Introducing Kellie Doherty

Guest blog by Kellie Doherty

Hi everyone! My name is Kellie Doherty. My pronouns are she/her. I’m a queer science fiction and fantasy author from the Land of the Midnight Sun—Alaska! Eagle River, specifically. Living in Alaska gives me an appreciation for snow, a hankering for a good cup of tea, and numerous dark winter nights that allow me to cozy up with my creativity.

All of my work—poetry, flash fiction, short stories, and novels—revolves around the speculative fiction realms because I am incredibly geeky like that. I’m a browncoat and a Trekkie. I’d love to step through the Stargate and walk through the halls of Hogwarts. I’d live in Red London and join the crew of the Wayfarer in a heartbeat. Suffice it to say, I love science fiction and fantasy, and I’m constantly inspired by it everyday. So it was no shock to anyone that I decided to write SFF as well.

My work also features queer main characters. Queer female main characters to be precise. Why? Because there wasn’t enough in the stories that I read or watched and I wanted to change that. Put a positive spin on the queer representation and tell stories about characters who became the heroines of their stories but also just happened to be queer. A facet of their personalities, not the whole reason for their stories. I wanted to see myself in the stories I loved, so I decided to write them myself.

What are some other things about me, you ask? Hmm, well, I have two fluffy cats that follow me around like shadows. I’m an office assistant and have been for the last three years. I have a master’s in book publishing from Portland State University. (Best two years, let me tell you; it was so much fun!) I’m freelance editor of fiction and non-fiction work, and a regular contributor for Fantasy Faction. I play a tiefling-turned-drow cleric in Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m obsessed with Critical Role.

Oh! And I got my start by writing fanfiction! It was the perfect outlet for my geeky teenage soul and a great way to hone my writing skills. I still write fanfic to this day; mostly fluff pieces when I want to dive into those familiar worlds again.

Okay, enough about me! If you want to know more, connect with me on social media. I’d love to continue the conversation!

***

Kellie Doherty photoKellie Doherty is a queer science fiction and fantasy author who lives in Eagle River, Alaska. When she noticed that there wasn’t much positive queer representation in the science fiction and fantasy realms, she decided to create her own!

Kellie’s work has been published in SanctuaryInnovation, ImageOutWrite 2019, and Life (as it) Happens, among others. Her adult sci-fi duology—Finding Hekate and Losing Hold—came out in April 2016 and April 2017 from Desert Palm Press. She’s currently working on a five-book fantasy series.

The first book Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties (March 2019, Desert Palm Press) won a 2019 Rainbow Award. An excerpt from the second book Curling Vines & Crimson Trades  (November 2020, Desert Palm Press) won first place in a 2020 Alaska Writers Guild Fiction contest. Website here.

She will be part of the The Trope Cake panel (Panel A1) – Check the full schedule HERE!

 

Q&A with Lori Blantin, CEO of IndiGo Marketing & Design

Welcome Lori, instead of me giving a summary of your background and your experience why don’t you tell us about yourself and your company in your own words.

I’ve been an avid reader my entire life.  My happy place is curled up in a cozy spot with a great book.   In 2008 I discovered Goodreads and soon after joined several groups where I could talk books with other avid readers. A year later I read my first M/M romance and I was hooked! Eager to find other M/M readers, I joined the Goodreads M/M Romance group and was so excited until I realized that there were only 7 members and no discussion happening.  Not to be deterred, I reached out to the author who had stated the group and asked her if she would make me a moderator.  She did, and with the help of a few friends, we grew the membership to over 20,000 members.  That caught the attention of a small boutique publisher who approached me about helping them with their social media marketing.  That was the beginning of my passion for helping authors market their books.

What attracted you to marketing and PR and why did you decide to break out on your own?

Before becoming involved in the M/M Romance group, I didn’t know anything about marketing. My career as a Data Aggregation Specialist was dull and dry and aside from my passion for spreadsheets, not very creative.  When Silver Publishing hired me, I finally got the chance to grow my creative side and fell in love with book promotion.  After working part-time for several publishers, I decided to branch out on my own and IndiGo Marketing & Design was born.  IndiGo has always been a side hustle but it’s my biggest passion and I hope to grow the business into something I can do full time.

