Interview with Lauren Jankowski, Author of The Shapeshifter Chronicles

Last week I had the great pleasure of hosting Lauren’s cover reveal for her latest book, The Dwelling of Ekhidna, and you know what, I wanted to hear more about it! So today, we’re moving from covers to character and book, and having a quick interview with Lauren!

TheDwellingofEkhidna.EbookSo, shapeshifters! You must love that, to have an entire series with them! What’s your favourite part of the concept?

I really like the idea of people with extraordinary powers existing alongside us and I’m fascinated by the idea of a hidden culture within our own. And there are different factions of shape shifters. I have a real affection for protectors because they have a genuine love for mankind (for all its flaws), enough that they regularly give their lives protecting humans, most of whom have no idea they exist.

As a writer, there’s something incredibly appealing about creating this complex hidden world that exists within what we all think of as the normal world.
When did you first fell in love with shapeshifters?

My love of shape shifters goes back to when I was a child. When asked what my favorite animal was, I’d always respond “All of them.” If asked what animal I’d like to be, the answer was always, “All of them.” I have always loved animals and when I first started creating characters in my mind, I swear, they could just turn into animals. It made sense in my imagination.

I spent the better part of my childhood and teenage years trying to be invisible, so there was something that really drew me to shape shifters who could turn into animals at will. There were many times when I was sitting in a class or enduring a holiday when I would just daydream about turning into a wolf or a tiger. Just something wild and free and beautiful.
The Dwelling of Ekhidna is the fifth of a series. How easy is it to jump straight into the story from there?
Well, you could if you really wanted, but there is a lot of background information that might be hard to get a grasp on. Plus a major plot twist from books 2 and 3 is spoiled on the first page of Dwelling of Ekhidna.
In that case, will the others also be released by Snowy Wings Publishing? Or should we grab them now?
Yes! The rest of the series will be edited and re-released through Snowy Wings. Hopefully in the late summer, knock on wood 🙂
What’s your favourite part of writing a series? What do you find the hardest?

I love getting lost in the world in my head, especially in the current political climate. Despite my best efforts, I’ve grown extremely attached to my characters. I adore them (oh my god, the experiments especially). I find writing to be incredibly cathartic at times and also rejuvenating. This series has been with me through some incredibly dark and trying times in my life. I love following the journey these characters are on. Also, a bunch of strong badass women kicking ass and saving the world? What’s not to love about that?

The hardest part of writing the series is remembering that the reader doesn’t have all the information that I do. I can sometimes be a little too vague. Also, the different groups of shape shifters are sometimes difficult to keep track of. It’s really hard giving them all a very distinct feel because they are separate groups with separate motivations (not to mention different histories).

The experiments are probably the most difficult part of writing the series. For as much as I love them, they are without a doubt, the most challenging characters to write.  They don’t experience emotions like we do, they have been stripped of them (against their will for the most part) and turned into living weapons. One of the more fascinating things I have learned about writing them is how much our memories are connected to emotions. I still worry about if they’re sympathetic enough (because readers should sympathize with them, if I’ve done my job right).

Blitz's symbol
(this is Blitz’s symbol and it is pretty cool)

I wanted to talk more about Blitz. Let’s start with something simple and large: every time I look at your cover, I see a badass. What else can you tell us about her?

Ah, Blitz, I love this character so much. She’s an experiment, a 7-series and she’s wonderful and unique.

Blitz is a survivor, someone who has been to hell and back. She’s a fighter and in the series, she’s fighting against an adversary who is so much more powerful than her in every way. And she does get knocked down on occasion, but Blitz always gets right back up and continues fighting. I love writing this character because she’s always kind of . . . she doesn’t quite know where she fits in the world. Blitz doesn’t neatly fit into any one category. She lives and fights alongside protectors, but she’s definitely not a protector. In this book, she’s still kind of figuring out who she is and what attachments (if any) she feels for the shape shifters she lives with. The world puzzles her and, unlike most of the other experiments, she has no interest in attempting to blend into it.

Something I really love about the fifth book is Blitz’s interactions with Eris, the trickster. Because here you have two outsiders who are incredibly different from each other. Blitz is very stoic, unflappable, emotionless, and indifferent. Eris gives 0 fucks about anything, but she is a very emotional character (she knows how to use her emotions too). At one point, Eris says to Blitz, “Embrace your anger, whatever embers remain. Anger is a powerful tool and motivator, one that should never be disregarded.”

And I think there’s a lot of truth in that. Thus far, Blitz has been very emotionless in her approach to the main conflict and while it’s a decent strategy, it also makes her somewhat predictable (especially to the ones who experimented on her). In order to win the war against Grenich, Blitz needs to learn to be a bit more unpredictable.
[Claudie’s Note: I love this. Too often, anger is a flaw in fiction–something to stifle even when it’s justified. I’m glad you have it the other way around!]

Blitz is both aromantic and asexual, like you! Does she experience these identities in a similar way you do? And if not, what’s different?

I had to think about this for a while because Blitz is probably the most unusual aro-ace ever. My other main character, Alex, is solidly aromantic asexual and her experience as an aro-ace lines up more with my own experience (she’s firmly aro-ace and has never identified in any other way). Blitz is a whole lot more fluid and often drifts between aro and Gray-A. So that’s quite different from my own experience.

Asexuality is almost unheard of among shape shifters. It’s even rarer than it is among humans and shape shifters who identify as ace are often given the side-eye and this is doubly true of aro-aces. So that’s another thing that makes Blitz an outsider. Every experiment falls on the ace spectrum in some way, but the Grenich Corporation (the place that experiments on shape shifters) stripped that word and identity from them. So Blitz didn’t even have the terms for her own identity and it was only when Alex brought it up that she kind of had a moment of, “Oh, okay, that seems to describe me.” Blitz also doesn’t understand the idea of taking pride in one’s identity. While Alex is proud of her identity and comfortable being open with being aro-ace, Blitz is more reserved and has no idea what it means to be proud of her identity.

It will be interesting to explore how the experiments evolve more now that they have learned these terms again. Because I know, for me personally, learning the term aro-ace was liberating. So it’s only the natural the same would be true for my characters.

And we’re going to end on that great note! Gotta say, I love the idea of the experiments reclaiming a label that was stripped for them, and the different ways this can go.
Lauren is not only the awesome author behind The Shapeshifter Chronicles, but also the tireless activist behind Asexual Artists, which interviews asexual creators and artists from pretty much any craft and art. Go check it out! You can also follow her on twitter, or check out her website!

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