Jeff & Will celebrate 300 episodes of the podcast and make a big announcement about the show’s future. They also discuss their happiness at the return of The Great Pottery Throwdown to HBO Max, and the queer representation in season 4.
Jeff talks with debut author Everina Maxwell about her sci-fi adventure romance Winter’s Orbit. They discuss Everina’s inspiration for Prince Kiem and Count Jainan as well as how Everina balanced the romance, sci-fi, and suspense elements. She also talks about the story’s earlier incarnation on Archive of Their Own, what got her started as a writer, and what’s still to come. Everina also has a book recommendation.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Smart Podcast, Trashy Books website
- Episode 296 – N.R. Walker Gets “Bossy” on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Episode 297 – Big Gay Fiction Book Club March 2021: “Throwing Hearts” by N.R. Walker on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- The Great Pottery Throw Down on HBO Max
- Kiln Girl Rose on Instagram
- Episode 287 – Reviews: Philip William Stover, Merry Farmer, Everina Maxwell, Slade James, Adam Silvera on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Everina Maxwell Interview
- Everina Maxwell: website | Twitter | Instagram
- Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Archive of Their Own website
- National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website
- Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Anne McCaffrey on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Ann Leckie on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Talia Hibbert on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Unbroken by C.L. Clark on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, it’s debut author week on the podcast, and we’re taking a trip into outer space with every new Maxwell as we discuss her novel winter’s orbit.
Will: Welcome to episode 300 of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast.” The show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will Knauss and with me as always is my co-host and husband. Mr. Jeff Adams.
Jeff: Hello everybody.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance readers. And as I just mentioned, we have hit landmark episode number 300.
So in the interest of candor—cause you know we like to keep it real here on the show—Jeff and I have a hard time coming up with special ways to celebrate milestone episodes. We’ve done it in the past. I remember we did it with episode 100. I think we may have done something for 200.
Jeff: 200 or 250. I think we did something. And of course, last year, as we celebrated the fifth anniversary, we had our listener favorite episodes where we went back and looked at some of the special moments from the past. But, yeah, the milestones are hard to celebrate for some reason. We don’t celebrate our birthdays either really, to be honest, so we’re just not those people.
Will: Yeah, unless we wanted to do something completely off the wall, we’ve pretty much done it all at this point. So that’s why here at episode 300, we’re just moving forward with our standard format.
But I would like to take a moment, since we have reached episode 300, to make a special announcement. Jeff and I have talked and, while we decided not to make a big deal about this particular episode, we have made a decision about the episodes moving forward into the future. We are committing to the podcast for many years to come.
And I know what you might be thinking. Will what does that mean exactly? Does that mean you’re going to promise to go to 400 episodes? 500 episodes? 533 episodes?
Jeff: I like that nice random number 533.
Will: So Jeff and I talked it over and we have decided that we are going to commit to producing 1000 episodes of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast.”
So what does that mean for you?
It means that you’re going to continue to receive the same author interviews and book reviews that you always have. But we’re going to commit to becoming the best and longest running gay fiction podcasts there is.
So we hope that you’ll join us for this particular journey. It’s going to be a long haul. Since it has taken us five years to reach 300 episodes, by our very loose calculations, if we want to hit 1000, that means we’ll be seeing you in the year 2031.
Jeff: And you think we feel old now? That’s good. Put 10 more years on us.
And we’re not saying that we’re going to stop at 1000 either. So it’s really about that you’re going to get at least 700 more episodes out of us at minimum. Definitely hope you will join us for that journey.
And speaking of podcast milestones, we do want to give congratulations to our friend, Sarah Wendell. She’s over at “Smart Podcast, Trashy Books.” In her March 26th episode, she hit the 450 episode milestone. She was very chill about it. like we are. She was like, “Hey. Yay for 450 and on with the show.” So congratulations to her for hitting that wonderful milestone as well. And of course, “Smart Podcast, Trashy Books” is also part of the Frolic Podcast Network. So wonderful to see a show in the network hitting those kinds of milestones.
So this past week, we welcomed back with open arms, “The Great Pottery Throw Down,” which is back on HBO Max. It was interesting that, just a few episodes ago, we were talking to N.R. Walker about not only her new book “Bossy,” but about her book “Throwing Hearts,” which was the Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection for March. And as we were talking in both the Book Club episode and with N.R. Walker, we were all talking about the “Pottery Throw Down” and how the “Throw Down” inspired “Throwing Hearts.” And we were all excited for season four to come in the States.
Well, it was only as I was putting the shownotes together for the Book Club episode that the big banner had gone across the HBO Max site saying that it was coming back on April 1st. So, you know what we did on April 1st, we sat down and we binged the first three episodes and it was so wonderful coming back and seeing this new group of potters having to make a cheese set. Now I’ve never heard of a cheese head before. I suspect it might be a British thing. But it was wonderful to be back there and to start watching these episodes.