PR and Marketing are two areas that, not only authors, but others who want to create a brand for themselves aren’t always experienced with and have trouble with. I know I’m still learning and I have a background in marketing and events. Can you share with us five basic marketing strategies anyone can take to improve their brand?

Even as a “marketing professional”, I find marketing my own business much harder than marketing for someone else.  I think that’s a challenge that most entrepreneurs face and as an author, you must think of yourself as an entrepreneur.  Once you do that, you’ll discover that your marketing strategies are not that different from any other small business.

  • Create your brand. Before you do anything else, you must have a clear vision of who your target audience is, what your “author voice” will be and what “look and feel” will most adequately reflect who you are and the story you’re telling.
  • Once you know what your brand is, then you need to start applying that brand everywhere. You do that by creating a website and developing social media sites that consistently reinforce the message that you’re delivering about your persona, your books and your readers.
  • Develop a social media strategy. Now that you know what your brand is, you have a website and social media accounts, it’s time to develop a marketing plan that will put those to the best use.  Be consistent and follow the rule of thirds.  1/3 of your content promotes your books, 1/3 of your content consists of sharing content that others post and that is relevant to your followers and the final 1/3 should be posts in which you engage with your followers on a more personal level.
  • Take advantage of unexpected opportunities to promote your books. Develop your “elevator pitch” so you have something prepared whenever you get the chance to talk about your book.  Always have some free swag with you to hand out or leave behind.  Hand out cards with a promo code or have a few autographed copies of your book with you that you can offer up for charity auctions or gift baskets.
  • Don’t try and go it alone. Take advantage of the marketing assistance offered by your publisher.  Work with other authors in your genre and cross-promote.  Develop relationships with bloggers, readers and “influencers” to help you get the word out.  Consider hiring someone to help you with your marketing.  Consistent, effective marketing takes a lot of time and you may find that your time is better spent writing and letting someone else do the heavy lifting.

When it comes to authors what would you say are the three mistakes that writers make when it comes to marketing their work? How can they avoid these mistakes or fix them?

  • Don’t be a passive bystander. I see so many authors that don’t do anything to market themselves.  You must play an active role in the promotion of your book.  If you’re relying on your publisher or think that just having a book on Amazon will generate sales, you’re not going to be successful.
  • Don’t wait until your book is in the editing process to start thinking about your marketing strategy. You should start formulating your plan before you even start writing your book.  Have a checklist that includes marketing your book throughout the entire process.  Promo shouldn’t be an afterthought.
  • Don’t be “that” author. Even the most popular, bestselling authors get negative reviews or find themselves criticized in social media posts.  While it’s tempting to defend your work or yourself, it’s never a good idea.  I’ve seen too many promising careers implode because the author ended up on the “authors behaving badly” list.  Yes, there is such a list and you don’t want to end up on it.

Visuals, like book trailers, teaser sheets, sell sheets, or other videos are exceedingly important for marketing, what are the three or five things that all of these visual colleterial pieces must contain in order to be the most impactful?

  • Well designed, professional looking visuals are imperative for being noticed. It all starts with a great cover.  A bad cover can be the death knell to what may otherwise be a great book. Invest in a high-quality cover and the rest of your visuals will be much more effective.
  • Make sure that all your visuals reflect your brand and fit the theme of the book or books they represent. Someone scrolling though a crowded timeline or Facebook group should be able to instantly associate that image with the book and author.
  • Sometimes less is more. Focus more on why the reader should want to read your book rather than where they can purchase it.  If you’re sharing graphics on social media, it’s better to include purchase links in the body of the post rather than crowding the graphics with logos.  The only exception to this rule is if the book is available from Kindle Unlimited since this is something that many readers look for.
  • Entice readers by including snippets from reviews or testimonials from other authors. Quote a line or two from your book that is provocative and will leave the reader wanting more.
  • Include a call to action. Announce a price reduction, offer a prize for signing up for your newsletter, create a sense of urgency with a limited time offer or announcing a new book in a series.

Can you tell us why having a proper media kit is so important? And what is the best way to make use of your media kit once you have it?

