. I scan the letter quickly, my mind already registering what it says before I turn a disappointed glance back to my family.
“Nope.” I try to keep the devastation out of my voice.
Mom stops in an instant like someone’s pressed pause on the TiVo and grabs it from me. She slides her rimless glasses up her nose, squinting at the print angrily. “Excuse me? What do you mean, nope?”
I lean back against the leather sofa and close my eyes, waiting for the adrenaline that had been building since Mom handed me the envelope to wash away. “It’s okay, Mom.”
“The hell it is! I can’t believe it.” Her voice is becoming shriller by the second. “They should be so lucky.”
Dev, finally joining the real world, swipes the letter from her hands and takes a quick look. “Eh, it was a crappy school, anyway. In Ohio, no less.” He hands the letter back to Mom.
I appreciate his effort, but it still stings. I haven’t told my parents that this is the last school where I plan on applying. Twelve rejections, twelve other moments just like this. A heart can only take so much and I will not be the one the send my mother into an early cardiac arrest. Mom and Dad trade a few more words before Dad turns and pretends to be interested in a news report on the television. His shoulders are slouching, I can feel his disappointment from here.
“David! Don’t you turn away from me and pretend to watch the news. You know damn well you do not understand what’s going on.” My father slaps himself on the chest as if in shock.
“I beg your pard—” he begins before my mother cuts him off.
“Last week you thought a scene from Saving Private Ryan was footage from a war that was going on right now. And that the Kardashians were part of ISIS.”
“To be fair, one of them was speaking a language I didn’t know.”
“She was slurring her words,” my mother counters. My father opens his mouth as if to say something and then shrugs in defeat.
“Besides, this is more important. Apparently the admissions board, this woman”—she scans the letter like a robot from The Terminator— “Cynthia, here, must smoke the good stuff. Obviously, you know what we need to do, right, Dave?”
My father nods his head vigorously. The second my mother’s eyes leave him he mouths the word ‘No’ at me.
I grin and pull myself off the couch, still concerned that Dev has now returned to his uninterested zombie state. Usually, he lives for any argument between these two, but as I glance at him, I notice that today something’s different.
Looks like I’m on my own.
“Okay,” I say, waving a napkin I picked up off the table. “I will call a truce and excuse myself if you guys don’t mind. Besides, there’s always next semester.” I smile.
Liar. No, there isn’t.
My father ignores me and turns to Dev. “Dev, what do you think about this guy? Pelwit? Running for Senate. Dev?”
My mother’s hands fly up in exasperation, and she rolls her eyes. Probably at the overload of male idiocy in the house. She huffs and starts to clear the table.
My father clears his throat breaking Dev out of his stupor. “Uh, I don’t know, Dad. Seems sleazy if you ask me. But something serious must be going on because that guy looks pissed today.” He turns to look at my father and I catch his eye. He throws me a sly smile—it’s the first time he’s looked directly at me all morning and now I see why.
His eyes are bloodshot. How could Mom and Dad have missed that? Something is wrong. I contemplate asking him what’s up, but that look he shot me is enough to know whatever I could get out of him will not happen in front of our parents.
The kitchen table rattles as Mom sits. “Ugh, fine, if you all want to ignore this heinous decision, go ahead. I, for one, will not stand for it.” I take a seat to watch her unzip her knock-off, Gucci laptop bag and pull a sleek laptop out none-too carefully. It bangs against the table, and out of the corner of my eye, I see my father jump. “That school will hear from me. And the dean? She will be—well, you don’t even want to know what she’ll be.”
My father turns and places his chin on the couch like a kid expecting candy. “No, Nadine, please tell us what you’ll do to her.”
“Oh, shut up, Dave! All you need to worry about doing is marking my words. Mark ’em!”
His brows drop to a more serious expression before he nods his head in agreement, and then spins back around on the couch.
Uh-oh. He turned his back on her.
I watch in fear as Mom shoots up from the table like a panther locked in on a kill. She glides across the living room and drags my father off the couch. I can’t help but laugh and turn towards Dev, knowing he’s probably dying over their little scene, too. I’m disappointed when I see the same blank look on his face, not even a hint of amusement. Every part of me wants to ask him what’s wrong, but I don’t.
I’m such a coward.
I leave the living room and make my way up our sweeping staircase. My eyes fall on an abundance of family pictures hanging on the walls. Most of them of me and Dev. Correction: all of them are. We were pretty much inseparable growing up, always hanging off of each other, joined at the hip.
He’s never been this distant with me. Ever.
I reach the top and peek my head around the corner towards my parents’ room, I see Mom pounding away at her keyboard and Dad turns up the sound on the TV. The voice of some generic politician drones on about security being heightened in town after a recent disappearance. A kid. I lean my head a little closer and catch a name, Pelwit.
Wait, isn’t that the name of the guy who’s running for Senate?
“It’s not nice to eavesdrop.” I jump backwards and smack my head against the wall.
“Dang it, Dev.” I massage the pain away.
He snickers as my soul descends back into my body. We look up to see our parents staring in our direction, my mother’s hands hovering over the keys and my father giving us a pleading look. Dev waves them off and drags me away from the staircase and into the hallway.
“Anyway, there’s always next year. Oh, wait, you said you weren’t planning on applying anymore, didn’t you? Do you ever plan on telling Mom and Dad that? Because I will need to be there for that, you know, to identify whatever they decide to leave of your body.”
