Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
If you love the idea of fantasy stories that are about holdingonto and fighting for hope, despite being in the darkest and grimmest of places, gorgeously queer and disabled characters of colour, then I’d like to introduce you to RoAnna Sylver.
RoAnna’s books are difficult to define – and by that, I mean that their stories push the fringes of genre. For instance, Chameleon Moon is a dystopian story with superhuman characters (that are delightfully queer and polyamorous) that fight against an oppressive, all-seeing police force with love, hope, and resistance. Their other series, Stake Sauce, which you’ll learn more about today, is a supernatural story wherein a punk-rock vampire and disabled cop-turned-security-guard team up to fight a great evil – and maybe fall in love and heal each other too.
I am so delighted to have RoAnna Sylver, author of Chameleon Moon and the Stake Sauce series, has been a good friend of the Pond for a long time but they’ve never visited. I am delighted, then, that today is finally the day that RoAnna visits us and I could not be more happy to have them here today.
I am so honoured to have RoAnna visiting us today and that the Pond is a space for them to share their words with us. You’ll learn about Stake Sauce, you’ll learn more about RoAnna’s work, but you’ll also get to learn who influenced and shaped Stake Sauce – and, true to RoAnna’s work, their words will leave you feeling hopeful. RoAnna visits us today as a space bunny!
Stake Sauce, Arc 1: All You Need is Love. No, Really by Roanna Sylver
ARC 1, IN WHICH: A cute punk-rock vampire and a disabled firefighter-turned-mall-cop with a dark past join forces to battle the forces of evil.
Jude used to leap out of helicopters to rescue/protect people from terrifying infernos. Now, by day, he protects the local mall from rowdy teenagers who ride their skateboards inside. By night, he protects the the parking lot, and the rest of Portland, from undead, bloodsucking creatures of the darkness. Or would if he could find them.
Pixie refuses to bite anyone. Assault/murder/draining fluids isn’t punk, even if being a vampire really kind of is. He’s very hungry by now, and the much bigger, meaner, deadlier vamps kick him around on the nightly. Jude would love to find and fight some actual undead bullies. And Pixie could use some help staying… ‘alive.’ Time to make a deal.
Of course, life still sucks when you’re a vampire who refuses to suck blood. Fortunately, there’s a really interesting new barbecue restaurant in the mall, with an intriguing new recipe. (They say the secret ingredient is… love. No, really.)
I’ve had the pleasure of reading an eARC of this book, and, friends, if you love stories that are incredibly queer, that face trauma head-on and reckon with it, while also remaining incredibly hopeful, then you’ll love Stake Sauce. This is a great short read, one that I enjoyed reading, and if you read it too and find that you like it: great news! Stake Sauce Arc 2 released on Halloween, and I’m looking forward to reading it myself.
Author Interview: RoAnna Sylver
CW: Hi RoAnna! A huge and warm welcome to the Pond. I feel like your visit has been a long time coming and I’m so happy that you’re finally visiting us! For our friends out there who might be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
RoAnna: Hi CW and all my cool friends at the Quiet Pond! I’m so happy to be here—you’ve been one of my favorite blogs and just a wonderful sweet presence in the writing/reading community for so long. We really need goodness like the kind you provide here, especially now.
So I’ve been an indie SFF writer/active in the writing Twitter-verse for about four years now, and probably best known for CHAMELEON MOON (and its hopeful-dystopian burning city full of very queer super-people), though STAKE SAUCE is getting some wonderful attention too. I’m also an artist and do a lot of my own covers, including both STAKE SAUCE 1 and 2!
More recently I’ve been moving into interactive fiction (like the old-school text adventure games, or “choose your own adventure” books!). I have a few small ones up on itch.io, but last year, my dimension-hopping portal fantasy DAWNFALL helped launch (the incredible) Choice of Games’ new romance line, Heart’s Choice. That was a huge and amazing undertaking (I learned to code!), and I hope to do a lot more in the future.
If you want to know more about me/the stuff I do, RoAnnaSylver.com has it all!
CW: I think when people read your work, most people will say that your work is hopepunk (and you’ve also said, in the past, that your story is ‘dys-hope-ia’! Can you tell us about what ‘hope’ means to you in your stories?
RoAnna: I’ve had a lot of opportunity and reason to think about the nature of hope, bravery, horror (and how these three so often go hand in hand, I’ll get into below), lately. This year, but long before that too. One thing I’ve found is that not everything that claims to be ‘hopeful’ is—“toxic positivity” is one of my favorite concepts/terms, because it describes so well what looks like a chill, “good vibes only” philosophy, but can actually serve to silence and dismiss legitimate grievances and cries for help.
This can happen even (and hopefully, primarily) unintentionally. We’re all trying to tell each other that we’ll be okay (or we’re past believing that and/or trying to spare ourselves more pain), but so often that can come across as hollow or sugary saccharine shallow, or dismissive of others’ actual lives and pain.
So I think it comes down to a balance of not ignoring the trauma or devastating anguish of others (especially if they’re marginalized in a way you don’t share), or yourself (especially if you have a tendency to minimize/bury things, which is definitely a coping mechanism of mine). Seeing the reality, feeling the pain, and deciding to hold on anyway, for yourself or others or just the idea that maybe, maybe tomorrow will suck less.
“Hope” is a lot like “Bravery” for me as a concept. You can’t be brave unless you’re scared first. For hope to be real and true and not just pacifying pablum, there first has to be pain. (There’s something about the difference between ‘hope’ and plain ‘optimism’ itching at my brain, and I think this is the distinction!)
