Thank you for having me! Hi everyone, my name’s Rhi. I have a business degree and work in the retail industry. Boring, right? My childhood was saturated with military culture—being raised an ‘Army brat’ will do that, I guess.
When did you discover your passion for writing? Was there someone in particular who encouraged and inspired your love of storytelling?
My father is a Hoarder of Books and an unrepentant lover of all things Tolkien. He read the entire Lord of the Rings series to us over the course of a few years when I was young. Did all the voices, too. The way he made the story come alive is what made me fall in love with writing. I wanted to make readers see and feel the things I did, when I read. A movie in your head.
What was your first book and how long did it take for it to be published?
My first book was just published this year—Dark Edge of Honor was co-written with Aleksandr Voinov. It took us roughly six weeks to write it, and that long to sell it to Carina Press. My solo debut, Blacker Than Black, is due out from Riptide in December. That one took a couple years to get out.
Is there a particular sub-genre in which you enjoy writing more than others? (i.e. paranormal vs. historical vs. contemporary)
I prefer speculative fiction. My worlds and characters always end up shattering all the rules and reforming them from the ground up, so there isn’t really any other viable label for what I write.
Do you prefer writing in the 1st or the 3rd person? What advantages do you see in writing in one vs. the other?
I think the nature of the story, and the character(s), dictates which one is appropriate. It’s like asking me if I eat with a fork or a spoon—depends on whether I’m having steak or crème brulee, doesn’t it? Blacker Than Black is written in 1st person, present tense, and some will dislike it for that; in the end, though, it was the only way to write the story. If I were to change anything about the way it’s written, it would change the entire impact of the book.
How long does it generally take for you to finish a manuscript?
I can churn out a full length novel in two months, if I have the fleshed out plot arc already constructed in advance. More often, though, it takes me about six to eight months. Outlines are usually just “training wheels” with me – there to keep the story balanced, but not to guide or give direction. That’s up to the characters and the feel of the energy in a given scene.
How much creative input do you have in the cover design for your books?
With Dark Edge of Honor, only a moderate amount. It’s a lovely cover – Sergei has a sexy neck – and we provided the ‘models’ for their likenesses, but ultimately the concept was under the direction of Carina’s marketing team.
Riptide offers a great deal more input and guidance of artistic conceptualization. I must admit that with Blacker Than Black, the artist nailed it with the first mock. And blew my doors off.
Do you write full time? If not, how many hours per day do you attempt to dedicate to your writing?
I’m not a full-time writer—writing doesn’t pay the bills, and I’m as yet uncertain whether I’d embrace that scenario were the opportunity to present itself. On the days I work, I spend a few hours supporting promotional content, and at least an hour—during my meal period at work—writing out scenes or character sketches in longhand.
When I have off, I usually dedicate a full 8 hours each day, if not more, to transcribing notes and writing fresh content.
Do you typically outline your plots before you begin the writing process, or do you write in a more freestyle fashion?
I am increasingly using outlines in my writing, thanks to Scrivener, which has to be hands-down the best writing tool I’ve ever encountered. My plot outlines are less roadmaps and more…training wheels, though. They aren’t a set path, but more a reference to maintain balance and pacing as my characters wander where they please.
How much do your characters resemble you and the people you know?
There are finite pieces with which one can construct an imaginary individual. Granted, there are a large number of feasible permutations. It’s like Lego blocks. There are pieces of me in my characters; there are pieces from people I’ve known. In the end, though, the resulting character doesn’t really “resemble” any of the influencers or inspirations. The creation of a character is often a means by which I take a single Lego, or a handful, and explore them in greater depth. Reconstructing them in a fresh, new way.
How much do you draw upon your own life experiences in your writing?
Although I’m definitely not an adherent to the philosophy “write what you know”—I mean, where would speculative fiction be, if every author did that—there are certainly influences of my life experiences in the stories I tell.
What has been the most difficult topic you’ve ever approached in your writing?
Ah, but I don’t tackle the easy ones—there’s no challenge in it for me, personally. I can say without hesitation that the illusion of gender is the greatest challenge I’ve tackled. Blacker Than Black was penned in first person and present tense in order to facilitate obscuring the narrator’s gender assignment. This was done deliberately, and it was a difficult technique to carry so far into the story.
