Kitty Cox and Auryn Hadley are up-and-coming writers from Texas. They are typically solo authors who craft romance and/or science fiction narratives. They have recently teamed up to write Flawed – which explores GamerGate from a new perspective and is part of a new novel series called, “Gamer Girls.” Wanting to learn more about their careers and Flawed, I was able to interview them for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you enjoyed reading? Are there any you revisit for fun?
Auryn Hadley: As a child, I read well above my age level. I will never forget the librarian asking me if I was aware that the book I wanted to check out didn’t have pictures. I was. I came from a book loving family, so my literary experiences ranged from my mother’s romance novels to my father’s horror, and just about any science fiction or fantasy I could get my hands on. I always liked it best when the impossible had a rational explanation, blurring the lines between fantasy and science.
As for favorites, sadly I don’t re-read many. When I was a young girl, I adored Anne McCaffrey and Piers Anthony. Now that I’ve supposedly grown up, I see the flaws in those novels that my pre-teen self wasn’t quite old enough to grasp. I also read enough that I’m getting tired of hearing the same story repeated over and over with a different “skin” as the setting. I think that’s why I’ve become a fan of independent authors. It’s always a pleasure to pick up something that makes me stop and think.
Kitty Cox: Growing up I read all the books I could find in the house. My favorites were the “choose your own adventure” books written by different authors. I loved the options it gave me and the different journeys I could go on with the same character. I also read Dean Koontz and other suspense thrillers. As I got older, I enjoyed the occasional erotic books I found in my father’s closet.
Putting my love of darker subject matter with Auryn’s penchant for a hopeful theme really worked with the Gamer Girls series. We shine a light on both the best and worst parts of the gaming culture, without making it melodramatic.
Yanes: When did you two realize that you wanted to become professional writers?
Auryn: I think that happened after I released my fourth book. Honestly, I was not the person who grew up writing stories in her free time. Nope, I was a reader and a voracious one. It never dawned on me that I could possibly write a story until it accidentally happened. Even then, I assumed it would be a one-off, except that I was working on a series, and then another series.
I eventually accepted that I had a few stories to tell, so got to it. Somewhere in there, it became an addiction, and now I can’t imagine doing anything else. Just this year I gave up working in the tech field to commit my time to this artistic endeavor. It’s still a little surreal.
Kitty: While I am still working a full-time position in the tech field, when Auryn asked me to write with her, how could I say no? As close friends, she’s seen my writing, while no one else has, and she convinced me to give it a try. So, I guess the answer is that I didn’t really want to be a writer until my friend convinced me to jump in with both feet. Before this, I focused on my own private stories that I never expected to publish. Auryn is convincing me to change that.
Yanes: Though Texas isn’t known as a literary state, I know a lot of authors and creative professionals who live there. What is the writing community like in Texas?
Both: Poor Texas gets such a bad reputation. In reality, it’s a lot more diverse than you’d expect, but our weather does encourage hiding away from the heat of the day. Maybe that’s why we all spend so much time online in our nicely climate controlled homes or offices?
That’s also why most of our writing community is virtual, spread out across the globe. We writers are typically rather anti-social you know, or as one of our fans so succinctly said, “shy woodland creatures.” With the beauty of social media, we no longer need to worry about putting on real clothes and talking to real people. We can just open another tab while continuing to finish the story demanding to get out.
The pair of us were lucky, though. We were friends just as Auryn was breaking out as an author. Kitty actually had a strong hand in helping get her first book, One More Day, published. So, for the last four years, we’ve been slowly but surely egging each other on, making our own little writing group of two.
Yanes: Since you two have first published, how do you think you’ve grown as writers? On this note, what suggestions do you have for how new authors should approach this profession?
Auryn: The first book I published was not the first book I wrote. It was just the first one to be good enough to let the public see. Just like any artistic endeavor, very few of us are born with the ability to get it right the first time. The trick is to accept criticism with an open mind. If someone is willing to tell you where a manuscript went wrong, LISTEN TO THEM! They may not be right, but they could be, and they’re probably not biased about the story’s success.
Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’ve figured out my own ticks, those annoying little things we do as a writer. I still do them, but now I edit them out before anyone else gets to see it. I’ve also realized that the grammar I learned in high school was more of a suggestion. Knowing how to make a proper sentence is very important. Even more so is knowing when I shouldn’t.
Kitty: My growth with my writing was much easier having Auryn to give me tips and ideas. She has pushed me to be a better writer. As with anything the adage, “Practice makes Perfect,” is true. So the best advice I can give is – just keep writing. Only through continuous work and challenging yourself will you grow in your craft as a writer. The hardest part is believing the compliments and not just the criticism.
Yanes: One of your recent books is Flawed. What was the inspiration for this story?
Auryn: I started gaming back when women were maybe 10% of the population. Since then, I’ve made some of the closest friends in my life, met my husband in a game, and suffered some horrible harassment. When GamerGate hit, I was a new and idealistic author writing about strong women. Watching that play out on social media? I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if just one of these people follows through with a threat?”
And that was the main idea of Flawed. If one person actually did any of these horrible things, the suffering of the victim would be the first thing overlooked. Oh, it would make headlines, but what about the reality of it? Most developers get into the field at a very young age, and that means a lifetime of coping with some pretty horrific violence. Sadly, while the news cycles may move on, the trauma doesn’t always – or the escape so many of us find in gaming.
