Benjamin Kissell: “I have the standing rule that unless I, as the author, state in-text otherwise, assume ALL of my characters fall somewhere in the LGBTQIA+ rainbow.”


I’d like to welcome Benjamin Kissell to the BLOG. A native of Fredericksburg, VA, Benjamin is the author of the epic Queer Fantasy Novel, A Queen of Blood and Glitter; A Faery Tale of Grief, Drag, and Hope Told In Six Parts, along with its two follow-up novellas, Between the Forest and the Stars and As My World Falls Down. A fervent admirer of all things “Faerie, glitter, purple, and fabulous,” Benjamin has published short stories in several Fantasy/SciFi/Horror Anthologies alongside his A Queen of Blood and Glitter work. Benjamin lives with his husband in an apartment he says has been described as the “illegitimate love child of a Toys’R’Us (circa 1989).” That seems pretty cool to me. Like myself, Benjamin is an avid fan and collector of books, comic books and vintage toys. Among many topics, in this interview, Benjamin discusses his personal and literary experience with “otherness,” his love of the art of Drag and how it features in his work, and the importance of writing through a Queer lens.

My review of Benjamin Kissell’s A Queen of Blood and Glitter can be found in an earlier blog post.

Who or what do you credit as the inspiration for you to start composing stories, and when did you know it was time to move beyond writing for yourself toward the oft-intimidating world of publishing?

Anyone who has visited your Instagram page, and I encourage everyone to go, can see that you have a passion for Mythical Pageantry. When did you first realize your attraction to the realm of the magical and fantastical? Upon knowing your path was set towards becoming a writer, was the pull toward writing in the Fantasy Genre gradual or a “lightbulb moment?” Did it seem like a reasonable, perhaps inescapable conclusion considering your personal interest in the subject? 

Thank you. Camp and the fantastical go hand-in-glove; Mythical Pageantry is very much the everyman’s acceptable glam (not in a pejorative way at all). It’s the easiest form of heightened reality, camp, and unbelievability for folk to understand. It’s probably why the modern myth of superheroes is so universally accepted these days). Of course, what’s the next step sideways from the easy-to-accept? Why faerie drag, where you don’t necessarily have to bind, break, or tuck yourself to accomplish the full force of Mythical Pageantry!

Honestly, Fantasy is where my heart started. I remember reading The Last Unicorn at 6 years old and deciding that one day I would write something THAT PERFECT (or die trying). And the stories I kept writing for anthologies in my late 20s and early 30s were touching on my “brand” of humour but embracing the love of Fantasy that (apparently) never went away. I wrote the first Miss Nomer story in late 2011/early 2012 as a submission call for a queer fairy tale retelling anthology—Tam Lin, but set in a gay bar, replacing the murderous Queen of Faerie with a Faery drag queen.

The rest, as they say, is (messy and fun) history.

A Queen of Blood and Glitter and its follow-up books have a distinct queer flavour. Are queerness in characters and gay relationships underrepresented in the Fantasy Genre (which is odd to consider as Fantasy is where gender and form are often fluid, and societal norms and politics can be outside our reality and wholly self-created)? Do you feel a responsibility to your own queerness and the LGBTQ+ community to represent in your fiction? Or is it a desired and easy, natural thing for you to write from a queer perspective regardless of any socio-political pressures?

Absolutely. 100,000% they are [queer].

Soapbox moment: While there is a fair amount of diversity finally making its way through the gatekeepers, there is also a fair amount of treatment and portrayal of queer/LGBTQIA+ relationships, be they friendships or romance, written for the outside observer in a pseudo fetishism. Not as messy, authentic characters and situations, but as token inclusivity with a dry brush of performative action and tokenism or as hand-up trophies. See, we included a queer/LGBTQIA+ character—who I revealed is that way in an offhand remark, and they have no depth and don’t really play into the plot.

It’s both incredibly easy for me to include queer/LGBTQIA+ characters/storyline/aspects because that’s just my reality, and bone-breakingly difficult because while writing honestly—sometimes brutally honestly—I’ve found that many an audience isn’t as comfortable reading it (yet). The sheer messy nature of humanity is easier for many to accept with a heteronormative story. If they accept the messiness in a queer way, it’s a “lesson” or “morality tale'” when good guys can be just as messy as the bad, and the villain can have virtues just as much as a hero. It’s the choices the characters make that define them.

