Today, I’m once again welcoming one of my best friends, RoAnna Sylver, for an interview. RoAnna is releasing the second book in their Stake Sauce series on October 31st, 2020, just in time for Halloween, and this paranormal urban fantasy is definitely one you want to look out for! Here’s the gorgeous cover and the summary of book 2. Preorders are open on itch.io where you can also get a shiny copy of the first book and a collection of short stories set in the same ‘verse!
Please note that this interview may contain mild spoilers for book 1.
Act 2, In Which: Our friends, some old and some new, must awaken a powerful, centuries-old magical force – before an old enemy gets there first…
Life for Jude is finally getting back to normal – or as normal as it gets when your new boyfriend has fangs, your old maybe-boyfriend isn’t dead after all (and has even bigger fangs), and everyone’s scrambling to adjust their lives accordingly.
There’s enough to worry about without evil, ancient vampires closing in, preparing dark rituals, and threatening to undo everything Jude, Pixie, and their loved ones have built together. But as they’ve all seen, normal doesn’t tend to last for long. And it’s hard to shake the feeling that something’s missing.
But then, it seems like everybody’s missing somebody.
S.L.: Welcome back, RoAnna! I think last time we spoke here it was about Dawnfall. Your writing is always such a powerful mixture of hope and comfort with some very heavy topics, so I wanted to start with a slightly more general question. Do you find it difficult to balance the two?
RS: Always. In writing and daily life. I try very hard not to sugarcoat or mislead anyone with rose-colored shades, and try to respect everyone’s realities/struggles/pain and give them the respect and honesty they deserve… but everything I write is also about hope and finding a way through all of that, together.
I don’t think you really CAN write a meaningful story about hope or perseverance without showing the reality of those struggles, however painful that is, and yes sometimes it is very painful. Otherwise it’s a hollow platitude. To heal, you have to acknowledge the hurt first.
A Sinead O’Connor lyric comes to mind: “if there ever is going to be healing, there has to be remembering, and then grieving.”
This book is very much about that. Everything we’re feeling now. I hope it helps.
S.L.: I hope it helps too. You’re so right that showing the struggles is what makes stories about hope work even if it’s rough going at times. Speaking of rough going, Jude has a bit of a rough time figuring out which labels he’s comfortable with. How important was it for you to show that labels can be fluid?
RS: Very. Labels are for you, the user, to define yourself if wanted, or to reject if not. Nobody else can tell you what you are—which for Jude who struggles a lot in this book, is actually a very hard thing to deal with! It’s hard to figure out exactly who you are and what you want, especially when it comes to attractions and sexualities (or lack thereof).
A huge part of this book is that it’s okay if you don’t have it figured out. You are not required to have a solid label for your identity or your relationship(s), and the process of learning about yourself is valid in it itself. Questioning is fine. It’s okay to sit with the questions. Whatever answer comes is fine, as long as you decide it is.
S.L.: So true! And your last line is one that I think is echoed in [Spoiler] scene as well. I really loved how you handled that. Because I’m all over the place, though, let’s break up some of these heavy questions with a light and easy one about Pixie. I think we can all agree that Pixie is the world’s cutest vampire, but what were some of your inspirations for his delightful fashion aesthetic? How can we regular people aim to be as awesome?
RS: Good memories of my local mall Hot Topic circa 2007. (I mean, The Abyss. I definitely mean the fictional STAKE SAUCE store The Abyss. Which in no way bears resemblance to actual store Hot Topic. Whatsoever.)
S.L.: [cries in European] I wonder if they ship globally… The Abyss gets to have a slightly larger presence in this book and Arc 2 gives us a stronger glimpse of the overarching plotline you laid down in Arc 1 as well. What are you most excited about introducing readers to?
RS: Oh yeah, things in Book 3 are gonna get real. (I don’t know how long this series will ultimately be, but at least 3 books!)
I am most looking forward to… Pixie and [SPOILER] finally meeting. There’s so much emotion building up, both for them and me, and I hope readers!
I’m also really looking forward to Jude/Jasper/Felix finally figuring everything out, and what that means for them/being together… which will definitely involve more kisses.
And then there is [ANOTHER SPOILER CHARACTER] who we meet late in the book, but whose presence has been all over it, and, careful readers will remember, Book 1! You’re gonna love them. They’re weird and goth and fun and one of my faves. I can’t wait.
S.L.: A curse on my terrible memory! (On the other hand, my terrible memory encourages rereading. Hmm…) I’m so looking forward to book 3, though! It sounds like you’ve got some fabulous stuff planned for us all! Pulling things back to book 2 a bit, though, one of the things that I’ve found really compelling about this book in particular is how raw its portrayal of abuse is. How important is it for you that narratives present heavy topics in such a realistic way?
RS: Extremely. The answer to Question 1 gets into this, and for interpersonal abuse… writing about it is tricky, because I have to strike the balance between catharsis (for me, and the reader) without hurting the reader either. I do include a list of content warnings, and this is definitely one. I also understand entirely if this book isn’t something a survivor wants to/can read. Less than zero judgement.
But I do think it’s a very important thing to not shy away from either—me, writing it, I mean. Especially when it comes to “good victims” and how we’re expected to behave and process in a single, pretty way.
Which is bullshit. Everyone’s different, everyone responds to trauma and specifically abuse in wildly different ways, and that’s okay. Abuse and survival is ugly. We’re allowed to be ugly too, if we need to.
S.L.: Yes, we are! And we’re allowed to be messy too. I think Stake Sauce, and Arc 2 in particular, really captures what you’re saying about abuse here. You’ve got several characters in various stages of dealing with abuse. This also means that trust is a massive aspect of Arc 2 and the characters’ decisions to trust (or not) ripple through the plot. What was one of the most challenging aspects when it came to showing the reader how those decisions impacted everyone?
RS: Honestly… you’re right, the book hinges so much on trust, that it came very naturally, showing how everyone is interconnected and linked, and how trusting one another and letting themselves be vulnerable only makes them stronger.
The only challenging part here was an individual character—our enigmatic Witch, Letizia! She is so reluctant to trust and let anyone in, because she’s terrified of people she loves getting hurt… again. This is so much the core of her arc and motivation/whole deal; she’s struggling to fix a horrible thing that happened to someone she loved, and feels like it’s her fault, and this is why she’s so resistant to fully letting Eva (in particular) in, and telling her what’s really going on, and everything. Which is valid—but Eva getting to call her out on this arms-length For Your Own Good nonsense is one of my favorite parts of the book, honestly.
Letizia was resisting me writing this even, until the very last second (resulting in an actual ‘no wait use this version!’ email to Lyssa, my amazing formatter/interior designer), but she needed to open up to Eva and the fact that 1) she is loved and cared about, and 2) accepting this does not mean everything will be ruined and everyone she loves will die.
And her friends/loved ones deserve to be respected and trusted with her honesty, even what she sees as her faults. They deserve her, in her entirety.
S.L.:I’m an awfully mean person, so for Reasons you can only hug two of the characters in the book. Who gets the hugs?
RS: Oh my gosh… oh no… oh no, EVERYONE needs a hug!
S.L.: I did say I was an awfully mean person! But yes this is true. Everyone needs a hug in this book.
RS: I’d say Felix right off—he needs ALL the hugs, PLEASE hug Felix!
And okay, Hug #2 goes to Sanguine. He hasn’t gotten one in far, far too long, and probably needs one more than anyone. (I promise he’ll get them.)
S.L.: You know, I don’t have the heart to be mean and quietly delete your mention of hug #2. Sanguine does need hugs. And also love. And some space that is all his. But that’s all spoilers, so let’s move on! One of the highlights of the book, for me, is the relationship developing between Eva and Letizia. Did you expect their relationship to be as central as it was or did that take you by surprise?
RS: Yes and no—I had always intended for them to be queerplatonic girlfriends, but them being so central to this book was actually surprise. The first draft of this was looking more at Milo and Owen, but a lot of things about that didn’t really fit into place easily. I realized at the end of that draft that I was focusing on the wrong pair, and putting Eva and Letizia there made everything make sense that hadn’t before.
(So much of my writing is like that, figuring out one thing that makes 12 other things snap into place!)
Anyway I love them a lot, and was so happy to write a QP relationship that gets the climactic attention and emphasis that always goes to a romantic one! We need more QPPs saving the day with the power of non-romantic love.
S.L.: Queerplatonic central relationships FOR THE WIN! Heck, friendship in general for the win because friendship is so important to everyone. One of the most important themes in the book is being there for friends who are struggling. It’s a message that we need now in 2020 more than we ever have, I think. Is there anything you’d like to add to that message that didn’t make it into the book?
RS: Oof, is it ever. I don’t know how I would have gotten through this year (or the past several, LBR) without my precious friends.
