If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll remember that a while ago I read and reviewed ‘The Wheel Mages’ by Aimee Davis – and if you didn’t see that, you can go read it here -and I was so stoked about the book that I asked the author herself if she would be interested in doing an author interview for here.
She said yes, and we had quite an interesting discussion – just a few of the things that came up throughout were how difficult it is to kill your own characters, the wonderful delight that is ‘Malec’, and possible spin-offs.
(all headings are mine, but the gifs and other images are sourced from Google Images)
What was the initial inspiration behind ‘The Wheel Mages?’ What was the one thing which got you started on the writing and planning of the book?
Innocuous as it may seem, this is a doozy of question to start out with. The Wheel Mages came to life in a behavioral health facility (which is really a euphemism for a mental hospital). I’d self-committed for a host of reasons, but I’m pretty confident the intake paperwork read ‘suicidal ideation’. I was in an incredibly dark place, but while I was in the hospital, I had time to clear my head. I wouldn’t say that environment is particularly therapeutic, but it certainly shakes things up and makes you confront the truth of yourself. In a hospital like that there isn’t a ton to do to occupy your time. They take away your electronics – cell phones, Kindle, tablets, iPads, whatever. There is one TV shared by all the patients (I think there were maybe 15 people in my unit). You’re only allowed to use the phone for short periods of time. You can only have visitors on certain days for about an hour. There are therapy sessions and meetings with doctors, of course, but you find yourself with a lot of free time. That environment also stirs up a lot of emotion. For me, reconnecting with my emotions was what I needed, and that’s how The Wheel Mages came into existence. When the book came to life in my head, it wasn’t as much a series of events as it was a series of emotions. Alena started to take shape in my mind as a symbol of determination, of strength. She sort of helped drag me through this very difficult time in my life. In my first draft of the manuscript, the first sentence literally reads, “I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.” Obviously, during the editing process this was revised because wow – what a terrible hook, but at the time I wrote it, that’s exactly what I needed to do. Breathe, in and out. I was in a terribly vulnerable place, where I needed strength from somewhere – anywhere, and my brain responded by giving me this vision of Alena, standing tall, chin lifted, breathing slowly. She was afraid, but she was strong. That’s what I needed to be.
As for planning… I wish I could tell you there was a plan, but there really wasn’t. I have never been a plotter (this used to drive my writing professors crazy!)
How hard was it to give Nikolai that ending that you did? I know when I write, I can’t bear to do anything bad to my favourite characters. I just can’t.
Ugh… it was terrible. I think every writer (with maybe the exception of George R R Martin and perhaps Shakespeare) struggles with hurting his/her characters. When I first started writing, I couldn’t bear hurting any of my characters, not even the bad guys. Everyone in my early manuscripts is not only redeemable but also redeemed. I avoided having to truly hurt anyone that way, but that’s just not reality. I had a professor in college who used to challenge me to dig deep into my characters’ heads, I mean DEEP, she’d ask me to figure out what they ate for breakfast, what kind of shoes they liked to wear, really learn to love them, then kill them. As silly as it may sound, it helped me learn to “do what needs to be done” so to speak.
It was still extremely difficult though. Actually, in my first draft, the ending is a lot more detatched. When you read it you can tell I was avoiding the inevitable. It sort of reads… and then some stuff happened, the end! That made the editing harder than the writing, because it wasn’t until the editing that I really dove into the details and the emotion and forced myself to experience that right along with Alena. It really was not fun. Nor was the backlash from my beta readers! I think I told you this, but I have one beta reader who still hasn’t forgiven me and will just randomly yell at me over that ending in the middle of a critique.
Do you have a writing process? Like, certain things you do when you’re writing, or things you eat/drink during? I want to hear all about the process, because I know it’s different for everyone. Do you write any of it by hand, or is it all on the computer?
Ah yes – process – the mystical thing. So much ink has been spilled on this topic, but you’re absolutely right, process is different for every writer. My process is probably considered somewhat unhealthy, to be perfectly frank. I definitely don’t have writing habits that would make one of those “10 healthy writing habits” articles I see all the time. First of all, I don’t write every day. That’s something you hear frequently in writing circles – you must write every day. I don’t. I write a lot, but some days I just don’t feel like it, and I don’t force myself. I also don’t adhere to those “word count goals”. For me, they’re silly. If I don’t have 3,000 words in me, then I don’t have 3,000 words in me that day. I hate to sound trite, but I really do consider writing art, and art isn’t quantifiable. I’m not pumping out words to be the next big thing or publish all the books as quickly as possible, I’m writing to be the best version of myself. If I’m forcing myself to do it to fit into some box, then I’m not being authentic and it’s not enjoyable. If writing wasn’t enjoyable to me anymore… what a terrible thought. So I don’t force it. I write when I’m inspired, as cliche as it sounds. I’m fortunate to be inspired quite a bit, so it works out.
