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Friday, January 17, 2020

SPFBO: Interview with Angela Boord (interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself. 

Thanks for having me! I’m the mother of nine; my oldest is twenty-three and my youngest, who has Down Syndrome, is three. I’ve been writing for practically ever, and I even published some short stories in the early 00’s, but I took a long break from writing for publication while I was having most of my kids. I live in northwest Mississippi, and I like to travel, to garden, and of course, to read. Our house is basically one big library… if libraries also came with Legos and Nerf guns. 

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? 

Well, I don’t get paid for it in money, but… I homeschool my seven children who are between the ages of 16 and 3. I write at the kitchen table and on the living couch, kind of whenever I have a chance. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? And how old were you when you made your first professional sale? 

I think I wrote my first fantasy story at about age thirteen. As I recall, it was heavily inspired by Susan Dexter’s The Ring of Allaire, which was the first adult fantasy novel I’d ever read. I think my story was about a princess in disguise who ran through a lot of alleys, a socially awkward but handsome hero, and a magical cat, but I abandoned it in favor of writing a really long espionage novel about hockey players. (Yeah, don’t ask.) I didn’t really switch back to fantasy until I was in my early twenties, when I started on a portal fantasy series that’s sort of like if Robert Ludlum met Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry. And actually… I’m still working on that series. Hopefully, I’ll finally get it right some time in the near future. 

I was twenty-nine when I sold my story “Forget Me Not” to Strange Horizons. (Which, incidentally, is set in that portal fantasy world.) But I wrote it a few years earlier, when my first child was a baby. He was a terrible sleeper, so I’d put him down for a nap, then run to my computer to type as fast as I could until he got up about thirty minutes later. That story is only about 4000 words long, but it took me a while to finish it! 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

Mostly I’ve learned by writing millions of mediocre words and trying to make them better--and reading a lot. In 2017 when I decided to start writing seriously again, I read a couple of books by Donald Maass which helped me enormously—The Emotional Craft of Fiction and Writing the Breakout Novel (which has been updated a few times under various different names). You have to be in the right state of mind to read the Maass books without being overwhelmed, I think, but the most important things I got out of them were 1) not to be afraid of writing larger than life and 2) not to be afraid of showing character emotions. 

Usually if I’m stuck in a plot, it’s because I haven’t pushed hard enough, or I’ve stopped the characters from doing something because I think it’s too much—too dumb, too intense, too big, too emotional. So, every now and then I have to remind myself to write big and have fun… “fun” being a relative term when you’re a fantasy writer, because sometimes when I think “you know what would be really cool here…” it isn’t objectively “fun” at all. 

What do you think characterizes your writing style? 

Length? Seriously, I try very hard to make my prose descriptive and immediate. I want readers to feel like they’re in the book, so I do think my style is detailed… but I hope it’s detailed without being dense. 

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day? 

I write every day. If I don’t, I get grumpy and my writing muscles get rusty. I spent a lot of years not writing much for various reasons, and once I got into that cycle, it was really hard to get out of it. I was a lot more successful when I made tiny little goals for myself and worked my way up to bigger ones. So, I do have set times of day when I sit down to write, and I also have a daily word count goal—usually a thousand words. But I don’t worry so much if I have a day where I only write, say, two hundred words because my three-year-old has an ear infection, because a few days later I might write two thousand words. Since I do my best to write something every day, it usually averages out. 

What made you decide to self-publish Fortune’s Fool as opposed to traditional publishing? 

Length. Fortune’s Fool is almost 220,000 words long, and I kept hearing that agents didn’t really want manuscripts over 150,000 words. So, I thought, Well, that’s it then. Guess I’m going indie. I’d put off writing for most of a decade at that point, and I didn’t want to put off writing the books I really wanted to write on the chance that I might be able to sell something shorter. 

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is? 

I think it’s the ability to write what you want and publish it quickly. It doesn’t matter how long the story is, or if the subject matter matches current trends, or if agents or editors are looking for it or not. If you’re fast, you can even write it, get it edited, have a cover done, and publish it in the time it might have taken just to query. 

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? 

Well, just because you can write what you want and publish it fast doesn’t mean anyone’s going to buy it. I think indie authors—especially first-time indie authors--miss out on the wider audience traditional publishers can marshal, and of course, there’s the money publishers put into things like covers and editing, both of which have to come out of an indie author’s pocket. Good covers and good editing are expensive. Common wisdom is that you’ll make more money if you write more books, but when you’re just starting out, where does the money to write those first books come from? It can be nerve-wracking watching your KDP dashboard and wondering if you’re ever going to break even. 

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? 

Well… yes and no. I mean, yes, because Fortune’s Fool is my first book, and I did not have a pool of ready-made readers waiting on its release. But on the other hand, for an indie debut, I am happy with how Fortune’s Fool has done so far. I got lucky in that the first reviewers whom I timidly contacted about ARCS really liked the book and spread the word about it. And the book has certainly found more readers through SPFBO. Honestly, I think the best thing I ever did was making a Twitter account back in the fall of 2017. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known about SPFBO or the Twitter indie fantasy community. I haven’t just been able to find readers on Twitter, I’ve made a lot of very good friends. 

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

It looked like it was a good way to connect with readers, especially since Fortune’s Fool was my first book and I knew my advertising budget was going to be zero. But also, I was interested in the community aspect of the contest. I’d watched how the authors from previous contests interacted with each other, and I thought it looked like something I wanted to be a part of. 

What would you do if you won the SPFBO? 

I don’t really know! I think I’d be stunned, speechless, and very happy. I’d probably take my family out to dinner and pop open a bottle of champagne. I think my kids would celebrate a lot, though. They ask for updates on how I’m doing all the time. 

For those that haven’t read Fortune’s Fool, can you tell us a bit about it? 

Can I cheat and direct you to the blurb? This is always the hard part. Fortune’s Fool is a twisty Renaissance-inspired epic fantasy about a woman who’s searching for the man she loves, the man who made her magical metal right arm, and who was supposedly killed in a war she’s blamed for starting. Kyrra dresses as a man and works as a mercenary, and now that the war is over, she’s out to make the House who destroyed her family and her lover pay. It’s a revenge story, but it’s also a love story, and it has swords and guns and magic and a pantheon of troublesome Greco-Roman inspired gods. And it’s written as two narratives—a past narrative that reveals Kyrra’s history, and a present narrative in which she is continually mired ever deeper in intrigue. 

What was your initial inspiration for Fortune’s Fool? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

Romeo and Juliet was my original inspiration, but not in the sense that the play usually inspires people. I’ve never been able to think of it as a romance. It’s just so incredibly tragic and fairly ridiculous at the same time. So, I started out with the tragedy—the ill-fated lovers from feuding Renaissance Italian families--and I asked, what would happen if the lovers didn’t die and had to deal with the consequences of their actions? And, because I was also really inspired by Guy Gavriel Kay around that time, I decided to write it as historical fantasy. 

I think I wrote the first version of the book, in novella form, over twenty years ago. The core of the way the story begins—with Kyrra being offered a job that will allow her to take revenge on those who’ve wronged her—is the same, but almost everything else is different. The biggest difference is Arsenault. He earned a brief mention in the novella, and it was that brief mention that sent me on a quest to figure him out. But the story even changed radically between the rough draft, which sat in my closet for over ten years, and the draft I eventually published. I was still adding new characters and events to the novel two weeks before I sent it to my copy editor. 

(If you’re curious, the most recent additions were Ires, the god of war, and Razi and Nibas, Kyrra’s mercenary friends. I liked Razi and Nibas so much I turned their backstory into Smuggler’s Fortune.) 

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them? 

Kyrra is the first-person narrator of Fortune’s Fool, and I guess the most obvious thing about her is that she has a metal arm. It seems to be indestructible and it’s magically grafted onto her body, so it functions just like her real arm, except she uses it to block swords and bash open doors. She’s a complex character, and sometimes she was a challenge to write. She can be in turns mouthy, prickly, and irritating, but she’s also very vulnerable. She has a lot of past hurts she has to work to heal. But she also has a dry wit that was fun to write, even if it did blow up a lot of scenes for me because the other characters don’t really get her sense of humor sometimes. 

Arsenault is her old lover, whom she comes out of exile to search for. I began Fortune’s Fool with the idea of Romeo and Juliet as a tragedy, but I also wanted to explore what love really looks like… I mean, versus the sort of instalove you see in books sometimes. And since I get really annoyed at romances where women fall in love with jerks, Arsenault isn’t a jerk. He’s a mysterious, magic-using sell-sword who isn’t a jerk… but he does have a lot of secrets. 

What was your favorite part about writing Fortune’s Fool? 

I actually like writing the quiet scenes best. I mean, I do enjoy writing a good action scene, but I like writing the scenes where there are two characters, in a situation that’s peeled them away or when there’s nothing to prove and no one else to impress, and they can connect in some way. Moments like those may not move the plot, exactly, but they build relationships. And that’s really why I write. I like finding out who these characters are and watching them grow and develop histories with each other. 

You’ve created a rich world with unique magic system, and complicated economy. What challenges did you face not just in making it accessible, but in incorporating all the information that needed to be conveyed to make the story work? 

The biggest challenge in making a big, detailed world is trying to work in those details without infodumping. Because it’s very tempting for me to just go on about all the cool things I’ve turned up in my research. My beta readers helped me out a lot with that, pointing out places where I had lapsed into too much exposition and suggesting others where I could work in the same information. I try to make sure that whenever I include details about the world, that they’re integral to the scene and doled out in a natural way, through dialogue or because it makes sense for them to be explained at that moment. I’m not sure I succeed every time, but that’s the goal. 

How many books have you planned for the series? 

Probably four, with at least one short standalone novel (Smuggler’s Fortune, which is already written and available for free to my newsletter subscribers at the moment). I say “probably” because I’m not the kind of writer who plots an entire series out before I start writing it. My process is a lot messier. I know how the series will end, and I know a few stops on the way there, but how the characters will actually arrive at those points is something I don’t figure out until I start writing. There may also be another short, standalone novel about Kyrra’s years as a mercenary in Rojornick… but that depends on how much of that backstory I’ll need for Book 3. 

Would you say that Eterean Empire series follows tropes or kicks them? 

I think it follows tropes and kicks them. Like any reader, I have tropes I love and tropes I hate. As a writer, I use the ones I love and kick the ones I don’t. For instance, I’ve always loved the woman-disguising-herself-as-a-man trope, and I had fun with it in Fortune’s Fool… but I also wanted to explore it more deeply, too, as it impacts Kyrra’s identity. Because if you feel like you’re always in disguise, who are you really? Do you become your disguise in a way? Who are you when you’re not wearing it? Which you is the real you? How does it impact your identity to constantly pretend that you’re someone you’re not? 

And then again, I think I did kick that trope a little bit. So often in fantasy, when there’s a strong female protagonist with a sword, wearing male clothes, it’s often her sword that makes her strong. But Kyrra isn’t a strong female protagonist just because she can use a sword. In fact, for a good portion of the book she’s actually disabled. Her strength comes from more than her ability to use a weapon, and her identity is more complicated than “I am wearing trousers because I want to do the male things and people won’t let me”… which is another thread that tends to run through fantasy fiction. 

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of Fortune’s Fool? I’m kinda in love with it. 

I was amazed when I first got a look at the art in my mailbox… especially at Kyrra, because somehow John Anthony di Giovanni figured out what she looks like in my head. I knew I wanted her on the cover, showing off her arm, but there’s one particular scene involving a card game that I thought would reinforce the title and also make it clear that the book was a Renaissance fantasy, because it has both guns and swords in it. John actually read the book—which also amazed me, because he got the long version before I fixed the structure—and basically turned that scene into a Renaissance painting. There are so many incredible details. Like, if you look hard, there’s even a fresco on the ceiling. My favorite part of the painting is the card, though. Originally, I wanted the Fool on the card to go with the title… but when I saw the General on the card instead, I knew it was perfect. If you’ve read the book, you’ll probably understand why. 

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

Q: Do giant silk moths really exist? 

A: No, I made them up. I was afraid all the silk stuff was just way too close to the real world (because it is), and at one point, I thought, What’s the point of having a fantasy world if you can’t have some fantasy in it? I was inspired by a video I watched about traditional silk production in Thailand. In order to make silk, they really do boil the cocoons and unravel them with their fingernails, although they aren’t long and notched like the combergirls’ nails in Fortune’s Fool. The cocoons turn yellow when they’re boiled, and so the raw silk they were making in the video had a yellowish color. So… why not moths the size of hummingbirds with burgundy cocoons? 

Ok, so it’s not an earth-shattering question, but sometimes I just like to have fun with the little details. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

Well… Dragonmeat, which is an Eterean Empire novella set a long time before Fortune’s Fool, will be included in the Dark Ends anthology coming out at the end of February. Smuggler’s Fortune, my short standalone prequel to Fortune’s Fool, is currently free to newsletter subscribers, but I’ll be releasing that in both e-book and paperback this spring. I’m really hoping to get Fool’s Promise, the sequel to Fortune’s Fool, out in July 2020, but it’s a big, difficult book and I may have to release it later, depending on how much more revising I need to do. Book 3 should be released in 2021, and there could be another short, standalone novel in the series at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021 unless I just fold the material into Book 3. 

In addition, I’m going to resume work on that portal fantasy series I mentioned earlier. (Its working title is Storm Clouds, but it won’t be released under that title.) Right now, the first book exists as a 300,000 word draft, which is my third draft from scratch on this particular book. I will probably end up splitting it into two, and if I do, I’ll release them close together, as they form a reasonably complete arc. If everything goes exceedingly well, the first book could be released at the end of 2020… but it’s more likely that you’ll see these in 2021. 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

I’m always striving towards something, but my main goal is to be able to finish a series in a satisfying way! Fool’s Promise is the first sequel I’ve ever written. So, now I have to figure out how to write a Book 3 and a Book 4, without going backwards to revise Books 1 and 2. My books are too big to write an entire series at once, so I’m learning how to plot forwards in terms of writing the series. I usually plot my novels backwards, figuring out what happens in the rough draft, and then layering in the necessary foreshadowing and set-up in the revisions. 

Can you name three books you adore as reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer/in awe of the craft? 

Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series—all three books, but especially The Hod King. I love the lyricism of his writing and his characters, and I was in awe of the plotting, the pacing, and the stakes in the The Hod King. Sometimes reading as a writer can be a pain, in that you can’t turn your writer-brain off and you’re constantly dissecting things like plot and character arcs instead of just enjoying the story… but other times, it’s actually a good thing. Because when you find a book that’s really good, your writer brain is constantly asking why it’s so good… and figuring that out helps you improve your own writing. Josiah’s books are like that for me. But also, I just really like Senlin. And Edith. And Byron. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers? 

It’s been my pleasure! I’d just like to thank everyone who’s taken the time to read Fortune’s Fool. When I was writing it, I wasn’t sure more than five people would want to read it. Hearing people tell me how much they enjoyed it—people I don’t even know!—has been a really humbling and wonderful experience, and I’m honored by everyone who decides they want to spend time with these crazy characters that inhabit my brain. 



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