All through April I’m celebrating aromantic and/or asexual writers on Jessticulates!
Today I’m so excited to bring you an interview with someone who’s not only a wonderful writer whose books I desperately want on my bookshelf, but someone who, over the past year, has become someone I consider a friend, too. Alyssa Lennander is an aroace writer of historical and historical fantasy fiction, so naturally I slid into her Twitter DMs and made her be my friend.
Read on for our chat about aroace identity, historical fiction, and the importance of queer rep in fiction…
Hi Alyssa! Welcome to Jessticulates and thanks so much for taking part in AroAce April. Please introduce yourself:
Thanks for having me! I am a historical and historical fantasy writer located in rural Minnesota, USA. During the day I work as a children’s librarian and spend my nights writing and snuggling my 3 cats. I love writing about outsiders, criminals, and women pushing the bounds of society.
Can you remember the first time you came across the terms aromantic and asexual? If so, how did they make you feel?
I heard of it a long time ago, but the first time I REALLY learned about it was in summer 2019–not that long ago at all. I remember lying in bed late at night researching and reading, and all I could think was, “Oh my god, this is me!” I felt like I had an answer to questions I didn’t know I had.
As a writer of historical fiction and historical fantasy, you’re a writer after my own heart. What first drew you to historical fiction?
I wasn’t at first. I started writing as a teenager, and after a 6 year on-and-off writing period during high school/college/grad school, I was finally ready to actually write again. But what, I didn’t know. Regular fantasy felt too weird to write (though I love fantasy!), and I’m not a fan of contemporary. I wanted to write something that felt like different world but wasn’t fantasy—which is when I stumbled on historical fiction and learned it wasn’t as stuffy as I thought it was. It became the perfect genre for me!
Historical fiction is so underrated. It’s got many elements similar to fantasy, but instead of building my own world, I just need to research. And as a librarian, I love to research anyway!
Are there any particular eras you’re drawn to in your writing?
I’m a pre-20th century girl, though my first historical was 1920s lol. The farther back things go, the more fantasy-feeling it gets, and I adore reading modernized older history. I’d say 16th-17th centuries are my happy spot though. You get it, Jess 😉 (J: I really do!)
What’s one misconception about historical fiction or historical fantasy that you’d like to change?
That it’s not all stuffy, boring, or textbook-like! The vast majority isn’t. History is full of fascinating people, places, and events. History can also be horrible. But all of it is important. And that it can be FUN!
How important is it for you to include queer characters in your work?
Very. Especially for historical. LGBTQ+ people have existed for forever, and their stories have been swept under the rug. They weren’t “roommates.” I’m a sucker for sapphic romance and can guarantee that will feature in a large number of my projects.
Researching for historical fiction can be a tricky and time-consuming process—even more so when it comes to researching queer history. Has research been a challenge for you, or have the gaps in queer history allowed you more freedom when it comes to inserting queer identities into the past?
I’ve done some research on queerness in history, but not an overwhelming amount. For my last WIP, a historical fantasy witch book, I wanted to know how queerness might affect the witch hunts occurring in 16th century Germany. (From what I gathered, not much at all. Lesbian women were more tolerated than gay men! But doing the devil? Burn worthy). I make it a point to research if I think queerness would affect the plot or world or event I’ve placed my characters in.
Do you write many characters on the aro and/or ace spectrum, or do you tend to use your writing to explore identities dissimilar to your own?
The closest I’ve come to writing an aro or ace character is my protagonist from my current WIP, who, after many drafts, I’ve finally learned is demisexual. I love romance in books, particularly as the main subplot, and I love writing them, too. But I do plan on writing aro—and ace—characters in the future!
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I’m working on an adult historical with the codename Project Poison. Set in 17th century Rome, it’s about the women alchemists (fictional and real) who sold the infamous Aqua Tofana poison to wives so they could kill their abusive husbands. I call it an equal blend of truth, legend, and fiction.
What are some of your favourite books with aro and/or ace rep?
I recently read She Who Became the Sun and loved it, and the protagonist Zhu gives off ace vibes. Honestly, I think it was the first book I read with an ace main character. I also felt like Juniper from The Once and Future Witches had ace/aro vibes.
Thank you so much for taking part in AroAce April, Alyssa! You can find out more about her and her wonderful work by following her on Twitter.