Writing hope is also inseparable from writing Horror for me—you have to acknowledge the horrors, make them real, give them claws, allow them to be terrifying and heart-rending… so that when the monster is defeated, or the disaster endured, or the hearts mended, it means something. As it does in life. I don’t think there is such a thing as meaningless suffering. Senseless, needless, yes. But everyone’s pain means something.
My books can get dark, and I try very hard not to shy away from honesty around pain, because to look away feels disrespectful. But for every ounce of pain I try to give an equal amount of healing, even (especially) if we don’t get it in real life. My writing is definitely hurt/comfort at its core, it’s been compared to fanfiction feel-wise, and I entirely seriously take that as a huge compliment.
“Wish fulfillment” has a crappy connotation for some reason (unless it’s allocishet white dudes, then they’re just stories), but that’s what my favorite horror is. To borrow a phrase, horror, like fairy tales, “teach us that monsters can be defeated.”
… I actually wrote an essay on exactly this point if you want to get more in depth! (As if I haven’t already given you one right here LMAOOO I’M SORRY)
CW: Congratulations on your release of Stake Sauce Arc 2! What inspired the story of Stake Sauce, and what is the place you write from for this series?
RoAnna: Firstly, thank you so much! It’s a little past release now, which is entirely my/2020’s bad, but I’m still so, so happy about it.
STAKE SAUCE was… a palate cleanser of sorts. It’s the first thing I wrote after CHAMELEON MOON and THE LIFELINE SIGNAL, which I was… kind of burned out on, due to previous publishing experiences that led to me going indie at all. I needed something fun and refreshing, something entirely my own, that didn’t scare me—and that only had four central characters, instead of CM’s sprawling mess!
So why not vampires? Why not Portland? Why not all the queer?
That, and as you might have guessed, I’ve been a horror fan forever. I wanted to give it a shot, and yes, infuse it with my dys-hope-ian flavor, because… see the rambling above!
As for the place I write from… “hyper-empathy” comes to mind. Not in the “oh I’m such an empath I am here to heal you” sense, but I’m extremely neurodivergent, in several ways, which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the above text-wall. For a lot of people (particularly autistic and ADHD-ers), hyper-empathy, actually feeling others’ pain (as far as possible, considering axes of oppression) is a very real thing that’s impossible to turn off. This can be a challenge, but for me, in writing and SJ-Praxis-Land specifically, I see it as a strength. Empathy is absolutely not necessary for compassion (a neurotypical misconception I hate so much), but for me at least, it really helps with getting a depth of understanding.
But in a more general, less-brain-specific sense…
STAKE SAUCE is about vampires, yeah, “undead” and very cool, but it’s so much more about what “life” and “death” actually mean, the difference between living and merely surviving, between dying and being gone. A theme might be that hope does not stop with death. The good someone puts into the world does not stop with their passing.
It’s basically “Welcome To The Black Parade” in book form, as far as I can make it. “Though you’re dead and gone, believe me, your memory will carry on.” (With joy too—“in my heart I can’t contain it! The anthem can’t explain it!”)
… And… I wasn’t going to get into this, since this blog is such a happy place, but it feels right, and it’s true.
I’ve been thinking a lot about death this year especially. A few months ago, we lost Corey Alexander/Xan West, a brilliant author and very dear friend of mine, and to whom STAKE SAUCE Book 2 is dedicated. They taught and strengthened me so much, and directly influenced how I wrote this book in particular. Specifically, without Corey and their incredible writing (particularly THEIR TROUBLESOME CRUSH, NINE OF SWORDS REVERSED, and EIGHT KINKY NIGHTS, all of which I had the absolute honor of editing), I would not have been able to write from such a place of confidence, unashamed honesty, and JOY, when it comes to my autistic, disabled, and fat characters. (Or like. My own life/body/brain experience.) They made this book what it is, by virtue of existing, telling their own truth, and giving me the courage to do the same.
I am… so angry about their loss. Furious beyond words (but I’ll try). The needless circumstances, the injustice, that they are gone at all, and that I can never show them how much they helped me, as a writer or as a human being. I am shaking right now writing this with the rage of it.
But soon, rage, that most secondary of emotions, gives way to the pain. I know I’ll cry when I’m done here. And then, the pain will slowly fade to emptiness. I’ll feel hollow and ‘dead.’
And when that fades… I’m not empty for long, because soon, I’ll think of my friend and feel nothing but gratitude. Love for the heart they shared with me and so many of us, and joy that we got to share the same planet, if not for long enough.
I’m not Jewish, but Corey was and so many of our friends are, and the sentiment is truer to me than anything else: their memory is a blessing.
Their death was horror. Their life is hope. Their memory a blessing. And how blessed and joyful I am to have had their friendship, beyond words.
To call back to MCR: In my heart, I can’t contain it… so I write books, to try to explain it.
And that seems a good note to stop on!
Thank you so, so much for having me! This was wonderful, as are you and this blog. I hope by the time this goes up, we’ll all be a little less scared. That’s a good blessing to end on, I think, especially when considering horror, fictional and real.
Tomorrow, may we all be less afraid. ❤
About the Author
RoAnna Sylver writes unusually hopeful dystopian and vampire stories about marginalized heroes actually surviving, triumphing, and rocking really hard. RoAnna is also a singer, blogger, and artist who lives with family near Portland, OR, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. The next amazing adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies.
I am so honoured that RoAnna visited us at the Pond today – and that they also shared with us their friendship with Corey Alexander. Corey was an author and community activist who passed away in August. Corey was an individual who I looked up to in the book community – their voice was powerful, always thoughtful, always gentle, and always so kind. Though Corey and I weren’t friends, we did talk a few times and I always learned much after I spoke to them. I am grateful to RoAnna for visiting the Pond and honouring Corey’s memory and impact.