Friday, November 1, 2013

Author! Author! ASTRID AMARA

This month's interview subject is the wildly talented and always amusing Astrid Amara. You may know Astrid through her classic rom com Hanukkah novellas and/or her brilliantly original epic fantasy novels. I would usually try to burble on a bit but I have succumbed to the flu, so I can only say that I love Astrid's work and I'm delighted to have her here on the blog.

In her words, here's Miz Amara.

Okay, Pony Girl. Come on. Explain about the horses. Is it true you are the Imelda Marcos of the Equestrian World? How many equines do you actually own? Is that horse on your website yours? Or are you just stalking him?

Oh I *wish* the horse on my website was mine! Actually, strike that – I only want that horse if I’m a millionaire and can afford barn slaves, because it takes a hell of a lot of work to keep a grey horse clean. That’s why my dream horse is a black Arabian gelding….

I actually only own ONE equine, but he’s enough for me. He’s a 20 year old asshole of a smarty pants, all gentleman until he sees a pretty mare. He’s a Polish Arabian, and in a former life before I owned him he won dozens of amateur dressage competitions. Now he and I fart around and pretend to do dressage when we’re feeling ambitious, and go for lazy strolls around the countryside by his pasture when we’re not.

He is scared of the color white, butterflies, and that sunspot that appears on the arena floor. He is NOT scared of me, little dogs, or the horse-sized soccer ball he rolls across the arena for treats.
I love him to death; and I owe all my readers for being able to have him, because my Porn for Ponies is more than just a clever name. It’s what allowed me to buy him, feed him, and tend to his medical issues.

 What's the last piece of music you listened to? Did you sing along?

My favorite album to write to at the moment is Woodkid’s The Golden Age, because not only are his videos amazing, but Iron is the best song to write a cavalry story to. Watch the video for “Run Boy Run” on Youtube now if you haven’t seen it. Seriously. Do it. Now.

I cannot wait for The Devil Lancer, your upcoming AU Crimean War epic. What's the best part of the Crimean War?

“The best” is a hard thing to define in this circumstance – I think the thing that most impresses me about the Crimean War was the absolute, insane levels of bravery and honor the soldiers had, on both sides. This was an atrocious war, fought for a stupid reason, in terrible conditions, under idiotic leadership, and these men accomplished incredible feats.

It was hard to write because I wanted to throw in every little detail about the war that I came across. Choosing what was relevant to the story and what was just being included for the gore factor was difficult for me.

Who is your all time favorite villain?

Ooh, good one. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the first one who comes to mind. As a Trekkie and Benedict Cumberbatch fan, the new  Khan is pretty hot. Er… I mean “scary.”

What do you love most about writing? What do you like least?

I love the finished product, two months later, when I have a chance to re-read my work and go, ok, that’s what I wanted to read. Before that I hate the whole thing. I hate sitting down and writing. I hate difficult plotting problems. I hate middles. Deadlines stress me and without them I do nothing. And when I’m working on a project every page I read is the worst drivel I’ve ever come across. I can’t stand my own story as soon as I finished it – I always need several weeks before I can bare to re-read it, and there are a few stories out there I still can’t re-read because I don’t like them.

What do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?

Motivation is important – I hate bad guys that are just bad for no reason (I call it the Orc Problem). There has to be a reason they suck. And our good guys have to have bad traits too. So I think it’s crucial to conceive of your character as a fully-rounded human being. Base them on a real person if that helps. Do character worksheets and plan out their whole life if you have to – but remember they need to be like the rest of us, with good days and bad days, things that make them angry, things they aren’t good at, things they’re GREAT at, etc.

Have you ever broken a bone?

Oh, the bitter irony! When I started responding to your interview questions I could say no. But since I started this interview, my horse stepped on my pinky toe and broke it! I was walking him past a field where there are cute mini horses and he gets all insecure because they’re tougher than him. And when he’s busy ogling  something like a horse or a plastic bag he doesn’t pay attention to where he’s walking.

But that won’t stop me! As Steven Wright put it, “I intend to live forever. So far, so good.”

You're an astonishingly versatile writer, penning everything from adorable romantic comedies to these intense epic AU historical fantasies. Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid?

Hard-core science fiction, with lots of that “science” stuff, scares me, mostly because I’m not very informed when it comes to physics and chemistry, and even many aspects of biology stump me. But I really respect stories that stay true to the real laws of physics and are scientifically feasible.
And I do want to tackle what I fondly call my “Anti-Twilight” series – a 2-3 book young adult scifi/fantasy series for young girls. I’m scared because it’s not what I read, but I think the challenge of writing something like that, out of my comfort zone, might be kind of fun.

