My reading at the Davies Memorial Library in Waterford, VT this past Tuesday was great fun! I read from the first chapter of The Empire’s Orphans, doing my best to channel the wonderful authors who’ve come before me. After the first chapter was read, the night then moved into a Q&A session with my audience, who had thoughtful, truly terrific questions. In case you missed it, a sample of these questions are below!
Q: If you were to pick a time from our history of when The Empire’s Orphans takes place, when would it be? Why did you pick that time?
A: I set The Empire’s Orphans in 1530, albeit with magic and geography that I made from scratch. My reasoning for this was based on wanting to give one of my cultures a significant technological advantage over the other, and, after seeing the documentary Guns, Germs and Steel years ago, I settled on firearms, along with a different system of magic, as this advantage. By setting my timeframe at the early development of firearms, I hoped to keep this tech advantage somewhat in check, and to keep the muskets a little bit mysterious with their high volatility. Once I settled on 1530 for my firearms, I also loosely based other details, like Solinski clothing, on what might have been expected in Europe at that time.
Q: I like the level of detail that you use in this book. It gives the reader, especially this age group, enough information without bogging them down in paragraphs about basket weaving. As you’re finding this balance while you write, do you typically have to add detail, or cut it? Or does this come naturally?
A: Occasionally I hit a detail balance I’m happy with on the first try, but it’s pretty rare. I usually need to add details in as I’m editing, to give some action details to a section of dialogue, or visual details as characters are traveling. In my first drafts, my conversations can feel a bit like they’re floating, because they’re not always grounded enough in non-dialogue interactions or details of what’s happening around the people as they’re talking. I also have to work at letting readers ‘see’ the countryside or cityscapes around them, and fight the fear that readers don’t want to break from the action long enough to take in that kind of visual detail.
Q: Do you tend to see things in your mind’s eye as you write, or is it more distant as you’re writing the story down?
A: I see most of the book in my mind’s eye as it’s happening. Often I’ll see certain scenes many times before I ever get to writing them down, and they play out in my head a little like a play that I’ve cast myself in. I’ve done this with stories for as long as I can remember—it was always a great source of entertainment on long bus rides to school, or during chores like feeding calves. Fortunately my mom didn’t find my frequently-glazed expression too alarming while I was growing up.
Seeing this kind of play is one of the reasons I need to add detail in later, I think, because I see the world I’m writing pretty clearly, and I can assume the reader does too. Later, in the editing, things feel less like a play and get a little bit more scientific as I’m balancing pacing, weighing my subplots, etc.
Q: Was it difficult to write this in first person? Do you prefer first or third?
I didn’t find The Empire’s Orphans difficult to write in first, but I have found first person limiting in the past, particularly with the first book I wrote while I was in high school and college (this book is now in a drawer). My decision to write Star Thief in 3rd person was directly based on that experience. When I began the framework for The Empire’s Orphans, though, I decided that it needed to be in first because I wanted to be able to explore internal arcs of feelings, biases, and reevaluating what the characters know to be true. Particularly for Rogan, I saw this as important enough to try the first person perspective again, and I’m happy with that choice.
If you have any other questions yourself, please don’t hesitate to reach out through the site! I’d love to hear from you!