Friday, November 1, 2013

Fun Friday Q&A: Shawna Reppert

As one of her Kickstarter backers, I'm very pleased to welcome author Shawna Reppert as my guest today. Her new urban fantasy book sounds terrific and I can't wait to get to reading it, and she kindly agreed to let me poke around in her thoughts with a few questions. Haven't heard of Ravensblood yet? Here's the cover copy:

In a life of impossible choices when sometimes death magic is the lesser of the evils, can a dark mage save the world and his own soul?
Corwyn Ravenscroft. Raven. The last heir of an ancient family of dark mages, he holds the secret to recreating the Ravensblood, a legendary magical artifact of immense power.

Cassandra Greensdowne is a Guardian. Magical law enforcement for the elected council— and Raven’s former apprentice and lover. She is trying to live down her past. And then her past comes to the door, asking for her help.

As a youth, Raven wanted to be a Guardian but was rejected because of his ancestry. In his pride and his anger, he had turned to William, the darkest and most powerful mage of their time. William wants a return to the old ways, where the most powerful mage was ruler absolute. But William would not be a True King from the fairy tales. He would reign in blood and terror and darkest magic.

Raven discovers that he does have a conscience. It’s rather inconvenient.

He becomes a spy for the council that William wants to overthrow, with Cassandra as his contact.

Cass and Raven have a plan to trap William outside his warded sanctuary. But William is one step ahead of the game, with Raven’s life, his soul, and the Ravensblood all in danger.
Angela: First of all, major congrats on getting Ravensblood funded through Kickstarter! Why did you decide to go that route with this particular book?

Shawna:
Ravensblood is a book I have always strongly believed in, and it’s gotten tremendous response from beta readers and from people who have seen the sample chapters. (One of my beta readers lives in France and flew out to the Pacific Northwest in part to do a Ravensblood tour of Portland and surrounding areas.) Unfortunately, it’s come as close as a book can get to being picked up by agents and traditional publishers without actually seeing a contract. In today’s hyper-cautious market, that’s all too common. Look at how long it took Harry Potter to get published, and how close it came to never happening. I was determined that Ravensblood would get out there somehow, some way, and I had a lot of people egging me on.

I’ve also had a couple of mentors, veterans of the publishing world, tell me that indie may be a better option for writers, especially writers at the beginning of their careers. So I thought this would be a good way to test the waters.

Not that I’m turning my back on traditional publishing entirely. I had a good experience with Carina Press, and wouldn’t mind working with them again. And I haven’t given up on pursuing a big New York contract with other projects. But the way the market is changing, with no one really knowing how things will end up, I think it’s smart to try all options.

Angela: Tell us a little bit about the book. Why should fans of urban fantasy pick up a copy?

Shawna Reppert
Shawna: Readers of urban fantasy (and I include myself in the category) are weird, hybrid creatures. We love the sense of wonder and magic of traditional fantasy, yet we long for something that feels real, that feels like it could happen here, now, right in our town. We like things dark, we like moral ambiguity and worlds with no easy answers, and yet deep inside we hope for those fairy-tale values of honor and valor.

In Ravensblood, you have Guardians having to worry about protecting the civilians in a Hawthorne Street bar even as they engage in a firefight with dark mages. (A literal firefight, magefire and spell lightning). After the firefight, they have to soothe the ruffled feathers of the mundane police to keep the peace between the communities. You have a dark mage seeking redemption forced to commit death magic in order to keep his cover as a spy for the Council. And yet you also have extraordinary moments of grace. You have a member of Council, Raven’s former mentor, willing to take a chance on a man who has been practicing dark magic for years, a man who seduced and betrayed and nearly destroyed her niece. In the end. . .oops, spoiler, can’t talk about that. You’ll just have to read the book.

Angela:
Where did the idea for Ravensblood come from?

Shawna: I’m not going to use the line ‘it came to me in a dream.’ To me, that always sounds coy and disingenuous. The bare beginnings of a concept did come to me in the middle of the night, but I was wide awake at the time. Which was sort of the problem.

