Today, we have a special guest. Amy Raby, 2011 Golden Heart finalist and 2012 Daphne du Maurier winner, is an author I’ve enjoyed following online over the past year or so. Her blog is full of great writing tips and interesting facts for fantasy buffs, from horses to Greek fire to archery. Over the past several months, I’ve waited with eager anticipation for the release of her debut novel, Assassin’s Gambit, a fantasy romance. Well, Assassin’s Gambit is finally here, and with no further ado is Ms. Amy Raby.
Laura Lee Nutt: Tell us something about yourself that isn’t in your bio.
Amy Raby: Thank you for hosting me here on your blog! As a teenager, I worked with several other people to create a multiplayer computer game set in a fantasy world. Later I built an online wiki-style database for Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever pedigrees, which is still in operation at http://www.k9data.com. I think it’s clear I like to build things, whether it’s fantasy worlds or computer systems.
LLN: Assassin’s Gambit was a 2011 Golden Heart finalist and a winner of the 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award. How did this impact you as a writer and influence the success of your book?
AR: The Golden Heart final is what sold my novel! When someone finals in the Golden Heart, their odds of selling to a major publisher jump to around 50% (maybe higher), so when the finalists are announced, agents aggressively request their manuscripts. I got picked up that way, and within a year my agent had sold my series to Penguin. As for the Daphne du Maurier, I won that one after selling, and with a book from a different series. I haven’t had a chance to finish that book yet because I’m busy with my contracted series, but when I do finish it, I’m sure its Daphne win will help promote it.
LLN: What made you decide to set Assassin’s Gambit in the
Bronze Age Renaissance?
AR: I love fantasy novels that are set in eras other than the Middle Ages. I think there are so many eras that are of interest, and so many ideas that can be explored. The Renaissance is one of my favorites because it was a time of rapid development and scientific inquiry. People began to question beliefs and patterns of thought that previously had gone unquestioned, and to demand more individual power and more of a voice in their government. This is such a dynamic and fascinating period in history that I think it’s a perfect backdrop for a fantasy novel.
LLN: You frequently share interesting things you find in your research on your blog. While writing Assassin’s Gambit, what was the most surprising or interesting thing you learned while researching?
AR: I did a lot of research on post-traumatic stress disorder because both my hero and heroine suffer from it (one more severely than the other), and the most surprising thing I learned was that women suffer PTSD at higher rates than men do. The stereotypical PTSD case is a former soldier who’s been traumatized by his experiences in combat. But the most common PTSD case is a woman traumatized by domestic or sexual violence. This is rarely discussed in our culture.
LLN: One thing I really enjoy in books is seeing the deeper emotional life of people you might not normally think of in that context: major leaders, villains, etc. In Assassin’s Gambit, Lucien is emperor and hero. Why did you select him from such a high place? What intrigued you about it?
AR: Lucien fascinates me because he’s the emperor of his country—a position he inherited from his father—yet he doesn’t fit the mold for the type of leader his people want. Kjall has a warrior culture, and in this culture, physical perfection, especially in men, is worshipped and held up as the ideal. But Lucien is disabled. He lost his lower left leg in an assassination attempt, so he can’t be a warrior, at least not physically, and he can never again be perfect. Because he’s still steeped in this warrior culture and has internalized his country’s values, he compensates for his disability by studying battlefield strategy and being a great tactician. And also by playing the war game Caturanga. But there’s a part of him that is deeply insecure, that needs love and reassurance that he can be an effective leader without being physically perfect.
LLN: As a writer, I frequently learn surprising things about my characters as I write a story. What surprising things did you learn about your characters or setting while writing Assassin’s Gambit?
AR: I think what most surprised me was that Vitala’s greatest asset isn’t her training and skill at assassination. It’s her ability to think strategically. If Vitala had simply followed her superiors’ orders, she would have failed in her ultimate goal—in fact, she would have brought ruin on her people. But Vitala is a master Caturanga player and strategist. She switches strategies when she needs to, even when that means disobeying orders.
LLN: Now that Assassin’s Gambit has hit shelves, what is next for you?
AR: I have two more books in the series coming up: Spy’s Honor, which is complete and will hit the shelves in October of this year, and Prince’s Fire, which I’m still writing and which will be out in April of next year. After that, who knows? I have a couple of novellas I’d like to write in this series, featuring the stories of some of the minor characters, and I’m beginning to map out book 4. There’s also the Daphne winner, Flood and Fire, that I’d like to finish and publish.
LLN: A lot of writers have a favorite aspect of writing such as setting creation, description, dialogue, relationships, love scenes, etc. What is your favorite type of thing to write and why?
AR: Dialogue. I love the sound of it, the pace of it, the conflict that is always present. I love how dialogue needs to be indirect and layered, providing hints to each character’s inner struggle but never stating it outright.
LLN: What is your strangest, most unique, most interesting writer’s quirk?
AR: I don’t think I’m a particularly quirky writer, but one thing I find interesting is that I do most of my writing when I’m not at the computer. I write scenes in my head as I go about my day, endlessly rehearsing and revising lines of dialogue. When I sit down at the computer, I’m mostly transcribing what I’ve already composed, adding in filler text to get the characters from point A to point B.
LLN: For those hoping to break into publishing, what advice do you have?
AR: If you’re looking for a traditional publishing contract and haven’t had any luck with the query system, try entering some writing contests, especially if you’re a romance writer. Contests have been very good to me. The more prestigious the contest, the greater the opportunity, so shoot the moon. If you’re open to alternative ways to publish, self-publishing is highly viable now, and if your book does well, it provides a pathway into traditional publishing.
LLN: If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you like to go and why?
AR: There are so many places I’d like to go! I’ll say the Galapagos Islands. I’ve always wanted to see the wildlife there.
LLN: If you could live in any other time, what would it be and why?
AR: I think because I’m a woman, I’d rather live now than at any other time. Most of history has not been kind to women. I have a strong interest in the Indus Valley civilization, a Bronze Age culture that was surprisingly advanced for its day. We know little about these people because we’re unable to read their writing, but what’s been discovered about them suggests that they were relatively egalitarian and that women may have played an important role in society. So I’ll say Bronze Age, Indus Valley civilization.
Thanks again for hosting me!
Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s a trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor’s bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.
As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he’s drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while—and fulfill other needs, as well.
Lucien’s quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala’s gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good.…
You can learn more about Amy on her website.