Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Meet Gaia Sol, author of mythological romance

A huge welcome to author Gaia Sol, who's here to talk up her most recent release, Echoes of the Gods, an epic mythological romance (that's the best way to explain it).

Everyone's journey as a writer starts somewhere. When did the bug bite you and what did you do about it?

I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, and wrote little bits of made-up mythological stuff while in school, but it was only in 2013 that I seriously put fingers to keyboard to write stories on Archive of Our Own (AO3). That forum was my introduction to the heady world of fanfiction and slash fiction. 

Many were the nights I stayed up way past my bedtime, swept up in long, complex, layered, sultry and absolutely amazing M/M stories. Unfettered by commercial considerations or critical voices, the writing on AO3 was wildly imaginative and free-flowing, and the talent on display blew my mind. With no background in creative writing, I’d never thought about writing fiction before. But Ratatouille’s Gusteau must have been perched on my shoulder as AO3’s kindly animated ambassador, whispering “Anyone can write”, because that was a turning point in my life.

Shielded by a pseudonym, I finally took the plunge and started to post fanfics. Over the next three years, I wrote eleven stories, some short and some novel-length, in both contemporary canonical settings and AUs. There was a mythological AU, a Camelot AU, and the final story in 2016 was a 126K-word Crusades-Robin Hood crossover AU. The AU stories really allowed me to let my imagination run free, and were, admittedly, original fiction that used TV character names to pull in readers. 

It was incredibly freeing and joyous to be able to explore everything I hadn’t known was inside me, and to write, without fear of judgment, the stories I wanted to read. Truly, those three years were among the most creatively productive periods in my life. I remember using every available minute to write: on the train to and from work, during lunch or coffee breaks, and sometimes even during meetings, if only to scribble an idea in my notebook. Sigh.

I reworked the mythological story and published it as Echoes of the Gods (the first edition) in 2017. 

Who are some of the authors who have been massively influential on you, and why?

Two of my favourite authors are CS Pacat and Madeline Miller. Since I cannot distil their talents into an elixir and drink a bit every day, I’m trying to study what I love most about their work and implement it in my own writing.

CS Pacat’s Captive Prince trilogy is my favourite series. I’m in awe of all aspects of her writing, from the economy of her prose to her ability to subvert tropes to her off-the-charts skill with subtext and foreshadowing. Capri’s heroes were complex, conflicted and simply unforgettable, with sizzling power dynamics and DEFCON-12 UST. She’s a master of the long game, and it was thrilling to experience the deliciously slow unfolding of layers of political intrigue and childhood trauma and sexual undercurrents over three books. I’m seeing that happening with her latest series, too. An auto-buy author, for sure!

The Greek epics are particular favourites, and when reimagined in Madeline Miller’s lyrical prose, they are elevated to a different level. Even her choice of narrators—Patroclus and Circe—was inspired! Circe, in particular, was an education in writing strong women and their relationships, with men, of course, but especially with other women. I admire her sumptuous, figurative language (but never going purple) and her ability to wring the full gamut of emotions out of me, breaking me towards the end and then mending my heart (and the characters’!) with some of the most memorable final lines I’ve read.

Both these authors have mastered the art of invisible writing, as Pacat calls it. And their immersive, evocative prose might be deceptively uncomplicated in construction, but leaves such strong, lingering impressions that I’m lured back for another reading, and another, and another.

Self-publishing is not for sissies, and I need to commend you on the dedication and investment you've made in Echoes of the Gods – what has been the most challenging aspect of the process? And what's made your heart sing?

Thank you! And thank you for recognizing that it’s not easy. 

My self-publishing journey has presented a combination of internal and external challenges. 

This might seem hyperbolic, but I must quote the tagline for the movie, Alien: In space no one can hear you scream. That’s how self-publishing sometimes feels to me: like shouting into a void, a really lonely undertaking with no guarantee of a happy ending. I missed the sense of community that AO3 engendered, the feedback loop of chapter-wise comments, and the energy of engaged readers. Fortunately, I made a few amazing friends there who have cheered me on in my efforts. And my husband kept me going. He's like Telemachus in a sense: a stoic, staunch supporter through all my (mis)adventures. ?? 

