We had the good fortune of connecting with Athena Ryals and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Athena, we’d love to hear more about your end-goal, professionally.
Currently, I am working on my dystopian fiction series Honor Bound, which follows a found family doing their best to take down the powerful crime families that terrorize the region. I am preparing book 3 of the series for publication on April 16th. I am working on writing book 5 and have plans for book 6, which will be the last in the series. I decided to go the self-publishing route for these books. I researched traditional publishing and found that it is incredibly difficult to break into and even if your book does ultimately get selected for publishing, the average length of time from finishing a book to having it published is 11 years. To me, it was more important to get my books out and into the hands of the readers than it was to seek the prestige of traditional publishing. In addition, self-publishing allows me control over the story that is not available in traditional publishing; I choose the editor, cover designer, and advertising for the book, as well as the option to keep the original serial work online for my readers to enjoy for free. I am going to continue publishing these books until all six are completed (plus the prequel, don’t forget the prequel!) After that… if I am allowed to dream big, then I dream of pursuing making Honor Bound into a movie. The story has played out so vividly in my mind, and seeing it on the big screen would be an absolutely unreal experience. Through the indie film industry, I think I could make that a reality.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I follow a diverse cast of characters as they recover from their own traumas – from past child abuse, to the loss of their families, to torture and physical injury. My story is intense and fast-paced (with lots of angst… so, so much angst.) I like exploring themes like redemption and self-sacrifice. Writing has always been a part of my life, but it didn’t become a serious artistic endeavor until 2019. I began writing for an online writing challenge in October of that year after trying to escape the overwhelm of planning a wedding. What began as a quick 500-word snippet for a prompt I was given became a cast of characters thrown into a dangerous and frightening world where the only way to survive is to avoid the sadistic, powerful crime families who have taken over. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to explore these people and their relationships. After a few months, I realized I had a novel-length story on my hands. By the time I had gotten it edited and ready for publication, I had another two novels written. Through writing, I’ve learned to trust myself. I don’t tend to write with a super detailed outline because I know that, in a strange way, my characters will tell me what they want and what they’re going to do. My characters have minds of their own and in a lot of ways, I’m just the poor sap who writes up the damage report. I use my experience with trauma, both in my personal life and as a paramedic, to tell stories about recovery and family. I don’t shy away from dark subject matter. In fact, I embrace the struggles of my characters and use their stories to find catharsis. I want people to be able to connect with my story and find themselves in the pages, whether their struggle is with past abuse, death, PTSD, or loss. It’s very important to me to have LGBT/nonbinary characters who have arcs that aren’t solely about their identities. In my cast of characters, the struggles come from being at the mercy of a cruel, punishing world where criminal families have taken over and now exercise their power to destroy whoever opposes them – not from being who they are. I wanted to write characters who were like me, and I’m a bisexual nonbinary person who experiences similar struggles to everyone else: recovery from abuse, stress about my job, learning how to make a marriage work, and existing in a world that can be cruel and unfeeling. That is where really interesting storytelling comes from: universal emotions, told in a way that feels true. Some of the highest praise I’ve ever received is from nonbinary people who tell me that not only are my books the only books they’ve ever read with nonbinary characters, but that they love the books because those nonbinary characters are given stories, arcs, and lives that show them as they are: dynamic, diverse people with struggles outside of being LGBT/nonbinary.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Alright, I’m a little biased… I prefer the mountains to the city. If my best friend was coming for a week long trip, I’d suggest a road trip through some of my favorite places in the mountains. My favorite place to camp is in Red Feather, northwest of Fort Collins. There’s a little spot I know of where you can drive down a path straight into the forest that opens up to a clearing surrounded by pine trees. Nope, not getting more specific than that… I want to keep that spot a secret! You can see the Milky Way on a clear night, and you can hear a stream nearby (just watch out for mosquitoes!) After a few days of camping there, I’d love to show my friend Panorama Point, which is west of Golden in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park. It has this absolutely amazing view of the Continental Divide. While we’re in the Golden area, I’d show my friend the Colorado School of Mines campus (my alma mater!) We’d eat at the Sherpa House, which boasts the best Himalayan food I’ve ever had. While we’re in Golden, we of course would have to stop in Pho Golden for some truly amazing pho. Also the Yardhouse, a favorite of my husband’s and mine… we’ve had frequent dates there, and we even went there after he proposed to me! We’d also need to check out the Dinosaur Ridge fossils. I was a mining engineering major in college and my husband is an avid rockhound, so of course we’d also have to visit the Colorado School of Mines Geology Museum (now the Mines Museum of Earth Science) – where we met! If my friend felt up for exercising, I’d love to take her to the Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre for a hard workout in an absolutely amazing location. While in college, I frequently went to the Mercury Café in Denver for swing and blues dancing. Of course it would be difficult with COVID, but in an ideal world, I’d take my friend there for some dancing and some delicious, local, organic food. (Personally, the chai tea and chocolate cake were a favorite for when I was dancing!) While in Denver, I’d simply have to treat her to a dinner at Linger, which I love for its slightly-creepy vibes and absolutely amazing dishes for sharing. I also love the Denver Aquarium and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a shoutout to my writing group. We all met about a year and a half ago during a series of online writing challenges. We quickly became friends and share so much of our lives together. With each other, we’ve found the space and support we need to write our own stories. We read each other’s writing and give feedback, advice, and not a small amount of admiration. It’s with this lovely group that I’ve found the courage to explore some very intense subjects and find my own voice in my stories. So to Ash, Sable, Orchid, and Moose (it’s a nickname!), thank you. You are some of the most wonderful women I’ve ever met and I am so, so grateful for your friendship.
Lucy Schultz Photography