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Writing trauma, exploring darkness, and representing spaces rarely seen.
Content Warning: Both the books mentioned and the interview itself contain dark subject matter including the effects of trauma, and the interview itself deliberately asks about some of these topics. While both myself and Shane have tried to keep the wording as gentle as possible, these topics may be difficult for some and should be read with caution.
Today’s interview is with Shane Blackheart, author of Everything is Wonderful Now and of the upcoming Open Wound, its sequel. These books are a semi-autobiographical work of fiction and dark fantasy that discusses trauma and contains representation rarely seen for traumatised people. Shane was kind enough to speak with me about the books, their reception, and the reasons for their creation in the interview.
Chaos Gays: You’ve already written Everything Is Wonderful Now, a book that explored dark themes with a speculative bent. Your new release, Open Wound, is the sequel. So I want to ask first about the first book. What spurred you to write and release Everything Is Wonderful Now?
SB: It was actually a spur of the moment idea, haha. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was listening to some nostalgic music to keep me calm, and I started thinking about my childhood. I thought of how cool it would have been to have my spirit guide Byleth back then, and it certainly would have saved me from so many bad things. I was a weird kid who was bullied a lot, and I had mental illnesses, so he would have been the support and hope I needed. It was like a spark, and I rushed to my computer to start typing. Originally, it was a novella, but it just evolved into part of my life's story in a way that was healing for me.
Releasing it was a whole other beast. I revised it several times before doing so, and I had so much anxiety about the prospect of sharing something so vulnerable. I decided I had to release it, I just couldn't not do it. And it really was a release, it felt like I was getting all of the bad stuff out of me and sending it into the aether. I also wanted to release it as part of my mental health awareness work. I wanted to reach people who may have had experiences like mine that they couldn't find represented anywhere. I know what it feels like to be lost or alone, and if I can help someone else feel a little less alone, I want to do that.
Chaos Gays: Personally I really love talking about books that get dark, because as a traumatised person myself, I never really connected to the bright and happy characters that some books had. It can be nice to read, but much of the time in order to feel seen I need to see the dark as well. What was the process of sharing that darkness like? Was there anything that you specifically hesitated over and decided to write (or not) for your audience to understand or find their own representation?
SB: I completely agree with that, and I think that's a reason why I tend to dislike the heroes and love the villains. They're just more relatable to me with their troubled pasts. As for sharing my own darkness, it was very difficult, especially with the kind of past I've had with certain mental illness symptoms. There are a few things in the book I hadn't shared publicly until its release, that I've actually rarely shared with anyone. I decided to finally do that under the guise of fiction, because I realized it's a story I haven't seen.
I hesitated a lot when writing about the main character's darker experience with plurality. Without giving too much away, the voice in their head is based on my actual experience, and it does make them think and feel some questionable things as a child, including violence. Some of that, too, is a result of early childhood trauma on the brain, but I didn't want to give the plural/DID/OSDD community a bad name with this. At the same time, I also felt that I should be allowed to share my story. It's not written to be dark for the sake of it. There's a lot of reality in it I sat with alone for so long, and I'm sure there are others who have done the same.
I was just generally so worried about writing such a dark and heavy book. It's not what most people would reach for to escape, and many people read to escape, but there was another side of things, too. Sometimes you need to read something super dark to understand yourself, or to feel solidarity, and since this book did that for me, I wanted to try to do that for others.
Chaos Gays: It's always incredible to see people writing about the darker experiences during trauma for me, to be honest. Because there are a lot of expectations around who traumatised people are and what they have to be in order to be sympathetic and fiction is an excellent way to help people understand that those same people exist in real life. With the representation you show, you cover a lot of experiences, and versions of them, that are very complex and that aren't usually given voice. What's the reception been like to this from readers?
SB: That's actually something people have brought up, that the book isn't like anything they've ever read. I've gotten a few DMs from some who have discovered something about themselves after reading it, or that it was a story they really related to. And it isn't just queer people who have related to the story, which was a nice surprise. The reception has been so much better than I initially feared, and I get really emotional over it. The book was rejected every time I sent it to agents, before I decided to self-publish. I had this fear deep down that it was just too weird or niche. I'm so glad people have been moved by it.
Chaos Gays: With positive responses to a first book, releasing a sequel is usually a different beast altogether. How have you found it? Was there anything that has been very different to the first time around?
SB: It's been a really interesting process for sure, and I was better prepared and more experienced this time. I hadn't expected there to be more than one book back when I was revising EIWN, so getting a sequel done was kind of exhilarating in a way. I'm definitely nervous because the sequel is darker in tone, and it's not for the faint of heart, so tying it all together and finding those who enjoyed the first book has been challenging, but a lot of that is the chaos surrounding Twitter and having to find my audience all over again in several places. It's definitely a whole new experience, and I don't think it's reaching all the same people the first book did.
Chaos Gays: In that case, for the people reading... Why read Open Wound? Who do you think your audience is, and who are you trying to reach the most with these releases?
SB: Open Wound continues the story of Everything Is Wonderful Now, and it answers the questions that remained after the first book, first and foremost. It's an honest, raw discussion about trauma and it's ugly sometimes, but it's real. Nothing is glossed over. It rounds out Sean's story and gives him a chance to find healing, but he becomes someone he's not proud of through the struggle. In this case, that's done with trauma symbolism, and I wanted to be as blunt as possible to do it justice. And it's not just the story itself that communicates the themes. I took a chance on writing it in an unusual way to mirror the chaos that it is, so the book as a whole is an experience. I want people to have an experience with this, more so than just sitting and reading a book.
So far, my audience has mostly been the people I've hoped to reach, those who have been through a similar experience out of the many in the books, but I'm noticing that I'm reaching people lately, with Open Wound, who aren't necessarily into the genre or the themes, but are interested because of how it's done so differently. Ultimately, I'm trying to reach other trauma survivors who would understand these stories the most.
Chaos Gays: Lastly, then. For the people who read it... is there anything you want to say to them, outside of the book?
SB: I just hope they can keep an open mind, and take their time to consider the overall message instead of viewing it through a typical narrative's lens. And I hope those who read it who are survivors themselves can find some catharsis in it.
Chaos Gays: Thank you so much for talking to me about all of this. A big part of this blog is about creators and consumers of all kinds of art being able to find each other and connect with deeper elements of creative work that might often be overlooked in regular marketing. By sharing this, I hope we'll help to find you readers that are looking for something just like your work!
If you’re interested in engaging with Shane or their work, the links are below. My hope is that everyone reading this blog will find at least SOMETHING new that they want to check out!
Everything Is Wonderful Now
Shane Blackheart in general