I laugh as we stop in front of my bedroom door. I glance up at him, his bloodshot eyes still just as red, maybe worse. “Yeah, I’ll tell them. You know, after I’ve gotten a job at Dairy Queen and a place to live.”
“Actually, the big DQ requires a degree now, bud. So you might be out of luck.”
I can’t help but laugh. “Shut up.”
He can see that I’m hurting.
Why couldn’t I see that he was?
He runs his hands through his buzz-cut. Straw-colored strands wisp between his fingers, and he stares at me for a second. He needs to shave. The stubble on his face is getting way out of hand. The muscles on his forearms flex as he crosses his arms. His eyes are glowing in the sunlight, making the unusual green color stand out more. I suddenly start to feel self-conscious about my lame brown ones. He looks like he wants to tell me something. Next thing I know he’s pulling me into a hug. I sink in his arms.
This feels like the Dev I know.
I feel his breath hit my neck as he squeezes me tighter. He’s always been known to hug harder than anyone should. Must be because Mom boosts his ego too much telling him he’s an amazing hugger, but something about this hug feels…different. It feels like it’s whispering goodbye in its silence and screaming desperation in its firmness. Like a goodbye hug. It’s final. He lets go.
“Come on, it won’t be so bad. This just means you got another year to hang out with me. I mean, who would pass up something like that?” His hand lingers on my shoulder. “You know what? Let me make it up to you. I have an early birthday present for you.”
I smile. “You don’t have to get me anything.”
“You know damn well you’re getting a gift no matter what, but I’ll wait if you insist.” He opens his bedroom door, directly across from mine. “Are you sure you don’t want it now?”
I nod with a wide grin and slip into my room, shoving the door open past the pile of dirty clothes on the floor. He winks and closes his door. I do the same. Stepping over everything, I sit down at my computer, flexing my fingers in anticipation. My mind still holds tight to my musings about what is going on with Dev, but I guess we can talk about it later tonight. Like he said, we have all the time in the world to hang out now.
My desk is messy, full of paper—some of it older rejection letters that never made it to the trash—a few soda cans. Mom keeps trying to get in here to clean. I should probably let her. Down the hall, I can make out the faint noises of Mom and Dad bickering over what I assume is the news. I crack my door open to hear a little better. Sometimes their fights are funny.
“You honestly think we need more security?” my mother bellows. “Yesterday I went to go buy a new top, and the mall cop was practically smelling my hair. I had to bark like a dog to get him off my ass.”
“I’m sorry, you did what?” my father snorts back.
“Don’t you dare laugh at me! It was crazy, I’ve never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I—”
Suddenly the arguing stops.
Well, that was quicker than I expected. A second later, I hear the smack of a kiss and a moan. Then another and another.
Oh, my God.
I jump in my chair at the sound of a bang coming from across the hall. Dev’s room. I jump again at another crash. What in the world?
Instantly, I’m eight again, trying to spy on my cool older brother and his friends. I half-expect them to ambush me as I sneak closer to his door.
I cross the hall, scared that a single floorboard creak will ruin my espionage. By the time I place my hand on the doorknob, I feel my palms sweating. I turn it silently and press my ear to the cheap wood.
The door swings open easily. I’d secretly hoped he locked it. A part of me is scared to find out what might wait for me on the other side of the door.
Looking up, I allow my eyes to adjust to the relative darkness for a moment. Dev’s blackout curtains wrap tightly around both of the large windows behind his bed, blocking out the afternoon sun. Dev sits on the edge of his bed; it sags under his weight as he rubs his eyes with his hands. He doesn’t notice me at first.
“Hey,” I say.
“Hey, bud,” Dev says, quickly sniffling and trying to flash me a smile. “What’s up?”
I open the door a little wider.
“Oh, you know, heard some intense noises coming from the other side of the hall and just wanted to make sure everything was going okay over here.”
I scan the carpet for a fallen trophy, maybe some books. But, as always, the room is perfect. A few pieces of art, some of his own, some of his friends’, hang on the walls. His shirts, coordinated by color, hang in a straight line in his closet. The computer desk is positioned the same way as mine.
On his television is the news report they were watching downstairs.
“Wow, you and Dad are trying to get into the news lately, huh?” I joke. He chuckles, but it’s off, there’s no emotion behind it.
“Oh, yeah, for sure. It’s important to know what’s going on. And what do you mean, loud noises? Real funny coming from you, walking around the house sounding like a stampede of elephants,”—he forces a laugh— “Nah, nothing’s the wrong bud, I’m just exhausted. It’s been a long week.”
I notice his eyes are duller, he looks so tired. As if he was just waiting to be alone so he could let out whatever was making him like this. My chest aches.
How could I miss this? I want to ask him what’s going on. To let him know that he can tell me anything. That I’m here for him, just like he’s always there for me. Instead, I just nod, uncomfortable. Something about seeing him so vulnerable makes me feel weak. Not wanting to intrude further, I return his half-hearted smile with one of my own and gently close the door. As I walk away from the other side of his door, I can hear him begin to cry.
Shakeil Kanish loves to write. The Sigil is his debut novel and he’s super excited about being an openly gay author and getting the chance to write about an openly gay protagonist. He feels it’s something sorely missing from the writing world, and he wants underrepresented kids everywhere to be able to root for a new type of hero. He loves playing video games enjoys snacking down on apple pie, as any sane person should. You can become his best friend by asking him to duet any song from the Greatest Showman. No, seriously, please do it.
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shakeil.kanish