And I think I’ve said a lot in the book, but one thing that does stick out to me is Jasper—his whole deal this time is feeling useless and so helpless because he feels like he can’t DO ANYTHING to help anyone, it’s all so much bigger than he is, and everyone is struggling… and his arc [mild spoilers] is to realize that he doesn’t have to DO ANYTHING. Just being there and existing helps so much, and that is all Jude or Felix or anyone really wants from him, just to be there with them.
Sometimes, especially in 2020, that’s really all you can do, and sometimes that’s all you need.
S.L.: True, true. Hugs for Jasper too! His arc is so important and I think for many marginalised people his arc will resonate really strongly because they’re in a similar boat. (Goodness knows I needed that arc – or just someone to gently tell me this – several years ago, so I’m so happy others get to have that available to them when they need it now!) But wow I didn’t mean to end the interview with something like this, so let’s end it on a nice and light-hearted note. Music is clearly important to the characters – and to you. What are some songs that they’d recommend to people without reservations? And who’d recommend what?
RS: Oh I like this—you’re right, music is SO important to STAKE SAUCE’s entire everything!
First off, when I imagine a STAKE SAUCE movie (which I do, often) the opening credits are “Dead!” by My Chemical Romance… and the closing credits as “Vampire Money,” also by MCR. This is a very MCR book series, lol!
As for character recs…
- Pixie: Chaos Chainsaw, of course! (But I think he really likes everything, but especially fun punk like The Ramones and Joan Jett) And of course my boy loves Queen. Because ofc he does.
- Jude: Anything But The Beatles (always the opposite of Pixie, I don’t think he really has music opinions, just Not Them).
- Eva: Badass ladies like Beyonce, Rihanna, maybe some P!nk, for when she needs to blow off some steam, and then mellow chill-out music for stress relief like… I’m imagining her listening to the Lo-Fi Study Beats youtube thing for hours until her brain stops screaming (mood).
- Jasper: Definitely a classical music guy, has very strong opinions about Tchaikovsky and Mozart. Probably into less-than-mainstream things like eastern European grunge and Mongolian throat singing.
- Felix: Old-school emo boy. Definitely likes The Cure (“Friday, I’m In Love” is definitely his and Jasper’s song), maybe some Nine Inch Nails, but also has a soft spot for Britney Spears and Eva’s fave ladies.
Milo: Music knowledge is extensive and encyclopedic. Any given thing, they have definitely heard of it, and probably has something nice and thoughtful to say about it (what an interesting rhythm! This singer has such a distinct and unusual sound!) even if they don’t personally like it. Personally I think they enjoy Florence and the Machine and Stevie Nicks for emotional witchy vibes.
- Letizia: Is an entire witchy vibe. Embodies the In This Moment album “Ritual.”
- Nails and Maestra: have a lot of catching up to do, pop-culture wise. But I see Nails as an early-00’s Avril Lavigne pop-punk type, and Maestra as total underground, weird-ass avant-garde stuff that defies comprehension. I think she’d really like Jaden Smith’s whole vibe.
- Sanguine: was unintentionally influenced strongly by Kurt Cobain (more intentionally, a young Pickles the Drummer~) so basically any Nirvana (or Dethklok lol) song ever, but “Something In The Way” and “Heart-Shaped Box” gives me feels about him and his whole situation especially.
… and I have just realized I just gave you mostly artists instead of individual songs, LMAO sorry! Love this question though! (And now I want to know what songs readers associate with them!)
THANK YOU SO MUCH!
S.L.: Thank you for stopping by and giving such great answers! 😀 (I’m 100% with Jasper’s taste in music, by the by, if anyone is ever curious. Classical music rocks!)
RoAnna Sylver writes unusually hopeful dystopian and vampire stories about marginalized heroes actually surviving, triumphing, and rocking really hard. RoAnna is also a singer, blogger, and artist who lives with family near Portland, OR, and probably spends too much time playing videogames. The next amazing adventure RoAnna would like is a nap in a pile of bunnies. You can find RoAnna on Twitter, Patreon and Facebook as well as their own website.
Stake Sauce Arc 2 is coming October 31st, 2020, and you can preorder it now on itch.io! Preordering on itch.io means that you get a copy of book 1 and the Stake Sauce collection Bite-sized Stories #1 FOR FREE, as well as high-res textless copies of the covers for some fabulous wallpapers. On top of that, preordering on itch.io ensures you’re giving the author the most royalties for your work. If you’d rather order through your regular retailer such as Kobo or Amazon or if you’d prefer a print copy, the book will be available everywhere on October 31st!