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Inspiration from Uncommon Stars

Inspiration is a funny thing. We both loved writing from very early ages, and dreamed of being able to do it professionally, but by our twenties had both given up on it to pursue practical paths. So what pushed us to take up our keyboards and write our first novel now, in our 40s? Reading. Lots and lots of reading — some of the best of it through the Women From Other Worlds book club, which the two of us and Lilith’s wife all joined in February of 2022. Ryka Aoki’s amazing novel Light From Uncommon Stars was perhaps what inspired us most. 

A trans runaway with nothing but her escape bag, laptop, and most importantly her violin. A violin virtuoso turned instructor who’s made a deal with the devil. Aliens escaping the downfall of galactic civilization, hiding on Earth and running a donut shop. The novel is in turns brutal, hilarious, and heartwarming, but always inspiring. The descriptions of the hardships Katrina faces for being trans can be hard to read, but her determination to keep going and the peace she finds through her music is beautiful. A woman nicknamed the Queen of Hell manages to also be an amazing surrogate mother (Lilith wasn’t sure she should look to someone named the Queen of Hell as a role model for motherhood, but found herself doing so). A digital intelligence whose mother can’t accept she’s a real person finds a sister in Katrina, whose parents couldn’t accept that she’s a woman. The characters and their stories are somehow both very real and magical at the same time, and through them the book conveys an intense hope that spoke to us.

After finishing it, both of us commented over and over again how much we wished we could write something that amazing, or even half that amazing. That was the first time either of us indicated to the other a desire to write fiction, and that was the point when the seeds from our childhood writing started to grow. Three months later, Lilith suggested writing a book together, and another six months after that we were sharing a draft of a novel with friends as beta readers. Nine months. Interesting.

Writing together was probably inevitable from the moment we met, but unquestionably Light From Uncommon Stars and the environment of the Women From Other Worlds book club accelerated and improved that journey. Our other major literary inspiration during that period were the heartbreaking characters and modern myth-making of Neil Gaiman’s Absolute Sandman, which Erica borrowed from Lilith’s collection. It seems like no accident that both Broken Tongues and the in-process Wandering Exiles Trilogy feature trans runaways as central characters, as well as new myths and legends. That Ryka Aoki is herself a trans woman with a background in science and who works in academia made her work all the more inspiring.

All of which is to say: go read Light From Uncommon Stars. You won’t regret it.