This article was written by Lady Rowyn for her blog. She has been kind enough to let us reprint it. Thank you, Lady Rowyn!
Kyell Gold is one of my fellow authors in the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle. He kindly agreed to let me interview him, which I was very excited to do because I’d just read and greatly enjoyed his book, Black Angel. I had many questions for him!
You’ve had a long career as both author and editor! Please share some of the highlights.
I feel like my career is full of highlights. I’ve been invited to a number of conventions as a guest in places like Dallas, Minneapolis, Seattle, Toronto, Berlin, and Melbourne and Gold Coast, Australia. I’ve met some truly remarkable people, and conducted a number of panels. I’ve gotten countless letters from people whose lives have been touched by my books, and each one of those is special. Making the decision to move to writing full-time was a highlight, and teaching at the first residential writing workshop for the furry fandom was another.
There’s something of a spectrum in furry fiction, from “these characters could have been human but are furry for aesthetic purposes” (like Disney’s Robin Hood) to “this story would make no sense if the characters were human” (such as Richard Adam’s Watership Down). Where do you feel your work fits in? Is furriness more plot-critical in some of your books than others?
I’m probably more on the Robin Hood end of the scale, but I always try to work some aspect of the furriness into the plot of the books. Meg’s story, because she’s an otter, incorporates a lot of water imagery. Green Fairy, the first book in the series, starts with a wolf telling his family that he doesn’t want to eat meat anymore.
Two real-world religions figure significantly in Black Angel: vodou and Christianity. What led you to choose those religions in this story? What research did you do to help you portray them?
Christianity is what I’m familiar with, having grown up in it. Like any dominant religion, it is vulnerable to having its principles twisted to create an inequal society. In this case, I was taking the example of some small groups who use Christian texts to justify restricting women’s rights. Vodou I chose for the opposite reason: it’s a misunderstood religion that puts women in positions of power– the most famous practitioner is Marie Laveau.
To research fundamentalist Christianity, I looked through contemporary news articles (sadly). For vodou, I walked through a traveling museum exhibit, read two books on late 1800s New Orleans, and visited modern day New Orleans to see a voodoo temple and talk to a voodoo priestess (as part of a tour of haunted New Orleans, so I had to take that with a grain of salt, but it was valuable).
One of the characters in Black Angel self-medicates her depression with alcohol and pot, neither of which she can acquire legally. These are fraught subjects, and I am curious to hear more of your thought process on making both self-medication and depression part of the story, and the way you chose to present them.
Depression is something that over the last decade I’ve become more educated about and aware of. I believe in the power of demystifying through fiction– part of why I like writing about gay relationships is that many people don’t have an established idea of what those relationships are like, and many gay people don’t have a lot of representation in fiction. I wrote a short story about depression a while back that won an Ursa Major Award (“How To Get Through The Day”), and I thought it would be good to revisit the subject with more education and feel for the complexity of it. I’d like people suffering from depression to feel that they’re not alone, even if their company is a fictional character.
As for the alcohol and pot use, well, that’s something that teens do. I don’t advocate it, but neither does it feel right to completely ignore it. I tried to present their use in a balanced light. Ultimately, neither is really a good solution to the character’s problem.
I love your use of mixed first and third-person, and past and present tense in Black Angel. One doesn’t see those mixed often, and seldom to such good effect. How did you come up with it?
I’ve always liked playing around with points of view and ways to tell a story. When I wrote the first book in the series, I was trying to meet the challenge of melding a historical narrative with a modern-day one, and I wanted them to be stylistically distinct. The historical narrative– one of them– was supposed to be an autobiography of sorts, and so having it in first person made sense. I kept that theme going in the rest of the series– each of the books has multiple narratives with different points of view. For Black Angel, in fact, the main narrative was originally in third person, as the main ones were in the previous books, and I was struggling with which of the side narratives to put in first person, because neither felt right. It seems strange that it didn’t occur to me until I’d already written several chapters that Meg should be the one in first person, because it felt so natural when I switched it.
The book blurb on StoryBundle made me think that Meg’s sexuality would be something like “girl assumes she is straight and then later figures she’s either bi or lesbian.” I found the actual text is much more nuanced and interesting than that, and would like to invite you to elaborate on Meg’s theme of “really, I’m 19, I have done research, and I don’t actually know how I feel” and the way most of her friends push/encourage her to Make a Choice or at least Try Things. What drew you to this subject?
Any gay person over 30 has probably been told at least once in their life that they’re not really gay, it’s just a phase, they just need to meet the right man/woman, etc. Bisexual people are told that they’re just gay and in denial. Mainstream America’s repertoire of knowledge about sexual orientation is expanding, but there are still people who, when they encounter something outside of it, will try to slot it into an existing box. A trans friend of mine made a really important distinction between two behaviors from friends of hers. Some of them would tell her what she was going through; the others asked her and listened to her story. I think that’s really important, and all of us fall into that trap. Often it’s out of the best of intentions: we see someone confused and we want to help them. But we have to listen to them articulate the kind of help they actually want, the kind that will be of the most benefit to them.
Black Angel has several interior illustrations by your cover artist, Rukis. Do you regard the artwork as integral to the story, or a way to help readers visualize the characters/setting, or something else?
With furry fiction, illustrations really help readers visualize the characters. As you noted, there are a lot of different variations in the way people create their characters, and rather than awkward descriptions that rely on referents outside the world of the story, it’s nice to have an illustration to put the image into the reader’s mind.
What furry and/or fantasy authors have you found inspirational or formative in your work?
Madeleine L’Engle was the first fantasy author I read, and I read her work over and over again. Her feel for genuine characters and the way human challenges are at the core of any story have been inspirations my whole life. Andre Norton was another author whose works I devoured. Most recently, I’ve found David Mitchell an inspiration.
In the furry fandom, my friends and colleagues Watts Martin, Ryan Campbell, Malcolm Cross, and Kevin Frane have written some great stuff that’s inspired me to keep getting better.
Black Angel is a standalone novel, but it’s also part of the three-book Dangerous Spirits series. Tell us more about the other books in the series. Is there a recommended reading order? Will there be more books in the setting?
Green Fairy, the first one I wrote, follows Sol, a wolf, through his struggles to get through the last year of high school with a long-distance boyfriend. He finds some solace in a book written by a gay chamois in 1900s Paris, but then starts to dream that he’s one of the other characters in the book and gets a different perspective on the story. The dream starts creeping into his waking life, and things quickly get bad both in his life and in his dreams. This story is about confidence in yourself despite the views of the people around you.
Red Devil is Alexei’s story– Sol’s fox friend– and picks up after they’ve left high school. Alexei fled an abusive family in Russia, but his sister is still there and he’s trying to get her home. At the same time, he’s having issues of confidence with a guy he wants to date, so he decides to try summoning Sol’s ghost. But the summoning goes wrong and brings him an old Russian soldier who does not approve of his life. This book focuses a lot on issues of family, what it means to be family and who constitutes your family.
I’d recommend starting with Green Fairy and going on to Red Devil and then Black Angel, because that’s the chronological order of the story, and while they all stand alone, each of the later books contains a bit of spoiler for the previous ones. As for continuing the series… no plans right now. I’m not sure where I’d go with it. But I do have a new book coming out this year, Camouflage, that is kind of a spiritual cousin to this series. Except it has actual time travel in it.