Firebugs, kelpies, and were-foxes, oh my! The ever snarky Ava is back in the second installment of Lish McBride’s Firebug series, Pyromantic.
Ava is having a rough time. Getting rid of Venus didn’t set her free—she’s still Coterie. Her new boss seems like an improvement, but who knows if he’ll stay that way? And since she’s currently avoiding her friends after (disastrously) turning down a date with Lock, well, everything kind of sucks. On top, the Coterie is faced with an epidemic—something is turning normal creatures into killing machines. Unfortunately, this means Ava has to work with Lock and his new girl. Compared to facing such emotional turmoil, she’d rather take on an entire herd of flesh-eating kelpies . . . or she could just do both. Isn’t she just the lucky gal?
Tell us about Pyromantic. What can readers expect when they crack the spine of the sequel to Firebug?
Words. So many words. Words that I wrote, so fairly questionable words. What else can you expect? Well, I got to research some really creepy things for Pyromantic, so there’s that to look forward to. But there’s also the return of most of the characters from Firebug, plus a few new ones. I think you guys will really enjoy the new characters. I, for one, had a great time writing the killer ponies. (You heard me.) There’s more of the Drove, Sylvie, and Ava and her team. For those who read my first two books, there’s also the appearance of a few characters from the Necromancer books. There’s danger, magic, and a surprising amount of mucus. (I’m not really selling this thing well, am I?)
For some authors, writing the second book in a series tends to present more of a challenge than the first. Did you experience any of this while penning Pyromantic?
Second books are always the worst. I struggled a lot with Necromancing the Stone, mostly due to new author jitters. For Pyromantic , we had other issues. I got behind, my editor left to go freelance and a new editor had to jump in mid-edit, and I was also pregnant with my second child… who then decided to be overly dramatic about his entrance into the world. He’s fine now, but I had to spend almost a week in the hospital and he spent five in the NICU, so the road to Pyromantic was quite bumpy.
Pyromantic is a novel with a unique voice courtesy of the protagonist, Ava. I was impressed with how that tone stays solid throughout the novel, making Ava and her sharp wit leap off the page. What’s it like writing such a strong character? Do you have any tricks you employ to keep each word popping off the page just as strong as the last?
We worked really hard to get Ava’s voice that solid — and I mean that “we.” I had a great editor who has an eye for voice and picked out anything that didn’t sound like Ava. I also had a handful of excellent beta readers. So I guess the trick is having great editors and readers that you trust. The other trick, really, is just learning to trust yourself as a writer and listen to your characters. It probably helps that I was a little like Ava — socially awkward and a little mouthy. It got me in a lot of trouble as a teen, but it’s helpful now… at least in books. Probably not so much in real life.
The big mystery throughout Pyromantic revolves around finding out who or what is poisoning magic folk. There were twists and turns as we followed the characters through the process of uncovering the source. Tell us a bit about your plotting process. What was it like keeping all those threads under control and keeping a complex plot understandable for readers?
Plot generally only looks seamless and magic to those who didn’t work on the book. When you’re putting the thing together, you’re constantly dropping threads, screwing up continuity, and generally just mucking about. Then you spend a lot of time freaked out that you missed something that no one will catch until after the book is published. It’s like exploratory surgery, except the surgeon has no idea what they’re doing. My first draft is always a hot mess. Seriously. The first draft is to get the general idea of where I’m going. Then we edit it to death. We actually cut a large section of Pyromantic out after I got my first notes from my editor and I had to rewrite it. I write, edit and rewrite until my editor can finally make sense of where I’m trying to go. And to be honest, I hate editing. Sadly, that’s where all the really good writing happens, so it’s very, very necessary. So what looks like complex plotting is mostly just me going over the book again and again…and again.
I’m always curious about whether authors have a favorite character, whether to write or in general. Do you have one?
I enjoy writing all of my characters—I have to, or I wouldn’t be able to stomach so much time with them. Some are definitely more fun than others, for different reasons. From the Firebug books, I like Ava because she’s impatient, indelicate, and a bit ham-fisted in her approach to things. She means well, but often doesn’t understand the delicate dance that is human relationships. She’s blunt and that’s fun to write. Ezra, on the other hand, is cocky, brash, and funny. He thinks he’s perfect and there’s something delightful in writing a character that makes no excuses for themselves. I enjoyed writing Sam from the Necromancer books because he has such a good heart. It was always interesting to write Douglas’s chapters. There’s something fun about slipping into the shoes of a villain. His chapters never needed much editing. I’ve always found it a little disturbing that I was apparently able to channel a sociopath so easily.
Can you tell us about your choice to pull from multiple cultures rather than sticking to one when it comes to the mythos throughout Pyromantic?
Did you ever read American Gods? (You should if you haven’t.) In that book when people came over to this country from various backgrounds and cultures, they brought their gods and creatures with them. That always made sense to me. This country is made up of a lot of different kind of people, from many different kinds of backgrounds. And with the exception of American tall tales and the stories and mythology of the different Native American tribes through out the US, America doesn’t really have our own solid mythology. We’re too young for that. So to me it made sense that Ava would be dealing with a variety of creatures from different backgrounds for that reason. Humans also tend to muck about with local ecosystems. We bring in foreign animals or plants, either by accident or by whim with little thought as to what that would do to the local ecosystem. (If you want a good example of this, read about the fun that Florida is currently having with Burmese pythons.) Finally, I just really like reading about different kinds of mythology and pulling in creatures that are fun or work well with whatever story I’m putting together.
This was an oddly complicated answer to what was really a fairly straightforward question. What it really boils down to is, “this way I get to do what I want instead of adhering to a single mythos.”
What’s next for you and the Firebug Series? Can readers expect a third?
I would love to write a third, but I’m not currently working on it. I’m not done with Ava, just like I’m not done with Sam, I just don’t have anything in the works currently. Right now I’m working on two projects — one that I co-wrote with Martha Brockenbrough. It’s with an editor right now and I can’t really talk about it yet. The other is a standalone novel about fairytale curses. Other than that I recently put up two short stories featuring Sam and Ramon called “Freaks & Other Family.”