Please welcome Rhiannon Held to The Qwillery. Rhiannon is the author of the Silver Urban Fantasy series: Silver
, which is out today. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Rhiannon a Happy Publication Day!
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Reflected, the 3rd novel is your Silver series, is out today. How has becoming an author changed your life? Is there any advice that you'd give debut authors?
Rhiannon: My life hasn’t changed in any way that would be obvious externally. I’m still at my same old day job, still write in the evenings when I come home from work, and still meet once a week with friends to critique our writing. I’ve had to learn a lot of new skills, though, related to publicity. As an introvert, it takes confidence to approach a bookstore about doing a signing or schmooze with industry folks at a convention party. I can’t say I like any of those kind of things now, but I’m pretty comfortable with my competency with them. That’s the life-changing part, because those skills can be applied anywhere, not just to book publicity.
There’s plenty of advice I’ve given at various times, but I think the most over-arching piece is to be smart about picking your advice sources. There’s a lot out there for authors on the internet, and a lot of it’s good, but it’s easy to sink into the flood and not differentiate among sources. The most useful thing I’ve discovered is to look for an advice source who used to be in your situation with the problem in question. It seems obvious, but I’ve seen introverts looking like they’re about to cry at conventions when they ask an extrovert how to network and the extrovert tells them to “just switch on.” In my writing dialogue comes naturally to me, scene-setting I had to sweat blood to learn. If your dialogue sucks, disregard anything I say about how I write mine. That’s not to say that writers can’t empathize and offer advice on problems not their own, but someone who sweated through the process of learning something has a higher probability of being able to articulate it well than someone who understands the struggle only intellectually from watching others. Look for writing tips “for” whatever you are, like networking for introverts.
TQ: Has your writing process changed from Silver (Book 1) to Reflected (Book 3)?
Rhiannon: My process is actually fairly similar, if a bit more refined now. I draft steadily, with small wordcounts day after day, rather than impressive large-wordcount bursts. I draft too short (to my eternal frustration) and add material in revision on balance, rather than subtracting it. I’ve learned to consciously “buffer” the scenes I plan to write in a day, by running them in my head while driving or walking. Before, I did that unconsciously, and sometimes had unproductive writing sessions because I hadn’t buffered anything.
Before I finished writing Book 4, I would have said that my revision process has become streamlined, but Book 4 has proved that a dirty lie. What has happened, in fact, is the heavy-lifting of my revisions has moved. A lot from my first drafts makes it into the final book, but I often add scenes and character moments to better highlight the emotional arcs. As I’ve gone along, I’ve bitten off more and more complex character arcs, so I find that I have the same number of revisions but they’re revising different things. In Book 1, I had multiple revisions in which I substantially changed where the book started, and where the action in the book occurred. In Book 3, I had multiple revisions in which I clarified the characters’ motives, and added scenes to drive them later, but the first scene and major plot events remained essentially identical. In Book 4, I apparently had a temporary bout of insanity, because rather picking a major character change I wanted and crafting a climax event to create it, I picked a climax event and tried to figure out how the characters would change following it. As far as my process goes, it was a very “jump and build your wings on the way down” sort of experience that made for extremely hair-tearing critique sessions when I found out—again—it wasn’t working yet.
But I got there eventually! And I think the more complex emotional arcs are totally worth it.
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Silver came out that you know now.
Rhiannon: I wish I knew about The Question before people started asking it of me. As an archaeologist, I’m fairly used to questions from friends and family and well-meaning strangers that are awkward to answer because they have nothing to do with my actual experience. Have I ever been to Egypt? Do I wear a fedora? You get a lot of those kinds of questions as an author. Did you get to pick your cover? Do you know the model in the picture on the cover? Did you get to write the cover blurb? Do you know the demographics of your readers? (For the curious: the answer to all of those in my case is “no.”)
But then there’s The Question: “How’s your latest book doing?” In some cases, it’s asked in the same spirit as “How are you?” from one coworker to another. They want to express polite interest, but they don’t actually want messy or uncomfortable details. “Pretty good, I think,” is an acceptable answer in that case. But some people actually want to know. How is my book doing? How many have I sold?