Having a media kit that includes all the basic information about our book, the book cover, purchase links, your author bio and contact links is something every author should have as soon as that information is available.  You can’t market your book without one.  Your media kit should also be in different formats; text only, WordPress HTML and Blogspot HTML.  One you have a good media kit, you’ll use it for cover reveals, blitzes and tours, review sites and other promotional opportunities.  Your media kit should also include printed materials like a sell sheet that you can leave at events, book signings, libraries, etc…

A question that stumps so many creative types is how to build their mailing list, given the rules with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that the EU has enacted and California will be adopting next year, what are some ways to increase those names on our lists?

Giveaways using a platform like Rafflecopter are probably the most effective way of growing your email list.  You should also have a subscription form on your website and Facebook page that asks your visitors to leave their email address.  Having gated content, like a short story or serialized content, on your site is another way to collect email addresses.  This is content that is hidden until your visitor enters their email address.

No matter what method you use, be sure that you make it clear that by leaving their email address, they’ll be receiving emails from you and make it very easy for them to opt-out.   If you have a checkbox, make sure the default setting is that the checkbox is empty. Of course, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the laws so you stay compliant and they may vary depending on your location.

Now that we have those names on our mailing list or subscribers to our blogs, what do we need to do to keep them? What suggestions do you have for us keeping these friends engaged?

My best suggestion is to be realistic about how much time you’ll have to devote to email campaigns.  Unless you’re an author who cranks out a book every 3 months, coming up with content on a regular basis can be daunting.  Before you send that first newsletter, really think about what your content is going to be, where it’s going to come from and how often you’re going to send out a newsletter.  If you write cozy mysteries and feature a lot of food in your books then chances are good that your fans would be interested in recipes, food blog reviews, that awesome new sauce you just discovered, etc…  But if you struggle to identify what your target audience would be interested in, then a monthly newsletter is probably going to be overwhelming to create and not very effective.  And again, remember the rule of thirds that I mentioned above.  Don’t make your content just about your books.  Engage your fans by appealing to what their interests are and if you’re not sure, ask them!

***

Lori’s had a love affair with books since childhood and grew up reading historical romances she borrowed from her mom. Sharing her love of reading became a passion which grew into a career. Her favorite thing is connecting readers and writers, then sitting back to watch the magic happen.

She joins us for the ‘Outside the Box: Social Media Marketing’ panel (Panel B2)

Check out the full schedule HERE.

The Queer Words Podcast

Guest blog from podcaster, Wayne Goodman

I started Queer Words Podcast in October 2018, drawing on the dozens of local authors my partner, Rick May, and I had hosted at our live, in-store reading series Perfectly Queer. At first, I thought I might post an episode every two weeks, but it quickly became apparent that would not be sufficient. Requests to be featured started arriving, and I soon moved to a weekly format.

The podcast has showcased the well-known and the not-so-well-known. Nationally recognizable names, such as Michael Nava, Jewelle Gomez, Charles Busch, Arisa White, Felice Picano, Cheryl Head, and Garth Greenwell have participated. Authors from across the globe are featured as well: Australia, Sweden, Britain, New Zealand, France, and Canada so far.

There are other podcasts that interview queer authors, but I believe the thing that sets Queer Words apart is that I attempt to present the person behind the books, as well as their writing. Guests share their experiences of growing up knowing they’re different and how they emerged as queer in a world that is not always welcoming.

Each author shares a reading and a little insight into their creative process. I like to say it’s like having a private master class with those who have been successful in the literary field and then sharing it with everyone.

Queer Words Podcast is available wherever you find fine podcasts, on Twitter (@wordsqueer), Instagram (@queerwordspodcast), and at the website (www.queerwords.org). The podcast episodes are archived in the Library of Congress LGBTQ+ Digital Collection.

If you are a queer-identified author with published works (or if you know of someone who might qualify, please write me: queerwords@gmail.com

***

Wayne Goodman has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area most of his life (with too many cats). Goodman hosts Queer Words Podcast, conversations with queer-identified authors about their works and lives. When not writing or recording, he enjoys playing Gilded Age parlor music on the piano, with an emphasis on women, gay, and Black composers.

