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Friday, September 22, 2017

SPFBO: Interview With A. W. Exley (Interviewed by Cindy Hannikman & Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order Nefertiti's Heart HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Nefertiti's Heart

Anita W. Exley's Nefertiti's Heart really captivated both Cindy & me as evidenced in our review. It had the perfect mix of characterization, plot pace & Victorian settings that made the story so compelling. We were more than thrilled when Anita agreed to answer a few questions about her writing, the Artifact Hunter series & herself. So read ahead to get to know her better, checkout the gorgeous covers of her books and lose yourself in a captivating world.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself, your background & your interests?

AWE: I'm Anita and I live in rural New Zealand where I have horses. I used to be a forensic accountant, until I realized it was more fun to sit at home and kill people ;) I'm one of those people born in the wrong era - I ride sidesaddle, adore hats, wear a corset, and was steampunk long before I ever heard the word.

Q] Can you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you chose to go the self-publishing route?

AWE: As cliché as it sounds, I'm one of those people who has always written. Books were my escape as a child and creating my own worlds was a natural extension of that, I just never finished anything! lol When I took a parenting break from my accounting job, I was looking for something to keep my mind engaged and decided to take the plunge and finish writing a book. From there it grew as I became more focused and I hit the query trenches trying to land an agent (hint: I failed). I had a friend who gave up on querying despite agent offers, and she headed off into indie waters and encouraged me to follow.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of Nefertiti’s Heart occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

AWE: I had written a young adult steampunk novel that failed to interest agents, so decided to try my hand at an older novel with different characters. I have always loved Egypt and wanted to finally use my Egyptology studies! I was staring at my text books, trying to figure out a way to bring ancient Egypt into a steampunk England when I decided to do it via an ancient artifact. I was fascinated by the story of Nefertiti and Akhenaton and once the idea of the mechanical heart popped into my mind, the story grew from there. I think it took me about a year to write the book after that.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

AWE: I listen with envy to other authors who say how their muse pours forth words onto a page. I have to hunt my muse with a sack and a tranq gun. I'm a very slow writer and spend a lot of time turning a scene over in my head before I write it down. I tend to start with the seed of an idea (like a mechanical heart and a killer intent on finding it) and often the ending, then I have to work backwards and figure out how it all unfolded.


Q] Nefertiti’s Heart is the first volume in the Artifact Hunter series. The series is completed so could you talk about what the readers can expect next in the series?

AWE: Life becomes more complicated for my heroine as she adapts to life with the villainous viscount and the secrets he is keeping. Queen Victoria succumbs to megalomania brought on by an artifact from Hatshepsut, a powerful woman who became a pharaoh. Cara needs to figure out how to get the necklace off the queen before she takes over the world. Then someone intent on keeping a decades old secret uses a fiddle that once belonged to Nero to tidy up loose ends by inducing spontaneous human combustion …

Q] One of the things I noticed in your debut was a good mix of steampunk mixed in with a solid mystery. Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write the Victorian era as described within it? What were the things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

AWE: I read a lot of non fiction about British history, plus grew up on a steady diet of BBC programmes. I've spent some time walking the streets of London and love the sense of history that soaks up from the cobbles and it was natural to take Victorian London as a starting point. From there I determined how my world differed and how I would utilize steam/mechanical technology.

It's the tiny details about every day life that I find the most amazing. Like learning that an electric light was first demonstrated in 1835 and in the 1840s a French nobleman lit up his estate with electric lights, long before Edison even thought about the light bulb. I also discovered that condoms were made by the Goodyear tyre company in the 1860s and bore a lot in common with inner tubes…! lol

Q] Cover art is always an important factor in book sales (whether we like it or not). This factor becomes even more crucial with self-publishing wherein reader prejudice can be higher. Your Artifact Hunters has some gorgeous cover art, I would love to hear how these covers came to be?

AWE: The covers started with a very simplistic idea of hand + artifact. However by the time I got to book 4, a staff just didn't seem that interesting as a cover symbol. I had a look around at a number of other steampunk books that feature women in corsets. However I'm a corset snob and no cheap plastic boned monstrosity was going on my books! I have a friend who is a very talented photographer and fellow corset wearer and she offered to do a custom photo shoot for me. The mechanical heart that Ricky Gunawan designed is such a powerful image (and central to my author branding) so I kept that for book 1, but used custom photographs as the basis for books 2, 2.5, 3 and 4. Regina from Mae I Design then took the photos and gave each a different treatment that reflects the tone of the book, like the fire for Nero's Fiddle and the frozen London of Moseh's Staff.

Q] Talking about characters, even though your book focusses on Cara & Nathaniel primarily. The character cast however is no less intriguing with folks such as Jackson and the Scotland Yard detectives. In this regard I found your book to be very exciting. Could you talk about how you develop your characters and how do their personas come forth?

AWE: I think secondary characters are often more interesting and believe they should each have their own backstory and motivations, they are after all the stars of their own stories, just not the current focus. When I create a secondary character I spend a bit of time thinking about who they are, where they came from and what pivotal moments impacted their personality/flaws. Two of mine (former pugilist Jackson and airship captain Loki) spawned their own books and I have always wanted to go back and write my detective's story and his investigation into the serial killer known as The Grinder.


Q] The world described in your book is Victorian but with steampunk technology added to it. One of things that I would have better enjoyed in this book if more of the world-building were revealed. What was your inspiration for the setting and what are your thoughts on world-building in general?

AWE: Nefertiti's Heart definitely suffers from first book syndrome and by that I mean things that in retrospect, I wish I had done better or differently. In hindsight I completely agree with you and wish I had spent longer thinking about the world, how its technology differed and what impact that had on society. In many ways I winged it and dealt with issues as they arose, but if I had fleshed the world out before I started writing, I think it would have delivered a deeper and more satisfying experience. By the time book 2 was written and the series was gathering momentum I was stuck with the boundaries I had created and had to make the best of it.

It's been a learning experience for me, and with other series I am tackling I am sorting out the world building beforehand and trying to have certain cornerstones in place before I start writing.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

AWE: My introduction to fantasy came as a child when I discovered Anne McCaffrey. Pern captured my imagination and never let go, and who doesn't want to Impress a dragon? Even today I still enjoy her continuing legacy and the novels written by her son, Todd. I also chewed through the Dragonlance chronicles and discovered Raymond E Feist. Fantasy is my first and enduring love but my catnip these days is when fantasy is twisted up with a historical time period like Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series or Bec McMaster's London Steampunk.

I'd like to give a shout out to the Historical Fantasy Bookclub.  We have a monthly book that we read (and twice a year we watch a historical fantasy movie) and I've been reading far wider and outside my usual go-to authors. I've found many new authors to follow and lost myself in books and worlds I wouldn't normally pick up 

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

AWE: A huge thank you to Mark Lawrence for the work he does in organizing and running the SPFBO and I want to take a moment to thank Cindy & Mihir, the Fantasy Book Critic crew, for the time and effort you put into reading and reviewing for participating authors. I've been visiting the blogs and adding to my growing TBR pile but there's no way I'd want to try and pick just one book to put forward!

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