I have something a little bit different for you all today! Many many years ago, when I was but a wee 14-year-old, I began to frequent the Complaints Forum on deviantART. I met a lot of really interesting people there and made a lot of friends, including the lovely and talented RoAnna Sylver. So I’ve followed RoAnna’s work for several years now, and it thrills me to no end to be able to say that she has recently published an amazing book called Chameleon Moon.
Here’s the synopsis:
The city of Parole is burning. Like Venice slips into the sea, Parole crumbles into fire. And trapped inside is an entire population of people with bizarre, beautiful and terrifying abilities – people who really should not have them. When Regan, an anxiety-ridden hitman with the peeling skin of a lizard meets Evelyn, singer, revolutionary, and unofficial superhero, it’s up to them to get to the heart of the mystery of Parole and its quarantined inhabitants. Along with a diverse group of superpowered friends, they will evade a deadly totalitarian police force, discover the truth about their entwining pasts, and together find the strength to survive a cataclysmic disaster.
Chameleon Moon is the first in three books planned for the series. Book 1 sets up the explosive, sweeping story of Parole and the strange, wonderful people who call it home.
Sounds pretty fantastic, right? The good news is that this book is actually, somehow, even better than the synopsis makes it sound. The better news is that you can pick up this book, right now, today, this minute on Amazon. You could buy this book now and be reading it 30 seconds later! But I’ll ask you to refrain for just a couple of minutes, because here’s the best news yet: I was given the opportunity to ask RoAnna Sylver a few questions about Chameleon Moon and to share them here with you! So without further ado, here is our interview (I am J, she is R):
J: I know this is never an easy question to answer, but where do you draw your inspiration from? What inspired you to tell this story?
R: I kind of get inspiration from everything – I’ll hear songs that make me think of interesting story ideas or character dynamics, or overhear weird, random conversations. So that part is accidental. The on-purpose part is when I take tropes (fiction concepts or conventions) that I like, or that annoy me, and twist them until they’re something I would like to read. Oh, your action hero is a conventionally attractive, cool, unflappable badass who “gets the girl” (as if she’s a thing to “get” – don’t even get me started)? Let’s make mine a nervous, uncoordinated, queer lizard dude with an anxiety disorder and poor decision-making skills, fighting through overpowering fear and doubt with the help of a circle of equally important friends. Cool.
A lot more does come to me out of nowhere, though. Hans’ entire concept (and name) came from a time when I had a really high fever, and I was hallucinating this guy talking to me from the ceiling, and my parents were talking about someone named Hans, and I kept asking them “who is Hans? Who’s Hans?” thinking there was some kind of conspiracy and everybody knew but me. It turned out Hans was this gold-miner prospector type guy from a game they were playing, and I was tripping fever balls. After I stopped, I still loved the idea of a giggling, puppet-master type guy who was a ghost who only existed in your head, so I kept him around.
J: Your characters go through some really interesting and unique tribulations through the course of the book; how much, if anything, of that did you take from your own life? What facets of Evelyn and Regan come from yourself?
R: So much. Nearly everything in Chameleon Moon is based on personal experience, at least in metaphor form. Parole itself, the quarantined city crumbling into a lake of fire, is a physical representation of how living with anxiety, depression and chronic illness and pain feels. Feeling cut off, feeling so fragile, as if at any moment you might fall – and still fighting to survive in it. And having the “powers” that help you do that. Parole is kind of a reflection of how so many people live: struggling but surviving, with something beautiful inside.
Regan is scared 100% of the time and so am I, but we’re still doing our best. Evelyn wants nothing more than to help others and lift them up and be a beacon of hope with her voice and save the world with love and rock n’roll. She’s been through hell and doesn’t want anybody else to have to go through it. Me too.
J: Of your characters, whose voice came to you the most easily? Who was the hardest to write?
R: Radio Angel is the easiest, definitely. She just pretty much says what I want to say to all of my readers, giving them hope and love. When she talks to everybody in Parole, it’s me talking directly to you.
They all have their individual challenges and fun parts, but the most challenging for me are probably Liam and Zilch. Liam because he’s about as far from me personally as you can get and it’s tough to see from his perspective sometimes and stay true to him, keeping his rigidity and negative qualities intact while making him also sympathetic. It’s an interesting challenge walking the line between “insufferable, selfish douchewad” and “guy trying his best to do what he thinks is the right thing, full of insecurity and vulnerability.”
Zilch is hard just because he puts up so many walls and buries his feelings from everyone he interacts with (including me, sometimes!) The only time he’s really open is around Finn, so I like to write them together as much as possible.
J: It’s obvious that inclusion and representation of minorities and vulnerable people is important to you, and that’s great. What made you choose to make Chameleon Moon so inclusive?
R: The fact anybody would ask me that question is why. (That’s not a shot at you! It’s a shot at the fact that the vast majority of books aren’t inclusive in the slightest.) The very fact that Chameleon Moon is unique in this sense is why I did it. It shouldn’t be unique. The fact that writing diverse casts of people with different genders, races, sexualities, physical and mental abilities is so rare is one reason why I thought this book was necessary.
We desperately need representation, all of the above and more. These people exist – I exist. It is so, so incredibly important that we see ourselves in fiction, because we exist in life, and have stories that need telling.
J: Your author bio mentions that you studied psychology in school, and several of your characters experience mental illness and similar difficulties. What’s something you learned from that education that you incorporated into Chameleon Moon?
R: Mostly empathy and how important it is to write mentally ill and disabled characters with compassion. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying psychology and its history, it’s the lack of empathy and understanding so many people have toward people with mental or emotional challenges. Society in general can be extremely ableist and dangerous for non-neurotypical people, and the psychological/medical community perhaps even more so, because of the power doctors and medical institutions wield.
Simple (and yet widely unknown/ignored) things like how stereotypes often displayed in fiction like “the violent mental patient” are so damaging, because mentally ill people are so, so much more likely to be victims of abuse than perpetrate it.
This isn’t to say that my education was bad – not at all, particularly as I moved into college, where the learning was much more geared toward the therapeutic and positive, toward improving lives. It just made me aware of the sometimes horrifying history of how mental and emotional disorders have been perceived and “treated” – and what to watch out for, both in writing and real life.
J: Can you recommend some books/movies/shows for people who enjoyed Chameleon Moon and would like to read more works in that vein?
R: If you read closely, you’ll pick up on a ton of geek references in Chameleon Moon, to stuff like The Wizard of Oz, the musical RENT, Fall Out Boy, and the 90’s cartoon Gargoyles (pretty much my favorite thing ever). I’d recommend any of them! (Protip: Hans is greatly inspired by Gerard Way mixed with Puck from Gargoyles. And if you like Evelyn, I’m increasingly seeing her as Laverne Cox in Orange Is The New Black – with P!nk and Nicki Minaj’s fashion sense.)
But to tell you the truth, I haven’t ever read a book like mine. (That’s one reason why I wrote it!) But if you like books that are deconstructions of dystopia and superhero stories, I’ve really been enjoying the “Gone” series by Michael Grant (co-author of Animorphs, the book series greatly responsible for my horrific thirst for character pain). It’s a kind of Lord of the Flies meets X-Men story of a small town in which everyone over the age of 15 vanishes, and the place is cut off from the rest of the world in a giant bubble while the surviving kids develop dangerous superpowers. (Sound familiar? I was laughing really hard when I discovered it last year!) It’s dark and twisted and I love it so far – not done, no spoilers!
It’s not a work of fiction, but one thing that inspired a great deal of Chameleon Moon is music. Music has been so, so important to my life, and informed my writing a great deal. The two most influential have been Queen and My Chemical Romance – both are bombastic, dramatic rock with incredible showmanship, and an overall message of perseverance and survival against adversity, and a world that might hate you and actively try to pull you down. “Keep Yourself Alive.” “The Show Must Go On.” “I Am Not Afraid To Keep On Living.” These are the messages I want people to get out of Chameleon Moon. They’re the most important ones I’ve ever heard. No Day But Today.
J:Do you have any advice for other authors?
So as you can see, RoAnna Sylver is just a delightful human being, and I assure you that she is just as talented as she is lovely. I strongly encourage you to check out Chameleon Moon, because it fills a huge gap in our modern literature – badass, well-written, fully inclusive science fiction. What more can you ask for?
Buy Chameleon Moon on Amazon HERE
Rate and review it on Goodreads HERE