My biggest external challenge has been getting noticed. I’m rather introverted, so the typical exuberant social media interactions don’t come naturally to me. As a result, readers who might enjoy this sort of story probably don’t even know it exists! I hope this feature, which is a perfect avenue for someone like me to get the word out, goes some way towards remedying that! Thank you for that! 

On the bright side, I just love the idea behind Echoes. Even at the fanfic stage, the concept felt fresh, exciting and somewhat unique, and I knew that, given time and massive effort, it could evolve into an epic novel. And when the central, unifying idea came together, I’m pretty sure I squealed with joy. 

I’ve had this cinematic vision of the whole thing playing out in my mind, and trying to capture that vision in words has been agonizing, but also extremely satisfying. I would love to be able to transform Echoes into a graphic novel someday, because I feel it lends itself to that format, with the different mythologies, some big and fraught scenes, the vast and diverse cast of characters. Oh no. I drifted into dreamland there...

Another highlight was the instructive feedback from my top-notch editors. It was like going through creative writing university in a year! That, I think, was the best monetary investment I made with both editions, for myself and for readers. I want to put out a product that’s worth the readers’ money, and something I would buy myself.

Collaborating with my super-talented friend for the cover and seeing it evolve over countless iterations into what it is now—all vibrant blue and white, and teasing clues to the plot—was incredible. 

I’ve learnt so much more going through the process this second time. I should probably blog about my experiences with Canadian self-publishing. 

You mentioned that the novel was previously published, and you’ve done a fair bit of revising. How has the novel changed since its first incarnation? 

Love the wordplay! 

Echoes first came out in late 2017, after which life happened, leaving no time or mental space for writing. When the words began to flow again in early 2023, I chose to reincarnate (lol) Echoes to ease back into writing. I felt there was so much more to explore in that world. I had, in those intervening years, dedicated time to learning more about the craft of writing, and also revisited the editorial feedback on the first edition. Armed thus with new and revived information, I gave Echoes a ruthless read-through, essentially ripping it apart and putting it back together with what I hope comes through as deeper characterizations, more intricate myths and stronger world-building. 

The second edition is over 20K words longer. The myths and adventures exist in service to the characters, and perhaps a little bit for their own sakes as well! Shara is still the protagonist, but Yngvi is a much stronger deuteragonist with his own motivations and inner conflict, and his own hero’s journey. The insta-love and miscommunication tropes (holdovers from my days of writing fan fiction) are gone. Instead of alternating the PoVs, I made Yngvi the primary narrator, so that Shara could retain his mystique while giving us his viewpoint in fewer and very specific chapters.

It was a lot of fun playing with myths, making each escapade personal to the heroes, and introducing new characters in each pantheon. The adventures are all connected, and key off a single triggering event whose aftershocks ripple through the worlds. The cast of characters is wider this time, with new gods and mortals showing up to thwart and aid Shara and Yngvi on their quest.

Overall, I’ve tried to make the second edition a richer and more cohesive composite of myth, mayhem and manly men, and a whole lot more fun!

You've been quite ambitious by mashing up a bunch of different pantheons, ranging from the Old Norse through to the ancient Egyptian, Near-Eastern, and ancient Greece – which ones are your favourite, and how did you get them all to play nicely?

I’d been aware of the similarities between different mythologies for a long time, but it was only when I started experimenting with alternate universes that I realized it was possible to feature more than one mythology in the same story. I’d never actually considered that this was an ambitious concept until it was pointed out to me. But it clearly was, especially for a newbie writer! It was bloody hard! However, scaling it back in any way would not have done justice to the vision I had. So it was probably for the best! 

To prepare for the second edition, I threw myself back into researching myths, legends and ancient symbols, poring over books and websites, seeking out lesser-known deities and nuggets of connection that could be played with to fit into Echoes, either as myths themselves, or as world-building. YouTube has some amazing channels that were supremely edifying (such as Crash Course Mythology and Mythology & Fiction Explained). I had to bone up on the Babylonian/Sumerian pantheon, which was unfamiliar to me, and also revisit the Norse, Egyptian and Greek legends.

The Babylonian parts were a lot of fun to play with, given it’s not as mainstream a pantheon as the others. I loved reading up on those primordial gods and their family drama. 

