Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Interview & Giveaway: Rhi Etzweiler talks Blacker Than Black

Rhi is here, Rhi is here W00T!!!!!!!!!!

Hi Rhi! Welcome back to the Place. Come in, come in, make yourself comfortable.

Rhi: Hello again, Amara. *looks around* You’ve been busy, I see. I love the Tree of Life in the window, there. Absolutely gorgeous vibes, it’s always a pleasure to come visit you.

Amara: I have been busy. Vera vera. I’m so glad you like my Tree! Thanks! *huge grin* I made it mah-self.  Now, before we get started...we need caffeine. What can I get you?

Rhi: I’ll take a double-shot of espresso with a healthy dose of Amaretto, if you would? My winter has been a hectic one thus far, I can use all the heat and energy I can get.

Amara: Ha, I knew you’d say that.  I’ve already got you covered. *passes uber goods*

So, let’s talk writing and books. I’ve seen you say you write genderfuck. Um… what does that mean?

Rhi: It means the gender scale has more than two settings, and none of them have labels. It means I set out to challenge the false dichotomy of biological determinism that society and culture embrace. It’s a fallacy—a deeply ingrained and pervasive one, but a fallacy nonetheless.

Or, to be all polite and politically correct and use smaller words and quote Wikipedia for a moment (, it refers to “a conscious effort to mock or ‘fuck with’ traditional notions of gender identity, gender roles, and gender presentation.” The term actually dates back to the late ‘70’s, so it’s not a new concept – though it’s younger than the term “feminism,” for example. The more modern definition of genderfuck encompasses a practice of bending gender appearances and mannerisms, resulting in a mixture of masculinity and femininity for a seamless, androgynous result that challenges the ability to confine or label within a gender binary.

Crap, still lots of big words in there. Well, for something simplistic, we’d have to go back to what I initially offered: a gender scale with more than two settings, and no labels.

Amara: Love it. And why genderfuck?

Rhi: Why not, right? Why the concept, or why the term?

For the first: because it needed written, in a fashion that would ease readers into challenging how their assumptions color their perceptions. And also because the definition or label of one’s sexuality—be it homo, het, or bi—is completely dependent on this aspect of how an individual identifies.
I wanted to explore the divergence between self-identity and perception, to demonstrate how an individual’s self-perception would conflict with how a reader elected to—consciously or subconsciously—label the same individual. My story, therefore, has a fluid subgenre (paranormal (het) romance, m/m romance, gay romance, f/f romance) label based on the perceptions of the individual reader. How whacked is that?

And when it’s put that way, I hope that some will begin to grasp just how inappropriate the labels are.

For the second: because the gender binary is as offensive, in its restrictions and exclusions, to some people as the concept of genderfuck is to heteronormative and/or some cis-sex or cis-gendered persons. There’s another reason why I prefer this term, though.

And well, I wrote this really long thesis-looking thing on the subject a couple weeks ago, it’s over on my blog and website (, but I’ll sum it up real quick. Because “feminism” would seem to fit the concept, right? It began as a focus on women’s issues of rights and freedoms back in the late 1800’s, but has grown to also seek gender equality. Frankly, I find the term “feminism” slightly offensive and inappropriate—genderfuck isn’t about gender equality, it’s about gender neutrality, and engaging a term/label that adheres to a gender binary labeling structure is counterintuitive. As a writer, I put heavy weight on selecting the optimal word in any given scenario, and for this perspective and perception, feminism is far from the correct fit.

Those with more refined sensibilities might take offense to a term that requires they drop the f-bomb to utter it, but to be honest, if that’s offensive then they are highly advised not to crack open anything I write. Fuck is a word. I use it as such rather often in my writing. Sometimes it’s the only word that fits the moment.

Amara: You rock. Just sayin. Also just sayin… your really long thesis looking thing… fan-friggin-tabulous. Seriously.

Ok, now tell me about your new release. Ya know, the Riptide one with the fantabulous cover!

Rhi: Oh yes, the Riptide release with the genius for a cover artist. “Blacker Than Black” is a mildly dystopian futuristic urban fantasy murder mystery. Black is the narrator throughout the course of the story, and it starts out with a chi-sale gone bad and a very irate energy vampire of a john.

Amara: I love the world you created for this one, and I love LOVE your chi vamps. Vera original. What inspired this jewel?

Rhi: Well, for that I have go back about five years. I was trying to devise a short-story idea after reading a submission call for an anthology. The theme was “red light district” and I guess you can imagine what that was supposed to focus on, right? I took the cliché streetwalker and twisted it into something completely unique. The idea of “energy vampires” has been around for a while, actually, but I don’t think anyone ever considered taking it to this level of development. I mean, I’ve seen Stephen King play with auras in one of his books, and every deviation of “vampire” imaginable has been done. But this takes the concept and twists it into a few corkscrews and barrel rolls. Which is always fun.

And I promise, my vampires don’t sparkle in the sunlight.

Amara: *laughs* Non-sparkley Vamps FTW! That rocks.

What do you hope people take away from Black after reading it?

Rhi: Hope. Such small word, a fragile concept, and a powerful force.

Mostly, I hope that people look twice at their assumptions and perceptions. I’m not out to rock anyone’s world, and this book isn’t some nonfiction rant where I stand on a soapbox and chew on the proverbial ear of the reader.

If it makes someone hesitate before using the term “flamer” or “bull” or “butch” or “freak” in derogatory or denigrating reference, I’ll take it as a win. If it helps someone see more clearly the shades of grey in the spectrum, then I’ll consider the past five years of muse slavery well worth the effort, and spend the rest of my life being thankful that I didn’t hit the delete button that one day.

Amara:  I hope so too. And for the record, I’m already glad you didn’t hit the delete button that one day. Black rocks.

Now, tell me about the cover. *pets the beautimus cover* It’s fabulous. Did the artist come up with Black, or was there inspiration behind that beautimusness?

Rhi: I owe Rachel Haimowitz my firstborn in my next life. Or something. She found the perfect artist to pair with this story when she convinced Cerulean to take on a commission for this work. When Riptide first contracted it, they sent me a cover art form to fill out, and it wasn’t until then that I realized Black didn’t have a “face.”

For five years, Black as the narrator never once fell into the trap of looking in a mirror for the reader. Not even for me, the writer. To be perfectly honest, it never even occurred to me to wonder what Black looked like. And so I went looking for a model that would give the artist an idea. I figured – as the description isn’t in the story anywhere, the likeness in the cover art should feed that need for the reader. That way they don’t come after me with torches and pitchforks because I never give a physical description beyond the vaguest of references.

I remember going on a Google hunt. I typed in, “androgynous model” and hit the “image search” option.

I was scrolling through pictures when the face jumped out at me. Or maybe it was just Black, reaching through me and deciding who the avatar would be.

It ended up being Andrej Pejic, and I don’t believe in coincidences.

Perhaps the readers won’t believe it really happened that way, but I think once they read the story, they may not put much stock in coincidences, either.

Because Andrej Pejic, for those that don’t know, is an international runway model who walks the catwalk for both men’s and women’s fashion, on both sides of the Atlantic—and Pacific. When asked in an interview how he identifies in terms of gender—whether he considers himself male or female—he answered with, “If someone can define for me what it means to be male or to be female, perhaps then I can answer the question

When Chang asked what Andrej saw in the mirror, Andrej responded with, “I see myself.”

It’s not Andrej’s likeness on the cover—it’s Black’s. But Andrej’s image gave the artist an idea of what the character resembled, the type of androgynous concept I’d envisioned. Cerulean commented that it was actually liberating to not have to worry about whether the character’s features were “too pretty” while working on it. That comment made me so very happy on a number of different levels—that the work felt liberating to the artist. It was a liberating story to write, a liberating character to create, so it was only fitting that the rendering of the cover art be the same.

Amara:  Very cool. So, do you think you’ll be revisiting this world? Gonna give us any sequels?

