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An Interview with Gwen Leonhard

Happy Friday! Today we bring you an interview with Gwen Leonhard. She tells us all about her In Cold Embrace series and how much of her own life influenced it – from living as a trans woman to her German native language.


Thank you for joining us, Gwen! First of all, please could you introduce yourself? 

Gladly! Thank you so much for this opportunity! My name is Gwen, and I like to call myself a sapphiction author. I’m a trans woman living in Germany who loves writing about sapphic relationships – more often than not with a trans-POV character. These stories can range from sugary sweet to dastardly evil. I try to be a good bean and have plenty of anxieties. When I’m not writing my stories, I’m usually floating around in the TTRPG Space.

Tell us about your fantasy romance series, In Cold Embrace, and what inspired you to write it.

In Cold Embrace, or ICE for short, is the story about people who got hurt by society, lovers, and family, who desperately try to cope and find love in a world that couldn’t care less about them. It’s about absolving us of the sins that others inflicted upon us.

Freedom-loving Freyja fears emotional attachment and can’t get over her ex-girlfriend.

Emilia, the Ex-Nun fighting against the indoctrination of her church, comes to terms with her sexual desires.

Veerle, well put together at first glance, struggles with feeling used quickly after leaving her toxic family behind in the wastelands.

We all have our issues, fights we fight, and baggage we bring into our relationships. We need to deal with that baggage and work on ourselves not to hurt our partners. At the core, that is what ICE is about.

They all get together after the Reinblut Kirche hires Freyja to find a Nun of theirs who got lost on a mission in the lower Ventricle — the bad part of town. A Vampyr is supposed to have kidnapped her. It turns out that not everything is as it seems and that the church might want to eliminate their Nun for one reason or another. And even that Vampyr doesn’t seem that bad — or a Vampyr.

It’s honestly hard to say where the inspiration for ICE came from. Aside from my personal struggles, I suppose. I started it as a series of short stories to train myself to pace my workload and finish projects that I started. This resulted in two released stories so far, which is a success on that front!

In addition, it is important to tell stories about misguided people, their path to redemption, and how a failing relationship can be helped with communication. Since ICE is an explicit series, I do like to use sex as a form of communication as well. How to ask for consent, why it is important, and the dangers of toxic relationships and the scars they can leave on a human being.

I enjoy portraying broken people and showing they are still worthy of love and patience as long as they are willing to work on themselves. I try hard not to romanticize toxic traits, but to show how you can protect yourself against them and what happens if you don’t.

Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why? 

In some form or another, I identify with all of them, the big outlier being Emanuela. She is the literal worst, and I love her for it.

The feeling of not being enough, of being broken, is something I can relate to quite well. I’ve been fighting depression since before puberty. I come from an emotionally abusive household, and for most of my psychological hiccups, I could only start understanding, working on, and medicating them somewhere in my 20s.

The idea of ‘not being enough’ is deeply ingrained in me and most of my characters. That is true for my writing, as much as my TTRPG characters. Often even when I try to keep it explicitly out of them.

Freyja’s fight to overcome her emotional abuser, Emilia’s fight to overcome society's expectations of her, and Veerle’s fight to accept that her family isn’t what she wants them to be are all deeply personal.

There is more, of course. I try to keep my characters multilayered, even if they appear to be a side character like Satori in Prey For The Devil, the second ICE Story. 

What are your favourite romance tropes to read and do any make an appearance in your series?

One that I found for myself recently — and I don’t know if this has an official name, to be honest — is what I like to call ‘concealed lust.’ When a character is incredibly horny for another but can’t put it into words or actions for some reason or another.

Getting distracted by the way the pearls of sweat run down the curves of her thighs.

Not being able to concentrate because she smiled, and you can’t stop staring at those cute lips.

Forgetting what you were about to say because she entered the room, and you can’t help but marvel at those swinging hips.