Catch him as a panelist on ‘Podcasting and vlogging: The current frontier’ (Panel B4)

Check out the full schedule HERE.

 

Meet KJ

I live in Melbourne, Australia, with my wife, our son, three cats and a dog. I started writing interesting observations of life, literary articles, poetry, creative non-fiction, and personal essays, and eventually they were all sort of smooshed together in a giant author-y blender and out popped a book. But I didn’t experience a childhood with a pen in my hand and notebooks filled with stories. I came to storytelling quite late. I mean, I’ve always written, but it was mainly curriculum and report cards and whiteboard instructions on next week’s English assignment. It’s rather tricky being creative in any of those endeavours, although report cards can be works of art.

If someone wanted to read my books, I recommend they start with Coming Home. It gives a very clear insight into what my writing style is like, which, I’ve been told, is kind of unique. My other books are still me, but I chuck other stuff in, like magical realism, women’s football, dream sequences, or short stories. Coming Home, and now Change Of Plans, are the most traditional contemporary romances I’ve written.

My novels are all set in Melbourne, but probably only that aspect and some of the language structure makes them particularly Australian. We do have a tendency to drop words at the beginning of sentences in dialogue, so that we end up speaking in phrases. My main character’s external and internal discourses follow that pattern. It confuses the heck out of my editor. Beyond that, I do have a unique author’s voice. It’s probably more to do with the lyrical aspect of my writing. I use long sentences that paint pictures. I’m very fond of imagery and metaphorical analogies, and I intersperse these with short, snappy dialogue.

A perfect example is in Art Of Magic. I’d wondered if  love could be so powerful that it could be ‘seen’? I initially researched synesthesia, which is the phenomenon where someone can taste sounds, or hear colours, but then I pushed the idea further. What if two people who fall in love realise that they’ve found their person because they can see their love as a stream of colours? What if the only way to activate that phenomenon is through trust? When I finished Art Of Magic, I realised that it had become a fabulous metaphor to explain the interconnection between love and belief.

I’m a staunch advocate of the romance novel. It distresses me greatly that society views romance novels as low-brow, less intelligent, and something to be hidden. I’ve lost count of the number of times a romance novel is labelled a ‘guilty pleasure’. But that warm fuzzy a reader has when the characters overcome their life hurdles and fall in love? That needs to be celebrated.

***

KJ is a best-selling author who lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her wife, their son, three cats and a dog.

She started writing interesting observations of life, literary articles, poetry, creative non-fiction, and personal essays, and eventually they were all sort of smooshed together in a giant author-y blender and out popped a book. Then another. The blender is currently in use for KJ’s next novel.

She will be reading as part of ‘Romance, Part I’ (Reading A4)

Check out the full schedule HERE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like it dark and creepy…

Guest blog by author, J.P. Jackson

I like it dark and creepy…

I’ve had lots of friends tell me, “You’re so bizarre.”

And it’s true, my brain immediately goes to the dark recesses, the shadowy alcoves, the abscess of rotten thoughts, where in every situation something inevitably inappropriate falls out of my mouth. Most of my friends are used to me by now. My husband just shakes his head.

Every now and then I find myself in an awkward situation with a new work colleague or having been invited to a party where the other guests are not quite ready for my salty behaviour, or my penchant for the twisted.

Not everyone likes it when my tag along demons come out to play.

But occasionally, there’s that one person in the crowd who smiles, nay, perhaps even giggles. Once or twice I’ve even had raucous laughter. There you are! My people.

When sitting down to write my books, I often struggle. Should I have written that? My editor brain (which is severely underdeveloped) often gets in the way and says, you can’t write that! It’s too much.

I’m always torn as to whether or not I’ve gone dark enough, or too dark. When your entire life has existed dancing on the line between the light and the dark, sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether or not you’ve gone too far.

Horror and Dark Urban Fantasy readers can be a tough crowd. Spiders, insects, and creepy crawlies might set one person’s nerves a shivering, but the next loves the furry little multi-legged monsters. Another reader might find clowns eerie and disturbing, while a good many of us are reminded of slapstick nonsense, fun magic tricks, and cotton candy.

Scaring, and scarring people is tough business.

And when you say “Dark” Urban Fantasy, what exactly does that mean?