It was 2 AM or thereabouts, one of those quiet nights where you feel like you’re the only living thing in the world awake. I was in the midst of my own ‘dark night of the soul’, the details of which would take too long to explain. Let’s just say no-win situations and betrayals of trust were very much on my mind.

I poured myself a little Scotch to try to quiet my mind and sat down at the computer. I was in the middle of the first draft of The Stolen Luck, but for some reason, instead of pulling up the latest chapter I opened a brand-new document and started to write about this unrelated character that had just come into my head. I wrote what was to become, with very little editing, the third chapter of Ravensblood. Then I saved the file and went back to bed.

Eventually, I straightened out my Real World problems (well, at least that set) and finished The Stolen Luck. Looking around for a new project, I found the file I had saved all that while ago. At the time, I didn’t know too much about Raven’s situation. It took me a while to come up with his full name (Corwyn Ravenscroft, though he goes by Raven). He was a mass of contradictions. He very much wanted to live, but saw death as his only option. His act arose not out of suicidal depression or cowardice, but cold calculation. I knew that what drove him was a matter of conscience, but I also knew he would not describe himself as a good man. So I had to establish who he was, what he had done, and what was the final thing that pushed the situation beyond tolerance. I had to make it reasonable for him to believe that he had no other way out, which means I had to make William his master unbelievably dangerous. I also had to establish that he had tried at least one other means of escape first.

Which lead to the creation of Cassandra. Then I had to give Cass a reason to reject him, a personal reason beyond the hatred Guardians had for dark mages in general and Ravenscrofts in particular, because I knew she was going to be important to the story, and I wanted to like her. Thus the backstory of their relationship was born.

Then came working out the magical properties of the Ravensblood. I tied it to Raven’s ancestry to weigh its meaning, since so much of Raven’s arc is tied to his family history and his attempt to break free of it (and ultimately to come to terms with it, in a later book). To pull things together more, the Ravensblood had to relate to why Cass left Raven and to why Raven ultimately decided to seek redemption.

I also needed a reason why they didn’t just use it to take down William directly, as opposed to the cat-and-mouse game they play through most of the novel. That’s when I decided that the Ravensblood augments a mage’s strength in proportion to the mage’s natural power. With it, Raven is frightening powerful, but still not strong enough, he thinks, to take out William. But if William got his hands on it, he’d be invincible.

Angela: Raven sounds like an awesome protagonist. Here’s a challenge! Describe him for us in five words or less. Go… 

Shawna:  Brilliant, strong-willed, conflicted, elegant, powerful.

Angela: Will there be another book in this series, or is it a standalone novel?

Shawna: Yes. (ducks) Seriously, I hate the never-ending story type of series, where nothing is ever resolved and the readers are dragged through book after book in a vain attempt to bloody find out what happens already. I believe each novel should have a complete arc. That said, there’s so much more to this world and these characters than could ever fit in one book

Ravensblood stands on its own with complete, satisfying (I hope) story arc and character arcs. But yes, there are a few story questions that arise at the end that will be addressed in the next book, which I’ve outlined but not yet written. I think I’ll end up with a trilogy at least, plus possibly some less closely related books in the same ‘verse. I’ve had a few people clamoring for prequels, so we’ll see.

Angela: What are you working on next, and when can we read it?

Shawna: There’s a couple of books I’ve completed that are now in the marketing pipeline, looking for homes with traditional publishers. One is a parallel universe medieval fantasy set in a world similar to England a few generations after the Norman Conquest. (Two enemies discover that they share a father. Can they join together as brothers to save a nation from tyranny?)

Another book I have high hopes for is a steampunk/Victorian detective novel— with werewolves. (Think Sherlock Holmes if Holmes was a reluctantly-involved werewolf, Watson was a woman alchemist with attitude, and Lestrade wasn’t an idiot.) Of course, I’m hoping for a series of stand-alones in that ‘verse.

Meanwhile, by popular demand, I’m working on another original-world fantasy with male/male romance woven into the plotline. High fantasy with a strong plot arc and character arcs and has some fairly weighty themes regarding war and prejudice. Lots of twists and turns and things are seldom entirely as they seem. Having a bard as a protagonist in this one gives me an outlet for my love of music.