When I’m writing, I also tend to write until I can’t think straight anymore. That’s another traditionally unhealthy habit. Hemingway famously said to stop when you know what will happen next, that way you’re never stuck. It’s good advice, but I don’t take it. I write until I’m completely drained. My process is very “binge-y”. And when I’m “in the zone” I basically tune out the rest of the world. Sometimes I’ll go days without eating, though I never go without coffee. Coffee is my lifeblood when I’m writing. Those two things – not eating and drinking way too much coffee are unhealthy in general. I’m not kind to my body most of the time, so if you can write another way, I recommend doing that. My process is definitely not a model to follow.
One thing I do recommend, however, is writing by hand. I write absolutely everything by hand. My entire first draft is written by hand, then transcribed onto the computer. My edits are done by hand after I’ve printed drafts. Writing by hand is out of fashion, but it comes highly recommended from me. I tend to be long-winded (I bet you couldn’t tell), and writing by hand helps me curb that tendency, because it slows me down. I have to think more about each letter, each word. I also like to write by hand because I do a ton of writing in the bathtub (also cliche, I know), and it’s easier to have a legal pad in the bath than a laptop. Sometimes I listen to music, but it depends on my mood and what kind of scene I’m writing. Sometimes I need complete silence. The one thing I can’t do, though, is write with a TV on in the background. The sound of people speaking is incredibly jarring to me when I’m writing, to the point it’s almost painful. I also have a terrible habit of becoming incredibly cranky when people interrupt me when I’m writing, so it’s probably good I live alone!
How long would you say it takes you to write your first draft out – before you transcribe it onto the computer?
I swear one of these drafts I’m going to keep track of that, because I get asked this often enough to wonder myself! I would estimate it’s about 3 months of work, and I have no idea how many hours. Lots. Lots and lots of hours. Hundreds.
Would you class Changing Tides as a young adult novel, or more middle grade, or leaning towards adult? In other words, will you ever include some slightly more explicit scenes in your books? I’m thinking somewhere along the line of Sarah J Maas’ books where sex is heavily implied, and beautifully described, but it’s not erotica or pornographic.
Ah, this is another really great question, and one that will require a few confessions on my part. First, I was extremely late to the Maas train. I hadn’t actually read any of her work until after The Wheel Mages came out and a couple people compared it to her. Obviously, I was intrigued, so I picked up the first book of each series and proceeded to consume every one of her books within about 6 days. Love her. She lives in the county over from mine, too, so maybe there’s something in the water, I don’t know.
The other thing I have to confess is I didn’t actually realize there was this newish subcategory of YA called “New Adult” until my editor suggested I consider reclassifying The Wheel Mages as YA/NA. That said, the way she described it to me, is basically the classification has less to do with the content (although content can push you over the edge) than it does to do with the voice of the character and the character’s age. Alena is 18 in The Wheel Mages. At the start of The Blood Mage, three years have gone by, so she’s 21. This puts me firmly in the older YA/NA classification all by itself, without regard to content.
With regard to content, sexually explicit/suggestive content is something I’ve been researching a lot lately. This subject is rapidly developing in YA, and I’m excited to develop with it. Like we were just discussing when it comes to labels though, I think the thought behind content goes back to remaining true to your world and your characters. There can’t be sex just for the sake of sex, it has to be authentic to your characters. At the same time, there can’t not be sex just because you don’t want to “go for it” in your writing. I think an author’s job is to be unafraid when it comes to displaying truth, but every character’s truth is different. Without revealing too much, I will say that readers will see this discussion play out in The Blood Mage. Something else they’ll see is an issue I feel is extremely critical not just to the audience, but to this period in history, and that’s the issue of consent. I’ll also just go ahead and tease the fact that my editor is a member of the Romance Writers of America, and I’m really looking forward to working with her on this book.
Going now to the LGBTQ+ characters, are you planning on having any same-sex relationships take central stage in future books? Two characters with a relationship that fans can really, really ship – like Cassandra Clare’s Magnus and Alec?
I just have to say, I love Magnus and Alec. What a great coupling, seriously well done on Clare’s part. Magnus especially is such a well-developed personality, I adore him. That aside, the answer is absolutely yes. Readers will see a same-sex coupling in The Blood Mage front and center, in the first few paragraphs of the book, actually. They’re a pair I’m super excited about, and I hope readers will be excited about them too. They literally came to me in a dream. I sprung out of bed at 3 o’clock in the morning and ran to the other room to jot down notes because I didn’t want to forget anything.
Speaking of Magnus though, in the books he specifically says that he’s bisexual – he actually uses the word, which is rare since a lot of authors (and people) avoid that particular label/term. Do you think this is an important thing, and do you think you’ll have any canon bisexual characters in your books that use the word bisexual to describe themselves?
That’s a really interesting question, and it’s one I haven’t put a ton of thought into, to be completely honest. Because the Changing Tides series is set in a time and place that’s sort of modeled after the Victorian period (loosely, at least), labels aren’t something I’ve had to put a ton of thought into. Obviously, the exploration of relationships and sexuality is something that appears throughout my work, but I’ve largely been able to avoid label issues due to the nature of the world. The Trade Nations aren’t exactly enlightened, nor is the Sanctum.
I do think though, that if it’s authentic to your world, you shouldn’t skirt around an issue just because you might be afraid it’ll turn someone off or scare away readers or whatever other reason authors might have for shying away from particular issues or terms. You need to be true to your characters and your world. Otherwise, why are you writing? For Clare, I think Magnus calling himself bisexual is extremely authentic. Clare’s Shadowhunter world is essentially present day, and labels are part of our world. For the word bisexual to be dodged would be kind of strange, I’d think, because here, in the present day, we have a word for Magnus’ sexuality, but that’s a somewhat recent development in terms of history. The term bisexual wasn’t used in its modern sense until the early 1890s. And even then it wasn’t used colloquially, but was primarily relegated to academia, so for it to appear in a world like the world of the Trade Nations would be almost anachronistic. Anachronisms are particularly jarring for me as a reader and a lover of history, so I try to avoid them in my writing as much as possible. You’ll also notice I don’t use labels like “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” either, because they didn’t come about until after WWI. Instead, I default to the older “lover”. I think the main thing to remember is that when you’re writing, you’re not ticking off boxes, you’re creating a world, and that world has rules, and social norms, and customs, and cultures, and you have to always have those in the back of your mind.
Hm…I realize I haven’t really answered your question precisely, but it made me think so I might have gone a bit off tangent. Straight answer: I think it’s important to call a character what he or she would call him or herself, regardless of how it might be received or how it might make you feel. Also, there will be (are) characters in my upcoming books who are bisexual (look for the third book and the new series for them), but based on the world, they probably won’t use that label to describe themselves. I actually almost wish it was true to my world, because it would be easier to use our more precise modern language. The word bisexual doesn’t make me uncomfortable at all, but the word lover sure does!
Did you ever have your own version of Nikolai? Someone who took you and helped you for the better, someone you look up to?
You know that saying that women tend to fall for men like their fathers? I think that’s at least a little true for me, and Nikolai is a bit of a reflection of that. I’m not saying Nikolai is in any way based off my father – weird – but he does have some qualities I admire in a man which I’m sure I admire because I see them in my dad. Nikolai is, in my mind, a consummate protector, and that’s something my dad is too. I’m my dad’s only child, and he’s incredibly protective of me. In a dad, that’s great, but in a partner, I think it’s much more complicated, and I try to touch on that a little bit in the book.
Have you any plans for a sequel at the moment? What’s happening on that front?
Absolutely! The Wheel Mages is the first book in a trilogy. The whole trilogy is already drafted, and Book Two, The Blood Mage, is due to my editor on Monday actually. The editing process is longer than the writing process or has been for me thus far. My content editor, Katie, will see the entire book at least twice and certain scenes more than that before it’s passed off to my copy editor. So that process goes something like: Katie reads it and provides “big picture” feedback. She’ll look for plot holes and character development issues, she’ll tell me what’s paced funny, what needs development, what is too developed, things of that nature. Then she’ll send it back to me to make changes. I’ll make changes based on her suggestions, and she’ll see it again and provide additional feedback and let me know if I’m on the right track, so to speak. That will go on back and forth for a few months, then when it’s at a point we’re both happy with, I’ll send it to the copy editor, who will look at it for the minutia. The copy editor is the one with the red pen. She’ll fix grammar and redundancy, tell me if certain phrases don’t make sense or seem to be out of character for the voice of the character, the kind of line by line finishing touches stuff. After that, the book will be ready for formatting, which is a nightmare of a process I dread.
