Sag Harbor native and lifelong writer Vee O’Malley wears many hats. A jewelry maker, a cosplay pro, a dog walker, an interactive storyteller and a rising TikTok star — and now novelist added to their already impressive and utterly unique resumé.
Written under the pen name Aster Vaughn, one of O’Malley’s many alter egos, #BriarthorneUni: The Living Doll was released at the end of last year and can now be found locally on the shelves at Canio’s Books (290 Main St.) in Sag Harbor. A delightful blend of genres ranging from young adult and fantasy to adventure and romance, it gives a little bit Harry Potter, a little bit Twilight, but ultimately, a little bit cooler since a South Forker did it. It’s proof that dreams do come true, and we really dig that.
Emily Toy: About two months ago, you released a book under your alter ego, Aster Vaughn, titled #BriarthorneUni. Tell me a little bit about who Aster is and why they felt compelled to write this book.
Vee O’Malley: #BriarthorneUni has been a work in progress since March of 2019. It first launched on TikTok as a cosplaying tag, essentially a community where people could create their own characters with their own stories and place them in my world for interactive storytelling. Back then, TikTok had a thriving cosplay community and I was floored by how many people were interested in joining me and my magical university for visual stories. Since then, the tag has evolved from cosplay, to role play, to now being a stand-alone novel, which has been my intention all along. It was lovely to dip my toes into the collective storytelling world with the idea at first, and finally, I found the confidence to bring my world and stories to the page.
Aster Vaughn is a play on my birth name [Veronica], swapping the initials around to create a pen name that isn’t limited to gender or the history associated with my birth name. While I do love my legal name, I find a sort of peace in anonymity, so Aster Vaughn was born. The act of writing is vulnerable, as I’m sure you know, so that slight barrier between me and my pen name helps me feel safer about throwing my work out into the world.
ET: What’s your book about?
VO: #BriarthorneUni: The Living Doll is the first book in a planned series. The world centers around a hidden magical university in the forests of California, where various magical entities, creatures, and beings co-exist. The main points of view in book one are Lavendula, an undead woman without access to magic — a taboo in this school, where a prerequisite for “human” students is that they have some kind of magical ability; Cian, a werewolf who has absolutely no interest in being in one place for very long, and Rauf, the vampiric president of the campus just trying to do his job. All three of them have their own stories of self-discovery, betrayal and possible redemption, and they each entangle with one another as the story progresses. If you like adventure, modern fantasy, dark themes and symbolism, and a touch of romance, you’ll enjoy the twists and turns of #BriarthorneUni.
ET: How long were you working on it?
VO: Conceptually, since I was very young. Lavendula is a re-creation of a character I used to write about a lot as a kid and teen, before I switched my creative writing to poetry for a while. Once the name #BriarthorneUni came to me in 2019, the rest of the world-building and characters fell easily into place. I finally sat down to write the novel in 2020, took a long break to focus more on the visual storytelling (cosplay) then finished the novel in 2023. Book two is in the works now.
ET: Tell me a little bit about what it took for you to get this published. Where was it printed? How long did it take?
VO: It took a lot of research and self talk more than anything to be honest. For a while there, I was just sitting with my finished draft and contemplating going the traditional publishing route. But I knew how long that could take, and I wanted to keep as much creative control over my story as possible. I didn’t want an agency or publishing house telling me when I needed to have the next book ready by, so I opted for self-publishing through Lulu.com. So far, the process has been fantastic with them, very easy to navigate their site and the cost to print each copy is not bad at all. I designed my own cover, I formatted my own PDF, and I’m in charge of my own marketing. The only con, I would say, is I don’t have as much time these days to self-promote on social media. They even have their own bookstore on their site where folks can pick up a copy of my book as well as other self-published works.
ET: How can people buy your book?
VO: Right now I’m in the process of finding local and indie bookshops to carry my novel. Canio’s on Main Street in Sag Harbor is the first one to accept me onto their shelves, and for that, I’m extremely grateful, as someone that grew up in Sag Harbor. I do plan to host a few pop-ups and attend local craft fairs to try selling copies in person as well. Since I’m doing my own marketing, almost every copy will come from and through me directly.
To shop online through my website click here. For international orders or to get a copy through my publisher, click here. Going to Lulu.com and searching #BriarthorneUni or Aster Vaughn will bring you to that page as well.
I have a few other writing projects on my Wattpad page, also under the name Aster Vaughn. I’m not limiting myself to one genre
ET: Aside from sure world domination and some serious, badass bragging rights, what do you hope this book accomplishes? For you? For your followers?
VO: Ha! World domination aside, I’d love to one day hear that I am someone’s favorite author. Growing up I always had authors that I supported and loved writing to, thanking them for creating something that spoke to younger me in such a profound way. I hope to have that effect on someone, someday. To see other creatives cosplaying my characters, creating fan art or FanFic so they can feel more connected to a story I penned. In a way I feel like I’m giving back to the community that helped to raise me. The John Jermain Library and librarians made that space safe for me when I had few other options. One librarian in particular, Sue Farrel, was a huge inspiration for me to stay on the writing path.
While I would love to see #BriarthorneUni on the big screen one day, for now, I am content with simply writing and getting these stories out of my head and immortalized on paper. The friends I’ve made on TikTok through cosplay have become lifelong companions, and I am so grateful to have their love and support.