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: Warren Rochelle lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his husband and their little dog, Gypsy, after retiring from teaching English and Creative Writing at the University of Mary Washington in 2020. His short fiction and poetry have been published in such journals and anthologies as Icarus, North Carolina Literary Review, Forbidden Lines, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Collective Fallout, Queer Fish 2, Empty Oaks, Quantum Fairy Tales, Migration, The Silver Gryphon, Jaelle Her Book, Colonnades, and Graffiti, as well as the Asheville Poetry Review, GW Magazine, Crucible, The Charlotte Poetry Review, and Romance and Beyond. His short story, “The Golden Boy,” was a finalist for the 2004 Spectrum Award for Short Fiction.
Rochelle is the author of a book of academic criticism, Communities of the Heart: the Rhetoric of Myth in the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, published by Liverpool University Press in 2001. Other articles and book reviews on science fiction and fantasy have appeared in various journals, including Extrapolation, Foundation, North Carolina Literary Review, and the SFRA Review.
Rochelle is also the author of five novels. The Wild Boy (2001), Harvest of Changelings (2007), and The Called (2010), were all published by Golden Gryphon Press. The Werewolf and His Boy was published by Samhain Publishing in September 2016, and re-released by JMS Books in August 2020. In Light’s Shadow was published by JMS Books in September 2022.
His first story collection, The Wicked Stepbrother and Other Stories, was published by JMS Books in September 2020. His second collection, To Bring Him Home and Other Tales, was published in September 2021, by JMS Books. A stand-alone story, “Seagulls,” was released by JMS Books in September 2021. A second stand-alone story, “Susurrus,” was published by JMS Books in November 2022.
Thanks so much, Warren, for joining me!
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
WR: If by writer’s block, you mean staring at a blank screen for an inordinate amount of time, the words, the story, just not coming—the crippling kind, then I can say that’s not been a problem. I’ve been lucky. I know this can be a real problem for many. However, I’ve had stories stall, lose steam and energy, or come to a place where how to go on is uncertain and murky. So, what do I do? I try several things, including:
- Reread the story up to that point, so I can re-enter the story’s world and its energy, reignite the fire (how many metaphors can I mix …);
- Free writing;
- Take a break: read, watch a movie, a TV program, go for a walk;
- Talk things over with my trusted muses;
- Pick up another story;
These things tend to work for me. I would add this: if for a good while, I am not writing or working on a writing project, whether it’s revising, researching, re-reading, just one paragraph, or cranking out the words, I feel askew, disconnected. I feel as if my connection to the universe is misfiring, or the plug isn’t all the way in the socket.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
WR: Keep writing. Don’t give up—which I did. A better answer would be to find your story, the truth you must tell, and don’t be afraid to tell it.
JSC: Plotter or pantser?
WR: Oh, such a plotter! Outlines (which are always subject to revision), time lines, histories, character data, sometimes maps. You get the idea.
JSC: What book is currently on your bedside table?
WR: Okay, I have a “to be read” table by the door, the bathroom book, and then I have the books I am reading now. Too many on that “to be read” table to list here. As I write this, I am reading Heartsong, by T.J.Klune, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. The Book Thief just moved from bathroom book to the reading now category.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for In Light’s Shadow?
WR: How did I choose the topic—well, topics (or themes) is probably more accurate for this book? Good question. In Light’s Shadow has undergone quite a few reincarnations, starting with a short story, “The Golden Boy,” which I wrote in 2003. My publisher then, Golden Gryphon Press, issued a call for stories to commemorate their 25th book, to be included in an anthology, The Silver Gryphon. Show us who you are, one of your best. Then, and now, I have been fascinated with such topics as the intersection of the magical and the mundane, all fairy tales are true, love stories (particularly gay love stories), alternate history, and utopias and dystopias. I often start with “what if” questions. For this story, hat if fairy tales were literally true? What if magic was real, and feared, its practitioners persecuted? How did this come to be? What kind of world would this be? The story became a novel—more history, more development of the title character and his lovers, more consideration of the “what if” questions. I started sending the book out, collecting rejections, and revising and more revising. At least twice of these revisions were with editorial assistance and advice. Several times I would just let the novel sit and rest for a while—often a long while. This cycle went on for a long time, until, finally, finally, with the invaluable help of an editor, The Golden Boy became In Light’s Shadow, and was published in September 2022 by JMS Books.
I would add now to the topics or themes: the Other, homophobia, magic and witches, and … but let’s go on to the next question.
So, how did I choose all of these topics? By reading and writing and studying, and finding the stories I loved as a writer and as an academic. I also think the topics chose me.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing the book?
WR: The hardest part of writing this book was getting the parts that were about a suicide and two suicide attempts right. I did a good bit of research on suicide and the treatment and resources available. I wanted to get the language appropriate and accurate. I also wanted readers to understand that in this alternate universe, Gavin did not have any access to therapy. All he had were the good intentions of Dr. Deerman. The doctor makes it clear, I hope, that he has no training in such therapy. I included an Author’s Note listing available resources.
JSC: What question do you wish that someone would ask about In Light’s Shadow, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.
WR: That question would be as follows: Is the Columbian Empire and its brutal government and discriminatory laws, a commentary on the United States in the 2020s? The answer is no. This novel has been a long time coming. I created the Columbian Empire back in 2003 for a short story published in The Silver Gryphon (Golden Gryphon Press, 2003), then came the first draft of the novel, then called The Golden Boy—the first of many drafts! My vision of the Empire didn’t radically change as a response to current politics, but, yes I do hear the echoes, see the similarities.
JSC: What’s your core motivation in this book?
WR: When I read this question, the first thing I thought of was to tell the truth. Yes, this is a dystopian urban fantasy, as one reviewer described the novel, but even so, I want to tell the truth of this world, of its people, and how their society has shaped and influenced them. I want, as much as possible, to tell the truth of my characters, who they are as complete persons, flawed, broken, loving, loved, hurt, wounded ….. I want readers to believe that in its context, this world is real. Here is the truth, as I know it, about this world and the characters whose stories I am telling. The subtitle is A Fairy Tale. Fairy tales are true, and I want to share this, write of, and about it.
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
WR: My drinks of choice include: Caramel Cappuccino, from Food Lion, cinnamon spice tea, and coffee, the nectar of the gods.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
WR: What am I working on now? One of my current projects is a new story collection, which will include “Susurrus” which was published as a stand-alone story in November 2022. At the moment, I working on a story called “El Bosque” (The Forest), set in an alternate universe I created a long time ago. In this particular other reality, the Confederacy wins the US Civil War, only to collapse in defeat in the Black Revolution in the 1960s. The resulting power vacuum precipitates World War III, a war fought with biological weapons. The Northern Hemisphere is laid low by a resulting plague.
Years and years later, the South Americans, South Africans, and the Pacific powers initiate the Reconstruction and the resulting Second Renaissance or the Great Second Chance. “El Bosque” is set some 400 years later, on a Human Community planet 11.9 light years from Earth. On this world live great sentient trees. The treaty allowing human colonization required periodic Gifts of young humans to serve a time as Voices for the Trees, the slow ones, to the fast ones, the humans. The love affair of two young men challenges this Gift-giving. Complications ensue.
I also have, in various stages, the beginning of a sequel to In Light’s Shadow and a sequel to The Werewolf and His Boy.
And now for Warren’s latest book: In Light’s Shadow:
Gavin Booker, a school librarian, leads an orderly, normal life. Work, jogging, friends from work, his son every other weekend. Gavin is also a secret. He is a hybrid, or part-fairy, and in the Columbian Empire, hybrids are under an automatic death sentence. Magic is illegal. So is loving another man, another capital crime. Fairies are locked away in ghettoes, magical beasts, such as gryphons, unicorns, and pegasi are kept in zoos. The others, the tree and water spirits, the talking beasts, fauns, and the rest, are in hiding. This is the world in which Gavin grew up. He survived, thanks to his mother. He can never forget he is different: ministers preach against people like him constantly; hating the other is a part of every school’s curriculum.
But now, things are changing fast, and apparently, for the worst. Earthquakes, volcanoes, and killer storms are all frequent occurrences. The medicine Gavin takes to suppress his body’s glowing, isn’t working. The spells cast by his doctor, a witch, are losing their power. If anyone finds out what Gavin is, he is dead. Under threat, the Empire always goes after its marginalized people. Can Gavin survive the coming catastrophe? Will he ever recover from losing the boys he loved? Can he find the fairy man who has haunted his dreams all his life before it is too late? Can his scarred heart ever heal?