Of all the characters you’ve created, do you have one in particular who stands out among the others as a favorite? If so, who and why?
I think Black will always be my favorite character. There is so much about the narrator of Blacker Than Black that I can relate to, more than I realized when the concept for the story and character first birthed itself. I’ve actually found new depths of understanding and awareness, for myself, through this character’s existence.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they take away from it?
Hope being the operative word here. A fresh perspective, a new way of seeing their world, of understanding their fellow human beings. I realize that not every reader will see beyond the surface, but I will always hope.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received with respect to the art of writing? How did it change the way you approach your craft?
It was so simple. Just sit down and write. That’s all there was to it. Get the ideas out, on paper. Polishing and editing are completely different creatures than the actual writing, the fashioning of the story itself. Stop trying to make it “right” or “perfect” and just get the story out of your head and onto the paper.
Will you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
As fervently as readers love a story, others will hate it. It’s that way with any book. Pick an author, any author, and you can find a faction of detractors as well as fans. Cultivating a public image is less about being yourself, and more about the professional business icon of “author.” It’s a business, and you have to treat it as such.
Not the writing. The writing, the creation – that is art, must remain art, if a writer wants to continue fashioning stories of quality. But the rest of it, it’s a cross between business and politics, and you have to approach it that way if you want to be successful.
If you were to offer a word of advice to a new author just starting out, what would it be?
Do you generally have the titles of your work planned before you begin writing, or does that occur later on in the writing process?
Titles are like naming children. You give it something that you like, that you feel suits the nature of the story. Sometimes you’re wrong—sometimes the story grows and evolves to give the title a very interesting meaning—and then there are times when the story runs off and changes its name entirely. A good title is a part of the whole marketing package of a book, so I certainly grasp the importance of altering a title at times – but in my mind, it doesn’t change. Like the childhood nickname that sticks with you, through the course of your life.
Digital media—the e-reader/tablet computer/Android apps—is changing the way people access and enjoy books. What pros and/or cons do you see surrounding the business of e-publishing? How do you see digital media evolving in the years to come?
I think that e-publishing does two things well—makes books more affordable, and makes them more accessible. One of the drawbacks is that those same two aspects mean that piracy increases as well—just as it has in every other industry that’s gone digital. It’s a great deal easier to pirate a digital file than it is a print copy.
As for evolution of the digital industry, I doubt it’s going to replace print format books within the next century. Barring that prediction, though, I’m certain it’s a safe bet to say it will continue to expand and increase in market share and influence. Because of that, indies will become a great deal more prevalent. Readers will become more demanding of quality – I don’t think anyone would argue with me if I said that digital technology birthed a glut of low quality publications while in its infancy. The digital format was considered – and by some, still is considered – the format for those not good enough for a print run. I expect that attitude will continue to change, albeit slowly. I’m eager to be on the leading edge of that quality shift, too.
When you have the chance to sit down and enjoy some quiet reading time, what sorts of books are you most likely to pick up? Who are your favorite authors?
Right now, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman’s On Killing is at the top of my stack of reading materials. He has this beautifully presented concept of humans as sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves, which he uses to discuss the modern attitude in society toward the professional soldier—the sheepdog. I’m also in the middle of reading Nicolai Lilin’s Free Fall: A Sniper’s Story from Chechnya about the Second Chechen War. Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor is also in my reading stack.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
If I weren’t an author, you mean? If I weren’t an author, I’d still be a writer. I’ve always been a writer; it’s the artistic medium I use for expression. I cannot separate self from writer. It’s who I am. Were I not an author by definition, I would still be a writer.
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy yoga a great deal. It’s a very peaceful, grounding means of exercise. I also enjoy driving out to the nearby reserve base and watching the helicopters, Chinooks and Black Hawks, on their training flights and exercises. And before the price of fuel made it prohibitive, my real passionate hobby was hopping in the car, heading for the interstate, and just driving. Being behind the wheel of a vehicle with the windows down and the radio blaring is the state where I feel the most balanced and at peace.
If time travel were possible, what time period(s) would you most like to visit? Why?
The future, a few hundred years from now. I’d love to see how the forces currently acting upon society and culture influence the evolution of humanity. And how far technology takes us, where it takes us. The maturation of global community, global culture and society. Isolationism will grow increasingly less viable, going forward. As will intolerance and hate.
If you had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with one famous person, either past or present, who would you choose and why?
Don’t know that I’d torture him with an actual meal, but I’d like to buy Marcus Luttrell a few drinks some time. He is a resilient mind and spirit, and if nothing else I’d enjoy the opportunity to thank him and say, “Welcome home.” If he deigned to let me pick his brain a while, all the better, but far from necessary.
If we were to look around the desk where you sit to write, what would we find there?
A bag of Reese’s Pieces. A wooden box with a silk-wrapped set of tarot cards inside, perched atop a stack of tarot books. An Eye of Fatima hanging on a leather cord, dangling from the joint of my desk lamp. A wine bottle altered to serve as an incense burner. A composition notebook, its pages crammed with longhand. My coffee mug, empty at the moment. (I really should go refill it.) Dried sage smoldering in an ashtray. Magnetic wrist wraps. A deck of Military Aircraft Recognition cards. My brass unicorn, Jan. Random pieces of paper, with notes scribbled on them—driving directions, email addresses, a grocery list.
Nobody’s ever accused me of being a neat freak, that’s for sure!
How would you describe your sense of humor? What makes you laugh?
I will admit I’m self-deprecating in my humor (if you can’t laugh at yourself, you take yourself much too seriously), but I’ve been called sarcastic and witty. I would describe my humor as random and impromptu. Funny things strike me at the oddest times, often inappropriately, but I rarely bother censoring myself.
Do you have an all time favorite fictional character?
Mystique, from the X-Men. She can be anyone she wants, regardless of gender. A fascinating ability. I was never a big fan of comic books when I was a kid, but her character snagged my attention in the movies. She seems driven by less than obvious motives, and the way she’s abandoned when no long a Mutant was especially poignant to me.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Poorly brewed coffee. I like dark roast, when I can’t get espresso. My local coffee shop knows me well. They see me coming, they start brewing shots of espresso and dumping them in their largest sized cup.
Do you have a favorite personal mantra, quote, or saying that describes your outlook on life and the way you approach each day?
Life is not for the faint of heart, nor love for the weak.
Do you speak more than one language? If so, which one(s)?
I studied Spanish for a number of years during high school, and though I’m a bit rusty, I can still speak it. I also know the barest smattering of German, from the years my family lived in Stuttgart. I keep meaning to learn more of it, and strengthen my Spanish back up to where it used to be, but alas—my storytelling definitely eats up my free time.
Of all the modern conveniences, which one would you most likely say you couldn’t live without?
The internet. It has redefined “community” and facilitated a whole new generation that can communicate beyond the barriers of countries, seas, and—at times—differences, to find common ground. I think that creation of a truly global culture is what will ultimately assist humanity in evolving past intolerance and hatred, to an acceptance of one’s fellow man.
Do you have any new projects coming up you’d care to share with us?
I’m working on a military fantasy, another military scifi, and I have a few other speculative fiction pieces floating around out there. And a couple sequels. Yes, I am planning to do sequels. I’ve plenty of stories waiting to be told.
Thank you again for spending some time with us, Rhi. Will you tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
Tumblr: http://soldierporn.tumblr.com and http://allthingstrans.tumblr.com
Goodreads Page: Author Profile
Amazon Author Page: Amazon Author Profile
Google+ : Rhianon Etzweiler
Get your copy of Dark Edge of Honor HERE.
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Leave a comment for Rhianon before 11:59pm Eastern time today (11/15/11) and you’ll automatically be entered in the Riptide First Wave Winner’s Choice give away: Pick any one backlist book from Rachel Haimowitz, Aleksandr Voinov, L.A. Witt, Brita Addams, or Cat Grant (“Frontlist” books, i.e. Riptide releases and newest non-Riptide release, are excluded, as are the Courtland Chronicles). Good Luck!