Happy release week to Empire of the Feast, an amuse bouche of delights for spacey science fiction and queer fantasy fans alike. There’s an eldritch god kept at bay by cultish sex magic, a reincarnating monarch, and plenty of conspiracy to go around. It’s fucky, it’s goth, it’s queer, and it’s here.
In today’s interview, author Bendi Barrett talks about how this novella came to be, how he crafted its tight world-building, and what he’s working on next.
Buy link: Neon Hemlock
Preparing The Feast
How did this story come together? Was it the aesthetics, the ritualistic space magic, or something else entirely?
dave ring (editor and publisher at Neon Hemlock) approached me about contributing something to the Neon Hemlock 2022 Novella series and I had legit no idea what to write. So, I asked him what he thought the crop of books he’d already signed contracts for was missing and I think his answer was that a space opera would be rad.
My first impulse was, “Let’s make this weird, horny, and very queer.” The ritual space sex magic came after, but that was in tandem with the idea of these people screwing to stave off the end times.
What came first: Riverson, the Feast, the Empire, or some combination thereof?
The Feast and the Empire were first. I knew I wanted to tell a story about empire and how it co-opts everything, including sex. Then I decided on an amnesiac hero to help introduce the world, because it’s an awful lot of lore to swallow in a novella format. The tether between Riverson and the Feast kind of grew as the story grew in pitch form. Eventually, I ended up with this bizarre tripartite connection between emperor, empire, and the monster it’s all built around. The fanciest of cages, if you will.
How did the story evolve between drafts, if it did at all?
The story expanded more than it evolved. The outline that I wrote for Neon Hemlock was very thorough, so all the beats were pretty set in stone from the beginning, which helped make the writing go super fast. I knew exactly what I needed to make happen at any given time.
That said, at the end, I had the skeleton of a book. It needed a lot of love. Since it’s a complex world, much of the revision was around clarifying specific elements, nailing down the lore, and—maybe surprisingly—slowing things down. I know reading it, one might think, “How could this book have possibly been more breakneck?” but it was!
What was your favorite scene or moment to write?
Gosh, that’s so hard. I’m going to cheat and list three, I think.
The epilogue, because I hate prologues, but I love an epilogue. Oof. They just hit me right in the fan bone, so I wanted one; I always want one. In this case, I think the epilogue was a chance for me to crystallize this idea that Riverson and this Empire are playing with something very dangerous. The Rapacious, the monster in the story, is a world-devouring entity that they’re just barely keeping chained. All the artifice and the pomp around the Feast might disguise that for some people, but the reality is that they’re playing existential roulette, which is something that I think that Leeds understands and maybe few other characters in the book really do.
The second is the opening scene. It was really hard to get right. You’re dealing with a person who is the reincarnation of a dead person, but doesn’t know who that dead person is exactly, and there’s this peppy, helpful functionary trying to move things along on a schedule. It’s destabilizing and a little darkly funny, I hope, and it’s grand. It was probably the biggest challenge, so it’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
And finally, the climax. Literally. Pow!
Is Empire of the Feast your first novella?
No, actually. Under my pseudonym, Benji Bright, I wrote a novella called Candid ten years ago for a small press called Queer Young Cowboys, which sadly no longer exists. It was a book about eroticized, fictional interviews with a spectrum of men who have sex with men. It was way hornier than this book, but super fun. It’s out of print now, unfortunately. But I ought to re-publish it one of these days.
What are you working on now?
I’m somewhere in the process of pitching a romance game to the publisher Choice of Games. I shouldn’t say too much about it until it’s really real, but I’m excited about it and I’ll be revisiting some of my pet themes. Also, I’m pondering NaNoWriMo, but the pragmatist in me says: eat the veggies on your plate, kid.
I also run a patreon over at patreon.com/benjibright. It is very very NSFW.
Once we’re mostly over the book hangover, what do you recommend we read next?
Oh, boy! If you’re into more queer characters against empires, pre-order Brent Lambert’s forthcoming book A Necessary Chaos, also out through Neon Hemlock this year. I think our books rhyme in an interesting way; I’m excited for people to read both of them, and sit them on the shelf next to each other.
If you want to read something else about a civilization in collapse up against uncanny, relentless forces try Hailey Piper’s No Gods for Drowning.
Or, if you’d like to hang out with more people using sex to survive a predacious, unforgiving world, you can give Premee Mohamed’s And What Can We Offer You Tonight a whirl.
Bendi Barrett is a speculative fiction writer, game designer, and pretend-adult living in Chicago. He’s published two interactive novels: Avatar of the Wolf and Fate of the Storm Gods. Both are available through Choice of Games. He also writes gay erotic fiction as Benji Bright and runs a patreon for the thirsty masses. He can be found at Benmakesstuff.com and on twitter as both @bemdo and @benji_bright.
His novella Empire of the Feast will be part of Neon Hemlock’s 2022 Novella Series.