Monday, December 17, 2018

Interview with Rosie Scott, author of The Six Elements Series

Today the Speculative Fiction Showcase has great pleasure in interviewing Rosie Scott, whose novel Death, the final instalment of her The Six Elements Series, is due to be published on December 20th, when it will be our featured new release. (Fire, whose cover appears below, is the first book in the series).

You are about to publish the last book in your major fantasy series The Six Elements. The final instalment, Death, is due to be released on 20/12. How do you feel about that?
I'm both excited and depressed, which is a confusing mixture! It's always a rush to finish a huge project like this series, and I'm happy I pulled it off. At the same time, I'm so invested in the world and the characters that now I'm left lost and searching for my own identity. The Six Elements is a part of me now. My mind's going crazy thinking up prequels and other stories in the same universe because I'm not willing to let it go just yet.
Can you tell us more about The Six Elements: the protagonist is a battle-mage who is also a god. What challenges does that create for you when writing about her?
When I started writing the series, I wanted to create one of the strongest protagonists in literature. Kai is strong not just because she is powerful and skilled, but because she overcomes extreme adversity and has unparalleled drive. Because The Six Elements is a series about war and Kai is a super-powerful warmonger, there are times when the morality of certain actions are called into question. Thus, the biggest challenge has been balancing acts of brutality with acts of compassion to keep Kai both unrelenting and likeable. Personally, I love these types of intimidating characters and watching them strengthen and evolve over time, but having an aggressive MC also scares some readers away.

You emphasise the darkness in your writing, along with gore and grim themes, but don’t use the word “grimdark”. Is that a deliberate choice?Not particularly. I love grimdark settings (Warhammer, I'm looking at you!), and I do advertise to that market as well. I focus on themes like moral ambiguity and avoid whimsical fantasy themes such as good vs. evil, destiny, and convenient plot twists (resurrection of characters by unexplained magic, for example). I hesitate to call The Six Elements grimdark, however. There are brighter times and splashes of crude humor. My characters love and joke like any group of friends or companions...until one of them is brutally killed. I wrote the series to mimic reality; life is both beautiful and relentlessly cruel, particularly in times of war, and I try to highlight the good times just as much as the tragedies.

One of the major themes of The Six Elements concerns Necromancy and the right to practise it. What is the significance of this theme and why is it important to you?
No matter what I write, I gravitate toward themes of rebelling against a larger entity and fighting for something you believe in. I love anything having to do with necromancy, but by virtue of what it is, most fantasy stories make necromancers villains. In The Six Elements, necromancers are considered enemies and executed swiftly in Kai's home country. Not only is Kai a non-practising necromancer (at the very beginning of the series, anyway!), this issue affects her and her loved ones multiple times in Fire (Book 1) until it causes her to rebel against her homeland for vengeance and political goals including necromancy's legalization. Kai is passionate about necromancy and its practical uses in warfare, and not only did this give me something to write about that I am fascinated by, but it allowed me to explore many moral dilemmas throughout the series (using necromantic leeching for assisted suicide, the moral implications of feeding off the life force of others to strive for immortality, etc.).

How does your writing day progress? Do you have a set time to write, and how much do you try to do a day?
I don't set a time to write and I don't force myself to write. This sounds like I get nothing done, but in reality I can sit down and crank out 15,000 words a day when I'm in a really creative mood. I wrote The Six Elements from July 2017 to November 2018, and the series is over a million words and almost 4,000 pages long. Needless to say, I've been immersed in this world so fervently that I've had little time to do much else. When I start getting headaches, that's when I know I need a break. I took a few forced breaks over the past year, which always helps since I come back with a vengeance!

Your most recent novel, Death, finished at a stonking 237,000 words (before editing). That is one big book! Did you find it a different experience to writing your earlier books, and if so how?
A little bit! Since the series introduces many characters and lands, all the survivors come into play in Death. This book was a balancing act of making sure each character had enough time in the spotlight both in battle and out of it. Also, the series follows Kai and her group of rebels as they travel the world gaining allies, so each book focused on one land/ally and segment of the war. In Death, all these armies are on the battlefield at once, so the battles and city takeovers were so massive I found myself having to draw out detailed battle plans to ensure I correctly tracked army movements, character locations, and casualties!

