Pride Month Author Interview: Kaia Sonderby!

I had the opportunity to interview yet another wonderful author this month, and she happens to be one of my favorite people ever! I consider Kaia a good friend and I’m so glad I got to talk to her about my favorite series ever! Yes, I said EVER. I have never recommended a book more than I have Failure to Communicate.

First, here’s a synopsis of Failure to Communicate: 

 

Xandri Corelel is one of the last existing autistics in the universe, but she’s worked hard to become the leader of the Xeno-Liasons on the Carpathia, a first contact space ship that works to form alliances with aliens of all different kinds. Now, she finds herself having to negotiate with the Anmerilli, a group of people known for their xenophobia and stubborness, in order to keep the powerful weapon they’ve created from falling into the wrong hands and becoming a major threat to the well-being of the entire universe. No pressure at all!

Xandri is also bisexual. Though the romance isn’t super strong in book one, she clearly has feelings for two of her friends-Diver (m) and Kiri (f) and there are very strong hints at a polyamorous relationship in the works. I’ve already read book twovand can confirm that the romance becomes a larger focus and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!

I love this book because it has a bisexual and autistic main character-like me!-and she is probably more like me than any other character I’ve ever read. Plus we’ve got cannon polyamory instead of just a love triangle, space politics, alien species of all different shapes and sizes and intellectual capacities and of course plenty of action and drama and character growth! The second book, Tone of Voice, is available now, as is the prequel novella Testing Pandora. Book 3 is set to come out within a year!

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Now, onto the interview!

 

 

1) Failure to Communicate has great Own Voices autistic and bisexual rep! What would you say good representation means to you?

This is kind of hard–good representation of, for example, autistic people is hard to find. That’s one of the many reasons I set out to write Failure to Communicate in the first place. I’ve read so many bad representations, and they always hurt. I think one of the few good bits of representation out there was Temperance Brennan from the tv show Bones, but she’s never actually referred to as autistic. So even though she’s fantastic rep, and made me feel so seen, non-autistic people wouldn’t have to acknowledge her as autistic at all.

For me, I feel like good rep, truly good rep, needs to be accurate but also explicit. And when it is, it’s such an amazing feeling. I’ve been lucky enough to see some good bisexual representation in more mainstream stuff–for example, The Librarians, one of my favorite characters is bisexual, and they show this by her being interested both in a man and a woman at various points in the series. There’s nothing about threesomes or promiscuity or greediness or “a phase” or anything like that. And there was no denying it.
That is to me the most important part. Seeing an accurate portrayal that can’t be denied or walked back. When I see that, it makes my world a better place. When I’m writing, I want to provoke that same feeling for readers. I honestly think good representation is necessary for healthiness and happiness.
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2) What do you have in common with Xandri and what makes her different from you? Which of your characters would you say you’re most like?

 Oh man…well, I mean, obviously Xandri is going to be the character most like me, since she’s the autistic one! But we have a lot of differences even so. I don’t think starship specs would ever be my type of special interest, for one. And she might need a coffee intervention, but I’m not much of a coffee drinker. I only drink as much as I do now because my husband introduced me to mocha lattes, damn him.
With Xandri, I took many things–including what I knew of fellow autistics–and wove them together. We both like books and birds, but she’s had intensive therapy and I haven’t. We’re both touch adverse and struggle in crowds, but I’m better at maintaining eye contact. We both love deeply and don’t trust easily.
Actually, one of the funnier things we have in common is hair texture. When I first wrote FtC, I had really short hair, and had for years. Then I started growing it out, only to be reminded how straight, flat, and slippery it is! I’d never intended for that to be a thing at all, I very much wanted her physical traits to be different from mine, but I guess we don’t always get what we want.
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3) Do you remember the first book you ever read with an autistic character? Do you remember how you felt about the rep?

I was an adult before I encountered an autistic person in a book. To be honest, if I knew about it, I would usually avoid it–the authors were never autistic themselves. One of them got by me, though, because there was no mention of it in the blurb or anything.
It was…not good rep. Your typical white autistic boy. A teenager, but of course he acted much younger than his age, and had a bracelet declaring him autistic so other people would know, because non-autistic people see nothing wrong with invading our privacy. I hated it. That sort of rep reinforces dangerous stereotypes, and makes life harder for all autistics. In general, I prefer not to read books with autistic characters if the writer is allistic.
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4.    What about bisexual rep? Do you remember the first book you ever read with a bisexual character? Did you like it?

Honestly, the first book I read with confirmed bisexual characters, I think I was young enough the first time I read it that I didn’t fully realize I was bisexual myself. But I did know what it was. Among other things, my mom was out about her own bisexuality, so it wasn’t something I’d never encountered before, at least.
I remember just taking it at face value, as part of the characters I was reading about. It was there, and it did no harm, and no one had told me it was wrong, so I accepted it. (To be fair, I was isolated from other people a lot when I was younger and didn’t really talk to people much before oh, 14 or 15, so that’s why I hadn’t really encountered things like vitriolic homophobia at that point). I think I appreciate it far more now than I could have then, since I am bisexual and good bi rep is hard to find.
Now whenever I encounter it in media, and it’s good rep, it’s so thrilling.
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5)   If you could spend a day in the Failure to Communicate universe where would you go/what would you do? What planet(s) would you visit, what animals would you wanna see, etc?