The mirrored pantheons, with deities organized by domain of divine influence and rolling up to a head honcho, and the mirrored myths woven around them offered a perfect set-up for a multiverse story. But I needed to figure out how to put my own spin on it and make it relevant to my characters. I’ve also focused more on world-building in the new edition, so that, through the heroes’ eyes, readers can experience the differences between the worlds in terms of divine dynamics, social frameworks, clothing, climate, funerary practices etc. If these worlds were to drop a hint, they’d quote U2’s lyrics: We’re one, but we’re not the same.

The majority of the story was methodically planned, but some aspects did emerge serendipitously. I do hope my plantsing has succeeded in getting the whole thing to hang together!

Echoes of the Gods has enough scope for a follow-up. Have you got something planned?

Although Shara’s and Yngvi’s story has ended and a dedicated sequel isn’t on the cards, I do have a nascent idea for a trilogy that could be set on one of the unexplored worlds of Echoes of the Gods. That way, they could make an appearance and continue their adventures alongside the heroes of the new story. That would also be a Punarjanman story, based on reincarnation and rebirth, concepts that fascinate me. 

What do you love best about writing? I've always seen the process as being a delicious 'kopfkino' to borrow from the Germans. 

I think creative writing has revealed a different side to myself, one that I’d never thought I possessed. 

My corporate job in finance and technology entailed near-constant analysis and business writing, which is far less dreary than it sounds. 

Writing fiction, however, has tapped into another part of my mind. It’s rather the opposite of the job. Clarity and concision are prized in the kind of business documents I produced (because the smallest unclear requirement could cause budgets to balloon and executive heads to explode). But fiction benefits from deliberate and well-executed ambiguity, and taking time with characters and situations. It was quite unsettling in the beginning to have to fight my logical, analytical self and need for clarity and my instincts to get to the point. I had to learn to get comfortable with uncertainty. But now, it’s fantastic when I can let my imagination run wild and concoct loosely connected images, scenes and concepts, and only later bring in the planning and organizing side of myself to gradually pull something cohesive out of the fragmented mess. I really need more of those productive episodes! I’m also eager to draw more on the Indian myths and epics in upcoming stories.

Where can people follow you on social media and/or subscribe to your newsletter?

I’m not active on social media, but here are a few places I hang out / lurk. I do hope to become more active online in 2024.

Find Gaia Sol on Goodreads.

Author contact: 




About the author:

Gaia Sol lives with her husband in Toronto, Canada. Her adventures in creative writing began with a 9K-word story in 2013, as a much-needed diversion from her day job in finance and technology.

Over the next three years, she wrote longer and bolder stories that explored her love of myths and legends—from Camelot to Robin Hood to the Holy Land—and even the parallelism of ancient mythologies. That last one eventually became Echoes of the Gods which she published under the pen name "Gaia Sol" to combine the Greek and Norse mythological equivalents of the Sanskrit meanings of her real name and surname (she was very pleased when she came up with it).

She's now researching India's myths, cultural past and heritage to plot her next story. If her muse cooperates, she will publish that novel sometime this decade.

Universal Buy links 

About Echoes of the Gods:

Peace has endured in Yggdrasil since Loki, prophesied nemesis of the gods, was captured. And wardens, like Yngvi, are entrusted with the essential, but mundane, duty of ensuring he stays imprisoned. Seeking other avenues of excitement, fancy-free Yngvi sets his sights on a beautiful young stranger in Midgard. But when Loki breaks free, unleashing his ruin on Asgard, and Yngvi is framed for his release, the usually easygoing young soldier realises how fragile the peace really was.

Shara, the enigmatic stranger, appears to have a perturbing connection to Loki, and to the circumstances of Yngvi’s disgrace. Yngvi confronts Shara and learns that an insidious killer is behind the fall of Asgard, and that Shara alone may hold the key to redemption. Realising that they can help each other, the two men embark on a quest across the stars, onto strange new worlds and into perilous encounters with new gods, monsters…and their own conflicting feelings.

As they close in on their common enemy, Yngvi and Shara must face the frailty of their fledgling bond, and of life itself—because their choices have consequences greater than they ever imagined—as they unravel the shocking past that threatens the future of every world.

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