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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to have Amy Rae Durreson here today talking about writing, characters, and her latest story in her Reawakening series, Recovery. Welcome, Amy Rae!
How much of yourself goes into a character?
Hmm, I think this is less about character traits than experiences. I’m a fairly quiet, easy-going person—some of my characters are too, but others are completely the opposite. What is more important, in my view, is finding enough common experience that you can emphasize with the character. Unlike Raif in Recovery, I’m not a twenty-something ex-resistance fighter on a quest to wake a sleeping dragon, but I have many experiences of anxiety, of not being sure what to do next with my life, with travelling to new places, and meeting people who are more complex than they seem at first. All of those are stepping stones to getting inside a character’s skin, even one who is superficially very different from me.
Do you feel there’s a tight line between Mary Sue or should I say Gary Stu and using your own experiences to create a character?
For me, the difference is in how the writer presents the character to the reader. If the reader is expected to admire and idolize a character without question, that’s a Sue/Stu. If the reader can emphasize with them and see their flaws and hesitations, then you have a real character. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using bits of your own life to create a character. The problem arises when you demand that everyone worship your self-insert as flawless.
Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write? Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?
I just going to sit here and laugh hollowly. I do enormous amounts of research when I’m writing a fantasy novel. I look for historical analogues to my fantasy setting and mine them for little details which I can integrate into my imaginary world. For Recovery, I read a lot about Renaissance Venice, which is the inspiration for Aliann, the main setting, but I also read a lot of travel writing, from various centuries, and researched details from the design of an early printing press to formal garden design in medieval Europe to the history of pirates in the Mediterranean. Recovery was actually a fairly light research book—the previous book in the series, Resistance, was much more demanding—I learned enough about the bubonic plague for that one that I actually managed to pass the CDC’s online CPD module for ER doctors despite being an English teacher in real life (easier than it sounds—it was multiple choice and I guessed a few). I also read quite broadly on topics which look like they might come in handy for later books. Nothing is ever wasted.
Needless to say, I get twitchy whenever someone tells me that is must be so lovely to write fantasy where you can just make stuff up (my mother is notorious for this).
Has your choice of childhood or teenage reading genres carried into your own choices for writing?
The first book I remember reading is The Ladybird Book of King Arthur Stories. The first I remember loving so hard I cried when the library wouldn’t let me keep renewing it was Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life. I was pretty much doomed to write fantasy.
Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it? You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?
No, but there are some stories I couldn’t have written any earlier. A Frost of Cares was like that—it was the final cathartic stage in a long process of healing. I went through a relationship similar to the one Luke has with his ex in that book, and it left its mark on me. I wasn’t ready to write about it for a long time, but now I’ve written that book, it seems to have lost its power to hurt me. The story I’m working on at the moment is hard, and is drawing on a lot of issues I encounter in my day job to do with childhood trauma, but in a way that’s actually feeding back positively—I’m all the more determined to take those problems seriously, having been inside my characters’ heads and considered them from a different perspective.
Do you like HFN or HEA? And why?
I’ve given up trying to write HFN—I always end up making it HEA by mistake. I like to think that at the end of my books, all my couples have the potential to continue living happily together. For some of them, I even have little bits of personal headcanon (I know, for example, that after he retires, Siôn from Spindrift likes to go and sit in the back row of Mattie’s lectures and listen to him being passionate and inspirational. Mattie’s got a beard and a belly and a bald patch by then, but Siôn still thinks he’s the most beautiful thing in the entire world).
Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?
I’ve always enjoyed romantic subplots in my reading, but I didn’t read any pure romance until my early twenties. I was spending every other weekend with my boyfriend at the time, who was studying on the other side of the country, and before I headed back to the station I’d buy myself a few romances to see me through the journey home (fellow Brits with experience of Sunday travel will know why one book alone was not enough). They brought me a lot of comfort, but my reading was restricted to a few authors. It wasn’t until I got my first e-reader and discovered m/m that I really started reading lots of romance. That probably explains why I always have a lot of plot in my novels—my roots as a storyteller lie in other genres and I have to weave the romance around those instincts.
Who do you think is your major influence as a writer? Now and growing up?
I can definitely see the influence of the books I read a kid in my own writing—I loved Susan Cooper and Diana Wynne Jones, as well as the warmth and benign eccentricity of Noel Streatfeild. As a teenage writer I was lucky enough to stumble across a copy of Ursula K LeGuin’s essay collection The Language of the Night in my local library. I read it over and over again and it completely changed the way I approached writing. As a adult reader, I find it harder to identify recent influences—I read a lot, and absorb it all into the churning creative mess that is my subconscious. A lot of the writers I love most tell very different stories from me, in very different ways.
How do you choose your covers?
I’m very lucky in having Dreamspinner’s art department create my covers. Catt Ford has done all the covers for the Reawakening series and I love them. I don’t know how she transforms my vague ramblings about character and setting into such lovely things, but I’m glad she does.
Do you have a favorite among your own stories? And why?
Usually the most recent one, simply because it always feels the most vivid and alive to me. Looking back at past works, some have faded in my head a bit and others shine a little brighter. A Frost of Cares and Resistance will always make me proud, I think. Frost because I did something I’d never done before and it worked better than I expected, and Resistance because I’m damn proud of how I put that story together. There were a lot of tears shed over that book, but the end result was beyond what I thought I could do. Ironically, those two are respectively my most and least successful books.
What’s next for you as an author?
I’m working on another ghost story at the moment—this one set in the Scottish borders in an old orphanage with a dark past. There will also be more fantasy. I’m currently playing around with an idea for something fairy-tale inspired with a ridiculously over-the-top love interest with secret motives. There will be more Reawakening books, but they’re on hiatus until I get the last traces of Recovery out of my imagination and figure out how to end the next one.
Resistance, exile, plague. Raif has survived them all, but now he finds himself in search of a new purpose. Traveling north to wake the dragon Arden, he hopes he has finally found a leader worthy of his loyalty, but Arden turns out to be more of a frivolous annoyance than an almighty spirit lord. Now bound to Arden’s side despite his frustration, Raif follows the dragon to the rich and influential lagoon city of Aliann, chasing rumors of the Shadow that once cursed his homeland.
With the election of a new duke at stake, Raif struggles to make sense of the challenges he meets in Aliann: a conspiracy of nixies and pirates, selkie refugees in desperate need of a champion, a monster that devours souls, a flirtatious pirate prince, and a machine that could change the world. For nothing in the city of masks is what it seems, from the new friends Raif makes to the dragon he follows—or even himself.
About the Author
Amy has a terrible weakness for sarcastic dragons, shy boys with sweet smiles, and good pots of tea. She is yet to write a shy, tea-loving dragon, but she’s determined to get there one day (so far, all of her dragons are arrogant gits who prefer red wine). Amy is a quiet Brit with a degree in early English literature, which she blames for her somewhat medieval approach to spelling, and at various times has been fluent in Latin, Old English, Ancient Greek, and Old Icelandic, though these days she mostly uses this knowledge to bore her students. Amy started her first novel twenty-one years ago and has been scribbling away ever since. Despite these long years of experience, she has yet to master the arcane art of the semicolon.