Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Anna Butler – Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo..
Thanks so much, Anna, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Anna Butler: I’ve been story-telling always, starting with telling my little sister stories about Jimpy the toy chimpanzee to discovering fanfiction and writing that (very badly!)for years and using it to hone my craft to three years ago, going ‘pro’.
I would never claim to be good at it!
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
AB: I write character-driven plots, and by that I mean that while lots of dramatic action ‘stuff’ may happen, what truly interests me is how my characters react and grow as a result. They are never untouched by the action, and the action is always there for a reason.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
AB: I wrote and self-published “FlashWired”, a sci-fi novella, in early 2013. FlashWired is a love story, but (like my Taking Shield serial) is not a romance. It doesn’t have the qualities I think a romance reader is looking for, particularly in terms of the ending which is, I suspect, an uncomfortable and unexpected one.
In FlashWired, Cal Paxton and Jeeze Madrid are the top scouting team on the Pathfinder-class starship, the Carson, on the very outer edge of Earth’s expansion across the galaxy. A Pathfinder’s job is to evaluate planets for colonization. Cal’s and Jeeze’s job is to find the planets for the Carson’s scientists to analyze.
Cal and Jeeze are wingmen, best friends and lovers. Cal wants more than a casual relationship but Jeeze, recently divorced, is wary of commitment. When Jeeze is shot down over a planet inhabited by a race Earth has never before encountered, what will Cal find when the Carson can finally mount a rescue mission? Will he ever succeed in persuading Jeeze to take up his offer of hand and heart?
JSC: What’s your writing process?
AB: I answered this with a note on plotting vs pantsing, then I saw your question 8 and came back to this one scratching my head. I suppose my only real response to this one can be….
Once I’ve fannied about all morning taking the dog for a walk (we live in the depths of the Nottinghamshire countryside with bridleways and footpaths only yards from our door), doing a bit of shopping or gardening or (heavens forfend!) the housework, I begin to think it’s time I do some work. After lunch, maybe. I won’t eat at my desk but I have been known to lounge around with my iPad on the tray with my sandwich and hey! what’s that article on Facebook? And that’s an interesting discussion. And blimey, that’s a new Harry/Draco fanfic I haven’t read yet… And emails. I have to answer my emails just in case, you know, they’re more important than just another phishing scam to get my bank details… and I haven’t read my Live Journal friends post yet or three or four other websites I visit regularly. And what’s today’s online jigsaw and can I beat the time they’ve set? And right, better get started… but someone’s posted something else on Facebook… And that’s enough, Anna. Get to work. So I trail up to my study and switch on the PC, open up Scrivener and stare at the words that seemed so incisive and witty yesterday and now are slow and pedestrian and boring. But hey! Shiny… someone’s posted something new up on Facebook…
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
AB: I’ve ridden in the circus ring.
I was about five, and my parents took my sister (then about three) and me to a small circus visiting a nearby town. The clowns brought in a Shetland pony, trained to do tricks as part of their routine, and at the end the Ringmaster asked for a volunteer to ride it. I was down in the ring almost before the man finished speaking. I can just about remember noise and light and a lot of people’s faces as I rode three times around the ring, led by the chief clown. He had a red coat, and that’s all I remember about him. The pony, though, was brown, had ribbons in his mane and was called Pickles.
JSC: Do you write more on the romance side, or the speculative fiction side? Or both? And why?
AB: Speculative fiction.
While The Gilded Scarab, my steampunk novel, is pure romance with the obligatory feel-good feeling at the end, the Shield serial is a big m/m love story, but not a romance as most readers would define it. It’s genre science fiction, with gay characters. As to why… well, I don’t decry romance at all. What ‘romance story’ means to me is ‘good storytelling’ and ‘strong characters’ and ‘lose yourself for an hour here’; heartfelt emotion and drama, eroticism, sex scenes in which the feelings and the relationship matter as much (more?) than the physical gymnastics; an ending that is happy/enriching/hopeful. But it does seem to me that m/m romance stories are defined the same way as their protagonists are – by their sexuality and the way that’s expressed physically. What’s important about the protags in a m/m romance isn’t that they’re an airline pilot, or a doctor, or a nuclear physicist. What’s important in m/m romance is that they’re gay.
And that’s perhaps why I opt for less romance in my books. My hero’s relationship with Flynn is important, but it isn’t full and centre stage. The Maess war and everything Bennet (the hero) has to do there gets equal billing with the slow unfolding of his relationship with Flynn. Taking Shield is rooted in old school science fiction: Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG, Independence Day, Doctor Who. I grew up with those, with Heinlein’s and Clarke’s novels. They’re part of my warp and weft. So mostly I’m inspired by the idea of humanity coming up against an enemy they can’t fathom, and having to dig deep within themselves to find the skills and fortitude to survive. The fact that Bennet is gay is integral to the story, but not the reason for it.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
AB: Oh, Molly is my deputy editor. She’s the real ruler of the Butler household, a chocolate cockerpoo with a pretty face that would melt the hardest of hearts, and a will of finest steel.
This is one of my favourite pictures of her. Looks like butter wouldn’t melt, doesn’t she? Don’t be fooled.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
AB: I’m a sort-of plotter. I know where I’m starting and I know where I want to get to, and I usually have a broad outline of the story mapped out, with all the high and low points. I wouldn’t call myself a committed plotter though, because the outline is high level. I certainly don’t plot chapter by chapter, as some do. I don’t like that much of a straight jacket. I only know I want to get characters A and B from here to there by this point in the book, and that’s what I aim for. It can be more organic and freeform en route!
