TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
Betsy: Thanks! I’m excited to talk about Exile with you.
TQ: When and why did you start writing?
Betsy: I started writing stories in the fourth grade with my best friend Sheri Joseph, who also grew up and became a novelist. I’d love to say “and I never quit,” but I tried my damnedest to be normal after college. After I subconsciously realized that my daughter was my last baby, I started a minor midlife crisis and an epic four book series.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Betsy: I love to synopsize! And pitching! And writing queries!! I write a pitch, a query, and a synopsis all before I start drafting.
Soapbox: Don’t say “synopsis” to a roomful of writers; the collective groan shakes the rafters. I think the issue many writers have with synopses is trying to fit a bad story into a viable synopsis. Nothing draws out problems in a story like a synopsis or outline. It’s a tough thing to face after what might be years of work. I’ve found synopses and queries really just aren’t that tough to write—not when they’re based on a good story.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Betsy: Both. As I said, I write a synopsis (EMISSARY, the sequel to EXILE, has a three-page working synopsis) but I also let my characters lead me while I draft. Their personalities can dictate plot points—sometimes the synopsis has them doing the exact opposite of what they’d actually do (especially antagonists). So the synopsis changes a lot as I write. I use the synopsis to check direction—if a plot point works in a few sentences it will work in the novel. Generally the tent-pole moments and the end stay the same. The biggest thing that usually changes for me is the start of the book.
Also, I do rolling revisions constantly. If a character or plot point changes, I tend to go back and fix it right away. I’m completely paranoid about my plotting and loose ends.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
I find drafting a trial most days. I try hard not to pay too much attention to my antsy feelings or boredom when I draft. But I do pay attention to it when I’m revising. If I can’t get through a scene without flipping to Facebook for the fiftieth time, something is wrong with the scene.
TQ: Describe Exile in 140 characters or less.
Betsy: A half-breed former slave, Draken is falsely accused of murder and exiled to the arse-end of the world where prejudice, politics, and lies drag him into a looming civil war. (Oops, 144.)
TQ: What inspired you to write Exile?
Betsy: After my return to writing, I worked on a huge four-book urban fantasy series (the first of which is Archive of Fire, out last year). The more I worked on it, the more I found the improvement in my writing completely stalled out. I was too close to it, for sure. I needed objective distance. I needed to not love my characters so much. I decided to simplify: one POV, no worries about trope (Exile started out as a world-to-world portal story, for crying in a bucket, though of course it is still somewhat of a portal story), and a basic A-Z quest plot. I also had been writing about 22 year old guys and I wanted someone older and world weary, someone who feels his age at inopportune moments. Draken is in his mid-forties, he’s got knee problems and he’s going grey, and he’s got a bitter streak from a tough life. I also really wanted to explore a character who doesn’t fit in and never will—hence his secret half-breed heritage.
Of course now I completely adore Draken. So much for objective distance.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Exile?
Betsy: Weapons, fighting, and armor research, mostly. I have great resources: a couple of guys who actually fight (hand-t0-hand and sword!) who tells me how it really is. I love to write fight scenes and I’m determined to write them well. Fortunately for me, Draken sucks as a swordsman. He’s more ignorant than I am.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Betsy: Bruche is Draken’s Greek Chorus and he drives Draken mad, but really (without giving plot away) what’s Draken gonna do about it? They’re stuck with each other. Bruche and I have a lot of fun tormenting Draken when he’s taking himself too seriously.
I find Queen Elena a huge challenge. She is so enigmatic, faultlessly trained to the throne, and controlled. She is also very flawed, innocent, and protected. She puts her trust in people she shouldn’t. I think the duplicity of her personality—innocence and control—is why Draken is attracted to her.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what are your favorite scenes in Exile?
Betsy: I love the first scene where Draken on the ship headed to Akrasia. I wrote it about three years after the book was finished, scrapping the original start. I also love Draken’s conversation/negotiation with Va Khlar. Dialogue is my sweet spot and that scene is when I (and hopefully the reader!) started to realize why people are drawn to Draken.
TQ: What's next?
Betsy: I’m working full time on Emissary, the sequel to Exile, which will be out in 2014. Yes, Draken has to go back to Monoea, where there’s a death sentence on his head. I also have a couple of other projects in the works: a space opera and a futuristic religious thriller. Plus I’m usually noodling with short stories and I’m always reading slush and prepping the next issue of Electric Spec.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Betsy: Thank you! It was fun!
Seven Eyes 1
Night Shade Books, February 5, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages
Draken vae Khellian, bastard cousin of the Monoean King, had risen far from his ignominious origins, becoming both a Bowrank Commander and a member of the Crown’s Black Guard. But when he is falsely condemned for the grisly murder of his beloved wife, he is banished from the kingdom and cast upon the distant shore of Akrasia, at the arse-end of the world.
Compared to civilized Monoea, Akrasia is a forbidding land of Moonlings, magic, and restless spirits. It is also a realm on the brink of a bloody revolution, as a sinister conspiracy plots against Akrasia’s embattled young queen–and malevolent banes possess the bodies of the living.
Consumed by grief, and branded a murderer, Draken lives only to clear his name and avenge his wife’s murder. But the fates may have bigger plans for him. Alone in a strange land, he soon finds himself sharing the bed of an enigmatic necromancer and a half-breed servant girl, while pressed into the service of a foreign queen whose life and land may well depend on the divided loyalties of an exiled warrior . . .
Exile is the beginning of an ambitious fantasy saga by an acclaimed new author.
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