We featured some of the authors of the Sight Unseen anthology in a recent podcast and many of you have been talking about this anthology. The authors of each story in the anthology were a secret – until now. And we’re hosting the reveal for two of the stories! Judith, the publisher of the anthology, conducted interviews with each writer as part of the reveal.
Free was written by Emma Barry
Lost That Feeling was written by Erin Satie
A Clear View of You was written by Meredith Duran
But first, about story number four!
Time to reveal…the fourth story of SIGHT UNSEEN: Chariot of Desire, a story the author describes as: Sad people make each other sadder but also happy.
CJ Crespo, drummer for the once wildly popular rock band Donjon, has always had a thing for frontman Donny Times. They spent the seventies getting high together, making music together, self-destructing together.
But her qualms about ruining a creative partnership with sex kept them from ever hooking up. Now, Donny’s conversion to a bizarre fringe religion that won’t allow him to engage in—or even sing about—sex, drugs, or other “sins” threatens to tear Donjon apart.
As the band struggles to embrace a new decade and a new Donny, CJ must decide where she belongs: by Donny’s side, even if he can’t ever love her? Or out there making her own music, away from a man who gives and takes in equal measures?
And the author of Chariot of Desire…J.A. Rock!
Judith: This one is big departure for you as a writer of contemporary LGBTQ+ fiction, as it focuses on a historical romance between a M/F couple. Could you tell us what was the impetus behind Chariot of Desire?
J.A. Rock: I’m a fan of 70s rock, and was interested in a sort of nontraditional rock star love story, where the rockers are fucked up, not in a glamorous, exciting way, but in an almost mundane human way. And in how a female rocker during that time would deal with pressure to comment on feminism when she’s wrapped up in her personal shit and trying to focus on her art.
Judith: So what about this particular story scared you to write it?
J.A.: I am terrible at historical fiction. I love learning about history, but I have a very poor grasp of chronology. I’ve been slowly working on a Victorian novel for years, and my co-writer Lisa Henry, a history major, has offered to beta read it for historical accuracy. But I keep warning her that it’s gonna be far worse than she’s even imagining. Like, “Um, J.A., about those pterodactyls on page 54…”
Judith: Ha! So did writing in Sight Unseen help you to go on and write other stories that scared you?
J.A.: I’ve always loved experimenting with new genres/subgenres, and I think Sight Unseen has reinforced that love. One of my upcoming projects is a contemporary retelling of As You Like It that gets very political. I’m very political in real life, so it’s a good fit, but creating fiction that delves into characters’ ideologies can be tricky territory—especially when some of the characters have ideologies different from your own. I don’t want to get into a talking heads/preachy PSA situation—or have it seem like I’m endorsing problematic views. So this project has some challenges that scare me a lot, and I’m glad I practiced pushing myself with Sight Unseen.
Judith: What was your favorite aspect about writing Chariot of Desire?
J.A.: I’m a big fan of quiet, subtle misery in fiction. I also like love stories for troubled people who don’t have traditionally heroic traits. So I enjoyed trying to capture that sense of vaguely twisted love snaking up between two very lost souls. This story had a distinct mood for me that I could really slip into each time I sat down to work on it.
Judith: Did you hide any easter eggs in your story?
J.A.: Just a couple of rock references for my mom to appreciate. She and I have very similar musical tastes. She’s going to read the anthology and try to guess which story is mine, but the jig’s gonna be up as soon as she sees the words “Love Gun.”
Judith: Other than your mom knowing instantly who wrote what, tell us a fun fact about your story.
J.A.: Donny is based very loosely on Freddie Mercury, who I used to want to be when I grew up, despite having a terrible singing voice.
Judith: And lastly, what’s up next for you, J.A.?
J.A.: The aforementioned politics-infused genderqueer retelling of As You Like It. And Lisa Henry and I are finishing up The Preacher’s Son, a contemporary romance between the son of a gay conversion camp owner and the journalist who wrongs him in a terrible way.
J.A. Rock is the author or coauthor of over twenty LGBTQ romance, suspense, and horror novels, as well as an occasional contributor to HuffPo Queer Voices. J.A. has received Lambda Literary and INDIEFAB Award nominations for Minotaur, and The Subs Club received the 2016 National Leather Association-International Pauline Reage Novel Award. J.A. lives in Chicago with an extremely judgmental dog, Professor Anne Studebaker. You can find out more at jarockauthor.com, and connect with J.A. on Twitter and on Facebook.
And last, but not least: the author of the fifth story of SIGHT UNSEEN: The Heart is a Universe, a story the author describes as: Single male seeking female fated to die in 16 days.
On the remote planet of Pax Cara lies the greatest secret of the universe. Once every generation, the inhabitants must offer up an exceptional young person—the Chosen One—who sacrifices his or her own life for the sake of that secret, and the planet itself.
However, Vitalis, the current Chosen One, is desperate to free herself from the yoke of destiny. An unexpected invitation to an aristocratic summit seems to be the perfect opportunity for escape. But almost as soon as she arrives, the most eligible prince in existence proposes marriage.
Sparks fly, but Vitalis is wary. Eleian of Terra Illustrata can have any woman he wants. Why has he set his sight on Vitalis, who, unless she manages to flee, will die in sixteen days? Is he hiding an ulterior motive, one that could put everything in jeopardy—her plans, her life, and her heart?
And the author of The Heart is a Universe is…Sherry Thomas!
Judith: I love being able to finally reveal that you wrote the sci-fi romance, The Heart is a Universe. As someone who is well known for her historicals, I think this one will come as a big surprise. Can you tell readers what the impetus was for this story?
