Amy Raby: Five Things I Learned Writing Prince’s Fire
As the sister of the Kjallan emperor, Celeste cannot choose where to bestow her heart….
The imperial princess has been offered in marriage to the Prince of Inya as part of an alliance needed to ensure Kjall’s military prowess. And despite having been hurt in the past by men using her to gain power, Celeste finds herself falling for the passionate fire mage.
Prince Rayn has no intention of allying his country with the militaristic Kjallans. But his political enemies at home may be the greater threat. The princess’s beauty and intelligence catch him off guard, throwing an unexpected and dangerous hurdle in the way of his plans.
As a deadly political plot threatens Rayn’s life, the attraction between Celeste and Rayn ignites into a sizzling affair. But to save her people and herself, Celeste will have to discover if Rayn’s intentions are true or risk having her love burn her yet again….
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THAT GENRE DOESN’T EXIST? WRITE IT ANYWAY.
I love two genres equally, SFF and romance. So when I started writing, I naturally combined the two. I wrote character-based stories set in a complex fantasy world, with magic and swordfights and adventure, plus a romantic conflict and sex and a happily-ever-after.
The problem? No such genre as epic fantasy romance. You won’t find a shelf for it at the bookstore. And you won’t find it as an Amazon subcategory.
The series did sell, but publishers disagree about how to classify it. In the U.S., it sold to a romance imprint and is shelved in romance. In France, it sold to a fantasy imprint and is shelved in fantasy. At least one bookseller in the U.S. moved it from the romance shelf to the SFF shelf (I know because she contacted me and let me know).
Writing a hybrid book like Prince’s Fire is tough because nobody knows what to do with something that has the head of a zebra and the body of a giraffe. But it’s also rewarding, because there are a ton of readers who are looking for exactly this kind of book, and they’re delighted when they find it.
A NERDY HEROINE IS A STRONG HEROINE.
All the books in my series feature strong heroines, but I wanted the heroine of each book to be different. One is a chess-playing assassin. Another is a world-class archer.
But when I came to Prince’s Fire, the third book in the series, I wanted to pay homage to the nerdy girl, the introverted thinker who loves math and science and engineering. But these are fantasy adventure stories. How does a mathematician or scientist or engineer save the day?
Fortunately, history offers a ton of examples. Looking at just a few military applications of math, science, and engineering, consider Greek fire, siege weaponry, the Manhattan project, and the codebreakers at Bletchley Park.
Codebreaking fit my adventure story nicely. So my heroine Celeste from Prince’s Fire became a mathematician and cryptanalyst. Because brawn is nice, but brains are better.
NICE GUYS DON’T FINISH LAST.
What’s the sexiest trait a guy can possess? I think it’s a combination of two traits: intelligence and kindness. Those two traits make up the foundation of every romance hero I write.
Which puts me at odds, somewhat, with the historical roots of the genre. Older romances often featured the “alphole” (short for “alpha asshole”) hero, a domineering, autocratic, chest-pounder. But the romance novel has come a long way over the years. While alpholes can still be found, modern romances often feature a hero whose strength is paired with kindness and moral integrity.
While I worried at first that readers wouldn’t go for my kind, decent heroes, I’ve discovered to my joy that many readers are looking specifically for the type of hero I write. In fact, when I wrote a character with some alphole tendencies in a completely different series, a beta reader became upset. Why was I writing a hero like this instead of the nice heroes I used to write? The answer is that I was trying to write a redemption story. But her response gave me an idea of how strongly some readers prefer the kind and decent hero.
YOU CAN DIVERT A VOLCANIC LAVA FLOW — SOMETIMES.
One of the plot points of Prince’s Fire is that the hero, Rayn, lives near a shield volcano. He’s part of a team of fire mages whose job is divert regular lava flows from that volcano to uninhabited areas so that the city is not destroyed.
Before I could write this, I wanted to get a sense of whether it was actually possible. Sure, in a fantasy novel you can always wave your hand and say, “Of course it’s possible! Magic!” But the magic system in this series is specific and limited. While Rayn’s magic is called fire magic, it’s really more like temperature magic in that he can alter the temperature of things. He can cool or heat his own body, or the air around him, or the water around him if he’s swimming. He can cool and heat inanimate objects or people if he’s in close proximity to them.
So could he, working with a large group of other fire mages, divert or stop a lava flow by cooling and hardening the lava?
I researched this, and it turns out there have been several historical attempts at diverting lava flows. Two unsuccessful attempts took place in Hawaii, during eruptions of Mauna Loa in 1935 and 1942. What did the U.S. Army Air Corps do to control the lava flow? They bombed the lava from the air. It didn’t work, but fortunately both lava flows stopped short of the city on their own.
Another attempt was made in Iceland, and this one was successful. An eruption occurred 200 meters east of the town of Vestmannaeyjar. It threatened to destroy the harbor, so a dredging ship was brought in to pour seawater on the encroaching lava at a rate of 20,000 liters per minute. They managed to solidify enough lava to create a basalt barricade to protect the harbor. The barricade held, and the harbor was saved. So it is possible to divert a lava flow, not by bombing perhaps, but by strategically cooling the lava.
I CAN WRITE TO A DEADLINE.
I sold Prince’s Fire as the third book of a 3-book series. The first two books were already finished, but at the time the contract was signed, I had not written a word yet of Prince’s Fire. My contract gave me 9 months to write the book. I got started, and then my editor contacted me, saying that if I could write it in 6 months she could give me a more desirable publishing date. It was totally up to me, and I could keep the original date if I preferred.
I thought about it for a while, and then I did what I used to do when I worked in the software industry. I broke down the task of writing a 100k word novel into subtasks. I figured out how many words I would need to write per day, and how many editing passes I would need and how long they would take, when chapters needed to go out to my critique partners, how long it would take me to make revisions based on feedback.
And the math worked out! I knew how many hours I could work on the manuscript per day, and how many words I generally turned out per hour. I saw that the book could comfortably be written in six months. So I took the earlier publishing date. Now I write all my books in six months, using roughly the same schedule.
There are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists, but for me an orderly, systematic schedule, like what I was accustomed to in the business world, worked nicely.
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Amy Raby is literally a product of the U.S. space program, since her parents met working for NASA on the Apollo missions. After earning her Bachelor’s in Computer Science from the University of Washington, Amy settled in the Pacific Northwest with her family, where she’s always looking for life’s next adventure, whether it’s capsizing tiny sailboats in Lake Washington, training hunting dogs, or riding horses. Amy is a 2011 Golden Heart® finalist and a 2012 Daphne du Maurier winner.