By Michele Kirichanskaya
Today we’re pleased to welcome H.E. Edgmon to the WNDB blog to discuss The Fae Keeper, the sequel to The Witch King—out today, May 31, 2022!
Two weeks after the door to Faery closed once more, Asalin is still in turmoil. Emyr and Wyatt are hunting Derek and Clarke themselves after having abolished the corrupt Guard, and are trying to convince the other kingdoms to follow their lead. But when they uncover the hidden truth about the witches’ real place in fae society, it becomes clear the problems run much deeper than anyone knew. And this may be more than the two of them can fix.
As Wyatt struggles to learn control of his magic and balance his own needs with the needs of a kingdom, he must finally decide on the future he wants—before he loses the future he and Emyr are building…
First of all, welcome to We Need Diverse Books! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! My name is H.E. Edgmon. I’m a kidlit author who writes stories about queer kids saving each other. My stories are usually magical and always metaphorical. I’m also a nonbinary trans man, Indigenous—specifically Seminole, the parent of a wildly independent toddler, and slowly building an army of dogs in my house. The Witch King was my debut.
Congratulations on your latest book, The Fae Keeper (sequel to The Witch King)! Without too many spoilers, what can readers expect from the book?
Those who read TWK know we ended on a pretty dramatic cliffhanger, with more questions than answers. The Fae Keeper puts us right back in the middle of the action—it opens up in the heat of political drama, relationship drama, and lot of the main character’s inner drama.
There are definitely some key differences between the two books. For starters, where TWK saw a friends-to-enemies-to-lovers dynamic as the central love story, TFK focuses more on learning to navigate healthy boundaries in established relationships. Where TWK dealt almost exclusively with one fae kingdom—Asalin—and its future, TFK touches more on the fae world as a whole, opening readers up to parts of magical society they didn’t get to see in book one. And with that new lens, it starts to become clear that things we learned in book one might not have been true. In fact, nothing we know about fae and witches and magic might be true at all.
I think the things readers loved most about book one will still be present throughout the sequel, though. There is a familiar thread of irreverent, absurd humor, the bonds of found family—and, of course, it’s super gay.
In previous interviews, you’ve mentioned how you aim to center the voices of Indigenous people, trans people, and survivors of trauma in your work. Could you talk about that a little here?
So, I will preface by saying—like many, many Native people, I was cut off from that part of myself for a lot of my life. (Intentionally! There is an ongoing cultural genocide happening. But let me not get carried away when that’s not why we’re here…) Though I grew up knowing I was Seminole, it wasn’t until my late teens that I started the process of reconnecting and discovering what that identity meant to me. Because of the way I grew up, and my proximity to whiteness, there are some stories I don’t feel qualified to tell, and never will. For me, centering Indigenous voices in my work means two things. First—allowing Native characters to just exist without their identity being used to invoke some kind of “mystical NDN” stereotype. I actually can’t think of a single story told by a non-Native, off the top of my head, where a Native character was just there, part of the plotline, and it didn’t loop back around to some made-up tribal legend or worse. My Indigenous characters have their worldview, beliefs, morals, and actions shaped by their identities, like we all do, and that in turn shapes the way the story unfolds. But they’re also just… vibing. Living contemporary Native lives and getting dragged into the nonsense of my stories. You know? And second—when fantasy world-building, I have to tackle it from a decolonial lens. Not only do I have the obligation to do that, to question every decision I make and interrogate my work for colonizer ideas I might unintentionally be regurgitating, but, to a certain extent, I can’t do world-building any other way. Like the Native characters I write, my identity shapes my worldview. And it bleeds through in the way I tell stories and create fantasy systems.
