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Interview with R.S. Penney #Interview

R.S. grew up in Southern Ontario, and has been writing fiction since he was sixteen. He’s always been an advocate of diversity in fiction. He remembers noting, at the age of sixteen, that one big problem in epic fantasy was the fact that all the characters are white. So he tried to create a cast populated by people of all genders, ethnicities, and orientations. If you like genre-bending stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you’ll love his books.

R.S. Penney head shot

Desa Kincaid sounds like a badass protagonist. What inspired her character?

Desa’s origins go all the way back to the fall of 2007. Back then, I was writing – and scrapping –  my very first drafts of the Justice Keepers Saga. The truth is that I was kind of fed up with fantasy as a genre. Have you ever heard the Ramones tell the story of why they got into the music business? They looked at bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis – bands that were famous for concept albums and sprawling, ten-minute-long songs – and said, “No one knows how to have fun anymore.”

This is how I felt about fantasy as a literary genre. I had been reading the Wheel of Time, the Sword of Truth, a Song of Ice and Fire, and other sprawling epics. These series all had a few things in common. They were all “serious fiction.” Lots of politics, lots of angst, not much fun. There was this sense at the time that fantasy had to prove that it wasn’t just a genre for adolescent boys – and I’m glad we made some progress in that regard – but I remember thinking, “I kind of just want to read a story about a character who goes on an epic adventure.”

So, I started a tandem story on, which was a Wheel of Time discussion site. I wrote the first chapter, and Desa was the lead character in that chapter. The earliest version of Desa was very different from the one you see in Bounty Hunter. At the time, she was kind of a dark, pissed-off twin sister to Anna Lenai from the Justice Keeper’s saga. She wanted revenge on the man who killed her father. Not the most original motivation, but I was a young writer back then.

So, when I sat down to write Bounty Hunter last year, I decided to make a few changes. By this point, I was pretty comfortable writing straight, white women. I decided to do something different. I made Desa a woman of colour and a lesbian. To avoid the “fiery Latina” stereotype, I did away with Desa’s anger. And I also made it a point to contrast her with Anna so that I wasn’t writing a different version of the same character. Where Anna is quirky, Desa is eloquent. Where Anna is impulsive, Desa is methodical. I gave her a dialogue style to suggest a scholarly upbringing. (Sometimes, she sounds a little pretentious, and that’s deliberate).

The book description states that Desa can turn ordinary objects into weapons, which is a pretty awesome and unique character trait. Can you give us a sneak peek example of her powers?

Here’s a scene from chapter 4. (It takes place in a stable)

Three men in deputy’s uniforms came barging into the stable. Not the same three that Desa had faced in the street. In fact, the slight difference in cut and colour suggested that these men were from the Glad Meadow’s sheriff’s office.

The one in the middle was tanned with a scraggly beard; she recognized him as the deputy who had stopped her on her way into town. “What did you do to them, witch?” he demanded. “I knew you were trouble when I saw you.”

“They’ll be fine,” Desa promised him. “I sincerely doubt that anyone was seriously injured; allow me to leave without incident, and I promise that your people will be free as soon as I’m gone.”

Of course, the man drew his weapon.

His two lackeys did the same.

In a blink, Desa triggered the Light-Sink in her necklace, draining light energy until the stable was pitch black. She stepped aside to avoid being where they had last seen her. The vicious CRACK, CRACK of gunfire and the feeling of bullets whizzing past told her it was a good move.

Estimating the deputy’s position wasn’t hard.

Desa kicked the gun out of his hand, producing a grunt as the weapon dropped to the floor. That done, she allowed the light to return, and the deputy stood empty-handed, blinking at her. His two companions were both petrified.

Desa spun and back-kicked, driving a foot into the man’s stomach, propelling him backward into one of his companions. Both men fell to the floor, one landing on top of the other. The third deputy managed to aim his weapon.

Reacting by instinct, Desa raised her left hand to shield herself, and her bracelet drank deeply of kinetic energy. The deputy fired with another loud thunderclap, and his bullet stopped dead in midair, mere inches away from Desa.

“Almighty shelter us!” he whispered.

Desa let her arm drop, the bullet falling to the floor, then leaped and kicked the fool square in his chest. That forced him down onto his back, and he landed with a grunt. The other two were rising.

The momentary distraction gave her time to shove her hand into her duster’s pocket and slip on a set of brass knuckles. These, too, had been Infused with a connection to the Ether.