Is it true about Jewish Guilt?

I just closed my bedroom window so my brother can have more air. Does that count?

What are you working on now?

I’m going to take a second crack at a story I started a few years ago and never finished. It’s an amalgam inspired by books I was reading at the time – one on homesteaders, one on the cholera epidemic of London, one on diamond mining. It’s the story of a doctor who has to work in a remote homesteader outpost when an epidemic breaks out, killing large numbers of the population. He has to team up with the local reverend to investigate what is killing the townsfolk and why only certain members of the population are falling ill. And of course there’s some secrets that draw the two men closer…

All time favorite dessert. Do you have the recipe?

If you love chocolate and love mint flavor, these brownies will KILL you with happy. Be warned: Don’t eat the thick dark chocolate layer on top by itself, it tastes bitter on its own because its bitter chocolate. But when you bite into it with the rest of the brownie?.... Hells Yeah.

Chocolate Peppermint Bars

Layer #1 Ingredients:
2 oz. unsweetened bitter chocolate
½ cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup sifted flour
½ cup chopped almonds (optional)
Layer #2 Ingredients:
1½ cup powdered sugar
3 T butter
1-3 T milk
1 t peppermint extract
Green food coloring
Layer #3 Ingredients:
3 oz. bitter chocolate
3T butter

1. Melt chocolate and butter in a pan.
2. Cream eggs and sugar together in a bowl.
3. Add flour and chocolate mixture to bowl and mix well.
4. Grease an 8X8 pan and pour in the batter.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn of heat and bake another half a minute. Let cool completely before next steps.
6. Cream together sugar and butter in a bowl.
7. Blend in peppermint extract and milk – enough milk to make the icing, not too liquidy but spreadable.
8. Add green food coloring to tint the icing.
9. Spread icing onto cooled first layer and chill.
10. For third layer melt chocolate and butter in a pan.
11. Pour evenly on top of cooled icing.
12. Chill for at least 1 hour, enough time to harden the top chocolate layer. Cut into squares.

You are one of the funniest people I haven't yet actually met. Say something funny.

Wow that’s no pressure. The funny part of my brain is actually small, since most of my brain is consumed with sleeping and ponies. Here, I drew you a picture of why I can’t be funny on the spot.

 Are you a full-time writer?

I wish. I really do. But alas I am also materialistic, which means I like having a nice house and heat and a boot collection, not to mention my expensive equestrian habits, four dogs, two goats, and a husband who likes to cook with organic ingredients. So yeah, I work for The Man during the day. At night I go, “fuck you, Man!” and rebelliously don’t pay my parking ticket.

 What's out next? Are we going to see more of the Bellskis?

I’m not sure! It’s always exciting planning out what I’ll write next. Once I finish a Hanukkah story I tend to make promises to myself like “I’ll never ever ever do that again waaaaaah” because writing up-beat, romantic comedies aren’t really my natural mode, they are hard for me. I usually have to counter every happy story I write with something replete with explosions, bloody wounds, heartbreak, and excessive violence to fuel me through the next happy ending.

The Bellskis are my favorite couple of all the ones I’ve written in contemporary romance, so I would like to try something else with them – but it’s also hard because you reach a point where you’ve put your characters through a lot. After a while you’re like – “leave him alone!”

Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!

I once fell in a manhole.

Like, a perfect, Astrid-sized manhole. I was walking along the road with friends in Central Asia, where all the manholes have been stolen and melted down. Anyway, one second I’m just chatting “blah blah ermergerd blah” and then I’m in a hole.

I fell straight in, which sort of defies physics, in that I didn’t  hit the sides or anything. I had a large friend with me and he reached down and immediately lifted me out of the hole. He tried to ask “are you all right” before bursting into laughter, but he failed.

Also surprising: I can’t burp. Tight throat sphincter, I’m told. Ew.


  1. So. Most enigmatic of all informational tidbits: the fact that you inquired into your inability to burb. ;-D

  2. //an atrocious war, fought for a stupid reason, in terrible conditions, under idiotic leadership, and these men accomplished incredible feats.//

    That's a perfect description for all wars...

    Thank you for the interview, you both!

    I still remember fondly that ''A Policy of Lies'' was one of the first m/m books I bought online back in 2008. I've reread it now and then. I should find time to reread Archer's Heart. Anyway since then I've been a faithful reader.

    Thank you also for the recipe. I suppose I could try it without mint. I know you'll cry : ''Sacrilege!'', still, I don't like mint and chocolate...



    1. That's very true about war, Antonella. Especially about aggressors in any war.

    2. Hmm... I bet you could substitute the peppermint extract with another extract and give it a shot. If you do, let me know how it turns out! And thanks for reading - I'm glad you liked Policy of Lies! :)

    3. I'd like to stress that I liked also all the rest you wrote ;-)

  3. This is the most fun interview ever! Thank you Josh and Astrid!
    Astrid, Spike is a pussycat!!! (well, he becomes one sorta) He's actually my fav Buffy character. I once got a huge Spike poster where he's all...British, and tells us that he's a bad bad man. Made me giggle every time.
    I can't wait for your next book! My absolute favorites are the Hanukkah romances - they're so adorable and funny and i really like the conflicts, and i really really hope you'll write more of them.
    Josh, i hope today you're feeling another bit better.
    Hugs to you both, you made my day :-) Oh, and Happy Author Day!

    1. Ha! Interestingly I watched a few BTVS during my recent bout with the flu. I saw the final episodes, and yes, I too was very fond of Spike.

    2. I think my favorite Spike moments are when he's tied in Giles's bathtub complaining about missing episodes of "Passions." Thanks for reading, and in prep for the next Hanukkah story, you better go out and get some pickles!

  4. And yet another great interview, Josh! I love this idea. Thanks to you and Astrid, Happy Author's Day, and I hope you start feeling better soon.

    1. Thanks, Denise! I'm enjoying the interviews a lot.

    2. Thank you! I didn't even know it was Author's day! In that case... *cracks open a bottle of wine*

  5. What a delightful interview. Thank you! And special thanks for letting us have a peek into your brain, Astrid. :-) By the way, I love your writing (and your unicorn t-shirt!). ;-)

    1. I love Astrid's brain map. :-D

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thank you! That unicorn t-shirt drawing is horrid - you'd think I could do better considering how many unicorn t-shirts I own. My latest t-shirt just says this: "'UNICORNS ARE LAME' said nobody ever."

  6. "I love the finished product, two months later, when I have a chance to re-read my work and go, ok, that’s what I wanted to read. Before that I hate the whole thing. I hate sitting down and writing. I hate difficult plotting problems. I hate middles. Deadlines stress me and without them I do nothing. And when I’m working on a project every page I read is the worst drivel I’ve ever come across."

    I love you, Astrid! I don't feel such a lonely weirdo anymore.

    1. I love you too, Lou! And yeah, self-criticism is the worst, ain't it?

    2. I can NOT read my stuff once it's done. Although I'm finding it interesting to go back to some of my earliest stories now and take a look. I think because they seem removed enough that that I can view them almost impersonally.

      I never stop wanting to rewrite.

    3. Thus, the year-end project. :)

  7. Hi Astrid,

    A delightful interview. I had read your holiday stories, Half Pass, the Hell Cop stories, but never truly appreciated your quirky sense a humor until you presented your series of Rifter drawings on Nicole's site.They totally changed my perception of those books. Then back to the "other" Astrid with Irregulars and your recent, Demolished. I loved them all. The point of all this is: I am not sure I AM surprised you fell in that manhole; I'm sorry it happened, just not surprised. It seems to be a perfectly normal progression for the part of you that can draw! :)

    1. Thanks for reading! And I agree - it's TOTALLY normal for me to have experiences like manhole-fails. :)

  8. I’m smiling over your drawing as I, too, was infatuated with ponies. I still have my copy of The Observer’s Book of Horses and Ponies and may have been caught watching those Budweiser commercials more than once.

  9. The funny thing is that I wasn't one of those pony girls growing up. I never had a My Little Pony - I was a tom girl. So I feel like all this deeply repressed pre-pubescent pony obsession burst out only in adulthood, especially dangerous since as an adult, I have a check book.

    1. When you put it like that, I'm glad I went through my pony period early on. :)

  10. Wonderful interview, Thanks! I am also a fan of the Bellskis book series and look forward to the new story out in Nov - "Sweet and Sour", can't wait to meet Nic!
    I'll have to give the brownies a try, they sound so good.
    I'm in love with your horse too - what a cutie-pie! I've always wanted a horse...but they don't do so well in the big cities...

  11. Love the Bellskis; loved Demolished; LOVED Half Pass and cannot wait for Sweet & Sour !!! you are so funny - the both of youse!