Let me tell you about sales numbers. My publisher sends me a statement twice a year. It takes about five months to arrive. That means at this moment, February 2014, I received my most recent statement in November 2013, and it included all my sales up to June 30, 2013. So I could tell you how my book was selling eight months ago—except that I can’t. Because bookstore orders are included in my sales numbers, so if they fail to sell them and return them, my total sales can actually tick down. Amazon offers authors Bookscan data, but Bookscan only includes certain sales (only US, no ebooks, not certain distributors). When compared to my statement numbers from a six-month period, Bookscan has been 30% of my real total—approximately. Say I multiply it out, using 30% to get a rough estimate. I have a number! Compared to…what? A few people do publish their sales numbers, but many of them are self-published, and others are more established than me or in other sub-genres. My number is lower than a science fiction author with a decade in the business and six novels behind them. Um, okay?
So the literal answer to “How’s your book doing?” is “I have no effing clue.” I don’t actually say that. I could have used a chance, before I was published, to figure out how answer The Question politely. Because it is, after all, asked by people who are actually friends with good intentions.
TQ: Tell us something about Reflected that is not in the book description.
Rhiannon: I’ve worked hard over the course of the whole series to create the werewolf culture and religion. It’s intended to mostly end up in the background, but I enjoy explaining the gears turning behind the scenes when people ask. Reflected has a neat little aspect of culture based on weddings of Travellers living in Britain. As it was explained in the documentary I saw, Travellers often marry quite young, but also are very controlling of their young girls, so there’s not much chance for young people to meet and find marriage partners. An exception to this can be other people’s weddings. Everyone is invited, not just close friends and family, and standards of behavior for the attending young people are relaxed somewhat.
In Reflected, one of the protagonists, Andrew, tells his daughter, Felicia, that she has to go to school, get a job, or go roaming. Roaming is my Were cultural answer to the problem of inbreeding. Were packs aren’t large, maybe twenty people or so, so people need to find mates outside of their birth pack. So culturally, North American teens are encouraged to ignore pack territory boundaries in a way adults aren’t allowed to, and wander around the continent visiting other packs until they find a place to settle down. In Europe, the packs are much more aggressive toward each other, so that would never work. That’s where the Travellers come in. It’s not mentioned in the book, but European packs throw huge parties to celebrate the first shifts of all their children. At those parties, European teens can fall into bed and get hustled off to a new pack when their parents find out, and inbreeding is avoided there too.
TQ: Which character in the Silver series has surprised you the most?
Rhiannon: Tom. For those not familiar with the series, Tom is an easy-going, puppyish Were in his early twenties by the time of Reflected. I wrote him into the beginning of Book 1 to perform a simple purpose, to humanize (heh) Andrew. Andrew had a pretty bad reputation with the majority of other characters because of past mistakes. I wanted to illustrate how someone who hadn’t heard about his past, in the person of Tom, would actually like him. And all my beta readers loved Tom! I purposely brought him back in Book 2 because he was so much fun to write, and that’s when I finally realized what people were reacting to. In a plot full of emotional tension and drama, it’s nice to have a mellow character who isn’t bothered. It’s a way of winking at the reader and saying “Yeah, they’ll get through this.”
He’d make a terrible protagonist, of course, because protagonists who don’t get upset encourage the readers not to react and get bored. But in Reflected, he’s graduated to an even more important role, being there for Felicia, who is a POV character, to bounce off of. When you have characters with a temper, a mellow character can be a perfect foil. So Tom, after being created for a single scene, is now one of the most important supporting characters in the series, and I had no idea it was going to happen.
TQ: In the series so far who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good 'guy', bad 'guy' or ethically ambiguous character?
Rhiannon: The simplest answer is the easiest to write is any character who had a POV in a previous book. The hardest is any character that hasn’t had a POV yet. I write in close third, so getting deep into the thoughts of even a character that’s been upgraded from a bit part in a previous book is more of a quantum change than one might expect. It’s not that I have trouble getting characters’ voices into my head, or finding first draft words to put on the page, but I’ve discovered through experience that the voice I construct in my head needs translation before it comes through properly to first readers. I have trouble both directions—sometimes the nuances of the character in my mind don’t make it to the page, leaving them flat or boring to the readers. Sometimes I’m so concerned about making sure a particular personality trait comes through, I overplay it on the page. Either way, in the second draft the character in my head doesn’t change much, but the way I word that character on the page does. It’s tremendously frustrating when what you think you’re saying isn’t what people actually hear! But I’ve learned to trust it will get fixed in revision.
