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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya talk to Sondi Warner about non-traditional publishing, making consent sexy and the trio at the center of her book, "Lead Me Astray."
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Our guest today is Sondi Warner, pronouns she and her. Sondi writes LGBTQ+ polyamorous romance under the pen name, Lesserknown1. When this cis-lesbian writer isn't shipping triads, she enjoys playing video games, critiquing internet pics of other people's gumbo and spending family time with her life partner and four kids. Sondi, we're so glad that you're here with us today. Thanks for coming through.
Sondi: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.
Erica: Kenrya just read your official bio. I feel a little judged because I am someone from St. Louis that loves to make gumbo. I will never post it for people like you. But tell us in just regular-ass words what you do.
Sondi: What I do is, I basically use my platform of writing to share diverse narratives, so that people can get exposure to different types of relationships, polyamorous relationships, consensual non-monogamy. And I also like to place an emphasis on LGBTQ-plus characters. Because I think that it builds empathy when someone is able to stand in the shoes of someone else and to kind of say, "Well, this isn't too different. This isn't too unbelievable." So I write queer polyamorous romance so that I can share those diverse narratives, as kind of a form of creative activism.
Kenrya: Wow. So what's your writer origin story? Did you always know you're a writer? Were you the six-year-old writing stories on the back of everything?
Sondi: Yes, I was. I was in the second grade. I was about seven years old, actually. And my second grade teacher came up with this competition. She's like, "Hey, I want everyone in class to write this story." And I did, she entered it into a regional writing contest and I won first place. And then I went on to win first place every year for the next five years. And so, winning definitely made me feel like, "Okay, yeah. This is what I'm supposed to do. I'm a writer. I'm the writer of my parish." Clearly, I was a pretentious kid, but I was also full of myself. I kid you not. It took growing up, becoming an adult, getting into the world of ghost writing to realize, "Well, maybe I'm not quite a writer yet. But I'm going to be." So yeah, I always knew this is what I wanted to do.
Erica: I love the idea of a little Black girl being full of herself. We need more Sondis in the world. So we learned that you worked as a ghost writer for years. What made you make the leap from working on books for other people to creating your own?
Sondi: That one was an easier leap than I wanted it to be. I had been working with a client for a very long time and we had built a great rapport. We had a great relationship, a very well-paying client. Unfortunately, he decided to close his publishing company unexpectedly. Which put me back into the gig economy. Relying on finding new clients and I was having trouble with it at the time. I went through a little phase of depression behind it. And my daughter says, "Well, get away from that stuff. Get away from the sales figures, the marketing, the chasing behind clients and writing to someone else's specifications. If this is what you love doing, do this thing." It may sound like I'm making this up, but I kid you not. My 14-year-old is probably a 23-year-old trapped in a 14-year-old's body.
Sondi: And so, she sat me down with Ava DuVernay's TED talk. She's like, "Watch this." And she's like, "Listen to what she's saying. If this is what you want to do, do it because you love it. Don't do it because you have to do it. Don't do it because it's a job." That really kind of sparked it. It made me feel like there is something else that I can be doing with this. It can still be my career. But for now, I can embrace this writing for myself, just writing for leisure. Even if it doesn't necessarily go anywhere. I think I've found the most success when I got away from that model of, "This is my job. I clock in, I write, I turn it into a client." And I got into the mode of, "This is what I love to do. I get up and I write and then I post it. And I share with people and I see how they like it."
Kenrya: Wow. Look at that baby changing your life in all the ways.
Erica: I was going to say, that full of herself six-year-old later on went to birth an amazing 14-year-old. Jeez, that is so dope. So you kind of touched on this a little bit towards the end of that last answer. But the book we read last week, Lead Me Astray, was published in a nontraditional way. So why did you make that choice and can you tell us a little bit more about that process?
Sondi: Yes. So, as I pointed out, my daughter tells me, "Hey, do this thing because you love it." And at the time, she was a huge fan of this platform called Wattpad. And I had heard about Wattpad. It's been around for forever. But I really thought of it as this place for teenagers to spew their hormonal stories. But when I saw how much she was on there and enjoying it. And I knew what her interests and tastes were, which weren't really kind of those traditional teenager tastes, I was like, "Well, let me see what this is." And I decided to follow her advice and post my stories on to the Wattpad platform. So to clarify what Wattpad actually is, it is a story sharing platform where anyone can write and post their story for others to read. But in the past five to two... Three to five years, they've kind of expanded their roles into a talent agency.