I have the standing rule that unless I, as the author, state in-text otherwise, I assume ALL of my characters fall somewhere in the LGBTQIA+ rainbow.

The concept of “otherness” features in your characters’ lives and their perceptions of themselves and those around them. Now, any queer person who has ever felt outside the “norms” of a heterocentric society has experienced what it feels like to be “othered,” including myself. In the A Queen of Blood and Glitter series, some in the Fae community are “othered” in myriad ways. For example, Blodeuwedd is Fae, queer, and a drag performer under the guise of Miss Nomer, all the while living in a city that is neither fully Fae nor human-centric. Going further, Blodeuwedd is actually Half-Fae. Hence, he experiences discrimination and is seen as “other” or “lesser” within the Fae community. As a queer person and an author, how has your personal relationship with “otherness” influenced your writing. Is story-telling a powerful venue to transform the pervasive narrative of fearing that which is different by showcasing the unfairness, even dangers, of not only seeing people as “the other” but also treating them as such?

Thank you for catching that! Yes, Blodeuwedd is, in many ways, my self-insert character for my rage, grief, and a myriad of messy feelings, including my own otherness within the communities I play in. For example: While I attend, vend, and am a part of the burgeoning Faerie Community, I don’t truly fit in visually. Yes, I wear wigs and pointed ears for events, but I don’t dress like an escapee from the woodlands circa 1534 or the bright, signature look of an Amy Brown painting. I wear blacks and purples and modern attire with an underlying drag aesthetic and gender fuckery.

As an adult moving forward, I’ve tried to use my writing voice to showcase “the other” and (hopefully) take the bite out of it, a little bit of the fear. Yes, there’s bitterness in me about that othering. Blodeuwedd and Phuc have a great scene at the end of “Part One: Playing For Keeps” about it, but if we can build up and past that, we can be more together.

A Queen of Blood and Glitter focuses on themes of loss, pain, betrayal, and the need for revenge, all aspects of a good thriller. Were you ever concerned you’d need to incorporate these components differently into your work than a traditional thriller or mystery novel might require, or do they work similarly regardless of the fantasy element? 

The first short story (that became Part One: Playing for Keeps) was where it all started, but it was purely a traditional faery tale: the hero has to rescue his one true love from the monster. When I was challenged to write a Detective Story—a noir-esque one—for an anthology in 2015, the elements that would come to define the world of Carterburg [in A Queen of Blood and Glitter], specifically the need for revenge, grief and loss, came into play.

It was a late night; I was eating Ramen and watching the 2005 Narnia film (director’s cut, natch) when the pieces of Blodeuwedd’s core definition just came to me like lightning out of the blue. I almost dropped the bowl as I picked up my laptop and hurriedly wrote it down.

For me, and this is just a personal thing, the elements of a good story work regardless of time and world; the all-too-human feelings that a storyteller uses should work in the world of yesterday, tomorrow, or even Faerie.

The art of Drag is currently under attack by the misinformed and blatantly homo/transphobic conservative mindset. In what ways has Drag impacted you and influenced how (and maybe why) you’ve written such fascinating characters like Fae Drag Sensation Miss Nomer into your work?

Drag and gender fuckery (pardon my French) have been a part of my life since I can remember. I didn’t visually identify with the male protagonists of shows or books; I veered toward the heightened, almost-unrealistic feminine (Jem and the Holograms, for example). Growing up, I had a lax view of clothing as a strictly boys or girls thing—I wore heels when I could, preferred shades of purple and unicorns, and had femme features and hair. No wonder I was bullied and beaten on by jerks growing up—they simply couldn’t handle me.

