Why female authors choose male pen names

Why female authors choose male pen names

The answer is – sadly – still the same. A more important question would be: will this (ever) change?

I’ve written about pen names in the past. Pen names can be necessary for authors to protect their lives, their families and loved ones. Pen names can differ for authors who span across different genres, to keep audiences separate. Or they can be used to dip their toes in a new direction. Sadly, there are also criminal elements out there (there is no other way to describe them), people who know that their writing either isn’t good enough or not popular enough, and who use their pen names to catfish for money. There is a new case of this almost every month. It never ends. To use a pen name, let me be crystal clear, is totally okay. As I’ve said countless times before, people have good reasons why they choose a pen name.

The Cover of my coming fantasy novel The Golden One - Blooming, the first in a trilogy about seventeen-year-old Jason Mendez.

The Cover of my coming fantasy novel The Golden One – Blooming, the first in a trilogy about seventeen-year-old Jason Mendez. The book releases in exactly one month, November 15th.

But why would women choose a male pen name?

However, one thing that puzzles me is this: so many female authors choosing male pen names. Why? When Karen Blixen couldn’t publish her first book in the U.S., she was forced to choose the male pen name Isak Dinesen to get it out. That was 1934. Almost a century ago. Today, when the majority of readers are women, and the majority of authors, too, and no publisher would refuse a woman to be published under a female pen name, why is this still a ‘thing’? Mind you, this isn’t about trans or gender queer people. I would never presume to question their right to choose a pen name that better fits their gender identity.

But just last week I was asked about this again, since yet another female author was ‘caught’ using a male pen name, despite identifying as female. Sadly, the answer is as simple as it is sad: “male is better than female”. Or so it is still perceived by society, which includes most women. That makes me sad, very sad because as a gay man, I’m all too familiar with that axiom. My worth as a human is considered less because many of my “gay traits” are considered female, and the typical homosexual is still viewed as effeminate, weak, passive. Needless to say, I disagree with that assessment.

What message do they send girls?

It’s sad that readers will rather read a book from a male author than a book written by a female author. VERY sad. Pathetic even. And for women to choose a male author over a female author? What did Madeleine Albright say about that special place in hell? I can understand how an author might deliberately choose that male pen name to be more attractive to their potential readership. Money. But they are doing their gender a huge disservice, cementing the status quo.

What message do these authors send to girls? Male is safer? Male is more financially rewarding? Male is better? Even women prefer male? Is that really the message a mother wants her daughter to hear? Surely not? Unless you’re a Christaliban, of course…

Will this change? Ever?

It is frustrating that we still, in 2018, must talk about this. Despite great strides we’ve made toward gender equality in recent decades, despite the energy from the #MeToo movement, and the lessons we should heed from the Trump election and the Kavanaugh hearings. How can women ever expect to achieve true equality if they themselves keep betraying their own?

I wonder. I have no answers. Do you? What is your take? Why do so many women choose male pen names?

What world, what future, are we leaving to our children?

What world, what future, are we leaving to our children?

More and more often, I question the wisdom of having brought a child into this world…

I love my son, more than anything else on this planet. And like most parents out there, I’d gladly give my life to make sure he got to live. I needed to say this before I go into today’s blog post. Because given the way we are treating this planet, I worry. I worry about the state of the planet, where we’re hading, and what kind of world I will be able to leave behind for my son, what future he’ll have. My husband and I live unusual lives. We try hard to reduce our negative impact on the planet’s ecosystem. We drive an electric vehicle, we have modern efficient heating systems, we turn off our LED lamps when they’re not needed, we buy organic food and we have reduced our consumption of red meats to a minimum. We teach our son the value of life, all life, from the tiniest bug to kindness to other people.

My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature's creation in all aspects of life.

My son and I on the highest point of our island. I try to teach him respect for Mother Nature’s creation in all aspects of life.

We are but three in nearing ten billion people…

Yet what are we? A family of three in one of the world’s wealthiest countries. We still eat plenty every day, we can afford to buy organic, despite the price point. We do all those things at a great extra cost for our wallets, for what? To soothe our conscience? What good does it do if the eggs I buy are organic if the next mom buys the cheapest eggs for her family, from hens who live caged all their lives before being destroyed?

What good does it do if we pay extra for an EV if the Fords, the GMs, the Toyotas and the Volvos of the world continue to produce huge SUVs and sell them to people who really don’t need them?

