We're bringing a little bit of sun to your Monday with Ink Stains & Ill-Fainted Lies author Kellie Doherty, who tells us all about the inspiration behind her sapphic fantasy novel. Dive into this magical, sun-scorched landscape with scribe Adaris as she finds herself on a daunting journey for answers!
Tell us about your newest fantasy, Ink Stains & Ill-Fated Lies, and what inspired you to write it.
Ink Stains & Ill-Fated Lies is centered on a disgraced wandering scribe named Adaris. She digs too deep into an enemy’s hideout and gets captured for it. She’s forced to conform to their fiery ritualistic ways just to survive and use her quill to record their side of history but when she discovers some ancient unique magic—including the promise to heal her lame leg—her curiosity twists in ways even she didn’t anticipate. She’s always recorded the heroes’ stories around her, and now it’s her turn to be the hero. By any means necessary. It’s got snark and sapphic romance (more on that later!), magic and mythological creatures, and tells the story of when a quest for knowledge goes horribly wrong. I was a curious child growing up—and still am a curious person to this day—and for the most part that curiosity has led me to some pretty awesome things. But I’ve always wondered if the curiosity aspect could twist into something darker, something more dangerous. Deadly even. I’ve also always loved writing quest-type stories and this one is no different, though the quest is inside Adaris as a character, rather than an outward journey. She goes through a lot in this book and comes out with some major scars. It changes her, and perhaps not entirely for the better.
Your story is set in a fictional world featuring a continent of sun and black sand named the Sunglade, as well as sun goddesses. What was the process behind building this strong fantasy setting and were there any challenges? Is this place inspired by any other fantasy worlds or stories?
All authors have their own style of worldbuilding and like anything, you have to find one that works best for you. While for most new authors my advice would be to start where your main character starts their adventure (on a starship, or in a town, or in the desert, for example) and build outward from there, I find for me, it’s easier to start big and work my way smaller. I have this worldbuilding document where I go over seven big categories: geography, history, creatures, business, social hierarchy, and everyday life. Since I write sci-fi and fantasy, I also often add an eighth category: magic/tech. I don’t fill out every single thing under all the categories, but I do know the bigger, more important details. Under history, for example, I know the bigger wars and the ripple effect of each…but I might not know the names of every single flower under geography. After I have a basic world built, I figure out where my main characters will start and the areas they’ll journey through, as well as what is important to note about each area/town/starscape, etc.
The most challenging part is honestly knowing when to pair back the details. I get so excited about my world and all the effort I’ve put in that I add too many descriptions and then my critique group has to flag them for me. (Shout out to critique groups, by the way, they’re awesome!)
For Adaris’s story, she does spend most of her time in the Sunglade, black sand beaches, stony columns, pale rocky ground, harsh sunlight…and that’s on her specific side of the continent! (Just wait until my characters visit the other areas.) I wanted to contrast the setting of my last two books and show the harsh landscape of the sun goddess’ domain. So, where my first two books were lush and green and moonlit in most areas my characters traveled through, the Sunglade would be the opposite. I pulled from a lot of different sources, and for this one I wanted to take inspiration from the real world. I’ve always wanted to visit a black sand beach, but I’ve never been able to, so I Googled a bunch of different photos for that specific aspect of the setting. I had the opportunity to visit Ireland when I was younger, so I included the giant stone columns of the Giant’s Causeway since they were so imposing and harsh yet beautiful in a way.
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
Of course! There’s the main character is Adaris, who is a disgraced wandering scribe trying to get her reputation back. Rhonwen is a prisoner-painter in Slagrock, who has quite the snarky attitude but is fiercely loyal to her companion animal named Spectrum. A couple of other important characters in the book include Kye, a stoic Slagrock guard who may be more than he seems; Berhn, a sun goddess worshipper youth who wants to change the narrative of his wrathful deity; and Sroc, a sun goddess worshipper teen who becomes an ancient crafting mentor figure for Adaris.
As for who I identify with most…Adaris! She’s a scribe and she’s bisexual, like I am, and while I doubt I’d make the same decisions she does throughout her story, my curiosity has also gotten me into trouble at times. I also relate to Rhonwen, but only in the loyal-to-her-companion-animal sense, as I’m super attached to my two black cats and would do anything for them…much like Rhonwen would for Spectrum!
The book features a sapphic romance (yay!). What are your favourite tropes to read and do any make an appearance in this love story?
Yay! I have so many favorite tropes that I love to read. Here’s a short list of my top tropes: the one with all the weapons, the chosen one, quest stories, ancient artefacts, space travel, dystopian futures, fantastical creatures, the cinnamon roll who snaps. I have some romance-specific ones as well, like friends to lovers, only one bed, enemies to lovers, hurt-comfort scenes, and who-did-this-to-you scenes.
As for the love story in Ink Stains & Ill-Fated Lies, yes! A lot of them make an appearance. From the romance angle specifically, the main trope I explore quite a lot is the enemies to lovers, though for the characters it’s more like disasters to lovers. It was fun to delve into the push-and-pull aspect between Adaris and Rhonwen—there’s a heated past between them and Rhonwen isn’t letting Adaris off the hook very easily.
