Brittany M. Willows interview

Pride Nights at Queen’s: An interview with Brittany M. Willows

Video games, anime, and cat boys. Who doesn’t love them? (If you don’t, get outta here! Obviously just kidding but I don’t trust you. Again, kidding. We all deserve to have bad taste once in a while and I respect you for that). Day three of Pride Nights at Queen’s welcomes Brittany M. Willows, author, illustrator, and thus, overall badass. Read our chat to find more about Bloody Spade, Brittany’s upcoming book, and the inspirations behind it.

Pride Nights at Queen's
Meet the Author
Brittany M. Willows author photo

Brittany M. Willows is a bisexual/asexual author and digital artist living in rural Ontario, Canada. Inspired initially by video games and the stories they told, she began building her own fictional universes and has no plans of stopping any time soon. When she’s not writing about post-apocalyptic lands, wild magic, or people gallivanting through the stars, she can be found hunched over a tablet drawing the very same things.

Interview
Hi, Brittany. Welcome to the Asylum, we’re really happy you could join us! Oh, please don’t mind the stains, you know how…wine is, so hard to clean up. But onto more pressing subjects: you! What made you first start writing and what makes you keep going?

Just some harmless wine, huh? I believe you 😉

My love for storytelling actually began with video games! The stories woven into the gameplay inspired me to tell my own, and I had initially pursued video games as a way of sharing the worlds I was building in my head, but as I grew older and realized how much work and money and time that would entail, I started exploring other methods and eventually landed on novel-writing.

What keeps me going is all the ideas buzzing around in my mind demanding to be let out. My characters are too big and too loud for my head alone, and I want to share them with other people! Of course, the only way I’m going to do that is if I keep writing.

As a huge fan of lore in games, I feel a kinship. Maybe that’s why your work crosses genres, from sci-fi to urban fantasy, that confluence of the magic of video game narratives? Even as you prove yourself an author that writes for many different realms, are there any predominant themes in all your stories?

Hope, I’d say! Hope for a better world, a better life. Reclaiming that hope when it’s lost, and clinging to it when the weight of the universe threatens to rip it from your grasp. Most of my stories center on people persevering through hardship so that they can reach that light at the end of the tunnel, and I think in times like we’re living in now, that theme is incredibly important.

Absolutely agree. Your upcoming book, Bloody Spade, is the introduction to The Cardplay Duology. Can you give us a short pitch, a summary on what it’s about?

Sure! Thankfully, for once, I am prepared with a pitch! Haha

A wounded thief in possession of a corrupted legendary magic falls into the care of a girl with the power to purify it—but there’s a catch, and he’s not the only one. Spade, Heart, Diamond, Club. Someone is trying to tear down the barrier between the mundane and magical realms by waking these legendary Suits, but with two of the four already awake, can Cardplay stop them before it’s too late?

That synopsis really caught my attention, particularly your fascinating idea of a card game-based universe. I adore those kinds of concepts. What were some of the inspirations behind Bloody Spade’s world?

I drew inspiration from A LOT of anime for this project. Mainly: D.Gray-Man, Pandora Hearts, and Shugo Chara—the latter two being where I believe my interest in cards/card suits started. I just loved the whole aesthetic, and when I started researching them more deeply last year (purely out of curiosity), I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of the symbolism surrounding them was actually pretty close to some role/symbolic choices I’d made in the book.

The card game theme has also made for some great pun opportunities.

I haven’t watched Shugo Chara (though I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun, also I see the cat boy thematic!) but definitely second D. Gray Man and Pandora Hearts! What did it mean to you writing this story and what do you hope it’ll mean to readers?

Bloody Spade has been with me for a long time now (it’ll be twelve whole years as of the release date), and it’s incredibly important to me for a lot of reasons. I created the story shortly after joining the local library’s anime/game club in 2009. I’d just made a bunch of new friends and was at the point in life many fifteen-year-olds find themselves at where I was trying to figure myself out. Figure out what I wanted, who I was. Even though I ended up setting it aside to work on another project for a few years, the story and its characters continued to grow and change with me until I was finally ready to tell their story in 2019.

One thing I love is that a lot of the people I befriended back then, the people who supported this project when it was brand new, remain some of my closest friends today. So, yeah, you could say I have a lot of feelings wrapped up in this book. <3

As for what I hope it’ll mean to readers? Mainly, I just want to deliver a heartfelt and entertaining story, but I do also hope some readers will be able to see themselves in my characters and maybe even find comfort in them.

