Welcome to the fourth Author Spotlight of 2023! In this blog series, I showcase an indie author and interview them to find out more about their writing life.
This month, I'm shining the spotlight on two authors: Christis Christie and Lou Wilham! I've worked with Lou on a few books, and I know of Tiss from her books with Midnight Tide Publishing. They're both wonderful authors, and it was a privilege to ask them about their work and their co-writing process!
Bio: Christis Christie was born and raised in a small town in New Brunswick, Canada where she spent most of her time either reading someone else’s book, or dreaming of writing her own. Her favourite thing to dive into is an epic fantasy, or anything else magical and wondrous that really allows her imagination to take her away.
She now lives on the East Coast in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she works as an event designer, putting her interior decorating degree to wonderful use. Whenever she’s not busy magically transforming venues for her clients, Christis is working on her own writing.
Her lazy days involve snuggling with her cat Robert, and watching Criminal Minds.
Bio: Born and raised in a small town near the Chesapeake Bay, Lou Wilham grew up on a steady diet of fiction, arts and crafts, and Old Bay. After years of absorbing everything there was to absorb of fiction, fantasy, and sci-fi she's left with a serious writing/drawing habit that just won't quit. These days, she spends much of her time writing, drawing, and chasing a very short Basset Hound named Sherlock.
When not, daydreaming up new characters to write and draw she can be found crocheting, making cute bookmarks, and binge-watching whatever happens to catch her eye.
Q: How did you get into writing?
Tiss: I started writing in elementary. It just seemed to be the natural progression from making up stories for my barbies, and reading everything I could, to creating actual fiction of my own. I wrote my first novel when I was twelve years old on an old secondhand word processor my dad bought for me. It was a horror story where just about everyone died. However, it was my best friends Lou Wilham and Elle Beaumont who convinced me to publish my first novella as an adult. They gave me the confidence to make a lifelong dream into a reality.
Lou: Honestly, I don’t remember “starting” so much as storytelling being something I’ve always done. A while back I found these popsicle stick puppets from when I was in elementary school (maybe younger, honestly, they weren’t labelled) and the teacher had written a note about me being a natural storyteller. That’s not a brag, that’s just to say that it’s something I’ve always done, like since the beginning. As for the writing part of it? I’m really not sure. I know I started RPG-ing way back when yahoo groups and geocities were the thing in middle school, but I can’t remember if I wrote before that. I probably did. But like Tiss said, it’s just something I’ve always done, and I suppose the next natural step (after some goading from our mutual bestie Elle Beaumont) was to publish.
Q: Can you tell readers about your latest release, Of Love and Ruin?
Tiss: The world of the greek/roman gods is real, but the stories we know about them are only half-truths. And just like the gods are real, so are the monsters. To protect humans in the mortal realm from the monsters of the magical realm Underworld, the gods created Ignis. The ignis are winged soldiers rumoured not to be able to love. Now, scoot forward into present day Miami and we introduce you to half-muse (think elf of sorts) playboy, Ander Ruin who has left Underworld behind and is just trying to have fun and enjoy himself with anyone who piques his interest. However, about a hundred years ago during a very drunken night he cast a spell asking Venus to bring him his true love which is about to show up and bite him in the behind. Also enter Maximus Schields, an adorable ignis who’s just trying to figure out why girls are going missing in Miami, and what all of that has to do with Ander Ruin and his best friend Mab Duchan. Expect some ridiculousness. Expect some danger. Expect some heart wrenching moments.
Lou: Wow, filling this thing out after Tiss already has, is really stealing my thunder!
So I guess while Tiss focused on the world building, I’ll focus a little more on the characters, and their relationships. At its heart, Of Love & Ruin is a story about finding yourself, and finding the person who accepts that self wholly and without reservation, and learning to accept that person’s love even when you aren’t so sure you deserve it.
Q: In the acknowledgments, you mention that Mab and Ander were characters you created on an RPG site (which is super cool!). Can you tell us about the process of writing them into a novel? Did you find it easy or difficult to give them full stories?
Tiss: I think I can speak for us both when I say writing Mab and Ander was incredibly easy. We’ve spent literal years with these characters in play, and in our heads, conversing about them, playing them out in different scenarios. Ander was so alive in my head that he’s been one of the most natural characters for me to write. It was really just about finding a new story and universe for them to live in that was different then the RPG sites we had played them on.
Lou: So one of the first things we would do on the forum when starting a new character was to work up that character’s history to the present timeline. And I will say Ander came first, so Tiss had a little bit of Mab sorted out for me when I started creating her, but not much. After working up full histories like that it was almost easy to adapt them to the world we built between Underworld, the Sanctum, and Miami. Like Tiss said, we knew Mab and Ander inside and out. The hardest part was building the world we wanted them to live in, and even that wasn’t overly hard. World building is a lot easier with two minds.
