Some Thoughts with … Angela Boord
Angela Boord writes giant fantasy books that like to blend genres–from romance and historical to espionage and epic and beyond—and explore character in all its messy glory. Her debut book FORTUNE’S FOOL, a twisty, Renaissance-inspired historical fantasy, placed second in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blogoff (SPFBO5) and was nominated for a Stabby in 2019. Angela lives in northern Mississippi with her husband and children, where she writes most of her books at the kitchen table surrounded by Nerf guns and Legos.
Welcome to my favourite section of the blog, interviewing the authors. Today we are accompanied by Angela Boord, crafter of big chonky books, like Fortune’s Fool, and a marvelous person.
Let’s dive in!
1.- Fortune’s Fool is your debut novel, did you find many difficulties during the writing process?
Lots! Fortune’s Fool was the first book I ever finished, and I chose it to publish first because it was less complicated and more complete than my other projects at the time, but it definitely wasn’t easy. I wrote it in two stages: the rough draft when I had three kids, and the revised, published version over ten years later, when I had nine kids. It spent a decade in my closet, and the rough draft had a giant hole in the plot I couldn’t figure out, so I just skipped that part. When I pulled the manuscript out of my closet where it had sat for a decade, I found I had a lot of work to do in order to portray Kyrra and Arsenault’s relationship the way I wanted to. Between cutting and adding, my revisions were probably the equivalent of writing a small novel on top of revising everything that could stay. I did one whole pass where I just concentrated on Arsenault’s dialogue…and the bathhouse sequence made me pull out my hair; I was stuck on that logistically for so long, I couldn’t figure out a way to get them out.
And then I did another big, messy revision after getting feedback from my beta readers about the structure (which was awful, even in that second draft, the pacing was all off). So, I reshuffled all the chapters and added whole new ones (Razi was a late addition, as were the chapters in the market where Kyrra tricks Arsenault into eating fried silkworms.)
So, yes, there were definitely times I questioned my sanity! But I had some great beta readers who really helped me get the book much closer to my vision. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.
2.- I found young Kyrra really likeable, like an undefeated puppy, what did you inspire to write her?
It’s funny with the dual timelines because readers tend to fall into two groups: #TeamYoungKyrra and #TeamPresentKyrra. I’m not really sure she was inspired by anybody or anything; she actually just showed up in my head one day, and then I was chasing her through the story, trying to figure out who she was in the writing. I don’t think I really meant to make her so persistent, but if I’m ever stuck and ask, “What would Kyrra do” the answer won’t always be the smart thing, but there’s never a time when you could say, “well, she’s hurt and exhausted and things look really bad and she’ll probably just give up.” One of my beta readers called her “relentless”, and I think that’s accurate.
But really, I think young Kyrra’s narrative is all about agency. I didn’t want to paint her as a victim, even though terrible things happen to her. I wanted to show her struggling with her circumstances and moving the plot, even if it was in very small ways. I wanted to show how Kyrra was dealing with the consequences of her own bad decision—but at the same time, I wanted to show how she was battling to redefine herself. I think that’s the core of agency. It’s not characters in big battles and sword fights with lots of explosions. It’s characters struggling to be in charge of who they are, and making the tiniest decisions that make them the authors of their own lives, of who they are inside—no matter what outer circumstances they find themselves in.
3.- I think the mix of cultures in your world is really interesting, could you tell us more about which ones did you take as models?
When I first had the idea for the story which became Fortune’s Fool, I knew I wanted to give the world a Renaissance feel. I was tired of reading generic medieval fantasies, and I thought if I was going to write a story based on my own version of Renaissance Italy, I wanted to set it in a big Mediterranean-styled world. So, the ancient Eterean Empire is actually my idea of what would have happened if the Etruscans had an empire and not the Romans. The Qalfan Empire is inspired by the Persians, and their religion is inspired by Zoroastrianism. I drew on ancient Carthage to make Tiresia. Rojornick, where Kyrra spends her years as a mercenary, is kind of an amalgam of Balkan countries but with a dose of my reading about Russian history. And Dakkar, where Jon Barra is from, is based on medieval West African kingdoms. I have a degree in anthropology and I’ve always been fascinated by the diversity of history and culture in our world, and I wanted to make a fantasy world that also included that kind of depth and richness.
4.- Stabby nominee, SPFBO finalist, did you expect such success with the novel?
