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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website  
Order “Last Dragon StandingHERE
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 "A Dragon Of A Different Color"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Last Dragon Standing"
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 Fantasy Book Critic's Second Heartstrikers interview with Rachel Aaron
Read "Why A Nice Dragon" by Rachel Aaron (Guest post)

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic, this year marks the over a decade since you first signed your first professional contract back with Orbit. Since that time, you have been both traditionally & self-published and even under a different last name. How do you look back over the last decade?

RA: With a great deal of disbelief.

When I first decided to make a serious go at being a professional writer, my goal was to be earning a living off my books by the time I turned thirty. This was a pie-in-the-sky dream at the time, but I actually quit my job at 27. I’ve been doing this full time for nine years now, and I’m still waiting for the day when I have to go get a real job. It doesn’t feel real that I get to do something this fun for a living, but I never forget that my readers are the ones who make it possible. It’s so cheesy, but y’all really did make my dreams come true. Thank you all so much for being my readers!

Q] Currently with the release of Last Dragon Standing, you have completed three series in vastly differing genres and across three different universes. With 13 full length books, 2 short stories, & 1 non-fiction book. You truly give hope to writers and readers alike. What do you think of your productivity vis-à-vis the current trend of long drawn out, never-ending fantasy sagas?

RA: I wish I could say this was all part of a master plan, but I’ve always written whatever felt best to me at the time. Writing is very much an instinctive art for me. You never want a book to feel dragged out, so I always make sure I plan my series with a solid end in mind. I think this is better for everyone. I would definitely get bored if I tried to write a giant saga, and a story that has a definite ending in sight naturally moves better than a meandering one. This is not to say that all sprawling sagas meander! There are definitely ones that don’t, and even the meandering ones have loyal fans that love them. It’s just not the format for me. I need to know the story is building toward a climax if I’m going to invest my energy in it. Stories need ends, preferable fantastic, satisfying ones. That’s what I love to read myself, and so I try to give my fans the same courtesy.

Q] Let’s talk about the ending of the Heartstrikers series, while this was possibly one of your best works in terms of genre melds along with characters. It was also a series from wherein you learnt a lot with regards to plotting. Can you perhaps give the readers a peek into the process behind your books and how much heartache it caused?

RA: Hoo boy, these dragons. Heartstrikers is hands down the most complicated thing I’ve ever attempted. I wrote the first book intending to stay in the DFZ and focus on stories there. I actually had a whole range of city drama planned, but once I started writing book 2, I quickly discovered that the dragons—namely Julius’s family and him learning to stand up to them—was where the story actually needed to go.

From there, I had to do a lot of re-planning. A full cast of characters got shelved. I rewrote all of One Good Dragon three times over more than a year. It was horrible. There were times I seriously considered quitting the series because I simply could not get the story right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to let everyone down, or to abandon Julius. He is the one part of these books that has never changed, and I owed it to him to get him to his happy ending. So I stuck with it, and in the end, I think I produced some of my best writing ever. I learned a lot about plotting, a lot about characters, and a hell of a lot about what not to do. In the end, I came out of Heartstrikers a much stronger writer than I went in, and for that alone, I think this bear of a series will always be the one closest to my heart.

Seriously, though, I didn’t think I was going to make it at times. Having a main character who makes friends with his enemies and refuses to kill anyone means a lot of characters sticking around and complicating the works.

Q] You had previously gone back and forth about the total number of books from five to four and then to five again. Now that the series is concluded, can you talk about the why and how of this back & forth?

RA: It was all an issue of wordcount. When I plotted books 4 and 5, I thought I wouldn’t have enough material to do a full fifth book. Since book 4 ends on a cliffhanger, I figured I could solve this by sticking the events I’d planned for book 5 onto the end. It made for a bit of a weird structure, but I thought that would be preferable to having four 150k+ books and then a weirdly short fifth book.

I was happy with this plan, but then I actually wrote the combined book 4/5 and ended up with a monster. The whole thing clocked in at over 220 thousand words. That is WAY too long! I had to cut it, so I cut it at the old end of book 4 and wrote a proper 5th book. The result was a bit shorter—Last Dragon Standing is about ¾ the size of the other Heartstriker novels—but it’s still a perfectly respectable length and breaking it out allowed me to really take my time with the character drama, which has proven to be a very good decision indeed.

The glamourous life of an author, folks!

Q] Previously in your guest post, you had stated that Julius would stay true to his ideals and you tested him thoroughly on it. He was the one constant throughout as everyone else has had status changes in terms of power, magic, and life, etc. Of all your protagonists, he seems to be the strongest willed one when it comes to his ideals? What would you say about him compared to Devi & Eli?

RA: I might get some hate for this, but I think Julius had it a lot harder than Devi or Eli. Because he’s so good, there was a real risk of accidentally making him a Marty Stu. To keep things balanced, I had to make his challenges absolutely ridiculous and unfair, far more than I usually would. I’m not normally a cruel author, but I had to be mean to Julius to make his character feel sincere.

The result was a much harsher ride emotionally and physically than either Devi or Eli had to put up with. He had to stand stronger against a lot more, and that made him a better, stronger character. Everyone in Heartstrikers blossomed under the pressure, which means I’m going to be much crueler from here out. Making characters cling to their ideals tooth and nail to the last breath really does wonders for them!

Q] Let’s also talk about the rich world that you’ve created with the DFZ and beyond. Will you be exploring more of that? I want to know more about the rest of the world and how it was affected by the return of magic, presence of dragons & now after LDS the return of human mages & bonded spirits? What will you be exploring in the sequel trilogy?

RA: I’m still nailing things down, but I really want to explore the new DFZ as a place. As I mentioned in an earlier question, the Heartstriker books were supposed to be much more about the world, but the dragons took over as dragons are want to do. I still have a lot of ground to explore in this world that I just didn’t have room to touch on in Julius’s story, and I’m really looking forward to showing off more of how magic changed the world in the new series. I’m especially excited to show off the new DFZ. I’m a giant ShadowRun fangirl, and there are a lot of living city/techno-magical underworld concepts I’ve been dying to try out!

There will still be dragons, of course. It’s me, after all! I’ve got plans for old favorites and new ones, but we’ll all have to wait until I actually write the things to know for sure!

Q] Now that you have declared that you will be writing a sequel series for the first time in your career. How are you approaching it? How much of the past events will have an impact on the new trilogy? Who will be the main characters in the new trilogy?

RA: I can’t actually answer this question because, again, I’m not done planning! This is a very odd beast for me because I’m normally sick to death of a setting after I finish a series and ready to move on. But the DFZ is special. It’s such a bigger world than just dragons and Merlins, and I’m not done exploring it. Whatever these new books end up being, they’ll be their own thing.

Whatever I write, though, I am definitely going to keep the sincerity and heart. The core of these books has always been hope and understanding and the quiet power that comes from listening to your enemy instead of just shooting them. That doesn’t change just because Julius is no longer the main character. They might not be about the Heartstriker dragon clan, but the sequel series will definitely have the same spirit. And some of the same spirits! *rimshot*

Q] The bonding of spirts with humans as a concept is very similar to that in the Eli Monpress world, purposeful much or just a quirky coincidence?

RA: Mostly me thinking the same idea is still cool. I made up the magical system in a fit of inspiration, and I was a little miffed when my husband Travis pointed out how similar it was to Eli. As a person, I have certain things that I think are cool, and apparently this was one of them. In hindsight, I really should have called the spirits gods, because that’s what are, but it was too late. I’ve vowed to have no more spirits for a while, though! Gotta bust out of my rut.

Q] You are also releasing a new book in June (hopefully?) and that’s another first for you as you are collaborating with a debutante author on it. Could you please tell the readers and your fans more about it?

RA: Yes! My husband, Travis Bach, and I have worked together on every novel I’ve written. He actually is the one who came up with Julius (and provided much of the inspiration. My husband is a saint, you guys!). He’s always been a fantastic storyteller, so it was pretty much inevitable when he said he was finally writing a book of his own, I was not at all surprised. What DID surprise me was how good it was!

The moment I read the first draft, I knew we had something special. It had a lot of first novel problems, so I jumped with my professional expertise as what basically amounts to a very hands on editor. Together, I think we made something really special. It’s not really a Rachel Aaron book, but it’s not a Travis Bach book either. It’s something new, the combination of both our talents, and I really hope people enjoy it. We should be making the announcement soon, so if you’re not already, sign up for my New Release mailing list so you don’t miss out!

Q] I was very much happy to learn about Garrison Girl, your new, original novel set in the world of Attack On Titan. As seen by the announcement on twitter. Folks were certainly gaga about it. Please tell us how this all came to be and what’s your story about?

RA: We haven’t done the official announcement, so I can’t say too much, but it’s a story set during the first season of the anime about a rich girl from inside Wall Sina who goes out to Rose to fight the titans and gets a lot more than she bargained for. It’s the bloodiest, most terrifying story I’ve ever written, and I love it to bits! There’s a romance, there’s titan slaying galore, there’s politics and drama, people die—it’s very Attack on Titan. I worked really hard to capture the desperate, fight-to-the-last-inch feeling of the show in my work, and I think fans of the series as well as fans are my books are going to like it a lot.

Q] Django Wexler and Sarah Ash were both ecstatic that you were the first western, non-Asian author to be writing in this legendary franchise. That’s certainly an achievement to say the least. How were you approached for this & what were your apprehensions to be writing in this world?

RA: I got the job because my agent knew I was a giant nerd. When he saw the project, he put my name forward immediately. I pitched my idea as hard as hard as I could, and it worked! I can’t tell you how excited I was to get to write in this world because I find it so inspiring. There are so many stories in this world that the official cannon zooms past with barely a glance. Everyone you see has their backs to the wall, it’s basically a drama engine. You can’t go wrong with that.

Also, the titans are my favorite modern monsters. I find them incredibly interesting and terrifying at the same time. I also love the walls, how they’re both a shield and a cage. Ah! It’s just so good.

My biggest concern was getting the book right. I wanted this novel to feel like Attack on Titan, and that meant changing my own style a bit to match the feel of the series. I kill a lot of people in this book, which my readers know isn’t something I normally do, but part of what makes Attack on Titan so thrilling and terrifying is how no one is safe. The creator is never afraid to kill a major character brutally and swiftly, and if I wanted to write in his world, I couldn’t be either. That said, it is still very much my novel. The setting is licensed, but the story and characters are all my own. It is a little different and a lot bloodier, but if you’ve liked my other stuff, you’re going to like this too!

Q] With at least three series that you will be starting this year (your collaboration with your husband, HS sequel trilogy, & AOT novel), how are you compartmentalizing your writing time? Which books are complete and which new ones are you currently writing?

RA: With the exception of my new DFZ books, which I’m working on now, all of the books above are already written, so I’m actually ahead! Books, especially traditionally published ones like GARRISON GIRL are slow creatures. The stuff you see coming out this year was often written months before. That said, I am REALLY busy making sure everything comes out on time, but I’m full of inspiration and really looking forward to getting books out faster than one per year!

Q] 2018 looks to be the year that you leave a sizeable dent across fans and genres alike. What are your parting thoughts for us fans to expect from the house of Aaron?

RA: My sincere thanks to all of you for being my fans! Seriously, the outpouring of love I’ve seen for the end of Heartstrikers is like nothing else in my career. I am deeply humbled by the heartfelt reactions these books have engendered. I have a lot of new projects in the pipe, but I don’t know if I’ll ever produce something as beloved as Heartstrikers again. This series truly was a painful, beautiful sort of magic for me and for you. I’m so, so happy I had a chance to write my crazy book about a nice dragon. It’s been the high of my career so far. Thank you all so much for taking a chance on me, and I hope you’ll give me the chance to entertain you again.

NOTE: Sci-Fi Cityscape artwork  courtesy of Long-Pham.


Unknown said...

Write more books! Nothing the world needs more right now than exciting stories about people who listen to their enemies instead of kill them

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