Eleri Stone Interview
A couple of months ago I reviewed the excellent Reaper’s Touch by Eleri Stone. It was a cracking read, with a brilliant couple of protagonists, and while this follow-up interview to delve deeper into the author’s story is a little late (entirely my fault—thanks to Eleri for her patience!), I think it’s worth the wait.
What got you into writing in the first place?
I was the girl who always had her nose buried in a book. While I started writing fairly young, I didn’t actively pursue publication until much later…mostly because I had a lot of trouble actually finishing anything. That was the biggest hurdle for me—writing a complete story all the way through to the end and then finding the discipline to go back to revise and package it up for submission. The love of story has always been there.
You’ve previously written a lot of popular paranormal romance. What led to you trying something slightly offbeat with this mash up of fantasy, western, zombie and even a bit of steampunk?
Reaper’s Touch started out as alternate history and evolved from there. The original premise was that early explorers to the Americas discovered the fountain of youth only to find that eternal youth cost them their humanity. There’s a parasite in the water that heals any injury to the host but eventually takes over the host’s nervous system, making them crave human flesh because the parasite can also be passed by bite. Because I was more interested in the long-term effect of that discovery than with the immediate fallout, I set Reaper’s Touch about two centuries after the initial plague in 1895 and modeled the Rangers who guard human settlements from Reaper attack after old west gunslingers. Reapers avoid cold because it kills the parasite so most of the wealthy have settled in the mountains and that’s where airships come in—to transport people between the eastern and western mountain ranges because it’s too dangerous to travel overland across the plains. So, alternate history fantasy + western + zombie + a little dash of steampunk, but it all grew from that original idea.
You’re obviously a very productive writer! Tell us about your routine—how do you end up consistently creating so much great content? Do you have tips or tricks that get you in the writing mood, or do you simply sit down and get that word count done regardless?
I generally aim for 2K a day on word count when I’m working on a first draft. I love first drafts and hate revisions so I tend to drag my feet on the polishing-up side of things. Usually, even when I don’t feel like writing, I find that if I can push through the first hundred words or so, that’s enough to light the spark again. That makes me sound kind of like a rusty old car. But, yes, I sit down and get the word count even when I don’t feel like it.
You say on your website that all your books have happy endings. Is that a deliberate choice or where you find each story ends up of its own accord? Is it perhaps a staple of romance that you’ve brought to this fantasy/western genre otherwise notorious for more downbeat endings?
That’s personal preference. I need a happy ending for a story to seem complete and fulfilling to me. So, yes on the deliberate choice. And yes on the romance influence too. Guarantee of a happy ending is one of the things I love about the genre.
Abby is one kick-ass heroine. Where did the inspiration for her come from?
Abby came to me fully formed, tough but fair-minded to a fault. I can’t point to a specific inspiration. She’s a conglomeration of some of my favorite character traits taking on a life of their own.
I’ve read a lot about the need for (quality) diversity in entertainment, especially online in the wake of the recent Star Wars Ep7 casting news. Is this something that you are conscious of when writing a story with an all-action female lead—that there is a responsibility to get her ‘right’ because she’s up against so much (good and bad) male action-hero opposition?
Not in the initial draft, no. Then, I just wanted Abby to be true to her story so I was very narrowly focused on her character and the world. Later, I ask questions like that—about how the story will be perceived out in the real world—but early on the integrity of the story trumps everything else. It has to. As far as diversity, I did have some misgivings with Abby’s story about how isolated she is as a woman because of the choice she makes to ride with the patrol rather than assume a more traditional child-bearing role. It means most of the characters she interacts with on a daily basis are male. You don’t see how other women are living and that’s something I try to balance in later books by moving the focus to other aspects of the world. All of my heroines are tough and brave, but they won’t all be tough and brave in the same way as Abby.
You don’t shy away from the explicit in Reaper’s Touch. With Game of Thrones doing a roaring trade in fantasy flesh scenes, do you think these days more people are open to the idea of explicit sex as part of storytelling in genres that might normally skip such details?
Some readers enjoy explicit sex just as some enjoy explicit violence, but many don’t. As a young reader, I didn’t encounter much sex within the fantasy genre at all and that’s definitely changed. It’s available if you like it, avoidable if you don’t. I do think you’ll always be able to find non-explicit fantasy just as you’re able to find non-explicit romance.
Why do you think we have previously shied away from describing sex in graphic detail, but have been quite happy to dial up the gruesome in our stories?
That’s such an American thing, isn’t it? To view violence as more acceptable than sex. I think it’s just part of a larger societal trend.
Reapers are a fresh new spin on ‘zombies’ and I especially loved that the main love interest, Jake, was one. Where did the idea for these creatures come from?
Reapers came from the fountain of youth idea and the concept of eternal damned life. They’re not classic Romero zombies. They’re more along the line of the infected from 28 Days Later—still living, but mindless, ravening, flesh-craving monsters. Well, they’re mostly mindless. Eventually, Reapers grow old enough to begin to fight the parasite for control of their bodies. With my need for a happy ending, there had to be at least some shot at redemption.
Your worldbuilding is brilliantly sparse (suiting the story perfectly), with only a few tantalising details dropped in to hint at the amazing futuristic world we’re in. Will we get to see the bigger picture in the next book?
Yes! Well, maybe not the whole big picture but definitely more of it. You’ll get more insight into the political conflict between the wealthy Scrapers in the mountain cities and the poor people on the plains. That’s really the connecting thread that runs through the series.
Speaking of which, the sequel, Gun Shy, arrives in September. Can you give us a little hint as to what to expect?
You will see more of Jake and Abby! They travel up to the capital city on Eyrion to help Cap secure funding for the fort. There are several scenes from Abby’s point of view, but the main focus of the book is on Lieutenant Lyle Dalton and Jane Fisher. While Jake and Abby are up top, Lyle and Jane work to track down the fort’s supply of stolen Reaper cure through some of the seedier towns in Stormking territory. So…airship smugglers, abandoned mines, corrupt businessmen, true love and grand adventure.
And finally, why fantasy?
Fantasy was my first love. I read it almost exclusively, with some horror thrown in here and there, through my teens and into my early twenties. That’s around the time I picked up my first romance, a genre I immediately fell in love with because the main characters were female and all of the endings were, to one degree or another, happy. My favorite books are the ones that blur genre lines between fantasy and romance. Romance on the fantasy side. Fantasy on the romance side. But always with the fantasy.
We would like to thank Ms. Stone for taking the time to answer some of our questions. The second book in the Reaper series, Gun Shy, is due out in September of 2014. To learn more about this series and Ms. Stone’s many other books you can check out her website or follow her on Twitter.