Apparently all my books fit this description. It’s the telling of a story that has the supernatural element (werewolves, magic, demons, etc.), an environment that’s filled with dread, doom or impending disaster, and a touch of violence to set the stage. If you can instill a sense of tension, taking the reader through poorly lit, dank garbage-filled alleyways, following a blood trail, or have them clutching the bed sheets over their head while attempting to sleep in a decaying mansion infested with dream wraiths, you’ve done your job.

But it’s almost impossible to get under every one of your readers’ skin. And that’s what I want. I want my fans to walk away from my stories feeling like there’s magic a foot. Occult forces that will expand the world of possibilities, or just as likely consume their soul.

I want Imps to be found in the neighborhood rose garden, but at night they steal the local children.

I long for inhuman love interests who will sex you up within an inch of your mortal life, or trick you into selling your soul.

I have a desire to bend the realm of possibilities while notching evil hex marks deep within the brains of my believers. I probably should just take the dive and go as deep as I possibly can.

See? It’s a real quandary.

***

J.P. Jackson (he/him) photo of author jp jacksonis an award winning author of dark urban fantasy, paranormal, and horror stories, but regardless of the genre they always feature LGBTQ+ main characters. J.P. works as an IT analyst in health care during the day, where if cornered he’d confess to casting spells to ensure clinicians actually use the electronic medical charting system he configures and implements.

At night, the writing happens, where demons, witches and shape shifters congregate around the kitchen table and general chaos ensues. His husband of 22 years has very firmly put his foot down on any further wraith summonings. Ghosts appear at the most inopportune times, and the Fae are known for regular visits where a glass of wine is exchanged for a good ole story or two. Canela and Jalisco, the two Chihuahuas, are in cahoots with any spell casting.

Visit his Website here. And catch J.P. reading dark fantasy (Reading A1), discussing research (Panel A2) and sharing a horror story (Reading B1).

Check out the full schedule HERE.

Introducing Liz Faraim

Meowdy. I am absolutely thrilled to be involved in the first ever IQARUS Con, and the timing couldn’t be better. I have a new book coming out just twelve days before the convention. What better way to celebrate my new release than sharing it with all of the wonderful folx at IQARUS!

Liz finding her first ever Geocache while eight months pregnant. 2011.

Sales pitch aside, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Liz Faraim. I use the pronouns she/her, live in the East Bay area of California, and do most of my writing in the wee hours of the morning before sunrise. I have one grumpy chonker of a cat named Harvey, another cat that is a ginger ball of energy named Daisy, plus a two-legged human son and an amazing wife. We (the humans, not the cats) like to explore the beautiful natural areas hidden between cities around here, sometimes even taking to the sea (we definitely don’t bring the cats along for that).

One thing that helps us explore and find fun new places is Geocaching, which I write a little bit about in my book, Canopy. I prefer geocaching in remote areas because I am such an introvert that I don’t want people wondering what the heck I am doing as I search in shrubbery, around rocks, behind guardrails, and even inside hollow fenceposts. If you haven’t geocached before and want to try something new, I highly recommend it. The hides go from super accessible to extremely difficult, and you can filter the map based on your preference. No, the people at Geocaching.com have not paid me to endorse their site, I just really like the activity and hope more people will try it out.

Balancing all life has to offer has been a challenge during the unique times that we are living in, so I hope you’ve all found some great books to help you make it through.

Now, I am so excited! I get to read an excerpt at IQARUS from my new release, Stitches and Sepsis, which is book two in the Vivian Chastain series. The book picks up right in the middle of a confrontation between Vivian and a man who has been following her for days. Vivian is a savvy veteran, and not one to be trifled with, as the man soon finds out.

Top 10 Tidbits About Stitches and Sepsis:

  1. The main event that Stitches and Sepsis revolves around was originally crammed into Canopy (book 1). My mentor, Pat Henshaw, wisely told me to pull that massive scene out of Canopy and give it room to breathe in book two.
  2. Stitches and Sepsis takes place in Sacramento, Morro Bay, and Briones Regional Park.
  3. Vivian finds a new love interest.
  4. The haters come to town during Pride, and Vivian does her part to make sure they don’t ruin the festival.
  5. Sexy shower scene!
  6. Vivian gets an involuntary, drastically new hairstyle.
  7. I kill off a character for the first time.
  8. Drag kings!
  9. Steri-Strips and super glue don’t always make the best stitches.
  10. I had to research how to remove a foley catheter while writing this book.

