Betsy Dornbusch‘s fantasy novel, Exile: The First Book of the Seven Eyes came out on Feb. 5th from Night Shade Books. Betsy is the author of a dozen short stories, three novellas, and two novels. She also is an editor with the speculative fiction magazine Electric Spec and the longtime proprietress of Sex Scenes at Starbucks. She was also kind enough to take the time and chat with us about her new book, writing in multiple genres, and much more!
Kristin Centorcelli: Betsy, thanks so much for taking the time to chat! Will you tell us a bit about yourself? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Betsy Dornbusch: Thanks for having me!
I’ve written stories since I was in fourth grade, but stopped for a decade after college. But it’s not surprising that I turned to writing seriously; I’ve always viewed people and events in the framework of “story.” And I’ve always been a big reader.
KC: Exile just came out, and is actually your 2nd novel. Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
BD: I’d just come off drafting a four book urban fantasy series that was kicking my ass, writing-wise. The result was eventually my first book, Archive of Fire. But it’s a complicated story with four running POVs and it required a lot of real-world research on modern-day mercenaries, fighting, and weapons. (The FBI would have fun with the saved URLs on my browser.) Finally, I realized I didn’t have the writing skills to do the series justice, so I put it away.
I’d always loved epic fantasy so that’s the direction I took. I wanted the single POV for simplicity’s sake. Plus, I was sick to death of the fourteen-year-old unlikely hero dragged into adventure from the farm. I wanted a character my age with some experience, some life behind him. I really wanted him to have some conditions he couldn’t escape, like his banishment, the secrecy around it, and the prejudice against his skin color and purported heritage.
I wrote the first draft almost eight years ago and I’ve had to think back what I was reading and watching at the time. A lot of crime fiction. Plus I think the Bourne movies started around that time. Draken was in the Black Guard before his exile, the fantasy version of a secret agent. He’s not a spy exactly, though he takes on that mindset once he lands in Akrasia.
KC: Exile is a fantasy, but in your writing, you’ve worn many hats (fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers, erotica). Do you find it easy to move between genres, or do you have to get yourself into a certain mindset for each one?
BD: A little of both. I don’t find it difficult to switch to most genres, but I usually have to gear myself up for writing science fiction. I always spend more time thinking about world building, science, and how setting affects the story and characters. I find I get distracted by things like gravity on little ships, how things are powered, aliens, etc. Like how tiny could an alien race be and still be influential and intelligent?
KC: What are some of the biggest influences in your writing?
BD: I read mostly in the fantasy, mystery, and crime genres. Carol Berg, Courtney Schafer, Jeff Salyards, Martha Wells, Robin Hobb, and Brent Weeks are current favorites. My favorite urban fantasies at the moment are from Richard Kadrey, Rob Thurman, and Charlie Huston. In crime I like Stuart Neville, a writer and friend out of Belfast, Elizabeth George, and PD James–the more classical stuff just because I haven’t been able to keep up with crime with my current addiction to fantasy. There was a time when I devoured every British mystery I could get my hands on; I imagine I’ll go back to that at some point.
BD: I adore the trappings and the romanticism of it: horses, cloaks, swords, bows, kings, queens, rigid hierarchies, gestures, and obeisance . Alternately, I like the rawness of writing worlds without our luxuries: the brutality of the fights, the threat of infection and disease, uncomfortable climates, the smells of a world without proper sewage and trash disposal, the cruelty it requires to survive, and the effects such day-to-day difficulties cause on character.
KC: Do you prefer clearly good/evil characters or “grey” characters (in your reading or writing)?
BD: Oh, grey, definitely. I adore the anti-hero, though even they are turning a bit trope now because of snark. I tried hard to make Draken a serious, thoughtful guy who was very torn between helping his new comrades and serving his own need for revenge. Plus, my urban fantasy is about demons, and they are about as you’d expect: manipulative and dangerous. I love writing dark characters with moral dilemmas.
KC: What are you reading now?
BD: I just started The Red Knight by Miles Cameron. So far so good.
KC: What’s next for you?
BD: I’m nearly finished drafting the second book of The Seven Eyes, which is called Emissary. I’m fortunate to have a long time to go before it’s due; it’s a long book and needs a lot of revision. I’m also revising a book called The Silver Scar for submission, and then a space opera, and then the final book in the Seven Eyes. I’m seriously busy—I tallied it up and realized I’ll be dealing with 400-500K words between revising and writing this year, if I can meet my goals, plus the usual circuit of cons and promotion. I’m not even sure if it’s possible, but I’m going to try.