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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website  
Order “No Good Dragon Goes UnpunishedHERE
Read the first two chapters HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Nice Dragons Finish Last"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "One Good Dragon Deserves Another"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Honor's Knight"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Heaven's Queen"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic and thank you for taking the time. How does it feel to be more than halfway through your first self-published series? 

RA: Very good. I am a chronic planner/project starter, and while I love my dragons to death, I already have a million other ideas rattling around in my head I want to get to. I’ll be very happy when I can finish making Julius’s life hell and move on to tormenting another poor character :). 

Q] When you first made the decision to self-publish the Heartstrikers you must have had some apprehension about the whole endeavor. But now looking back at the spectacular reception the books have received as well as the hard work you’ve put into making these books as fine a product as traditionally published work. What do you think are some of the highlights in your achievements? 

RA: The fact that my fans see these books as equal, or even superior to my trad published work. This was my primary goal when I embarked on this self publishing adventure. I wanted to prove to my fans that the quality in my work came from me, not from the publisher (not that the editing I received from Orbit didn’t help me a lot, it absolutely did, but it’s my blood on the page at the end of the day, yanno?). I was very aware of the “self published books are crap” stigma that we’re all still laboring under, and I was determined to do every single thing I could to show people that just because I was doing everything myself did not mean these books were any less my books than my previous series.

… And considering Heartstrikers is my best reviewed, best selling, and my most award winning series, I’d say I succeeded! But it just goes to prove that quality in writing starts with the author. If we aren’t dedicated to producing the absolute best books possible, no amount of editing, polish, or money from outside sources can fix it. We’ve all seen amazingly slick, beautifully published books that just fall apart once you start reading them. Likewise, we’ve all had that one book that didn’t look like anything special, but turned out to be live changing!

Of course, my goal was to look good and be amazing to read, which is why I busted my butt getting great covers, but you get the idea. Quality comes from the author, not from anywhere else, and it’s why great books can blossom anywhere.

Q] Your blog has had a lot of very informative posts from you and Travis about the writing aspect, the business aspect and a whole bunch more. Where do you guys get the energy and inspiration for these? Also what has been the feedback on some of these posts?

Don’t tell anyone, but we’re both giant publishing and story nerds (Spoiler, right?). The posts you see are the same stuff we’ve been talking about, researching, and doing at home for the last ten years, just cleaned up and organized so other people can read them.

For example, Travis has been doing publishing math since the very start of my career. It’s how we figured out when I could safely quit my day job and how we made the decision to take the plunge and self-publish. (Note, if you’re interested in the money math of publishing, we have a whole series about it called Let’s Talk Numbers for you to nerd away on!)

Trav and I have always found these sort of information heavy, super specific posts really useful when we read them on other people’s sites, so it was just really a matter of getting enough experience before we started posting them on our own. We initially put our numbers and business stuff up on the blog as a way of paying it forward in thanks for all the authors who shared their numbers and gave us the information we needed to make our own vital career decisions, but the posts were really popular, so we just kept making them.

On that note, I’ve also been posting writing advice posts since pretty much forever, though I didn’t actually get serious about it until my “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day” went super viral. Between that post and our numbers posts, the whole thing just kind of fed on itself, and that’s how we got to where we are!

All that said, I really am much more of a fiction writer than a blogger. Stories give me energy, but writing nonfic stresses me out even when I’m excited about what I’m writing. Thankfully, Trav’s the opposite, and being the awesome dude that he is, he stepped up to help me out. This has really been good for the blog since it’s no longer subject to my whims. Frankly, though, we’re still kind of amazed people take the time to read all of our mathy posts. Thank you all so much, and we’re super glad you’re enjoying the content! Let’s nerd out together!

Q] Let’s talk about NGDGU, this book set up some pretty intriguing things while also delivering on the sub-plots that had been set into motion within the previous two titles. Considering this book is the middle volume of the series, how important was it to develop it properly?

RA: This was a much quieter book than the first two. This isn’t to stay it doesn’t have it’s share of action--they’re still dragons after all--but I had a lot of character ground to cover to get to where I wanted to be for the end of the series, and this book felt like a good place to do it. As the third in a five book series, it’s bridge between the survival-based, “OMG look at this crazy world while trying not to die!” action of the first two and the even bigger “OMG how do we solve all of these huge thorny problems?” meta-plot action that will be the series’ climax. I knew this going in, and so I decided to really focus on Julius’s family drama and getting all the characters well into their final arcs so that they would be the people I needed them to be to face the challenges ahead, which is all just a fancy way of saying Julius needed to grow up :)

Ultimately speaking, I am very happy with where everyone fell out, especially the insane drama of the last three chapters. Let’s just say that those are events I’ve been planning for a long time now, and it was a delightful, cruel pleasure to finally roll them out! I’ve also been extremely happy to see so much reader love for Chelsie after this book. She is one of my absolute favorite characters in this series, but because she was so secretive, it was a real challenge for me to get it out there for readers. Honestly, a huge part of this book was finding ways to make Chelsie talk. Fortunately, Julius is good at that, and I’m quite pleased with how everything ended up.

Q] With the second book OGDDA, you had mentioned as to how much re-writes were involved and how you had to drastically restructure the plot. What was your experience with the writing for NGDGU, were there a lot of re-writes as well or did you stick to your original outline for this book?

Thankfully, this book went pretty much to plan. It’s a hugely complicated book, so it was still longer than I liked, but other than there being a lot of them, all the pieces fell into place more or less as planned. This is partially because I worked out a new plotting method that I used to great success (and that I’ll be detailing on the blog once I figure out how to explain it to other people), and partially because I solved most of the series’ major problem back in the hair pulling over book 2. Always good to know where you’re going!

Now I just have to pull it off again for book 4. Knock on wood, things are going smoothly so far. Everyone’s story is falling into place, and I’ve got three books under my belt with these characters, so I know them very well. That said, you never know when you’re going to get kicked off the rails, so I’m just going to shut up now before I jinx myself.

Q] Talking about NGDGU, Marci’s plotline goes onto a whole new level (literally and figuratively). What lead you to do what you did? What are your thoughts on the reader’s feedback (so far) after they read the climax?

RA: Ooooh boy, that ending. I spent a lot of nights fretting over how I’d decided to end this book. From a story perspective, I knew it was the right choice, but reader feedback was…dramatic. I guess it’s the good kind of dramatic since everyone desperately wanted to read the next book the moment they finished, but this is by far the hardest ending I’ve ever done. I’m a nice person, I don’t like being mean to my characters. At the same time, though, drama’s what we’re here for.

I actually wrote an entire blog post about how being an author pretty much requires you to be a bit of a sadist. I don’t take actual joy in my reader’s suffering (I’m not a monster), but I still love getting these kind of reactions because it means I made you feel something. If I’m going back and forth between two potential endings, I will always choose the most exciting, dramatic, gut wrenching path. Sometimes that means ending things in ways that make readers write you profanity laced, emotional roller coaster emails at 4am, but those are the emails that warm the cockles of my heart the most. Not because I enjoy seeing readers suffer, but because making someone legitimately care enough to shed real tears over fake people is one of the highest pinnacles we can achieve as writers, and we don’t get there by pulling our punches.

Speaking of Marci’s plot in particular, I’m not going to spoil anything, but let’s just say it needed to happen. Despite being hyper confident, Marci’s spent this entire series punching up against enemies who are powers of ten above her. For her to legitimately and believably hold her own in the fights to come, she had to level up, and great power cannot be earned without great sacrifice.

Also, from a narrative perspective, Marci is my vehicle for the story of human magic. In a world of dragons and spirits, she has always been my “hell yeah, human ingenuity!” character. No matter how much power she gains, that is never going to change. She is always going to be in over her head because that’s the mortal’s lot in a world of immortals. Everything that’s happened is just my way of giving her more tools, and for a clever girl like Marci, that’s all she needs. ‘Cause let’s be honest, she’s the best dragon in the series!

