Today we’re joined by Kristen. Kristen is a phenomenal author who self-publishes a series with her partner under the name Riley S. Keene. She enjoys writing speculative fiction: fantasy and horror mostly. In fact, the series they’re working on is LGBTQIA+ fantasy and it sounds fantastic from the summary. It’s clear that Kristen is a passionate and dedicated author, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.
Please, tell us about your art.
My art of choice is writing—specifically LGBTQA+ and POC positive speculative fiction, including Fantasy, LitRPG, and Horror. I have been writing speculative fiction for way more years than I’d like to admit (somewhere upwards of 25 by now), but I only got serious about it in the last five years. Before I got serious about writing, I was an artist who took way too much influence from anime and manga.
What inspires you?
My biggest inspiration for Fantasy and LitRPG are table top games, like Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire the Masquerade, and Savage Worlds. I also take a lot of inspiration from video games, including Horizon Zero Dawn, the Final Fantasy series, and MMOs like Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft. I’m also greatly inspired by books, including the Dragonlance series, the first Fantasy books that showed me people could enjoy accessible Fantasy that didn’t need to copy Tolkien’s style.
For Horror, my biggest inspiration is my own anxiety. Thanks, brain. Maybe also the 80s and 90s horror movies I grew up with (before jump scares became the norm) and the work of Ania Ahlborn and Richard Laymon.
Lately though, my biggest inspiration has been knowing that self-publishing gives me a platform to share my words with others, to influence and inspire them, just like others have influenced and inspired me.
What got you interested in your field? Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I was always a creative child. As far back as I can remember, I read books, played with art supplies, and enjoyed the Steno notebooks and typewriters that my grandmother had in her attic from her time as a secretary.
When I graduated from college, I decided to pursue art as a source of income (how I got into Engineering Marketing from Graphic Design is anyone’s guess) so I focused on writing for the fun stuff. I studied and studied and, you guessed it, studied some more. I have nearly a hundred how-to writing self-help books that I’ve collected over the last ten years, and all of them have helped me hone my craft. Or, you know, gather dust. Whichever.
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?
Nearly all of my stories feature a broken religion and/or government. I was born and raised in a very strict religion (purposefully not named to avoid upsetting anyone) and when I grew into an adult, much to the anger of my family, I renounced my religion to focus on the one religion that spoke to me as a person—Wiccan. I’ve since transitioned to just general Agnosticism. But it was the flaws in that first religion, the leaders and the way the believes were applied only when convenient, that made me realize that organized religion is a perfect vehicle for everything terrible I could do on large scale in Fantasy worlds.
All of my stories also feature LGBTQA+ and POC characters in worlds that don’t discriminate against them.
What advice would you give young aspiring artists?
My biggest advice to young, aspiring artists is to stop listening to anyone who tells you that you aren’t good enough. A lot of people in the world want to share negative thoughts, especially about the creation of art. With the internet—specifically crowdfunding and online marketplaces—there has never been a better time to become a creator. It doesn’t matter if you are writing, painting, filming, singing…you can share your art with the world. Be sure you are producing as professional of a product as possible, but nothing has to be perfect. And anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to crush your dreams just like someone else crushed theirs. Break the cycle. Make your art. Be happy.
Where on the spectrum do you identify?
I identify as a biromantic gray asexual cis woman. This is kind of new to me, as I always identified as bisexual and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I realized I am actually asexual. I am happily married to a wonderful, supportive cis straight man.
Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field? If so, how do you handle it?
Absolutely. I’ve gotten feedback from readers that they don’t understand how a conventionally attractive character could be uninterested in sex. They always assume the character has suffered some sort of sexual assault or other trauma…which always elicits a sigh of exhaustion from me.
I haven’t yet had anyone come after ME specifically as an ace creator, but there is always a first for everything, right?
What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?
That the assault and trauma I’ve suffered has anything to do with my asexuality. Over the years, I’ve done a lot of soul searching and questioning about my views on sex. I’ve come to realize is that sexual assault is a much smaller factor than people really realize. But it still becomes the first question out of anyone’s mouth when I explain to them my thoughts on sex and sexuality.
What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?
The biggest thing that helped me come to terms with my orientation was research. I read a lot of articles and thought pieces and a lot (a lot a lot) of ace-positive blogs. I spoke to other ace individuals about their experiences, and then also talked to a lot of my bisexual and pansexual friends about their experiences with sex and thoughts on sexuality. It was at that point, that I realized I was a lot more like my ace friends than I was my bi friends. And a loooot of stuff made a looooot of sense.
Main takeaway I got from all of my research though was this—no one’s sexuality is set in stone. It can change, adapt, and be fluid. Just like gender. So be you, ignore the naysayers, and as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or others, do you. Or not, if that’s your thing.
Finally, where can people find out more about your work?
I publish my books under a pen name, since I work with my partner. That pen name is Riley S. Keene, and you can find our work on Amazon (only for right now, sorry, KU is just so good for authors starting out!) or you can just find out more about us on our website at www.rileyskeene.com. We’re also on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook at RileySKeene. Our Tumblr just has a lot of aesthetic/character inspo stuff with some light self-promo mixed in, Twitter is where I get to be my queer little self, and Facebook is all business all the time.
I’d love it if we could hang out sometime!
Thank you, Kristen, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.