We’re solidly through the first week of the crowdfunding campaign for our next anthology, Aether Beyond the Binary. We’re 55% funded (yay!) and inching toward our goal slowly but surely (I post daily funding goals and progress toward them on our Bluesky account, if you’re curious). The campaign ends on January 25th, 2024; between then and now, we need to raise $6,038 more to fund the publishing of this awesome collection of modern aetherpunk stories staring characters outside the gender binary!
Today, we introduce the fifth of our 17 authors: Zel Howland!
About Zel Howland: Zel (they/she) is a writer and artist currently living in Los Angeles with their partner. When not writing, they spend their time painting, embroidering, analyzing literature and tv shows, and playing Dungeons & Dragons. They are the author of many a fanfiction, as well as the novel The Shadow of Ophelia Walker.
This is Zel’s third publication with Duck Prints Press. Her short story Chrysopoeia (dark fantasy, f/f) is available at duckprintspress.com and her story The Lightkeeper and the Sea (dark modern fantasy, f/nb) is a Patreon exclusive. Both stories are in the Contributor Short Story Bundle campaign add-on! Learn more about Zel’s publishing career.
An Interview with Zel Howland
When and why did you begin creating?
I was always a voracious reader as a kid, and that sort of naturally lead to me trying to write my own stories. When I was about ten or eleven, I came up with a story that borrowed heavily from the Chronicles of Narnia, and I even managed to eke out 75 pages of bad, bad writing before getting discouraged. I still came back to writing though, and the intervening years of practice and failure taught me a lot about my craft and myself.
Are you a pantser, a planner, or a planster? What’s your process look like?
Planner, definitely! I spend as much time worldbuilding and outlining as I do actually writing. I usually have 3-4 outlines for each story (sometimes more for novels!), starting with a brainstorm outline, then getting gradually more detailed until the final outline functions almost as a first draft. They said make your first drafts shitty, and I really took that advice and ran with it.
What’s your favorite part of the creation process?
For writing, I love the first draft–or for me, also known as my final outline. I really love putting the story down on the page in all its messy glory, without the pressure of having to come up with the perfect turn of phrase or spending hours buried in a thesaurus. For art, rendering light and shadows will always be my favorite part. I love taking something flat and turning it into a three-dimensional object with just a little bit of time and care.
What are your favorite tropes?
I really love stories about the Other, whether they’re full horror or exploring other aspects of it. In school I took a class on Gothic Literature that stuck with me so much that I look for character mirroring and fear of the Other in everything I read or watch–there’s more than you might think, even in the most tame narratives! As far as fic goes, mutual pining is what I live and breathe–the kind where both characters are convinced the other doesn’t even like them. I love pretty much every trope that follows from that, from fake relationships to two person love triangles.
What are your favorite character archetypes?
I’ve always loved the manipulative types, especially hyper-competent ones. Characters that aren’t necessarily physically skilled or popular, but who have managed by way of a powerful intellect to pull all the strings so that everyone else is dancing to their tune. I especially love it when these characters aren’t unrepentantly evil, or even villains (although a good villain in this vein is pretty damn fun).
What are your favorite resources and tools for your craft?
I will always, always tout Scrivener as the best writing software available, period. It has so many different functionalities that I couldn’t possibly list them all, and probably don’t even know them all! My favorite functions are the corkboard for brainstorming, the split screen and reference pop-out for easy access to previous drafts or outlines, and the folders where I can organize my many, many outlines and resources without worrying about finding them again. For digital art, I’ve recently begun playing around with Rebelle, and I really love it. I’ve always been more comfortable with physical mediums, and Rebelle replicates both the feel and the look of mediums like oil or watercolor while maintaining the functionality of digital art (undo button and layers, my beloved). I’m still learning, but so far it’s been perfect for me.
What’s your favorite medium to work in? Why?
I love oil painting! It’s a very forgiving medium to work with–plus it has such a good texture, and there’s so much about mixing paint and doing glazes that are meditative and peaceful.
Which of your own creations is your favorite? Why?
I really love the story I produced for Aether Beyond the Binary. I came into writing it after three years of chronic illness that kept me from writing at all, and I think the silver lining was that I was able to come at the concept and the story from a different direction than I normally would have. Plus, it was my first time writing from the perspective of a character with the same gender identity as me, which felt like a boulder being lifted from my shoulders!
If you could give one piece of advice to a new creator who came to you for help, what would that advice be?
Learn the rules, and then break them! Understanding why certain conventions are popular and always recommended will ultimately help you figure out the best way to ignore the recommendations altogether, and find your own way of doing things.
Zel’s Contribution to Aether Beyond The Binary
Title: Flower and Rot
Art – Zel did art to accompany this story (will not be included in the published anthology, but still, look at it, it’s so cool and shiny!!!).
Tags: bipoc, body horror (graphic descriptions), break-up (past), california, character injury (serious), death of a parent (past), found family, jewish, los angeles, magic use, modern with magic, mystery, natural disaster, non-binary, past tense, pov first person, private investigator, second chances, self-esteem issues, suicide (mentions of), systemic inequality, telepathic bond, trans man, undeath, united states of america
Four dozen minds linked by Aether watched me through thousands of leaves and roots and flowers as I hurried away. Their attention bored into my back right up to the moment I switched off the Aethercoil and the flow of Aether abruptly stopped. The grove became just an unusually lush garden. I was alone once more.
The thing growing inside my eye stopped too, but I couldn’t afford to hope that it had shriveled away without Aether to feed it. My vision was still cloudy in that eye, and the whole area was delicate and tender.
Spitting rain formed halos around the streetlights as I reached the drugstore parking lot. I clumsily fished for my keys with my left hand, keeping the right firmly covering my eye. My shitty sedan was the only car in the lot, but I checked every line of sight around me before stepping into the driver’s seat. I was pretty sure I was alone.
I couldn’t take the chance that I was wrong.
I already knew what I would see, but I had to know how fucked I was. I pulled down the visor and flipped open the mirror.