[This issue, we sit down with author Kira Hagen. Here, she discusses her new book, Strangeling; her personal spiritual practices; and her future projects.]
[Addendum: 24 June 2022: Strangeling has now been released and is now available through Amazon.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more eclectic and intuitive?
Kira Hagen: I’m generally pagan, but I’m doing a lot less ritual and formal practice now than before I had a kid. I usually say I’m faery tradition, but just insomuch as there are long-held traditions of connecting with the fae and land spirits. I’ve practiced Hermetic magic in the past — I think Yeats landed on a good mix of structured ritual and direct, unstructured experiences out in the land. Unfortunately, I feel the Golden Dawn system lacks elegance and it doesn’t really resonate with me — it’s got too much of the British Empire’s “throw everything together and call it a collection” looter mentality, and loses the essential vision of the Tree under a hodgepodge of minutia. The old Egyptian practices relating to enlivening art and statuary and the Renaissance applications of those ideas have inspired me a lot; re-enchanting reality (or awakening dormant awareness of an already magical world) is something I’m all for. It’s part of why I wrote my old American haunts as numinous places in this book — I’ve always seen them as having that potential seething below the surface, and a story was one way to share that.
If I’m at a festival, it’s usually the Celtic Reconstructionists and Asatruar I end up drinking with (they have the good mead), and I’ve done plenty of rituals with both druids and heathens, but I’m really just practicing via arts currently. A lot of practice is having a community, and the only one I’ve become part of in Germany is a group I do event photos for, nothing pagan. Also my overtures to the local land spirits around Cologne have mostly been met with, “I’m sleeping, go away,” when there’s any response at all.
ev0ke: Which Deities, powers, or other spirits do you honor in your tradition?
KH: “Tradition” implies a whole lot less “mess around and find out” than I actually do. I mean, I’ll happily raise a horn to just about Anyone, but it’s the fae that I’m most spiritually at home with. I’m probably totally beglamoured, to be honest. Make no mistake — this book is a bit of fun pulp fiction, but it’s also pure fae propaganda. You can likely guess who would want to commission a story presenting the sidhe as “the best at everything, with the most awesome toys, deadly and beautiful beyond words, with a completely different morality than humans.” It’s updating the 19th century peasant accounts of the fae to make them just as awe-inspiring to a modern audience as they were then — these sidhe don’t just have the best horses, they have *spaceships*. I mean, plenty of the story is random stuff from my own head, but the core base of the Broken Dawn world came from a really vivid dream and some odd things I saw in meditation while talking to some of the Othercrowd, and that idea about updating the folklore for a modern audience: if the elves are the best, and have the best of everything, obviously they get the Star Trek future, right? It solves the “was it UFOs or faery abduction” question by saying “elves in spaceships.”
ev0ke: Your novel, Strangeling, is set to be published in May of 2022. First, congratulations! Second, what is the meaning of the title? What is a strangeling?
KH: Thanks, fingers crossed it all goes smoothly! Planning to release May 5th if all goes well — it’s the solar Beltane. “Strangeling” is a play on “changeling”, but as this is a Shadowrun sort of world; it refers to people who underwent a transformation from human to something fae, mythical, or monstrous. Book one is really Arthur’s book, and he’s a strangeling, Changed four years earlier and has been in a prison military brigade since (it’s illegal to be a strangeling; people are shot or incarcerated when it happens to them). He’s got the most character development so he gets the title. Book two will be something like “Lostling” or “Halfblood”, referring to Aisling, and book three will be “Sidhe” — partially for Connor and partially for the other two coming to terms with what they are.
The series is called Children of the Broken Dawn because the day the sidhe returned, it looked like the sky cracked open, and the characters are all young people dealing with the aftermath of the invasion. They’re all twenty-somethings or cultural equivalents, though, so it’s not young adult.
ev0ke: Post-apocalyptic stories in which magic has returned to the world are a popular subgenre of fantasy. What draws you to this sort of story? What do you find so appealing about it?
