I gotta say, this latest interview had me sleeplessly walking the alleys and streets of the rougher parts of west Littleton. Westside, yo. I was going to interview Betsy Dornbusch. She’s not just a writer, she’s a veteran writer. I’d seen her at writer’s conferences and she is ferocious. But in a good way. She’s tough, she’s smart, she has savvy. And she writes, under a pseudonym–gulp–erotica. Would interviewing an erotic writer tarnish my YA persona? Could I keep my interview PG-13? Would there be nudity? Would I have to show some skin? I’m okay with that last one, but really, would time and space break apart?
I am a small man, easily frightened. Betsy was wonderful. She has two, count ‘em, two new books out, with sequels in the works. She’s one of those lifelong writers, completing her first novel at the tender age of 13. When I was 13, I could hardly spell. I was a deaf-mute at 13. A fragile child, prone to spells of…well, never you mind about my spells. But enough about me.
From her Amazon bio. Betsy Dornbusch’s most recent book is Sentinel: Archive of Fire, the first of her urban fantasy series featuring demons rebelling against Asmodai, King of Hell. Her short fiction has appeared in many print and online venues, including the anthology Deadly by the Dozen and, under the pen name Ainsley, Sexy Briefs; Tasty Little Tails. Also writing as Ainsley, she has a space “operotica” series, Salt Road Saga, the first of which is Lost Prince. The second book in that series, Battle Royal, will be released in late 2012. She’s an editor with the ezine Electric Spec and is the sole proprietor of Sex Scenes at Starbucks where you can believe most of what she writes. In her free time, she snowboards and air jams at punk rock concerts.
So two books on tap.
Lost Prince Okay. Sci-fi/space opera/erotica. I’m thinking Han Solo and Leia on Endor, the celebration fires burning low, the Emperor dead. A kiss, a caress, a lingering, smoldering look.
And Sentinel: Archive of Fire, which has awesome cover art and hot twin demon guys, and is not, I repeat, not erotica. It’s straight up Urban Fantasy, yo.
So we’re talking books, business, and babes. Well, prolly not babes, but you never know. I’m a married spud! I’m a married spud! I started out quoting Toy Story. That should keep this exchange innocent.
Aaron: I’ll start off clean. Do you prefer Times New Roman, or Courier New? Please explain and keep your answer safe, innocent, and virginal.
Betsy: Actually, I like to rock it Bookman Oldstyle. Sounds like a smooth American malt whiskey, doesn’t it? Oh, so much for innocent…
Aaron: Okay, frak the clean questions. Let’s get dirrrty. So the Lost Prince has sex, and the Sentinel: Archive of Fire, not so much sex. But I’m assuming there is a love scene in Archive of Fire. I mean, even Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer tried to seduce her werewolf boyfriend. When you aren’t writing erotica, and you have a love scene, do you write the scene graphically first, then go back and take out key words and phrases, like tumescent (kidding), or do you write it with the shades drawn first time around? Put another way, do you raunch it up and then cut back, or leave out the raunch in the very first draft?
Betsy: There is a love scene in Archive of Fire. I’d say it’s gone the other direction in that it’s gained some, er, detail since I started writing erotica. Everyone has a love interest in the Sentinel series but most of “it” goes on behind closed doors. That said, if I think showing the action in a love scene is integral to the plot, then I show it. That’s key in writing erotica…in Lost Prince the sex shows a progression in the relationship. (Actually, in most proper erotica, the story revolves around the sex). Also, I write for adults primarily, though when I was twelve or so I’d launched into reading the adult market. Of course when I was twelve there was no real YA market, and very few middle grades with cool girl protags.
Aaron: If you wrote a crossover novel where the characters of Lost Prince fought the characters of Archive of Fire, who would win? Ah, the seductions. The intrigues. The drama. The bloodshed. How would it all play out? I mean, laser swords and blasters versus magic, fangs, and fear, well, is it an even match? Any illicit love affairs?
Betsy: Funny that you say that, since I actually play-write with a friend in an online world in which characters from Archive of Fire and her book all mingle. They’ve gotten married, had kids (gulp), fight, and yes, sometimes have illicit love affairs. We also get to indulge ourselves with things like having them sit down and eat leisurely meals together, which is like the kiss of death in today’s quick-paced fiction market. It’s a free range playzone for us to develop characters. Saxen, a character who figures prominently in AOF’s sequel, Archive of Earth, (see what I’m doing there…?) was invented entirely in this world.
As for tech vs magic… Aidan doesn’t have magic. He is a Seer. He can read minds and predict the future, though erratically because he’s immature and untrained. But those things make for a pretty handy skillset in a fight. The demons in Sentinel fight other demons… They are rebelling against Asmodai, a king in Hell who has 72 legions. Sentinel is one of those legions, but they rebelled to protect humankind. They are trained to fight from a young age, have first rate modern weaponry, plus in the second book Aidan learns to wield balefire (think napalm from Hell).