I truly hope you will tune in to my reading on May 8th (May 9 in Australia and New Zealand), and stick around for the Q&A at the bottom of the hour.

***

Liz signing her NineStar Press contract

Liz (she/her) has a full plate between balancing a day job, parenting, writing, and finding some semblance of a social life. In past lives she has been a soldier, a bartender, a shoe salesperson, an assistant museum curator, and even a driving instructor. She focuses her writing on strong, queer, female leads who don’t back down.

Liz transplanted to California from New York over thirty years ago, and now lives in the East Bay Area. She enjoys exploring nature with her wife and son.

She will be reading as part of ‘A Little Bit of Everything; Queer contemporary’ (Reading B2)

Check out the full schedule HERE

Flight of the Light Dwellers

Original flash fiction by Ava Kelly and the history of the artwork behind the IQARUS banner.

flight by ava kelly - a light painting on black bacgground with stylized birds made of light trails in yellow, blue, green, white

Author’s note. The history of the IQARUS banner artwork begins years ago, in Venice. It was winter, mild in that area, without snow or chilling winds. It rained a bit, as we ran from the center of the city to the train station, whooshing this way and that through the emptying, narrow streets. In the darkness, the lights of winter decorations breezed by like birds in flight, like creatures made of light. In that moment, it was a mesmerizing story coming to life, of friendship and laughter and youth. This light painting, Flight, (and the rest in its Light Dwellers series) is a celebration of that time.

Flight of the Light Dwellers

by Ava Kelly

The workshop is quietest in the dawn hours. Out there, the world wakes with groans and whispers, but in here, the air remains still for a while longer. From their perch on the shelf, Birdie can see both the narrow street and the expanse of the glassblower’s shop. Outside the window, hoarfrost covers the cobblestone, glittering under the biting winter sun. The furnace at the center of the floor is cold as well, but it always leaves a lingering taste in the air, a reminder of its warmth, and Birdie is thrown back to the beginning.

Back when they took shape in the hands of the apprentice. When they received life from her breath.

Now, the apprentice is the master of the workshop, teaching her underlings the same she was taught. Birdie’s been here all these years, watching over her.

“Good morning, uccellino,” she calls, entering through the squeaky door.

As it does every time, the tip of her finger pets Birdie’s head, sliding down Birdie’s glass back in a smooth motion. It leaves Birdie rocking on their belly, swaying crookedly for a while.

***

Birdie’s wings are uneven. Not that they ever blamed the apprentice for this slight, but it was her doing. Birdie’d been her first tiny creature, born out of a blob of blue glass, red streaks fanning out over her wingspan. When Birdie was almost done, a loud noise from outside startled the apprentice, and half of their left wing was clipped.

It didn’t hurt. It never hurts. Except…

Birdie turns their attention to the street. With shouts and clangs and ruckus, the winter heralds are finally beginning their work. Climbing on ladders, reaching up, up, up, they decorate the street with wires, some crisscrossed in between the buildings, others intricately wrapped around the lamp posts.

These are them, the glass birds filled with incandescence. At night, they come alight from within, fiery creatures in green and red and blue and yellow. Some are as white as the snow, others take a purple tint that reflects off everything. Even off Birdie, as they sit with their beak pressed against the window pane.

One of the younger glassblowers leans against Birdie’s shelf, rattling the pieces there.

“I hear they’re trying to make it look like a giant snowflake from above,” he says.

Birdie wishes to see it, too. Wishes to fly over the city and its canals. Wishes—

***

With the dusk and the night, the lights outside begin to sparkle, one by one until the entire street is bathed in their brightness.

It doesn’t happen immediately. It takes days, a gradual build-up that Birdie thinks is necessary when preparing for the sky. But it does, eventually, begin.

The light dwellers spread their wings.

