Thursday, October 17

Welcome August Li


First, let me take a moment to say welcome and thank you for being here today! It’s always a pleasure to have guests in the hot seat…erm, I mean interview chair.

Why don’t you start out by introducing yourself (where you call home, how long you’ve been writing, etc.)?

I’m Augusta Li but most people call me Gus. I live near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but really enjoy traveling and spend as little time at home as possible. Most of my work is published through Dreamspinner Press, where I signed my first contract in 2010.

Please tell us a little bit about your current release. What inspired you to write this story? How did it come about?

My most recent release is Iron and Ether, the third book in my Blessed Epoch series. The Blessed Epoch is a High Fantasy series with a large cast of characters and lots of plots, subplots, counter-plots, political intrigue, and fighting.

 
  1. Is there an underlying theme in your stories?

Not intentionally, though I have noticed a few recurring themes over the years. My characters tend to be people who can’t find happiness by living according to society’s expectations. They are usually independent people who need to forge their own path, even if it sometimes takes them a while to realize it. Often they have a disdain for authority, especially unjust authority, and as a result, many of them operate in a morally gray realm—sometimes outside the law.

I also have at least three white or silver-haired protagonists. I blame this on Sephiroth and playing FFVII as a kid.

  1. Would you categorize your stories as romance, erotica, or something else? Why?

I would categorize them primarily as fantasy/action adventure with romantic elements. I like to write plot and character-driven stories, and I like the plots intricate and unpredictable. Usually, if not always, there’s a plot beyond the romance. Not that the romance is tacked on, either. I aim to intertwine the plots so the romance is integral to and influences the main plot, while of course the main plot will have effects on the romance.

  1. What are the best and worst reactions you’ve gotten from people after telling them what you write?

I have never gotten a bad reaction, and I tell everybody! I show off my beautiful cover art to anyone who will look. If they don’t like it, I really don’t care.

 
  1.  “They” tell us that writers should write what they know—do you think that’s true? Why/why not?

Well clearly not, being as I write about clockwork boys, faeries, mages, and secret societies of assassins. I have even made up my own races on more than one occasion. That’s what I like about fantasy—it gives both the author and readers the chance to experience things they probably couldn’t in “real-life.” It’s kind of the same reason why I’d rather play a fantasy RPG than the Sims.

  1. Pantster or plotter? Why?

In a lot of my books, I have to keep careful track of past events and their continuing influence on the world and the characters, and sometimes it can be a great deal to keep straight, so in that sense I do keep some notes. That said, though, the characters are always evolving and reacting to things in ways that surprise me, so I usually let them. If I have a good understanding of what makes them tick, I feel confident to just sit back and hold the camera when that’s what they want. That element of surprise and the unexpected is a big part of what makes writing fun for me. Essentially I plot the barest bones but let the characters flesh it out.

  1. What’s your favorite part of the writing process? (the spark, the research, character oultines…?)

Like I said in the previous question, the most fun part for me is seeing what surprises the characters have in store for me. I love it when I can really get inside their heads and let them tell me what they’d do and say. They feel very real to me then, and I can just follow them around and take notes. I love the unexpected ways in which characters often develop.

  1. What’s your least favorite part of the writing process?

I don’t have a least favorite part. I even enjoy doing edits.

  1. What’s your favorite part of the publishing process? (writing the story, working with an editor, working with the art department, marketing, etc?)

Cover art, for sure! I’m partial to drawn covers, and the kick-ass (can I say that?) art department at Dreamspinner had done some absolutely gorgeous covers for me. I swear they can see inside my head sometimes. I admit I’m appearance-oriented (maybe even a little shallow) so I go a little further than some authors in describing what the characters look like. I pass these descriptions on to the art department, and they always get it perfect right down to the eyelashes.

  1. What’s your least favorite part of the publishing process?

My publisher is great, and they make everything pretty smooth and painless, so I don’t mind any stage of it.

 
  1. Do you listen to music while you write, prefer absolute silence, run off to the coffee shop…? If you do listen to music, can you name a few songs off your playlist?

I like to sit with my cat and put something on TV that I don’t have to pay much attention to, like anime episodes I’ve already seen. I really enjoy writing while my roommate is playing video games. It’s just enough background noise without being distracting.