A day?! A day would never be enough! I’d want to ride a caroua on Cochinga, and swim with the Hands and Voices, and see great reachers on the Ongkoarrat homeworld. Visit the space stations, see the starships with my own eyes. So many, many things. And that’s only the stuff I can tell you about. There are other things, but those would contain spoilers.
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6.   What’s your favorite part about writing scifi? Are there any scifi books, movies, games or shows that helped build your love of scifi?

I enjoy writing speculative fiction of all sorts, but one of the things that I really love about sci fi is the sheer scope. I mean, sure, you can limit a sci fi story to a single block somewhere on Earth, and I think it could still be a great story. But for me, the fact that I can make something so large, that I can make multiple worlds instead of just one, that I can reach far beyond our tiny blue dot and into the vastness of space–that’s what draws me the most. In terms of stretching my wings as a writer, it’s been amazing.
I had never written it before the Xandri books, nor read or watched much, though I’ve been a Star Wars fan for years. I began to poke around, to familiarize myself with it more. I think one of the first and biggest influences for me was Tanya Huff’s Confederation of Valor series. A couple of other influences were Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler and The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord. The first couple seasons of the TV show Andromeda are fantastic, and also had an influence on how I do sci fi. And well, there’s Star Wars, of course. There’s more, but those are some of the very biggest.
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7)  You’ve said that the Xandri Corelel series will have 8 books. Can you give us any hint as to what kind of things we can expect to see in the next 6 books? I’m super curious; Will there be any other neurodivergent characters introduced? Will we get to read from any other POV’s aside from Xandri and Divers?

Obviously, there’s things I can’t tell you. But one thing about the series is that, although their is an overarching story arc that covers the full series (though you only see glimpses of it early on) there’s also two smaller arcs. Mini-arcs?
The first four books focus really strongly on Xandri’s growth: developing some confidence in herself, learning to trust her instincts, over-coming a lot of her self-doubt, accepting her autism. Things like that. As much as she’s gone through in the first two books, the next two are really going to put her and her friends under the hammer. But it’s important growth for her. Both in terms of where the story is going, but also, I really wanted to present people–especially other autistics–with an autistic character that becomes strong and learns to believe in herself. We need more of that, all of us. We need to see we can have faith in ourselves and our abilities.
I’m not going to talk much about the second arc, except to say it continues a lot of the themes that have already been in the series, and brings in some new ones. I’ll also start writing Kiri’s point of view in the second arc.
As to whether there are more neurodivergent characters coming…I guess you’ll just have to wait and see!
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8)  If you could sort your characters by Hogwarts houses and/or assign Zodiac signs, who would be what?

I admit, I don’t think I know the Zodiac well enough to give astrological signs, and anyway, our astrology is based on the stars around Earth, and none of my characters have even been there, so Zodiac signs don’t really apply to them. I guess I’ll do Hogwarts houses, but not the twisted versions you get of some of them *cough Slytherin cough* in the later books. Also, I’m going to keep it to a few key characters.
I think that Xandri (like me) would be a Hufflepuff. Sure, she’s got bravery, but her key characteristics to me are her fierce loyalty for friends and loved ones, and her willingness to work as hard as is needed to achieve her goals.
Diver, nerd that he is, is definitely a Ravenclaw. I think in the end Kiri would be one too, since it’s about the best fit. I don’t know, for some reason Rowling didn’t have any house founders who appreciated art and creativity, and I think those aspects are a more important part of Kiri than many would realize.
I’m sure some people would be surprised to know I’d consider Captain Chui a Slytherin, but I’m referring back to the first couple of books, where Slytherins had qualities like ambition, and the books made it clear that didn’t have to be a bad thing. Captain Chui has Plans. Big ones. She always has. It’s her ambition and drive that got her where she is in life, that made her dream of the Carpathia come true.
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9) What would you like to see more of in books in terms of queer and autistic rep?

In terms of autistic rep, I of course want far more own voices work, and much less from allistics. But I also want a much wider scope of autistic characters that challenge so many of the stereotypes. I want outgoing autistics, autistics with amazing senses of humor and a knack for sarcasm, ones who are graceful, coordinated, eloquent even. I want to see more who have developed tact (instead of making running jokes about how they say whatever is in their heads), more who mask and more who don’t, more who are emotional about every little thing.
I especially want to see more representations that deal with the sensory overload issues, instead of making autism all about social things. And most of all, I want more explicit representation. I want to know right from the get-go that a character is autistic, and I want it clearly stated in the text or dialogue or whatever the medium in question is using.
With queer rep, I’d like a lot more casual queer rep. What I mean is, yeah, there’s a place for LGBTQ+ books, but I still want queer characters in books that aren’t, say, published by an LGBTQ+ publisher, or focusing solely around queer characters. There should always be queer characters in media even if queerness isn’t the focus.
Also, I’m happy for YA that they’re beginning to get more queer characters (as well as other types of diversity) but adult fiction needs more too!

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What are you currently working on? Multiple projects? Can you tell us anything about them-genre, age group, etc?

I have a number of projects in a number of states. Most of them are just ideas in a notebook. But I’m editing the third Xandri Corelel book, Facial Expression, and I’ll be serializing an f/f/f sci fi story called Once Upon a Distant Star, on Wattpad (I hope to start posting some of it soon). I’m also in the middle of writing some erotica, and will be looking to finish that soon as well.
Honestly, I have so many things I want to write, I wish there was three of me. Though I’m pretty sure the world’s not ready for that.
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Thank you all so much for reading, and thank you Kaia for taking the time to answer these questions! Till next time<3

-Becca von Zweck

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