They rise. One day above their installations, the next above the rooftops, then higher, and higher, to mingle with the stars above. Their bodies are wispy, wiry and twisty, fluttering against the darkness. In silence, they dash through the air, flocks of color in the corner of Birdie’s eye.

In the deep yearning of Birdie’s heart.

***

Time passes, Birdie watches. Then, one nightfall close to the final flight of the light dwellers, something happens. A shutter above bangs open under a stronger gust of wind, causing one of the wires to flop down. It comes to a stop with a bulb hanging right next to Birdie.

For the first time, Birdie can see the fire within, as blue as Birdie’s body, scorching and frosty and entirely mesmerizing. With care, Birdie rocks closer, clicking against the glass separating them. If only…

From where the light dweller’s shine touches Birdie’s wings, beams form, bouncing back and forth, to meet in the center of Birdie’s chest.

Oh, Birdie thinks

The rest of the flock gathers, coiling in a twining beacon. Birdie’s new friend moves back and—and—Birdie rushes after. Through the window, into the cold winter air, up above the city, above the sea, above the world.

It springs from within.

Birdie flies.

***

Ava Kelly (they/them)author photo of ava kelly is an engineer with a deep passion for stories. Whether reading, watching, or writing them, Ava has always been surrounded by tales of all genres. Their goal is to bring more stories into the world, especially those of friendship and compassion, those dedicated to trope subversion, those that give the void a voice, and those that spawn worlds of their own. Long ago, Ava has begun the trek through the artworld with photography, the cello, and poetry. In another artlife—because what is engineering if not creation—Ava is tinkering with artificial intelligence, robots, and all sorts of systems, but that is nothing compared to the challenge of foodmaking. Currently, Ava enjoys experimenting with recipes, with about half successes. And half worksinprogress—insert wise wink here. As in, we are all journeys, not destinations. Website here.

The Secret Origin of Alix Q. Starr

Guest blog by one of the IQARUS organisers, Glenn Quigley

Rocketed to Earth as a kitten and raised by a kindly throuple, ALIX Q. STARR uses their amazing costuming skills to help those in need! (And also to promote IQARUS con.)

Back in the dim and distant past of summer 2020, I suggested to the IQARUS committee that a mascot might be useful for advertising the event. Something bright and fun to catch the eye of social media users. We all decided that a cat would make the best mascot because as everyone knows — the internet loves cats.

I started sketching that very evening. I wanted to come up with a design that could do two things:  firstly, it had to make for a cheerful, eye-catching image and secondly, it had to be a character that I could dress up in various costumes as I thought it would be fun for each con panel to have its own graphic. I’d been drawing teddy bears for years for www.themoodybear.com so I was no stranger to cute animal characters.

I tried out a few variations and very quickly this cat design appeared. Almost as if they were just waiting to be born… I refined the face design until I landed on something that was cute and easily replicated in various poses. Once I had the basics down, I sent it to the committee for approval, then started working on the first full-colour design. Next, all the mascot needed was a name. We went through a few variations before landing on the gender-neutral Alix Q. Starr. We also decided that Alix would use they/them pronouns.

We wanted to build a bit of mystery around Alix’s appearance, so in their very first appearance they were shrouded in a fetching purple cape and clutching a scroll. Since then we’ve seen Alix as a Jane Austen romantic lead, a retro sci-fi hero, and a coffee-loving laptop user. And there are LOTS more costumes to come!

The evolution of Alix Q. Starr

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Glenn Quigley (he/him) author photo of glenn quigleyRocketed to Earth as an infant, he crashed into a cornfield and was found by two kindly…wait. No. Glenn is an author and artist originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, where he designs for www.themoodybear.com. When not writing or designing, he tries to improve his portraiture skills.

Blow the man (down)

Guest blog by Glenn Quigley

As Jacobim Mugatu might have said but didn’t: “Sea shanties. They’re so hot right now.” At least, they are as I’m writing this but like all internet fancies, this one will probably have passed by the time I get to the end of this sentence. Nonetheless, they’ve been on my mind for a few years now, ever since I started researching my historical novels. I’ve always liked them. There’s something about the power of working men’s voices coming together in harmony that stirs the blood. It speaks of ye olden days like little else.

