I discovered Caelum Lex through Reddit.
It immediately caught my attention for several reasons:
- The authors provide updates to the story every week
- The story is reminiscent of Firefly (in very good ways)
- The creators really seemed to be “going for it”
I love finding self-publishers who take their work seriously, strive to improve, and who have an obvious love for science fiction. I reached out to the creators, Haley and Jenn, and asked to do an interview with them. They kindly agreed.
For context, here their bios:
Hayley is an animator, illustrator and designer who dabbles in writing on the side. She illustrates each chapter and creates the mixed-media additional content.
Jenn is a research reporter and technical writer by day, a Netflix-watcher, event photographer and creative writer by night. She’s the story’s main writer and editor.
Here is the interview:
You’ve compared Caelum Lex to Firefly. Picasso once said “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” How much or how little of your material found its origins in Firefly? Also, tell me your thoughts on the series, and the feature film Serenity.
Hayley: I will readily admit that the roots of all this space pirate nonsense came about in 2005, shortly after Serenity hit theaters. I’d been a mild fan of Firefly before the film, having caught a couple episodes before it met its untimely demise, but it wasn’t until the movie that I actually felt the strong urge to go out and watch the rest of what I’d missed. Needless to say, I was inspired.
What I like most about the series is how easy it is to relate to. I grew up watching traditional, episodic sci-fi such as Star Trek, Stargate, anything with the word “star” in the title, and while I love that style, there’s something about Firefly that sets it apart. It feels very gritty and real. It’s not about military powers and important scientists and the finest ship in the universe, but normal people struggling to get by. The characters are very human, well developed, and even a non-sci-fi fan can relate to them easily. They feel like a family.
In 2005, the span of Caelum Lex was probably a lot more closely related to the world of Firefly than it is now. Over time, the world and the characters developed on their own, but the major points that inspired it originally are still core aspects: a small ship with a close-knit crew, and storytelling which focuses on the human element.
It might be pretentious to say that I want Caelum Lex to continue on where Firefly unfortunately was never able to travel, but it’s true: I want to show the world that sci-fi is just as relevant as other genres and not just a niche for nerds.
You’ve probably thought about the storylines and characters of Caelum Lex for far longer than you’ve worked on producing the comic (would you call it a comic?). How did you decide to stop thinking and start doing?
Hayley: Fiearius, Cyrus, the Dionysian and a big chunk of the span have existed, as I said, since 2005. Their background stories have changed quite a bit throughout the years of course and as for their ongoing stories, it was always kind of up in the air. They were created as roleplay characters so the intention was always to collaborate with someone else on what actually happens to the Dionysian after the brothers acquire it. And they did go through many iterations of that as well, but none of them were the story I wanted. I didn’t know what that story was, but I knew I’d know it when I saw it.
A little over a year ago, I got in contact with Jenn and we started writing together and at last, it was right. It was the kind of story that you couldn’t wait to get back to writing and with a collaborator, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. As time went on, it just got better and better until finally last August we decided we wanted to do something with it.
The original idea was a webcomic, but the way we wanted to do it, there just wasn’t enough free time in the week to get it done. So we did the next best thing. A web serial of the text story we already had with illustrations and extra content.
For me at least, I just wanted to get this thing I loved so dearly out there. We were already putting so much of ourselves into it regardless, it made sense to make a home for it and share it with others. I won’t deny that there’s definitely an aspect of showing off your baby, but I stand by the fact that there is nothing more satisfying than someone else caring about your characters even a fraction of the amount that you do.
One of things I enjoy most about the story is the relationship between the brothers, Fiearius and Cyrus. Can you give us some details on how you decided to characterize each of them?
Hayley: Fiearius and Cyrus date back to a time when I was just creating characters non-stop. Mostly for art’s sake, many of the characters didn’t make it past their infancy, but those two definitely stuck. The contrast between them was more than intentional; it formed the basis of their creation. I really liked the idea of these two brothers who were so very different, but somehow managed to overcome that and love each other regardless.
At the time, they weren’t space pirates yet. Just seeds with basic (read: crappy) designs, but with time and with use in writing, they started to grow. It sounds strange as they’re characters of my own creation, but it’s true that they manage to surprise me with how they turn out. I’m sure other writers will understand, sometimes characters just go places you wouldn’t have expected. They’re a fine example of that.
Follow up question: Is it fair to assume the contrast between logic and pragmatic problem solving (Cyrus) and emotion and passion (Fiearius) was intentional?
Hayley: Even though Fiear and Cy are opposites, there ended up being a lot of similarities between them. They both have tempers, they both struggle with their morality, and they both care deeply about the people around them, even if they have different ways of showing it. An interesting rivalry exists between them which stems back to when they were children. Cyrus was the golden child in all senses of the word. Academically, behaviorally, professionally. Which of course gives Fiearius reasons to resent him. Alternatively, Fiearius has lived a more vibrant and full life, something that Cyrus envies.
My favorite part of writing them comes from the fact that they spent a good decade apart before they ended up on the ship. It’s been four years since they boarded the Dionysian and they’re still trying to get to know one another. They each had ideas about what their brother was like and those ideas are slowly getting broken down over time as they come to an understanding and start to recognize themselves in one another. They’re great characters to explore because they have such a heavy history together, but they’ve still got a long way to go in their relationship.
