I am so excited to welcome my today’s guest, Amber Royer, whose PURE CHOCOLATE has just been released by Angry Robot Books. Yes, it’s PURE CHOCOLATE, everyone!
In a galaxy where chocolate is literally addictive, one celebrity chef is fighting back, in the delicious sequel to Free Chocolate
To save everyone she loves, Bo Bonitez is touring Zant, home of the murderous, shark-toothed aliens who so recently tried to eat her. In the midst of her stint as Galactic paparazzi princess, she discovers that Earth has been exporting tainted chocolate to the galaxy, and getting aliens hooked on cocoa. Bo must choose whether to go public, or just smile for the cameras and make it home alive. She’s already struggling with her withdrawal from the Invincible Heart, and her love life has a life of its own, but when insidious mind worms intervene, things start to get complicated!
And, without any further ado, here is Amber:
Amber Royer writes fun science fiction involving chocolate, aliens, lovesick AIs, time travel, VR, and more. She’s the author of the CHOCOVERSE comic space opera series (FREE CHOCOLATE available now, Book 2, PURE CHOCOLATE, coming March 2019 from Angry Robot Books). She and her husband have also co-authored two cookbooks (one of which is all about chocolate), and she has a column through Dave’s Garden where she writes about cooking and gardening. She teaches creative writing in North Texas for both UT Arlington Continuing Education and Writing Workshops Dallas. If you are very nice to her, she might make you cupcakes.
There is an opinion out there that writing action tends to detract from character development. Do you ever feel this way — and how do you manage to balance them so well?
Awww…I appreciate the compliment.
That certainly can happen, especially if a book has a lot of action scenes. There are two keys to avoiding that particular problem.
One, make the action scenes have a purpose in the character’s arc and/or the reader’s understanding of that character. And that means that each one has to play out differently. Look at the way the scenes are done in the Princess Bride. We learn an awful lot about Wesley psychologically in the chain of action scenes that take place at the top of the cliff. He admires skill and sees something of value in Inigo and spares his life – and we also see him evenly matched, even “bragging” by fighting left-handed. Then we see him outmatched by Fezzik, and appreciative of the mercy he’s been shown by the giant’s desire to make the confrontation fair – and we see Wesley’s creativity in the fight. And then we see him against Vizzini, and realize that Wesley isn’t going to shy away from letting Vizzini drink the poison. We know so much more about Wesley than if we’d just seen that callous side of him in the last confrontation, and we’re attached enough to his sympathetic side that we hardly notice that he’s left a corpse on the ground.
The second comes down to making each action scene mean something to the character. In my own work, particularly at the beginning of Free Chocolate, Bo is naive. The idea of someone invading her space and holding a gun on her is shocking – and yet, she feels some level of sympathy when she finds out WHY her would-be kidnapper is there. That not only tells the reader a good deal about Bo, but tells us how she feels about a conflict that provides context to her other actions in the plot.
How do you approach creating new alien species and planets?
A lot of times, I’m playing with tropes, or with things I’ve seen done poorly. For instance, sometimes characters are given special traits in a way that seems merely decorative. So when I gave Krom color changing eyes, I didn’t want it to just be a cool factor. I made it a part of their body language (can you imagine what courtship would be like on a world where someone can look into your eyes and literally see you’re head over heels in love with them – and you may not even know it yourself yet?) and culture (sunglasses are illegal on Krom, because they mean you have something to hide). And I also wanted it to be a drawback, to balance some of the other “superman” traits I gave them, so the color change makes it difficult for a Krom to lie. I also designed the species with the role I had for the individual characters from that species throughout the series in mind. It’s funny in the first book when I have Brill survive being frozen inside a giant chocolate sculpture. But when you look at the biological traits he has to have for that to happen – antifreeze in his blood and book-lungs that hold oxygen and prevent collapse – you can see more serious, high-action possibilities that I’m planning for.
I don’t usually think about the planet until after I’ve figured out the alien characters. They mostly come from the implications of what I’ve designed into the alien psychologically, culturally and biologically. For instance, I established in Free Chocolate that Chestla has a high need for salt, otherwise her blood pressure will drop. So when Bo finally gets to her planet in Pure Chocolate, the first thing they offer her is a cup of herbed salt water. Water in general is rationed, and the food is so salty it makes Bo miserable. Part of Chestla’s backstory is that she was once in love, but he died on a hunt, protecting someone’s life, so when Bo goes to the region where that happened, I had to create a landscape where a dangerous hunt could take place – and design food animals that lived up to the hype I’d built about how dangerous they are. But at the same time Chestla’s hugely gifted in chemistry, so I needed her to be from a city with elegance and culture. It makes for a complex society.
Once I have all that, then I like to find and print out a topographical map that could be a reasonable representation of that planet or region and draw landmarks on it with markers.
What is your favorite type of character you simply can’t resist putting into your novels?
I’m a sucker for redeemable, flawed male leads. I like to see characters grow into better people, and the guys I write all seem to start out with a “bad boy” edge to them that gets filed down by the story, even in my unpublished manuscripts.
I also love complicated protector characters, like Chestla. She’s a fan-favorite for a reason. That combination of vulnerable and kick-butt keeps coming up in my work, in the shape of otherwise dissimilar characters.
What are the five most important elements of creating a realistic world?
The planet should have regions with varying climates. And individuals shouldn’t just come from that planet – but from a specific area on that planet, that has history in conflict and in concert with other areas.
The economy has to make sense. On Zant (where most land masses are islands) the resources that are plentiful and those that are scarce are different than on Evevron, where ecological disasters have made the region Bo visit’s prey to massive dust storms. Rationing and trading in water only makes sense on one of those planets.
The people should have differing viewpoints on their own history. You can’t paint someone as representative of an entire world without it feeling like a world of clones.
The language should have a specific “music” to it. Real languages each have a certain set of sounds and way of putting those sounds together that allow you to tell which language someone is speaking, as long as you have had some exposure to it, even if you don’t have enough vocabulary to make out what they are saying. Zantite sounds a little like gargling rocks. Krom has a lot of flowing tones. You wouldn’t confuse one for the other.
Things that are alien should be truly alien – or at least put together in a unique way. If it’s a 1 to 1 correlation to any Earth region/culture, not only are you going to run the risk of stereotyping, vilifying or glorifying that culture, but you’re going to leave the reader wondering why you wrote it as a science fiction story at all. Dig deep and come up with the wildest things you can imagine – but remember that characters, even when they are aliens, must have something “human” in terms of understandable goals and motivations for us to connect to them as people.
What is your favorite part — and your biggest challenge — in writing a sequel, rather than a standalone book?
My favorite part is the way you can both redefine and deepen the meaning of things you introduced earlier on. (Such as the Krom ideals dealing with commodities and violence.) And you can smash the characters into situations that change the character dynamics. When I wrote Pure Chocolate, I never imagined what kind of relationship Brill and Chestla might have with each other. But they are both highly protective of Bo. So in the second book, they have to work together to keep Bo safe, and that makes them friends.
The biggest challenge is having to re-introduce information in a way that becomes memorable without taking up too much space in the book. You can’t re-play entire scenes. So you have the character narrate the information – and tell us how she feels about it, to give it context.