Anyway, while the book is with the editors, I’ll work with my graphic designer on cover art and new promo material and eventually, many months down the road, these pieces will all fall into my lap (or really, my hard drive) and I’ll fit them together to create a book. I’m hoping this will happen sometime in late June or early July. Then we’ll start all over again!
I’m also currently working on a completely different series still in the Sanctum universe but set several centuries before Alena’s time, which I’m really excited about as well. I don’t want to reveal too much about it, but I’ll tell you it’s written in third person close (which is actually my preferred POV), not first person, and there’s a princess.
Is there any characters in particular from ‘The Wheel Mages’ that you think would do good in their own spin off series? Like how Maria V Snyder has spin off series’ for smaller characters from her original Study series. I know I’d love to see a series about Celine in particular.
Yeah, actually, I was recently contemplating what a spinoff might look like for Celine. She’ll be back for The Blood Mage, but there’s this three-year gap between the books in which she has quite an interesting back story that I know and is hinted at in the next book but I would love to explore more, maybe even in standalone or novella form. Genevieve, too, has a crazy three years in between books which one of my betas is extremely insistent I explore further, and may happen in long-short form.
The one thing I will tell you you won’t see though, that has been requested, and I’m sort of opposed to, is Nikolai pre-Alena. I don’t know if my heart could bear it, nor do I think there’s enough conflict in his past to make for a very interesting spinoff.
What do you see for yourself in say, ten years time? What do you imagine you’ll be doing then? Will you be like J.K Rowling or Cassandra Clare, and still be releasing material for this world you’ve created in Changing Tides, or will you have wrapped up this series and into a new one?
If I ever become like J.K. Rowling or Cassandra Clare in terms of success… I’m grinning like an idiot. That’s quite a big dream.
Oh, sorry, you meant in terms of what world I’ll be working in, right? In that case, I have two more series in the works for the world of the Sanctum right now, so I’ll be there for awhile. That doesn’t mean that will be the only world I’ll be set in though, because there are plenty of other ideas running around in the attic.
Now, let’s let everyone else have a chance to get to know you a little better – I’m going to ask you a string of random questions (like, really random) and you just answer them, okay?
The last three shows on your Netflix watched list?
“The Propaganda Game”, “Winter on Fire”, “WWII and the Man of Steel” (I might have mentioned I’m a bit of a history nerd)
Your favourite song at the moment?
This one is tough because it depends on my mood what genre of music I even listen to, but at this exact moment I’m super into Sia’s “The Greatest”. It’s like my girl power anthem helping me through this last push of edits. Katy Perry’s “Rise” gets credit for this same period during the process for The Wheel Mages.
Main celebrity crush of the moment?
Hands down Trevor Noah. I have not crushed on a celebrity so hard since I was 18 and in love with Shannon Leto from 30 Seconds to Mars.
Blue, specifically Carolina blue.
What would your last meal alive be?
Probably some combination of battered cheese fries and Panera broccoli cheddar soup. I’m not ashamed to admit I have a love affair with cheese.
Eating copious amounts of cheese.
If you could trade places with one of your own characters, who would it be?
Yikes, that’s tough because I’m not particularly kind to my characters. This question feels a bit like karma! Probably Lukas though, you’ll meet him in the next book.
Early bird or night owl?
Night owl for sure, although I don’t sleep much at all to be honest
Cake or pie?
Pie, definitely. I don’t actually like cake, which apparently makes me weird.
Ross or Rachel?
Ross. I’m a total geek. I relate.
America or UK?
Well, I AM American, but things are kinda crazy here right now, and I like being able to reach Europe so easily, so I feel like I have to go with U.K. Plus, the accent is lovely.
Books or movies?
Washing dishes, or doing laundry?
These are both equally terrible and go in the “put off as long as humanly possible” category. But because I hate folding more than most everything, I will say dishes.
Personal chef or personal fitness trainer?
Chef, definitely. Working out is something I also put in the “put off as long as humanly possible” category.
Spicy or mild?
Spicy!!! All the hot sauce and peppers please!
Kittens or puppies?
I love both but I’ve fostered both and kittens are vastly easier to take care of, so kittens.
Favourite Disney movie?
So hard to choose, but probably Frozen. “Let it Go” is another anthem song for me.
Thank you so much, Aimee, for this interview – I love how much of an insight I got into you, and your writing, and the whole Changing Tides series.
If you want to see more of Aimee, you can follow her on any of her social media:
And if you want to read ‘The Wheel Mages’ for yourself, you can click on either of these links here: