Welcome to AroAce April! Throughout the month I’ll be chatting to some fantastic authors and not-yet-published writers who fall somewhere on the aro and/or ace spectrums, and I’m so excited to be starting the month with an interview with the woman I describe as the Queen of Aroace Fantasy.
Claudie Arseneault is the author of queer SFF that centres platonic relationships – including Baker Thief and the City of Spires series – and co-editor of Wings of Renewal: A Solarpunk Dragon Anthology and Common Bonds: A Speculative Aromantic Anthology. She’s also the creator of the wonderful Aro and Ace Database, a brilliant resource for any seeking books with aro and ace rep!
Hi Claudie! Welcome to Jessticulates and thank you so much for taking part in AroAce April. Firstly, please introduce yourself:
Hello hello! It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m an easily-enthused arospec and asexual writer who currently obsesses over plants and dice, but also sports an enduring love for all things cephalopod and fantasy. I write stories that center platonic relationships and love big casts and single-city settings!
Can you remember the first time you came across the terms aromantic and asexual? If so, how did they make you feel?
It’s a little hazy, as it’s now been a good six to seven years, but it was somewhere on tumblr. What I remember most is curiosity, because I thought it might explain some things. Then there was a lot of denial (it took me several months to claim ace, and a good two years to claim aro), and a whole lot of anger that these identities had never been on my radar in my then 25-26 years of life. This all sounds negative, but there has been joy at times, connecting with others, but it was a relieved sort of joy. Real euphoria would come later, but I see your next question kind of ties to that.
Were you writing characters who fell on the aro and/or ace spectrums before you began to identify as aroace yourself, or was it identifying as aroace that gave you the freedom and determination to put those experiences on the page?
There’s several answers here. The first is that I was writing them long before I knew the terms, some more clearly than others. My early drafts for the City of Spires series aren’t nearly as intentionally queer, but revisiting them as I learned more about the world, I could see where the seeds were already planted, especially for aspec characters. Learning the terms allowed me to understand the characters and flesh out their specificities more. Especially for asexuality.
Aromanticism, however … Up until Baker Thief, I thought of it as writing an adjacent experience to mine I mysteriously understood so very well. I think a layer of me knew, because I was questioning really hard when I started BT. I wrote so much of my personal experiences into Claude/Claire, and writing them was telling myself that if he got to have them and be aromantic, then so did I. I wrote an aromantic experience that was different enough to keep some distance, but with a lot of bits and pieces that made my own aromanticism undeniable.
When I read City of Strife, it was so refreshing to come across a fantasy world in which multiple characters fell on the aro and ace spectrums – especially as it’s not something I’ve come across before! What was it about this particular story and world that made all of these characters possible?
Nothing, really, except that it’s the story I wanted to tell. Who an author centers in their story is always a choice they make. We all have priorities in themes, in representation, in the stories we love. Having multiple characters in the aro and ace spectrums is a choice I made again and again, and which I will continue to make, because those are the stories that bring me joy. Even City of Strife’s mosaic-like structure, which certainly helps having so many characters, is an intentional choice to help this type of multi-layered storytelling.
I believe the City of Spires series was originally going to be three books, but is now going to be four – when did you realise this story needed more room to be told?
While I was drafting a first “complete” draft for the last “third” (now half). I already had pieces of one, like a very rough thoroughline of the plot to make sure I wouldn’t write myself in a corner and could begin set-up of some things in the first book, but by the time I cycled back to the end stretch, I’d added a lot of flesh to characters and stories in the first two books. Following up on everything took a lot of room, and I ended with a draft 1.5x times the size of the two other books, and a lot of it was rushed. I sent that to my editor with the To Split or Not to Split question, but let’s say I already had some strong suspicions.
What are you working on at the moment?
The fourth Isandor book haha. It’s a rough ride, but it’ll be worth every moment! I am slowly chipping away at my next big thing, but that’ll be next year for the most part.
Your Aro and Ace Database is such a wonderful resource – especially for readers like me who are always on the lookout for more aro and ace rep! – what made you decide to put it together, and how long did it take?
Pettiness made me do it. Back then (2017), every other article or blog post on ace and aro rep lamented that there was none to be found. Then we had the top 5 with the same five or so books, sometimes rounding off the list with some favourite headcanons (looking at you, Sherlock Holmes). For an indie with a very ace book out, who knew so many other ace and aro authors with their own books and short stories, the constant erasure was infuriating. So I built an easy-to-filter list (it started at around 60 titles) to prove them wrong, and it’s been growing and evolving since. It never stopped the intros about rare aroace rep and indies still get left off most lists, but at least people have a tool to look beyond those articles now.
As for how long, we do not talk about that. The hours are incalculable. I even hired help to catch up over 2021.There is a lot of work into making the magic happen, but it’s been incredibly rewarding to hear it’s used frequently. We’re working on an even better version right now!
What advice do you have for aro and ace writers, writing about aro and ace characters, who are worried that their stories will never be wanted in a world that prioritises romance above other relationships?
Keep going, and be ready for people’s negative reactions. They’ll come. People will say your stories lack romance, or that your romance is lacking. Agents and publishers will call this unsellable (if you’re trad publishing) or you’ll struggle to find your market because queer promo tools are centered on romance (if you’re indie).
But your readers are out there, they need your stories, and they will find you and love you. I don’t want to pretend it’s easy, but at the end of the day, it’s so so worth it.
Finally, what are some of your favourite books with aro and ace rep? Do you have a top three?
You can’t make me choose three! That’s cruel. More seriously, though, there are so many incredible books out there, but since you mentioned how refreshing it was to have several aromantic or asexual characters in the same universe, I’m going to give you five suggestions.
Two Dark Moons by Avi Silver (and its sequel, Three-Seeking Stars) is a lush YA fantasy with queer astrology and magical lizards. Incredible coming of age story about building bridges—between individuals, between communities, and between mountains.
Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace is post-apocalyptic fantasy where an Archivist follows the ghost of a super-soldier into the underworld to help find his long-lost partner.
Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver follows a group of queer and disabled superheroes trapped in a quarantine city which is burning from below as they try to survive and fight back.
Werecockroach by Polenth Blake is a SF novella about a trio of roommates (some of which are, as per title, werecockraches!) as they flee the impeding alien invasion.
Then we’re back to superheroes with No More Heroes by Michelle Kan, which follows young Vigilantes who are confronted with a sudden rash of Vigilante deaths.
Together, these five cover a wide range of approaches to aro and ace identities, from “exploring them without the labels, as a fact integral to the characters lives” to “let’s put these words on the page as we explore”, so you should find something for whichever mood you’re in! Besides, they’re all incredible stories with a lot of heart and their own unique magic.
Thank you so much for taking part in AroAce April, Claudie! If you’d like to learn more about Claudie and her work, you can visit her website here.
A hundred and thirty years have passed since Arathiel last set foot in his home city. Isandor hasn’t changed—bickering merchant families still vie for power through eccentric shows of wealth—but he has. His family is long dead, a magical trap has dulled his senses, and he returns seeking a sense of belonging now long lost.
Arathiel hides in the Lower City, piecing together a new life among in a shelter dedicated to the homeless and the poor, befriending an uncommon trio: the Shelter’s rageful owner, Larryn, his dark elven friend Hasryan, and Cal the cheese-loving halfling. When Hasryan is accused of Isandor’s most infamous assassination of the last decade, what little peace Arathiel has managed to find for himself is shattered. Hasryan is innocent… he thinks. In order to save him, Arathiel may have to shatter the shreds of home he’d managed to build for himself.
Arathiel could appeal to the Dathirii—a noble elven family who knew him before he disappeared—but he would have to stop hiding, and they have battles of their own to fight. The idealistic Lord Dathirii is waging a battle of honour and justice against the cruel Myrian Empire, objecting to their slavery, their magics, and inhumane treatment of their apprentices. One he could win, if only he could convince Isandor’s rulers to stop courting Myrian’s favours for profit.
In the ripples that follow Diel’s opposition, friendships shatter and alliances crumble. Arathiel, the Dathirii, and everyone in Isandor fights to preserve their homes, even if the struggle changes them irrevocably.