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Indie Author Spring Festival: An Interview with R.P. Dunwater

We're eleven days into the Indie Author Spring Festival and we've already had lots of amazing discounted/free books to go at. Today, writing duo R.P. Dunwater have another for us! Their dark fantasy, The Blight of Blackridge, is just 99p/99c for three days — and guess what? It's sapphic! Sit back and read their interview all about how their co-writing process came to be and what inspired their debut novel.


What made you decide to self-publish rather than follow more traditional routes?

We honestly wanted to avoid querying. This was our first time attempting to publish a story and it was an important one to us. We heard horror stories of being rejected again and again before finding the right agent, and we weren’t prepared for that kind of heartbreak. And after spending two years working on it, we didn’t want to wait any longer to get it out there.

R.P. Dunwater is your pen name as co-authors. How did this shared process begin? Were you already friends and what made you decide to join forces?

We’ve been best friends since high school, and we’ve been writing together since the beginning. It started with fan fiction. When I (Steph) started working on The Blight of Blackridge, Kim was right there on hours-long phone calls helping me work out all of the kinks and get the plot just right. By the end, so much of her was in this story that it didn’t feel right to only call it my own. So, we joined forces and created R.P. Dunwater—using a mashup of our D&D character names— because we really enjoy working together and would like to do so on more projects.

Are there any benefits and/or challenges that come with working together? How do you ensure you remain on the same page as the story progresses?

One huge benefit is two creative minds with different ideas. When we’re stuck on something, we talk it out and one of us usually has a good idea on how to move forward. Steph is really good at creating something from nothing. Kim is good at taking that thing and stretching and twisting it until it becomes something so much more elaborate. On the other hand, sometimes our ideas are so different that we can butt heads, and that’s when we turn to our characters and ask what’s best for them. We like to remain as faithful as we can to the story we’re trying to tell.

Do you write separate works also, and if so, do you focus on different genres or stick to YA fantasy?

Other than fan fiction, we haven’t written anything else with the intention to publish. We have bits and pieces of ideas to move forward with, but they’re all within the fantasy genre.

Your debut release, The Blight of Blackridge, is out now. Tell us about the book and what inspired you to write it.

Every author’s nightmare question. Haha The Blight of Blackridge is a grimdark fantasy novel that highlights the downside of religious fanaticism. It follows 19-year-old Eleanor who is ostracized by the village of Blackridge for her family’s refusal to convert into the fold of the Goddess Dienna. It features witchcraft, our version of angels and demons, and supernatural powers. It was heavily influenced by Steph’s experience growing up queer in the Christian church. Writing for a YA audience, it was important to us to never show discrimination against characters for their sexuality. We want our readers to know that there is nothing wrong with identifying as LGBTQ+. So, we used dueling religions to make the same point—how believing so blindly in something can unknowingly turn you into a villain.

Can you tell us more about the sapphic characters and plotline in the novel?

Our novel features a little bit of a sapphic love triangle. Our MC Eleanor, who will later come out as non-binary in the series, is completely thrown off after a declaration of love by her best friend, Birdie. Considering her low status in society, she's tempted to accept. It would mean a comfortable life with someone who she genuinely adores but might not love. That’s until she meets Mariela, an outspoken follower of Ebroth, who treats her with the respect she rightfully deserves and pushes her to be exactly who she is and not hide her power.

Could you give us a hint about what we can expect in Book 2 of the Book of Payne trilogy? How did you adapt the planning process to make room for a series rather than a standalone?

A lot of feedback that we got from readers is that everyone loves Mariela, and we’re glad. Because Book 2 (A Vision of Ruin) is entirely told from her perspective following that fateful night in Blackridge (IYKYK). It’s a story of tragic loss, coming together, and forging new paths. We will be showing more of the world this time than just one tiny village. Originally, Steph wanted to end things right where TBOB left off and leave people guessing, but Kim knew we couldn’t do that. So, we started throwing around ideas of what huge consequences Eleanor’s rash actions in the first book would spur. We thought it might just be a duology, but it turned out that there was a lot more story to tell. Eleanor sets the world on a path that’s hard to come back from.

Do you have any advice for other indie and/or debut authors? Any advice for co-authors working on their first project together?

Other authors are your friends. We all have different stories to tell and this is not a competition. The indie author community we’ve found has been absolutely essential and amazing and welcoming. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or feedback. For co-authors, don’t be afraid to tell each other that you don’t like something. You’re working on this together. If you dislike something, it might mean it isn’t working. So address it before things get too far. And if your co-author says they dislike something you wrote, don’t take it personally. Always put the story first and stay true to your characters.

Do you have a favourite movie, show, and/or book and has it influenced your own work at all? Bonus points if it’s queer!

We absolutely love Tim Burton and his gloomy, dismal vibe. The Blight of Blackridge isn’t a romance or cheesy coming-of-age. It’s gritty and it hits hard because that’s what we love in stories, realism—real consequences, real emotions. If it doesn’t hit you in the gut, we didn’t do our jobs well enough.

Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, or movies you’re enjoying at the moment? Any recommendations for our audience?

We both really enjoyed The Last of Us, the Shadow & Bone TV series. We also enjoyed the sapphic cozy fantasies Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea and A Pirate’s Life For Tea by Rebecca Thorne.

R.P. Dunwater is the pen name for co-authors Stephanie Withers and Kimberly Allen.

They met in high school, but we don’t need to talk about how long ago that was. What started as writing joint fan fiction projects evolved over the decade(s) into creating their own fantasy worlds with more realistic, and less overpowered, characters.

They both reside in New Jersey with their partners and fur children. They’re probably having a Lord of the Rings movie marathon (extended, always) or playing D&D right now.

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