These are really starting to come in! Today’s interview is an awesome one, as this author hired me to make the city map for her debut novel! This interview is a long and awesome read, so I hope you enjoy 🙂
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
I write fantasy, but it’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact subgenre. Sometimes I say my books are sword and sorcery, because they involve a lot of magic and adventure, but I think they emphasize character development and realism more than a straight sword-and-sorcery tale does. My stories also contain elements of heroic fantasy, as the protagonist is usually trying to accomplish something admirable, but again the plots don’t follow a lot of the tropes of that genre (e.g. no hero’s journey). My writing perhaps has some elements of grimdark—occasional dark themes and complex characters with shades of gray—but overall, I think my stories are too upbeat to qualify. Lately I’ve started calling my books “urban high fantasy,” because they’re set in a medieval city-state, and that gives them a very different feel than a classic fantasy story where a group of heroes goes questing through the wilderness. If anyone who’s read my stuff has a better definition for my works, I’d love to hear it!
How do you develop your plots and characters?
That’s another tough question. I read a ton of books when I was young, watched a lot of movies, soaked in all kinds of ideas… so by now, I can’t really say where the plots that bubble up out of that stew come from. I start a book with some concept that excites me and seems like it would be fun to play with. For the book I just published, The Copper Assassin, I wanted to write about a society in flux, transitioning from an anarchic, chaotic way of life as a society of pirates toward a more disciplined rule of law under a central government, and all the tensions that transition would create. And pirates are cool, so there’s that.
For characters, I often like to write against type—take a character that would usually be written as a man and make it a woman, or vice versa, or make an awesome fighter small in stature, or make a seemingly weak character really powerful. All those unexpected things make them fun to write about. Some characters are based on experiences I had at certain phases of my life, or on aspects of people I’ve known. Others are just people I’d like to read about. I write a lot of strong female characters because when I was growing up, there weren’t many of those in fantasy and sci-fi, and I wanted to see them in stories. Fortunately, that’s really changed, with many great female role models in the genre now!
Tell the world about your current project!
My current book, The Copper Assassin, tells the story of a young man in the coastal city-state of Wyverna, who learns of a plot to assassinate the city’s legendary leader, the Warlord. The rebels have just acquired an ancient copper golem built to be an unstoppable, invulnerable assassin. So naturally, the protagonist sets out to stop it, and save his city from civil war and destruction. Things get a little crazy from there.
Who would you say is the main character of your latest novel? And tell me a little bit about them!
The protagonist, Gorgo, is 18 and looking for a purpose. In so many fantasy stories I read when I was younger, the young male hero is feckless and impulsive. Eventually I got really tired of reading about that type of character. So Gorgo is the antidote to that; I like to call him the thinking man’s fantasy hero. He’s analytical and introverted, takes calculated risks, and thinks fast on his feet. He’s very much a loner, which can be a strength, but also a weakness, as he’s sometimes slow to see when he could afford to trust someone, or when someone might help him. All of that makes him a lot of fun to write about.
Have you been to any conventions? If so, tell me a little about them!
I haven’t been to any conventions as a writer. I do have fond memories of attending a few conventions as a fan when I was younger, like the annual Gen Con back when it was held in Wisconsin. Geek heaven.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved writing stories, ever since I was a little girl. Before I knew how to write, I would draw illustrations and get my mother to caption the pictures, dictating the story to her. She was a scientist who hated writing, so she thought I was a bit odd. But she was always patient enough to play along. My dad and my sister were the other writers in the family, and we would collaborate on works and read and critique each other’s stuff. It was a very creative environment to grow up in.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
Ooh, tough one! I’ve been fascinated by feudal Japan ever since I read the novel “Shogun” as a child (and watched the miniseries, of course). So I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, and I would love to write about samurai. But I think there are already a lot of other writers out there doing that better than I could, so I’ll just settle for reading their works.
What advice would you give new writers?
To join a writing group (or have beta readers) so you can share your work in progress and get feedback on it. That’s been invaluable to me. There are so many things you can’t see about your own writing—plot points that aren’t clear, murky character motivations, etc—and having readers who will give you honest feedback helps you spot those things and clean them up before publishing.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding?
Hard to say—there are so many things I’ve learned or experienced that go into my stories, but it’s usually a melting pot. It’s hard to pinpoint single clear influences, except in rare cases. For example, some of my descriptions of Wyverna at night were influenced by the year I spent living in Madrid, and a sequence in my third novel that is set in the swamps was definitely inspired by Florida, where I lived for several years.
What inspires you to write?
Writing is just part of me, but I think I feel most creative when I’m immersing myself in other great stories or when I’m out in nature, slowing down and experiencing the world. When the press of daily chores and mundane life gets too intense, that can choke out my creativity.
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Finding the time and energy for it, definitely. Between juggling work, family, exercise, and taking care of a big household, writing gets squeezed into the cracks.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
No routine, see above! I just fit in writing whenever I can, maybe late at night when most of the household is in bed, if I’m still awake enough myself. Or I neglect my chores on a weekend to fit it in, or I write on vacation. It’s a constant struggle. But when I’m actively working on a story and I really have the muse, in a sense I’m writing all the time. I’ll think about scenes while I’m doing the dishes or driving around, and then just sit down at my laptop to pound out the stuff tumbling around in my head.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write in any of your books, and why?