And what good do all of our combined efforts accomplish if entire nations, e.g. the U.S., actively work to increase carbon emissions by rolling back laws and regulations to levels from the nineties, leave the Paris accords, allow the break-up of Natural Parks and the pollution of rivers, lakes and entire oceans?

Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.

Willem of the Tafel deals with the ultimate consequences of climate change. Not a future I want for our planet.

The new IPCC report is brutal reading

I woke up this morning to the release of the latest report from the UN climate panel, the IPCC, and their highly anticipated report on the effects of 1.5 C degree target on our climate. It is horrific reading. We’re already past 1 C and unless we take action now, we’re heading toward 2 degrees, which will see e.g. 70-90% of all coral reefs gone. If we go to 2 degrees, we’ll lose 99%! I’m a scuba diver. I have scuba dived among some of the most beautiful coral reefs we have. The thought that they’d be all gone, along with all the species of fish, shrimp etc that live in those stunning ecosystems is heartbreaking. Even more heartbreaking is the fact that my son might not get to see them.

We are way past doubting the effect humankind has on global climate when 17 of the 18 warmest years in the past 136 years have occurred since 2001!

Add to that the way our world is changing politically, philosophically: Brexit, Trump, along with the upheavals taking place in Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, Italy, and now Brasil? To name a few. Why does war feel like something that could happen any day? Is this the future I had envisioned for my child?

What can I do? What can you do?

 

My coming fantasy novel is the first book in a planned series of three. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today, climate change above all else.

I can’t stop Trump. Nor can I stop Brexit. Or any of the madness going on around the world. I can’t. I can only vote here in Sweden, and I did my best to make sure to vote for a political party that is a guarantee for an open-minded society, an ecological future. You can do that, too. In your country.

 

I’ll continue to buy healthy and organic foods for our family, cooking healthy meals, making sure we don’t throw away food. All of that we’ll obviously continue to do. As an author, I also have the privilege to have a voice that is louder than most people’s. It’s still a whisper, sadly, but nevertheless. And I feel as if I have to use that voice to scream about global warming and the effects thereof. Which is one of the reasons why the fantasy trilogy I’m working on is about a group of environmental warriors, the Byeonsin. And I think I know how the series will end, and that makes me both hopeful and frustrated, all rolled up in one. *no spoilers, nothing is written yet* I’ve also tried to spell out the effects of Global Warming in my novel Willem of the Tafel. Not a future I want to happen, despite the utopian feel of the book.

We have no planet B!

I don’t actually know who first said that but it’s a true statement, and we are still decades away from being able to reach other stars, planets. This Earth, our Earth, is it! We can’t keep going at the rate we are, we simply can’t. We ended this year’s “supply” of Earth on August 1. Sadly, the overshoot date is moving in the wrong direction, year after year. We behave as if nothing were wrong as if all the above were merely fairy tales.

Picture your child, your granddaughter or grandson! Picture them in a world where Miami is four feet under water, where many of the Pacific Islands, and the Maldives, are gone forever. Where billions of people are on the move from Africa and South Asia because of severe drought and famines. Picture the wars, the carnage when embattled Americans and Europeans try to keep them away, out. It’ll be our children, your granddaughters and grandsons holding those guns, protecting their homes from our mistakes.

“I don’t doubt the scientists, but it’s so far away, this thing, this climate change…”

My son's future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.

My son’s future is pretty much the most important thing I care about. All else is secondary.

Actually, it isn’t. To even reach the 1.5-degree target, the entire planet must stop emissions of CO2 by 2030. That’s twelve years from now. And we have no clue how. Well, that’s not entirely true. We do know how, but our politics are heading in the wrong direction. And to claim that climate change isn’t happening now? Every year, the planet is warmer, every year, storms are deadlier, droughts are longer, wildfires rage in more places, the Arctic sea ice melts more and more. It IS happening, right now. To deny that, or to claim it’s the weather or the sun, is naïve at best. You’re playing Russian roulette with your children’s future, and unlike in real Russian roulette, where there’s only one bullet in the chamber, this one’s fully loaded!

Time to act is now. Let’s make sure that our children and grandchildren have a planet left to live on, happily. Please?

No, I don’t regret my son, but I am worried sick about his chances for a happy and fulfilled life. It is his future I fight for. Will you do the same for your kids and grandkids?

Hans M Hirschi
Father, author

 

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

Gender identity: biology, sociology, predestination or choice?

In politics and psychology, the war to explain sex and gender is hotter than ever. Why?