Portraits of her characters from Bloody Spade, drawn by Brittany herself
As well as being a writer, you’re an incredibly talented artist. What’s it like having the superpower to draw art of your own characters? Would you ever want to illustrate your own book covers?

Aha, you flatter me! It is definitely nice to be able to share visual representations of my characters, rather than just relying on descriptions (although I know some readers prefer to create their own mental image of the characters). I’ve always been a very visual person, though (my stories all play out like movies in my head), and I drew long before I ever started writing. Most of my ideas come to life as images prior to being explored in words because that helps me get a better feel for the characters.

Read below for the answer to that second question! Heh

On the topic of covers, I love the art on Bloody Spade’s! How much control did you have over it and how was the process of working with the artist?

Complete control and a totally smooth process working with the artist, because that artist was me! So I thank you so much for your compliments. I’m really blown away with the response to the cover art so far. I’m glad people are enjoying it.

I had considered hiring someone to do the cover for this book initially, because these days I’m pretty busy with my comic coloring gig, but I couldn’t find an artist who was both within my meager budget and available for work, so I ultimately decided I’d just do as I’ve done with my previous books and handle it myself. I wasn’t confident at first that I’d be able to pull off the design I had in mind, but I’m quite pleased with the results (obviously, or else I wouldn’t be using it as the cover).

The nice thing about painting my own covers is that it’s one more expense I don’t have to worry about (and when you’re a self-publisher teetering on the poverty line, that is a very big deal, haha). And while it would have been nice to have someone else’s art on for my cover, having my own art there does make the whole thing feel a little more personal <3

Way to catch me by surprise ahahh! That’s honestly amazing and I can only imagine how proud you must feel *insert ‘it’s what she deserves’ meme?*. Love that for you and can’t wait to read it. Speaking of reading, any recent books you fell in love with or future ones you’re really excited about?

SJ Whitby’s CUTE MUTANTS is a book I’ve been reading since last year (that is NOT indicative of the size or quality of the book. That’s because I’m a painfully slow reader even when I can find the time to actually read). SJ’s voice is super unique, and their cast of superheroes (affectionately called “superqueeroes”) is highly enjoyable.

I also had the pleasure of blurbing SEDITION by E.M. Wright this year! I have a tough time finding steampunk reads that grab my attention, but I really enjoyed Wright’s alternate Victorian London and the clockwork cyborgs and privateers who inhabit it.

A book I’m excited about is my next read: FIFTEEN HUNDRED MILES FROM THE SUN by Jonny Garza Villa! I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. It was the first book I’ve ever preordered, and based on the reviews I’ve seen, I’m fairly confident it’s going to become a favourite.

I am taking notes. At the risking of having you cause further havoc on my tbr, any current/future projects you’d like to share with us?

I have a few things on the go! Next in line is the sequel to Bloody SpadeBleeding Heart, which I’ve already zero-drafted and plan to start revising in a couple months. I’m also working on a short story (that’s threatening to become a novella) that follows our catboy protagonist during his younger years. After the Cardplay Duology, I’m hoping to get back to work on rewriting my debut duology, because I believe I can tell that story the way it was meant to be told now that I’ve had time to grow and hone my craft (not that I regret publishing it when I did back in 2013. I learned a lot from that, and it’ll be fun to do a re-release).

All my other projects are pretty far out in terms of actually becoming books people can read, but people can get glimpses at stories like The Howling Dark (my space werewolves WIP) and The Calypsis Project: Pulse (the prequel to my debut duology) through my art in the meantime, and I talk about all my works-in-progress regularly on my social media.

Hopefully I’ll be able to share these stories in word form sooner rather than later, though!

If you’d like to get in contact with Brittany M. Willows, you can find her on social media:

Check out Brittany’s upcoming book, Bloody Spade and its ongoing preorder campaign.

Bloody Spade by Brittany M. Willows cover

Follow the Asylum’s 2021 Pride event here!

She was very young the first time her parents put a book in her hands (most likely an inventive way to shut her up and keep her still) and have not found it in her to stop reading since. Oral tradition has a special place in her heart—it was due to her grandparents' speech storytelling that her love for languages and stories was ignited, and so she has grown to love fantasy and sci-fi above all, as genres particularly influenced by folktales.

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