Sondi: And so you see movies like “After.” You see shows like “Light As A Feather” on Hulu. These are things that kind of started at Wattpad, that kind of got an international market and expanded. They became much bigger than just a story on a free writer's platform. And so yeah, by me posting “Lead Me Astray” onto Wattpad, it actually ended up becoming really beneficial for me. It opened up a lot of opportunities for me. It was nontraditional. But I think that the publishing industry is evolving in such a way, that you're going to see a lot more authors coming out with a different way of doing things and finding success with that.
Kenrya: That's awesome.
Erica: So where did the inspiration for this story come from? We opened this call with me gushing about how unique and layered the story was, but where did the inspiration come from?
Sondi: Well, when I sat down, and it was really rapid fire, I wish that there was a way to fully put you in that moment. But if you can imagine a woman walking around her living room, just kind of in this angsty period of, "What am I going to do? I'm a writer. I don't feel like I'm sharing my work. I don't feel like I'm getting exposure that I need. I don't feel like it's going anywhere." And then if you can imagine someone saying, "Hey, sit down. If this is what you like to do, just do the thing." It transitioned so quickly from there to me grabbing a notebook and jotting down ideas and saying, "Okay, if I was going to read this book, what type of character would I want to see?" And I wanted to see a character like me, like my daughter.
Sondi: I wanted to see someone who wasn't a generic African American character. I wanted to see someone who was a Black girl in her own space, a space of success, a space of aspirations. And I wanted to see what would happen if she encountered all of these trials and tribulations that had to make her stronger. Because obviously that's all of our life stories, it doesn't matter what your background is. Aurie Edison is the daughter of a celebrity, but she still have her hardships. And so, the inspiration for her and the rest of the characters was really just kind of looking at my life and saying, "What do I want to see? What type of story do I need to tell myself to get out of this moment?"
Kenrya: So my next question was going to be, which one of the characters do you most identify with? So I think what I would just ask now is why? Because you just told us.
Sondi: Yeah. I actually identify with each of the main characters. There are three. We've got Aurie, Mys and Zyr. She wants to live her best life. But if I had to say who I related to the most, you would have to take different character traits from each of them. Because let's be clear, Aurie Edison's character is to me, this kid who is just going and getting it, just doing it, following all the rules, making all these smart choices. And then something unfortunate happens to her. I was kind of like Aurie's sister Haley. I was the one who was, when I was younger, I was the one who was like, "I want to sneak into the parties. I want to hop in the car with strangers. I want to do all the wild things." And it was my sister who was like Aurie in terms of just her temperament.
Sondi: She was like, "No, Sondi. You can't lean out over a high rise and take pictures. Because it's dangerous." But in terms of the other characters, from Aurie I take kind of that desire to live her best life. From Haley, I take that devil may care attitude. And from Mys, Mys has this kind of mysterious enigmatic type of feel. I am just as much a loner as Mys. I very rarely leave my house. And so the whole time I was writing that character, they really kind of reflected my own desire to be in this bubble, to close myself off from the world. Because the emotions of the world can sometimes be so overwhelming. And from Zyr, he's a total workaholic and I think that I probably am a workaholic too. So a little bit from everybody, definitely.
Kenrya: Love it. One of the many things we love about this book, because we love this book, is that it makes consent a natural, sexy part of the story. Why was that important to you?
Sondi: At the end of the day, what I've seen happening in pop culture is just an awareness that consent is a necessary part of relationships, of sex, of every interaction. If I go in to hug you, I'm going to ask you first, "Is it okay if I hug you?" And the reason it was important for me is because I want to take this next generation of young readers. I wrote this book really kind of geared toward older Gen Z readers. And I want it to be normal and sexy. I don't want them to think, "Okay, this is the awkward moment where I have to say whether or not I consent." I want it to be like, "You know what? This is the natural part of interacting with other people."
Sondi: Because if you care about someone, then you don't just impose, you don't just make assumptions. And if we start to amplify that message, I think that we can kind of see a change across the culture when it comes down to how we discuss sex and how we interact with other people. It should be natural, it should just be a natural part of the process.
Kenrya: Absolutely. If readers can take just one thing away with them after they read Lead Me Astray, what would you want that to be?
