Today we’re joined by Sarah Neila Elkins. Sarah is a phenomenal writer and visual artist who specializes in novels and comics. She enjoys writing the speculative genres and her work features asexual protagonists. It’s clear she’s a talented artist who loves what she does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
I make fantasy, horror, and sci-fi novels and comics featuring asexual protagonists. Since 2015 I have been more active writing novels than creating comics due to having angio fibro dysplasia, a type of chronic ossifying tennis elbow that kept me from using my right hand for almost a year. I had to relearn how to draw as a result.
What inspires you?
I want to make stories that I want to read. I’m asexual but didn’t know that was a thing until I was an adult and I have tons of queer friends but, although it is more common to see LGBTQIA+ characters in stories it’s less common to see them in fantasy and horror. I want to write the kinds of tense, action-filled books and comics I like to read but with queer characters.
I also really like Nikola Tesla, so working him or things related to him in stories is fun. I guess it’s like writing fanfiction though I’ve never been good about sticking with anything else for that. Every time I tried writing proper fanfiction whatever I wrote turned into something original without any characters or worlds from whatever the fanfic was supposed to be based on.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’ve been writing and drawing since I was a kid. I daydreamed, a lot. Probably more than was healthy to be honest. Eventually I started writing those daydreams down as a film script because I wanted to make movies. Then I did research on the screenwriter’s guild and realized that would never happen. Granted, that was before indie films got bigger. I decided that I could just draw whatever story I wanted to make so I got into making comics. When my elbow tendons essentially turned to bone I had to give up my comic flatting job, my comic inking job, and comics altogether for a while. It broke my heart but I was able to use a keyboard with my left hand and wrote a novel to deal with the stress and depression I was feeling from losing my only source of income and the only real job I had ever known. That book, Psychic Underground: The Facility is available now from Ninestar Press. Thankfully, I have recovered enough to draw again and even want to make a graphic novel. I’m still writing prose novels and the second book in the Psychic Underground series should come out later this year (2019.)
Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?
Nikola Tesla. If he’s not mentioned out-right he or something related to him is in there be it a street name or invention. It’s like ‘Where’s Waldo’ except sometimes I make it very obvious. I also like to put my favorite number in things, 8, as well as Tesla’s favorite numbers 3, 6, and 9.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
Be mindful of your body and health. If your arms or hands start hurting try to skip ahead and see an orthopedic surgeon instead of a general doctor. If I had done that I would have skipped about six months of terrible pain and one ER visit. Also, remember that just because someone gets a job or opportunity you wanted that comics and prose writing isn’t Highlander. There’s plenty of room. If you get knocked down, get back up.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I am alloromantic asexual.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
In my field? Years ago a friend who helped me get a big flatting job said something to the effect of “asexuals aren’t queer” but then she worked with another friend of mine who is asexual on a queer anthology that the ace friend told me was welcoming to aces, so maybe her view changed. To be honest she kinda hasn’t talked to me much since the whole incident where she said she thought ace’s weren’t queer and that bothers me. I don’t like not having closure if a friendship is over, you know?
Otherwise I dated an artist for years and when I tried to explain to them I’m asexual and sex-repulsed/genophobic they didn’t take it well. I thought they’d take it better since the main character of their then pretty popular webcomic was aromantic asexual. We wound up breaking up and tried to stay friends but the friendship imploded when my arm trouble got bad. They said some things to me during the relationship that made me doubt myself and they continued to do that when my arm was causing me excruciating pain. I know I wish they would apologize someday but I’ll never get that closure either. I’m not sure if that counts but they were a colleague I looked up to a lot.
Beyond those two instances I have been out of the creative game for a few years due to my arm so I’m just now getting back where I can pursue jobs in both writing and comics. I have little doubt I’ll run across more pronounced cases of ace prejudice and ignorance in the future.
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
The most common misconception about asexuality I’ve encountered is that all asexuals are aromantic, celibate, and sex repulsed or that they want to prevent someone else from having sex. I am celibate but not aromantic. I am sex repulsed and genophobic but I don’t want to prevent others from having sex. I just can’t talk about or see sex for long without having an anxiety attack.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
You are not alone. You are not broken. Asexuality is a vast spectrum within the queer spectrum. You don’t have to be anything but ace to be queer, either. There’s no real rule that says “you must be asexual AND anything else also queer to qualify as queer.” You can just be asexual and qualify as queer. Anyone who’s not cis heterosexual qualifies as queer. If you’re asexual then by definition you’re not heterosexual. Don’t listen to anyone who claims you’re faking your identity. You are the only person who gets to define who you are.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
I just launched a personal website: https://www.sarahneilaelkins.com/
I still haunt the hell out of Twitter: https://twitter.com/NeilaK20
I mirror posts on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SarahNeilaElkins/
And on Mastodon: https://mastodon.social/@NeilaK20
And I’m trying to use Instagram more: https://www.instagram.com/neilak20/
Thank you, Sarah, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.