If you’ve got HBO Max or you’re anywhere in the world, that “The Great Pottery Throw Down” is airing, we highly suggest you watch it. It’s just a wonderful competition show. And it’s so good to have it back. I suspect we’ll be bingeing to get through this season’s episodes faster than we want to, because it’s just some kind of nice comfort magic.
Will: So far this season has been wonderful as always. But it’s worth noting that there’s some wonderful queer representation in this group of potters. My personal favorite is Sal. She’s kind of like everyone’s favorite lesbian aunt next door. I adore her. She’s cute as a button and super talented. My prediction at the she’s going to go all the way to the finale.
Jeff: I agree. This stuff that she’s making right now is absolutely incredible. Not only is she technically proficient, but her ability to decorate and use the glazes and make these little pieces of decor on the pot is just brilliant.
There’s also, I believe she’s called the pottery technician. So she’s the one who helps the potters get the pots into the drying room and get everything settled. She’s also responsible for working the kiln and getting everything fired and then back to the potters for either decoration or presentation. Rose is proud and visibly trans in her social media. And it’s wonderful to see that representation on the “Throw Down” as well.
So again, if you’re in the U S “The Great Pottery Throw Down” is currently in season four on HBO Max, and it’s also distributed around the world. So do check your local listings, if you would like to get in on the “Throw Down.”
Shall we get going with debut author week?
Will: I think that sounds like a fine idea.
Jeff: So back in episode 287, I reviewed Everina Maxwell’s “Winter’s Orbit.” I don’t often get into sci-fi here on this show, but I tell you the way that she masterfully combined, sci-fi, a royal arranged marriage and romantic suspense elements really just drew me in. I loved talking with her about what her inspiration was for this story and how she managed to balance those various elements so well. Because to me it’s really like a perfect triangle. Everything balances out so, so well in this story. So let’s hear all about “Winter’s Orbit” from Everina.
Everina Maxwell Interview
Jeff: Everina, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here to talk about “Winter’s Orbit.”
Everina: Thank you so much for having me.
Jeff: So I described this when I reviewed it on this show, it’s like part romance, part thriller, part political intrigue, part Sci-Fi. But tell us in your own words about the story of Kiem and Jainan.
Everina: Yes, so “Winter’s Orbit” stars Prince Kiem, who is an extrovert who loves people. And he is a scandal magnet, and he is the Emperor’s least favorite grandchild. It also stars Jainan, who is a quiet diplomat from a vassal planet, and he’s just been bereaved when he lost his first husband. His first husband was a different Imperial prince. They married to seal the treaty. And this treaty is now invalid and needs to be saved. So on basically page one, Kiem and Jainan are ordered to marry. Close that diplomatic loophole. Kiem is pretty horrified that Jainan has been forced to marry during what should be his mourning period, because Taam died last month, while Jainan is very focused on what he believes his duty is, and he is determined to do his duty, whatever that costs him. So you have a situation where they’re treading very carefully around each other. They’re trying to give each other space while they’re being forced into very close quarters. And then they find out that Jainan’s late husband’s death wasn’t an accident. And if they don’t find out who did it that could cause a war between their planets.
Jeff: And I really liked how you started the book with, like, a bang, if you will. It’s like, “Here’s our Prince. You’ve got to get married right now.” There was no pretense to the arranged marriage that had to show up here. It was like, “We don’t even know you yet, but you have to get married right now.”
Everina: Yeah, I’ve always been fascinated by that. We have some fossilized customs in current Earth societies. Like, a lot of the things we do as societies are quite illogical. Like some people would say that even the current institution of marriage, as it is, is not logical. And it’s actually a kind of a fossil we have taken from the past. So it was a bit of a kind of next step to go, “Well, in this society, we have…a marriage has to underpin the treaty. We can’t have a treaty without a marriage. And when you have that, you just have this very good tension setup, which is how I like to start.
Jeff: Yeah, they always say you should start the book when that life changing moment happened. And there was no preamble here. I really enjoyed that. As I mentioned, there’s a lot that goes on in this book. And I’m curious, what kind of came first for you, the characters, some of these plot elements, combinations of the two?
