Hi, everyone! So you remember how back in February I was obsessing over the Kingmakers' War series by Kate Avery Ellison? Well the author agreed to do an exclusive interview with me . . . and after a few little hiccups along the way, I've finally ready to present it to you in full. By now I hope many of you have jumped into her wonderful series and will be as excited to read her answers as I was. Enjoy!
Hi, Kate! I'm so pleased to have a chance to pepper you with my questions. So let's start with this one: This series is so EPIC . . . so full of twists and turns and reversals and always more layers to the characters. So I have to ask—did you plan the stories out in advance? Or do you just write them as you go and let the story carry you along? And if so, how do you keep all of those threads connecting?
Kate: I am absolutely addicted to twists, turns, and reversals, so I cannot resist them. Most of my favorite TV shows and books have lots of twists and reveals, and I strive to emulate that.
I plan pretty meticulously, but I still leave a lot of room for inspiration to take me in a different direction, as it often does. Sometimes I’m halfway through writing the book when a good twist or surprise that changes EVERYTHING occurs to me, and I go back, change everything, and make it fit. Without being spoilery… the big twist in A Gift of Poison was planned from the beginning, for instance, but one of the twists in A Circle of Flames was not planned before I started writing the book, although it made total sense and fit perfectly when I figured out that’s what I wanted to do. However, so much of any story is written subconsciously, so it’s hard to say, sometimes. My brain is plotting even when I’m asleep—I’ve got my subconscious writer’s mind pretty well-trained at this point. So intentional plotting and unexpected inspiration tend to work together for me.
In sum: a little of both.
Briand is a great character, one who experiences a lot of growth and change as the series progresses. Do you feel differently about her now, having recently published book 7, than you did when you started? Does she still feel like the same old Briand, or has she grown up in your eyes as well?
Kate: I’m weirdly proud of her, given that she’s a fictional character. She’s worked hard to get where she is now. Briand starts the series at her absolute lowest—she has no respect from anybody, no value in society’s eyes, and no friends except for Bran (and even he is exasperated with her). She’s orphaned, powerless, and she doesn’t trust people. She’s been underestimated and abandoned her whole life. Nobody listens when she speaks. But she has a loyal heart, she’s clever, and she has a fierce determination to survive. The rest of the series is basically that situation being slowly and methodically reversed… she makes friends, earns respect, and gains the unflinching love and loyalty of former enemies and antagonists. She’s putting together a “found family” person by person. She’s moving from someone who is controlled by the powers that be to a person who is one of those powers. She’s becoming a major force to be reckoned with, and the series isn’t over. Her rise to the top isn’t finished.
Let’s talk romance for a minute. Briand and Kael are the perfect embodiment of my favorite romance trope—the slow-burn.How do you keep the heat and chemistry strong between them while constantly throwing roadblocks in their way? Or are those roadblocks themselves your secret?
Kate: I love a good slow-burn. Sometimes I worried it was TOO slow, but I hope it’s paid off by making the relationship feel real, and something people can get deeply invested in. I want it to be totally believable that these people have fallen in love, because the readers have also fallen in love.
The easiest way to make good chemistry, I think, is to have two characters who aren’t together but desperately want to be (even if they aren’t admitting it to themselves). Think Jim and Pam from The Office. The challenge is keeping that chemistry alive even if they are together. I’ve tried to make Briand and Kael into characters of genuine integrity and passion in and of themselves, and they definitely don’t always agree, and that creates some excellent sparks. They share a lot of the same values, but those values manifest in radically different ways sometimes. For instance, Kael and Briand are both fiercely loyal people, but Kael is an idealist, loyal to things like his country, his prince, and his duty. Briand will never give a rat’s ass about something as lofty and intangible as duty. She is loyal to the people she loves, period. She doesn’t get caught up in abstractions. For her, life is about the practical ramifications of things. Right now, they both want to end the war—Briand because the war has hurt and killed people she loves to the point where she cannot ignore it, and Kael because he is honor-bound to serve Jehn, and because he values justice and the process of succession of kingship, etc.
So, even when together, Briand and Kael will often disagree in a very understandable and organic way about solutions to big issues. They’re strong individuals with diverse opinions. But they also respect and admire each other, and they learn to trust each other more and more over the series, and I find those things really sexy—to me, trust is sexy. I also like to mix things up, keep everyone a little bit on their toes. Like sometimes, the reader might be expecting them to disagree on something, and then they don’t.
Yeah, there’s a lot of longing, which is good for chemistry, and a lot of angst, but at the end of the day, I want these books to make people feel good, because we have enough crappy stuff going on in the world already. So we get some lovely reunions and cathartic moments. It’s kind of a dance, emotionally. And I’m always trying to learn and improve. I literally sit down with a notebook and take notes on the pacing and technique of books and movies that really gripped me with the chemistry between the leads.
After enjoying the first couple of books, I went and browsed your website and discovered that you do a lot of your own cover design. WOW! How did you get into design? Did you take classes, or are you self-taught? How do you go about creating a new Kingmakers’ cover, for instance? Do you go through several iterations before you land on the right on?
Kate: It's a hobby of mine! I’ve always been interested in photomanipulation and cover design. When I was a kid, I was cutting pictures out of magazines and arranging them into collages to make covers for my Star Wars fanfiction. This was before I got some really basic photo editing software as a teen. No classes yet… although I’d love to. I watched a lot of Youtube tutorials and I like to play around in Photoshop, but I know I have lots of room for improvement.
I have a deviantART profile that I barely ever update anymore, but it has a lot of my non-cover work.
Creating a cover takes me a long time. I download a bunch of stock and experiment until I find something that I like. Usually the process involves me eating a lot of chocolate.
Last of all, can you tell us a bit more about what you’re currently working on? I just saw a pretty exciting new release launch for you the other day . . . But when can we expect the next Kingmakers’ book???
Kate: I just finished the next book in the series, and A Knife of Oblivion releases April 17! It’s up for preorder now! After I take a few weeks’ off to recuperate, I’m going to get to work on the sequel to my latest release, Red Rider, a post-apocalyptic retelling of Red Riding Hood with werewolves.
Thank you so much, Kate! Do let my readers know where they can connect with you on social media. Do you have a newsletter?
Kate: You can find me on the following social media platforms. Of all these, I'm most active on my Facebook author page.