In 2008, S.E. Chandler was driving across the Interstate 430 Arkansas River bridge, thinking about her paternal grandparents’ upcoming 65th wedding anniversary. One question kept running through her mind: How in the world do you stay married to someone for 100 years?
Granted, her grandparents were 35 years shy of that mark. Still, Chandler began to imagine how a couple might forge a relationship so strong it could last a century. A writer since third grade (when her classmates nicknamed her “Susy Shakespeare” on account of her penchant for writing stories), she began piecing together the bones of a plot.
Twelve years later, the pandemic lockdown finally gave Chandler (a self-described “excessively social person”) the isolation required to put flesh on those bones. She and her wife, Cathryn, canceled their cable TV service, and Chandler signed up for an online novel course.
The result was the genre-bending book The Lie That Binds, which Chandler self-published on April 7. To her surprise, the sci-fi, lesbian-romance thriller ended the day having reached No. 1 on Amazon’s bestseller list in multiple categories, including LGBTQ+ sci-fi.
“I started jumping up and down,” she says.
That wasn’t the end of the story, though. “I wanted it to be over, but the characters wanted more,” she says.
After she finished The Lie That Binds, Chandler went on to write two more novels, turning the initial tale into the first book of the Rise & Converge trilogy. The second book, Enter the Upperground, came out on April 22, hitting No. 1 on Amazon for LGBTQ+ action & adventure fiction on April 26.
Rise & Converge launched May 13. At 120,000 words — the size of the first two novels combined — it is the final installment of the story, Chandler insists. She knows this because her characters stopped showing her new ideas — a facet of the creative process that continues to amaze and inspire her.
“That part is really fun as a writer, when your characters are driving, and you’re just in awe.”
Learning the ropes
Set in Chicago in 2550, The Lie That Binds portrays a world in which DNA analysis can reveal whether a person has a soul mate and who that soul mate is. Anyone whose genome indicates “the One” enjoys not only the security of knowing they’re with the right person but also receives unlimited financial, educational and medical support. Everyone else is labeled “Unmatched” and denied these services. While the Unmatched can have relationships with one another, it’s up to them to put in the work needed to keep those relationships alive.
The protagonist, Ehra Havel, straddles both worlds: Born Unmatched, she is adopted by a pair of soul mates. The action kicks off when the brother of Ehra’s girlfriend disappears. The plot’s whiplash pace echoes the tagline Chandler wrote for the book, which describes the intensity of Ehra’s romantic relationship with girlfriend Mamara as “a first-crush kiss chased by a punch in the mouth.”
As a self-publisher, Chandler says she has managed all aspects of the project. To learn the ropes, she read all that she could online from other successful self-published authors. Approaching it like a class, Chandler dedicated approximately six months to the tasks recommended by other writers.
Setting up her website, creating a mailing list and crafting an author page on Facebook were just the first steps to promoting her work. Insights from her research also made it clear that weekends were a bad time to publish, as was the stretch of Nov. 1-Jan. 1, when traditional publishing houses have their holiday push.
“The information is all out there,” notes Chandler. “You just have to have the discipline and the words to lay the stuff in there and publish it.”
Her Type A personality and love of spreadsheets, she adds, also helped.
Enter the Upperground picks up right after the cliffhanger ending of The Lie That Binds. Ehra, having strengthened some family ties and severed others, faces a more complicated future when she learns about a number of Unmatched people who successfully pass within privileged society.
“I didn’t believe [what] my characters had in store for me,” Chandler says, including “a surprise ending that made my mother angry. And if she’s mad about it, that means I’ve created good suspense.”
With Rise & Converge — which imagines Ehra going into politics to address her society’s inequities — complete, Chandler says she’s working on her next series. Set in the present day, the author says it’s about “the convergence of gay and straight women coming together and the fun and madness that ensues with that.”
Her latest project, which is lighter in tone compared to the trilogy, “has been a lot of run to write,” Chandler says. “It’s brain candy.”
For more information on Chandler’s series and forthcoming books, visit avl.mx/bkk.