A few weeks ago I listened to a segment on our public broadcasting radio. They were interviewing a psychology professor who was vehemently defending biology as the defining factor to distinguish gender, men from women, male from female. Leading up to our election a couple of weeks ago, our conservative parties were ranting against “gender politics” and “norm critical” education in schools. Which made me remember my own studies of psychology and the lessons we’d been taught there, how our teachers painstakingly tried to explain the differences between biology, sociology and how we don’t really know how they interact with each other, what ultimately is the defining factor, except one. More about that later.

DNA, chromosomes, and hormones

I have yet to hear anyone argue that a newborn boy and a newborn girl are the same. They’re not. Obviously. Chromosomes decide what sex a child will have, even though Mother Nature has been known to surprise us with various varieties, children we consider intersex, kids with various chromosomal defects, for lack of a better word. We also know that the male hormone “testosterone” and the female hormone “estrogen” impact on how male or female a body appears. Boys with little testosterone will have less body hair and softer features, to exemplify.

So far so good. We also know that hormones will affect our mood, potentially even our personality. However, we also know that all of the above isn’t a given. It’s not a law of nature, like gravity, with no exception. In fact, that is where “nurture” comes in and starts to change things. There are plenty of experiments with how children are affected who are “raised” as the opposite from their birth sex, and there are – of course – our gender fluid and trans friends, not to mention intersexual people. Nature vs nurture. Who is more important?

Front cover of my new children’s book The Dragon Princess, which released September 20, 2018. Get your copy today!

Nature vs nurture. Why is it so important to some?

Seeing how people fight and argue in this debate you’d think it actually matters as if the future of humanity were at stake. But does it? And why? Looking at research and what little I know about nature vs nurture, my take is this: so what? Whether our gender is predetermined by DNA is really not important, because plenty of people live perfectly happy in bodies where their DNA and chromosomes do not match their gender. The opposite is–unfortunately–also true: people who are miserable in their bodies even though the chromosomes perfectly match how their bodies appear.

It’s probably not a big surprise that I believe in choice, that I believe that nurture is much more important than nature. Sure, nature provides us with different preconditions, but that’s it. It merely determines our position at the starting line of life. How well we manage to go through the parkour of life, that’s an entirely different question, where I believe nurture plays a role, and–most importantly–personal choices. These personal choices will, of course, be influenced by both natural predisposition and how we were nurtured.

In a perfect world, that would be it. People would be allowed to determine their own gender expression, whether it’s trans, gender fluid or even genderless/agender. Unfortunately, society complicates things, for a great many reasons.

Conservatives vs progressive

In politics, you’ll find resistance against “free” individual gender expression on the conservative side (on the famous GAL-TAN scale, which is different from the classic left-right scale, as many socialist countries also discriminate against gender expression) while progressive voices usually are much more open-minded.

In our western society where “liberalism” is the lodestar (sorry, couldn’t help it, and no, I’m not behind the infamous op-ed) people’s individual choices are at the center of the economy, and most conservatives want us to make our own choices. Yet oddly this is different. Boys are blue and girls are pink. As mentioned above, our conservative parties in the election fought a fierce battle in the recent election against gender politics, against a preschool where kids are given a choice and taught that it is okay for boys to play with dolls and for girls to play with tools.

Somewhere, there is this idealized picture that we have a pre-defined role closely associated with our sex, our gender and the expression thereof. If you dream of a society where women are the care-takers, child raisers, cooks, and homemakers, it may seem comfortable to find your explanations in biology. You can tell the frustrated women that they don’t really have a choice: “don’t blame me for inequality, blame Mother Nature. I’m sure she knows what she’s doing!” Take it a step further and replace Mother Nature with a deity and you have the perfect storm. And gender politics is evil, as it fights–like Don Quixote–against that which is predestined.

Choice, however, makes things much more complex. Suddenly, you have individuals who live in a soup of biological factors, social factors, and personal choices to be made. And gender politics are a tool to help them find themselves. Some boys will be more “masculine” in their gender expression, some will realize that they are really girls and will want their bodies to match that. The very same is true for girls. At the end of the day, we all find ourselves on a spectrum, from one-hundred percent masculinity to one-hundred percent femininity, where the vast majority is somewhere between the poles.

Nature is at the core of my coming fantasy series. A story for youths and teens primarily dealing with the big threats our planet is dealing with today. Coming November 15, 2018.

What are you, my friend?