I usually describe the process with a quote I sadly can’t attribute – “I have started my story. I have finished my story. I just haven’t middled my story.”
JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?
AB: You mean they won’t be naming one after me? Pout.
Seriously, we all strive too hard and we think we’re failures if we aren’t as rich, thin, good-looking and successful as the richest, thinnest, handsomest, most successful people out there. Let’s have a “Be good to ourselves” day. One where we can remember that the only people who matter, the only ones to measure ourselves against, are us.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
AB: The third Shield book, Makepeace, will be published in the next few weeks. I’ve finished the final draft of the fourth book, The Chains of Their Sins, and I’ll sit on that for a few weeks before a final read through before sending it to Wilde City. It it’s accepted, I expect it will be published towards the end of this year.
I’ve just started writing The Dog Who Eats Millions, the follow up book to The Gilded Scarab. I’m hoping to get to final draft by the summer to submit it to Dreamspinner, but that’s very much on the lap of the gods!
Comment on this post, and one commentator will be chosen at complete ‘close-eyes-and-stick-a-pin-in-it’ random, and get a little pack of Taking Shield loot and a free copy of FlashWired (a gay mainstream sci-fi novella).
Taking Shield Book 3: Makepeace – Coming This Spring
Keen to return to duty following his long recovery from the injuries he sustained on Telnos, as told in Heart Scarab, Shield Captain Bennet accepts a tour of duty in Fleet, where he’s appointed as flight captain on a dreadnought. The one saving grace is that it isn’t his father’s ship—bad enough that he can’t yet return to the Shield Regiment, at least he doesn’t have the added stress of commanding former-lover, Fleet Lieutenant Flynn.
Bennet continues to work part-time for the Military Strategy Unit Shield, analysing data he collected himself on T18 three years before. He decodes enough to send him behind the lines to Makepeace, once a human colony but under Maess control for more than a century. The mission goes belly up, costing Albion one of her precious, irreplaceable dreadnoughts and bringing political upheaval, acrimony and the threat of public unrest in its wake. But for Bennet, the real nightmare is discovering what the Maess have in store for humanity. It’s not good. It’s not good at all.
About the Taking Shield series
Earth’s a dead planet, dark for thousands of years; lost for so long no one even knows where the solar system is. Her last known colony, Albion, has grown to be regional galactic power in its own right. But its drive to expand and found colonies of its own has threatened an alien race, the Maess, against whom Albion is now fighting a last-ditch battle for survival in a war that’s dragged on for generations.
Taking Shield charts the missions and adventures of Shield Captain Bennet, scion of a prominent military family. Against the demands of his family’s ‘triple goddess’ of Duty, Honour and Service, is set Bennet’s relationships with lovers and family. When the series opens, Bennet is at odds with his long term partner, Joss, who wants him out of the military and back in an academic, archaeological career. He’s estranged from his father, Caeden, who is the commander of Fleet’s First Flotilla. Events of the first book, in which he is sent to his father’s ship to carry out an infiltration mission behind Maess lines, improve his relationship with Caeden, but bring with them the catalyst that will destroy the one with Joss: one Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, who, over the course of the series, develops into Bennet’s main love interest.
Over the Taking Shield story arc, Bennet will see the extremes to which humanity’s enemies, and his own people, will go to win the war. Some days he isn’t able to tell friend from foe. Some days he doubts everything, including himself, as he strives to ensure Albion’s victory. And some days he isn’t sure, any longer, what victory looks like.
Taking Shield 01: Gyrfalcon
Taking Shield 02: Heart Scarab
The thing, whatever it was, had fallen between two pods. It didn’t move. Unlike the soldier outside, it didn’t kick its legs or drum its heels. It felt nothing. Bennet bent over it, laser at the ready, his shoulders lifting to hunch protectively over his neck. He blew out a soft breath. Thank fuck. Thank fuck.
Not an organic Maess, at least.
Definitely a drone. Possibly a modified EDA? It had the same well articulated hands, the same smooth plasticised skin over the electronics and metal underneath. But the metallic body had a bluish tinge.
The head was different. His first thought was it was translucent, the interior scattered with pinpoint lights. But no. The ovoid was bigger than usual but solid and opaque. Some sort of mesh covered the metal casing, the tiny lights woven into it at varying depths, giving the illusion he could see inside.
Blue lights, the intense sapphire blue of the lights fizzing down the columns into the pods. Whatever this was, it was no ordinary drone.
The lights in its head dimmed. Flickered out.
The thing was deactivated.
It had shaken Haydn out of his previous calm. “What the hell is that?”
T18. Bennet had seen something like this on T18. Just a glimpse. When he’d seen that Thing, the real Maess, surrounded by drones, there had been something else. Something thinner than the usual drones, less bulky. Blue lights were involved, too. The Strategy Unit analysts never had worked out what it was. In the end they’d concluded it had been a problem with his camera, reflecting the lighting inside the base on T18. He’d had no reason to argue.
Well, now he knew it hadn’t been the lighting.
Buy Links – Gyrfalcon
Wilde City: Click Here
Amazon: Click Here
Amazon UK: Click Here
ARe: Click Here
Buy Links – Heart Scarab
Wilde City: Click Here
Amazon: Click Here
Amazon UK: Click Here
ARe: Click Here
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.
Butler’s Pantry (FB Group): https://www.facebook.com/groups/584417195037925/
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