Unveiling Fantasy Realms: An Interview with Erica Rose Eberhart

Meet Erica Rose Eberhart, an enchanting storyteller who weaves tales of queer characters, dragons, and transformative journeys. Residing in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York, Erica’s creative spirit draws inspiration from the diverse landscapes she has experienced. With a passion for young adult and adult fantasy, her debut novel “Tarnished,” published by Creative James Media in January 2025, delves into themes of self-discovery, empowerment, and inclusive representation. Join us as we explore Erica’s personal journey, writing process, advocacy for diversity in literature, and aspirations within the literary world.

Can you share more about your personal journey of self-discovery and how it influenced the creation of your novel “Tarnished”?

I grew up in a setting where topics of sexuality were not discussed. If it was mentioned, it was with an understanding that there was some wrongness to anything beyond heterosexual relationships. Taunts, jokes, and commentary abounded. I didn’t understand what it meant to be queer and I didn’t identify as queer either. I was so deep within the closet I didn’t even realize I was in one. This was the 90s and early aughts, and having access to the internet was something I primarily only obtained at school, so deep diving into this subject was hard to do, and living in a rural area as well…there were very few resources to expand my knowledge. All in all, much of the outside world was something I was curious about but didn’t have much access to. 

I was into fantasy as a small child and it stuck with me through my teen years. It was a form of escape and hyperfocus. Through fantasy, I visited any country, I was any person, and could do anything. I was always a big daydreamer and began writing at a very young age, but by the time I was in high school, my dabbling with writing became a true passion. I had random strikes of inspiration, would boot up my dying computer, and write an entire book over the course of a weekend. These stories weren’t very good, they weren’t very long, but I got them done and felt empowered in doing so. It was through my writing I was able to ask questions I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable asking those around me. I explored sexuality and attraction. I allowed my quirks—behaviors others labeled as odd or inappropriate—to be normalized. Through my stories, I was able to be myself without judgment; something I was frightened I would experience if I expressed these thoughts and feelings to those around me. This perhaps was a misjudgement, as I know many of those around me would have happily embraced me at my truest form, but at the time I was scared. 

As I wrote and read literature, I was drawn to fantasy and often attracted most to stories of outsiders, of people who did not quite fit in and discovered something about themselves that gave them a sense of purpose and power. I didn’t question this and it only seemed important years later when I fully accepted that I was queer and neurodivergent.

But my 20s were rough with mental illness, financial hardship, and little stability. I pushed those interests away and made myself into something I wasn’t. A professional who was clean, crisp, and kept everything held back. Nothing that could label me as “weird.” Nothing that could cause people to pay too close attention to me. I wanted to focus on my work and get ahead in life, and I denied myself my interests for the entirety of it, making myself in the process more and more miserable.

When I began to write Tarnished, it was nearly two years into the pandemic. I was in my thirties and a new mother. I just left my career in Washington DC and moved to the country. I hadn’t written a single thing from start to finish in nearly 15 years. Tarnished was a story that flickered in my mind for years but never quite clicked or fully developed, until it did. It was like being a teen again. I sat and wrote until it was done and I felt successful and proud. It was a story I always craved, about a woman discovering her own inner strength, her own power, and that she could shrug off the opinions of those in her community. There was also a note of discovery for her when she realized she was attracted to women as well as men. 

When these characters came to me, I didn’t think “I am going to write about my self-discovery” but as I wrote, it seemed impossible to ignore. It was such an important step to answering questions I had my entire life and accepting myself when for years I didn’t. Slowly, my characters became a love letter for the 20-year-old I once was who buried every interesting aspect about herself. It became a project where, if I could travel back in time, I’d hand her a copy of my book because that 20-year-old didn’t know she needed it. Perhaps there’s other 20-year-olds out there who need this story too. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while writing and bringing your sapphic high fantasy novel to life?

I’ve discovered that when I write, I tend to do so in hyper focused bursts. I classically underwrite—making my first drafts thousands of words shorter than what the final length will be—but when I’m drafting I’ll sit down and write thousands of words in a single sitting. Creating a fantasy world, keeping notes of the names of places, the magic system, and different creatures is a lot to keep track of, but doing all of this while also being a stay-at-home mom and taking on freelance editorial opportunities made it a bit harder. When I began writing Tarnished, my child was home full time as childcare was hard to come by and he wasn’t of age for preschool. There were many times I had inspiration and simply could not sit down and write, others where I had the opportunity—a free day where my spouse was with our son—and the words simply didn’t come. While there was a lot to learn about writing this novel, I also had to recognize how much I pushed myself and how my creative energy came and went. It was a lesson in embracing the free moments and not allowing too much disappointment if things didn’t work out.