Okay, the baby 2002-2009 years of my 20s may also have seen me do comedy skits in drag. I thought I was EVERYTHING in those shake-and-go Party City wigs—you couldn’t tell me NUTHIN’! I was serving and living and loving it in my best SJP [Sarah Jessica Parker] blonde messes. It wasn’t until the 2010s, when I lived with and worked with and dated actual, successful drag queens, that I really saw baby me was boog. Hahaha. So, for me, I guess you could say that drag has long held appeal and mystery—the building of a new self, a new form, a completely new person (that ultimate freedom as queer/LGBTQIA+ when we get to build our new out selves!). It was second nature to start bringing that into what I was writing. Layers of character, nuance, and personality are just as built up as layers of make-up, costume, and wigs—they just felt right, a logical extension of where I was, storytelling-wise. The fact that, at the time, no one else was doing anything like that and Blodeuwedd the Miss Nomer could wear anything my dark little heart envisioned? BONUS. [The above image to the left is the author in drag as his creation Miss Nomer.]

Fantasy stories often contain created language to delineate fantastical characters’ culture and unique distinctness. Imaginative vocabulary helps position a fantasy story immediately into its magical world. Your writing uses language and vocabulary exceptionally well, creating a distinct flavour for your fantasy realm and its inhabitants. By the way, “hiccough” is my new favourite word. What process did you use when you needed to incorporate mythical vocabulary into your work? How do you think queer slang and/or the aspects of camp and sass flavour your dialogue?

BWAHAHAHA—thank you! I absolutely love that word!

My Mum’s a Latin teacher, I was an English Lit and Classics-Latin major in college, and growing up, I was your typical gay boy obsessed with Greek Myth and the mytho-magical world of Ancient Egypt. When I went about working on the “real world” magic of these characters, I didn’t want to just populate it with your generalized Anglo-Scots faerie but pull in a richer and deeper history as if the Fae were always here and influencing everyone.

As my stories tend to focus on Western-myth-based characters and situations, I try to blend the cultures of Indo-Europe into a believable real mishmash. Achaean Greek names are just as in use as 5th-century Celt or 19th-century interpretations of the medieval tongue. For example, yes, I KNOW she should be pronounced KEER-KAY, but, for me, I think she’d have fun with Circe being SEER-SEE).

Mythoepic vocabulary, generally, falls into my head rather second-naturedly. However, I use handy reference material and college professor friends when I need to make sure my Welsh or 11th-century Norse is accurate. I probably would use the same reference points and vocabulary even if I were writing traditional fiction, which would confuse the Hels out of my readers. Haha!

Whether depicting the magical or mundane world, your written scenes have a distinct lyrical quality, including sentence structure (often) and the characters’ spoken words. I feel the touch of historical influences like Edmund Spenser, whose work The Faerie Queene is mentioned in A Queen of Blood and Glitter. Was it a conscious effort to impart this poetic essence to your writing? And if so, how do you feel it speaks to, even enhances, the fantasy element of your work? 


My natural writing voice is to wax lyrical and to just keep talking, writing, speaking and then go back and try to edit it into some sort of coherent, balanced sentence structure. Unconsciously—probably—I still retain the flow and meter that were drummed into our heads in poetry class as well as translating Homer and Vergil in college. Of course, I have a tin ear, so any attempt at writing a flow that creates itself (as opposed to a tune/meter in existence) just falls flat and helps created stilted dialogue scenes. Admittedly, I’d like to think that the dreamy, otherworldly magic of authors like Ellen Kushner, Charles de Lint, Spenser, Shakespeare and Emma Bull, whose voices sing, are humongous influences on my attempt to create that lyrical quality.

A prominent feature in A Queen of Blood and Glitter, especially regarding the Fae Society, is classism and elitism, both historical and, sadly, contemporary issues. Looking at Blodeuwedd (Miss Nomer in drag) himself, we can see how status in blood and position can create challenges not just to exist but in the desire to love who one chooses. Classism and elitism are very connected to Blodeuwedd and his low-born love’s misfortunes, possibly even more than homophobia. Was shining a light on these issues, ones that can afflict any individual, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, planned for your narrative or something that happened organically?

A little bit of both, to be honest.

