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February 26, 2018
By Matia Burnett
A bestselling self-publisher embraces diverse voices and a new “golden era” of sci-fi and fantasy fiction.

Bestselling indie author Christian A. Brown resists labeling his work, though it has been called speculative fiction. His Four Feasts till Darkness series takes place in the fantasy realm of Geadhain, where science and magic merge into a force called “technomagik.” Handmaid Morigan Lostarot learns that she is in possession of magical abilities, which she harnesses upon meeting and forming a powerful romantic union with a wolf-man. The books feature threads of horror, fantasy, suspense, drama, and romance, and though Brown’s characters inhabit worlds other than our own, they also serve as vital representations of human complexity here on Earth. “We are a multitude of sins and greatnesses,” Brown says.

Born in Canada, Brown grew up in a lower-income mixed-race household and is no stranger to adversity. His family “valued equality and principles of fairness and kindness, even in a world that appeared quite hostile.” One incident that stuck with Brown happened when he was still in diapers: someone burned a cross on his family’s front lawn. When he sought an explanation from his mother, she sagaciously explained to him that “fear made people do bad things.”

Perhaps it was the desire to understand his fellow human beings that led Brown to become a voracious reader. He counts Roald Dahl as a significant early influence, as well as the work of Ursula K. Le Guin. “It was the Earthsea [series] that really teleported me into a world and showed me the magic of the written word. I felt as if I lived in Earthsea,” Brown says. For him, fantasy wasn’t necessarily an escape from our reality, but rather provided a different lens for understanding it: “Fantasy gives us an abstraction, a distance, through which we can view complex issues, then break them down into less-realistic and -startling pieces. We don’t lose that wisdom when we leave a good book or show.”

"I copied the industry standards for traditional publishing. My goal was to have a book indistinguishable from a traditionally published novel."
For Brown, self-publishing was the clear option for getting his books into the world; he has always considered himself a self-starter. However, he knew better than to publish his work without first consulting a professional editor. Over a period of three years, Brown worked on five different manuscript drafts. He wasn’t naïve about the heavily saturated industry he was entering: he knew that to thrive, he would need to ensure that his first book stood out. “I copied the industry standards for traditional publishing, and spent another year doing three further editorial and copyright passes,” he says. “My goal was to have a book indistinguishable from a traditionally published novel.” In 2014, Brown self-published the first book in the series, Feast of Fates, which received a starred review from Kirkus.

Brown has some advice for writers who are considering self-publishing their work. “I should stress that we are living in an age where many of the old rules of publishing and exposure are being redefined,” he says. “Artists should be open to change, to new avenues of promoting and sharing their work, of hybrid and crowdfunded publishing. There isn’t just one ‘best’ way to publish a book anymore.” Above all, he encourages writers to “be open to all possibilities, present yourself and behave authentically, and take criticism on the chin.”

In addition to being an author, Brown is an activist who speaks out on issues relating to “marginalization, rape culture, and representation.” He himself is a survivor of assault, which he has written about. Brown credits his late mother for inspiring much of his social consciousness and passion for advocacy, and these influences carry into his fiction as well. “Given my heritage and experience with marginalization, violence, and survivorism, you’ll find social commentary peppered throughout my work,” he says. His characters are predominantly female-identifying and come from diverse backgrounds; his readership is also largely female.

With the “clamoring for diverse voices” within the literary world, Brown believes that fantasy and sci-fi have entered “kind of a golden era,” with the better instincts of the genre being concerned with diverse representations and outsider narratives. “All my ‘weird’ and eccentric characters suddenly have an audience!” Brown says. Writing diverse characters comes naturally to Brown, but he is always at work to ensure that his representations are accurate: “Even though I am the poster child for diversity, that doesn’t make me exempt from being tone-deaf. I constantly check myself and my work for authenticity.”