I love that. Just falling into the daydream fantasies of the POV character and knowing full well that it will be a long while before there will be any kind of release. And yes, that is absolutely part of ICE. While she isn’t the POV character in the first two installments, I can promise that Emilia struggles with a lot of lust she tries to conceal. And the current WIP is dealing with those thoughts in abundance. So do Satori and Freyja with the same target of affection, which you can find in Prey For The Devil.

I wouldn’t call it a trope, but I’m a huge fan of Poly-Queer relationships, and you can find those in my writing a lot, especially in ICE. They aren’t healthy versions of those, but we’ll get there. I promise.

Generally, as dark and mean as those stories can be, I always aim for a happy end at the end of everything. We’ll take some time and a couple of installments to get there. But we’ll get there!

Your MC Freya is a sapphic trans woman. Why is it important for you to include this representation, especially in fantasy settings, and is there anything else you’d love to see more of in this genre?

Well, mainly because I am a sapphic trans woman, and you write what you know, don’t you? While I’ve been that my whole life, it took me a couple of decades to realize it. So, my writing is a good way to live through the things I missed in my youth. Some of them are things I won’t live through at all.

It’s a bit of escapism. And if it works like that for me, maybe it works like it for others? I, at least, hope that it does.

One part of representation that I would like to see more, especially in fantasy, is people with bodily impairments. Missing limbs, for example.

I’d love to put these into my stories myself, but, to be honest, I have never broken a bone in my life. I don’t think I could do justice to the nuances and intrigue of those lived lives. I don’t want them to be just cosmetic but to inform how the character lives and see their surroundings. And I couldn’t do that the same way an own-voice character could.

Generally, I’d like to see more own-voice characters from any marginalized group out there. People are speaking and writing, and I hope we as a society can do better to give them their space.

The fantasy lore of your series is inspired by Germanic legends. How much research did you do and how much did you exercise your artistic license?

I do draw inspiration from a lot of folklore. Germanic, Nordic, Japanese, and Pop-Culture in general. There is a lot to find in ICE. If I’d stick to strictly German folklore, ICE would be riddled with the most brutal child stories. And while I do draw some inspiration from there, this certainly isn’t a ‘Brother Grimm, but somehow even darker’ story.

The biggest German inspiration comes from the language used. Herzkirch, Blendling, Rheingold-Hagen, the Puls. Since German is my first language, I didn’t need much research, but I am always happy to find a new tidbit I can work into my lore. In the current WIP, there will be some explanation to differentiate between the two languages used, where they come from, and how the German variant got lost over time.

ICE is a slow-burn series, in a way, and a lot of the background machinations take their time to rear their heads. A lot of stuff that seems random or nonsensical initially has a background and explanation waiting to be discovered.

But, in the end, no matter where my inspiration came from, I greatly use my artistic license. The world has rules that need to be followed, and I rather bend the myth to fit into Herzkirch than Herzkirch to fit the myth.

What was your decision behind including church and religion?

While I come from a rather agnostic household, I’ve grown into a person who is very much against many iterations of church and religion. Mostly because I believe that if you give people the power to claim that their hatred is the logical conclusion of an unquestionable being with the monopoly on objective morals… well, that can only end in disaster, I think.

The Reinblut Kirche (translated as the Pureblood Church) is a bunch of fascist bigots who denominated someone as the common enemy to rally their believers into a frenzy.

As a queer person — even more so as a queer trans person — that idea hits very close to home. Being demonized for what you are, instead of what you are doing is what I am used to whenever I open the internet. Being pushed to the outskirts of society feels normal to me. Even long before I realized that I was part of the LGBTQ+ community.

But at the same time, we got Emilia as a counter-voice. A person who represents what the church claims they should stand for. Love, acceptance, help, understanding.

She overcomes the hateful indoctrination she was raised with without losing her faith in her goddess, the Puls. There is a clear differentiation between religion, belief, and morals and the institution of the church that abuses its power.