The initial thought was, “What would cause him to lose his one true love?” And while the murder is itself fueled to a degree by homophobia—although not by the instrument, but by his employer—the idea of classism was totally there from the jump. I wanted to take the tried-and-true heteronormative concept of a prince unable to marry his love because of status and show it in a queer light. And while I would love to be able to write a happy fantasy where the acceptance of queerness is just normal, the strained relationship between Blodeuwedd and his mother—by dint of his being so other in her eyes for his “halfie” nature to his very queer presentation—was nail-in-the-coffin’d by the addition of the cross-class relationship.

Will more of the classism established in traditional faerie folklore and myth come up? Oh, you bet. Deconstructing notions of class, worth based on birth, and gender presentation are notions I love to fight against.

The theme of revenge is a subject near and dear to my heart as a writer of revenge thrillers. Without spoiling anything, how important is it for the characters in your work to get satisfaction through payback, especially when dealing with matters of love lost through villainy and the unbridled emotional pain that calls out for justice–or vengeance? Is granting forgiveness in any form a slap in the face to those who were victimized, even killed? Is ruthless revenge the only true and fair recourse to hold those that have done evil deeds accountable? It certainly makes for a more exciting story. And I’m curious–were the reasons for revenge in A Queen of Blood and Glitter created first, and the story worked around this fact, or was it all creative happenstance?

Growth through forgiveness is—a concept I’m aware of, but I’m admittedly still not mature enough to fully embrace it (take from that what you will). I may “forgive” a slight, but I will never forget it. I’ve held onto grudges for decades—well, more like remembered them at this point, but you get what I mean.

Sometimes forgiveness, through genuine atonement, can be achieved, but the deed has still happened. The murder, the pain, and the loss still occurred. A scab can form, as can a scar over the wound, but the scar is still a reminder that it happened. (My interpretation of Circe is still on her own personal mission, whether she acknowledges it or not, for the part she’s played directly and indirectly in historo-mythical tragedies >cough< Scylla and Medea >cough<).

I’d love to say that the need for revenge was the initial impetus because then I’d sound all wise and foresight-y, but they organically grew, and the story/ies wove themselves around it. My own grief and rage over personal situations fed and fueled it, transposing the worry of losing my own love and presenting that all-consuming grief to Blodeuwedd was the most natural thing in the world. And where the adventure went from there? Totally organic.

What book is on the nightstand or in your Kindle that you’re currently reading?

I just finished re-re-reading The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (as a kid, I fell in love with The Black Cauldron and doubly so with the novels) and am currently halfway through Drink Down the Moon, part 2 of Jack of Kinrowan by Charles de Lint.

What does the future hold for author Benjamin Kissell? Are there plans for more from the world of A Queen of Blood and Glitter, or are we moving into new creative lands?

I re-read the Prydain novels partly because we’re putting together a series of Middle Grade-YA adventure stories as the world of The Young Gentlemen (adorable, knee-height fuzzy beings that dress like the 1920s-30s and are magical); the first two novellas are out now, Once Upon a Christmas Night and A Little Pink Coat, and the full-length novel, Douglas and The Young Gentlemen: An Introduction to Adventure is forthcoming.

I am also (waaaaaay behind) on A Queen of Blood and Glitter Vol 4—A Throne of Ill-Made Will—which picks up right after the events of As My World Falls Down (and a scant 3+ months after A Queen of Blood and Glitter). It sees Blodeuwedd the Miss Nomer having to push through grief-fueled vengeance as the question of which is more important, revenge or the safety of a found family, begins to take its toll. The prophecy that was dropped on his doorstep and the promise of great danger to everyone around him propels him into making choices—but are they good? Are they right? Of course, there will be more drag, monsters, mayhem, mystery, Circe, myth and magic! That is if I can finish the damned book. Haha. 

Thank you, Benjamin, for taking the time to chat with me so expressively, so unfettered, and with such enthusiasm for the Queer Fantasy Genre. I can’t wait to see what the world of The Young Gentlemen has in store for us, as well as anxiously awaiting a return to Carterburg and the Fae Realm. Continued success with all of your fabulously mythical and magical series.

For more information about Benjamin Kissell, follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. Benjamin is also connected to The Underbridge Society. His work can be purchased online at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Abebooks.



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