Did you consider starting the story from Leta’s perspective? The classic “fish out of water” storyline? It’s interesting that you start us with Cyrus, and only enter Leta’s perspective later on. I wonder if that was a conscious choice or simply how you happened to tell the story.
Jenn: Perspective is something I’ve struggled with while writing CL. I originally thought that each chapter would come from a different perspective (Cyrus, Leta, Corra) to provide a well-rounded view of ship life. But in the beginning chapters, I found the story was more easily told from Leta’s point of view. Thrown into this new setting, learning how things work, trying to manage her personal motivations against those of the crew, fighting her independent streak when she really must ask for help. . . Essentially, she has a lot to learn, as does the reader. She’s either the classic “fish out of water” storyline or “a stranger comes to town.”
Leta’s quickly becoming adapted to things (to her surprise), so pretty soon the chapters WILL alternate perspectives, as opposed to mostly Leta’s. I’m especially excited to write from Fiearius’ point of view. That’ll be very soon.
The artwork for each character has matured through the series. As a writer, I find that I have to write a fair amount of material before I can really “see” a character in my mind’s eye. As a visual artist, do you have the same experience?
Hayley: I wouldn’t say it’s so much being able to “see” the characters as it is just a matter of practice. With Fiearius and Cyrus, I’ve known what they’ve looked like for a long time. However, I’ve had to grow in skill as an artist to accurately depict them. Even now, sometimes I can’t quite get it right. A varying degree of “accuracy” between what I envision and what I create means that I like some renditions more than others. Obviously I aim for images of Fiear to be as ‘Fiear-y’ as possible, but I’m not that good and my art’s not that consistent. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Writers can easily go back and change words around on a page. We can delete entire paragraphs or chapters! It’s much harder to change a static piece of art. Do you ever feel frustrated at earlier renderings of your characters?
Hayley: Definitely. Always. Again, though, it’s far more about talent than anything else. I’m afraid to say that I’m one of those annoying artists that hates all of their old work or anything that didn’t quite meet up to their expectations. If I had my way, I’d go back and redo all of the art before chapter 10 because so much of it bothers me as I know that if I put in the time now, I could do better. It’s a fruitless goal though since it would never end. I’m learning to let go but it hasn’t been easy.
There was also the matter of figuring out how the illustrations for the chapters worked. In the first few chapters, there were about 9 illustrations each, but they were all really simple and rushed. It took me a few weeks of playing around to figure out that I was happier with less art that was better than spending the same amount of time on more art that was bad and it took even more time to figure out the best workflow for creating that art. I think I’ve finally got it to a place I’m satisfied with. It’s just a shame that I wasn’t able to figure it out sooner.
What’s surprised you most about the process of publishing Caelum Lex?
Jenn: The fact that I somehow get the writing done each week! Our schedule forces me to be an efficient writer. I can’t spend too much time over-editing and I can’t procrastinate. My college professors never managed to instill those virtues in me—it probably helps that CL is far more fun to write than college papers.
We’ve also loved hearing the reactions of our readers, some of which surprised me. A few female readers have expressed their huge crushes on Cyrus. I didn’t expect that! It’s hilarious and I love it; they’re so protective of him. He has more fangirls than Fiearius, the bad boy. Some smart readers out there!
What’s been most rewarding?
Hayley: The fans. Definitely, the fans. I can’t describe the elation when some stranger on the internet tells me their theories about our characters and the story. Hearing that someone enjoys the story feels incredible and rewarding. The idea that others appreciate the thing you love so much—I never get over it. Every nice comment makes me want to jump up and down like an idiot.
Jenn: Same here. Since the New Year, we have more than tripled the number of readers we have. A great way to start 2013! I love the feedback we receive (good and bad) and especially love the theories and speculation from our fans, which tend to focus on romance between our characters. Really fun.
How about the most challenging?
Hayley: Time. That’s really the only challenge. I work a full time job. Fitting in Caelum Lex can sometimes be a little harrowing. Other than time, it’s not really a challenge as it’s truly a pleasure—I enjoy every minute of it. I do wish I could give it more of my time and still pay the bills.
Jenn: Time is my answer as well. I just graduated and now also work 40 hours a week. I know the quality of some of my writing has suffered with our schedule of updating every Friday but I believe it’s WAY more important to consistently get a chapter out there than be perfectionistic. I have to silence my inner-critic from time to time.
What advice would you give anyone seeking to self-publish anything in the sci-fi genre?
Hayley: Advice for publishing? My method has been “do what ever and see if it works and fix it if it doesn’t”. Probably not the best advice. But perhaps there’s something in there. Just go for it. You never know what your reception will be or what will happen with it, if anything happens at all, but it doesn’t hurt to try. If you’re doing what you love, whether that be writing or drawing or what have you, it doesn’t matter. Just get it out there and let it be what it is. Be proud of your work and stand by it. Listen to feedback. Your users/audience/readers have valuable advice. Be consistent, be active, be responsive, hit deadlines, stick with it.
Jenn: We’re definitely learning and adjusting as we go, but I have a few ideas about what’s important. Consistency is high on my list, which means picking a realistic date you can update your piece so you can always hit the deadline. Also, make your story (or art, or comic) very easily accessible. RSS feeds, social media, etc. Basically, it’s a matter of putting the work in. If you’ve got a compelling story, people will want to read it.
End of Interview