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Thursday, October 6, 2022

EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL + Q&A: THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK by Angela Boord

 


Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Fortune's Fool

Q] Welcome back to Fantasy Book Critic Angela. How have you been since your finalist turn in SPFBO 2019?

AB: Hello, and thanks for having me! It’s been an exciting few years since 2019, hasn’t it? They’ve certainly had their ups and downs for me personally, but I’m still hanging in there J. I’ve been writing a lot, though!
 
Q] What was the main inspiration for THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK & the world within? Where did the idea come from and what compelled you to see it through to the end?

AB: I feel like I should tell people to make a cup of tea or get popcorn whenever I start trying to tell the story of how this book came into existence, because it’s been a very long and winding road. Some of these characters have been around since I was a teenager, and the idea really kind of came together when I was finishing college. (A very long time ago.) I think it sort of amalgamated out of all the books I had read and loved when I was growing up. This was before YA, so around the age of 11 or 12 I just wandered over to the adult side of the library and started reading my way through all the espionage thrillers and fantasy novels. There were a lot of old school portal fantasies on those shelves—like Barbara Hambly’s Windrose Chronicles and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry—and I think the ideas just sort of mashed together in my brain. In a way, Dreams is my tribute to all the people I grew up with, and a tribute to all the books that made me into the person and the writer I am today.

Seeing it through to the end, though…that’s been a real journey. Some people trunk their early novels and write new ones; I fell in love with these characters and just kept rewriting the book until my skills and my experiences caught up with them. And as the book evolved, so did the emotions I was able to put into it. While most of my personal background is nothing like Sergei’s, we do share one thing in common: I also lost my mother quite early. She died in childbirth, and I never really knew her, but I’ve carried her presence with me my whole life. That made working on this book sometimes challenging, but also, as with most of the hard things in my life, the characters kept me company and helped me process what it’s really like to deal with this kind of grief, for someone you never really even had a chance to love and remember.
 
Q] Let’s talk about the stunning cover for THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK. Please tell us how you and your cover designer Brad Bergman worked together to create it?

AB: Brad likes to actually talk through ideas instead of trading emails about them, and somehow, he was able to translate all my rambling over Discord about what the story was like and what the world was like to come up with this amazing cover that I use as my lock screen so I can look at it every time I sit down at my computer. I knew I wanted the cover to signal to readers right away that it was a portal fantasy, so that was the first thing we had to decide on when Brad sent me his idea sketches. After we narrowed those down, then Brad worked on weaving in the emotion of the story with the art and then the typography, and I think he really nailed it.


Q] What was your first reaction when you saw it? How does it hold up (in your opinion) to what the main story is about?

AB: My first reaction was: “OMG, that’s my book!!!” (I looked exactly like one of those Excited gifs in the gif search). Seriously, I think it captures so much about the story. It’s clearly a portal fantasy cover, and the font has that 80’s vibe, and well, it looks… dark. More than that, it gets to the central problem of the novel: Sergei’s mother has disappeared, and he’s determined to find her, no matter the cost to himself. The image of Sergei on his knees in the pouring rain, reaching through asphalt, echoes how desperate and stubborn he really is. He gets knocked down a lot, physically and emotionally, but somehow, he just keeps going. I think it’s perfect, and I love it.
 
Q] Let’s talk about THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK, a lot of authors have a harder time writing a second book after their debuts? How was the experience for you? This is a completely different genre as compared to your debut. How difficult was it as compared to your debut?

AB: Well, Dreams is a little different than, say, Fool’s Promise, which is the sequel to my debut and which has caused me a lot of headaches. I’ve actually always worked on the Eterean Empire books and the Rai Ascendant books in tandem, from the very beginning. This came about because the book that would evolve into Dreams actually started out (many years ago) in collaboration with a friend of mine which ended in disaster. That iteration of the book was a very newbie author version, the kind of manuscript most of us usually have to write at first to learn how to write, but it was still really painful to have to go back to square one. (For the curious: Sergei has always been my protagonist, but the story was far different, and Cam was a character who only came about because I had to start over.) I actually trunked it at that point, and that’s when I wrote the first version of Fortune’s Fool. At the time I finished the original draft of Fortune’s Fool, e-books were just getting started, so trad publishing was really the only game around. If you’re trying to break into trad publishing, you have the opposite strategy you have as an indie: instead of writing an entire series, you write a bunch of Book Ones and you see which one sticks.

So, a friend of mine talked up Fortune’s Fool to an editor in an elevator at Worldcon, which got me a request for a partial…and a rejection with a request, “If you have anything else, please send it.” I decided to revise the version zero of Dreams that had fallen apart and send it to her. She liked that version (let’s call it 1.0) enough to request a full, but then I never heard from her again.