Part of the conundrum is the value society attributes to the two poles. Like a battery, masculine is “+” and feminine is “-“, male attributes are desirable, feminine ones are not. That is the sad truth at the core of it all. Our entire world is seen through those lenses. A woman crying in a public hearing is weak, hysterical, a man doing the same is passionate, in touch with his emotions.

I’m a man, but I’m also gay, and thus very much associated with all the negative associations attributed to women. In Turkey, for instance, the word “gay” is exclusively used for bottoms (or receiving men), whereas a top is not. It’s the “female” role that defines who’s gay. A large part of my coming out process (which is a life-long thing btw) was focused on my gender identity/expression, to come to peace with that which makes me a man and that which might not. I have loads of traits which society might consider female and I have spent years trying to figure out whether I should “blame” nature or nurture for them. You know what? I don’t care why. It doesn’t make any difference to how I feel. It shouldn’t matter to anyone. The important thing is how we feel if it’s due to chromosomes, hormones or socialization is irrelevant, or it should be.

But what makes a difference is how I am perceived by others, how my choices are reflected in society. When people or groups keep insisting that my choices are wrong, even though they are just right for me, that’s hurtful. Do I care? At my age, I can barely care enough to lift a middle finger, but I understand that it is a HUGE issue for our young, our impressionable members of society. Our teens who define themselves not based on who they are, but based on their relationships with others. They are at the epicenter of the struggle. It is them we need to support.

On my mind…

I often write about stuff on my mind, big, small, important, inconsequential. And I love to debate. Grant you, it would be easier and more welcome to do so over a cup of coffee/tea, sitting in comfy chairs, but that will have to be another day. For now, feel free to comment and add your two cents, or three. What is your experience? Do you agree with the above or do you have a different view?

Here’s the thing. If only we keep talking, across the great divide of diverging views, we can bring them closer to each other. Yelling, screaming and tweeting will not. So feel free to add your comments. Have a wonderful week.

Hans

When exactly did I become “old”?

When exactly did I become “old”?

Contrary to popular belief you’re not as old as you feel…

How often have I heard that sentence: “you’re only as old as you feel…” Bullcrap! You’re as old as you’re perceived, that is the sad truth. While it is true that the way we perceive our own age changes imperceptively, we do age before our inner eye. A blessing I guess. Who’d want to be a toddler all life? I also believe that our own view of our age, and how we are perceived by others, are interacting. People who “behave” old are perceived as being older. Our looks also have an impact on how we’re perceived: people who look after themselves, dress smartly and youthful are perceived as younger as those who do not. So far so easy.

Age is but a number, my ass!

However, sometimes we are judged merely by our date of birth. A long time ago (over a decade in fact), Swedish telco giant Ericsson offered everyone older than 1968 a severance package. They were considered “too old” to contribute positively to the company’s future. And oftentimes, it’s said that people above the age of fifty are too old to be considered for a job. And too expensive, I guess. So let’s dispense with this notion that we control our aging, because we don’t, not fully anyway. Yes, there are things we can do, but at some point, you realize that you’re no longer young, but old. How exactly does that happen and is it a bad thing?

Always too young, suddenly too old. How did that happen?

I was the youngest to ever apply and train to be a civil protection ‘soldier’ at the age of sixteen. I was the youngest candidate ever (at the time) to run for public office in my hometown. All my life I did things that people my age had not done before, always fighting this perception that I was too young. I remember the feeling, the frustration of not being taken seriously, that somehow my views were not worth as much due to the date on my birth certificate.

Years pass and suddenly things feel different. Suddenly I’m too old for e.g. politics. I’m too old to hold a job. My views are considered outdated and old, and I’m bombarded with a gazillion memes making that point: if you remember what a VHS tape or a cassette is, you’re practically three feet under. Why thank you.

So what changed?

I’m not denying my age. I’m not denying that some days, getting out of bed is a painful exercise. Yet at the same time, my body is in better shape than it has been since 1985. I look at my face and I see the changes, but compared to people ten, fifteen years my junior I still look pretty good. I feel great.

And part of that greatness is due to the changes in my head. Albert Einstein once said: “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know!” I second that motion entirely, and I wish people my age had been able to tell me, when I was young, why they dismissed my views. First of all, I don’t dismiss the views of the young. Ever. Because I remember how frustrating it was back when I wasn’t taken seriously. I would never do that to anyone else. It’s so disrespectful. But I also know things today that I didn’t know back then. Life experience, more factual knowledge (I/we know so much more than we knew in the eighties), and I think I’ve become a ‘tad’ more patient. I’m not as pushy, impatient than I was in my twenties.