Everina: Yeah, it’s a good question. For me, I have to start with a situation that is fundamentally imbalanced, a situation that is in tension. Because of how I write, that’s usually a situation that’s in tension between two or more characters. And so, in the case of this book, what I started with was, you have this well meaning guy, this prince. He has been told he has to marry the stranger, and he is looking at his prospective partner’s previous marriage when he’s reading the news articles about it. And it seems like this golden, happy marriage that he could never live up to. And this bereaved diplomat must be grieving. He just lost his life partner, and Kiem is thinking, “Well, what can I do? Like, I can’t say no, because he said, yes. He wants to do his duty. Everyone else wants me to do my duty. I will never live up to this person. It’s gonna be really bad. He’s gonna hate me. I’m not gonna be able to charm my way out of this one.” And you have that tension, you have that fundamental tension. So I guess you could say the character and setting come together. But it’s starting with that scene in balance, which, as you said, is how it starts on page one. Like when I have that image, I know how to start the book, because the start of the book is, here is a very bad situation that everyone is gonna try and deal with with their best efforts, but the situation is bad.
Jeff: And it only got worse as we went. Because there is that moment that we find out, of course, that it wasn’t an accident that killed Prince Taam.
Everina: Yes, yes. So you have this thing of, we think we are just about on even ground with a relationship issue, and now we have a plot issue. And then when we think we’re about on even ground with a plot issue, we have a relationship issue, but that’s sort of why I like being in the gap between romance and Sci-Fi, like, you can juggle those two lines, and it moves the story along quite well, I think.
Jeff: I really liked how everything balanced so well, because we often see, there’s the Sci-Fi side who doesn’t necessarily want too much romance because they’re reading Sci-Fi. And then there’s the romance folks who feel like sometimes the Sci-Fi takes over. And, to me, you really made a great triangle here, because there is a strong romance plot going on. There’s a strong thriller suspense plot that could have been…any political organization could have been engaged with that. But then there’s the Sci-Fi in the world-building and the fact that we’re in outer space, and these people are not Earth people.
Everina: It’s very much in between. I think it’s in between romance and Sci-Fi, which makes it quite hard to pitch and a little bit hard for the book industry to deal with because you’re used to having a book that is a romance or is a Sci-Fi, but this one is bang in the middle. It is a romance because it follows the romance structure. It has a happy ending. And, to be honest, it is really, really important to me that these two characters are in love, which I think of as what makes the story a romance or not a romance, to me, when I’m writing it.
Also, it is very much a science fiction because the stakes are quite a lot higher than, “Will they fall in love?” Though, to be fair, a lot of romance does have high stakes. Now I’m thinking, “Is this actually a science fiction?” No, but it is a science fiction book, because Sci-Fi and fantasy is my home genre. And you’re right, it does have thriller elements. I would say it’s probably not a thriller in that, if you are a Sci-Fi fan, you could pick up this book, and you stand a fairly good chance of enjoying it. Ditto if you’re a romance fan. If you pick up this book, and you’re just a thriller fan, I think probably you won’t find what you’re looking for in it. But I am certainly stealing elements from the thriller genre to move it along.
Jeff: Yeah, I think it may be better than thriller to call it romantic suspense.
Everina: Yes, that’s a good word, actually. Yeah. No, that definitely…because you have a crime that has impacted the main relationship. Yeah, now that’s a really good way of putting it. I think if you read a lot in any genre, you start taking in by osmosis, like, not only what is possible with that genre…so for me, that’s science fiction, and for me, that’s romance…but also what you like to be possible in that genre. So something like in romance, what I’m really drawn to is this idea of, like, mutual competence. I really, really like it when two characters are just both very, very good at very different things. And I really like that moment where they both look at each other, and they’re like, “Wow, I cannot possibly dream of doing the thing that you are currently very, very competently doing. But I really like watching you do it. I really admire you doing it. This is amazing. You’re amazing.” And when you have that kind of mutually, I really love that, yeah.
In science fiction, I think it’s like the sense of the infinite. So in the case of “Winter’s Orbit,” you have one planet, and you have one palace in one city, and you have this very human drama happening there. But you feel there could be more than that. There could be a thousand planets, or a million planets beyond that, and they could all have their own dramas. You’d have this infinitely unfolding fractal universe. That’s, I think, my kind of…I like space opera and Sci-Fi.
Jeff: What was your secret for balancing these elements so well? Because when I read romantic suspense, which is one of my favorite genres, I’m always interested to watch how you get the romance combined with the suspense. And you have to maintain that appropriate balance to where they’re not necessarily having the romantic moment while they’re being shot at or something. So there’s that balance there. Now, you’ve got three different sub-genres in play. What was your plotting process like? I guess, is the best question, to make sure you kept balance.
Everina: Something that some listeners may know is that an early draft of this story was online. An early draft of the story had had readers before it became this version of the story. And that story was not less of a romance, because it had pretty much exactly the same romance beats, but it was less Sci-Fi in that there was less world-building, it was more insulated with more…one planet, nobody got on a spaceship. It was, to be honest, I think a little bit blander. And part of the process for publishing it with Tor, which is a Sci-Fi publisher, was my editor asking me, like, “Do you have any thoughts on the world-building?” And, like, by this point, boy, did I have thoughts on the world-building, and it is one of my flaws as a writer that I tend to world-build in my head, and then just not put it on the page. I know quite a lot about many different parts of this universe. But I’ve only gone to the Iskat Empire, and only really one planet, the Iskat Empire. So that’s all that makes it onto the page. And as part of the edit process, a lot of what I was doing was putting in more Sci-Fi and putting in more world-building, and also raising the stakes of it.