Scraggly-Beard was glaring at her with bared teeth.

He came forward.

Dancing backward through the aisle between stalls, Desa suddenly became aware of the frightened horses. Every last one was whinnying. Except Midnight, of course; he was waiting in his stall and watching the whole scene play out with a kind of halfhearted curiosity. She heard Tommy in the next stall over, desperately trying to quiet his father’s gelding.

Red-faced and fuming, Scraggly-Beard came forward as if he meant to squeeze the life out of Desa with his own bare hands. He probably thought that she had used up all of her “magic,” and now, she was helpless.

Desa let him get close, and then, when he reached for her, she dropped to a crouch and drove her fist into his chest. The brass knuckles released a powerful burst of kinetic energy on contact.

Her enemy was thrown backward like a rock kicked up by a twister. He crashed through the stable doors, knocking one off its hinges, and landed in the yard outside. The other two men gasped.

Which object-to-weapon transition is your favorite?

Part of the fun of Field Binding is that it’s a very versatile magic system. Desa can create different tools or weapons for each situation. Not all of her creations have violent applications. She uses coins that emit heat to cook her dinners without having to set a fire. So, the answer is that I don’t really have a favourite. What I like about this magic system are the creative ways she uses it.

Tell us a little about your villain Bendarian. What makes him evil?

Ooh…I’m gonna have to answer that with a Read and Find Out. Sorry. Spoilers.

If you had to sum up Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter in three words, what would they be?

Cowgirl vs Wizard.

How long does it take you to write a novel, from first draft to final edit?

About four to six months, depending on how many revisions I have to do. Friction and Entanglement both took eight months to finish, but I was recovering from surgery at the time. Desa Kincaid: Bounty Hunter only took four months.

When you first started writing, was there anything about the process that surprised you?

Oof…That’s a tough one. I started writing in 1997. So, it’s kind of hard to remember how I felt back then. What I can tell you is that I was never satisfied with my work, and it took a nervous breakdown for me to decide that I was finished with a novel.

If you could own the first edition of any book, which would it be and why?

Mistborn: The Final Empire. Brandon Sanderson did what I wanted to do: he made fantasy fun again. Mistborn is a wonderful mix of Pride and Prejudice, Star Wars and Oceans 11.

What can we expect next from you? Working on anything new?

There will be another Desa Kincaid book. In fact, I’m planning a trilogy. You should expect Desa Kincaid: Bullets and Bones to come out sometime in 2021. I haven’t even started it yet.

Right now, I’m finishing the tenth book in the Justice Keepers Saga. We just published the seventh. Look forward to the eighth sometime around Christmas. There’s a certain kind of author who loves to write the sprawling epic that unfolds over many books. For Brandon Sanderson, it’s the Stormlight Archive; for Robert Jordan, it’s the Wheel of Time. For me, it’s the Justice Keepers Saga.

The JKS was heavily inspired by Babylon 5. I wanted to do a space opera that unfolded over multiple seasons with the stakes getting higher in each passing year. Four seasons, five books each, and every novel contains two stories that are joined at the hip. So, if they ever televise it – take a moment to chuckle at my delusions of grandeur – there will be ten episodes per season. The tenth book is called Cry Havoc, and it is the mid-point of the series.

Now, if that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. I’ve made it a point to start writing trilogies and stand-alone fiction specifically to appeal to readers who don’t want to commit to twenty books. Desa Kincaid was just the first.

When I finish Cry Havoc – which should be completed before the end of the summer – I plan to start a new stand-alone novel. If I had to describe that in a few words, it would be “Power Rangers vs the Alt-Right.” The project is in its infancy; so, I can’t be very specific.

Finally, you can check out my Patreon for a prequel to the Justice Keepers Saga, one that explores the childhood of one of my most popular character’s.

Now is your chance! Is there anything you’d like to mention that wasn’t asked?

If you like Desa Kincaid, you should give the Keepers Saga a shot! And Symbiosis works quite well as a stand-alone. You can find all that along with more interviews on my website!

And now for a little about the book:

Desa Kincaid has spent the last ten years in pursuit of a man whose experiments have killed over a dozen people.

Blessed with the power to transform ordinary objects into devastating weapons, she journeys through trading ports, backwater towns, forests, deserts and the haunted remains of a dead city.

But can she stop her enemy before he unleashes something terrible on the world?

Desa Kincaid Bounty Hunter book cover

Buy it here on Amazon

Published inInterviews
©Sci-Fi & Scary 2019
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