Unfortunately, when I was a child and until I was about thirty-ish, even afterward, the older generations simply didn’t take us seriously. Whatever the younger generations had to bring to the table wasn’t worth considering. Often times we weren’t even listened to. Exceptions existed of course, but they were exactly that, exceptions. Strangely, those are people I still admire to this day.

Experience, wisdom (?) is a blessing

Back then, people didn’t explain why they didn’t value our views, or why they believed/knew differently. At least nothing beyond a “you’re too young to understand…” and yeah, that is not helpful, as we were well aware of how old we were. I try very hard not to make that same mistake when I meet younger people. Their view of the world is shaped by their perception, their unique untainted view of youth. That is an important view. Age affords me knowledge of how slow change can be, how important compromise is, how reality works. Youth provides insights into the desperate need for change, and the desperation that “waiting” will always lead to lost opportunities, to loss. Period.

While I enjoy knowing so much more than a younger counterpart, I also find it important to impart to them the reasons why I know this, not to just disregard their views. I find particularly discussions about our planet, the environment and changes to our climate interesting. We currently have an interesting debate in our city, about a new train tunnel to connect and circumvent our terminus station. There is a lot of opposition against the tunnel. Some just don’t believe in public transport, some (in certain suburbs) don’t see the need, as they are nowhere near a railway. However, I’ve noted in recent months that some of the opposition is age-related, with older people opposing the project because “the city would be a mess for years”. I even had one person argue “I won’t be around to use it…”

If I’m old, this person is practically ancient. How sad is it that we begin to look at say five years of chaos in a city and disregard the decades and decades of a better future this will provide for us? That makes me sad.

Have things changed? Or is it a generational rather than an age thing?

When I see my generation (born in the fifties and sixties) argue against progress, because it takes too long or isn’t immediately visible, I wonder: are younger generations more apt at seeing the bigger picture than we are? Are we so obsessed with quarterly results, “me me me” and instant gratification that we can’t view beyond the tip of our noses? Is it my generation that’s off track rather than us just getting older?

I honestly don’t know. I am very happy with the place where I am at, mentally, even physically. To be able to reflect, to have the experience I have, having seen what I have, done what I have, affords me great luxury in terms of analyzing the world. Grant you, I wish I had more working collagen in my skin to keep it from sagging, but hey, there’s a price for everything… But it worries me to see that so many in my generation have lost that precious gift of seeing the bigger picture, the grand scheme of things. Short term gains more important than long-term future. Need I mention #Brexit as a prime example of this, both in the arguments leading up to that disastrous vote and in politicians’ actions in the two years since.

What is your take? Let’s discuss… Meanwhile, I have to go back and finish a book. Have a great week.

Hans

Release Day: The Dragon Princess, a children’s fairytale

Release Day: The Dragon Princess, a children’s fairytale

My first children’s book, a book about love, available today

I had to redesign my website the other day, specifically the book-page. I don’t even remember off hand how many books I’ve released since my first in July 2013. Let me go check: nineteen. Today marks my twentieth release. Wow. Twelve novels, two non-fiction, one short story collection, and three anthologies. Today, I embark into new territory: children’s books. With the release of The Dragon Princess, I give you a book, unlike anything I’ve written before. To write for children is radically different than writing for adults.

The blurb

Love is love and dragons are evil or are they really? The Dragon Princess is a story about love and how it holds the power to transform even the coldest of hearts. A classic bedtime story for children of all ages.

Background

My son and I.

My son and I.

When my son was little, my husband and I were actively looking for books. Reading had been important to me when I was a child, and we wanted Sascha to be read to and to read by himself, too. We began to buy books, we were gifted lots of books and his bookshelf is well filled. But there are, at this stage, only two books that portray rainbow families and diverse love. Our son is five years old and he is starting to understand the differences between moms and dads. To him, having two dads is totally okay. It’s just the natural state for him, but just this morning he asked me if his mother was still alive. I know that he is trying to make sense of things, subconsciously. Ever now and then he’ll ask a question, and we’ve talked about this repeatedly.

Sometimes, it helps to have children’s books to help parents explain things. That was my starting point when I began to write about Valerius and Evander, the heroes in the book, two years ago. I wanted to create a series of children’s books where I could explore LGBT themes for kids, on a level they would understand.