Another tough question, jeez! I’d say it’s when I occasionally write a point-of-view chapter from a non-human perspective. I have one of those in The Copper Assassin, and another such point of view, from a different non-human character, in my second book. I find it fascinating to think about how a very different life form would see and experience the world, how they would think. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about sci-fi and fantasy, that ability to step into a completely different perspective.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
I don’t think I learn much from writing; rather, I learn things from life, and then those things make it into my writing. A lot of my characters’ emotional journeys come from things I’ve experienced.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? A gardener or an architect?
Had to look those up! I’d say more of a gardener. I like to discover some of the story while I’m writing it, which keeps it fresh and interesting to me. Still, over time I’m trending a little closer toward architect—I do work out a bit more of the plot ahead of time now, just to make sure I have a clear direction and don’t end up rambling or going down rabbit holes. I like to have some rough boundaries, and then play within those confines.
If you had to give up either snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
Snacks, definitely. I usually write in silence, but the muse must be fed!
Which is your favorite season to write in, and why?
Probably winter—where I live, the weather is too dreadful to want to go outside much, so there are fewer distractions then. It’s a great time to just hole up and write.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
I just think about their lives—the experiences they’ve had, the way they grew up, how they would see the world—and imagine myself in their place. That helps me see how they might react to different situations. I always want my characters to feel real and like they have their own life story, even the minor characters.
What are your future project(s)?
Now that The Copper Assassin is out, I’m working on publishing the sequel, Jackal of the Mind. That one is all written and edited and just needs the final touches. Then my third Gorgo novel is in revisions, and I’ve started writing the fourth. Meanwhile, I’m working on a novella set in Wyverna that follows a female character and is more of a coming-of-age story. It’s a nice change of pace from all the action adventure tales.
What is your favorite book ever written?
Oh no, definitely can’t pick one! Instead, I’ll list some influences. One book that had a profound effect on me as a youngster was Mary Stewart’s “The Hollow Hills,” a re-telling of the Merlin story. I loved the way she grounded the fantasy elements in such intense realism, creating a gritty world with fleshed-out characters. Similarly, I was captivated by Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy, the way it was so magical and mysterious, yet so precise and detailed. Or the world-building of Dune, creating that intricate alien world that is so fantastic yet feels so real. Those are my favorite type of stories, the ones that transport you into another reality that is completely convincing.
Who are your favorite authors?
In addition to the ones above, I’ll mention a couple of my current favorites, sci-fi authors Vernor Vinge and Lois McMaster Bujold, who also create rich characters and lived-in worlds. And I would say my stories of Wyverna are probably influenced by Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series, with all their city hijinks, as well as Steven Brust’s tales of Vlad the assassin in the ancient and magical city of Adrilanka. I also like plenty of books that aren’t fantasy or sci-fi—for instance, I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen—but for this interview, I’ll stick with the genre picks!
What makes a good villain?
I think villains need to feel like real people, with motives that make sense to them, and their own backstories and dreams. I like villains that have some charisma or some quirks.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Don’t really have much of that, but when I have time, I like to read, work puzzles, see movies, play Dungeons and Dragons, and practice martial arts.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’m going to have to list my real-life job, science journalist, which lets me combine writing and science, two of my favorite things.
Coffee or Tea? Or (exult deep breath) what other drink do you prefer, if you like neither?
Neither. I mostly drink water, but when I need a caffeine boost, nowadays I go for a Bai.
You can travel to anywhere in the universe. Where would you go, and why?
Too many possibilities there! There are so many places and times it would be fascinating to drop in on—but then, that’s why I read fantasy and sci-fi. In books, I can visit more worlds than I can even dream of, more than even exist.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
I’ve just started to check out writing blogs, so I have to say no, at this point. I grew up in another century (well, technically, another millenium), so this online writing world is all new to me still. But from what I see already, I love the sense of community and camaraderie it fosters. That’s one of the coolest things technology has brought, this ability to connect with like-minded people across great distances.
Do you have any writer friends you’d like to give a shoutout to?
My friend M.L. Wang https://mlwangbooks.com creates amazing worlds filled with vivid characters and poignant emotion—check out The Sword of Kaigen or her young-adult Theonite duology. For anyone who likes fast-paced, colorful, inventive space opera, I recommend Rogue Destiny and the AlphaOmega series from Dan Schiro http://www.danschiro.com. Or if you prefer a near-future, technological sci-fi thriller, dive into the Empathy series from r.r. campbell https://rrcampbellwrites.com/books/.
Pick any three fiction characters. These are now your roadtrip crew. Where do you go and what do you do?
I’ve recently been re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my son, and we’re hooked on the storytelling. So I’d just like to hang with Buffy, Willow, and Xander. Maybe fight some vampires, or maybe just crack some jokes. It’s all good. (My son and I love Angel, too, but how could I pick just three characters from that one? We’d need the whole crew of five for the right chemistry there.)
What superpower would you most like?
In my Dungeons & Dragons group, one of the characters got a magical amulet that allowed her to make two copies of herself, so she could be in multiple places at once and accomplish three times as much as normal. I can’t count how many times I’ve longed for that power. I’d love to have three of me, so I can finally find time for all the things I’d like to do.
What are two of your favorite covers of all time? (Not your own.)
I’m going to go old-fashioned and say the Lord of the Rings Ballantine covers by Barbara Remington https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/15/books/barbara-remington-dead.html, even though they don’t fit the story that well. So bizarre and magical and strange, those vistas got into my head and stayed there.
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
Definitely get back to the martial arts studio—I’ve really been missing classes! Practicing at home alone is not the same.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
I’ve got a bunch—email, Twitter, website, Facebook page, or Goodreads, they’re all good!