Today I talk with Skye Yvonne, author of the YA novel Astraethea, the first book in a planned series. She’s also known online as Laila Winters. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, and her website. – Tucker Lieberman
T.L.: You provide a lot of sensory detail about this world. It seems like a place that the reader could step into. Do you ever feel yourself immersed in this imaginary place?
S.Y.: Astraethea is a world I see so clearly in my own mind that it’s hard not to become immersed in it. I think for any author, it’s almost impossible to not lose themselves in the worlds that they create—that’s the fun part about creating them. If we can’t dive into our own worlds and immerse ourselves in what we’ve built, then we can’t expect our readers to, either.
T.L.: What’s the significance—for us, as readers interpreting the story—of fighting people from Earth? How did you decide to take that perspective?
S.Y.: I love this question because in the very first draft of Astraethea, there was no conflict between the Astraetheans and the Earthlings. The humans truly did come to Astraethea seeking refuge, and Selene initially granted it to them. During revisions, though, I felt that Astraethea was lacking any true conflict beyond unrest and dissent between Selene’s councilors.
I scrapped the entire first draft of the book, and the second, and started fresh on the third. As far as the humans are concerned and conflict aside, Valor and Zaegan became the reason for their significance. They represent different sides of humanity: Valor the best, and Zaegan the worst.
Val ultimately causes the most turmoil at the very end of the book, but he doesn’t come out of it unscathed. His struggles and redemption in book two are important, both symbolically and for his character arc.
That, and if humans ever discovered extraterrestrial life, I’d imagine we’d be brazen enough to go storming in and disrupt whatever peace they might have.
T.L.: I noticed themes of loyalty and persistence. Is there a virtue that feels especially important to you in this story?
S.Y.: Given the betrayal on the very last page of the book, loyalty is especially important throughout the story. The characters are all deeply loyal to one another; Caly is so willing to rush into battle alongside her brother just to have his back that she nearly gets herself killed. Valor goes against his own morals and does the one thing he swore he’d never do just to protect the only friend he has. Loyalty is a core part of who they all are, except for Zaegan who’s loyal to no one but himself.
T.L.: Did you read any stories with LGBT characters when you were a teenager?
S.Y.: Unfortunately, no. Not only were stories featuring LGBT characters relatively unheard of when I was a kid, but I was also very, very deep in the closet. I did read a lot of LGBT fanfiction in secret, though, and writing an LGBT fic was how I first started experimenting with the idea that maybe I truly was in some self-imposed closet.
T.L.: Within the story, you don’t use the word “lesbian” to describe the relationship between the Queen and the Warrior. Is there a reason for that?
S.Y.: There was no reason, no. In their world, society views love and sexuality in a very different way. The prejudices and homophobia that people have here on Earth don’t exist on Astraethea; it’s not taboo or even unheard of for people of the same sex (or of any combination of gender, including our favorite non-binary Kodoreans) to love one another. Because it’s so widely accepted, I doubt there’s even a word in the Astraethean language that describes it or that can be used to self-identify one’s sexuality.
If Caly and Selene were to come to Earth and discover that there were people who disapproved of their relationship simply because they’re both female, I think they would be very, very confused. And Caly might stab them.
Spoiler: there’s a scene in book two where Valor refers to Caly as a lesbian (because for readers who enjoyed book one, who’s not waiting for this confrontation?), and she asks him what ‘lesbian’ even means.
T.L.: Did your story eventually take any turns you didn’t expect when you first started out?
S.Y.: I’m just the author—my characters do what they want, and I simply write it down. Astraethea took so many unexpected turns that it nearly gave me whiplash. The biggest turn, I think, is that in the first two drafts of the Astraethea, Valor’s character didn’t exist. He was always the one who pulled that trigger in the end, but I decided to add his POV throughout the book during one of my final revisions. Val ended up becoming one of my favorite characters, and I hope that by giving him a name, my readers enjoyed him and his story just as much as I did.
T.L.: What other space travel or fantasy stories do you enjoy?
S.Y.: I actually don’t read a lot of sci-fi, and Astraethea likely suffered a bit because of that. YA fantasy is more up my alley; give me magic and fairies and mythical creatures and I am one happy girl.
T.L.: What is most satisfying to you about the Astraethea saga?
S.Y.: Perhaps it makes me a bit vain, but I’m pretty satisfied that Astraethea has been well-received amongst my readers. I self-published the book after 40 rejections (though I received a revise & resubmit offer last month), and I was so afraid that the book was going to fail because I didn’t have the money or resources that are ultimately needed to make a self-published novel successful. And by no means is Astraethea “successful,” but it’s done better than I ever anticipated. It warms my heart knowing that people enjoy what I refer to as my “space gays.”
On a less arrogant note, I’m pretty satisfied with where the series is headed! I’m focusing on the R&R right now in hopes that the agent might pick it up, but I’m excited to start working on the second book. There’s a storm brewing in the human camp, Caly, in a downwards spiral, is far more reckless than usual, and Selene’s character will be a bit different going forward. I’ll also be introducing some new characters and I’m excited for readers to meet them.
T.L.: Who do you want your story to reach? What do you hope they’ll take away?
S.Y.: The only thing I’ve ever wanted is for people to read my books and know that they’re not alone; that it’s okay if you’re a lesbian, bisexual, gay, pan, poly, trans, non-binary, etc. LGBT representation in literature is something I wish I’d been exposed to as a teenager, and because I didn’t have it, I want to give it. Until I started seeing LGBT characters portrayed both in lit and in the media, I wasn’t comfortable coming out. If my writing can help just one person, in any way, I’ve personally succeed as an author.
T.L.: What lessons have your characters taught you?
S.Y.: My initial reaction to this question was, “Don’t take a sword into a gun fight.” But despite a few setbacks, Caly and Atreo are pretty lethal with their swords and so this might not be a good takeaway.
Every character has taught me something different. Caly taught me perseverance and unwavering loyalty. Atreo taught me to think and act rationally in tough situations. As she often leans on Eleon, Selene has taught me that it’s okay to lean on friends and family for support. On the flip side, Valor has helped teach me that family doesn’t always mean blood; it’s the family that you make for yourself that matters most. Andromeda taught me that I really wish I had a prehensile tail that I could use to knock sense into whoever annoys me.