Sherry Thomas: Ha! The impetus behind the story is so old I had to think for a minute to remember. Back when life first left the ocean and crawled on land—circa 2008, that is—I decided, for no apparent reason, to organize an anthology of romantic novellas. (Folks acquainted with my feeble powers of organization, feel free to titter.)
My proposed anthology was to have been called the One Beginning anthology, after its conceit, which was that all the authors in the anthology began with the same 3-paragraph opening.
Here’s part of the email I wrote to Meredith Duran, Bettie Sharpe, and my critique partner Janine Ballard:
Herewith the proposed beginning for our tales of love and woe and wonderment.
They met at the ball.
He was the beau of the ball, if there was such a thing: the undisputed Adonis, the one who shook hearts as easily and carelessly as a spring storm savaged the darling buds of May.
She was not a darling bud of May. She thought of herself as one of those trees that grew on sheer cliff faces, a stubborn, lonely thing, not beautiful but splendid, because her entire existence hung on the edge of a precipice.
Is it workable for everybody? Meeting at a ball is trite as heck but since we are writing across time and space and subgenres, I thought a more generic beginning would work better.
Let me know if you have any specific difficulties and I’ll revise accordingly–esp if your heroine’s existence doesn’t hang on the edge of a precipice!
I intended my story to be space opera, Meredith’s would deal with a woman suffering from memory loss (sounds familiar?), Bettie’s would be steam punk with zeppelins, and Janine’s a story-within-a-story, i.e., a contemporary romance in which the heroine is writing about this ball as a part of an epic fantasy.
Don’t you want to read that anthology? I still do! Alas, remember my feeble powers of organization? Janine was the only person to actually finish her story, the rest of us got pulled away by life, work, and other pursuits.
Judith: With so much passion for this particular project, why did it scare you to write this story?
Sherry: Lol, for stuff I want to write, the only thing that scares me is that in writing it I would make zero dollars, or something like that. I don’t write very fast, and even if I tripled my productivity, we are still looking at no more than 3 titles a year. So I have to prioritize paid work over speculative work. And in speculative work, I have to prioritize titles with better chance of remuneration than a space opera romantic novella.
In spite of all that, in the nearly a decade since I first conceived of the novella, I would pull it out at least several times a year and work on it a bit more. (Not a lot more because besides its seeming lack of commercial prospects, I also had no idea where the story was going.)
And then my life changed with one email. Judith at Open Ink Press wanted something that I didn’t normally write for her anthology. This practically never happens in publishing. Publishers—and readers, too—want an author to write more or less the same thing as what they’ve come to expect. Authors usually have to push to expand their own boundaries. (And this is actually not that different in self-publishing, where doing something different means an author has to take time away from her bread-and-butter books and face a potential reduction in income).
At the time I had written about 8,000 words in the novella. (It would end up being more than 30k-words long) And I was delighted that it would get finished so I didn’t hesitate at all in saying yes.
Judith: Can you talk about your favorite aspect of writing The Heart is a Universe?
Sherry: How it turned out.
I literally had no idea how the story would end or how I would give the couple their happily-ever-after for all those years I was working on it on-and-off. Since I often had no idea what to write for the next scene, let alone the last scene, I didn’t worry too much about it.
When I finally hit on a denouement that resonated with me, I went back, took a look at what I had already written, and it was all there, bits of seemingly inconsequential banter that could now serve as foreshadowing.
There’s no better feeling than guiding a story to become what it was always meant to be.
Judith: Did you hide any Easter eggs in your story?
Sherry: If by that you mean whether there is any reference to my other works, well, I’m not even sure this novella is set in the same universe. ☺
But one thing people haven’t really remarked one way or the other is that this is actually a romance featuring diverse characters. This is how the hero is described, at one point, “For a moment his complexion, otherwise a lovely bronze, seemed wan and grey, the kind produced by extreme ill health.”
And this is the heroine. “Her features were the beautiful smoothness of an emperador marble bust.” Emperador marble ranges from medium to dark brown, so she’s not a white lady with a tan. ☺
Judith: Can you tell us another fun fact about your story?
Sherry: The ball that was supposed to open up all the four stories of the One Beginning anthology? I’ve kept it, of course. But since we are in space, it has to be a ball held under zero-gravity conditions. Now I really want to attend a zero-g ball and dance like my H/H do in the story.
Judith: Now that Sight Unseen in the world with the authorship finally revealed, what’s up next for you, Sherry?
Sherry: I’m working on the third Lady Sherlock historical mystery. (The second, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, just released on September 5.) (Note: And Sherry was a guest of the podcast talking about it!)
I also have an exciting YA novel that I’m working on. The tentative release date is March 2019. Since it’s still far out, I’ll talk more about it in 2018.
USA Today-bestselling author Sherry Thomas loves intricate plots, explosive action, and combustible love stories. She has written romance, fantasy, mystery, and a wuxia-inspired duology. Her books regularly receive starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications, including such outlets as the New York Times and National Public Radio. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award.
And by the way, English is her second language.
You can find out more about Sherry’s books at SherryThomas.com.
Judith is the owner and curator of the book review site Binge on Books, as well as the boutique press Open Ink which published Sight Unseen. She also runs a literary PR agency A Novel Take PR, focused on promoting diverse books. When not publishing or promoting books, Judith writes about queer romance for HEA USA Today and queer fiction for Teen Vogue. You can connect with Judith on Twitter: @bingeonbooks.
So, did you guess who wrote what? What’d you think of the anthology?