KH: Well, to be honest, I started writing about two weeks into the first covid quarantine, and spending mental time in a world where everything had already gone wrong was oddly comforting. The magic and converging realities gave me a very interesting canvas to paint on. I like the fluidity of the world and having characters (Aisling and her team) interpret a magic apocalypse almost entirely through pop culture fantasy and sci-fi is hilarious. Also, I got to turn the red cap-wearing fascists of the world into actual redcap trolls. To be fair, now I’m thinking those transformations start in Ukraine, not on January 6th, so plenty of people call them orcs, too. The book starts in 2049, but the return of the sidhe happens in 2024, following two years of worldwide wars between humanity and the redcaps. (The sidhe wanted humanity to deal with its fascism problem before they came home, and troll transformations seemed like an efficient solution to them. They’re ruthless, not super fond of humanity, and have some major issues going on in their own culture.)
This book has a lot more social commentary than most urban fantasy, fyi. It’s as much science fiction as fantasy, and Terry Pratchett’s and Douglas Adams’ books seem to have left their marks on me.
ev0ke: What sort of research went into Strangeling? Big piles of books? Hours online?
KH: Mostly online since I’m in Germany and only speak at a lower-intermediate level (my college languages were French and Russian), so local libraries weren’t a great option for me. I did reread translations of the Book of Invasions and a lot of Norse mythology. Then I had to look up everything from fifth-dimensional physics to Ice Age animals to names for different pole-dancing moves, so yes, lots of time online. And I worked in mycelial networks, the Younger Dryas Impact theory, the Fermi paradox, and way too much firsthand knowledge of how expats think, among other things. (I’m from Minnesota, but spent a quarter of my childhood in Africa for my dad’s environmental work. In 2005 a high school friend invited me to come teach English in Moscow, and I’ve been overseas since then.)
ev0ke: A wide range of supernatural/mythical creatures populate the world of Strangeling. Which were your favorite to include, and how did you work them into the story?
KH: I have sentient racoons running weed and moonshine in Aisling’s hometown. One of the guys on her team deals for them. They’ll show up more in book two, though. And there’s a magical Siberian wooly rhino called “Uni-tanky” that’s pure Black Panther inspired wish fulfillment for the character that will ride her. Those were fun.
The sidhe I wrote mostly as glorified expats — they’re rich, fabulous, and have practically no local roots or clue what’s going on around them (except the very old ones), and they’re all homesick and a bit lost. But then they also have this extremely *other* way of seeing the world, through their symbiosis with the Tree that Grows Between Worlds, and getting glimpses of that was … well, read the book.
And of course there’s Connor, who does or says something more bonkers than I’d ever have guessed every time he shows up on a page. Half of how he presents to the world is based on that meme of Thranduil telling his people, “Everyone get your hair done, we’re going to war.”
Oh, and the snarky technomancers. They have awesome dialogue.
ev0ke: Strangeling also features a bisexual love triangle at the heart of its story. Fantasy romance has traditionally featured monogamous heterosexual relationships. Fortunately, that is now changing. Why did you decide to feature a bisexual romance in your story? And did you give your characters an easy path to their happily ever after, or did you make them work for it?
KH: To be honest, it started out with a very traditional hetero thing between Arthur and Aisling in the first draft (which was pretty terrible. The book coming out soon is rewrite seven, and only the characters are recognizable between them). So I was putting down a scene where Aisling’s great-aunt is introducing her to people and one of them was Connor, and as I was writing the character actually looked directly at me and said, “These guys are way too straight for a story about the fae, so I’ll just do both of them, mmmkay?”
And then the going got weird.
But it was great for the story. That was the point where I decided that if I was throwing away the normal straight romance, I wasn’t going to try for traditional publishing … and I could go all over the place with political and social commentary, too. Book one is set in Minnesota, and I love my home state, but it has some pretty major issues too — racism, small town mentalities, a huge urban-rural cultural divide …. Anyway, the romance trope of two guys fighting over a girl is so overdone and so dull. A bi girl and a pansexual drag queen sort of fighting over a military guy with bi poly tendencies he’s never dealt with … so much more fun.