Definitely not! I thought I had a good story and that the writing was decent and ready for publication. I knew I had written a book I felt I could be proud of. But when you throw a book out into the world, you never really know how readers are going to interact with it. There’s always an element of randomness involved, and all you can do is write the best you can and work as hard as you can, because it’s difficult (or impossible) to control success. Especially in a contest like SPFBO, where great books often don’t even make semifinals. When I entered SPFBO, I was worried about how the SPFBO judges would react to the romance, which is a big part of the book. (In fact, I wasn’t sure how epic fantasy readers, in general, would react to the romance, but it turns out that many of them have liked it a lot.) And sometimes, before I published, when I was revising, the book just seemed so different that I wasn’t sure how many people would want to read it. There were moments when I had to talk myself into publishing by telling myself, “If only five people pick it up, it will be worth doing.” Since I had given up on writing for so long, I felt like just following through on revising and publishing the book would be a huge victory.
5.- Is there any character that you could say it’s your favourite?
I really like all my characters in one way or another, but Razi is one of my favorites. Diana Gabaldon calls some of her characters “mushrooms” in that you don’t plan on them, they just pop up out of nowhere and kind of take over their scenes. That’s definitely Razi. He didn’t choose to make his dramatic entrance to the story until two weeks before I was due to send the manuscript to my copy editor. I needed something in the present narrative, but I wasn’t sure what…I didn’t want to add another character, but he kept bugging me in the back of my mind. So, finally I gave in and wrote the chapter where Kyrra is sitting, drinking with him and Nibas, and they’re looking up into the nose of the god’s statue. One chapter turned into several, and I had to go back and rewrite the first chapter to put him into it.
Including Razi turned out to be an excellent decision, though, because he also seems to be a fan favorite. After I finished Fortune’s Fool, I asked my beta readers to vote on a “short” story for me to write, and they unanimously voted for the story of how Kyrra met Razi… which turned into my long prequel novella (definitely not a short story), Smuggler’s Fortune. His hedonistic energy just tends to pull the story along and writing his banter –with both Kyrra and Nibas—is a lot of fun. I also like that he’s not just the hedonistic character. He’s got a lot of depth and a heart of gold, and I’m excited to keep writing about him.
6.- What made you decide for the self-publish route?
The length of my books. Actually, I decided to self-publish Fortune’s Fool because I was working on a different book from a different series which went really long and will be published in late October 2022 with the title Through Dreams So Dark. I was trying to be objective about gathering information about both trad publishing and self-publishing at the time. But Dreams kept getting longer and longer, and I knew Fortune’s Fool was sitting at 220,000 words… So, ultimately, I didn’t think any agents would look at a debut with that word count, and my manuscripts had already sat in a closet for ten years, I didn’t want to spend even more years gathering rejections. Or to push them aside to write something shorter and maybe more marketable for trad. I’d discovered SPFBO in the course of my research and I was convinced indies were writing some of the best fantasy out there. So…I decided to take a leap of faith. Honestly, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s definitely not easy, but I have zero regrets.
7.- I saw on your socials that you are a big fan of fountain pens and ink, so let me ask, which is your favourite ink and why?
I have a few! I write and edit by hand frequently, and every character has their own color which seems to fit them best. (Or at least this is the excuse I use to build my ink collection.) Right now, my favorites are Tanzanite Sky by Ferris Wheel Press, which is a kind of blue-violet-black, depending on what light you see it in… it goes down very thick and wet, which I like. I also like River of Fire by Robert Oster, and Black Cherry by Private Reserve—which is essential when I’m working on the Eterean Empire books, because Kyrra and her allies like a nice burgundy. Most of my favorite inks are dark or blended colors.
8.- What can we expect from Angela Boord in the future?
Hopefully, in the next year—two big books and some shorter stories or novellas! Through Dreams So Dark, which is a Cold War portal fantasy and the first book in the Rai Ascendant series, is scheduled to release on October 27. Right after that, The Alchemy of Sorrow will be available, which contains an Eterean Empire story about a mercenary dealing with the grief of a broken marriage (and a little Easter egg about Kyrra). Fool’s Promise, the sequel to Fortune’s Fool, will be out in 2023—that one’s given me a lot of problems, but I feel like I’m making progress now—and I have a couple of novellas in both series that are in varying stages of progress. So, the rest of 2022 and 2023 should be busy!