Interview with Betsy Dornbusch

In 2012 Betsy Dornbusch launched her urban fantasy series, Sentinel, with Archive of Fire, featuring demidemons rebelling against the demon king Asmodai. She also writes a space operotica series Salt Road Saga, the first of which is Lost Prince. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online venues such as Sinister Tales, Big Pulp, Story Portal, and Spinetingler, and her work is in the anthologies Tasty Little Tales and Deadly by the Dozen. She’s been an editor with the ezine Electric Spec for six years and regularly speaks at fan conventions and writers’ conferences. She’s the sole proprietor of Sex Scenes at Starbucks ( where you can believe most of what she writes. In her free time, she snowboards, air jams at punk rock concerts, and just started following Rockies baseball, of all things. Betsy is represented by Sara Megibow, Nelson Literary Agency.

1.       What was your path to publication? How did you really get your start?

My first short story appeared in Spinetingler in 2006. Most spec fic writers I know got their start in short stories. They teach you to write, to finish, to submit, to endure rejection, to learn about the industry, to learn how to be edited, to persevere and keep submitting…I could go on and on about the value of writing short fiction, especially if you plan to write science fiction or fantasy.

Book-wise, I got offered a contract to write in an acquaintance’s erotica franchise about a vampire dating service a few years ago. I took erotica on as a creative challenge and found I really liked it. My latest sale is a two book deal with Night Shade. It’s an epic fantasy about a man who is falsely convicted for murdering his wife and for the use of illegal magic, and he’s banished to an enemy country for the crime. It’s part political thriller, part mystery, part social commentary on prejudice, and hopefully a whole lot of fun for readers.

2.       What is your stance on the traditional vs self-publishing debate? What about print vs. electronic?

Ah jeez, HUGE question, and I have to admit, one I’m pretty tired of talking about, having just gotten back from a conference with Mark Coker and Donald Maass. I’ll approach it from my own career cuz your mileage may vary.

Traditional (from Big 6 to a small press) over self-publishing; print and electronic (and audio and foreign) over eBook only. The traditional print industry still has by far the best distribution system. Electronic books only account for about 14 % of the market, though of course it’s growing.

I’m also in favor of editors who work for publishers over editors who work for writers. Advances, salaried jobs, loyalty to their employer, and experience means an in-house editor is significantly financially invested in creating a very saleable book. There are good freelance editors out there, of course. But I prefer the employed sort.

Don’t get me wrong. I love eBooks and I read mostly on my Kindle app now. But I disagree with the 99c eBook, and sometimes even the 2.99 price point. It devalues all writers’ hard work and typically readers get what they pay for. That said, I think it won’t be a problem much longer; readers are getting savvy to pricing mechanisms like that. It’s my belief most readers will even tire of and ignore the free book marketing phenomenon. Personally, as a reader, I’m comfortable with eBooks costing about the same as a mass market paperback.

Never mind about the DOJ case against publishers and Apple. Much smarter people than me have much smarter things to say about it.

All that said, writers have more choices than ever before to get read, which is good for all of us. More power to you if you end up the next Joe Konrath. Just remember Joe spent a long time in the traditional publishing trenches before he hit Amazon.

3.       How did you become involved with Electric Spec?

My partners, Dave Hughes, Lesley Smith, and one retired editor, had just started the magazine six years ago when I joined their critique group. They asked me to come aboard on the second issue and I’ve been editing ever since. I just met one of our authors this weekend, in fact. So cool! It’s a total labor of love for the staff at Electric Spec.

4.       When you decided to sign with an agent, what made you choose Nelson Literary Agency over a NYC agency?

Put it this way: I’m a networking fiend (preferably with cocktail in hand) and my network paid off in helping me find Sara Megibow. It’s also a story of perseverance; Kristin Nelson gave me my first official agent rejection (along with a very helpful letter chock full of writing advice) eight years ago.

Nelson Literary Agency has a proven track record of sales, rock solid ethics, and are preparing to celebrate their 10th anniversary this year. As for their being in Denver, the world, especially the publishing world, is a very small place. Location matters less and less. Plus, bonus! Sara and I can go to lunch sometimes.

5.       What is a space operotica?

It’s my term for an erotic space opera–kind of a joke, really, but people really like the term. You never know what’s going to catch on, even if it is my job to know.

6.       In what way is Lost Prince an homage to Star Wars?

It’s got dog fights in space, a destroyed planet reminiscent of Tatooine, a deposed prince, a rebellion…  But there are definite differences, primarily the Salt Road, which is a Coalition-controlled trade route spanning six galaxies. But Katriel and Aric don’t fit the Star Wars Doe-Eyed Hero mold. My characters are my own.

7.       What’s the difference between Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction?

Speculative fiction is an all encompassing term for any fiction genre that speculates on reality, including Science Fiction, Fantasy, supernatural horror, and all the sub-genres therein.

8.       A little birdie told me I should ask you about the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever had published, in any manner? What was it?

I’m proud of all my books and stories. What I’m less proud of is when I get dragged into political conversations on Facebook. It’s an off-limits topic for me now.

9.       Your blog is called “Sex Scenes at Starbucks.” Does this refer to something that is written at Starbucks or something that happens at Starbucks?

It has lots of meanings, actually, from acronyms to tongue-in-cheek meanings that really only longtime readers would understand. It’s a recognizable handle though, which has paid dividends over the years.

The guy with the harmonica sang and played harmonica in a hotel bar for me for an hour when I was at a con. Things like this happen to me all the time. I don’t know why.

10.   Do you have rules for how steamy you write your sex scenes?

No rules. The characters decide and anything goes.

11.   Is your wholesome-looking profile picture misleading to readers? 🙂

The joke here is that I just made a gritty flyer for some upcoming signings and my picture doesn’t really fit in. To my credit, the rest of that outfit consisted of a bare back, f***-me heels, and ripped up rock star jeans. So the cropped picture is very misleading.

12.   I’ve had authors send me pictures of their pets, bookshelves, and artwork, but never guns! Is this a Colorado thing?

No, it’s a husband thing. He got me a couple of pistols for my birthday last year. The big one, the HK USP, is the closest thing on the market to my character Kaelin’s gun: the HK MK 23 . The USP  is the newer civilian version, replacing the Mark 23. The MK23 is generally acknowledged as one of the most accurate handguns ever made, it’s damn near indestructable. It was adopted by USSOCOM in the 90s and I think I read somewhere a lot of SEALs carry it too.

The cute little green Walther .22 is a handgun I can actually shoot. The USP is tough for me to fire; my hands are small and the slide is stiff. Just loading the clip is tough for my little fingers.

The pearls in the pic were a gift the hubbins brought me from Turkey.

And I do have a dog, Hannah, sprawled there on my Scheherazade’s rug, also fromTurkey. Plus my robots and some of my religious collection. I love old religious art and icons and would have a houseful if I could afford it.


13. When you’re stuck in a rut, how do you twist yourself out of it?

I don’t get stuck very often because I plot. I write a log line for my idea and run it by several people until I’m confident it’s compelling, plus I write jacket copy. Then I write a fairly detailed synopsis, say 2-3 single-spaced pages, and I write from that.
I also find sitting two characters down and letting them argue it out solves a lot of problems.

When all else fails, I vacuum. That gets my ass back in the chair pretty quick.

14.   What is your favorite electronic or digital writing tool?

My laptop in one of the comfy leather chairs in my office is my favorite spot. Also I’ve written a little on the iPad. I’m reading a forthcoming project and making notes for editing on the iPad right now.

15.   What is your favorite non-electronic writing tool?

My story bibles are 8×10 unlined moleskins. I’m a long time artist (used to be a pro) and doodler and they are filled with notes, clippings from magazines, reviews, and drawings. Sometimes I draw pictures and color them in. It gives me time to think. I think a lot during the day.

16.   What is the most persistent distraction from writing?

I write an epic online story with a friend involving all our characters from both our books. We just threw them all together to see what they do, like fanfic of our own books. It’s loads of fun and 100% creative because it’ll never be seen by anyone else. My character Saxen, who figures prominently in the second Sentinel book and is in a recent clip featured at Sex Scenes, was born there.

17.   What is your ideal writing environment? Have you ever been able to create it?

My ideal environment comes from within.

Ha! I just threw up a little in my mouth. How pretentious is that? I have writer buddies who’ll slap me upside the head next time we hang at a convention bar.

But seriously, I get settled in the story and eager to find out what happens next; more eager than any other thing in my life. That’s writing Heaven for me. Doesn’t matter where I sit; I’ve written books at my kitchen table with my baby daughter playing at my feet, poolside in Jamaica, airplanes, bed, outside on my back patio, in bars. I called bullshit on the “perfect environment” for myself a long time ago. It’d just be another excuse.

Interestingly, I just had a conversation with a friend about writing in hotel rooms. We have a full schedule of cons this year and are also both on tight deadlines. We both recently bought wireless keyboards for our iPads, which work great going through airport security and are so much easier to deal with than laptops. When I’m in England later in the summer I plan on getting up in the mornings to write each day. We’ll see. It’s interesting to note that at the conference I was just at, I heard Robert Crais, Jeff Deaver, and Kevin Anderson all disappeared up to their rooms to write.

18.   What social media do you use? Do you combine your personal and professional or keep them separate?

Mostly Facebook and my blog, but my agent is big on Twitter so I’m getting sucked in. I’m on Google+ too, mostly for the erotica crowd. Oh, and Goodreads.

I had an anonymous online persona for a number of years. My cover got blown when I started selling stories, and then my picture appeared in Locus a few years ago. Now my public persona has taken over the personal online. I’m a longtime punk rock fan and one of my friends just told me the punk look ages well. I choose to believe her, so I’m pretty much a rock star all the time now. (Favorite hotel: Hard Rock Hotel.) I take the view that I’m an entertainer and my job is to be entertaining as a person and as a writer. That said, when I’m at home writing or hanging with my good friends…not so much rock star. More mommy or drinking buddy, preferably in my jammies.

19.   What is your editing/rewrite process?

I revise the previous day’s work before throwing down new words. By the time I finish a book, I can’t really call it a first draft because I’ve been doing rolling revisions the whole time. I hate writing balls-to-the-wall without stopping and massive rewrites drive me mad. Since I work with editors and my agent now, plus my critique groups, I have a lot of good help along the way. For instance, LOST PRINCE was drafted, I re-read it once, and turned it in. Any mistakes belong to my editor, lol. Nah, he was fabulous and really made it a better book.

20.   Who shot first, Han or Greedo?

Duh. Han.

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About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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