It’s safe to say you are a gamer – you describe yourself having a gaming PC and twelve consoles. In what ways has this informed your writing, in particular in the waging of medieval-style military campaigns?
Gaming inspired this series. The first-person mage warfare of the Elder Scrolls franchise combined with the large-scale military warfare of the Mount & Blade franchise is how I came up with the idea for The Six Elements to begin with. Various tactics I've used in strategy games inspired those that Kai uses in the series. Also, Kai's personality was inspired by mine as a strategy gamer. I'm extremely attack-oriented and hate being on the defensive, so the fact that Kai feels she's unstoppable in battle basically mirrors how ruthless I am in a game. Ha!
Gaming also deserves credit for getting me interested in war, strategy, and history in general. If it weren't for playing strategy games like the Age of Empires series as a little girl, I wouldn't be as obsessed with war as I am, and these books wouldn't exist.

There is clearly an important creative interface between gaming, virtual reality and writing (and more). How do you see the future of writing? Is it threatened or enhanced by these other new and developing media?
Writing is both threatened and enhanced by these other forms of media. On one hand, you have people like me who are endlessly inspired by the immersion in games and create art as a direct response. On the other hand, some people simply can't get into a novel like they can in a game. It makes sense. When you read a novel, you're reading about another character acting upon a world they're in. When you play a game, you are acting upon a world you're in. Which of these are better? I think the answer depends on the person. Some would rather read about someone else, while others prefer to be the one doing. Many warn about the decline of readership with the rise of other media, but I feel this is similar to those who thought TV would kill radio, or trains would kill horses. (Now I'm imagining homicidal, equine-hating trains!) No matter how media evolves, there will always be a market for telling stories and experiencing them. The format of the stories may change over time, but they will always exist.

You say that none of your characters is immune to death (or other vicissitudes). How do your readers react when someone is killed off?
It's different for every reader, and the attachment one forms to a particular character is definitely a factor. I like character deaths best when the person is well-developed because I like reading and writing tragedy, and the deaths of underdeveloped characters don't tend to elicit emotional responses. Some readers are open to this and feel the way I do. Others might get upset. Both my husband and best friend read my books and react very differently. My husband gets upset and will sometimes stop reading and leave the room until he feels better (he's extremely empathetic and loves all my characters, so it makes sense). My best friend is heartless (I say this lovingly) and looks forward to reading my brutal character deaths, no matter who it is. I could drop his favorite character into a vat of acid in front of a group of screaming loved ones and he'd commend me for my creativity while also suggesting worse ways to die. Yet, both men love my books. Considering these two vastly different responses of people close to me, I'm sure reader reactions are all over the map.

Has George R.R. Martin changed fantasy with his penchant for killing off major and POV characters? How has this affected suspense?

I don't know if he single-handedly changed it, but he certainly helped to popularize the notion. The popularity of his books and the resulting show makes me happy since it shows there's a large market for this type of storytelling. Personally, I think the willingness to kill off major characters—and doing so brutally and inconveniently—brings a sense of realism to any story, and usually it's the only sense of suspense I feel when reading. If characters are invincible, I can't care about their quest since I know they'll make it. I know they'll succeed. Why do I need to read the book? Contrarily, in books that kill off major characters, you have no idea who will make it or if they'll even succeed in completing their main goal. This sense of the unknown is so attractive to me. By introducing realistic inconvenience to a story, you tell readers to expect the unexpected, and that is a breeding ground for suspense.

With necromancy, you can bring characters back from the dead. What unique narrative problems does this create?
In The Six Elements, necromancy reanimates the dead and allows necromancers to use corpses to do their bidding, but the “soul” that once inhabited the body is gone forever. This gave me so much to work with. What if a major character dies and another accidentally raises them from the dead with area-of-effect magic? Would seeing a loved one's corpse shambling around cause mental trauma? The benefits of using necromancy in warfare are explored a lot in the series—swarming cities with their own casualties is one tactic, while the intimidation of using your enemy's comrades against them to break their morale is another. On the other hand, there's a reason necromancy is so feared—Kai has issues throughout the series gaining particular people as allies who view the magic as immoral. Additionally, as she evolves from a rebellion leader to a potential future queen in the later series, there are civilian dissenters she must deal with who believe such a brutal magic has no place in civilized society.

Tell us a bit more about the visceral battle sequences. In what ways have you creatively killed off characters?
I try to stick to realism (in terms of anatomy and what the body can endure before death) while also exploring creative ways people can die by magic, mythical creatures, and caustic alchemy in this fantasy universe. My personal favorite character death was the total evisceration of a scout after she stepped on a hidden cache of dwarven explosives because of the lovely description I wrote of the resulting giblets (the word giblets looks so deceptively harmless). Kai kills a foe in Book 4 by using elemental water magic to turn the internal water in his head to ice, thus popping open his cranium with the swift expansion of icicles in the brain. There's also a metal dragon battle where the beast spews metal blades into two feuding armies while they retaliate with alchemical acids, magic, and siege weapons. Mutilation by a giant scorpion, death by magical spontaneous combustion, and using water plague to drown someone by causing their cells to overload with water rather than oxygen were all a lot of fun to write. I'm definitely on a government watch-list for all the research I did for creative deaths in this series.

