BEF: For readers who may not be familiar with the Kricket series, I would categorize it as a science fiction romance with paranormal elements. Part of what was so captivating to me about these books was this thrilling world you created. Can you tell us a bit about the process you experienced while creating this world, and what were some of the most difficult aspects to visualize and then put into the story?
AAB: I'm a pantser, which means I don't plot my books, I write by the "seat of my pants". I usually only have a general idea for a manuscript. The thought, when I begin, is to tell myself a story—something I'm aching to read, but somehow can't find anywhere else. I don't worry about my writing style or grammar in the rough draft. I'll go back in the second draft and rewrite it once I know who the characters are, what happens, and how it ends. Editing and rewrites are essential for me.
There always comes a time just after I start when I begin to "see" the story in my mind. It plays like a movie. The characters take over and show me what's happening in their world. I don't know if other writers have a name for that. I call it "catching the stream" because it's as if it's a different stream of consciousness. I know, weird, right? Anyway, when that happens, I try to write down what I'm "seeing" and "hearing".
I do sometimes get hung up when I know what I want the characters to do, but I have to think about how the world should look and react to them while they're moving through it. I constantly have to ask how would something that I take for granted work differently somewhere else. For example, in Sea of Stars, the Ship of Skye is a warship. It's military and equipped with advanced technology. I thought about how I'd live there on a daily basis. What would I eat? How would my meals be prepared? Who washes my dishes after I'm finished? Just asking myself those simple questions lead to the creation of the "dishery".
I think the most difficult place for me to imagine in Under Different Stars was the military base called Comantre Crosses. It's when Kricket gets her first glimpse of Etharian civilization. It took me awhile to visualize it and be able to walk through it—to breathe its air.
BEF: One of my personal favorite aspects was the use of language and how some words were vaguely devised from languages on Earth. I imagine this was a fun process, making up a new language. Can you tell us how you started to formulate the words you would use and why you felt words connected the reader to the story being told?
AAB: What I strive for most in all of my stories are believable worlds. I want readers to be taken by force along with Kricket. I need them to feel the disorientation that accompanies such a twist of fate. The use of language was one way to achieve this. Language is almost a character in this series.
Easy communication between the Etharians and Kricket was necessary to the story I wanted to tell. A translator device, inserted in Kricket's brain, serves to break the language barrier. Technology, however, isn't infallible, especially considering the rapid spread of slang in our culture. I extended that spread to Etharian culture as well. I saw an opportunity to highlight an aura of otherworldliness by creating one-off words and phrases that were unique to these outsiders.
It was difficult at first to create new words. I annoyed myself trying to be too clever. Finally, I decided to create simple words that sounded close to what they represent in American English. For example, "venish" is Wayra's favorite entree. It's a meat pie made from the Etharian version of a deer (venison). Venish and venison were close enough for me to remember what it was, which was key because I had to keep it all straight, too. The more I wrote, the easier it became to think of imaginative words. What I didn't anticipate with this type of misinterpretation of language was how funny it could be. Sometimes the language barrier is cathartic, providing comedic relief in the story. We share the inside joke along with Kricket. I didn't see that coming when I started.
BEF: I adored everything about Baw-da-baw! How did you come up with this, and did you know that this saying would produce so much emotion while reading it?
AAB: I modeled the Cavars after Marines. I wanted to create a battle cry for them—something akin to the Marines' "Oorah."
While I was writing Under Different Stars, I was also writing the fourth book in my paranormal romance series, Incendiary. Incendiary is about the epic struggle between good and evil. There are instances in that story where I needed to tap into a certain mood to write the vicious tone of its fight scenes. I use music to achieve this. I'll find a song that embodies the emotional essence of what I want to create while writing, and then I'll play the track on repeat. The song I was listening to for this particular fight scene was Bawitdaba by Kid Rock. So when I toggled over to the Kricket manuscript from the Premonition manuscript, "baw-da-baw" came out of Wayra's mouth and echoed off the cold stone walls of the cavern leading to Ethar.
BEF: Speaking of Baw-da-baw, we can't bring that up without a question about the Cavars. These guys seemed so bonded and very much the militaristic friendship that occurs on the battlefield with American soldiers. Did you reach out to people who have served or are you personally knowledgeable about what service life is like? It seemed like this was a binding structure for Kricket to connect to the Cavars since she lived life on the opposite spectrum having no one at her back.
ABB: Soldiers are fascinating creatures. Books and movies that depict the personal struggles of individuals immersed in life-threatening conflict draw me in.
Around the time I was writing the first book in the Kricket series, I was absorbed in a miniseries called Generation Kill. Produced by HBO, it's based on the book of the same title by Evan Wright. In it, a Rolling Stone reporter embedded with a Marine battalion chronicles the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. It's the true story of the journalist's experience. What I find most interesting about it is every character contributes to making a cohesive story. It isn't just about the conflict. It's about how these men thread together to create a tapestry of fear, courage, arrogance, sarcastic disparagement, and bravery. I try to impart that in my writing—the sense that these are real people with real struggles and compelling backstories.
BEF: I'm truthfully impressed with your attention to detail, and I think it shows best with how you created such strong individualized background characters. Many times in books people in the background seem to get lost back there, but in your books some of my favorite characters were the people off center stage; Wayra, Fulton, and Phlix. Was there a methodology to how you create these characters? They don't seem like fillers, as a reader they felt very much loved and integral to the story and Kricket.
AAB: Thank you. I almost feel like I cannot take credit for my characters. They show up in scenes and steal them. I end up writing what they say and how they say it. I didn't research any of the characters you mentioned, they were just there when I was writing. I think the important aspect to note is I’m interested in them when they show up in a scene. I want to know who they are. Who were they before they arrived at this point? What’s happened to them in their lives to make them the way they are? I treat them as if they’re real people I’m getting to know for the first time.
BEF: My day job is working with regulations surrounding foster care and adoption, so you can imagine I connected right away with Kricket's Earth story. I felt the emotions come through Kricket's story that I see daily on foster children I know. When you were creating Kricket, did you know you wanted to use this powerful and problematic situation from the beginning to create the strength she carries or was it a result of needing a traumatic situation to show her survivor spirit?
AAB: Although my childhood was quite colorful, I have no personal experience in the foster care system. I have, however, interned while in college at a domestic violence shelter. I was able to teach art to children living in hiding there. I've also worked with disadvantaged teens as a youth counselor for a summer jobs program. Some of these young adults were in foster care homes. My role was to interview them for positions we had available in the community, break down their barriers to employment, provide transportation to job sites, and help them when problems arose. I learned a lot from those teenagers. They were very smart, but their brilliance went largely unnoticed because it manifested in urban survival skills.
I think you don't have to be parentless to ache for home—somewhere you fit in. Many of us struggle to find our places in the world—to try to understand who we are and what we stand for in life. But I felt that a young girl who had defected from an inhospitable foster care situation would feel this more passionately than most—maybe even personify it.
BEF: I was overjoyed with the ending of this series. I love that there is open road for the reader to flex their imagination and ponder what happens next to these characters. I would love to know if that is a writing trait we will continue to see or if this was how you felt this particular story needed to end?
AAB: The ending of Darken the Stars was a struggle for me to write. I agonized over three alternate endings and an outline for a fourth ending (and I never write outlines). I discussed them at length with my editor, Jason Kirk. He pointed out to me that everything I'd written beyond a certain point read like the beginning of a fourth book. We decided to cut 5K words from the manuscript. In exchange, Jason suggested I write an epilogue. He thought I should sum up what Kricket learned from her time on Ethar.
I sobbed while I was writing the epilogue. It was so emotional for me because I wrote the first story, Under Different Stars, in 2010. I published it at the end of 2013. It received a lot of attention. I spent 2014 and some of 2015 writing Sea of Stars and Darken the Stars, even at the expense of my other series. I've been living in Kricket's world for a long time. Tying up all the strings in a neat bow was important to me. I wanted a perfect HEA (happily ever after), but that was disingenuous to her story. Kricket wants love on her own terms, and I know this way she will have it.
BEF: Now that this series is wrapped up with the final book, Darken the Stars released on September 8, 2015, do you have any plans brewing for your next project and are you able to tell us anything about that?
AAB: I'm finishing the Premonition series with Iniquity, the fifth and final book in the series. The release date is December 8, 2015. I have several ideas for new stories, but I'm not ready to talk about them just yet.
BEF: One final question, of all the gifts that the different priestesses' have in the Kricket series, what one gift would you choose for yourself and why?
AAB: I would choose Giffen's gift of telekineses. (Is that allowed? He's not a "priestess", he's a "lost boy", but he shares the same type of genes. I guess I could say Brighton's gift, but I'd want to be able to use it like Giffen can.) A close second would be Phlix's gift of a shadow land.