And so I think possibly the balance came during the editing process when I was looking at every part of it and going, “Well, where are they physically? What are they doing? And what does that mean within the larger political system?” And on the thriller part, a lot of that was in the original draft, not all of it. That really benefited from some people in the editing process, asking some pointed questions about, “Why is this person doing this? Thrillers are always about balancing lots of strands.” So I think the romance is really at the heart of the story. You have this question of, is this relationship going in the right direction? Does this feel emotionally true for the characters? Are they gonna have a conversation at this point? And, eventually, you reach a point where you’re thinking, “Well, we could sit down and solve some romance problems here, but there are also plot problems. And what you want to do for that balance is solve the romance problem with the plot problem, but they have to be very, very tangled up.” Because what my definition for Sci-Fi romance as opposed to Sci-Fi, which just happens to have a romance edge, or romance, which just happens to have a spaceship in it, is the resolution of the relationship is absolutely critical to the resolution of the world-altering plot.
So those are the same thing. The fact that these two characters fall in love, this saves the world. And that’s something that “Winter’s Orbit” is very true to. And that is also something that happens on a minor scale throughout the book, you’re having all these romantic problems bound up with these plot problems. Because if they’re completely separate, then it’s probably not what I’m going for. Does that make sense?
Jeff: It does. Yeah. And it just clicks in my mind even more questions. And you hinted at this earlier of how you quite often, actually, have these moments where Kiem and Jainan see these amazing things about each other. And it happens routinely. And not only is it key to solving the bigger problem with the not-so-accidental death and the treaty situation, but it also makes them fall more in love with each other.
Everina: Yes, very much. The great thing about the Sci-Fi plot, I think, is it gives both of them a stage on which they can show what they can do. Not that they’re intentionally doing that, but it means that if these people had very quiet, comfortable lives, they would probably live very quiet comfortable lives. Well, okay, Jainan would live a very quiet, comfortable life. Kiem would find some way to make it dramatic. But they don’t have quiet, comfortable lives. They have these momentous events that are happening around them. And in various ways, they are rising to meet this challenge. They are stepping up to the plate. They are reacting to this in ways that show what they can do. And that means the love story gets propelled along as well, because you have this love story of, “Oh, I see the whole person that this other person is now, and it’s amazing. It’s wonderful. Yeah.”
Jeff: A nice element alongside that, that I’d absolutely adore in the book, was not only do they see these things that make them fall more for each other, I feel like they’re both also seeing themselves in ways they never did before. Like, they’re finally uncovering some of their real self.
Everina: Yes, yes, that’s one of my favorite parts about writing romance, is this idea that you cannot perceive yourself accurately and entirely from the inside, but you can if there is someone you love, who reflects yourself back to yourself. And I’m not necessarily saying this is true in real life. This is a romance fiction concept. But it’s one that I love. And the idea that you have some distorted idea of yourself in your head, not entirely, but with one particular thing. Like, for Kiem, it’s his idea that, “I’m not clever. I’m not bright. I can’t keep up.” And for Jainan, it’s many things, but, ultimately, “I am not someone who can be loved. I am not someone who people admire.” And then they see themselves in the other person’s eyes. And they see themselves. Or sometimes this has to be said explicitly, because they’re so stuck in this flawed version of themselves. It has to be said explicitly, like, “It’s not that you’re not clever. You are seeing things in a different way.” And Jainan being told, “I can list the things that are amazing about you all day, and I would still have things on the list.” And having to somehow understand this, and eventually believing it when it comes from Kiem. And that’s what the whole book is kind of working up to.
Jeff: It was done so well. It was like they fell in love with each other, but also fell in love with themselves over again. And that might be an…
Everina: Yeah. That’s a good way of putting it.
Jeff: …overstating of it. But I felt that so big here.
Everina: Yeah. No, that’s exactly it.
Jeff: And when they start out, they’re so very opposite. And, of course, there’s a lot that stays opposite. But this outgoing prince and this count, who I feel like would be very happy kind of folding in on himself to go be very quietly in the corner. The book is in alternating POV. Did that help the writing process? What was it like kind of finding their distinctive voices? Because they’re extremely distinct.
Everina: Yeah. So Jainan is quite easy for me to write because his thought patterns are quite familiar. There are difficult events in his past that have left the mark, and I’m also very conscious of that when I writing, but his basic kind of personality, this kind of introverted overthinking, it’s not a million miles from how I think about social situations. Kiem, on the other hand, is, in one way, much harder, because he’s an extrovert. And he is someone who will be sitting in a waiting room and think, “I hope those strangers over there come over here so I can talk to them,” which is a thought I have never had in my entire life. But his voice is so much fun, because he thinks he can solve everything. He is totally unembarrassed. And when he comes across a problem, he thinks he can fix it by talking, and sometimes he’s right. And sometimes he’s wrong but in ways that move the plot forward.
So they’re both fun to write in very different ways. And they click quite well. It can be a lot of fun to move from Kiem’s view of the world on something that is happening and then switch to Jainan who has a completely different view of the thing that just happened. And I think that is the great fun in alternating POVs.
Jeff: Yeah, and it worked so well here, especially, like, the first couple of pages after you flip to somebody else’s, as they’re kind of analyzing what they just saw the other one do.
Everina: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, “Why did he do that?” Yeah.
Jeff: You got a big cast in this book. So many moving pieces there. How was that in terms of balancing out telling what needed to be told and not throwing too many people on the page at the same time?
Everina: It was pretty tricky, actually, because I think when I first envisioned the story, I was envisioning it as a love story. And it was very, very focused on Kiem and Jainan. And as the plot evolved, it needed more characters, because plot involves people doing things, and those things were generally being done by people other than Kiem and Jainan. A lot of the side characters evolved as well, a bit, from the first draft. Most of them were already there, like Gairad, Jainan’s clan member, and Professor Audel. The people working the engineering project had a much smaller role in the previous draft and a much larger role here. Conversely, I cut a couple of side characters. The internal security agent, has a deputy who had a plot role in the previous draft. She got cut because, like I say, I just had too many characters.
I think, ultimately, it’s the case of, does this character have a really, really strong reason to be here? Because if they don’t have a really strong reason to be here, they’re a distraction, and they probably need to be cut. So either they have a plot role, or they’re telling you something important about the world, or they’re telling you something important about the characters, preferably all three. Like, Gairad is really important, not just to the plot, but to giving an alternate view of fear of the Thean culture, and also really, really important to Jainan’s journey as part of his…it’s not just falling in love with Kiem that fixes everything like that. Falling in Love does not really fix things. It’s the fact that he is rebuilding these relationships with everybody in his life. And that’s kind of her role in that arc. So, yeah, I think the cast just has to grow as large as it grows, and then you have to give them a really, really hard look and be like, “Do you need to be here? Because if not, can your role be done by somebody else? Or can we cut that?”
Jeff: And you bring up a good point about Jainan, because this is not just a love story for him. He’s really rebuilding a lot of his life, because Prince Taam, as we find out, is not a nice guy.
Everina: Yes, yes. This is obviously a very sensitive and heavy topic. And it’s one that both me and the publishers were quite keen to do well by, in a way, to not treat it trivially, to not gloss over things, to not kind of say, this is something that is easy to get over. The idea is that…and I don’t think it is really a spoiler to say, though people have different views on spoilers, is that Jainan had a bad marriage with Prince Taam. It was an abusive marriage, even though it was not necessarily what we would think of as classic abusive marriage. The entire book is his healing process. Like, Taam is dead at the start, and the entire book is how he recovers and slowly builds his life. And what I was very keen to do on this was show that it’s not because of somebody else that he recovers, it is because he is now in a better situation.
In some ways, it has been a fortunate change of circumstances. But in other ways, all the work he is doing is his own work. Like, all the things he is rebuilding, all the steps he is taking are things that he has done himself, and because of the work that he has done and is able to do, he is able to reach happiness on the other side. But, see, I wanted very much to show that joy was possible for Jainan. And that was really important to me at the end of the book. It’s a bit tricky, because at the end of the book, there is obviously still a long way to go. I wouldn’t want people to come away with the impression that everything is solved forever, because that’s not how things work. But, equally, I wanted to end it on a happy note and be like, this has been possible because of everything that has taken place. And we are allowed these moments of joy.
Jeff: And I do feel like it ended…and I think you even mentioned this earlier, it does end with a “happily ever after.” I don’t feel in any way like it’s a “happily for now.” But it’s definitely a “happily ever after” that will continue to have work for Jainan and for Kiem in other ways to continue to be this couple moving forward.
Everina: Yes, yes. I mean, the thing that obviously happens after the end of the book is that Jainan goes to whatever is the Iskat Empire’s version of counseling, which is something that didn’t really fit in the plot. I didn’t really feel equipped to write a detailed version of that that could do it justice, but that is very much in my head, what happens next? I think probably Kiem will also go to counseling, and then he will realize that therapy is basically, “You want me to talk for an hour. This is fantastic. This is the best thing that has ever happened.”
Jeff: And I’m sure he’ll enjoy that part.
Everina: I love therapy. Yeah. Kiem discovers therapy, I think, is the secret last chapter of the book. But yes, there is a lot implied that is not written, but the end of the book is certainly supposed to be a “happily ever after.”
Jeff: What was your favorite part of the story to write?
Everina: So we talked earlier about the large cast of characters. What I really like, actually, is when all of that is kind of stripped away. There is a sequence in the middle where they crash land in some very remote mountains, and they have to drag to safety. And you can imagine some of how that goes and that they are brought closer together during that. What I enjoyed about writing that part was it has very much been stripped down to the essentials of their relationship. It is Kiem, it is Jainan, and it is this enormous problem of surviving the snowy mountains. And that very much forces them together and forces them to concentrate on the same thing in a way that, in the previous two scenes, they haven’t, because things have been getting a little bit complicated. So I really, really enjoyed writing that. You can’t necessarily write a whole book like that, but I like to have those kind of sequences.
Jeff: Absolutely one of my favorite sequences, if not my favorite, because it relies on my favorite thing of forced proximity.
Everina: It’s so good. That it’s such a good trope.
Jeff: What about on the flip side of that? What were some of the difficult areas?
Everina: So I find it quite tricky to keep, almost, the thriller elements straight in my head. The second half, especially, has a lot of people, a lot of moving parts, a lot of motivations. And in the end, I have this big word doc separate from the writing doc full of who knows what, when, and who wants what, when? Because everyone has a motivation in every scene that most the other characters don’t know about. And so that just all got very difficult to keep straight, especially when your editor says, “Well, can you take out this plotline?” And you’re like, “Yeah, sure, I can take out that plotline.” And then you find out that plotline has like 50 dependencies on other scenes. I think nothing has got through that is, like, kind of vestigial from any previous jobs. But I’m always worried about, “Did I manage to keep everything straight? Did I successfully use that word doc bible to make sure that everyone is at all times not knowing things they shouldn’t know?” Yeah, so that was probably the most difficult part.
Jeff: Complicated anytime you do suspense elements and the number of motivations you were carrying through that book, because even the people who were deeply involved in creating the, I guess I’d call it espionage, almost, maybe, all had different needs on why they did it, which I just absolutely loved. But I could also imagine putting my author hat on how difficult it would be to thread all of that correctly at the same time.
Everina: You find yourself very deep in a main character’s point of view, and you’re writing a scene, and then you get to a point where another character has to have dialogue, and you’re so deep in the main character’s head that you’re just like, “I don’t know what the side character is gonna say, because I don’t know what they’re thinking. I don’t know…?” Like, I now have to transplant myself to a whole other head with a whole other set of memories, and thoughts, and motivations, and I have no idea what’s going on with them. That’s usually where I get up and get some tea and pretend that I’m finished for the day.
Jeff: Sometimes that’s the best thing to do, just walk away. Do we get more in this universe, perhaps?
Everina: Yes. So I’m writing the next book at the moment. It’s not the same characters, but is the same universe. And, actually, it takes part on a different planet outside the Iskat Empire, which is on the other side of that link. So it’s what the Iskana’s would call the galactics, which is just their catch-all term for everyone who is not in the Iskat Empire. But yeah, I’m excited about this one. It’s a completely different society. But it’s also a romance. It also has two characters who are, in some ways, terrible, but they make each other better. Yeah, so I’m excited to finish that draft, cross fingers.
Jeff: I have to put in my vote, if I get a vote. I may not have a vote, but I’m gonna say it anyway. I would really love to see Bel’s story of all the side characters. Bel absolutely delighted…
Everina: Yeah, this is really just like…
Jeff: She delighted me. She could do anything.
Everina: I’m so glad. She can. She can. I’m so pleased to hear you say that. The answer is, sadly, I don’t have one planned, though I’m not saying “never.” When I said I need an unbalanced situation to start a book, usually that relies on characters having a certain kind of flaw, like being a certain kind of disaster and, like, in certain ways, not having themselves together. Bel has herself together.
Everina: Bel is not flawed in the way that I normally start books. So I think it would take a different kind of toolkit for me to write her book, which I’m not yet sure I have, although a lot of books, you don’t know whether you’re able to write them until you start them, which is why I’m not ruling it out. But yeah, no, I love Bel. Hopefully, at some point in the future.
Jeff: I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Now, you mentioned earlier that “Winter’s Orbit,” had an entire other life that began a few years ago when it was on Archive of Their Own. And back then, it was called “The Course of Honor,” which I totally understand as a title for this. It made a lot of sense. Give us a little idea of its journey going from Archives of Their Own over to being this book coming out from Tor.
Everina: Yes. So when I was originally writing what became “Winter’s Orbit,” I was initially writing snippets for a friend, Emily, who’s in the dedication, and I would email them to her. And then I got more snippets, and I started sharing them a bit wider for a few friends and people I knew online. And, eventually, I wanted somewhere to collect them. And because I was kind of in fan-ish communities, I was familiar with literally one fictional website, which was Archive of Our Own, or A03. And I remember checking the rules to be like, “Can I post an original thing on there? Yes, it looks like this is allowed under the rules. And I’m posting it up there because I really like the interface.” It’s very clean, and a lot of these…like 95% of the stuff that I’ve enjoyed reading online has been on A03.
Yeah, so I then posted the whole thing up there. People were really, really kind. And I’m still really, really grateful for that. People commented along, people recommended it to their friends. And it was just kind of this thing on the internet that I didn’t really plan to do anything with. And then when it had been around for a couple of years, my now agent messaged me, actually, on Tumblr and said, “Are you looking to do anything with this? Or do you have anything else?” And at that point, it kind of went into the more traditional route, which was she helped me with a rewrite. Her name is Tamara Kawar. She’s fantastic. She’s really, really amazing. Once we’d done the rewrite together, she was then in touch with Tor, who decided to buy it. So it wasn’t the case so much that Tor are scanning A03. I think that would be a little bit of a weird boundary. But it certainly wouldn’t have happened if people hadn’t been so kind with recommending the online version. I’m really, really grateful for that.
Jeff: Let’s talk about your origin story a little bit. What turned you into a writer? What got you started?
Everina: So when I was a teenager, as I suspect probably most of us listening have done, I was just reading everything I could get my hands on, mainly, for me, science fiction and fantasy. That was my genre. And then when I was about 16, I discovered NaNoWriMo, which, for people who aren’t familiar with it, is National Novel Writing Month. And I think I joined when it was about in its like fourth or fifth year. And it’s this concept where you write a book in a month. That was incredibly appealing for 16-year-old me who couldn’t really finish a short story, because you came out of the month with a book. And so I did it. And I wrote this absolutely terrible book. I think it was Sci-Fi. But I think because I was 16, I think it was about a teenager who didn’t want to go to Sci-Fi school, and eventually got put in prison for some reason, which I’m still unclear on, possibly because she didn’t want to go to Sci-Fi school, who knows. But I came out of it with this 50,000-word book, which is the level for NaNoWriMo. It was actually less than half the length of “Winter’s Orbit.” It’s quite short. But there is something fantastic in knowing you have finished something.
And I then did NaNoWriMo for another, kind of, eight years. I think I abandoned it more times than I finished it after that first year, because, at some point, you stop thinking, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I write,” and you start thinking, “This has to be quality.” And that means you tend not to finish it on NaNoWriMo. But it gives you practice. It shows you that you can finish something, and it is wonderful to get to the end of something. I think it is definitely true that, in writing, you can only do the things that you practice. So you can be the best writer in the world, but if you have never got to the end of a novel, then you have no practice ending a novel. And so the first time that you end a novel, it’s gonna be your first time, and it’s gonna be bad. Like, you might as well do that first time bad practice in NaNoWriMo where it doesn’t matter, to do it when you are really, really good at beginnings now, and you think about it and you might ruin it, because then you will get writer’s block. So, yeah, no, I love NaNoWriMo. I don’t do it anymore. I am now much, much, much, much slower. But I think it’s a great way to get started.
Jeff: There’s something about finishing that first time that at least makes it a little bit easier to finish the next time.
Everina: So true. So true.
Jeff: Who are some of the authors who inspire what you write?
Everina: I think you can draw a direct line to me at, again, 16, where I fell into Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan” series and didn’t come out for like two weeks, I read so many books. But, to me, that and McCaffrey, who I think probably doesn’t hold up very well, was very much my introduction to Sci-Fi. It wasn’t kind of Golden Age, concept focus, it was very much character focused, and it was very much, we are having this character driven story in space. And we are using space to enlarge the possibility of what can happen in this character-driven story. But it is all about these characters. So I think Bujold is very definitely an influence. Much later, of course, I started reading Ann Leckie, who does some really, really interesting things, particularly with gender. Yeah, I love that work. And it kind of, again, expanded how I think about gender.
On the romance side, I came to romance much, much, much, much later. I love romance. I think it’s a fantastic genre, a lot of the stuff that contemporary romance does, in particular, like, I find myself looking at and going, “Wow, I wish I could do that. That’s a really good way of doing relationship. In romance, Talia Hibbert has been a new discovery for me. Actually, this kind of very character focused very kind of every page just carries you along to the next page. It’s fantastic.
But for my influences in romance, you probably have to go back a lot earlier, which is probably fanfiction, which is probably…I wasn’t super deep in fandom, but I have friends who were super deep in fandom when they were teenagers, and they would just send me the best fanfics they found, which was fantastic, because I didn’t have to go through the tags. So I didn’t have to read anything which wasn’t already pre-stamped, which is really, really good. But this very, very intense focus on if you are bad at character in fanfiction, it’s quite difficult to write a good one. But you can kind of ditch things like world-building in a plot if you feel like it. There’s quite an infinite variety, but the ones that are good tend to focus very, very hard on character in a way that some of the Sci-Fi and fantasy I was reading maybe didn’t. So that really influenced how I think about how people think about other people in the kind of stories I wanted to read.
Jeff: And you made your first romance a gay romance. What led you to decide that this romance would be between two men?
Everina: Yeah, that’s a good question. So I am queer. I am a Cis woman in a relationship with another Cis woman. I came out quite late in life. Before I came out, I think I avoided romance. There’s an interesting line between a poor representation of queer romance, poor representation of women, poor representation of a whole host of things, in the Sci-Fi and fantasy that I was reading when I was quite small, which is now 20 years ago, and I was picking up books from 20 years before that. So the genre really has come a long, long, long way. I have pictures of characters in my head. And I knew who Kiem was very, very early on, and in my head, he was a man. I knew I wanted to write romance. I didn’t want to write a heterosexual romance, I was very much coming to terms with who I was and also coming to terms with the reading that I had kind of taken in as a teenager. And again, Anne McCaffrey is someone who does not hold up, in this sense, and sort of thinking back of how many of those romances did I not see myself in because they were just not good romances, and how many of them did not see myself in because they were heterosexual, and as it turned out, I’m not. So, yeah, that’s a lot of thoughts around the topic. I don’t think there’s one good answer for this. But that’s certainly what I was thinking when I started.
Jeff: What’s a book that you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners?
Everina: Oh, yes. So “The Unbroken” by C.L. Clark, which is a Sapphic book set middle alternative colonial North Africa, which I was very lucky to get an advance copy off. And I am sort of telling everyone to read it because it’s great. So one of the ways in which it’s an alternative world is it has this queer nor world. So you have this semi-historical North African setting. But you have this Sapphic relationship, this very edgy, complicated relationship between a soldier who was stolen from her homeland as a baby, by the colonizing power and raised as a soldier. And between her and the princess of that colonizing power, and the author just digs into every angle of this with a lot of skill. They have a background, I think, in post-colonial studies. And they just do not flinch at any part of this as the world is very real and very layered. And it’s just a really good story. I’m very excited about this one for multiple reasons. But, yeah, I thoroughly recommend that.
Jeff: I’m gonna have to look that one up. I haven’t seen that one come across my radar yet. So I’ll certainly check that one out.
Everina: It’s very good.
Jeff: You mentioned you’re working on the sequel to “Winter’s Orbit” now. Is there anything else you can tease us about what might be coming up for you next?
Everina: I think it’s just the sequel, actually. I am not a very fast writer. My novels have a day job. So currently one draft. It’s all I’m managing. But I’m hoping that that book will be out sometime next year, but I haven’t finished the draft yet. So who knows, it may suddenly get completely blocked, crossing fingers, but not…
Jeff: What is the best way for people to keep up with you online so they can make sure that they know when that book gets ready to come out?
Everina: Yes, so I have an Instagram @everena_maxwell. And then I also have a Twitter, @AV_ Stories, and yeah, either of those places will have details in the next book.
Jeff: Well, we will link to those in the show notes along with the other books and authors that we talked about so that folks can find information on that. Everina, it’s been so wonderful talking to you about “Winter’s Orbit.” Wish you all the success for that and can’t wait to see the sequel.
Everina: Thank you so much. And thank you so much for having me on the program today.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the shownotes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And don’t forget the shownotes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: “Winter’s Orbit” along with some of the other books we talked about with Everina are available from Libro.fm, and you’ll find notations for those in the shownotes. Remember when you get an audiobook from Libro.fm, you’re supporting a local bookstore of your choice, so we hope you will give them a try. The Libro.fm app is super easy to use. Plus, as a listener of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast” you’re eligible to get started with a two month audiobook membership for the price of one. You can get details on that offer by simply going to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And thanks again to Everina for joining us. I’m so looking forward to the sequels to “Winter’s Orbit” that she talked about, because she’s really created an amazing universe that I definitely want to revisit.
Will: Okay. I think that’ll do it for this episode. Coming up on Thursday in episode 301 debut author week continues as we talk to Robbie Couch about his YA novel, “The Sky Blues.”
Jeff: This book resonated with me so much. And I’m so glad I got to talk to Robbie about Sky and the other wonderful characters that he’s put on the page.
Will: Thank you so much for listening until next time, stay strong, be safe and above all else. Keep turning those pages and keep reading.