Q] This book is also about Chelsie and we get a spectacular look at her past and how Bethesda roped her in. Will we see further clarifications about her actions in China? Will we get to know more about the Chinese dragons and their way of life?

RA: Oh yeah, Chelsie is most definitely NOT out of the woods. She still has a giant wall to climb to reach her happy ending. Let’s just say there’s going to be a lot of Chinese dragons in book 4!

Q] You have previously mentioned about Julius and his need to stick to his ideals. In NGDGU he faces some horrific backlash because of his morality and his ideals. How hard is to write such a character and what particular issues did you face when writing about Julius in this book?

RA: Julius is one of the most frustrating characters I have ever written. I love him to pieces, but my own personality is a lot closer to Devi Morris from my Paradox trilogy than it is to Mr. Nice Dragon. My instinct for problems is to blast right through them to my goal, but Julius has all these things he won’t do. He won’t kill, he won’t be cruel, he won’t be ruthless, and he has to take the moral high ground every damn time! And while those things are all core to his character and the reasons I wrote him the way I did in the first place (because I do believe you don’t have to be cruel to get ahead and that being kind is always better in the end than stomping on people), sometimes I really wish I could just have him shoot someone and get on with the plot.

But the biggest challenge of having a pacifist character isn’t just that won’t shoot annoying characters for the sake of plot, it’s that you can never make anything easy. The ultimate story of Julius in these books is reform. He’s trying to change his family and ultimately all of dragon culture away from this hyper aggressive, “the strong eat, the weak are meat” mentality so that no one else has to suffer the abuse he did. That’s an incredibly noble goal, but when you have a character who won’t kill to get what he wants, everything becomes 1000000000x harder. After all, if there was an easy peaceful solution that made everyone happy, someone would have done it ages ago and we wouldn’t have these problems.

Julius’s main power in the series is his ability to think outside the dragon box and come up with new solutions to old problems. But like any reformer, he’s constantly butting heads with the entrenched old guard who found hard for their positions at the top of the heap and don’t want change. In a normal novel with a normal main character, we’d just fight this out, overthrow the old kings with a bloody revolution, and establish a new order. But Julius can’t do that, so I have to find other ways for him to win without compromising his ideals, and if he’s going to do that with integrity and without losing the reader’s respect, then he has to be willing to put everything on the line for his ideals over and over again. He has to be willing to take that dagger through the heart and still keep going because his dream of a better future is worth dying for.

Conviction is one of the most respectable and lovable traits you can give a character. That’s extra vital for a dragon like Julius whose only real weapons are conviction and cleverness. He’s just so dang good, it would be so easy for him to become a nice guy Marty Stu and lose the reader’s respect, which is why the plot has to punish him for it over and over again. We respect people for trying, not winning, and no one tries harder than Julius, which is why, despite being a very atypical hero, he’s one of the most popular main characters I’ve ever written.

Or at least that’s my theory.

All that said, the Julius we see at the end of this book is a very different dragon from one we started with. He grows up a lot in this novel, and not always in the healthiest ways. Again, no spoilers, but he’s carrying a lot of emotional baggage into book four, and he’s going to have to find a way to deal with that before he can become the dragon he needs to be to win in the way he wants to.

But watching beloved characters grow and change and suffer and break and put themselves back together is the entire point of a series, right? And this is me, so I promise there’s a happy ending. I don’t do tragedies, though I can’t promise things won’t get perilously close before the final book. Gotta keep you on the edge of your seat ;)

Q] So far Bob has been the character doing the most in the least visible way. Will we get to see a book focusing on him?

RA: Oh yes. One of the themes running through the series is that this isn’t actually Julius’s story. It’s Bob’s. He’s the dragon behind the curtain, and you’d better believe he’s got an end goal all his own. We already saw him put things into motion in a very serious way at the end of this book, and that will only continue through books 4 and 5. In fact, the fifth book is the only one in the whole series that’s always had a title. I’m calling it Last Dragon Standing, and Bob’s going to be the one on the cover. Make of that what you will :D

Q] What is your series plan now? At the start of the series you had mentioned it was going to be 5 books but then a few months ago you amended it to 4. Is that still the case?