Now that The Six Elements is finished, what will you write next? Fantasy, Science Fiction or something else?
Since I can't get The Six Elements out of my head, I have a few ideas for spin-offs and character prequels, and the last reader survey I sent out showed there's a lot of interest in these. I also have a few ideas in the pipeline for a standalone dystopian novel, possibly a post-apocalyptic series, and a humorous action-adventure standalone heavily inspired by DOOM. I'm not sure which I'll write first. It depends on how I feel after Death's release!

Tell us about your other series, the dystopian thriller The New World, set in a futuristic America. Has a dystopian present overtaken our imaginings? (This is a slightly tricky question, because politics!)
The New World series is set in an overbearingly oppressive futuristic America after the government grows so large and ruthless that people can no longer fight for freedoms. Though it's set from 2104-2105, the world is dark, gritty, and only somewhat technologically-advanced due to the government's insistence on leading by barbarity rather than intellectual progress. People are kept ignorant of history and executed regularly for speaking banned words, creating art, practising religion, or disobeying orders of government guards. The MC of the series—Melanie Adams—finds herself recruited by a prominent member of the local Resistance who teaches her how to fight. Together, the two partners and assassins start committing terrorist attacks in order to collect information, spread knowledge, and take back the government. The New World is a series of committing awful acts for the greater good, reaching for a light where there is nothing but hopelessness, and how the human psyche can irrevocably degrade due to the traumas of war and oppression.

The New World was inspired by the TSA (Transport Security Administration), oddly enough. I stopped flying back when the TSA was introduced into American airports, and the prologue of The Resistance (Book 1) illustrates the hyper-violent rendition of where I feel the TSA could go. The story snowballed from there. The Resistance was the first book I wrote that gained any traction, so I turned it into a short series that I completed in January 2017. I believe dystopian stories should be oppressive and ruthless, and I did my best to capture a feeling of paranoia. My favorite fan mail ever was from a man who wrote me to say that the ending of the series kept him up at night as he pondered its repercussions. Reading that gave me the best feeling in the world.

I believe we are always teetering on the edge of dystopia and that it's up to us to prevent it. I think everyone should pay attention to current events because all political parties are guilty of contributing to corruption of freedoms. There will always be those looking to control what others do or say, and no matter where this comes from, we have to resist these attempts. As awful as politics can get, we're not yet at the future I imagined in The New World since we still have the freedoms to vote, speak, and dissent. But these freedoms are challenged all the time, and individual freedoms intertwine like fabric. Tug at one thread, and the whole blanket can unravel.

What are you reading at the moment, and what do you watch on TV, if anything?
Somewhat embarrassingly, I'm rereading The Six Elements series in its entirety for the millionth time like it'll somehow prepare me for Death's release. I don't watch TV, but I did watch a movie recently that impressed me so much I'd buy five copies if I could. If you have Netflix, can stand subtitles, and like brutal action scenes with a sprinkling of gore, I highly recommend the action thriller The Night Comes for Us.

About Rosie Scott:

Rosie Scott has been writing novels for over twenty years and publishing since 2010. She writes unconventional adult dystopian, fantasy, and science fiction novels which are partial to themes such as warfare, gray morality, and rebellion. Obsessed with the human psyche and how experiences, events, and trauma can transform a person, most of her books have protagonists who walk just off the path of being a hero. Rosie loves building characters from the ground up with different viewpoints and backgrounds, having them interact uniquely with one another, and then playing with their mortality in her novels because she believes no character should ever be invincible.

Rosie’s novels tend to explore darker themes and are not for the faint of heart. No philosophical question is unable to be examined. No character is immune to death. No hero is truly righteous. Rosie loves writing detailed visceral battle sequences and witty banter, but she also seeks to plant questions in her readers’ minds that will stick with them for long after a book is read.

Besides writing, Rosie spends her time video gaming via her gaming PC and twelve consoles, collecting medieval and video game weapon replicas, sketching the characters she creates, and building models of medieval siege weapons and cars. If she isn’t writing about bloody warfare and conquest in one of her novels, she is probably leading an army with a mouse and keyboard.

1 comment:

  1. Wow what an awesome accomplishment. I sure hope this turns into a movie so readers can become part of the world you so creatively write about.