Please welcome Betsy Dornbusch to The Qwillery. Emissary, the 2nd Seven Eyes novel, was published by Night Shade Books on April 7th.
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, Emissary (Seven Eyes, book 2), was/is published on April 7th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Exile (2013) to Emissary? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Betsy: I actually wrote Exile ten years ago as a trunk novel to give myself some rein on exploring tropes and character and the epic fantasy genre. Then, when I mentioned it to the Night Shade editor years later, he said he’d like to see it. So writing Exile was a fairly no-pressure game.
Emissary was the first book I wrote that was sold ahead of writing, and we had some awkward things like the Night Shade sale happen in the middle of it. I had to ask for a significant extension on my delivery date. It was a slog at times but it helped that I like the story, and found taking Draken into his previous country and the world building intriguing.
As for my writing now that Emissary is released to the wild, it’s the settling down and just doing it. There are always promo duties, conventions to plan for, Electric Spec slush to read, and with two teenagers in the house, things stay kind of crazy. I usually have a list of about ten things per day. I’ve never been a very regimented person so daily word counts don’t work for me. I somehow tend to get it in though. I do get pretty crabby when I don’t write, my family says.
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Exile came out that you know now?
Betsy: Make allies of your convention hotel bartenders. The bars get so crowded and they will totally let you cut the line later if you’re friendly and generous.
Also, I write to sell now, so I start with a tag line for books. Then I write a query. Then I write a synopsis. The planning keeps me calm enough to write. I have far fewer freak outs over what happens next, which means fewer delays in writing, and I write cleaner now, so my revisions aren’t as tough. My first published novel I basically drafted twice. Never. Again.
TQ: Tell us something about Emissary that is not in the book description.
Betsy: Draken and his friends spend quite a bit of time aboard ships on the open sea. All mistakes are mine. Really though, I grew up in a sailing family, so other than working out logistics and strategies during battles, the sights, sounds, and smells are pretty familiar to me.
TQ: Which character in the Seven Eyes series (so far) surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?
Betsy: Aarinnaie always surprises me. When I first wrote her as an assassin who attempts to kill the Queen, I had no idea how important she’d become to Draken. Since then, she’s become such a fun character to write. She’s complicated and tough and angsty. She accepts Draken’s love and help and is affectionate without getting wimpy about it. She and Draken have a ton of chemistry and she saves his arse more than once, too. To me the story just lights up whenever she’s on the page, and all without any romance!
Queen Elena has always been my toughest, most enigmatic character. Not a sharer, that one. Plus, in Emissary, she is seven months pregnant.
Let me tell a little story. When I was hugely pregnant with our daughter, I drove somewhere and was listening to Oingo Boingo really loud. When I rolled out of the driver’s seat and waddled across the parking lot, the kid collecting carts stared at me and said, “That was you?”
Well. Yeah. Most women don’t put their lives on hold when they’re pregnant. Music still plays on the radio. War still comes. Nations need to be run. Elena is cranky, uncomfortable, and stressed, and Draken isn’t always very understanding. He also has trouble disagreeing with her; she outranks him. There’s the subtext of power struggle, insecurity, and doubt. Much goes unsaid between them. I hope it’s interesting to readers; it is to me. But the two of them can be a bitch to write when they’re together.
TQ: What appeals to you about writing Fantasy? In your opinion, should Fantasy novels be simply entertaining or should they make us think too?
Betsy: Ah, the old Obligation vs Opportunity discussion. I land squarely on the side of Opportunity—writers have the Opportunity to examine society and the human condition, to explore diversity, and give lots of different kinds of readers characters to identify with. I’m against writers being Obligated to explore certain themes or include diverse casts.
That said, I often explore diversity and write female characters with agency, and I enjoy books that do the same. I like making social commentary cushioned in secondary worlds, but I use a light hand. I play with social mores, and put my characters on the spot. For instance, Draken learns of some off-screen homosexuality that makes him uncomfortable, and prejudice and religion are major themes through the series, but he doesn’t really stop to analyze it. I try to let him work through these issues and come to acceptance organically as he learns and grows. Sometimes he fails.
There’s no rulebook to theme in fantasy (or if there isn’t I don’t have a copy). But there are still things to say about loyalty and friendship and heroics, of doing the right thing against dealer’s odds. Those are valuable and timeless themes.
TQ: Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Emissary.
“You’ll make quite the cradle tale when it all comes out,” Tyrolean said.
Draken shook his head and drank deeply of his ale, hiding his relief at Tyrolean’s acceptance of his sordid past. “That’d be of more comfort if cradle tales weren’t so often about the dead.”
TQ: What's next?
Betsy: I’m working on Enemy, the final book of the Seven Eyes. It’s quite a ride, actually. I’ll be sad to put Draken away at the end, but I’ll have been writing him for longer than a decade and it’s time to move onto something else, and I’ve a new fantasy series in the planning stages.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Betsy: Thanks for having me!!
Seven Eyes 2
Night Shade Books, April 7, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 360 pages
Once an exile. Now a king returning to the land that cast him out.
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 cursed black magic took his wife and his honor away, he fought past his own despair and grief, and carved out a new life in Akrasia. His bloody, unlikely path, chronicled in Exile, led him to a new love, and a throne.
Draken has seen too much blood . . . the blood of friends and of enemies alike. Peace is what he wants. Now he must leave his wife and newborn child in an attempt to forge an uneasy peace between the Monoean King and thekingdomofAkrasia. The long bloody shadow of Akrasia’s violent past hangs over his efforts like a shroud. But there are other forces at work. Peace is not something everybody wants . . . not even in the seemingly straightforward kingdom of Draken’s birth.
Factions both known and unknown to Draken vie to undermine his efforts and throw the kingdom into civil war. Forces from his days in the Black Guard prove to be the most enigmatic, and a bloody tide threatens to engulf Draken’s every step.
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.
Betsy Dornbusch is the author of a dozen short stories, three novellas, and three novels. She also is an editor with the speculative fiction magazine Electric Spec and the longtime proprietress of Sex Scenes at Starbucks.