How did your experiences growing up with a love for fantasy literature shape your perspective on representation and inclusivity in storytelling?

Most of my favorite movies and shows revolved around fantasy. I was utterly fascinated with anything pertaining to Merlin, Arthur, and the magic of Camelot. I loved the fantasy movies of the 80s like Labyrinth, Legend, and Ladyhawke. All of these gorgeous movies with a male and female character, often with one in danger (the female) and the other character having some element of power whether magical or physical (and often male) that saved the one in danger.

The Lord of the Rings was my whole life from middle school on. I adored every character, and that so many of the male characters showed empathy, sadness, and love without a toxic spin on it. But while I enjoyed the female characters, I wanted more from them. I wanted to see their stories. I wanted to see their quests. 

With Arthurian legend, I adore Morgan le Fay and any versions of her story, but so often she is a subplot or villain. Over and over, I read these books because they excited me and enveloped me in a world I loved to imagine, but they never once felt fully complete. With Tarnished, I wanted the person wielding the sword who has to protect the princess to be a woman—because why not? I also didn’t recall any queer characters in these fantasy settings and this felt like the perfect opportunity. I am a bisexual woman who writes, why not tell a story where the characters end up loving someone from their gender? Why not have women wielding swords and commanding armies?

Could you discuss the themes of empowerment and self-acceptance that are central to “Tarnished”? How do these themes reflect your own beliefs and experiences?

Tarnished is a multi-POV novel, focusing on three women navigating a tricky situation, but the majority of chapters are from the perspective of Ailith and Caitriona. Ailith is given her first job beyond the city walls for a life-changing amount of money that could help provide comfort for her lower-class family who is struggling with health issues as well as a crumbling home. When she discovers her job is much more than she assumed it would be, she waivers and begins to distrust her own abilities. Throughout the book she is forced to face her own failures and look within herself to recognize her strengths. It’s through her own determination and devotion that she’s able to push through, an admirable quality that I think many people have but may not realize.

Caitriona, on the other hand, has to accept herself and the many changes she’s experiencing. As she realizes her life was built with an abundance of lies and she didn’t have the support from some she expected, it shakes her sense of stability and she has to ask the painful question “who am I?” 

Having self-doubt and discovering the truth of yourself and your life is never a straightforward mission. There are often tears and mess-ups, and my characters find themselves having those same experiences. In the last ten years or so, I came to realize how miserable I was because for a decade, I hid so much of myself. I didn’t allow myself to enjoy the things I liked because I was so concerned with the perception of others. But then I came to a point where I didn’t care as much, I didn’t want to know what others’ opinions were of me, and slowly I was able to rediscover myself. I’ve fumbled along the way, thinking I enjoyed one thing and realizing I didn’t like it so much, but I’ve also had moments of great rediscovery. I’ve returned to aspects of myself I forgot and now embrace them fully. Accepting myself, my whole self, has made life so much more pleasurable and I’m excited to see where it will go. Much like my characters, who with time are able to look ahead and wonder “Well, where to now?”

What lessons did you learn during the process of writing and publishing your book that you would like to share with aspiring authors, especially those from marginalized communities?

There is an abundance of advice on social media for writers who are starting out on their journey to publish. Everyone has a hot take but some are more insistent that their opinion is the golden rule. It’s tricky, particularly as someone who likes to do things “the right way” when you’re having all of this information thrown at you. Should you outline your book before you begin to write? Should you edit as you write your novel? Should you have additional novels drafted before you plunge into the query trenches? Do you want an agent if you’re going to go with an independent publisher? Do you want to self publish? Would you rather just focus on traditional publishing? 

For a while, I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t know what I wanted, what I was supposed to do, and I felt pressure from every opposing opinion that their way was the right way, and doing the opposite was foolish. 

Flustered, I tried all of the different pointers. Finally I reached a point where I realized what worked for me was the important attribute. 