While Katriel and Aric are a formidable fighting team, as regular old humans they’re ultimately much easier to kill than the demidemons who are immortal and tough as nails. I think the demons might win, especially given Kaelin is a crack shot. He’d say there are few problems a well-placed bullet can’t solve. Actually, he wouldn’t say it out loud, but he’d think it. And Aidan would read his mind and spout off about it. Then Kaelin would get mad and beat him up again…sigh. Sibling rivalry is so tiresome. The book starts out with them having an argument.
Aaron: If you met me, and thought I was brilliant (big if there, I know), and I was looking for a venue for my short stories, how would you pitch Electric Spec to me? If anyone skipped your bio, those wretches, Electric Spec is an ezine where you work as an editor. How would you entice me to submit to you? If I were brilliant. Big if.
Betsy: The magazine stands on its own merit and I invite anyone to check it out. As for pitching to writers, each of our issues gets thousands of hits, so you’ll be read. But mostly, we’ve been around six years and we know our shi—um, we know our business. We edit every story and our slush pile is growing with every issue and is very competitive. Electric Spec aside, writers have traditionally cut their publishing teeth on short stories. It does several things: hones your writing, keeps you current with releases—(last year I had 3 short stories, I think, and two books, this year…not so much). Short story sales show agents and editors you’re serious and career-minded. Also novelists are frequently asked to be in anthologies so writing them is a good skill to cultivate. I was asked to be in a free anthology last year and had to write a story in two days for it. The anthology has since been downloaded over 10,000 times in the past few months, resulting in an upsurge in sales for me. I wouldn’t have been able to bang out a story so quick if I hadn’t spent a solid year writing and selling short stories only. Short stories are something I want to get back into writing, but they are excruciating for me for some reason. And being a pureblooded creative, I’m a procrastinator, natch. Hence, Facebook and the blogging scene. Even books are easier to write cuz they can meander. Finishing books is hard.
Aaron: You’ve been blogging since 2004. In blog time, that is roughly 3.5 million years. Right around the start of Facebook (2004) and well before Twitter (2006). Did it take you long to jump into the new social media, or did you know, right away, yes, this is the future?
Betsy: I think I knew. I tend to jump in (I got on gmail back in the day, and Google+ more recently, as soon as I could wrangle an invite and yes, I’m terribly behind on adding folks to my circles, sorry!) I think G+ is the wave for the truly creative among us, especially the technically creative. (There, a prediction.) Facebook can’t scale and hasn’t for a long time…most people have no idea how much they’re missing from their internet based feeds. I got on Facebook in Aught-6 or 7 I think, and found it to be a huge timesuck so I dropped my account. I reestablished an account in… 09, I think? It’s still a timesuck and it alternately annoys and amuses me. Like this morning someone got waaay too serious about something political I posted. Annoying. But then people say the funniest things. I’m on Twitter but more as a “post-through” as it’s set up to hit my other social media. I rarely read Twitter. It consists of nearly all links. Yawn. It does come in handy at the huge cons to figure out where the parties are though! I use social media (SM, soc-med, so-me…what are the cool kids calling it these days?) to establish myself as a brand. Social media does not sell books. It doesn’t have that kind of reach. G+ is set up differently with the circles and may yet achieve the reach traditional media has; I think that might be one of the goals, knowing Google.
The demise of blogging saddens me. Not that blogs are going away, there are still more badly written blogs than awful self-published Kindle titles, but I miss the in-depth discussions on blogs. Facebook doesn’t compare and anyone who says it does never really blogged in the heyday of it, when friendships were formed. I made one of my bffs online through blogging, back in the day. But it does amuse me that you think I started so long ago. I have tech friends who were blogging almost 20 years ago!
Aaron: Speaking of social media, did you ever make a mistake that you thought might be devastating to your writing career? The reason why I ask is that I’m terrified of breaking internet etiquette rules. No, seriously, terrified. See the intro. Scared, little man here.
Betsy: I always cringe when I get into hotheaded political discussions (and I often remove them from Facebook). I was anon for a number of years at Sex Scenes, which lent me a certain freedom. We all were anon, and it was all free-love and free-hate all the time, man. When I started selling stories, my names started getting linked up in the googles (Sex Scenes at Starbucks and my real name). Then my picture was put online in a Locus spread so I was well and truly blown. Now I’m pretty out there, figuratively and literally, and I don’t make apologies for it. People who don’t share liberal social politics wouldn’t like my stuff anyway.
That said, I am very conscious I have to manage a public persona (to a small public but still). Some of that persona is a little out-there; I can push the limits online and I find it enhances my popularity. And I’m pretty liberal socially. If you aren’t you probably wouldn’t like my stuff so much anyway. I try not to worry about it too much.
