S.L. Rowland (he/him) is a wanderer. Whether that’s getting lost in the woods or road-tripping coast to coast with his Shiba Inu, Lawson, he goes where the wind blows. When not writing, he enjoys hiking, reading, weightlifting, playing video games, and having his heart broken by various Atlanta sports teams.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Thanks for having me! I’m a fantasy author of over ten books and audiobooks. I got my start writing LitRPG, (If you’re not familiar, think Dungeons & Dragons meets epic fantasy) and I’ve just started branching into more traditional fantasy with my first cozy fantasy, Cursed Cocktails.
What can you tell us about your newest story, Cursed Cocktails? Where did the inspiration for this book come from?
All credit for the inspiration goes to Travis Baldree and his amazing debut novel, Legends & Lattes. It’s an amazing story of a retired orc barbarian who opens a coffee shop. I didn’t know how much I would be drawn to the idea of high fantasy with low stakes, but I loved it.
As I was reading, the idea for Cursed Cocktails started to form. It grew for months and months in the back of my mind while I finished up another project, and by the time I was done, I had this whole world that was ready to be explored. I knew I had to write it.
Cursed Cocktails seems to fall into the “cozy mystery/fantasy” genre, which is a genre I didn’t know I needed until I read and loved it. What caused you to move into that genre?
I felt the same way. After discovering cozy fantasy, I immediately fell in love with the possibilities it could offer for storytelling. One of my favorite tropes is the retired hero/adventurer, and seeing what these characters do when the fighting is over.
After the last few years, I kind of felt like everyone needed a bit of an escape from the doom and gloom of the real world, and cozy fantasy offers that. I love high fantasy and dungeons & dragons, and some of my favorite moments are the small scenes in a tavern or camping by the woods. The idea of writing full novels that capture that feeling was incredibly appealing to me.
As a writer, what drew you to writing fantasy, especially works intended for LQBTQ+ audiences?
Fantasy has always been a big part of my life. I grew up playing RPG video games and reading the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. As a kid, I’d often go out into the woods pretending I was on some epic quest and looking for hidden treasure. I’ve always been drawn to the fantastical, magic, elves, dwarves, and the like.
When the idea for Rhoren first came to me, I knew he was an LGBTQ+ character. It wasn’t what defined him, it was just part of who he was. And I wanted to tell his story to the best of my ability.
Since Geeks OUT is a queer centered website, could you tell us a bit about the LGBTQ+ characters featured in your books?
I’ve had several books feature LGBTQ+ characters as side characters, but Cursed Cocktails was the first one I’ve written with an LGBTQ+ protagonist. Rhoren is an elven blood mage suffering from the chronic pain caused by years of using blood magic to defend the realm. Once he retires, he moves to a warmer climate in the hopes that it will help with his pain. He’s a little broody at times with a good heart and a desire to help people. When he arrives in Eastborne, he meets Kallum, a human bartender who’s naturally charismatic with a detail oriented personality. The two have an easy-going relationship, balancing one another out in a lot of ways.
Where did you get your start in creative writing? What pulled you to fiction?
I dabbled with creative writing growing up, but never really pushed myself to explore it or hone my craft until much later in life. I had a pretty dysfunctional childhood growing up, but I always found escape in fantasy books and video games. Learning to write fiction has been a lifelong process. There were some very bad Harry Potter-esque attempts at worldbuilding in high school, and then I wrote a few post-apocalyptic short stories in college.
At 27, I took my first shot at writing a novel. It was a post-apocalyptic novel about a guy who dives into a lake and wakes up in the apocalypse. The book wasn’t very good, but it got me started down the path that would eventually become my career. This was when I first realized what it was like to have the characters really come to life in a story, and become more than just words on a page. By 29, I’d started researching publishing and eventually indie publishing. I published my first novel at 30, and I’ve been doing this ever since.
What magic systems/worlds/characters draw your attention?
There’s so much that I love–tolkienesque high fantasy, grimdark, cozy, litrpg. I think they all have something to offer, and depending on my mood, I’ll read just about anything. I love the retired adventurer trope, like Kvothe in Name of the Wind or Viv in Legends & Lattes, which has become a pretty popular in cozy fantasy as well. Morally grey characters can be fun. As long as the characters are written believably, I’ll ride along for the journey.
Your latest book contains drink recipes for the cocktails created in the books. Did you develop them yourself? Have you tried them all? Do you have a favorite?
Creating the drinks for Cursed Cocktails was a really fun experience. I worked in upscale restaurants for 10 years, so I have quite a bit of drink knowledge. Plus, I love a good cocktail. I had an idea for the type of drinks I wanted to include, and I knew I wanted to have a recipe book as a bonus download so that readers could make the drinks themselves.
One of my readers is an amazing bartender, and he’d made one of the magical drinks from my Sentenced to Troll series for fun. I reached out to him for some suggestions, and he helped me narrow down a list of real-world cocktails to use as a guide. Every drink in Cursed Cocktails is based off of a real-world cocktail, with all of the ingredients translated to a fantasy setting.
I’ve tried a good portion of them and one of my favorites is the Nelderland Mule, which is based on a Moscow Mule. There’s something about the copper mug that really sets it off.
Where do you see your stories going in the future? More like Cursed Cocktails, back to your previous works, or in a new direction?
I’d like to do a mixture of stories. One thing about creating the world for Cursed Cocktails is that it’s really epic in scope, allowing for a variety of story styles set in the same world. I already have a handful of story ideas I want to explore there, but I also love litrpg, so I’m sure I’ll write more in that genre as well. I just want to tell good stories with fun characters, wherever that leads me.
Are there any projects you are currently working on and are at liberty to speak about?
I’m currently working on a second book set in the world of Aedrea, the same setting as Cursed Cocktails. It will feature a character who made a brief appearance in the first book. I intentionally made the world epic, with nine kingdoms and a deep history, so that I could tell a lot of small-scale stories within the setting. I already have ideas for several more books.
After this current book, I’ll be wrapping up the sixth and final book in my Sentenced to Troll series before doing another book within Aedrea.
What’s something you haven’t done as a writer that you’d like to do?
That’s a good question. Doing a book tour sounds pretty cool but also incredibly stressful.
Aside from writing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I spend a lot of time walking my dog, playing video games, weightlifting, or getting lost in a good Netflix binge. I’m also a big fantasy football nerd, so that consumes way too much of my time in the fall. My interests are all over the place, so there’s usually something to keep me occupied.
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors/creators would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
There are so many great stories that fall under this umbrella with more releasing by the day. It’s great to see more representation in fiction. I think as readers, we can all enjoy stories that are different from our own, but it’s a nice feeling when you can relate to a character on a personal level.
A few of my favorites are The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, and Can’t Spell Treason Without Tea by Rebecca Thorne. They all have great characters and are feel-good stories.