TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Holly: I honestly don't remember this but my mother tells me that when I was a kid I used to say I was going to be an author one day. I know I was writing a lot as a teenager, mostly for fun, and finally started trying to do something with it in my late twenties. I really can't tell you why, it's just something I've always enjoyed. If I had to say, it would be because I love creating new worlds or futures and figuring out what kind of people would exist in them and what their stories would be. There's something very fulfilling about starting with a blank page and finishing with an entire universe that never existed before.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Holly: I was a complete pantser a few years ago but I'm slowly transforming into a plotter. Pantsing is still fine when I'm writing a short story or a standalone book, but now that I'm getting into novel series, it's much smoother and less headache-y if I plan things out first.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Holly: I think it's when I don't have anything to work on. I rarely take breaks from writing. Even when I decide I need a few days off, I'm usually back at it in less than twenty-four hours. So, when I finished one story and don't have an idea for another, it's extremely frustrating for me.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Holly: I draw influence from a variety of sources, from books, movies, video games, graphic novels, and short stories to scientific articles, and even a little poetry. I enjoy writing things that read like "a movie in your mind" so I'm influenced most by fast-paced and very visual works of any medium. As for authors, Damian Angelica Walters has probably had the most impact on my style. I love her short stories. The way she writes is just so smooth and lyrical.
TQ: Describe Arena in 140 characters or less.
Holly: When her virtual teammate dies in reality, gamer Kali Ling fights to expose the venality of digital sports before its game over for all.
TQ: Tell us something about Arena that is not found in the book description.
Holly: One of my favorite things about Arena is that it's set in a future where gamers have become celebrity-athletes and hold a high status in society. Since the media usually portrays gamers as the opposite, I'm hoping it's an interesting twist on the trope.
TQ: What inspired you to write Arena? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction? Why a near-future setting?
Holly: I had the inspiration for Arena when I was reading Neuromancer and came across a documentary about professional gaming in North America. I had heard of pro-gaming being popular in other parts of the world, but didn't know it was gaining traction in North America, too. Eventually, my mind started to blend these two concepts into a tech-heavy future where pro-gamers plug directly into the game and compete in tournaments in front of millions of people.
I've always loved science fiction because it forces us to explore other worlds or possible futures, and wonder "what if?" What if The Matrix was real? What if we could travel faster than light? I love how the only limitation is our imagination.
As for the near-future setting, it just went well with world dominated by VR technology and competitive gaming. I think it'll only be a few decades before we have full-immersion virtual reality, maybe even sooner.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Arena?
Holly: All kinds! I love researching. The most amount of my time probably went into researching the evolution of VR technology, and predictions about the future of eSports. Next was the lives of celebrity-athletes and what it's really like behind all the glamor. The main character Kali also explores some basic concepts of Taoism in the book. I'd already been studying it myself on and off for a few years, so most of that was just brushing up on the subject and getting beta feedback from people who know a lot more than I do.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Holly: The main character Kali was probably the most difficult because she changes quite a lot through the story. It was a challenge to pace her evolution in a believable way throughout the book. Her friend Hannah was by far the easiest. She's extremely easy-going and upbeat, and isn't afraid to joke around about anything. She's a blast to write.
TQ: Which question about Arena do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Holly: I wish someone would ask why I included several diverse characters in the novel, and the answer is that after playing games with people around the world, I've found that gamers are just as diverse of a group as any other and I wanted that diversity reflected in the story.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Arena.
Holly: My favorite non-spoilery quote from Arena is: "Nothing like seeing your own insides to make you feel mortal. Nothing like coming back to life to make you feel like a god." I feel like so much of the novel is highlighted in those two sentences, from the book's themes of duality and virtual addiction, to the main character's tempestuous relationship with the digital world. It also hints at why gamers in this future tend to take the whole "invincible celebrity" thing to the next level. How can you believe anything bad will ever happen when you die and come back to life every day?
TQ: What are your top 3 favorite video games?
Holly: It's always changing but my favourite of all time is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. As a teenager, Perfect Dark was pretty big for me and more recently, I've been enjoying Fallout 4.
TQ: What's next?
Holly: Currently, I'm editing the sequel to Arena and dabbling with a few other series I'm interested in developing. I'm still deciding what will come after Arena and its sequel, but I'm very excited about a few projects I'm working on.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Holly: Thank you so much for having me!
An Arena Novel 1
Ace, April 5, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 336 pages
A fast-paced and gripping near-future science fiction debut about the gritty world of competitive gaming…
Every week, Kali Ling fights to the death on national TV. She’s died hundreds of times. And it never gets easier…
The RAGE tournaments—the Virtual Gaming League’s elite competition where the best gamers in the world compete in a no-holds-barred fight to the digital death. Every bloody kill is broadcast to millions. Every player is a modern gladiator—leading a life of ultimate fame, responsible only for entertaining the masses.
And though their weapons and armor are digital, the pain is real.
Chosen to be the first female captain in RAGE tournament history, Kali Ling is at the top of the world—until one of her teammates overdoses. Now, she must confront the truth about the tournament. Because it is much more than a game—and even in the real world, not everything is as it seems.
The VGL hides dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…