Easier said than done

First, I wrote a text that encompassed sixteen scenes. I wanted to try and tell a classic fairytale. There are a lot of kids who love dragons and the struggle between good and evil. It needs to be a relatively simple plot, with clear-cut roles. And it needs to end well. Writing the first draft took a couple of hours, but I wasn’t happy with it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited and rewritten a text as many times as I’ve worked on The Dragon Princess. Sometimes I would edit the text several times in a day, then let it simmer for months. All in all, it took me over two years from the first draft to a final manuscript.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

When you write for small children, pictures, illustrations are a given. Kids like to read along, and when they can’t read, the pictures is where they ‘read’. They see the words in the picture, and as you read, they try to find those words in the illustration. My son is beginning to read for real, and it’s only now, at the age of five that he’s showing interest in the letters for the first time, asking me things like: “does this mean…?” pointing at the words on the page. In Felicity Swan, I was lucky to find a great illustrator to work with.

A new genre, new audience, a new approach

Yeah, how do you market a children’s book? I live in a country where marketing toward children is strictly forbidden and frowned upon. I have always been a genre hopper. Maybe it’s the Gemini in me that always sees new and shiny objects everywhere. From romantic love stories to gruesome books about child abuse, discrimination against first nations to debilitating dementia, I’ve covered new topics in every book.

To me, branching out into children’s book was a small step. Difficult, but small. The biggest challenge for me is to find my audience. We’ll see how that goes. For now, my take is simple, hoping that my existing audience buys the book for the children around them, from their own offspring to grandchildren, bonus kids, nieces, nephews etc.

Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018

A great big thank you to my publisher…

It’s no secret that I am very happy with my publisher. They’re a small house, but they treat every book as a gem in its own right. I felt that The Dragon Princess was handled even more carefully than my adult writing. Working with me and the illustrator, they put in a ton of time to make sure the book would be as perfect as humanly possible.

There is so much work going into even something as seemingly trivial as a forty-page kids book, from web pages, publishing, paginating, layout, proofing, editing, to making sure it’s available on release day on every single of the dozens of sites (and distribution) that sell books.

Beaten Track Publishing has that little extra love for children’s books. As an author, having my work treated that way makes my heart skip a beat. Thank you! Have a look at their catalog of children’s books.

Valerius and Evander are now yours to treasure, I hope you enjoy their first adventure in The Dragon Princess!

Hans M Hirschi

My first children’s book: The Dragon princess comes this week

My first children’s book: The Dragon princess comes this week

Meet Felicity Swan, the illustrator who made it possible

Writing a children’s book has been my dream ever since my son was born. I just wanted to add something to his life that we as rainbow parents are hard-pressed to find. Our son already owns a good hundred books, and some of them are positively archaic, with moms by the stove and handy dads. Horrifying! He also owns two books out of a hundred where rainbow families or being LGBT are mentioned. One is And Tango Makes Three (of course!), the other one is Marlon Bundo (the good version.) I began writing The Dragon Princess a couple of years ago (!) when we only had the book about Tango, and I’m finally able to get it out. This week. Thursday. To make it possible, I needed a great illustrator. Dozens applied for the job, I finally decided to work with Felicity Swan. You’ll understand why. Let’s get to know this amazing artist. I sent her a few questions, and she’s generously answered those for us:

The Interview

Q: Who is Felicity Swan in her own words?

I’m a freelance writer and artist. I draw comics, illustrations, and write books.

Q: What is one thing you would like the world to remember you for?

When someone closes a book I’ve written, I want them to feel a connection to it. Whether its hopeful or feeling like they’re not alone in their struggles or even feel understood in some way. I hope they feel the same way I do when I read my favorite books.

Q: What got you into illustrating?

I’ve always been drawing from the time I could hold a pencil. I started taking it seriously after I got my associates degree and realized university life wasn’t for me. I wanted to find what made me happy, not what I thought others expected of me. I was good at writing and drawing, so I pursued those instead.

Q: What inspires you? Do you have any specific “style”?

When it comes to style, it depends on the work and the tone I’m going for. I don’t believe in being tied to any one style, but it’s all about effectively communicating with your audience. I’m influenced by a variety of artists: Art Spiegleman, Aaron Alexovich, Jason Brubaker, Hiayao Miyazaki, Yun Koga, and a variety of independent artists.

Front cover of my coming children’s book The Dragon Princess, releasing September 20, 2018

“First time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book”

Q: One of the reasons why I absolutely fell for your style is the multi-faceted it is. I remember when you first sent me your sketches and how there was so much depth, so many layers or what I would call sub-text, but I guess it would be better to refer to just layers. How do you go about when you work with e.g. an author?

This is the first time I’ve collaborated on an illustrated book. When it comes to commissions and this collaboration, I’m usually given an idea of what someone wants – either a description or a set of images to work with. From there, I do my best to capture what the client wants, either through what they’ve unconsciously strung together through the images provided or from what I can get from their descriptions. For your writing, I was really drawn in by your use of contrasts in your descriptions – hot vs cold, young vs old, small vs large. So I used that as a base for everything – from colors to silhouettes. The parents have sharper edges than Valarius and Evander, both who have softer and sleeker designs. I wanted to have a contrast in warm vibrant colors for the protagonists and cold, darker colors for those affected by the curse.

“Ideas come from everywhere”

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process you work with, from idea to sketch to final rendering?

My ideas come from everywhere, to be honest – dreams, a simple idea, a “what if” thought, or even just a certain image or the way items are placed together. Heck, me misinterpreting a scene cut out of a show or game can lead to a cool story. Lately, I’ve been recycling old ideas in order to help flesh out new stories. When it comes to my comics, I’ll have a few ideas, I’ll write a summary, a few outlines, and then start the sketching phase where I start piecing things together or clearing up ideas and figuring out what I want the style to be. Some comics, I’ve had to leave off to the side and allow the idea to mature because I couldn’t think of an ending or I didn’t like the middle. Then I work on thumbnails (small mock-ups) of the pages, then I put my nose to the grindstone. Its a similar process for illustrations.

Q: Do you work exclusively with a computer or do you also illustrate on physical materials, e.g. paper, canvas?

I work mainly on my computer. When it comes to sketching or making “ugly sketches” I work on physical paper. My main medium is dry mediums. Thankfully, I was able to purchase a display tablet this time and my output has almost doubled.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

One of the amazing illustrations by Felicity Swan in the Dragon Princess.

Q: Toward the very end of our collaboration, you mentioned that you were visually impaired, which – if possible – increased my admiration for your work. Does your impairment influence your artistic expression, the work-flow?

All my life, I’ve had going blind hanging over my head. I’ve also had horrible depth perception and ocular migraines (lights and colors over my vision; not painful aside from eye strain). I think my first encounter with near-retinal detachment at the age of ten was a real wake up call for me and I started really pursuing writing.

“Four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye”

Before you commissioned me, I’d had four surgeries to prevent blindness in my right eye. There’s a cataract over that eye now and I’ll have surgery number five in the near future. It’s likely that, in ten years, I’ll lose that eye due to scar tissue. So, yes, it does influence my artistic expression – I feel a pressure to hurry and tell my stories. Not only that, but my near-nearsightedness makes seeing things far away difficult, so backgrounds and landscapes are tough for me. And having one eye to look through has done a number on my ocular migraines and made it harder to read books with normal sized text. I haven’t noticed too much of a difference with my drawing, though.

“It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln…”

Q: Was this your first project to work on a children’s book? If so, what is the takeaway for you? Did you learn something?

When I was a child, I drew a picture book called “Pikachu Goes to the Moon” haha! I wrote and drew a children’s historical fiction book when I was in junior high/middle school as an assignment for history class. It was about the shooting of Abraham Lincoln from the perspective of an orphan who overhears the shooter’s plans and tries to stop the shooting. Ever since my family has been telling me I should do more children’s books in the historical fiction genre. Once I’m done with the work I’m currently doing, I might look into it. Who knows?

Q: What is next for you? Any projects you can/wish to mention?

I have a long form comic called Final Break and I’m doing short comics on the side when I’m not doing commissions.

Q: Where/how can people find you?

Find me on social media:
Instagram / Twitter
Here’s a hub for all my links to my works, as well as my portfolio:
Portfolio
Feel free to feed my cat and help with cataract surgery:
Patreon (monthly subscription)
Ko-Fi (tip jar)

The Dragon Princess in what might become the “Valerius and Evander” series is published by Beaten Track Publishing and releases this week on Thursday. It is available as an ebook and on paperback from all your regular sources, including Amazon. Check it out, and read it with your kids, grandkids, nephews, nieces etc.

Here are the sales links:

Thank you!

Hans