This post will contain loose spoilers for a lot of the series so if that’s something that bothers you, you have been warned. There is also mention of suicidal ideation and death.
This one has been a little while coming. And admittedly, this is going to be a bit of a weird and hard one to write about, so sorry in advance for the mess. This project’s gone through an insane number of ups and downs but that’s just what happens when you’ve been working on something for a good five years now.
So we’ll scroll back time just for a second, it’s 2017, I still work my old bookstore job. A couple of friends and I who co-work there decide to start up a little short-story writing club (it didn’t last too long because turns out when you’re an adult you get busy very, very easily). The first story I wrote for this club was based off some fun little prompt images, perhaps partially influenced by the rising trend of the theme of Knights as a subject matter in queer circles. It wasn’t exactly unheard of to scroll through any dashboard and see the words “sword lesbian”. At the time I want to say I was about 75% sure I was bi but the queer scene was still so new to me. I’ve also always personally been obsessed with using my writing as a means to air a grievance and explore it through fantasy or science fiction. I remember distinctly being frustrated at the depiction of women at the time and the Good Girlboss thing rising in mass media. I needed something raw and fresh. I needed to explore women characters who could be messy and angry and violent. So to hell with it. I did.
[A little fun fact, originally it was only about 5k words to start with and didn’t have the Rapunzel bit. Because I was printing these as small books I felt compelled to push it a bit further with my word count. Adding the fairytales gave it a bit more dimension, or at least made them more relateable I think].
Turns out I wasn’t the only one feeling this itch that needed to be scratched. I printed my first run and brought them to TCAF in 2017 and just about sold out of the copies I brought along with me (honestly the first time that had actually ever happened to me)! So you could say I felt rather compelled to write another…
Velvet is currently the one that brings people back, compelled by the urge to tell me how important of a book it is to them. How reading and re-reading it helped them through tough times. I wrote a story about grief. About my grief. Before 2018 I had a lot of really bad luck in my family. My grandfather passed away, weakened by lung cancer; he and I were pretty close, he was absolutely over the moon knowing my sister and I were knee-deep in art and fawned over just about everything we made. A year after his loss we lost my uncle to a terrible heart attack. I remember little from that funeral other than finding small corners to hide so I could heave and cry and breathe. He was like a second father to me. I spent a solid decade of my childhood summers visiting his home to play with my cousins, all of us huddled around him as he played through Ocarina of Time for us, driving me head over heels into its wonderful storytelling. I remember this and I still feel a pang of hurt in my heart. A couple years after this another grandfather of mine had a serious stroke, his lively guitar and jovial voice disappeared from our family gatherings with only a confused soul left in its wake. In writing this, its been a year since he passed.
I’ve shaken hands with grief and know how ugly it can be. How it manifests in different people. How absolutely deranged it can make you feel.
I’m someone who struggles in allowing myself moments of weakness and not hating myself for them. Velvet became a release for that energy. Grief was like a wisp of smoke slipping between my fingers. I struggled to pin the feeling down into prose for years before sitting down to write this one. The words came easy, as if they wrote themselves. Like Philippa, I felt years of numbness melt away as the words became solid shapes, black and white on a page. I don’t think I’ve written anything quite as emotional since. I think it shows in the feedback I get from it.
Sapphire, however is a mess, and I am here for it. This was one of the stories I had the hardest time with in the editing process (for the release with the new cover last year). I wrote this one at the tail end of 2018. Ivy’s character is… horrendously personal to me (go figure). A lot of the imagery and this tumbling black hole of a pit she struggles with are a lot of personal struggles I wrestled with in the process of coming out (and looking back on my closeted years). I know this story is not a general favourite for most since it does tackle themes of depression and suicidal ideation (and honestly its more open-ended style ending generally never goes over well with an audience). But there’s a real power in this story that just sort of happened in writing it with this open ending. Ivy begins the story battling a depression she wrestles with and nearly loses her battle against. However, upon finding herself among like-minded partners and people willing to nurture and give her the time she needs to approach them, she finds hope in small moments of happiness. This leads to an ending that maybe feels cruel as it is all stripped away from her… but really it worked itself out to really display her growth in character. The fact that she is willing to keep pushing through darkness and terrible moments to really grasp life and hold onto it for those glimmers and experiences. That cutting it short is truly not worth it.
I personally struggled with a LOT of ideation in the same way during most of highschool, instances of cegep and a good chunk of university. It took a long time for me to learn to love myself the way that I do now and this is all thanks to my partner now and our current groups of friends who show me immense patience and kindness. I like to think that this book in particular is a bit of a mess on the surface for the sole fact that I am just a mess in general. These moments never really end. They recede into the background but they are always ready to surface. I feel that now, more than ever, I am better equipped to handle them when they arise.