  1. What do you do to get in the mood to write, especially when you don’t feel like it?

Never don’t feel like it. If I get a little off-track, I sketch the characters and jot down little random bits of dialogue so I can get used to their cadence. If I need to understand them a bit better, I imagine them in situations outside the scope of the book—like at the grocery store. What do they buy and how do they select it? Carefully or on impulse? How would this person react to a threat? To someone else being threatened? To being lost in a strange city?

  1. What makes for a great hero/heroine?

In my opinion, flaws, complexity, and inner conflict. Someone struggling to do what they think they must, despite their own weaknesses or outside pressures. Someone who has to fight for what they believe, and who doesn’t give up when things get difficult. Courage, always. Perfect characters are no fun. I prefer characters who take chances, make mistakes, and make bad decisions, learn from them, and keep trying.

  1. What makes for a great villain?

Motivation. If someone is doing bad stuff, they had better have a valid and understandable reason for it. I’m opposed to the Disney-type villains who are “just evil,” and whose only motive is to thwart the protagonist. That’s lazy, and even five-year-olds deserve better than that. At the heart of the matter, villains, like anyone else, are people with fears, desires, and conflicts of their own to face.

Even better than a hero and a villain, though, are two (or more) characters who ALL believe they’re doing the right thing and just don’t agree on what the right thing is. I prefer to write conflicts where all sides can be seen sympathetically, and everyone involved believes in what they’re doing. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are more common than pure evil—not that pure evil doesn’t exist.

  1. What makes for a great overall story?

Most peoples’ core desire are similar: to be safe and provided for, to protect the people they love, and
to find some meaning or purpose to their lives. Things will always stand in their way, though, and what those conflicts are and how characters overcome them, how they change and adapt to meet the struggles they face, makes the difference between a competent story and a great one. So the short answer, I guess, is execution.
 
  1. If you could pick up and move to any part of the world and live there, where would it be and why?

I really like to travel and am easily bored, so I don’t think I’ll ever stay in one place forever. Where I want to be depends on my mood. Southeast Asia is where I’d go if I had to choose. I like warmer climates, the people are friendly, the beaches are gorgeous, the food is good, and one can live pretty well on a the meager income of a fantasy writer.

  1. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing? (hobbies, time with friends?)

I like to make thing: drawings, dolls, costumes, masks, and wigs. I’m kind of a workaholic so I get restless if I’m not accomplishing something. For that reason I like video games on the rare occasions I’m not working, because I feel like I’m doing something significant. I like to stay in shape, like martial arts, and love old school weapons like crossbows and swords. My house is full of them. I like to go places I’ve never been before, wander around, explore, and talk to random people. I love museums and looking at art, and especially weapons and armor from the past. I like old temples and cemeteries.

  1. What are the three most important things in your life, the things you absolutely could not do without?

Caffeine, art supplies, freedom
 
[I'm with you on all three!]

  1. What’s your dream job (besides being an author!)?

Ninja. 

  1. If you could have one (and only one) super or magical power, what would it be and why?

Eternal youth—because I’m vain.

  1. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse and you can take three of your characters along with you to help you and your family get to safety. Which characters would you take and why?

What a fantastic question, and also a difficult one to answer, with so many factors to take into consideration!

Sasha, my assassin from the Blessed Epoch series is by far my best fighter. He’s also very results oriented—he values efficiency over morality, so he would be a good choice. He gets the job done no matter what. On the downside, if it came down to me or him, he would absolutely let me die without even blinking.

Yarrow, my mage from the Blessed Epoch, is very powerful, but very unpredictable. I might get some devastating magic, as likely to hurt me as the enemies, or I might get absolutely nothing, depending on his mood.

Duncan, my knight, is pretty solid, but he’s just a regular guy.

Querry, my cat burglar from Boots for the Gentleman is wily and resourceful, but also has a semblance of honor and the luck of an alley cat. Frolic (same book) is a clockwork boy and therefore very strong, but so sweet and innocent he might even feel sorry for the zombies. There are a few powerful faeries in that series, Querry’s gentleman and Snow, but they are more motivated by their whims than what makes sense, so they could be more harm than good. They could easily decide they felt like having a tea party in the middle of a zombie attack.