Sondi: The most important aspect of the story to me, is that sometimes you can do everything right, you can make all the smart decisions, and things can still go drastically wrong. But that the caveat is you go through these things, it's not a test to stop you or to bring you down, but it's kind of a test to prepare you for the next level. And if readers can take in Aurie, Mys and Zyr's story and kind of walk away from it thinking they went through a lot of stuff. But in the end they were able to accomplish their goals. Aurie was able to live her best life. Mys was able to figure out that they deserved love. Zyr was able to understand that if you care about someone, it can't be all work and 'you guys got to understand I'm working.' And if readers come away from the story understanding that you're going to go through something, but you're going to be okay, that would really make me happy.
Sondi: Because I said to you before, that when I sat down to write this book, I asked myself, "What is the story I need to hear right now? What story is it? What's going to speak to me and take me out of this dark moment that I'm in? Because I'm not working, I'm not doing the thing that I love. I'm not receiving the accolades that I want at this point in my life." The story wrote itself. And the message that I needed to hear was that you're going to go through this thing, but you're going to be okay. You're going to come out okay. So I hope that that's what readers take away from it.
Kenrya: Awesome. So what are you reading right now?
Sondi: Right now? I'm so glad you asked me that. Okay, so one of the things is... One of the things is, as a Wattpad writer, I'm also a Wattpad star. And that's just basically, it basically means I'm part of their digital talent roster. And so I spend a lot of time reading trad published books and indie published books. But I also spend a lot of time reading those books by the up and coming authors on Wattpad. And there is this fantastic series by this author and Wattpad named Graham Bower. And it's the Earthshine series, basically chronicling...
Sondi: It's kind of got a sci-fi feel to it, but you get deeper into it before you get to the sci-fi part. But it's chronically the lives of these two characters who find out that they have this special ability to, I guess, transcend. I guess that's the best word for it. And the book opens up with fantastic writing. The characters are beautiful and believable. It takes you to places, it's a travel type of book. We get to go to India, we go through France, we go to Europe. I'm enjoying that book quite a bit. It's called Earthshine, it's on Wattpad, and that is by Graham Bowers.
Kenrya: Thanks. We always like a good book recommendation, so we appreciate that. And then our last question is what's next for you?
Sondi: What's next for me? Well, right now I'm working on book two of the Overlay City series. And so, I will be done with the entire three books by, hopefully by next year. But in the midst of writing, I'm also doing my own IGTV show. It's called Behind the Scenes with LK1 and it's just basically a way for me to share and end up looking through the types of writing that I do. And also to kind of give words of encouragement and advice to other people. And along with that, I have also been gearing up to see Lead Me Astray transition into bigger and better opportunities. And I can't wait to be able to share that with my readership. So 2020, I'm looking forward to this year being incredibly busy and incredibly active, and is the kind of busy that I like. Writing, videos, doing as much as I can to share my creative force.
Erica: Yeah. You saying that reminded me of a question that I wanted to ask. Which is where did your pen name come from?
Sondi: That's funny because most people don't ask that. The Lesserknown1. Well, they say every family has a writer. My family has several writers, actually. My mom, she writes, she's a hobby writer. My sister's a published author. Well, she's indie published. My younger brother actually does a lot of the story development for video games with EA. And so, I'm kind of the lesser known one. I write queer, polyamorous romance. I'm just kind of diving into it and coming from behind the scenes, coming from the ghost writing end, more so backdoor, more so not forward facing. So the Lesserknown1 reflects just kind of that sense of you don't know me yet, but you will know me. I'm coming out of the shadow, definitely.
Kenrya: I was about to say, that's changing.
Sondi: Yeah, I hope so.
Kenrya: So, we want to make sure that we let folks know where they can find you. I see your website is lesserknown1.com, correct?
Sondi: That is correct. And you can also find-
Kenrya: Okay. And on Wattpad, it's wattpad.com... Oh, go ahead. Tell us, please.
Sondi: Oh, you're doing a fantastic job. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to over talk you. I was just going to say you can also find me on wattpad.com/user/lesserknown1, the number one, altogether. You can also find me on Twitter and on Instagram. And my handles on both of those are lesser_known_1.
Kenrya: Wonderful. See, you did a great job at it. And that ends this week's episode of The Turn On. And thank you so much for joining us.
Kenrya: This episode was produced by us, Kenrya and Erica and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. We want to hear from you all. Send your book recommendations and all the burning sex and related questions you want us to answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. And please subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app. Follow us on Twitter @TheTurnOnPod and Instagram @TheTurnOnPodcast, and find links to our books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff @TheTurnOnPodcast.com. And remember The Turn On is now a part of the Frolic podcast network. You can find more shows you'll love at Frolic.media/podcast. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you soon.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.