V. S. Holmes - Heroes Who Are Just as Broken as The World They're Trying to Save
V. S. Holmes is an international bestselling author. They created the REFORGED series and the NEL BENTLY BOOKS. Smoke and Rain, the first book in their fantasy quartet, won New Apple Literary's Excellence in Independent Publishing Award in 2015 and a Literary Titan Gold Award in 2020.When not writing, they work as a contract archaeologist throughout the northeastern U.S. They live in a Tiny House with their spouse, a fellow archaeologist, their not-so-tiny dog, and own too many books for such a small abode. As a disabled and queer human, they work as an advocate and educator for representation in SFF worlds. As our Author of the Day, Holmes tells us all about their book, Blood and Mercy.
Please give us a short introduction to what Blood and Mercy is about.
Blood and Mercy is the second in the Restored duology in the Blood of Titans world. It takes place in the political and personal aftermath of a war between the gods and their creators. Rih, a Deaf former soldier, plots rebellion while married to a queer, teenaged god. While Rih juggles revolution with life in a foreign country, Keplan struggles with addiction, visions, and murder. He hopes the world ends, she prays it doesn’t.
What inspired you to write this book? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
Writing imperfect characters is really important to me. Stepping into Keplan’s story I knew I wanted to explore his mercurial sanity and frustration with who he wanted to be and who he was forced to become. With Rih, that same dance is much more outward and her real struggle is finding faith in the people around her. On a more macro-level, I wanted to take the titanic heroes from the previous duology (Smoke and Rain and Lightning and Flames) and show how heroes--and our perceptions of them--change, especially as politics and war become more industrial.
Tell us more about Keplan. What makes him tick?
Keplan’s a complex, temperamental fellow. Just into adulthood, he leaves his seemingly simple life and parents seeking answers to the violent visions plaguing him. He discovers the immense burden of his parents’ legacy--one they hoped he’d never know about--and his own desire to live a simple life with his boyfriend, a bartender in the city slums. While not what we’d call a good person, he spends much of Blood and Mercy trying to atone for his terrible actions while justifying the monstrous reasoning behind them.
What drives Rih?
Rih is as collected and self-assured as Keplan is unpredictable. She was raised in a militaristic empire and approaches most of her problems with intention and pragmatism. When she’s delivered as the bride in a political marriage she faces isolation in a kingdom where she cannot lip-read and where her sign language is unknown. She wrestles with all that she loves about her vicious homeland and her plot to save her sisters-in-arms from becoming chattel in their emperor’s war.
In which way is your series different from regular, run-of-the-mill fantasy?
None of us are perfect, and I wanted to showcase that with these characters, and really touch on how their identities--queer, mentally ill, disabled--aren’t their biggest struggle. The backdrop is a twist on our favorite fantasy worlds with magic, gods, and non-human races, but the focus is on the gray morality of these heroes who are just as broken as the world they’re trying to save. Having characters whose arcs go beyond their gender, sexuality, or disability is incredibly important in good representation.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I always have a project! I garden and do small-scale construction. I also collect and mount natural curiosities. My current project is developing our property where we plan to park our tiny house.
Which of your characters has been the most challenging to write for?
Of course, they all present their own unique challenges, but Keplan, in a lot of ways, was hard to get a handle on. Part of the joy of writing is solving all these problems while keeping true to each character’s personality. He was so determined to wallow in his misery that extricating him from that wasn’t always easy. I share his stubborn refusal of help and barrel on until I’m too exhausted, and it’s always interesting to dissect our own traits through our characters!
Have changes in your own life affected any of your characters?
The growing acceptance for marginalized characters, particularly in books that aren’t directly exploring that experience, has helped tremendously. As I’ve grown more comfortable and open about my identity it’s been easier to share these stories and where they come from. When I first developed the Blood of Titans world I didn’t think I could explore those identities at all, since so few titles, particularly in SFF, did so. Now every project has more queer and disabled characters than the last!
Is there an underlying message you wish to relay about basic human nature through your characters?
The theme I’d say I explore most is how we carve kindness out of our own darkness, not by overcoming it, but by accepting it.
Tell us more about the cover and how it came about.
The Reforged and Restored cover art was created by Ben R. Donahue, a digital SFF artist. We met at Granite State Comic Con in 2013 and I was really drawn to the atmosphere in his work. I’m big on uniformity, and Ben was really able to capture the unique tone of each of the books while maintaining a clear theme. The next few covers for Blood of Titans will be by Aaron Buldoc, who I also met at a con (I’ll be sharing the cover for the next Blood of Titans book on my site soon!)
Can Blood and Mercy be read as a standalone? How does it tie in with the rest of the series?
It’s the second in a duology, so Madness and Gods ought to be read prior. While you don’t need to read the other series to appreciate this one, it helps with the backstory. Keplan and Rih’s stories take place twenty years after the events of the first two books. I plan to return to this world with several more series, but this particular arc is concluded with Blood and Mercy.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I’m a morning writer, most of the time. I get up early and once I fire off whatever emails need attention, I get down to business. When I’m out in the field (my day job is as an archaeologist) I’ll write for half an hour in the morning then return after dinner when we’re back to our hotel. I don’t often set word-count goals, and instead, focus on getting scenes done. That said, when drafting I usually try and get a few thousand words in. Then I’ll spend the afternoon working on stuff around the house. I’m a bit more of a plotter than a pantser, but the outlines are subject to change!
What are you working on right now?
Since I write both sci-fi and fantasy, I usually have one project in each genre going at any given time. Right now, I’m outlining the aforementioned next Blood of Titans title, Dagger’s Dance, which is a flintlock fantasy with a side of and dinosaurs. My main focus is Heretics, Starsedge: Nel Bently Book 4. It follows my hot-tempered and foul-mouthed doctor of archaeology, Nel, and her space-girlfriend, Lin, as they search Earth for the victims of a deadly radio transmission. Without answers, Nel’s own mother--and the few communities clinging to life--will be next.
I’ve also been teasing my fans with hints of another semi-secret project that’s all death, sex, and magic and is vastly different from anything I’ve done before.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website, www.vsholmes.com, is the best place to start. You can find my latest podcast episode, details about both of my series, and grab a free sci-fi or fantasy short to see if you like my work! From there you can find links to become an Explorer and get free books, exclusive updates, and more. As far as social media goes, I can be found most often on Twitter and Instagram (@VS_Holmes). I’m also on Facebook, Bookbub, and Goodreads.