22 February 2012

Interview with Betsy Dornbusch

One exciting piece in our upcoming issue of Electric Spec is an excerpt from the new urban fantasy novel Sentinel: Archive of Fire by our own Betsy Dornbusch. Not only is she a fab editor of spec fiction, but also an accomplished author in her own right. To learn more about this author and her exciting new book, we have an interview right here:

Tell us a little bit about your new novel.

The official back flap copy:

Twins Aidan and Kaelin didn’t realize until they got to university that most guys don’t learn five ways to kill a man by the age of fourteen. Still, since their estranged father descends from the demon Asmodai, it's probably worth knowing how to defend themselves. But as years pass and threat never materializes, the twins suppose their mom is just paranoid - until she disappears. Their father tells them Asmodai has taken possession of their mother in order to infiltrate Sentinel, a treacherous coalition of demidemon rebels determined to protect humankind from the demon legions. The twins form a grudging alliance with Sentinel to rescue her, but when Asmodai murders their father to incite war, Sentinel starts to implode and Aidan and Kaelin must battle an enemy who wears their mother’s face.

Also, it's angsty, action-packed, torturous and filled with back-stabbing, especially from the good guys. Just what you would expect from a pack of demons.

What inspired you to write about demons?

I didn’t know they were demons at first. I was writing urban fantasy a decade ago, before the genre really got off the ground; I just didn’t have the skills to write it properly and get it out there until recently. As for demons: I like dark anti-heroes. I like characters having conflicting urges to do good and to also be very bad. Kaelin in particular is tortured with that. It’s my feeling we live in an era when most people give into their urges to be very bad, and it’s even revered (exhibit A: reality television). The alternative seems to be goody-goody folks. I was looking for something different. My demons have very strong urges to be bad, they all are very flawed, and yet compelling reasons to do the right thing.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about one of your favorite scenes?

Each twin had odd dark moments and they don’t land in the regular part of the book: For Aidan it’s a torture scene that’s not very late in the book but forces him to realize he might die in this war. It still makes me cringe. For Kaelin it’s when he realizes he is destined to soldier for Sentinel. He has a knock-down drag-out with his dad.

Tell us about the process you used for creating this book.

Process is a generous word for how I wrote it. I wrote the entire series in full (badly and nearly a million words of it) starting a decade ago. After several rejections, getting a few other books under my belt, as well as short stories and editing and participating in the critique group, I rewrote it significantly on the advice of a couple of agents. It ended up 20k words lighter, got read by a ton of agents who didn’t end up picking it up, and then Whiskey Creek bought it in three days.

What are your plans for promoting your novel?

Fortunately I have a publicist who’s determined to get it into as many bookstores as possible, as well as readings and such. I’ll be making tons of appearances and doing signings, hopefully in combination with other writers. I’ll be at a bunch of regional cons and also at WorldCon in Chicago in August. Look me up. I’m also all over online, primarily at http://betsydornbusch.com , here at Electric Spec, and on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook under my own name.

I understand that this is the first book in a series. Any idea when the next one will come out?

There are four books planned. The second, Archive of Earth, is in revisions right now and unfortunately still requires a lot of work. I’m hopeful for next year. Not nearly soon enough for me! But I am writing two series and contemplating starting a third, so I’m kinda busy…

How has your experience writing and editing short stories impacted your novel writing?

If I have to say one thing short stories taught me it’s “get to the damn point.” Early and often is my motto for writing: get to the conflict early and often.

Do you have any tips for new authors who are trying to get their books published?

Well, obviously it’s a brave new world out there and opportunities abound for writers. However, I think a lot of the old rules still apply, primarily that only a few people get “famous” for writing or even sell enough to live on. So my advice:

1. Stay open. One of my top earners this year was a short story I wrote under contract for an existing world. I also didn’t sell my first book until I stepped outside my preferred genre.

2. Network. Online, in person, with your colleagues, and in professional organizations. Get out there, get your name out there, make contacts. The old adage that writing deals are done at the bar is still true. Socialize with your tribe and good things will come of it. Writers no longer have the luxury of sitting at their desks hiding.

3. My feeling is that it’s never been more apparent that publishing is an entertainment business. You’re the entertainer. Act like it!

4. My own mistakes aside, the days of writing one book a year are drawing to a close. Most successful writers are juggling several releases a year and backlist is how you start to earn. For new writers, it’s essential to keep writing, keep moving forward, rather than rehashing/revising the same story over and over. In other words, don’t do as I do! Don’t sit on your book for five years, revising and fussing, before writing anything new and fresh. Sure. A lot of writers have to prove to themselves they can finish the book. But few hardly any ever type “the end”. Just by finishing a draft, you’ve proved it. But sometimes true learning and moving forward in your craft takes writing a whole new book.

5. Ditto with making the mistake of thinking you should only self-publish, or only write in one genre, or only go with small publishers or waiting for the Big 6 or agent/no agent... The decisions are overwhelming. Again, most of the successful writers I know have done it all, from self-publishing to little pubs to big ones. Also don’t misunderstand the value of free. Free is good for promotion purposes, in small doses. But don’t give away your work unless you mean your writing to be a charity!


lesleylsmith said...

Wow! Lots of good advice and info. Thanks, Betsy and Dave.
And good luck with the novel, Betsy! :)

j. a. kazimer said...

Great interview, Betsy. I hope you sell millions of copies.

Betsy Dornbusch said...

You too! :)