Q: What does the co-writing process look like for you? Does each author write a different character, or do you tag-team every chapter?
Tiss: So we each have a character(s) that we create. Which means that we decide their mannerisms, style, habits, etc. They are our creations inside and out and in the end, we get final say on how they would react or not react (with input from each other). We are then tasked with writing that character’s chapters. So I wrote all of the Ander and Quin chapters while Lou wrote the Mab & Max chapters.
When it comes to plotting the book, we FaceTime to plot out each chapter together, so even if I’m writing a chapter, Lou helps to plot out what will happen. We do this for the entire book. Then if I’m writing chapter one, I’d write it, Lou would read it over, and then she starts on chapter two if it’s her character next. And if Mab or Max shows up in one of my chapters I will write their parts, but Lou has final say on whether or not something they say or do should be changed, and vice versa.
Lou: I think Tiss explained it pretty thoroughly. We’re pretty collaborative. And I know I’ve spoken to other authors who are like “how do you do that?!” But we’ve been writing together for over a decade now, and on the RPG sites where we all (when I say we all, I mean Tiss, Elle, and I) met, things were pretty similar. We each had our own characters, and would write those characters. So we’re used to writing together this way.
Q: Of Love & Ruin clearly takes inspiration from Greek and Roman mythology. Why did you choose these spheres of mythology for the story?
Tiss: I’ve adored Greek and Roman mythology since I was a kid, and have always been fascinated by the tales. There is such a wide variety of gods, goddesses, and monsters to work with that it just seemed like the perfect setting for the ignis to slip into.
Lou: I agree, it just seemed logical with what we wanted to do with the ignis to use Greek and Roman myths as a base to work off. We also had a discussion early on that we didn’t want to do “angels” as are used in a Christianity context for our own personal reasons. So, Greek and Roman myths gave us the perfect playground.
Q: Ander and Max have a delightfully steamy and tender relationship. What advice would you give authors about writing romance?
Tiss: First off, thank you! We both adore them as a couple, so that’s nice to hear. I think you have to make couples real. So they won’t be perfect, but they’ll be perfect for each other. But also, write what works for you. If you’re not making yourself squeal, swoon, or giggle . . . why would anyone else? Also, know your characters and stay true to them. Don’t write an intimate or romantic moment and have them respond in a way that is out of the realm of what they should do. That is always what annoys me the most, when I’m reading or watching something and suddenly someone does something that seems totally out of character for who they are. Love makes us silly . . .but it shouldn’t change who we are. And if it is, then it’s likely not the right kind of love. (See Ander in Of Loyalties and Wreckage)
Lou: Thank you! Like Tiss said, Max and Ander hold a very special place in our hearts as they’ve lived in our heads rent free for far too long, and it’s nice to see other people love them as much as we do. As for advice on how to get that balance between tender and steamy, I know for me personally I like to explore other forms of intimacy. Like sure, sex is really intimate, but it’s not the only form of intimacy there is. And it’s always been really important to me to show that. Ander and Max obviously want each other physically, but they also take care of each other, and see to each other’s emotional needs too which in some cases is more important, and emotionally fulfilling.
Q: Found family is an important aspect of the story. Can you explain why you chose this trope? Do you have any tips for how to successfully write a found family?
Tiss: Lou and I, along with our friend Elle, have been besties and writing partners for over a decade now. They live in separate states, I live in a whole other country, but it hasn’t stopped us from feeling like family. Personally, I have also lived in another province from my family for 13 years now, and the friends I have here have become like family and helped hold me up in good times and bad. So I think part of this was ‘writing what you know’.
I think to successfully write a found family, you just have to think of who you have in your life that is your ride and die. Who do you love unconditionally? You’ll probably find a good number of those are friends who aren’t related to you by blood, but who you know will be there for you no matter what. I think as we get older, we all have a mix of bio and found family. Because family is just about love. Loving each other. Supporting each other. Thinking of each other. Being honest, and caring. Those are the fundamentals of what family is, not blood.
Lou: Found family is a trope I somehow always wind up writing in some form or another, and I didn’t really realize I was doing it until recently actually. I also didn’t really identify why until recently either. What made me realize it, was how after the MTP writing retreat this summer (which we held in my home state of MD) where my mom and dad met a few of the other authors, my mom kind of just adopted some of them. And by adopted I mean she worries about them when she finds out there is bad weather where they live, that sort of thing. That made me realize, she’s kind of always done that. My friends have always been a part of the family to my parents (and even my grandmother when she was alive). I regularly talk about Elle and Tiss, and my family knows about them, their families, their jobs, and what’s going on in their lives just the same as they might any other family member, maybe in some cases better than. And I agreed with Tiss, she and Elle are like sisters to me. When I lost my grandmother last year, they were the first people I told, and they were there for me through it. All of that goes to say, like Tiss, I kind of write what I know a little bit.