ICE maybe the story of Freyja, with Emilia as something of her sidekick. But currently, it is more of a prequel to the story of Emilia, the Reinblut Kirche, and who their goddess, the Puls, really is. And what she wants.

Like I said. It’s a slow burn.

Did you find any challenges while writing this story? How did you overcome them?

Tons! The very first was writing it, I’d say. I have already discussed using the ICE series to write short stories with achievable results. And I needed that to cope with my recently diagnosed ADHD.

Then, I ran into the issue of portraying Polyamorous relationships. And while I am Polyam, I’ve been in a monogamous relationship since I was 15. I had real fears that I would mess up that representation, so I made myself a sensitivity reader to ensure it worked out.

One very specific issue I ran into was the question of ‘Why do the characters like Emilia.’ Because I kind of forgot to put an on-screen example of her good nature into the story. Luckily, I’ve got great Beta readers that managed to catch that and allowed me to add some more loveable aspects of the small lesbean and even do some foreshadowing for the current WIP!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Another set of eyes can do wonders for your work!

We’d love a hint about any of your upcoming projects!

I already talked about my third installation of ICE. The WIP currently runs under The Daughter Of The Biest and will be the largest installment and probably the end of the ICE series. It will introduce another trans character a lot more villains, and kick the world building into overdrive! I will not be the end of Herzkirch and the gang, though.

Besides that, I am writing a lot of Sapphic short stories. A Horror-Love Story set in Herzkirch. An almost finished first date Novella of two University Sweethearts and the tragic story of love set on hold for a decade.

If any of those pitches made you curious, I’m always looking for beta or ARC readers!

Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?

The easiest-to-follow inspiration is probably for my characters. Freyja, the cold-blooded Protagonist of the first two stories, got a lot of inspiration from Nordic Mythology and the goddess Skadi (which would explain why she is a half-Skadi) in the Final Fantasy X Summon Shiva, and the glorious Gideon Nav of the locked tomb series. Her nun crush, Emilia, took a lot of design inspiration from the Grandia II female lead, Elena. The main villain, Emanuela Rheingold-Hagen, is inspired by a German song with the same name (Emanuela), telling the story of a girl that you should keep your hands off because she will break your heart. And the Nibelungen Saga, where you can see why you shouldn’t trust her if you know anything about Hagen or the Rheingold.

So, I like to draw inspiration from wherever I can find it. 

At that point, I want to thank Karina Melayeva, who gave all my characters an astonishing design.

While I don’t have a specific inspiration for the City of Herzkirch, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of Capitalistic Hellscapes divided into two very different districts you can compare it to. (Hello Piltover/Zaun from League of Legends, is that you?)

If you could give any advice to authors set to make their debut, what would it be?

I am deathly afraid of rejection. So, querying may be the most haunting prospect I have faced in my life so far. I’m not made for the trenches.

So, instead, I decided to self-publish and couldn’t be happier with it! Am I earning any money with it at the moment? Absolutely not. But I’ve got eyes on my texts and reviews coming in.

Everything you publish will be out there for others to find, bringing more eyes to your older work, and so on.

Don’t stop because you think no one is going to publish you. Just do it on your terms!

Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, or games you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience? Bonus points if it includes sapphics!

Maybe ‘currently’ isn’t quite the right word here, but I devoured The Locked Tomb series. Gideon and Harrow are the absolute worst/best necromance lesbians out there. I’ve gotta say.

Despite that, I enjoyed the Fallout Series on Amazon with some surprise Sapphic Rep, even if they got buried immediately.

And in the form of games, I just finished Tunic, which was an absolute blast; such an amazing mesh of Link To The Past and Dark Souls mechanics with the most nostalgic concept I’ve ever seen: The Game Manual is an in-game collectible. It’s amazing. Highly recommended!


Find out more:

Find Gwen on Discord: Leothegrand



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