And at that point, I was having babies, and I was tired. So, I put both books in my closet. In 2017, I decided I loved writing too much to give it up, so I pulled my crate of old manuscripts out to put my rusty skills to work again. The book I decided to start with actually wasn’t Fortune’s Fool; it was v 1.0 of Dreams… but I scrapped it completely. 225,000 words straight in the trash. I got rid of old characters that didn’t work (all mine, this time), revamped character relationships, gave everybody more agency. I brightened a story that was too dark by adding more romance and awkward banter and humor and, most of all, I decided to focus on Sergei’s friendship with Cam. I wrote a giant, rambling book I suspected was actually a sketch of 2 or 3 books… and then I let it sit while I thought about it, and I pulled out Fortune’s Fool, which was closer to being done, and decided to use what I had learned about revision to publish it while I decided what to do about Dreams.

So, I guess, after all of that… the answer is yes and no. There are struggles involved in writing a second book, all of which I have had to grapple with in revising Dreams—worry that I don’t disappoint readers is my biggest issue, because I really don’t want to let people down—but because it’s been such a long process, I also circumvented some of the second book anxiety. But mostly Dreams was harder to write because it was more complicated than Fortune’s Fool. True second book anxiety is reserved for Fool’s Promise (which I’m determined to get out in 2023.)



Q] Can you tell us more about the world that The Rai Ascendant series is set in and some of the story’s major characters? What are the curiosities of this world?

AB: It’s basically a multiverse, with different realities connected by a “place” people access in their dreams called The Lake of the World. I based the magic in Dreams loosely on quantum physics, so I got to exploit ideas like the Heisenberg Principle, which in my world translates into buildings whose walls don’t stay in the same place, a giant Wall that moves… You can’t count on anything to really be what you think it is, including objects, flowers, plants, people, any of which might actually be magical spirit-creatures in disguise.

In our world at the time of the story (1988), there have been a lot of shady Cold War experiments going on to try to connect these worlds, which is how the book ends up being like an urban fantasy stuffed into an epic fantasy. On our side of the Lake, the action takes place in an Illinois college town in 1988; on the other side of the Lake, there’s an epic fantasy world which is kind of post-post-apocalyptic. The current world order has grown out of an empire ruled by gods who were overthrown by their subjects, leaving two groups of people who have been fighting each other for hundreds of years: the Miroko and the Tarani. Peace has been tenuously kept in the recent past by a giant magical wall erected between them by the Miroko, who are pro-magic; the Tarani execute magic-users so their gods can’t choose new avatars. The book begins with a proclamation that upsets the political balance: the Tarani have decided that this is a foretold era when the gods are going to return to bring about a new and better Deiocracy. So, everybody’s scrambling, trying to figure out what this really means and trying to play it to their advantage, and this is the situation Sergei stumbles into as he’s looking for his mother.

The book has six POV characters:
Sergei is the protagonist, and he bears the brunt of my many years of parental sleeplessness, because mostly what he needs is just a good night’s sleep. He’s been plagued by terrifyingly realistic nightmares of his mother’s death for years, and he’s going along with these shady experiments because he’s convinced his mother is alive and nobody else will try to find her, so he’s going to throw himself into the breach even though he really has no idea what he’s doing.

Cam is his best friend. On the outside he seems like a jock—he’s very athletic because he has a physical sense of what will happen in the very short-term future—but this sense also tends to manifest as anxiety as he worries about things that might go wrong with people he loves. I feel like Cam might be one of the more complex characters I’ve ever written, because on the one hand, he’s fairly tough and pragmatic, and on the other hand, it’s a wonder he’s never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. But that’s basically how magic manifests in our world…it shows up in lots of little mental quirks that the characters often have to hide in order to live “normal” lives.

Maddie is Cam’s dyslexic, poker-playing sister, who has dreams about what could happen in the future. I really liked writing her, and I enjoyed writing her romance with Sergei because they’re fun together. But writing her was also a challenge because she’s very mathy, and I can do math, but I don’t consider myself a Math Person. Maddie lives in a world of probability, where she’s always trying to figure out if she’s altering the future with her intentions, and whether that’s okay or not okay, because sometimes things don’t pan out quite how she expects them to.

And then the secondary world POV characters…
Kaija, is a Cassandra-type character, but also, I enjoyed being able to gender-flip the trope of the reluctant middle-aged male character who’s very much “I’m too old for this” but does the Thing anyway… She’s lived in disgrace for years after being accused and sentenced for the accidental death of a friend, supposedly committed when she was “spirit-sick” from grief, but there are a lot of questions about what actually happened. In spite of this, she’s determined to fulfill the promises she made to her people, even though most of them think she’s insane.

Ináwé is her adopted daughter, who was subsumed by the Wall as a child after her biological parents—a Miroko exile and a Tarani bondservant—died. Now she’s a smuggler, she goes back and forth through the Wall, and she has a chip on her shoulder about how she’s been treated by larger Miroko society, which has denied her status because of her background. She gets roped into working on a mission for the Miroko government, and that leads to a whole web of intrigue that runs along parallel to what Sergei, Cam, and Maddie are doing and crashes together at the end.

Jisel is an empath healer among the Tarani who is probably one of my favorite characters ever to write, because he isn’t at all like the stereotyped version of “empath healer”. Healers are second-class citizens among the Tarani, and their magic is only tolerated because it’s useful. Jisel is snarky and cynical and also fairly angry, and his desire to get revenge for his sister’s disappearance and probable death has led him to work as a spy, using his talents to do things which are not always things you would expect a healer to do.
 
Q] So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK?

AB: I write sprawling, twisty, character-driven stories about messy people in need of redemption, searching for hope and love in dark worlds. Whether it’s the secondary world epic fantasy of Fortune’s Fool or the mulitverse portal fantasy of Through Dreams So Dark, that’s the common thread running through everything. Along with that core, I also love big, intricate worldbuilding and romance and magic, so most of my stories will involve some combination of those elements.

My pitch for Through Dreams So DarkStranger Things meets epic fantasy! More than that though… if you like found family and bromance, complex characters who don’t always do the right thing, a magic-infused world with lots of twisty intrigue, a touch of nightmare horror and romance with a little bit of spice… and you like it set in a world that can be gritty and dark and emotional but is never truly hopeless… you’ll probably like Through Dreams So Dark.
 
Q] So what can readers expect from THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

AB: It’s definitely an Angela Boord book—the plot is twisty, it’s big but I’ve tried my hardest to pace it fast, the worldbuilding is intricate…but the characters and their relationships are at the heart of the story, and they drive the plot. In fact, that’s one of the reasons the book is as big as it is. I needed to take time to build the relationships and to make them deep and believable.
 


Q] THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK is book 1 of The Rai Ascendant series. How many books are you planning to write in this series?

AB: The short answer is six, with the option for more. The longer answer is: I’m planning on writing the books in groups of three, and then I also have the starts of a couple of spin-off novels and novellas hanging around on my computer and in my closet. The first three books are coming out of a manuscript I broke into three parts because I was obviously trying to do too much for one book. That means I do have actual material for the first group of three (I hesitate to call it a trilogy, because the third book should close out a major arc but there will still be some threads to pull you on into book 4).
 
Q] Will it be beneficial for readers to checkout “Forget Me Not”? I believe this story is set in the same universe. Can you tell us where it fits in with the chronology and what advantage would readers have if they read this story before grabbing a copy of THROUGH DREAMS SO DARK

AB: Actually, I just updated “Forget Me Not” and I’m planning to offer the updated version to my newsletter! I’ve changed some of the worldbuilding since Strange Horizons first published the story. It is set in the same universe, but much earlier in the timeline of the secondary world—back in the days of the Rai Deiocracy. Technically, it’s a standalone and can be read at any time—it’s the story of how a little girl became the God of War, from the point of view of her mother who let her go—but if you read it after Dreams, you’ll probably have some aha moments.
 
Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

AB: I’d just like to let all my readers know how much I appreciate them! Dreams was an emotional book to write, but I also had a lot of fun with it, and I’m excited to share that experience with all of you. I hope you enjoy meeting Sergei, Cam, and Maddie as much as I enjoy telling their story!

                                   *---------------------*---------------------*-------------------*

Add Through Dreams So Dark on Goodreads

OFFICIAL BLURB: Sergei’s mother sacrificed herself to get her family through the Iron Curtain. Now it’s Sergei’s turn to save her…even if he has to cross realities to do it.

Sergei is determined to put his broken family back together, no matter the danger.

Not-rats and bugs hiding in his walls, listening to his conversations? He can live with that. The shadowy government organization trying to dig encoded information out of his nightmares? He’ll play along to learn what they know about his mother.

If he has to destroy his college career, his love life, and the best friendship he’s ever had—with his roommate Cam—he’ll do that, too, if that’s what it takes. He’s the only one who believes his mother is still alive.

Nobody else needs to get hurt if he doesn’t tell them what he’s doing.

But however hard Sergei tries to keep his double life a secret, Cam still shows up to save him whenever he’s in trouble, like Cam has some kind of magical sixth sense—a sense that keeps them bonded together no matter what. And when Sergei finally breaks through his dreams into a world where monsters lurk and reality changes on a whim…where having magic carries a death sentence…the stakes of this game could be far higher than Sergei wants to pay. Now it’s not just his life on the line—he’s dragged people he cares about into danger with him.

He thought he could risk himself alone. But will his single-minded mission to find his mother be worth the price everyone he loves has to pay?


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