Lola Ford is an SPFBO author from 2020. I read her book recently and was impressed enough by the book to want to do a spotlight interview. I know! We have both been cut. SPFBO is over except for those glorious winners. But Lola’s book is a perfect example of why you should read not just semi-finalists and finalists. There are many, many talented authors in the mix and some of them are edged out of the winners list because of personal tastes, not because their book isn’t good. So give some of the other books a read.
I admit, finishing this book took me much longer than expected because life got in the way, but I finished reading it last Saturday.
Lola loves dragons and this comes through in her beautiful treatment of them. In her world, they are intelligent and noble, strong and yes… they can speak to humans. I loved the story, which starts out with Graith, an adult who meets a dragon and saves it from being hunted. He soon find out her eggs are in danger and they go to rescue them, only to find they have been stolen. This story is intertwined with the story of a far kingdom, where an ordinary girl is chosen by a royal dragon to be a princess. The story develops and comes together in a satisfying conclusion. Lola was kind enough to grant me an interview. You can read it below.
Lola Ford is a fantasy and science fiction author heavily influenced by the works of Anne McCaffrey, Tamora Pierce, and Mercedes Lackey. Dragons feature predominately in her works, and are the majority of her To Be Read pile.
Lola lives in Kansas with her husband, Joshua, and two dogs, Etna and Midna (both of whom she’ll assure you are very good girls). Lola spends most if not all of her time reading, writing, and thinking about dragons.
When not writing, or in other words doing things to pay the bills, she is a chemist who is still slightly bummed she didn’t go into genetics and build herself a dragon. Actual work gets slipped in there as well – but it’s not dragons, and thus not fun.
Welcome to my lair, Lola. Tell me about a great book you’ve read recently!
Thanks for having me Anne. I haven’t had time to read a book (physically at least) in ages. I do however have plenty of time at work to listen to audio books. My most recent listening however has been Dragonsdawn by Anne McCaffery. Out of all her Pern Books it might be the most Science Fantasy of them all.
Several thousand colonists travel from Earth and First Centauri to Pern. They have extremely advanced science capabilities but are giving it all up – and leaving a war-torn empire – behind to live an agrarian lifestyle. Things go well and jump between several of the settlers for the first seven years. Then – as all Pern books go – Thread appears. Taken by surprise, the young colony sustains heavy losses of both life and farm stock. Using the last of their technology, they genetically modify a local creature, lovingly called dragonettes, into much larger versions of themselves. Large enough to ride, and like their miniature versions, are capable of breathing fire and going between.
As someone who’s read all of the Pern books multiple times, and Anne McCaffrey being one of my heaviest influences on my own writing, Dragonsdawn is a great look at how Pern came to be. It’s fun to see little Easter eggs left in that lead to the logical progression of how life evolved on Pern in the original books like Dragonflight.
What’s your favorite song?
Oh, that’s a hard question. I really like anything by Volbeat (yes they have a song with Lola in the title – and yes I might be a little vain for liking it). I also really enjoy Theory of a Deadman. But to actually jump music genres – my favorite might just be American Pie by Don Mclean (had to look that up), possibly because my mom played it on repeat as I grew up.
Okay, time to escalate things: you get to travel to any book’s setting and world but you have to choose only one. Where do you go?
Why would you do this to me? My initial and not-well-thought answer is ‘Oh that’s easy – Pern!’ But would I get my own Dragon? Would it be in a time of Thread? I’m not adventurous enough to risk my life. Hmm. Maybe Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar? No world ending daily threat, and still magical companions, this time in horse form. Plus magic in the world. So probably there… if I had time to think about it.
How do you like to work? (In silence, with music? Do you prefer to type or to hand- write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or underwater in scuba gear?)
I am a hard core pantser. I have one large whiteboard that has about 20 plot points on it, and that’s it – the planning for the whole trilogy for A Thunder of Dragons. When I wrote Heartscale, I actually wrote it as two shorter novellas “Heartscale” and “Dragon’s Choice.” It wasn’t until about halfway through the first draft that I realized they very easily could be in the same world – and even interact with one another. The hard part came when I tried to put them together. Trying to get people to read a new book, by a new author is hard enough, and publishing two while promising “they’re connected!” would have been an insurmountable task. But with edits, and some major restructuring, I’m happy with how it turned out.
But back to the point – I write the barebones of the story and then go back and fill in the missing details and clean things up. The first draft of Heartscale was only 90,000 words. The final draft was just over 125,000. I pretty much always write in silence – or as close as you can get when you have the loudest of clickity clack keys. Oh, and I always write while wearing my pajamas!
Tell me about your writing method!
I sit down and usually do a writing sprint or two (where I do nothing but word vomit for 20 minutes at a time and then reread what I’ve got). I consider writing a hobby, so if that’s all I write in a day, that’s okay. When I have a full chapter, usually between 1500 and 2000 words – I serialize my fiction. I publish one chapter at a time, unedited more than a cursory spell check round in Word, then post it to my personal subreddit, r/LandofMisfits, and to reddit’s home of serialized fiction, r/RedditSerials. There are other sites out there for serializing, but I’m lazy.
I’ve found this to be my best way of building an audience. I can write prompt responses on r/writingprompts and link back to my subreddit to gain followers, and expose them to Heartscale and the currently-being-written Shatterscale.
Other than that – I just always try to write something that I would want to read.
What/Who are your most significant fantasy influences?
Well, Anne McCaffrey, first and foremost. I would never have fallen in love with dragons without her. In the same vein, Mercedes Lackey – I think I just really have a thing for telepathic companions. And then to round out the top three, Tamora Pierce. I love her style of writing.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Most important is simply – “Get the words on the paper.”
If you don’t have anything written you can’t edit it, you can’t work it to make it better. You have to just start somewhere, and usually that somewhere is words on paper. (And electronic paper definitely counts – I couldn’t imagine handwriting a book).
The least helpful would probably be that you have to know your characters/world/settings before writing. I’ve seen so many authors fall into this trap of writing what they consider the perfect character, or setting, or magic system, then fail to get them into a workable story.
Can you tell me a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Shatterscale is currently my main project. It’s the direct sequel to Heartscale, picking up the moment Heartscale leaves off, but shifting through a series of POVs rather than locking in on two definite story lines. I’m trying to have the draft done by August, so that I can have it edited (something I didn’t do for Heartscale and definitely regretted at launch), and ready to go by November.
Other than that, I have two stories on hiatus – The Dragon’s Apprentice. (oh look – another story about dragons) In a world where magic is becoming scarce, the “Dark Lord” is gathering magic for her nefarious ploys. Only, when the Chosen of the God of Light is sent to slay the evil monster, he finds out that a) She’s not evil b) She wants him to become her apprentice.
And then I have Verbum Magia – an Isekai about a Latin Professor who is transferred to a magical world where Elves rule and control the humans and dwarves with their spoken magic. He can hardly believe it when the Elves control of magic is through Latin. When he tries to escape by crafting his own magic it doesn’t work quite the way he wants. Recaptured, his captor steals his ability to talk – and his ability to cast the magic. But the professor isn’t about to give up, and will do anything to get home. No dragons in this one yet – but I’m writing it after all, so we’ll see how long they stay missing.
How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Recently I’ve had a friend, Jessica Hicks, who’s come up with a “10 words a day” goal. 10 words is basically one sentence, but how many times is it the action of getting started that makes you not want to write? If you write the 10 words, and honestly just can’t get into the action of writing, then move on. But most times you’re not going to be able to stop at just 10 words.
Then of course I have my writing sprints. 20 minutes of writing at a time and as long as I tried, I’m happy.
Who are your favourite characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?
Oof. I have to have a favorite? I definitely have a favorite trope of character – I love strong, independent women in fantasy. Kerowyn from Mercede Lackey’s By the Sword, or Alianne or her mother Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s world of Tortall. They’d probably be my top 3.
My favorite type of character to write is dragons. I love dragons who are basically oversized people. They have their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations. But then they have the size and strength of dragons, and that not quite human mentality of what is and isn’t right or wrong.
Tell me about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The Library by Casey White. Daniel, kidnapped away to the Library of Alexandria where time runs strange and visitors come seeking hidden knowledge, is expected to become the next Librarian. Taught to always hide his true self away from the patrons, his persona is Owl, granted to him by his mentor Crow. But when Crow disappears Daniel is left as the sole Librarian.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle me with an elevator pitch?
For Heartscale I’m assuming? When dragons appear, life is bound to be interesting, and more than likely, chaotic.
Why should readers check out your work?
Well – Dragons! But if they need more than that – although I can’t imagine why anyone would – there’s a few good humans in there too. Beyond the character driven plot, the story has tropes of found family, quests for stolen eggs, and merchant’s daughters becoming crown princesses filling the pages of Heartscale.