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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Interview with Rachel Aaron & Travis Bach (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Rachel Aaron Website
Official Travis Bach Website  
Order “Forever Fantasy Online: Last BastionHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Forever Fantasy Online"
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 "Minimum Wage Magic"
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 Rachel and Travis, I would like to extend a warm welcome to you. Can you tell us about yourself and how did you end up joining your lovely wife on the writing path?

Rachel: I pulled him into it! Trav has always been the better storyteller. All of my books would have been terrible without his input. It was inevitable that he’d start writing on his own really.

Travis: Thanks for having us. Appearing on FBC is a real joy [that I’ve been slightly jealous of Rachel of for years now…^_~]

Rachel’s praising me but co-authoring a book with her has been like One Piece’s Zoro vs Mihawk-- I never before knew that the top was so high and far away from my skills. It’s been fun and humbling.

She’s right that it was inevitable. Eventually I found a story I wanted to read but which didn’t exist. So, I threw caution to the wind, sat down, and wrote it. Luckily for me, Rachel also liked it and joined the project to help bring it up to a level that everyone else could enjoy.

Q] Since this trilogy is a first for you both. Rachel it’s a first for you to collaborate professionally on a story. Travis this is your debut trilogy, considering both of these firsts, I was wondering how you both approached writing this story?

Rachel: I was super busy with finishing Heartstrikers when Trav came up with the idea for Forever Fantasy Online. The moment he told me the story, I was all YOU HAVE TO LET ME IN ON THAT, but I had no time in my schedule. Trav had long wanted to write something himself anyway, though, so he decided to just give it a go writing the story himself.

Travis being Travis, he did a really bang-up job! There were plenty of rough bits as there are with every first novel, but the story itself was really really good. I knew instantly that I wanted to publish it, so we decided to collaborate and use my experience to bring the book up to publishable quality. Also, I *might* have grabbed the manuscript and run off while cackling.

Anyway, after much experimentation, we ended up with both of us collabing on the plot, then Trav writes the first draft and passes it on to me. I make edits and we argue about changes, then I get the book for a final pass and polish. After that point, we pretty much tossed the book back and forth until we both loved the finished product.

I don’t know if this is how other authors work, but Travis and I have always worked together on pretty much every project, so we just did what felt natural and produced the best end result. I’m really proud of the books we’ve written together. I love FFO in general, but I think what I love most is that it’s a story I never would have come up with on my own. This is a project neither of us could have done on our own, and I think it’s the best combination of both of our talents!

Travis: We’re pretty used to planning books together, so the initial plotting was more or less the same – i.e. notebooks at a brewery and us cackling over this dreadful twist or that hilarious gag. That’s the “easy” part.

Afterward, I go off and write the first draft for a few months. This begins the ongoing process of me showing the work to Rachel, her covering it in red ink, and me rewriting huge swaths. That probably sounds more dramatic than it is because there’s an apprenticeship part of this whole deal. This is the phase where I get critiqued down to the prose level as well as the hyper-detailed story level. It’s something no editor (or anyone) but Rachel would do for me and it’s utterly invaluable for my learning to be an author.

(And here I must thank all those years of being a programmer. Harsh or panicked criticism of your work is a pretty normal day for a coder IMO and years of that have made me pretty good at accepting pages-long lists of “what you did wrong.” It’s definitely enabled Rachel and I to work through mountains of newbie mistakes with wonderful efficiency and minimal drama.)

Once I’ve learned as much as I can on the manuscript, I hand my best version of it over to Rachel and we get down to the business of producing a high-quality book. She adds and rewrites whatever parts she wants in order to bring her voice and flavor to the work. Keep in mind we plotted it together and have worked out the kinks beforehand, so oodles of her input have already been sewn into the fabric of the novel by this time.

My favorite part of all this is getting to read her version of the book. It’s like someone taking my web-series and turning it into a AAA movie. (Also humbling when I get to see how much better her prose is than mine. But hey…goals.)


Q] I know with her previous books, Rachel really loves to plot the story. With this collaboration, how did you both go about with the plotting?

Rachel: We are both nutters about plotting. Seriously, we talk plot all the time about books we’re not even going to write because we’re giant nerds who’ve always loved making up stories. Getting to plot FFO together was the ultimate form of this obsession. We must have hashed out the plot for the series a billion times, refining and fine tuning until we knew exactly what happened and why. Which is good, because as you see in book 2, things get COMPLICATED.

Travis: We got pretty obsessed with it for a while there, which is good. But yeah, there’s a lot going on in this book. Part of that comes from the massive cast and double protagonist set up of Tina and James. The rest comes from our adamant refusal to deal in simple black-and-white issues. The situation in Bastion is messy and there are no clean easy solutions laying around. Some characters are both good and bad. This meant we had a lot of material which required detailed handling.

Overall, it’s bold, it’s dramatic, and it’s an ambitious-as-hell book that I’m very proud of.

Q] With regards to writing the story, how did you both split it? Do you approach it like Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child who write individual chapters and then polish each other’s chapters or like other collaborations when author’s write individual chapters while focusing on an overall main plot?

Rachel: Nothing so elegant. Travis and I have always been a happy pig pile of ideas. We just sit down and throw ourselves at an idea, talking over each other and running wild with ideas until we end up with something that makes us both super happy. It’s a fun, chaotic mess that’s still based on good fundamentals like theme and story structure, because without those you’re lost. We’ve always plotted my books together, though, so it wasn’t actually a big change. The new element was that Travis was writing the scenes now instead of just helping me. But this was a true collaboration. We’ve both touched every word in the novels, and I think we ended up with a true blend of both of our ideas and voices.

Travis: We have a thing called “the idea bucket.” Awesomeness gets poured into it at all stages of the novel up until the content edits are done. We try to fit in as much of the bucket’s contents as we can, because those are the pieces we’re most excited about and which ultimately make the most entertaining story.

We also gossip about our characters like a pair of old church ladies. It’s really productive gossip though! Even though we’re talking about who likes who and who hates who, what weird thing so-and-so keeps in their backpack, who would win in a fight, what he said, what she said, and so on.

It’s fun, but this sort of gossiping also helps the two of us get to know the cast really well and in a way that’s uniform between us. My NekoBaby and Rachel’s NekoBaby is the same [awesomely flawed] person. This is super-important as we can’t have inconsistent characters but it’s also how we wind up with every character having a strong voice of their own. We really try to get to know them like roommates.

Q] Let’s talk about Forever Fantasy Online trilogy, with LitRPGs being the new upcoming subgenre. What lead you both to write a story in this field?

Rachel: To be honest, I didn’t actually know LitRPG was a thing until someone called FFO that. We’re just a couple of hopeless America MMORPG gamers who watched the explosion of trapped in the game anime like Sword Art Online and Log Horizon and instantly thought “what if WE did that, but for the sort of games WE played and starring the gamers WE knew?!” And thus FFO was born.

Travis: What Rachel said. (I can do that once per interview. Right? ^_~) Haha, just kidding. We love the trapped-in-the-game genre, but the anime of such is always limited to shounen character tropes. The gamers I know and love are cut from much more diverse cloth. They are raucous hooligans, hilarious trolls, stoners, power-gaming moms, drunk dads (represent!), no-lifers, dragon-gamers-who-want-to-conquer-everything, that overly sweet healer guy, and more. I wanted a trapped-in-the-game novel about those people. Our people.

Little did I know about Litrpg. But I’ve read a ton of it since the publication of FFO1 and I can happily say that Forever Fantasy Online is a fairly unique approach to this subgenre. We have no stats or leveling, which are hallmarks of Litrpg, but that void is filled by an ensemble cast and an epic-fantasy storyline. Besides, I worry that only telling the “hero levels up” story is too confining for a growing genre, so I’m happy to contribute something which pushes the edge a bit.

Q] Talking about FFO, whose idea was it originally given that both of you are gamers?

Rachel: This was Travis’ brain child. He finds all the cool stuff we’re into. But he comes up with most of my good ideas. I just steal them and run!

Travis: Says the lady who invented 99% of the Heartstrikers and the DFZ novels. I was just like, “what about a dragon who doesn’t want to be a calculating master-villain?”

I may have started FFO, but there’s so many of Rachel’s ideas in the book that I’ve lost track. We’ve gamed together for 17 years so we share a brain on this (and a lot of great in-game stories.)


Q] Travis, since Rachel is already a published author. What lead you to take the plunge with this story?

Travis: After having helped make books with Rachel for so many years now, I felt ready to do it. I wanted to do it. So why not? In my hubris, the bar for success seemed very low at the start. *Hysterical laughter goes here* Yeah, my first draft for FFO1 was awful. Turns out being an editor doesn’t teach one how to write. The story was fine, but my prose was totally amateur.

But I have learned a lot since FFO1. Book 2 has come together much faster and with far fewer mistakes on my part. There have been many lessons for me to learn still but my issues are getting more subtle and finer in nature. No more “you forgot to describe things in this chapter” types of problems. ^_^

Q] How did you try to make the story accessible to non-gamers (like moi)? Because the story has heavy utilization of several terms that would confound most non-gaming folks?

Rachel: We always wanted this to be a book anyone could read, so right off the bat we were super careful to make sure the jargon was always explained either directly or by context. Honestly, though, SciFi novel and Epic Fantasy are always full of new terms and ideas you have to teach your readers so they can understand the story! Compared to introducing readers to magical systems or powered armor, gamer terminology wasn’t actually that big a jump. Especially since so much of it is used in every day internet-speak already!

Travis: Rachel nailed it, but what I’d love to add is that this is a big reason why Frank exists. We made up an ingenue character to help with the burden of exposition. I think Frank plays his part very well. (Also, I freaking love Frank. He’s such a warm soul!)

Q] FFO while having an epic fantasy feel to it, also has a very solid mystery to it as well. I liked this fusion, what were you both aiming for with it?

Rachel: I’ll let Trav handle this one since he came up with the mystery plot, but really it was a natural evolution of having so much to explain. Not to pull back the curtain too much, but complex exposition is a LOT easier to handle when the characters are trying to figure out what’s going on at the same time as the reader.

Travis: As any of my table-top players will tell you, this sort of set up is my favorite storytelling trick. I love to have a deep, dark mystery lurking at the center of my settings. Something which drives events of the past, present, and future with its gravity.

FFO is no exception. Just like my table-top RPG campaigns, I have a document for FFO called “the true history” which lays out exactly what happened, when, and why. But no one character in the series knows that much. In-setting, people have things wrong, or they have partial information. So they all circle around this black-beating heart of a mystery that’s slowly sucking them all in as it gets worse.

Rest assured though - I know what the Nightmare is, how it started, how it ended, and all the other important meta-questions of the series. It was all figured out before FFO1 was published and I promise we’re gonna get to it by the end of book 3.

Q] FFO also has a brother-sister duo as the main POV characters, however book 2 has a new POV character. Will there be more characters getting a POV in the 3rd book?

Travis: This is tough to answer without spoilers, haha. Um, let’s say that, no, there won’t be any new POVs introduced. Technically the character we’re discussing got a POV sequence in book 1 as well. I intend to keep that character limited to 1 POV sequence per novel.

Q] Will you both be collaborating on a new story once this trilogy ends?

Rachel: It really depends on which story we decide to do next. There are definitely a couple I think we should do together, but there are also lots we both want to do solo. It really depends on what we’re most excited about when the time comes!

Travis: I’ve tried really hard, while writing FFO, to never look at a problem and say, “I’ll just let Rachel fix this when she gets to it.” I know that:
(1) if she catches me doing this…oh boy and
(2) that’s not how I improve.

Still, I always have to wonder if I tried my absolute hardest knowing that I have such amazingly expert backup.

I worry that if we do another collaboration on the heels of FFO, that I’ll plateau on my skills. Chicks have to leave the nest eventually. Training wheels need to come off to ride. You know the sayings.

That said, if we come up with a great project we both want to do together, then that’s what we’ll likely do. In the end, we chase the books we’re most passionate about as those make the most unforgettable stories.

Q] Rachel when you will be releasing the sequel to Minimum Wage Magic and what can readers expect in it?

Rachel: Book 2 is called PART-TIME GODS and it should (barring disaster) be released this summer! I don’t have an exact date yet since we’re still lining the final bits up like the cover and what not, but it definitely will not be long. I really love how the story turned out, and I hope you will too!

Q] Travis will you be writing any solo stories? What can we expect from you next?

Travis: I feel its important for my next work to be solo. As for what that is, I don’t know yet. I doubt that I’ll do another Litrpg story as I’ve said all I wanted to say. FFO is a strange beast since it starts as sci-fi (future, immersion VR) but lives as an epic fantasy. I feel that I could go Sci-Fi or Fantasy or even Urban Fantasy from here.

Fortunately, the story bucket is packed so I’m going to sit down and do some career planning once FFO3 is done.

Q] Thank you both for your time, any parting words for your fans and for our readers?

Rachel: Just thank you. You guys are the reason we get to do the job we love most in the world! We never forget that entertaining you is the reason our books exist, and I can’t wait for you to read all the new fun stuff we’ve got lined up!

Travis: Thanks again for asking us over. I also have some free fiction in the form of various shorts over on my site if people are curious. It’s no grand collection, but there’s some more LitRPG, a spot of comedy, some space-colony-zombie stuff, and a few experiments.

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