Shanties were working songs, sung on tall ships to keep the sailors synchronised. From hoisting sails to raising anchor, they ensured everyone pushed or pulled or tied or lifted at precisely the same time. Most shanties started with a single voice —the shantyman —leading the charge with the crew joining in with the chorus. While the songs were practical, there’s a lot more to them than that. They were a chance for the men to be creative and maybe even to show off a bit. Sea voyages were long, and you made your own fun. It was either that or sit around and wait for the rickets to kick in.

For my third novel, We Cry The Sea, I wrote a couple of shanties to add some flavour to the story. The first, Come Home, Henry, is about the longing to return to the safety and comfort of home. Something I expect was, and still is, felt by many a sailor on a cold and stormy night on the high seas. The second is a bawdier song of a man boasting about his sexual prowess, not unheard of in real shanties. They’ve always encompassed a whole gamut of topics, such as meeting pretty damsels, to making plans for meeting pretty damsels while on shore leave. Some, though, set their sights on non-damsel-related themes and some even commemorated real battles, though these were likely exaggerated for effect. Tall ships breed tall tales.

The arrival of steam power brought an end to the days of tall ships and their brand of manual labour. As they went, so did the need for shanties and by the start of the 20th century, shanties had fallen almost completely out of use. Nowadays, they’re more likely to be heard on TikTok than on the high seas. Luckily, there are some, like the Cornish singing group, The Fisherman’s Friends, who are keeping the ancient tradition alive and can be found in little harbours blowing many a man down.

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Glenn Quigley (he/him) Rocketed to Earth as an infant, he crashed into a cornfield and was found by two kindly…wait. No. That’s Superman. Sorry.

Glenn is an author and artist originally from Dublin and now living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, where he designs for www.themoodybear.com. When not writing or designing, he tries to improve his portraiture skills.

Glenn is the amazing artist who has drawn all the images of Alix Q. Starr, the IQARUS’s own cat mascot.

 

A Researcher’s Tea Party

Guest blog by Damian Serbu

As a writer of LGBTQ+ horror/speculative fiction, I suppose operating with a curse upon me should be expected. After all, if one writes about vampires, witches, ghosts, and the otherwise magical and mysterious, such otherworldly notions might very well seep into your life. And, as with any curse, no one gets to pick the curse that afflicts them. I might find a haunting rather exciting. Or I could embrace some other horror related plague to pester me so I could at least incorporate the experiences into my writing.

But alas, no exotic trouble taunts me. Rather, the mundane fact of having been trained as a professional historian lurks in the background of my mind far too often. You see, my academic career took me down the path of earning a doctorate in History. I taught at the university level for over two decades, and I still love the field! My writing of fiction came second in my career arch and only gradually morphed into my main occupation.

And so a historian’s mind morphed into the realm of make believe, invention and fantasy. But alas the curse hit me! For all of my novels contain some form of the past, either in setting or in flash back storylines. Most obviously, The Vampire’s Angel is set in Paris during the French Revolution and The Vampire’s Quest is set in the U.S. Antebellum South. Even The Bachmann Family Secret contains family history going back to the late 1800s and Santa Is a Vampire incorporates a great deal of Christmas/Santa Claus history.

And in all cases when I write about the past, I dwell a great deal on making sure I get the scene accurate for the era. I research an inordinate amount of information to throw into the novel and meticulously edit and watch that my history accurately portrays what happened. No, I don’t let myself fudge on the truth except to incorporate fictional characters and supernatural beings and elements.

I could write a novel in half the time if I released myself from the burden of history. But I find combining my formal academic background with my fictitious worlds to be exciting. And a part of me relishes the fact I can now trick people into say, learning about the French Revolution when they innocently sat down to read a love story about gay vampires, or discovering how the Santa Claus myth was invented as they listen to Simon the Elf reveal that Santa belongs to the realm of the undead.

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Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys.

He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, The Bachmann Family Secret, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press.

The Vampire’s Witch will be released in April 2021.

Keep up to date with him at www.DamianSerbu.com.

Damian will be one of the panelists for ‘Down the Rabbit Hole: the Researcher’s Tea Party’ (Panel A2)

Check out the full schedule HERE.