Recently I asked Rachel Aaron (penname: Rachel Bach) to stop by my blog for an interview. Instead, she offered to trade questions so we’d both stop by each others’ blogs for an awesome event. Of course, I agreed. My questions on her site are here (oops! Link added). Hers on mine are below.
A: Hi Rachel, thanks so much for stopping by the blog!
R: Thank you so much for having me! Let’s answer some questions
A: I *love* your Paradox trilogy starring Devi Morris. She’s such an active character, and there are so many secrets and threads running throughout the trilogy. How did you build Devi’s character? What’s her biggest strength and weakness? How much would you say you have in common with her?
R: Thank you! Devi has been my most popular character by far, which was a lucky break for me because she’s also the easiest for me to write (we think a lot alike). Just like Eli Monpress before her, there wasn’t much development on my end with Devi. She just walked into my head one day and was like “LET’S ROCK” and I was like “OKAY!” Honestly, the biggest challenge of the series was structuring the plot so that she couldn’t just shoot her way through every problem.
Really, though, I think me writing Devi was inevitable. As a kid, I used to get so frustrated with all the self sacrificing nice girls in fiction. Why did she have to be nice? Why couldn’t she just punch the bad guy and take the power?! That’s what I would do. I also really wanted my chance to play Space Marine like all the action heroes I saw in movies. This combination of longings is the primordial soup that produced Devi Morris. She’s pretty much my FU to the idea that leading ladies in fiction can’t be angry or violent or assertive if they want to be heroines worthy of our admiration. Devi is a deeply flawed character. She’s impulsive and stubborn and makes snap judgments and has serious anger management and trust issues, but she’s also loyal, highly skilled, incredibly brave, and the sort of person you can count on to do the right thing no matter the cost. I think there’s something very noble in that.
A: Your space armor kicks ass. Tell me more about it, and how you built its capabilities into the culture and world.
R: I have always been in love with the idea of powered armor. Who wouldn’t want an amazing suit that basically makes you super human, a la Iron Man? That said, I actually wrote Fortune’s Pawn before I became aware of Iron Man (I was a DC girl growing up and didn’t really get into the Marvel movies until Thor), but if you’ve seen the Iron Man movies, Devi’s Verdemont Armor is a lot like a space age version Stark’s powered armor without the repulsors in the hands and feet (so no flight or laser palms). That said, the Paradox armor was actually inspired by the armor in the Star Craft video game series, the Starship Troopers movie, Aliens, and the Battle Angel Alita manga series (which is totally awesome, btw).
When I was designing Devi’s armor, my #1 priority was that this must be a professional’s suit. Paradox is a planet that’s obsessed with powered armor. All of their sports are armor based from racing to the gladiatorial games, and their military (which every Paradoxian is required to serve at least 2 years in) is entirely armor based. Because of this emphasis, there are tons of different kinds of suits available. Devi could have had armor nothing could crush, or a suit that could punch through ship hulls. But for all her bluster, Devi isn’t a brute force kind of girl. She’s a smart, clever fighter who loves her tools and tricks, and her armor needed to reflect that. I put a high emphasis on mobility and powerful cooldowns, to use a video game term. I also wanted to make sure her suit had plenty of limitations, because super powers without flaws are dull dull dull. With all this in mind, I built the Lady Grey to be Devi’s partner. A suit of powered armor full of features that other mercs might scratch their heads at, but Devi could use in new and clever ways to devastating advantage. Most important of all, though, I wanted the fights to be interesting and fun, and a lot of Devi’s tools were chosen just for coolness factor.
A: And they are super cool! Thanks for sharing. In your book 2k to 10k, you talked about the experience of writing the trilogy, which was very different from writing your Eli books. Now that you have a little distance from both, what were some of the joys and challenges involved in writing this series specifically? How have other projects gone since?
R: Writing Devi herself was easy and an absolute joy. Writing her story was another matter entirely. From the very beginning of the Paradox series, I’d set myself the challenge of writing a story with no villain. Everyone in the books thinks they’re the good guys, and the question of who is or isn’t right really depends on perspective, just like in real life. This was a very delicate balance to write that required a lot of thought in terms of how and when information is revealed. Reveal too much and you give the game away, reveal too little and readers can’t see the subtle shades of gray that make this balance work. It was a tricky, delicate card-house of a meta plot right from the get go, and into this delicate balance, I drop the charging bull known as Devi Morris.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest challenge of the series was structuring the plot so Devi couldn’t just bust her way through. HONOR’S KNIGHT (book 2) was particularly difficult. I actually rewrote the second half 3 times before I was satisfied with the overall tone and pacing. I was sure people would hate it, but most of my reviewers say HONOR’S KNIGHT was the strongest of the series, so what do I know? (For the record, the final book, HEAVEN’S QUEEN, is my favorite because I finally got to let Devi run wild and bust up all the secrets, though FORTUNE’S PAWN was the easiest and most fun to write.)