For advice on how to write a good found family? I think as Tiss said, you need to think of the people in your life who you go to when you need a shoulder, the people who you celebrate with when you have a victory. Yes, we all do some of that with our families, but for some of us it’s easier to do that with people who have a lot in common with us. And if you don’t have those people, think of what you’d like them to be like. Then take those things, and turn them into what you think your characters would need from their found family.
Mab and Ander need different things from each other than Tiss and I need from each other, but the core tenant with them is the same as any other found family, they’re there for each other, whatever that looks like for them. For Mab and Ander that looks like martinis, gossiping, and watching Golden Girls. For Tiss, Elle, and I it looks like a text thread full of memes, emojis, inside jokes, and griping here or there when one of us is having an off day.
I think it’s also very important to understand your characters’ love languages, and to figure out how those love languages would interact. Ander’s love language is very much touch, and words of affirmation based. Mab’s isn't touch based. She lets people know she cares more through acts of service. But over the years they’ve found a balance that works for them. I think the best example of how they make that balance work is the scene where Ander is having a bad day and Mab shows up with froyo, ready for a night on the couch. Her act of service is making sure their business is taken care of when he can’t, and showing up for him even when he tells her he’s okay even though they both know he’s not. And she never once shies away from the physical affection he needs from her, because she understands that about him. Meanwhile, in book two we’ll see more of how Ander makes accommodations for her love languages.
Q: Do you have any writing rituals? (e.g., lighting a candle before you write, meditating before you write, going for a walk to get ideas)
Tiss: I usually have a spotify playlist for my character that helps get me in the mood for them. I also like having a fresh cup of coffee and a snack nearby.
Lou: Not really? I’ve gotten into the habit of writing almost every day, so I’ve trained my brain to be like “Ok, it’s time to write.” When I do struggle, I usually go to take a shower, and that gets my characters talking to me again.
Q: Do you have any specific authors or books you’ve learned from on your writing journey?
Tiss: I’d say that Anne Rice has been a big impact on me as far as supernatural/paranormal writing goes. Jaqueline Carey is one of my absolute favourites in the fantasy genre, and her Kushiel series inspires me to just be a better writer in general. I’d love to have her level of prose mixed with political intrigue all wrapped up in a gooey, emotional romance that sticks with me to this day.
Lou: So this is going to be funny because Tiss’s answers are very serious fantasy writers, and mine is. . . Terry Pratchett. Which is also kind of funny because Sanctuary of the Lost is very much not Pratchett. But his close third person pov, and his humor, I feel has rubbed off on me. I also really love how he brought social issues into his writing, without letting them bog down the story. I like to think I manage to do the same with my own stories.
Q: What’s your number one tip for tackling imposter syndrome?
Tiss: Oh gosh… does it ever go away??? Having great friends who act as hype men definitely helps. They both encourage you as well as kick your butt when you’re bringing yourself down. I also like to find that one really great review that shows someone truly connected with the work. It’s good, solid proof someone out there enjoys what you’ve done. You have to be cautious not to let the bad ones bring you down, but they’re also good for keeping you humble, and keeping you real.
Lou: To answer Tiss’s question, imposter syndrome 100% never goes away. For me, I like to: 1. keep myself so busy I don’t have time to stew. 2. have people willing to listen to me gripe about how freaked out I am about an upcoming book. (spoiler alert: I’m always at least a little freaked out) 3. Reread reviews from people who loved my work. And I’m not talking like just. . . surface level gushing. No. I like the reviews where, like Tiss said, a reader really connected with the work. Where the work made them feel good in some way, either by seeing themselves represented, identifying with a character, or just getting the warm fuzzies from a happy ending well-earned.
Q: Can you tell readers about what they can expect next from you? What projects (if any) are you currently working on?
Tiss: Well, Lou and I are starting work on Book 2 in the Sanctuary of the Lost Series, which will be the story of Mab finding her soulmate. We’re incredibly excited to dive into her story and also give readers (and hopefully fans) a little more of Ander and Max on the side ;) I am also working on Book 3 of my Immortal Realms trilogy with Elle Beaumont.
Lou: Oh jeez, what am I not working on right now? That list would be shorter! So Tiss and I plan to start book 2 this month, but I’m also working on book 2 of my Witches of Moondale series (The Ghost of Hexes Past), books 1 (Overkill) and 2 (Fresh Kill) of the Hunters of Ironport series, and a co-author piece with Elle entitled Benvolio and Mercutio Turn Back Time.
And before you ask, because everyone always asks me this, I work on that many things at once by having them each in a different part of the process usually. For example, at this current moment, I’m drafting the co-author project with Elle, I’m doing the final read through of Witches of Moondale book 2, I’m doing the round of revisions post beta read on Hunters of Ironport book 1, and the round of revisions post alpha read on book 2.
If you'd like to follow Christis Christie and Lou Wilham on their writing journey or find out more about their stories, this is where you can find them: