Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Interview with Rhonda Mason, author of The Empress Game and Giveaway- July 14, 2015

Please welcome Rhonda Mason to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Empress Game is published on July 14th by Titan Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Rhonda a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Rhonda:  Thanks for having me! I’m thrilled to be here. I’m one of those odd ducks that didn’t start writing until college. I have no “look at this story I wrote when I was 6!” moments to share. I have been a life-long reader of epic fantasy, though.

I love love love the heck out of science, and believed all along that I would be a scientist when I grew up. I actually have a degree in Geology and worked for the US EPA as an inorganic chemist. I started writing during my last year of college and I have no idea what spurred it on, to be honest! Probably my frustration with a string of unsatisfying books where I thought, “I can do better than this and I’m not even a writer!”

When the time came to pick a grad school, I was daunted by all of the things a masters program in Geology wanted you to have already done before you could even apply and I realized: “This is not what I want to be doing.”

The “book of my heart” popped into my head at that time (though it’s not the first thing I wrote) and I thought, “I MUST write this.” That’s when I tossed away the idea of going to grad school for Geology and started looking at writing programs.

I’m a hardcore genre fiction girl. I never read (or enjoy) what people call “literary fiction.” At the time, there were less than a handful of programs that dealt with genre fiction. I lucked into finding the Writing Popular Fiction masters program at Seton Hill University and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me and my writing. I’ve been a writer/editor ever since, and I’ve never looked back.

TQAre you a plotter or a pantser or a hybrid?

Rhonda:  I’m a mix, and I think that most writers are, when you get right down to it. Honestly, I’ll use ANY style/tool/plotting/pantsing method I can to get the writing done. Whatever it takes! I started out as a hardcore plotter. When I wrote what I call my practice book, I had the whole thing outlined beginning to end, chapter by chapter, and scene by scene. And for the most part, I stuck with it.

As I got further into writing, I started to lose faith in myself and my ability to write anything publishable. (Having a few novels rejected can really get to you!) My critique partner convinced me to get back into writing by just writing a page a day. Just one page. It could be total crap, it didn’t matter, I just had to write. This was when I was 100 pgs into The Empress Game.

In order to get myself into writing again, I pantsed it for a long while. I just wrote that one page. Then one more, not really knowing where I was going. But, eventually the story took shape and I got a good idea of where I was going and could start outlining a chapter or two ahead.

That’s where I am now, pantsing when I get stuck, outlining a few scenes ahead when I can. Honestly, anything I’ve plotted instead of pantsed comes out better. It’s just a fact for me. When I work out all of the plot points for the scene beforehand, the arc of the characters’ emotions, the setting and resolution of the scene, by the time I’m actually writing it, I can just focus on the words because I’m not figuring that all out as I go. I much prefer to plot, but hey, when the story’s being a pain in my butt and I have no idea what I’m doing, pantsing it is!

Also, I HIGHLY recommend Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing by Libbie Hawker. It’s a super quick read and it got me going when I was stuck.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Rhonda:  Hands down, the hardest thing for me is writing the first draft. I was asked to turn The Empress Game into a trilogy by my publisher, and I admit, I had never considered a book 2 and 3! So all of a sudden, I have no idea where I’m going. I’m really struggling writing the rough draft of book 2.

Rewriting is my favorite. Once I have the bones of the story down, I can do anything. I can improve anything I write. It’s just that first draft that really feels like pulling teeth, for me. I like that common writer saying, “I’m not a writer, I’m a rewriter.”

TQYou work as an editor. How does that affect (or not) your writing?

Rhonda:  Luckily (or unluckily, maybe, because it’s boring) I edit non-fiction, so I don’t have to worry about editing fiction and having that bleed over into my own work. The one problem with also being an editor is that I read words All. Day. Long. Words words words. My brain is fried on them. So it affects my writing time mostly, because I need to do something to take a break from editing and clear my head of words before I can dive into writing. I find napping is great for this. (Isn’t napping always great?) Exercise works great, also, but, nap > exercise any day! ☺

TQWho are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Rhonda:  My absolute favorite author is Melanie Rawn. Hands down. I read her Sunrunner Trilogy in middle school and it has stuck with me ever since. Sunrunning is to this day the most unique and beautiful magic set I have read in epic fantasy.

It might be cliché, but The Grimms Brothers also had a huge influence on me. I had collection of their stories and I read the heck out of it as a child. I would stay in bed late on a weekend morning just to reread them.

When I read the character of Del in Jennifer Roberson’s Sword-Dancer, I fell in love. THAT, I thought, is who I want my characters to be like. Such power and grace. That’s when I realized that I wanted to tell the stories of badass female heroes.

And my love for the Space Opera genre came, surprisingly, from reading what was at the time called Futuristic Romance but which is now being called Sci-Fi Romance or SFR. Being a fantasy reader and not a sci-fi reader, I didn’t realize such a subgenre as Space Opera existed. Once I realized I could use the same type of setting as SFR but go deeper into the plot than a typical romance did, I was hooked. Of course, I still have romantic subplots in my book—otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading! (imo)

TQDescribe The Empress Game in 140 characters or less.

Rhonda:  Shoot! This is the hardest question on here! OK, let me give it a shot:

Exiled and hunted, fighter Kayla longs to return home. She can—if she wins an intergalatic tournament and puts her enemy on the throne.

How’s that for a first shot? Usually it takes me 10 minutes to answer the question “what is your book about?”

Let me know if you come up with something better and I’ll steal it ;-)

TQTell us something about The Empress Game that is not found in the book description.

Rhonda:  Oooo! Tough pick! (*busts out her copy of EG and rereads the back cover*) OK, let me tell you my favorite element and the element that is most central to Kayla’s character. Kayla is an exiled Wyrd from a planet of people with psionic powers. She is a ro’haar, one half of a bonded pair. She was born a twin, with a brother, who is her il’haar. She was raised to be his physical protector (women are the larger gender on their planet) and he was raised to be her psionic protector (men are the stronger psionics). This bond is incredibly strong, but Kayla’s il’haar was killed. Now she and her younger brother, Corinth, are all that is left of their family. (His ro’haar was also killed). Kayla’s entire life is dedicated to being ro’haar to Corinth, and she will stop at nothing to see him safe. Nothing.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Empress Game? What appealed to you about writing Science Fiction, especially Space Opera? What is a 'Space Opera'?

Rhonda:  To me, Space Opera is pretty much “Space Fantasy” or “Fantasy With Ray Guns” as I jokingly say. It’s got the expansive storylines of epic fantasy, but also a futuristic setting (for the most part).

Here’s Wikipedia’s definition: Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that often emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, weapons, and other technology.

I’ll take it.

What do I love about space opera? Hmm. Besides everything? ;-) I have to say I love the mash up of science fiction and action-adventure. I’m a soft sci-fi girl for the most part, so space opera suits me well that way. Character and character interaction has always been my main driver, so being able to focus on that while also making use of advanced tech, varied settings and the enormity of a civilization in space is what makes space opera one of my favorite genres to write.

It should be noted that the term space opera was introduced as a pejorative. Now, though, we fans and writers embrace it. Firefly, anyone?

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Empress Game?

Rhonda:  Raise your hand if you hate research. Oh, just me? Darn.

The one kind of research I actually enjoy is (not surprisingly) research on weapons and fighting techniques. I did a lot of research for every one of the fights in The Empress Game. This included researching judo takedowns, rapier fighting (my research took me to early modern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries for that), MMA techniques, bōjutsu (here I went with a karate style) and tae kwon do for the empty-hand fighting techniques. I have a background in karate and tae kwon do, but I still did a lot of research to make things as realistic as possible.

My other (ongoing) research project is the mechanism by which the Tetrotock Nanovirus is replicating itself. It needs raw materials to create more nanobots and it has been taking them from the humans it infests. Right now I’m leaning toward using enzyme catalysis to break down the body, allowing the nanobots to use the freed organic components to build more of themselves.

(Can you tell I’m not a virologist?) It’s a work in progress, since the exact mechanism wasn’t needed in book 1.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Rhonda:  Kayla is the easiest, no question. She just comes natural to me. I think when she came to page one, she was already mostly formed. A) I love writing about badassery and B) I love writing guarded and emotionally damaged characters.

The hardest for me is the main villain. I wanted them to be believable while still being menacing, dangerous, and somewhat evil. True evil, I think, is rare, so it’s a challenge to encapsulate that in a character without turning them into a caricature.

TQWhich question about The Empress Game do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Rhonda:  The question I wish someone would ask, just so I can get this out there for public record, is, Why did you title your book The Empress Game when The Hunger Games is already out there and people might think you somehow copied it?

Here’s my answer:

I started this book YEARS ago. Many years ago. Long before The Hunger Games had been published. Then, I took five years off from writing. When I came back to the book, The Hunger Games had come out and I was like, “DAMNIT!”

I wrote EG with that title anyway, though, because it’s the perfect title for the book. The book is about both the tournament itself, called the Empress Game, but also the political/social games people play when there’s going to be a major shift in power in the empire. So The Empress Tournament or The Empress Battle just didn’t work as well.

Nonetheless, I am aware that the title kind of looks bad, so when I pitched it to my agent I retitled it Empress Ascendant. He agreed to take me on for this book, and said, “Why don’t we rename it The Empress Game?”


I tried again when the publisher bought it to change the name because I was worried what people would think, but my editor tossed out every suggestion I came up with and kept the title. Both she and my agent said, “no one will think anything of the name similarity!”

I hope they’re right. But let it be known! I came up with this book before The Hunger Games and I am still cursing Suzanne Collins for stealing my thunder! ;-)

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Empress Game.

Rhonda:  Here’s an early one:

Malkor – “I mean to make you an offer you can’t refuse, Shadow.”

Kayla – ““And I mean to sheathe my kris in something soft if you don’t back the frutt up and get out of my room. Now.”

(They start off on the wrong foot ;-) )

This bit’s in Kayla’s POV:

Kayla surrendered.

She made her apologies to Bishop She-Had-No-Idea-Who, murmured her intention to Isonde, then slunk to a free chair she spied along the wall. She kept the princess in sight as she sat gingerly, easing stiff legs with a sigh. Her throat rasped when she laughed at her own predicament: bested by diplomats. The roar of endless conversation washed over her, nothing but babble at this point. The chair’s cradle beckoned sleep.

TQWhat's next?

Rhonda:  I’m currently working on book 2 of The Empress Game trilogy, which I’m tentatively calling Cloak of War. After that it’ll be book 3.

Down the line, I’m looking forward to getting back to my fantasy roots. Once The Empress Game is wrapped up I’m hoping to work on a fantasy series that I started a while back. The fantasy novel is set on a chain of volcanic islands, with an interconnected island nation culture. The islands have no naturally occurring metallic ore, so all of their building materials/weapons/modes of transportation are limited to materials such as wood, bone, stone, fibers, sharks’ teeth, etc. For the first time in my life, I am gaga for worldbuilding! The limitation of having no metallic ore provides fascinating opportunities for ingenuity and it’s amazing how much the worldbuilding is driving the plot.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Rhonda:  Thank you so much for the opportunity! It was great of you to host me.

The Empress Game
The Empress Game Trilogy 1
Titan Books, July 14, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

One seat on the intergalactic Sakien Empire’s supreme ruling body, the Council of Seven, remains unfilled, that of the Empress Apparent. The seat isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in a tournament of ritualized combat in the ancient tradition. Now that tournament, the Empress Game, has been called and the women of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds. Kayla Reunimon, a supreme fighter, is called to battle it out in the arena.

The battle for political power isn’t contained by the tournament’s ring, however. The empire’s elite gather to forge, strengthen or betray alliances in a dance that will determine the fate of the empire for a generation. With the empire wracked by a rising nanovirus plague and stretched thin by an ill-advised planet-wide occupation of Ordoch in enemy territory, everything rests on the woman who rises to the top.

About Rhonda

Rhonda Mason divides her time between writing, editing, bulldogs and beaching. Her writing spans the gamut of speculative fiction, from space opera to epic fantasy to urban paranormal and back again. The only thing limiting her energy for fantastical worlds is the space-time continuum. When not creating worlds she edits for a living, and follows her marine biologist husband to the nearest beach. In between preserving sea grass and deterring invasive species, she snorkels every chance she gets. Her rescue bulldog, Grace, is her baby and faithful companion. Grace follow her everywhere, as long as she’s within distance of a couch Grace can sleep on. Rhonda is a graduate of the Writing Popular Fiction masters program at Seton Hill University, and recommends it to all genre writers interested in furthering their craft at the graduate level.

You can find Rhonda at www.RhondaMason.com.

Twitter @RMasonWriter  ~  Facebook  ~  Blog

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a signed copy of The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason from the author!

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on July 23, 2015. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I have to admit that that awesome cover first drew me in :) But I think the premise of it sounds intriguing :) Congrats to Rhonda on her new release!!!

  2. The Empress game is fascinating and intriguing. Thanks for this great feature and wonderful giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  3. A great post thank you. Yes, the cover does invite exploration.