So do I go for sheer firepower or dependability? The strongest team, but wildly unpredictable, would probably be Yarrow, Frolic, and either Snow or Querry’s gentleman—a mage, a clockwork boy, and a faerie. They could wipe out huge numbers of enemies, but it’s unlikely they would work together well, and there would be in-fighting and nobody willing to take anyone else’s orders.

A more reliable team would be Duncan, Querry, and maybe Jean-Andre, my spy from Boots (as long as I could afford him). Trustworthy, but nowhere near the stopping power.

The best I could do for healers would be the faeries, and they would have to feel like healing me at the time. Of course, I guess they could just take me across to the Other World and away from the zombies. Whether or not they’d be so inclined is a different story.

  1. Of the stories you’ve written, which is your favorite? Which would you recommend to a new reader and why?

I don’t know that I have a favorite. As cliché as it sounds, I think it must be how people feel when you ask them to choose between their children. I work to make every story I write the best it can possibly be. As for new readers, it depends what you like. The stories in the Steamcraft and Sorcery series I write with Eon de Beaumont, which is a fantasy/steampunk mash-up, are quirky, whimsical, and kind of episodic. The Blessed Epoch series is much darker, and the characters are very damaged. On Tinsel Wings is a lighter contemporary/new adult/coming of age story with some bleak moments but a lot of humor and hope.

  1. Do you have a favorite character (of your own creation)? What makes that character special to you?  

Again, not a favorite, because I truly love them all, but Sasha comes the easiest to me. I understand him and have a healthy respect for him. What can I say? He’s hot and wears a leather suit.

  1. Do you miss your characters when you finish a story? Do you try to come up with ideas for sequels, or are you too excited by the prospect of a new project to feel sad that the previous story is over? 

I miss them like crazy, and have to revisit them in between sequels, even if it’s just a doodle or a quick vignette, or even just to talk about them with people who have shared their adventures. I love doing that, gauging if readers see the characters as I do. The characters are perfect; if they don’t come across that way, the failure is mine at not demonstrating it. They’re awesome, but sometimes I fail to capture them.

As for series, I usually have most of the idea for the entire series before I begin the first book, or at least I know what the major events will be. Then as I write each book I decide how much of the big picture to include. Lots of other stuff usually crops up along the way, things the characters want me to see or know. As a result, my books tend to be long, and the themes from one often carry over into subsequent books in the series.

  1. If your book Ash and Echoes were to be turned into a movie, which channel would it air on (Logo, Lifetime, Syfy, etc.)? Assuming you have an unlimited budget, who would you cast to play the leading roles? Who would direct it?

I don’t know what channel, but I would want an animated movie directed by the most brilliant man in the world, Hayao Miyazaki. Think along the lines of Princess Mononoke: beautiful, magical, bloody as hell, with no clear hero or villain, and an ending that makes you wonder whether it’s happy or not and leaves you thinking. Also, I would want all British actors for the voice talent in the English translation.

  1. What are your favorite TV shows of all time?

Doctor Who, Torchwood, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural, Bleach, Deadliest Warrior, Law and Order

  1. What television shows are you currently watching?

The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Master Chef, Once Upon A Time (though I don’t love it)

  1. What’s next on the horizon for you? WIPs, writing goals, personal goals…?

There’s a lot of Blessed Epoch left to write, and in between, I want to tell the stories of some of the regular people living in that world—those who aren’t princes and sorcerers. The first of those will be about a vintner and a former mercenary. The working title is Wine and Roses, and it will be out sometime next year.

Querry, Reg, and Frolic’s story still needs to be told, so the Steamcraft and Sorcery series will continue.

Some of the secondary characters from On Tinsel Wings have stories to tell. Other than that, I’ll just have to follow my muse. I might take a crack at young adult fantasy in the near future.

My Links:
My books at Dreamspinner Press:
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Thanks again, Gus! 
 
In "preparation" for Gus's arrival today, I read On Tinsel Wings (like I needed an excuse!) and will be giving my "official" review in my October (oops... I apparently need more coffee in the morning!!) November Newsletter...but the quick version: LOVED IT!  

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