Betsy Dornbusch is the author of a dozen short stories, three novellas, and three novels. She also is an editor with the speculative fiction magazine Electric Spec and the longtime proprietress of Sex Scenes at Starbucks. Her latest novel is Emissary, a sequel to her novel Exile.
Betsy kindly answered some questions about herself and her work.
Paul Weimer:For those readers unfamiliar with you, who is Betsy Dornbusch?
Betsy Dornbusch: I’m a writer and an editor from Colorado. I caught my first breaks in SFF short stories and erotica but I primarily write epic fantasy now. I also have edited the magazine Electric Spec for the past decade. Besides the incessant writing I like to snowboard and go to concerts and cons.
PW: The subtitle of your long running blog is “Sex Scenes at Starbucks.” Where DOES that subtitle come from anyway?
BD: Ha! I keep waiting for the cease and desist letter to arrive… In the early, anonymous years it was fun because when I met someone in RL that I only knew online they actually called me Sex. I miss that. Blogging just isn’t what it was. As for the name, I don’t really recall how I thought it up but it stands for various words and acronyms—some assigned by readers.
PW: You’ve written and continued to write short fiction before writing Exile. How did the writing of Emissary, your second novel, go, on the heels of writing Exile?
BD: Well, it wasn’t exactly on the heels. I started Exile a decade ago and I’d written three unrelated books during that time (one published), plus a slew of short stories, as you said. Fortunately, when Night Shade offered to buy a sequel to Exile, I was able to dig up a workable synopsis, so I wasn’t starting blind. I also spent a lot of time with Exile during publication, so I re-familiarized myself with Draken and his world.
Emissary was slow-going for a number of reasons. It was very much a sophomoric effort, even though I have some books under my belt, because it’s just very terrifying to write a contracted book and have professionals count on you. I put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself, but here’s hoping it made Emissary a better book. Also, no secret by now, Night Shade threatened to shutter about two months after Exile came out. I stopped working on Emissary until the deal was resolved with Skyhorse in June. Then began the mad rush to finish what became a three-part behemoth of a story. For me, anyway; Emissary is half again as long as Exile but not nearly as long as my friends’ work in the same genre.
PW: Exile is, for me, a story of a man living behind enemy lines. What’s the story of Emissary?
BD: When a religious uprising in Monoea threatens Draken and his new Queen directly, he has to return to his old homeland. It’s a pretty much a die if you do, die if you don’t kind of situation. But when he gets there he learns he’s a pawn in an effort to take over Akrasia and abduct and control his unborn child, who will be the heir to two thrones. Of course he has to face a lot of drama on a personal front; old friends and enemies, and family (which fits into both camps). Also, all the secrets from his past begin to unravel, threatening the loyalty he’s gained from his friends in his new country.
PW: There’s a lot of cool worldbuilding between Monoea and Akrasia. What are you looking forward to readers discovering in Emissary?
BD: Thanks! To clarify for new readers: in Exile, Draken is banished from Monoea to an enemy country called Akrasia.
In Exile, Akrasia was interesting to write from Draken’s point of view because he’s made a study of the people as an enemy. Suddenly he has to be one of them. But while he thinks he knows a lot about the culture, he really doesn’t. He also filters everything through a shroud of depression, bitterness, and prejudice, his own and others’. These things combine to make him an unreliable narrator at times, and of course is a convenient device to inform the reader.
By the time Emissary starts, prejudice is something he’s mostly set aside, and he also thinks he’s set aside his bitterness and depression. But those aren’t things that loosen their grip easily. It’s not really a spoiler to say his return to Monoea, which comprises the middle part of the book, can only end in tragedy. He is a vastly changed man in some ways, but the parts about him that can’t change are brought to the fore by going back home. I think it’s something anyone can identify with: returning home as an adult and the pull between who you were and who you are. There’s a lot to work with there, disdain, fear, remorse and grief, old habits, approval-seeking.
Mostly, the worldbuilding informs him as a character. In Exile, Draken stumbles into heroics—really ridiculously so. I had a great deal of fun with tropes in Exile. But I’m hoping insights into his past in Monoea explains how he can be transformed from a broken man into a criminal. To me, writing Monoea explained his strength as a character and how that past informs his current position in Akrasia.
PW: With Emissary coming out, what’s next for Draken? What’s next for you?
BD: I’m working on Enemy, the final book in the trilogy. The Monoean invasion of Akrasia is happening full force, Draken is the victim of a coup, gods are coming down to earth, and the Queen and their child are missing. Plus there’s one big plot point of “everything you thought you knew is wrong…”
I’m also planning a new fantasy series, more episodic this time, with some concepts and magic I’m excited about. I’ve been writing Draken on and off for over a decade, so it’s time for something new!
PW: Where can readers find out more about you, or meet you at conventions and such?
BD: I attend 8-10 conventions a year, mostly local and when I’m not on panels, I’m in the bar with friends, of course. We have an incredible SFF and convention scene here in CO. This year I also plan to attend WorldCon (Sasquan) and World Fantasy. You can check out my Tour page on betsydornbusch.com to see where I’ll be next, including concerts. I like to mention that writers actually LIKE when folks come up and talk to us, so don’t be scared of us even if we’re in a group. We’re happy to make room at the table for more folks.
I also want to give a shout out to Electric Spec, the fiction eZine I edit with two friends. We’re in our tenth year and pretty proud of ourselves!
PW: Thanks Betsy!