As to the ‘when’ for any of the above, that all depends on the wonderful world of publishing. Anywhere from one to five years, I’d say. If the traditional publishers don’t bite, I’ll go indie again.

To tide my readers over, I hope to have the sequels to Ravensblood out in a year(ish).

And because people have been asking for a sequel for The Stolen Luck and for more of Ashe, I have been mulling some ideas over for that book, but, as you can see, my writing plate is a little full. I can only promise ‘someday’.

Angela:
Let’s get to know Shawna the person with these questions. Are you a diehard member of any TV show/film/book fandoms? (If so, which ones and why?)

Shawna:
I think most writers start out as fans. We have a capacity to be deeply, passionately involved in fictional characters and stories, and that spills over into a desire to create characters and stories that others will be passionate about.

Tolkien was my first fandom. I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine years old, and it captured my imagination with its magic and sense of wonder, along with its emphasis on honor, bravery, loyalty, and the feeling of grace and poetry that is seldom found in the real world.

I am also a die-hard fan of Doctor Who, both the old series and the new. Both have an emphasis on compassion, kindness and empathy, solving problems through intellect rather than violence, and moving through the universe with an open-hearted sense of adventure. The older series has a charming whimsy that the new series doesn’t quite capture. On the other hand, the new series has more complexity and depth. The writers have done what several of my mentors have taught me— find out what is the worst thing that can happen to your character, literally worse than death, and then make it happen. The new-series Doctor is haunted by what he had to do to end the Time Wars, and also faces situations where he has to let some people die to save the greater number of lives. The writers break the Doctor’s hearts again and again, and our hearts break with his.

I love Star Trek in all its permutations, in part for its willingness to take difficult issues head-on, often ahead of the curve of mainstream society. There’s also a strong emphasis on doing the right thing, along with the acknowledgement that sometimes the choice is not altogether clear-cut.

I love the original Sherlock Holmes for its celebration of intellect and especially for its protagonist, who defies societal conventions of civility yet has occasional moments of old-world chivalry and a surprising streak of compassion. The new BBC Sherlock is likewise complex and beautifully well-written.

Angela: What’s the last book you read? 

Shawna: The last book I read was The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King. Actually, it’s a re-read. I find that with her novels, I have to read them at least twice. The first time I’m racing through to find out what happens. Then I go back to admire her beautiful style and to look at the intricacy in which she has woven the story. This book in particular is a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, like a set of Russian nesting dolls. (Oh! I wonder if the Russian nesting dolls that get brief mention early in the novel were a metaphor for the story to come? You see what I mean. . .)

Angela: If you could spend one day as any fictional character, which one and why?

Shawna: I have to pick just one? You are tough!

After due consideration, I’d have to say Rose Tyler, companion to the tenth Doctor, since I’ve wanted to go off in the TARDIS since I was about nine years old. Plus the TARDIS could then take me anywhen in the universe I wanted to go. (Delicious thoughts of taking in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes stage play with the Doctor, followed by champagne and an alien sunrise.)

I’ll be honest, Rose isn’t my favorite of the companions (though she’s far from my least favorite). But she does seem to be the one who gets closest to the Doctor, and it would be lovely to live that even for one day. (Yes, I am a fangirl.)

Angela: Celebrity crush?

Shawna: Richard Armitage (though Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston are also lovely.)

For me, it’s not just about looks, but how the actor come across in interviews. Is he intelligent and insightful? Does he seem like a decent human being?

Angela: Hobbies?

Shawna: I am an avid equestrian. I thought I wanted to breed and train dressage horses for a living, and in fact I did train professionally part-time for a few years, but it didn’t work out. I still have a Lipizzan stallion that I love dearly and I still ride about five days a week. Sometimes we play at warhorses with the Society for Creative Anachronism.

I’m crazy about live Irish music. I don’t play an instrument, but then somebody has to be audience. Often I take my laptop to a pub where friends are playing and write while I listen. And I really love ceili dance (Irish social dancing).

Angela: Thank you, Shawna, for being my guest today!

You can learn more about Shawna and her books at her website. Ravensblood is now available for purchase at Amazon.
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