Bronze leads us to the final of the original four before everything went to hell in a hand-basket. This one was written in 2019 and published much later that year which means it didn’t quite get the send off it deserved. I was really playing with representation in this one, feeling out what it means to be non-binary and the constant struggle I toyed with (to come out or not to come out? what’s easiest?) expressed through the means of a time loop. This story is not the strongest in the bunch, admittedly. Maybe because I had a lot of confused feelings I was dealing with at the time. The story leaves a lot of room for interpretation which I’m personally coming to terms with being absolutely okay, honestly. Sometimes the point gets muddied, sometimes you don’t get a straight answer. You’re along for the ride and let it take you for a spin.
These earlier books in the series truly focus on emotion as the driving force. Any plot takes a metaphorical stance, playing the role of providing momentum and context to a feeling. I think in this instance its okay for things to be messy and loose. I truly mean that.
I didn’t finish the series for another two years after this. For a major worldwide event (I know we’re sick and tired of mentioning the darn thing but alas here we are). The pandemic really threw a wrench in the production of the stories for a lot of personal reasons. A major one being that I lost the cover artist taking care of the imagery for each of these covers due to a conflict of interest. With two books to go I was pretty SOL until I could come up with a new plan. This wrench was enough to spiral, making the series truly difficult to work on for some time. It wasn’t until 2021 that I was able to revisit and really work the last two stories through and only once the crowdfunding campaign was launched to raise funds for them that June. My new plan for the covers wound up being to hire a good chunk of my friends and fantastic artists to each design a different cover in the series.
Turns out that this was an AMAZING plan. I was able to get several artists reworking the covers while I completed my writing Juniper that summer! I also hired a couple buddies of mine as editors on the series, mostly to keep an eye out for grammar and typos. Surface level things. With a series this many years in the making I didn’t exactly want to change the stories too drastically for those who may have fallen in love with the charm of the unedited originals!
Juniper was an interesting write. I was struggling with a bit of a block going into this one. I really and sincerely wanted to avoid this one sounding anything near what some would consider ‘boy love’ (I’m not here to shame those that do but its not a style I’m interested in taking part in). I wanted it to have some gravitas, some emotional connection to the story. I struggled to finagle this part, feeling a little out of my own depth. I had my premise pretty early on. I definitely wanted this one to take on the Cinderella motif (knight leaves his sword at a blacksmith’s shop and disappears).
2020 was a very weird year. It was not great, the vitriol and anger roiling online had me really examining the way people were treating arguments versus their image. It was really cruel watching mob after mob take down creatives (it still is and its why I’ve come to distance myself from that sort of thing in the years following). Juniper explores themes of accountability and learning to forgive yourself and to forgive others but to understand that the pain you inflict stays with you. That you cant always toss it under a rug. You have to face it and sometimes coming to terms with the idea that you might be a flawed human being is the hardest thing to swallow in the end. We all make mistakes and its worth acknowledging when we’ve done wrong. I wrote this keeping in mind those who were amassed by the mob mentality and as those participating in it.
Which then ironically lead me down a similar path for Lamplight which I drafted quite quickly after Juniper. This one wound itself around that similar theme of accepting the fact that we are all flawed human beings. Lamplight works best after reading Coquelicot and understanding that this is where Agatha’s history began and how she is lead to feeling like a monster for past mistakes, for a series of misguided errors. That she learned her strength and the art of sword fighting from questionable hands. I’ve personally had a rocky history in ‘finding myself’ and know that I have hurt people along the way (even if unintentional). Sometimes you have to make room to love yourself despite the weight of your mistakes pulling you down. You can’t always expect forgiveness from others who you’ve hurt, but you can forgive yourself and use these misguided mistakes to become a better person, to grow from them.
I think that’s a pretty central theme to these works, that the characters who remain the same are the ones in the greatest pain, are the ones trapped in their own loops. After Coquelicot every story depicts a change in the character learning to understand themselves and generate patience. Coquelicot is a warning, a word of caution towards the type of pain an uncontrolled anger can cause to you and to others. It begins with two women getting all that they’ve ever hoped for. Their hubris leads them to their demise in Lamplight when the two of them are physically hurt by it in some way.
I could go on talking about these stories forever and ever, fielding questions by readers and learning of the books’ impacts on them. Alas the shift in media literacy has made that type of engagement difficult to seek out. So I am left making pretty scatter-brained posts about them in light of their completion.
I’ve gone through a pretty massive internal growth in my perception of storytelling and what makes a ‘completed’ work. Allowing things to be messy and to love them for what I might perceive as flaws (and others might not)! I think that is reflected in the care taken towards the design elements of the series. When you self-publish your work and you choose to take great care in the presentation, you have no choice but to feel some form of pride in its final result.
This is how the series began…
This is where the series wound up…
I think its safe to say that in creating such a large project, partnering with a single person might have been my own personal mistake. I think shifting towards turning this into a community project with the help of friends and queer creatives in my community really offered something more powerful to it all. I feel like in a way this story gave back to a lot of the people who inspire me even now.
And I’m just really proud of that.
So if you made it this far into the post, if you made it through most of the series, if you made it through even one book I’ve written with my own two hands, just know that nothing means more to me, than the time you’ve taken to do so.