RA: Nope, I was wrong. It really looked at the end of book 3 like I was only going to have enough meta plot for one more novel, but now that I’m actually writing book 4, I’ve realized that there’s absolutely no way I can cover all this ground. Not if I don’t want the thing to be 300,000 words, anyway. So I’ve gone back to 5, which is my preferred series length anyway. Four books just feels awkward to me!

With any luck, book 4 (which doesn’t actually have a title yet since I didn’t think I’d be writing it) will hopefully be out at the beginning of 2017 with book 5 also coming out that summer. I am determined to wrap this series up with a giant bang and on time so you guys can read and I can move on to all the other books I want to write!

Q] What might be the next book about? Will we get to see the fallout from this one? Can you tell us what might be the potential title for it?

RA: The next book will most definitely be all about the fallout from this one while also creating fallout of its own. We’re in the meta level climax now, and things are rolling. Algonquin’s on the war path, the world’s being shaken in all directions, the Chinese dragons are coming to deal with Bethesda’s mess, and it’s going to be great! You thought things were bad before? I have not yet begun to bring down the hammer!

(Pause for evil author cackling.)

Moving on. As I mentioned above, I don’t have a title for book 4 yet, but if anyone here has any good dragon idioms they’d like to share, I’m all ears. Seriously, someone think of something clever for me! Please?

Q] So far every series you have written has been in a different genre and a new world/universe. What are your plans for this world once this series is done? Will you be starting on a new series or will you be writing a sequel to those which you have finished?

RA: I’d love to say I have a solid plan, but the answer to this question changes pretty much every week. I have a lot of great ideas kicking around including a High Fantasy YA, a new SciFi series that my Paradox readers will LOVE (seriously, it’s awesome), a really unique Historical Fantasy quasi-Romantic Mystery thing that I’m obsessed with (and might have already written 40k on, Bad author!). I even have a new series set in the DFZ after the end of Heartstrikers, just in case you were still hungry for more dragons and spirits!

Which of these ultimately gets chosen will depend on where my career is when Heartstrikers is over and which stories actually work once I start writing them. (Never a guarantee. Best plans of mice and men and all that.) Whatever I write, though, it will be genre, it will be fun, and it’ll most likely be self-published.

Beyond that, though, who knows! I pick my writing projects based off what I think is my best story at the time. It’s not always the smartest business decision—a far better plan would be to pick one genre and stick to it--but I’ve never been someone who can write to market. No matter how business focused I am in every other aspect of publishing, when it comes down to the actual writing, I have to follow my inspiration. I have to love it with all my heart, or else I just can’t do it.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions, any parting thoughts for your multitude of fans worldwide especially about when we can look forward to book 4?

RA: If I keep the pace I’m at now, we should see book 4 in early 2017! It’ll hopefully be slightly shorter than No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished, because 170,000 words is ridiculous, but it’s me, so no promises. And for everyone who was devastated by the end of book 3, don’t despair! Book 4 is going to make you a lot happier…and then maybe more upset, but at least happier to start. Also, if you’re an audio book fan, the Audible edition of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished comes out September 13 and will be available for Whispersync! Yay!

Thank you so so so much for having me! These were wonderful questions, and I had (as always) the best time answering them. If you haven’t tried my books, you can find all of them at my website, which is also where you can find a link to my blog, posters of my beautiful dragon covers, and my contact form if you want to yell at me about the ending of No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. It’s okay, I’m here for you. We’ll get through this together!

Thank you again for letting me take over your blog and for reading my stuff. I’m so so so glad you’ve enjoyed it! I hope you like the final two books just as much!

❤ Rachel


Lila said...

Thank you for great interview, Rachel and Mihir!
Chelsie is my favorite as well, so I am looking forward to Chinese dragons drama. :)

Eh, good idioms to dragon left behind? Can't keep a good dragon down? (hey, this is kind of hard).

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