The name on the sign by the empty cage read Equus caballus malum. No government-authorized sign would ever have any reference to human for a centaur. His mother had taught him the other name that morning beneath the Big Trees.
A pair of golden gryphons, also with clipped wings, and as unhappy looking as the pegasi, were in the next cage.
“There are supposed to be two silver gryphons, too,” Gavin said, after he read the sign. “I guess they are hiding in that cave in the back. Maybe the female is sitting on her eggs, or nursing her cubs.”
Latisha just nodded and tightened her grip on his hand. God only knows what her parents told her before this field trip.
The werewolf was next, sitting hunched over a rock in its forest habitat. It was an eastern red werewolf, with intensely blue human-like eyes. Listed on the sign in front of the cage were instructions for identifying werewolves in human form, and ways to protect oneself from such monsters. Canis lupus malum, evil wolf.
The werewolf seemed even sadder than the rest of the Bestiary’s denizens. It hadn’t looked up, no matter how loud the kids ahead of Gavin and Latisha had been, or how many faces they had made. But it did look up just as Gavin got to the cage and stared at him with those very bright blue eyes. Human eyes. Homo sapiens lupus. Gavin froze.
He didn’t answer Latisha at first. Instead, Gavin watched as the werewolf, shaking its big shaggy head, came slowly over to the corner of the cage where they stood. Its eyes were focused intently on Gavin. It jumped on its hind legs, its big paws only separated from Gavin’s face by the glass.
“Help me, please, fairy, help me. They won’t me let change. They make me take drugs,” it said in a rough voice. “I need to change. Get me out of here.”
“I’m not a fairy. Shut up,” Gavin snapped back.
“Mr. Booker? Look, the silver ones came out,” Latisha said. She was staring at the gryphon cage. She turned when the werewolf asked again for the fairy to get him out. “Mr. Booker? What’s it talking about? What fairy?” Latisha asked, looking back and forth between the silver gryphons and the werewolf. The silver gryphons ran back in their cave.
“Not a fairy? Look at your hands, fairy,” the werewolf hissed.
Gavin dropped Latisha’s hand and looked at his own. The tips of all his fingers glowed, a faint, faint yellow glow, as if he had dipped them in fluorescent paint. He quickly slid them into his pockets.
I took the pills this morning. This shouldn’t be happening. Suppress, suppress, suppress.
“I’m not a fucking fairy,” he yelled at the werewolf who only growled and snarled in return. He looked quickly around the Bestiary. Was there anybody who’d hear him yelling? What was he thinking? Thank God nobody but Latisha was anywhere near Gavin and the werewolf.
Latisha stared at Gavin and the werewolf. “You aren’t supposed to say that word; it’s not nice. Mama told me so. What fairy is it talking about?”
Gavin took a deep breath. Seeing the fear in the little girl’s face, he spoke slowly, in as even and as calm a tone as he could muster. “I don’t know what fairy it’s talking about. There’s just you and me and we’re certainly not fairies.” The glowing had stopped, he felt it. He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I got upset—that thing upset me. Your mother is absolutely right; you shouldn’t say that.”
“Fairies are bad, too,” Latisha said. He could guess what she was thinking. Latisha was remembering what she had been taught in school, the same things he had been taught in kindergarten and first grade, in Sunday school, and all the way through high school and college. Never mind the ads on TV and that radio that played over and over. The government made sure the lesson got through, that it was repeated over and over so no one could ever miss it. Even the youngest knew what the warning signs were, what to look out for. And what to do if they saw glowing people.
For your country and your Emperor, for God, for your family and friends, and because Jesus loves you: call the police. Just hit the big blue star on the nearest Automatic Reporting Machine and start talking. If you don’t know how to use the phone or the ARM, or neither is nearby, find the nearest normal adult and tell them. Normal people, good people, do not glow.
“Fairy, please. Help me.”
Gavin ignored the werewolf. “It’s not supposed to talk to us. Let’s go find Mr. Phillips and the rest of the class.”
Latisha nodded and reached for his hand. They walked away quickly, not looking back.
The werewolf yelled. “Fairy, help me, please!” Then it howled. They walked faster, Latisha looking over her shoulder.