What initially drew you to the fantasy genre and what do you love most about writing romance in this setting?
I’ve been interested in the fantasy genre ever since I was a little kid enamored with Lord of the Rings, The Secrets of Droon, and Animorphs. I loved diving into a totally new world, or a world adjacent to our own, and finding magic within—whether it was via spells, mythological creatures, or innate magical abilities. Adding a romantic flair—bone-crushing hugs as the world falls apart, heated kisses that spark more than magic within, falling deeper in love atop a flying slyther—all with the magical essence and history woven into it…writing romance in a fantasy setting is just so much fun! I love how especially in Adaris’s story Ink Stains & Ill-Fated Lies, the crafting (or innate magic) is one of the reasons why Adaris falls so hard for Rhonwen. Adaris is a Blood crafter, able to kill with merely a touch, and her people are known and feared for that. Yet Rhonwen isn’t afraid to touch her, even when so many people are.
Ink Stains is the third book in the Broken Chronicles — can you tell us what else we can expect from this series? Is there still more to come?
So many things! Like I mentioned earlier, it’s an intertwined standalone series for the first four books—so each book has its own main characters and stories—then the fifth book brings them all together. So your expectations really depend on what you’d like to read about. Interested in a shy MC who comes into her own, super cute companion animals, sibling betrayals, a much too bold love interest whose reckless behavior gets the MC in trouble? Try Sunkissed Feathers & Severed Ties. Wanting more of a quest adventure with a badass swordswoman MC, a solid sapphic marriage, best friends who try to kill one another, and broken magic? Curling Vines & Crimson Trades would be more your flair. Feeling more like doing a deep dive into “the evil side,” gaining knowledge of the sun goddess worshippers with an MC whose curiosity might doom them all? Pick up Ink Stains & Ill-Fated Lies! As for what’s to come, there are two more books still in the Broken Chronicles. Right now, I’m working on Zayla’s story—a wild nature magic story and the fourth main character overall—and then the fifth book will have all four POVs and bring the overarching storyline to a close. (Wish me luck writing that one.)
Good luck! Did you find any challenges while writing these books? How did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me is pacing and pairing down descriptions. My awesome critique group helps me with this constantly! They’re the best way to overcome these challenges, helping to brainstorm ways to tighten the pacing and gently redlining the areas that were too much. They make my writing so much stronger and I can’t thank them enough.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! More sapphics? More fantasy? Anything that might surprise your readers?
My current project is Zayla’s story, book four of the Broken Chronicles, a wild nature magic story featuring a MC who is actually afraid to use her crafting and doesn’t know her true strength. It’s 100% sapphic and fantasy. While I can’t work on two full-length books at once, I am working on a short story that might surprise my readers—a cozy fantasy meet-cute between a hellhound groomer and a magical mushroom gardener. It’s a surprise because I write high action, high adventure, quest stories…so a soft cozy fantasy is outside my usual style. And I’m excited about that! It’s always good to challenge yourself when writing.
Have any shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
So many! I grab inspiration from a wide variety of media, books, movies, games, shows, even music! Star Trek and Firefly really inspired my sci-fi work, for example. I wrote my three fantasy books while watching Critical Role, which was super inspirational. I’ve also been a huge Legend of Zelda nerd my whole life and the idea of exploring a new realm through one character’s POV really influenced me, and keeps inspiring me with every new game that comes out.
You also write fanfiction. How has this impacted you as an author, and do you have a preference between writing original characters/worlds vs. fanfic? Are there any fandoms that influenced your writing career the most?
I give all the credit for starting my writing career to fanfiction. Playing in already-created worlds is where I began this whole journey and how I honed my writing skills. Plus the feedback helped me, too! I wrote Digimon and Pokemon fanfiction since I was a little kid and that’s what drew my attention most back then, but I did end up branching out to a How To Train Your Dragon and Frozen crossover fic, Teen Titans, and Firefly. I still write fanfic every now and then, but I much prefer original characters/worlds; I like the creation aspect of fully owning a whole world and coming up with all the rules and cultures and such. It’s a lot more fun for me!
If you could give any advice to authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
Marketing seems overwhelming at first but really it’s just talking to people about your work so have fun with it!
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!
Critical Role, 100%. While not exclusively sapphic, the second and third campaigns have some amazing sapphic romances between the main cast characters. If you haven’t read Rebecca Thorne’s highly sapphic, pun-filled cozy fantasy Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea, I’d also highly recommend it.
Kellie Doherty is a queer science fiction and fantasy author. Her short stories and poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines such as 49 Writers Alaska Shorts, Image OutWrite, Life (as it) Happens, and more. Her novels, all from Desert Palm Press, feature disaster queer characters, found families, sapphic romance, lots of adventure, and much more. She currently lives in Alaska and enjoys a nice winter evening curled up with her two cats, a good book, and a cup of hot chocolate. Visit her website for more information: kelliedoherty.com. You can also visit her linktree.