Transness itself is a central “theme” (if you can call it that) in The Witch King duology. The main character is trans, and while the conflict itself is not about his gender, the world-building is a big metaphor for trans experiences. Fae are a metaphor for cis people, while witches (like the MC) are a metaphor for trans people. I don’t intend for all my future works to be like this—it was a necessary first step into writing trans books, I think. I needed to reclaim the narrative of transness, and I needed to write about transness from my own perspective, since so often that story is told by cis people. In the future, I imagine centering trans voices will look like writing books where the characters just happen to be delightfully and overwhelmingly gender-diverse.
Trauma is another central theme in The Witch King and I think it plays an even bigger part in The Fae Keeper. The main character deals with a lot of anger over trauma that’s been inflicted on him—it makes him lash out and hurt people; it makes him unlikable. And that was something I wanted to make people sit with, especially readers who don’t share his marginalizations. What does living under abusive, oppressive circumstances do to a person? And why do we expect marginalized people who have been hurt to be perfect victims, or else consider them unworthy of protection and empathy? In TFK, we see more of him grappling with his anger and trying to rise above it, struggling with the balance between justified rage and the reality that he doesn’t just have a free pass to be an ass all the time. But that kind of healing is messy and non-linear, and he gets frustrated at himself constantly for not always having the “right” reactions. I live with PTSD, so the very wiring of my brain has been shaped by trauma. There’s a lot of my journey in his journey. And I look forward to exploring even more of the ways trauma influences behavior in future works—especially to continue highlighting the behaviors deemed less deserving of sympathy.
How did you find yourself getting drawn into the world of fantasy? What were some of your favorite examples growing up? What are some of your current favorite examples?
I think if I told you “I grew up a closeted queer/trans kid in a deeply conservative family in the rural south,” you would probably have a good idea right away of what drew me to fantasy worlds. Escapism!
My first taste of fantasy actually came from the Dragonlance Chronicles, which I read when I was way too young, and followed up with a Lord of the Rings obsession. (Someday, maybe, I will write the hundred-book-spanning epic fantasy series of my dreams… someday.) When I actually dipped into fantasy kidlit, Cornelia Funke became a huge cornerstone of my childhood, along with James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series. There was another series I won’t name, but I’m sure you could chance a good guess, whose abundance of fanfiction was actually way more foundational for me than the source material—and presumably not all written by TERFs.
There are so many incredible authors doing cool things in fantasy today. Bethany C. Morrow has become an auto-buy author for me, ever since getting my hands on A Song Below Water and A Chorus Rises. Ryan Douglass is another auto-buy, after The Taking Of Jake Livingston. Andrew Joseph White’s phenomenal debut, Hell Followed With Us, is out June 2022, and I had the honor of blurbing it. And I’m so excited for Terry J. Benton-Walker’s YA and MG debuts, Blood Debts (winter 2023) and Alex Wise Vs. The End Of The World (fall 2023).
I’m currently reading The Locked Tomb series right now and, wow, Tamsyn Muir is so weird and so brilliant.
How would you describe your creative process, and what are some of the best and/or challenging parts of it for you?
The first and longest part of a new idea for me is the planning stage. At first, I might have a general vibe I’m going for, or a basic feeling I want to inspire. Maybe I have just the barest inkling of a plot. I’ll sit with that forever, until I’ve flushed out the characters, and answered the basic questions you need to shape a story. (What does the MC want? What does the MC need? What’s stopping them from getting those things?) And then I’ll write out a whole chapter-by-chapter outline, that’s usually anywhere from ten to twenty thousand words long. By the time I’m done planning, I’ll have taken myself from just the faintest whiff of a concept to knowing exactly what the book looks like, scene by scene, before I’ve ever written a word. Drafting is a super quick process after that, but the planning stage can last months—or years!
My favorite part is dialogue. Little snippets of dialogue come to me at random, and I like to stick them in a separate document whenever they do. I love when I’m drafting and I finally find a place to stick some one-liner that’s been stuck in my head for a while. The most challenging part of drafting… well, I was diagnosed with ADHD last year, and suddenly I understood why I’d spent so long feeling like I wanted to be writing, but it was always difficult to actually get myself to do it. Seriously. The ADHD trend to procrastinate even on things you desperately want to do is awful, but explained so much about my life once I got my diagnosis. (Luckily, meds have helped a lot with that.)