Aaron: Do you think writing and the desire to write is a curse, or a blessing? A burden, or a blessing? A wretched task we are enslaved to do every day whether we want to or not, or a blessing? Not that I have any strong opinions. Just curious about what other, happier writers might think.
Betsy: It’s both a disease-riddled, spouse-annoying, compulsion on par with digging our own graves and a holy, God-given redemptive gift. I find both chains and wings on the empty page. But mostly for me, writing is a license to be weird. The worst part is the demons keeping me up at night. I’m not big on sleep anyway so I get a little territorial about my shut-eye. The demons could care less. They just barge right in. Typical demons.
Aaron: I’ve been watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, obsessively. Okay, well, maybe not obsessively, but I’ve been streaming it off Netflix for 72 hours straight. Is that obsessive? Anyway, in Archive of Fire, are your demons like the demons coming out of the Hellmouth on Buffy? If you haven’t watched the show, hum for a little bit, while I shuffle my index cards. Or, explain how demons work in the world of Archive of Fire. Are they spirits that take corporeal form? Or are they physical beings that come into our world from hell? Or a mix of both?
Betsy: They are demidemons, half demon, half human, though our twins’ family have been bred through the ages to be almost pure blooded demon. Mostly they look like super-hot, tall humans with eyes that get a little glowy sometimes. Oh, and they are very bitey. During sex, during fights, their inner animal comes out.
Aaron: What rule of internet etiquette pisses you off the most when someone breaks it? So I can avoid such a gaff at all costs.
Betsy: When some guy I don’t know (usually a guy…well, most of the time) IMs me on Facebook for the express purpose to hit on me, and especially when they deny it when I call them on it. I’m ten years older than I’m told I look and I’ve been married for twenty years. Don’t waste your time.
Aaron: Speaking of internet etiquette, I got busted for saying I’d want to date Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now, I meant, if I were in high school, and I was that age, and not married, but still, the emails I got. I shudder. If you were in the same situation as Aidan and Kaelin from Archive of Fire, which one would you go for? Or would you go for both of them? Naughty, it’s so naughty, both of them. I try and delete, but my fingers keep re-typing.
Betsy: Why is that naughty? I’m pretty much about free love between consenting adults, however it pans out. I’m especially for it in fiction, and if I may climb up on a soap box for a second and direct readers to a blog post about PayPal’s recent efforts at censorship.
As for your question: Two for the price of one, man.
Actually, I don’t know how well Aidan and I would get along. He often annoys the hell out of me. Kaelin would probably feel more comfortable with me because he likes people who talk a lot so he doesn’t have to. In that same vein, there has been some discussion as to which twin is on the cover of the book. I know what I think but we’ll see what readers say.
Aaron: What is an image that comes to mind when thinking about Lost Prince? For example, when I think of The Empire Strikes Back, the central image I have is Han Solo being frozen in the carbonite. “I love you.” “I know.” And me, crying in the audience. What pops into your head when you think about Lost Prince? Uh oh, um, well, within reason. I mean, don’t get too graphic. This is me, blushing. Garsh. If it’s all too difficult, um, what image do you think of when you think of The Empire Strikes Back?
Betsy: I think it’s when Katriel and Aric are fighting together in her little Salt transport skip that’s retrofitted with guns and some crappy battle tech. First: dogfights in space! Who doesn’t love that? Also, she’s the pilot and he’s the gunner and they’re perfectly in sync. For them it’s almost like sex… maybe it brings them closer than sex, actually. Their real sex is kind of…combative.
Aaron: Last question. Huge Hollywood producer calls you up, and says ,”Betsy, babe, we wanna make one of your novels into a movie, big movie, and you get to decide which one?” Would you go with Lost Prince, or Archive of Fire? Which would you choose and why would you choose it? And would you tell the guy not to call you babe?
Betsy: The Sentinel Series, hands down. I think the arc is interesting and original and the characters are compelling. I’ve been told often it would make great film. Lost Prince is too much a purposeful riff on Star Wars, of which I’m a huge fan. I wrote Lost Prince in homage to that story which gave me so much joy as a kid. (17 times in the theater that summer, baby, most in my school.) While I’m doling out homage, I’d give a shout out to THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton. That book greatly informs my work as well. When I put Aidan and Kaelin and their cousins Marc and Jason together in a house on the beach, it’s me trying to relive Ponyboy and Co. all over again. Each of the four books has an artistic theme from pop or old culture. In Archive of Fire it is a painting called “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey.” (google it if you like—like Kaelin says, it’s creepy).
In Archive of Earth it’s Lost in Space. (the boys are watching old episodes on their phones and refer to it a lot). The Outsiders will get its turn too.
Thanks for having me. Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.
I can only hope to stay gold if I continue to be inspired by such fabulous people as Betsy. Thanks again, Betsy, for the interview. In the words of Johnny Beels, “It was spicy good.”