I outline before I write and I refuse to edit until my draft is complete—that’s what works for me. If that method doesn’t connect with your method, that’s ok! It doesn’t mean how you go about creating is wrong. So often I see people forcing themselves to do it one way or another because they feel it’s the “right” way and their work suffers. They send themselves into writer’s block and it isn’t until they give up and begin writing in the way they prefer that they seem to return to ease in writing.

If you’re not sure what works, try different strategies for these creative stages, see what sticks, and it’s ok if what you think sticks may suddenly be a bog on your creativity and you switch to another process. Writing your novel without outlining it, editing it as you go, throwing out your draft and writing from scratch, whatever it is, so long as it works for you it’s all that matters at the end of the day. What gets you to write is what is right.

In what ways do you hope “Tarnished” will impact readers, particularly those who may resonate with its themes of identity, love, and courage?

There’s a selection of novels I’ve read in my life that have given me a reading hangover. When the book is done, I’m left unable to concentrate on something new because there’s a sudden, unexpected void in my life. I always tend to wish I could reread that book again for the first time, and the story will flit through my mind for months and years after; a flicker of emotion tied to the very plot and characters that author created comes to life when my mind returns to it. I hope Tarnished impacts someone similarly. I hope that a reader will come away from Tarnished wishing they could read it for the first time again and think of the characters in the future. I hope that my characters stay with them and come to mind when they are facing moments in their life where they think they aren’t enough and realize they are.  

Can you talk about the importance of having diverse and authentic LGBTQ+ representation in literature, especially within the fantasy genre?

As I was growing up, the internet wasn’t a constant in everyone’s household, resources for queer people weren’t readily accessible, and due to this, my world didn’t broaden very much until I was able to read and learn from a large pool of sources. Taking in literature with diversity allowed me to learn more about the experiences of people I do not identify as. It gave me a chance to form more empathy and be a better advocate for them. Having such representation within fantasy is particularly important since it is such a straight and white dominated field. So much of classic fantasy is lacking the brightly colored world that is our reality. Escapism is a human experience, something anyone can search for within a book, and they should be able see themselves and all that makes them special and unique represented in these magical places.

What advice would you give to individuals who are struggling to embrace their own identity or express themselves authentically, whether it’s in their personal lives or creative pursuits?

I don’t know if I ever would be as happy as I am now if I didn’t embrace my own identity and begin to truly behave as the person I am at my core. I don’t know if I ever would have finished writing a novel if I didn’t embrace myself and write what I loved. For so long I was trying to chase after what publishing seemed attracted to; I wanted to create something like what was popular, and my words were stunted things that never came out well enough to become a novel. It was when I pushed that aside and wrote what I wanted, what was in my heart and my brain, while simultaneously accepting myself and all my interests, that writing became easy again. Perhaps, if you find yourself in a similar situation where you aren’t quite happy with yourself and words are hard to get on paper, you can try to do the same.

How has your journey as an author and advocate for diversity in literature influenced your future projects or goals within the literary world? 

There is a central theme through my life and experiences as both a queer person and a reader, and that is often the lack of representation. This has been gradually changing, particularly in the last ten years or so, but with censorship growing and more queer books coming under fire it seems more important than ever to lend my voice and tell stories that may connect with someone, anyone. With seeing more published, I’ve also noted some consistencies that I hope to help fix. Often enough in media, there’s “bury your gays” where the queer character ends up dead or their story buried within the overall story. It’s not deemed important enough, not deemed survivable. I refuse to kill any queer characters in my books and plan to have a queer character be a main character for every book I write. I hope, as well, to add more bisexual characters to the publishing world as there seems to be very few, and to highlight mlw bisexual relationships because they are often overlooked and labeled as straight. In the end, not all of my books will be focused on the sexual interest of the characters. It’s just a detail about them, because queer people exist in spaces beyond coming out of the closet or homophobia, and I want that for my characters too.


Erica Rose Eberhart is a writer of queer characters, dragons, girls who grow feathers, and boys who become trees. She resides in the Finger Lakes of New York with her partner and child, and has sampled landscape inspiration from her time living near mountain ranges of New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Having written stories since she could string a sentence together, she now focuses primarily on young adult and adult fantasy, as well as whimsical personal essays. Tarnished, published by Creative James Media January 2025, is her first novel.

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