What are some things you would want readers to take away from The Witch King series?
First and foremost, I wrote TWK for trans kids. I want them to know, regardless of where they are right now and what the people around them are saying, there is a whole big world full of people who want them exactly as they are. They are powerful, and they are loved. I love them. And there is a community waiting for them.
What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
Decide whether you are a writer who writes because you have an innate need to tell stories (because it’s your passion, because you have to get the words on the page, because books are the thing you love and want to dedicate your life to) or because you want to get into the business of publishing—to make money and grow a career as an author. Neither answer is morally right or wrong—and sometimes you will be lucky enough that they are both true, which is amazing—but it will dictate the kind of steps you should take and what you should be prioritizing. I think there is a tendency for some people to think these things are interchangeable, or always go hand in hand, or to get so focused on one side of it that they forget the other even exists.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
Something I didn’t expect, and would love to talk about more, was how different it feels to put out a sequel compared to a debut. Because the answer is that it feels extremely different—and, unfortunately, not really in a good way? Sure, there are some perks. I have a much better idea of what I’m doing now, and what to expect going forward. I have more connections, and a better understanding of the industry itself, so I feel less awkward sending emails asking about promo opportunities and the like. But, really, my experience so far with preparing for The Fae Keeper to launch has been debilitating anxiety. It’s so much worse than it was when TWK came out. And I think that’s because, when I released TWK, I didn’t have any expectations for the way it would be received. I obviously wanted people to like it, but I had nothing to compare it to. Now, I do. And so do readers. We got so much incredible feedback about The Witch King, and now I’m soooo nervous about disappointing people with the follow-up. Do I love TFK? Yes. Do I think it holds up to, and even outshines, book one? Yes. BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT READERS ARE GOING TO THINK, and I don’t want to let anyone down!
Oof. I assume this is a very normal feeling, but I don’t think it’s one we talk about enough, because I was not prepared for it. Sequel anxiety is a whole monster unto itself.
Are there any other projects you are incubating and at liberty to speak about?
In November 2022, Dahlia Adler’s At Midnight anthology comes out. The anthology is a collection of YA fairytale retellings, and I have one of my own featured! I tackled Little Snow-White, retelling the original version of the story, which depicts the evil queen as Snow White’s biological mother.
I have my next YA duology starter coming out in 2023. Godly Heathens is about a nonbinary Seminole teen in the rural south who discovers they’re the reincarnated god of magic—and that a lot of other gods want them dead. To protect themself and the human future they want, they must embrace the very magic that turned their pantheon against them. And that means they might lose touch with their humanity, anyway. There’s a lot of body horror involving a god-killing knife and a lot of angst about a T4T4T love triangle. All the characters are terrible people doing terrible things and basically no one is cishet. I’m so excited for people to read it.
I also have a MG debut releasing in 2024. Flicker is about a pair of begrudging step-siblings who survive a climate disaster with their infant half-brother and family dog, and have to navigate post-apocalyptic Appalachia to find their grandmother, a Native elder who may still be alive. They’re joined by a group of theater kids and their frazzled young adult counselor, who offers to help them get where they’re going without being captured by the Hive, an army of mega-rich survivors. It’s my anti-capitalist love letter to kids who’ve lived through hell and need to know a happy ending is still possible.
That’s all I can talk about right now. But I am always interested in doing more anthologies (if anyone would like to, I dunno, reach out about one they’re cooking up) and I’m looking forward to dipping my hand into adult fantasy very soon.
Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of We Need Diverse Books?
As I mentioned earlier, Bethany C. Morrow, Ryan Douglass, Andrew Joseph White, and Terry J. Benton-Walker. For contemporary authors, I’ll add Jonny Garza-Villa and Ray Stoeve.