Rhi: Absolutely. I’ve got the sequel in the works right now, though it’s far from complete. It’s titled “Blood Red” and it’s from the point of view of Jhez, Black’s sibling. I expect I’ll explore this same world with other characters and storylines, as well – there’s so much to play with, so much potential.

Amara: *leans in and whispers* I heart Jhez. *smiles and leans back* Ok…please tell us in one sentence only, why we should read your book.

Rhi: Can I use a grammatically torturous run-on sentence?

Amara: Um… no.

Rhi: Oh, alright. No need to give me a hairy eyeball, it’s common knowledge that I suck at following directions.

*clears throat and inhales deeply*

Since I’ve every intention of making “Blacker Than Black” the “shot heard round the world” – make sure you read it, so you know why the hell everyone’s in an uproar.

Ha! Uproar W00T! Go Rhi, Go Rhi! 

Next stop on the promo tour will be Top 2 Bottom reviews, tomorrow! Be sure to stop by for the next excerpt from “Blacker Than Black.”

For more info on Rhi’s writings:
Twitter: @musefodder
Facebook Profile: here
Goodreads Profile: here
Amazon Author Page: here
Google+ Profile: here
Get “Dark Edge of Honor” here
Get “Blacker Than Black” here

 Two giveaways...
Individual: One randomly selected commenter at each stop will receive a signed cover card and magnet. Open to all, regardless of location (winner selected from all comments posted to blog at 11:59pm EST).

Tour: Two winners to be selected at random from drawing of all comments on tour (entry ending Feb. 2nd, 11:59pm EST – comments with date/time stamps after this time will not be counted). Restricted to mainland US and Canada only, for shipping purposes. First winner will receive an autographed tote bag and pen, signed cover flat, and large magnet. Second winner will receive a t-shirt (size XL), pen, signed cover flat, and small magnet.


  1. I'm too braindead, I just want to leave this here: You two rock my world.

    Yeah. I shall hunt coffee now.. mmm, you black seductive lover.. Yes, I really am talking about coffee.

  2. *waves* Hi Oleg :)

    Thanks darlin'. Isn't Rhi just the awesomest evah? Rocks mah socks.

    I need coffee too. Mah brain isn't online yet. When you round some up, please to be sharing? :D

  3. That was an awesome interview. I love getting to know more about a book that I've been hearing such great things about and knowing that there are going to be more books int he series is great.

  4. Oh...I think I've got a little crush going on Andrej Pejic. So freaking beautiful *sigh*

    Anyway, great interview Rhi and Amara! And these words: "I’ve got the sequel in the works right now" made this a very happy Wednesday! *beam at*


  5. Loved this interview.
    Oh, and I love it when the characters are left with only vague descriptions - then, when I read "he had curly black hair" I don't have to break the image I already installed in my mind. Hate it when that happens. :)

    japoki at

  6. *waves @ Oleg & Amara*

    @Mary: There will definitely be more. I highly doubt any of the others will be in 1st person, but there's going to be more. Too many interesting characters to explore. And not all of them made the cut in this one.

    @Aiko: Andrej certainly has a very unique look. I enjoy reading the interviews he does every bit as much as I enjoy the aesthetic appeal.

    @Aija: That's without a doubt one of the aspects I was striving for. Leaving it to a deeper level of reader engagement to create the depiction in the reader's mind; leaving the details (including gender presentation) up to the perception and interpretation that the reader chooses.

    Thanks for stopping by, y'all! And thank you, Amara, for letting me ramble endlessly. =D

    And for those of you who haven't had the opportunity to purchase a copy yet, the excerpts start at tomorrow's blogstop, and will pick up where Riptide's excerpt leaves off.

  7. Since I didn't get to squee on my own blog (yet), just wanted to say yum. And fun. And wee.

    Also, was sitting reading it going "I know this is genderfuck. Where is the genderfuck!" And then I giggled when it made it's first appearance. (Giggling was a good thing. It was of joy and possibly being brain fried, but that's another story.)

    Umm.. Congrats on BtB! Awesome sauce all around!



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