Lauren Jankowski, author of The Shape Shifter Chronicles, chose a non-traditional publishing route, opting to release her books through an independent, author-driven publisher of New Adult and Adult fiction, Crimson Fox Publishing.
Jankowski, who is an openly aromantic asexual, adoptee, feminist author from Illinois, heard about Crimson Fox through a website she used to run, Asexual Artists. “I interviewed the head of Crimson Fox, Lyssa Chiavari,” Jankowski said. “And when she started Snowy Wings [the publisher’s young adult branch] and Crimson Fox, she reached out. She’s like, ‘Hey, you want to be part of this?’ And I said, ‘Hell yeah, I want to be part of this! Sign me up!’”
Jankowski has had a very positive experience with Crimson Fox, which uses a co-op model. “Before Crimson Fox, I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “My books were a mess. Now I have a professional editor, a professional cover designer, and it’s the story that I want to tell… It’s exactly what I wanted to tell.”
The Shape Shifter Chronicles is an urban fantasy series that kicks off with Sere from the Green, which follows a woman named Isis who encounters an ancient mystery when she photographs a murder scene and finds, the next day, that all evidence of the murder has vanished, including the body from the pictures.
“Isis, being who she is, can’t let it go, so she starts investigating,” Jankowski explained. “And in the course of her investigation, she finds out she’s not human like she always assumed. She’s part shape shifter, part guardian. Guardians are similar to ancient gods, and the series is [about] her and three other women who are kicking ass, taking names, trying to figure out what’s going on, what’s happening, why it’s happening, how they can stop it, that sort of thing.”
Jankowski intentionally left the setting vague to allow readers to imagine the plot taking place in their own towns, cities, etc. “It takes place wherever you want it to take place!” she said.
At the moment, there are five books in the series: Sere from the Green (Book 1), Through Storm and Night (Book 2), From the Ashes (Book 3), Haunted by the Keres (Book 4), and The Dwelling of Ekhidna (Book 5).
“I am planning for eight,” Jankowski said, “although I also plan to write other stories that take place in this same universe, just following different characters, or different places, that kind of thing.”
The original inspiration behind the series came from one of Jankowski’s childhood fears. “I was a weird kid… I kept having nightmares where I would wake up, and nobody would remember who I was, including my parents, and there was no evidence that I existed,” she said. “And so I would just kind of wander the world without an identity, not knowing why nobody remembered me. And when I discovered Agatha Christie, I was like, ‘This would make an interesting mystery, if one day you woke up and nobody could remember who you were, and nobody knew who you were. And you know who you are, but [you’re] figuring out what the heck happened.’”
The Shape Shifter Chronicles features a number of colorful characters, including one of Jankowski’s personal favorites, a shape shifter named Sly. “Sly is kind of the secondary character, kind of morally gray, very sexy, femme fatale, loves the ladies,” she said. And, of course, she also favors the character who kicked off the series. “I also love Isis, who kind of gets in over her head and is like, ‘I meant to do that! I don’t care!’” Those who read further books will also get to encounter another of the author’s favorites. “Later in the series, there’s this character named Blitz who comes in. She’s just a bad ass who is just so much fun to write.”
With five books in the series and more planned, The Shape Shifter Chronicles features a number of interweaving plot threads. Blitz features in one of the series’ more complex ones, where she and a character named Jack have a clash of philosophies. “Blitz thinks they should just murder every threat, kill every threat,” Jankowski said. “And Jack’s like, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do that… that might make people scared!’ And she’s more like, ‘I don’t care!’”
Another plot line deals with a nasty group of necromancers. “[It] is very insidious, very insidious,” Jankowski said. “They are gradually taking over the world by corrupting people, by offering them what they most desire at a price. So yeah, that’s another thing [the heroines] have to contend with: ‘Shit. How do we stop these dang necromancers, who have power over life and death and can also tempt people with whatever they want?’”
Those who stopped by Jankowski’s booth in New York Comic Con’s Writers’ Block (a new section of Artist Alley dedicated to authors) were treated to a few of her many cosplays, including Wednesday Addams from Wednesday, Crowley from Good Omens, and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Jankowski’s passion for cosplay actually began with a lost bet. “I was interviewing to work at Kohl’s… it was going okay, and then, as I walked out, I slammed into a closed door. I slammed my face into the closed door right in front of my interviewer. So I said, ‘I am never going to get this job.’ And my brother’s like, ‘I bet you will!’ And I’m like, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He’s like, ‘Okay, if you do get the job, you have to dress as whatever I choose for the next convention.’ And I was like, ‘Fine! And if I win, you have to edit all my books for free.’ And he said, ‘Sure!’”
Jankowski ended up getting the job, and her brother made her dress up as Holly Golightly at the next convention, an experience that led to a revelation. “I was like, ‘Hey, my anxiety isn’t as bad when I’m dressed as somebody else because I can kind of get into character, get into the head of whatever character I’m cosplaying,’” she said.
One of the characters she cosplays most frequently is Loki, the only queer, adopted character she’d encountered in media. “I have a lot of Loki looks, and I just haven’t looked back,” she said. “It helps with my anxiety, and it makes me feel more confident. It’s so much fun.”
Of her cosplays, Crowley is her current favorite. “I love my Crowley cosplay because it came about right when I needed it, right when I had my heart broken by a woman, and I watched [the show], and I was like, ‘Hey, if a demon from Hell can survive it, I can too!’ If he can survive a queer break up, so can I!”