Kitty: Some of us have trauma and trials in our lives, but many are told to “just move on” or “get over it”. Sometimes the problem is much bigger than one person can tackle alone. Destiny has real demons that she is battling and I think this super realism is the reason so many can relate to her character. In so many books, I see mental anguish “solved” in just a few chapters. The reality is that it takes a lifetime to get over the damage that one person can do to another.
Yanes: As gamers, what are some of the video games that influenced this story?
Auryn: Oh, that’s a long list. I started gaming with Doom and Quake, and then found MMORPGs. My favorite game to date has been Planetside (the first one) which managed to combine aspects of both into something bigger. Yes, it was a rather important influence in the series. With that said, I stole ideas form just about every game I’ve played in my life, from shooters to single player, and there are probably too many to list here.
Kitty: I came in late to the online gaming community, as Auryn introduced me to Planetside (the second one). I now play as many of the MMORPGs as my schedule allows and still enjoy the occasional stand-alone RPG’s. Currently, I’m actually gaming more than Auryn, so I guess she’s the old school gamer, and I get to be the young upstart.
Both: The biggest influence for us was the game community as a whole. Regardless of the games played, the people were what made it the most enjoyable. Friendships were forged that have lasted beyond a single title. We both have made friends only to misplace them as we moved to a new game, and they are missed dearly. In the end, our online friends have been some of the best. Even people who don’t play games can understand this. With social media, we meet strangers and make them into friends. Borders and distance are negated online, especially in games.
Yanes: Flawed centers on Destiny Pierce. Like all the main female characters in your Gamer Girls series, Destiny is described as a ‘strong woman.’ How do you approach crafting a strong female character without her coming off as clichéd?
Both: The exact same way you craft a strong male character. Being strong (regardless of gender) all comes down to the same thing: when something knocks you down, do you stay there or get up again? That’s it. The strong character is the one that gets up. The strongest are those who get up without expecting any help.
The trick is to remember that every good character is more than just a silhouette. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about how action heroes are never nerdy guys or those supposedly elusive “strong women” tend to come off as being a little butch. A good character is built upon their background. The most interesting have backgrounds like most real people, which often include things we don’t necessarily want others to know. Embracing out vulnerabilities – and flaws – is where strength is born.
Yanes: With Flawed very much inspired by GamerGate, how has this event continued to impact how women in gaming are represented?
Auryn: In many ways, I think GamerGate was unnecessarily polarizing. The entire premise of the debate was, well, flawed. Many people will say it was about truth in game journalism, but if that’s the case, then why was only the female half of the scandal held responsible? The reality is that a small and vocal group – which is typical in all game forums – took over the narrative and used it to their own ends. On the flip side, I think that a lot of guys realized just how dangerous their “harmless” jokes could be.
Thankfully, I’ve seen gaming getting to be a lot nicer to women lately than it was back when I started out. Every day, more women play, and fewer men are shocked to hear our voices jump into Team Speak, Ventrillo, or whatever program is the guild’s preferred.
And before we had GamerGate, we had the debate over “real” girl gamers. Women who enjoyed a little digital mayhem were judged on some preconceived idea of what it meant to be a geek. Too pretty? Well then you couldn’t be a serious gamer. Too ugly? Same thing. And I’m sure there will be more in the future.
Kitty: As I mentioned before, I came into gaming late, and most of my awareness of GamerGate came from listening to Auryn rant about it. In some ways, that made writing about it easier, since I could take her stories and embellish them. However, my gaming experiences have been nothing but good. Maybe the guys around me sheltered me from some of the harshness Auryn experienced? But that also impacted our writing – and created some pretty amazing male characters in this series.
Both: We honestly hope that in a few years, the subject matter of this series is so outdated that most game lovers can’t believe it was ever conceived – and we think we’re actually headed that way, just a lot slower than we’d like.
Yanes: When people finishing reading Flawed, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Both: We want people to think about the beauty of being less than perfect. Sometimes, a negative trait can be our basis of strength, and the perception of perfection can be its own flaw. We wanted to make a story where the most screwed up people could be the heroes instead of the villains, and make people rethink those hard lines they were taught to accept as “facts.”
Most of all, we want readers to realize that sometimes, it’s not about beating the boss, but about making the effort and trying one more time.
Yanes: Finally, what are some projects you two are working on that people can look forward to?
Both: We are currently working on Gamer Girls #3, Virtual Reality. Each book in this series focuses on a different woman who gets into games for her own reason. In Virtual Reality, the heroine is a casual gamer who gets drawn into the conflict simply because she didn’t realize there was even a problem.
Auryn: I’m also in the middle of an epic science fantasy series, Rise of the Iliri, which was inspired by another game (good luck guessing which one). The iliri are a species of near-human predators created to do the jobs humans are too good for. After thousands of years of subjugation, they’re at the center of a war for the one resource this planet lacks – metal – and they’ve finally gotten the chance to rise up and prove that humans are not really the dominant species after all.
Kitty: I am currently working on a romance novel. Sadly, that full-time tech job makes it a little hard to get the writing time I truly want, and with my previous commitment to the Gamer Girls series, it may be a while. I’m confident the story will be worth it.
While I know fantastical, daydream-type relationships are what some crave, my focus is on something more realistic and achievable. Not every woman in the world is looking for the same thing, and I want to give them an alternative idea of a good love story. I have found while writing with Auryn that real, honest characters, while rare, are something that are relatable and needed.