I finished the Paradox series last year. Since then, projects have been hit or miss. On the hit side, I’ve got NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST, an urban fantasy about dragons in the same vein as my Eli Monpress fantasy series, which I’m going to be self publishing in July under my Rachel Aaron name. On the miss side, I’ve got a few failed attempts to write a full blown Romance. I’m an avid Romance reader and I’ve got several great ideas, but I just can’t seem to make the genre work for me. All my Romances balloon out into Fantasies or UF or SF or whatever, and the main couple gets lost in the shuffle. I’ve tried and flopped three times now to write one, and I think it’s time to throw in the towel. I’m just going to stick to romantic elements in my genre books from now on.
For the record, that last paragraph is an excellent example of the less rosy side of life as a full time writer. Sometimes you work for months on a book that just doesn’t work. When that happens, you have to make a decision: do I put out something I’m not proud of, or do I take the loss, trunk the book, and chalk up those months to a learning experience? Personally, I always take the loss. My quality is my brand, and I’d rather eat the lost time than put out something I can’t stand behind. That really sucks in the short term because I don’t get paid for the months I spend on projects I can’t sell. But writing is a long game, and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in this business is that you always have to keep the bigger picture in mind.
A: That’s wise advice. In a recent interview, you talked about how you deliberately put a romantic thread into the series, and that some of your readers have reacted negatively to Devi’s perceived weakness as a result. (For the record, I enjoyed the messy romance very much, especially as it changed characters’ loyalties.) What do you feel the romantic thread gained you in the trilogy? Will you be adding romantic threads to future series as well? Why or why not?
R: I’m so glad you enjoyed the love story! I absolutely adored it. Devi and Rupert’s scenes were some of my personal favorites in the whole series. That said, the romantic issue was a tricky one for me. As I mentioned just above, I really like Romance, but writing it seems to be a real challenge for me. Also, there are people who really dislike it. Part of the challenge of straddling genres (in this case, SF and Romance) is that you’re going to get people from one side who can’t stand elements of the other. But on the other hand, there are plenty of people like myself who love mixing it up, and that audience was very happy with the books. A lot of people actually told me that FORTUNE’S PAWN was their first Science Fiction book, which is super exciting. I’m always thrilled to hook more people into a genre I love!
As for if I’ll be doing this again, Devi is by far the most romantic story I’ve ever attempted, and it was a definite learning curve for me as a writer. So many people brush off Romance as formulaic, but it’s actually really hard to create honest, believable romantic tension between two characters, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for the writers who excel at it. Given my recent troubles, I don’t have plans to write anything as overtly romantic as Paradox in the near future (at least, not until my next Paradox series, which I will totally be writing), but that’s not to say there won’t be romantic subplots in future books. I still like Romance, and stuff I like always worms its way into my novels. Some kissing, at least, seems inevitable.
A: (Does happy dance for additional Paradox series. With armor, hopefully!) I’m going to shamelessly steal this last question from the ones you sent me: It’s not exactly a radical statement to put forth that the publishing world has changed dramatically over the last few years. If you were starting fresh as a new author today, would you do anything differently? And on that note, do you have any advice for someone just beginning the publishing process?
R: I sold my first book to Orbit back in 2008. That was six years ago, and a LOT has changed since then. Even so, if I was starting fresh today, I would probably still do what I did then. As much as I disagree with some of the tenants of traditional publishing–the archaic accounting schemes, reserve against returns, world rights, basket accounting and so forth–the feedback I got from my editor and agent on those early books was absolutely priceless. You simply can not buy that level of investment from an editor you hire, and I would not be the writer I am today without it. Also, the platform I got from being traditionally published first can not be discounted.
That said, however, my situation is unique. As you said in your answer to this question, every writer is their own CEO. What works for me, my career, and my brand might not work for yours, and that’s okay. Just as every writer writes differently, we all publish differently as well. The most important thing is to always keep your eyes on your long term career goals, whatever you decide they are. For me right now, that means being a hybrid author. For others, it might mean going full on Indie, or publishing through a major house. All I can say is that you should do your own research, apply your own values to what you find, and make the decision that will you the most happy. I know that seems like a cop out answer, but when every writer’s career is so different, it’s the only truthful one I can give.
A: Thanks again for coming on the blog
Rachel Bach is the author of FORTUNE’S PAWN, a fast paced, romantic adventure starring Devi Morris, a powered armor mercenary who signs on with the galaxy’s most trouble-prone space freighter in an attempt to jumpstart her career. But while Devi expected the firefights and aliens, this ship holds secrets she never could have imagined, and the greatest danger for this ship guard might just be the very people she was hired to protect.
Other books by Rachel include The Legend of Eli Monpress fantasy series (under the name Rachel Aaron) and the bestselling fast writing guide, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. You can find out more about Rachel, her multiple pen names, and read samples of all her books at www.rachelaaron.net!