But while the romance is important to the characters, the story is a lot more than that.
Also, Aisling’s personality is partially inspired by the White Canary from Legends of Tomorrow, and having an enthusiastically shameless sexual history of her own has also been really fun to write.
Probably in book two:
“Sorry, can’t date you Scott, it’d be too weird.”
“Oh, intimidated by the whole werewolf thing, are you?”
“Nah, I do the weird stuff. It’s just I already slept with your sister, and collecting sibling sets is a bit *too* weird for me.”
Regarding happy endings and people getting together … they get a happy for now in book one. And eventually at the end of the series. Arthur and Aisling have an enemies-to-lovers arc and that isn’t entirely sorted out by the end of book one, she’s got a lot going on, and Connor is delightful but he has *baggage* and it will take a LOT of work to get through it. But they will eventually get a happy ending, it’ll just be a long road to it, with a lot of difficulty and heartbreak along the way.
But Aisling’s issues with being bi and in the closet to her family, and why she doesn’t come out … well, you can guess. I was trying to figure out how to meet girls and actually open my mouth to talk to them when I met the guy I ended up marrying. After that, what was the point in coming out? So … yeah.
And there will be a girlfriend later in the series.
ev0ke: Strangeling is the first book in the Children of the Broken Dawn series. How many books are you planning? Will there be any spin-off series, or short stories?
KH: I’ve got rough drafts of scenes and chapters from a novella prequel through to book seven, probably around 500,000 words worth of stuff so far. The basic series will be seven to nine books long depending how it goes. It might take another couple books after that to sort out the Planet Eaters, the thing that drives the sidhe back to Earth, but we’ll see. This story hasn’t ever held to an outline past half a chapter of actually writing, I don’t expect it to suddenly become compliant now.
It’s very much the kind of story where you’re just following your characters around, writing incident reports about their shenanigans, and then trying to smash those into an actual narrative structure. Lots of side characters could use novellas, so I guess I’ll see who the readers like.
The world could make an awesome roleplaying setting (Dystopian Shadowrun with an alien invasion? Can I please photograph this larp?) or ridiculous low-budget TV series, but that could just be because my characters regularly make me think of actors who aren’t paid enough to stay sober.
ev0ke: Which book fairs, conferences, or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
KH: Nothing planned, I’m kind of past trusting that any events will actually happen anymore after two years of covid cancellations. Every cent I’ve got is going towards book launch right now anyway. I mainly do event and portrait photography professionally, and that’s started coming to life again so I’m busier than when I was completely unemployed during lockdown.
I’d love to do Broken Dawn cosplay shoots someday when I’m home visiting Minnesota, if this gets any sort of fan base there.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
KH: Well, book two. Having some trouble sorting it out because the end of book one went places I wasn’t intending to get for a while, but it really works so now I’m trying to figure out the consequences to that in a way that maintains other parts of my timeline. The series Big Bads are smart and work by stealth, which isn’t the easiest thing to write, and I need to figure out how they’ll react. And the people around the main characters are less passively reactionary than “heroes” usually are, being hackers and outlaws, so it’s kind of a dance. Everyone has their own needs and agenda and the story grows out of the interaction.
Right now I’m working on a bunch of illustrations for the book’s website, but I’ve got a number of costume shoots in the near future with fantasy and history enthusiasts. We’ll be doing a Three Musketeers themed shoot at a nearby castle and then I’ll turn those pictures into digital paintings in a style matching art from that period, might try to do some sort of exhibition from that. And illustrating my own cover was a lot of fun, so I might work on getting into cover design.
Mostly right now I’m just trying to get book one out. Self-publishing on a shoestring budget means doing practically everything yourself (though I did pay for a professional proofreader), and every step is something I haven’t done before, so it’s a learning curve! But overall it’s going pretty well.