My favorite antagonist is a spoiler for Book 4, so I think I’ll go with my favorite bad guy instead. I’ve really enjoyed getting to write Raul, as someone who is manipulative by personality, rather than being violent or aggressive. Not that one kind of villain is necessarily more exciting than another for readers, but plotting out twisty manipulations is fun! I’ve also enjoyed showing him through Felicia’s eyes, because she grew up with him, so she saw his positive side: protective of his people, and trying to teach Felicia manipulation to protect herself.
TQ: Why do you think makes werewolves so appealing? Which parts of werewolf mythology have you adopted and which have you changed?
Rhiannon: It’s probably not the whole story, but I think part of what appeals about werewolves is how they mix qualities we culturally see as being in opposition. Nature vs. humans, control vs. wild urges. Their struggle is a metaphor for our struggle with those qualities. They appeal because it’s a struggle that can loom large in our lives. Personally, I decided to use werewolves as a different metaphor, since werewolves representing animal urges has been well covered by other authors. I’ve tried to make my werewolves represent the struggle between staying true to a minority culture or sub-culture and assimilating into the dominant culture.
To set that up, I did make a few changes to the common mythology. My Were are as science-based as I can make them. They are a separate species, so no human can be turned into one. They shift into full wolves, not a wolf-human hybrid monster. They don’t shift involuntarily, though shifting gets easier with the full moon. Their male-female ratio is roughly even, so as to have a breeding population. They also have their own culture and religion, and history going back thousands of years. They try to keep these secret while living among humans, allowing the metaphor I was talking about above.
TQ: What's next?
Rhiannon: The fourth book in the Silver series, as mentioned above, is all written, but my publisher is waiting to see how the third book sells before they decide whether to continue the series. So if you want to see more from these characters, recommend the first three to other folks! I have up to at least book six planned with the same set of characters, and probably more with a secondary character stepping up to carry the series. I have a few ideas for urban fantasy series in completely different universes percolating at the back of my mind, so we’ll see if people are interested in those when the time comes.
At this very moment I’m working on a project to please myself. It’s set in the same universe as the Silver series, with werewolves getting up to shenanigans in an 1870s mill town on the Puget Sound.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery!
Rhiannon: It’s been so wonderful to get another chance to talk with you!
Tor Books, February 18, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Rhiannon Held continues the secret lives of the werewolf packs that live and hunt alongside human society in Reflected, the third book of the series that began with her debut novel, Silver. Silver and her mate Andrew Dare are pack leaders of the entire North American werewolf population, and that makes the more traditional packs in Europe very nervous indeed. It’s getting hard to hide from human surveillance.Tarnished
Tor Books, May 21, 2013
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages
Tor Fantasy, December 31, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
Andrew Dare has found his mate in Silver, but they haven’t found the pack they can call home. Some of his old friends think he should return and challenge Roanoke for leadership of all the werewolf packs on the East Coast. But Andrew has baggage—his violent history with the packs of Spain and the rumors of his lack of control. And then there’s Silver—the werewolf who has lost her wild self to a monster’s assault, and who can no longer shift forms. But perhaps together they can overcome all the doubters.Silver
The second book in Rhiannon Held's wonderful urban fantasy series, Tarnished plunges readers into the world of the shape-shifter packs who live hidden among us.
Tor Books, June 5, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
Tor Fantasy, April 30, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 304 pages
Urban fantasy takes a walk on the wild side with Rhiannon Held's remarkable debut.
Andrew Dare is a werewolf. He’s the enforcer for the Roanoke pack, and responsible for capturing or killing any Were intruders in Roanoke’s territory. But the lone Were he’s tracking doesn’t smell or act like anyone he’s ever encountered. And when he catches her, it doesn’t get any better. She’s beautiful, she’s crazy, and someone has tortured her by injecting silver into her veins. She says her name is Silver, and that she’s lost her wild self and can’t shift any more. The packs in North America have a live-and-let-live attitude and try not to overlap with each other. But Silver represents a terrible threat to every Were on the continent. Andrew and Silver will join forces to track down this menace while discovering their own power…and passion for each other.
Rhiannon Held is the author of the Silver series, an urban fantasy series from Tor. In her day job she works as a professional archaeologist. Unfortunately, given that it’s real rather than fictional archaeology, fedoras, bullwhips, aliens, and dinosaurs are in short supply. Most of her work is done on the computer, using databases to organize data, and graphics programs to illustrate it.Website