In a lot of ways, Briana Lawrence and Jessica Walsh are living the fandom dream. They met on an old-school mailing list and struck up a friendship, then more than a friendship, based on a mutual love of role-playing and fanfiction. Eventually, this evolved into telling stories not just for themselves but also for the many people they meet at conventions around the world. Now, many novels later, they’ve released the second book in their Hunters series—Beneath the Chapter, published last month—and I had a chance to talk to them about their creations and process.
T. A. Wardrope (TCG): So, tell us a bit about the world of your Hunters series.
Jessica Walsh: Seeking the Storyteller and Beneath the Chapter both take place in modern day, on our doorstep: the Twin Cities. We made it a point to use real locations to give the series a more realistic feel.
Briana Lawrence: We even went out and asked if we could use the Como Zoo as a location. There are spots in downtown Minneapolis that people may recognize as they read, too, along with the U of M campus, things like that.
TCG: What are the origins for the Storyteller? I like the mythic overtones of this creature that has control of the story of everyone’s life, for good or evil. That’s very old school and a good idea for a baddie.
Jessica: The Storyteller isn’t actually the bad guy, though with that much power it’s hard to be the “good guy” all the time. He is a sort of mythical creature, and his origin is a bit of a mystery. The story goes that he lives in a library full of books that each tell the story of a different person’s life. As to how he came to be, no one really knows. At least not yet.
Briana: It’s interesting because he has the power to change things, but the question becomes, “Should he?” Because he’s very much aware that if you change something in someone’s story, even if it’s a small part, it’ll have a ripple effect and alter not just that story but anyone who is involved in it. We were just talking about this the other day, actually. Alex—one of the main characters in the story—wants the Storyteller to help bring his family back. And no one can blame him for this, but even if the Storyteller makes that change, who’s to say that Alex’s family wouldn’t suffer in some other way? Or someone else suffers in their place. The Storyteller knows this, and is tormented by it, because it’s hard to to interfere when bad things happen.
TCG: You are a writing team, so tell us a little bit about your writing process and how the books come to life. Do either of you favor a character?
Jessica: We’ve been brainstorming this universe and these characters for years, and I would have to say that I tend to favor Haven the most, especially since he comes from such a rich history he doesn’t even know about. One day I just decided to write a chapter for the heck of it, and then NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month] was coming up and we just decided to go for it. Now we hammer out the outline together and I write the first draft, then I pass it over to Briana to work on.
Briana: This actually all started with us role-playing online back when we were in college. I was at Iowa State University and she was at St. Cloud State. Role-playing is how we would “date,” so to speak, since we were long distance. Years later we realized that these had become our own characters with their own stories. Sure, we were using random anime and video-game characters, but they had been tweaked to fit our own ideas and plot lines. I love all of our characters, but I feel particularly close to Katalynne, Cyn, and Mira. For one, I used to role-play them! But honestly, I’ve enjoyed developing their characters and am looking forward to showing everyone how they and everyone else develops.
TCG: Does storytelling from an LGBT point of view alter the texture of the story in a particular way? How does the history of “camp” fit into what you are doing with your worlds?
Jessica: I don’t think it really alters it. As a queer/bisexual woman myself, my world is full of many people and friends from all over the spectrum, and we tried really hard to portray that in the book. The point is to show that our seemingly normal world has a lot more hidden in the shadows—creature-wise. And I think the same could be said for the LGBT point of view; there’s actually a lot of representation in the world, it’s just a matter of showing it does actually exist in the story.
Briana: Exactly. LGBT is treated like a norm, because for us, it is, and should be treated as such. Katalynne is a bisexual woman who is in a relationship with a woman, and the others are more shocked at her even dating (since she never does) than they are about her dating a woman. Later, they find out one of their other comrades was gay, and they don’t even bat an eye about it. Honestly, they have bigger things to worry about, you know? In a world full of potentially dangerous supernatural creatures . . . who has time to have issues with sexuality?
TCG: What is your favorite spoiler-free moment or scene from these books?
Jessica: I would have to say my favorite moment deals with I-lyan. He’s the guardian dragon of Haven, and most of the time he’s seen as just a mark on Haven’s arm. But there’s a point in the story where he takes over and speaks through Haven, and the images in that scene were particularly fun to write.
Briana: There’s actually a line I really like in the first book. Katalynne has to deal with a pesky reporter who is trying to pin her boss, Fagan, to a string of crimes. Said reporter asks her what she does for Fagan, and Katalynne replies with, “I pick up his dry cleaning.” I’m not sure why that amuses me so much, but it’s one of the moments where I really adore Katalynne. She’s so normal in all of this but still doesn’t stand for any kind of crap thrown her way.
TCG: What is the first thing you tell people about the series when explaining it to people who visit your author table at conventions?
Jessica: I’m usually the one who focuses on selling the books at the table, so I have the whole pitch memorized. It usually starts with the Storyteller, because he’s such an interesting character—though if they’re cosplaying from Supernatural or another urban fantasy series, I’ll sometimes cater to that fandom.
Briana: I usually bring it up when we give our “Diversity in Writing” panel, because we do have a diverse cast of characters from all sorts of different backgrounds, so I usually end up using them as examples. Beyond that, as Jessica said, she’s usually the one pitching the books because we sort of divide and conquer while at the table—she handles books, and I handle all of the crafts we sell.
Seeking the Storyteller and Beneath the Chapter are both available on Amazon. You can Briana and Jessica on the 2016 convention circuit at A-Kon, CONvergence, Anime Iowa, Matsuricon, Gaylaxicon, and other events yet to be announced. Learn more about the authors and hear updates about their appearances on their social media pages, most of which are dedicated to cosplay but are the best way to keep tabs on them: