Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Interview with Spencer Ellsworth, author of A Red Peace

Please welcome Spencer Ellsworth to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Red Peace is published on August 22nd by Tor.com.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Spencer a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Spencer:  Hi Qwillery! I started writing at the age of five, because I learned how. When I was six years old I snuck out of my room at night to read The Hobbit all night. I didn't understand any of it (the riddles don't translate well to SoCal kids in the 80s) but I knew I wanted to make a story as exciting.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Spencer:  I plot just enough to get through the book. Usually my third acts have the biggest changes from the plot--in the case of A Red Peace, for instance, I changed a crucial death at the 2/3 mark to give the ending punch.

We call that the "third-act slump" in the writing business. Sometimes we call it the Pit of Despair, or "a composite word including f***."

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?


Other than that, I often struggle with the dichotomy between big, important ideas, and the desire to have fun. A Red Peace is supposed to be swashbuckling space opera fun, but I'm also trying to say something about xenophobia and how easily people buy their own hype. Sometimes it can be a real struggle to get the tone right.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Spencer:  On the high art end, Shakespeare, Octavia Butler, and Tolkien. On the low art end, I've read every single Transformers comic that came out in the last 30 years.

TQDescribe A Red Peace in 140 characters or less.

Spencer:  A galactic empire falls. The Resistance sweeps into power. Their first order: "kill all humans."

Also, giant space bugs.

TQTell us something about A Red Peace that is not found in the book description.

Spencer:  The working title was "Kill Luke Skywalker," because the main villain started out as basically Luke gone bad--a mystical swordfighting warrior dude who starts to buy his own hype.

(He got more original later, but retains a bit of the "aw-shucks farmboy" appeal of the character.)

TQWhat inspired you to write A Red Peace? What appeals to you about writing Space Opera?

Spencer:  Years ago the first scene of A Red Peace barreled into my head. where the new rulers of the galaxy sweep into the chambers of government and say "okay, now we kill all the humans."

I loved the idea. It promised a really gutsy, powerful story, and one I hadn't seen in the various plucky Rebellion vs Evil Empire stories. But I had to figure out who gave that order and why. A few years later, I was watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has a bunch of cloned soldiers happily going to their deaths for the Republic.

I realized two things: 1) the Star Wars prequels would make a lot more sense if they were about this clone army asserting their rights and overthrowing the Republic and 2) there was no reason I couldn't do my own version of that idea. A bit like the Russian Revolution in space, where the oppressed rise up against an out-of-touch ruling class.

With giant space bugs.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for A Red Peace?

Spencer:  I did quite a bit of reading about World War I and the Russian Revolution. I really enjoyed China Mievelle's book October and a little-know book by Christopher Dobson called The Day They Almost Bombed Moscow.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for A Red Peace.

Spencer:  Sparth is the artist and he's amazing! Aren't the covers incredible?

A Red Peace shows the Moths, which are the light fighters used by the cross army. They are what you get when you make fighter jets out of used carapaces, bought wholesale from sentient worms.

The Moths are the center of a pretty cool action sequence in A Red Peace, and a REALLY cool big final action sequence in the third book, Memory's Blade.

TQIn A Red Peace who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Spencer:  The book has two main characters, Jaqi and Araskar, and Jaqi just leapt into my head and stayed there. She's a quintessential smuggler and scavenger with a heart of gold.

Araskar, her opposite, had to have several chapters redone because he is the main antagonist. He abuses drugs and follows bad orders even though he knows they're bad orders. I wanted the audience both to like him, and shout OH COME ON DO THE RIGHT THING! at him.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in A Red Peace?

Spencer:  We're never divorced from social issues, even in something as fluffy and fun as my book seeks to be. A meme went around a little while ago that talked about how Luke Skywalker was a radicalized orphan boy who commits a major act of terrorism. It was funny, but also very true to history. The big, divisive, believe-in-me-I'll-protect-you figures are often both deliverer and monster.

TQWhich question about A Red Peace do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Spencer:  "Will there be more?" Yes! Book two, Shadow Sun Seven, is up for preorder now, out in November, and book three, Memory's Blade, will follow soon, out in February of 2018. Binge em!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from A Red Peace.


"What kind of meat?"
"Matters, does it?"
"Not really. As long as it was breathing once and it's salted now."

This is ugly high art. This is the core of ugly, around which all other ugly orbits.

Luck? You there?

TQWhat's next?

Spencer:  If you like A Red Peace, there's some other great books in the Tor.com lineup this year. I'm really excited to read JY Yang's Red Threads of Fortune and Margaret Killjoy's The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion. And once again, if you like A Red Peace, check out the sequels Shadow Sun Seven & Memory's Blade, out in November and February, respectively.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

A Red Peace
The Starfire Trilogy 1
Tor.com, August 22, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 208 pages

A Red Peace, first in Spencer Ellsworth's Starfire trilogy, is an action-packed space opera in a universe where the oppressed half-Jorian crosses have risen up to supplant humanity and dominate the galaxy.

Half-breed human star navigator Jaqi, working the edges of human-settled space on contract to whoever will hire her, stumbles into possession of an artifact that the leader of the Rebellion wants desperately enough to send his personal guard after. An interstellar empire and the fate of the remnant of humanity hang in the balance.

Spencer Ellsworth has written a classic space opera, with space battles between giant bugs, sun-sized spiders, planets of cyborgs and a heroine with enough grit to bring down the galaxy's newest warlord.


Shadow Sun Seven
The Starfire Trilogy 2
Tor.com, November 28, 2017
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

Shadow Sun Seven continues Spencer Ellsworth's Starfire trilogy, an action-packed space opera in which the oppressed half-Jorian crosses have risen up to supplant humanity.

Jaqi, Araskar and Z are on the run from everyone - the Resistance, the remnants of the Empire, the cyborg Suits, and right now from the Matakas - and the Matakas are the most pressing concern because the insectoid aliens have the drop on them. The Resistance has a big reward out for Araskar and the human children he and Jaqi are protecting. But Araskar has something to offer the mercenary aliens. He knows how to get to a huge supply of pure oxygen cells, something in short supply in the formerly human Empire, and that might be enough to buy their freedom. Araskar knows where it is, and Jaqi can take them there. With the Matakas as troops, they break into Shadow Sun Seven, on the edge of the Dark Zone.

About Spencer

Photo by Chrissy Ellsworth
SPENCER ELLSWORTH's short fiction has previously appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Tor.com. He is the author of the Starfire trilogy, which begins with Starfire: A Red Peace. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and three children, works as a teacher/administrator at a small tribal college on a Native American reservation.

Website  ~  Twitter @Spencimus


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