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….

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

Amy Raby: Website | Twitter

Prince’s Fire: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | iBooks

21 comments

  • I’d be interested to see what that schedule looked like. I have a hard time sticking to a schedule because I yo-yo between “I love this project” and “this project is shit.” I’m either super productive or not productive at all.

    • Hi Abria, my schedule kind of works out like this: 5000 words per week of finished (not rough draft) writing, which means 20k done per month, which means I finish a 100k novel in 5 months. The sixth month is for large scale revisions, the ones I can’t make until the novel is finished and I can see its shape. And on a per week basis, it works out like this: 1000 words per day of rough draft writing Thursday through Sunday, then on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I polish those words up, typically adding about a thousand words in the process (so I go from 4000 words rough draft to 5000 words revised).

      I think most writers yo-yo between “I love this project” and “this project is shit” (I know I do!). My schedule is regimented, because that’s what works for me–I like knowing when I am done for the day so that I can play Diablo III without guilt. But there are lots of writers who are unproductive for a while and then binge-write, hammering out a novel in a month or less. Whatever works!

  • Thanks for the posting. With a 90K work already done and halfway done with book 2 I am struggling with who to submit to. I have several components in the work and have been advised it is a Paranormal romance but still unsure.
    Glad to know others struggle with the ‘classification’ process as well. Gives me hope!

    • Reminds me of this time I went to a B&N to find a particular book, and it was a mystery/SFF/romance hybrid (also humorous). So I checked SFF and didn’t find it, and I checked romance and didn’t find it, and then I asked the guy at the information desk and he found it for me in the mystery section. Tough book to locate, at least in a physical bookstore! But it’s a bestseller, so it seems to be doing fine.

  • It’s awesome you’re striking out in uncharted genre territory here. I’ve seen some fantasy romance, but usually not epics…at least, not often. But swords and magic and romance and sex? Sign me up!

  • April 3, 2014 at 10:17 AM // Reply

    Cover and blurb didn’t do that much to catch my attention but your explanation here of the characters and the story behind the story? Hooked me *hard*. Now I can’t wait to check this one out and the rest in the series. I can definitely see what the problem in classification is because at first glance, it doesn’t look like ‘my’ kind of story. However, it really is! Nerdy Heroines and Nice Guy Heroes FTW!

    • Thank you, and yay for nerdy heroines and nice guy heroes! I think that’s one of the tough things about blurbing a romance novel. Blurbs tend to focus on the romantic conflict and not so much on “hero is a nice guy and not a alphahole,” which is what some readers really want to know.

  • I’m so glad I read this post – I have now bought the first one in the series, and I will pick up the rest next month for vacation reading. Smart heroines and sexy nice guys – I enjoy some romance in my other genre fiction, and am looking forward to these!

  • Chuck, thank you for the introduction to Amy! I’m so excited to read her work – I love it when romance happens in SFF, but it seems few and far between!

    • Thanks, Beverly! I love romance in SFF too (of course I do :), and I think that while it’s out there, it can be hard to find. I’m hoping for an Amazon subcategory someday.

  • I’m just curious about what they thought bombing the lava would accomplish. I think they took “fight fire with fire” a little too literally there.

    • I know, right? When I first read that I thought it was hilarious, because it’s such a typically American thing to do. Something might be threatening us, and we don’t know much about it? BOMB IT! But I don’t want to be too dismissive, because I have zero information about why they made that decision. Maybe there was a reason, at the time, to think it might work.

  • I just recently read the first two books and novella in this series – all in one weekend! Great to get some additional background… and I can’t wait until this one is available on for my Kindle!

  • I’m so glad more people are writing sci fi romance and fantasy romance now. My favorite books to read are love stories but for some reason I have a hard time finding books I like in the romance genre. Go figure, right? (Maybe it’s because my favorite genres are sci fi and fantasy so straight romance doesn’t quite do it for me.)

    Anyway, I added Assassin’s Gambit to my Goodreads. It sounds just right for me. However, I must admit I’m a bit of a sucker for the alphahole. The hero of my series is certainly that. I think what draws readers to that type of character are those rare moments of tenderness from these rough guys. They seem so much more special. :)

    • Thanks, Kay!

      I know what you mean. I want both! An intriguing fantasy (or futuristic) world AND a love story.

      re: the alphahole, there’s no question that he is a very popular hero. And yeah, I think it’s the contrasts in his personality that make him appealing. But I go for the nice heroes; I think it’s just the way I’m wired.

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