Let’s put our hands together and welcome @Amberkbryant. As our first place winner of the Breathtaking Fantasy and Science Fiction Contest, Amber wowed the judges with a fantastic and yet sweet story of friendship, sacrifice, and love. She also agreed to participate in this interview, shedding some more light on her story, her skills, and her identity. If you’d like to check out her story, you can read it for free right here: Every Day in May
What is your book called?
Every Day in May
Why did you choose that name?
I had the name picked out before I knew what the story was going to be about. I wanted to post a story every day for a month, and so the name Every Day in May came to mind. The story developed from the title, which is not how things normally proceed for me, but it worked in this case.
If you were to sum up your story in brief, how would you describe it?
EDIM is the Rapunzel tale turned on its head, wherein Rapunzel (Theo) is a male heir to a dictatorship, the tower is the imposing stone heart of that dictatorship, the evil witch is a ruthless leader, and the prince (Merryn) is a daughter of political prisoners. The plot is driven by Merryn’s desire to save Theo from his prison by opening his mind to the wretched state of the land he is meant to rule over someday—if his father doesn’t decide to kill him first.
What do you see as the core themes in your story?
There’s definitely an underlying socio-political theme in EDIM. A famous quote from Aung San Suu Kyi states, “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” When you read EDIM, you’ll see that my main character, Merryn, believes these words fully. She lives this in fact, because she sees the damage the Leader’s desire to stay in power has done to the psyche of the people. At the same time, she also fears the motivations of those who are fighting to take him down. Power is always suspect in my work. But this is balanced with another theme: Self-determination. Merryn wants to free herself from the power structure she’s been intricately connected to her whole life, and she wants to give Theo the knowledge to free himself too. Each of them has quite a challenge ahead of them in order to achieve this freedom, and each must persevere or they will fail in their efforts. As you can imagine the ramifications if they should fail are pretty extreme.
What inspired this story initially? A single event? Multiple events?
Wattpad itself initially inspired this story. It was mid-April and I’d only been on the site for a few weeks when I got it in my head that I wanted to create a story that would be conducive to daily updates. It was an experiment, really, to see if I could hold readers’ attention through an entire month. I chose a letter format because each day’s update could be more or less self-contained and as long or short as I saw fit (I only had two weeks to write the entire thing and do an initial round of edits before I began posting on May 1st).
What is your favorite part of the story, if you can share without spoilers? (If you have to use spoilers, just write SPOILERS at the start of it.)
I have several favorite scenes, but I’ll share the one that I feel has the least potential for spoilers. Still, if you haven’t read EDIM, proceed at your own risk. This is a small scene. It doesn’t contain a major reveal. It isn’t a crucial part of the overall story arch. It is a simple memory from Merryn’s childhood, the memory of the first and only time she’s tasted ice cream, and to me, it’s very poignant. I can picture her, wide eyed, dressed in school attire, sitting at a table in a line with other pigtailed girls. She’s so excited! She knew this rare treat was coming. And then she takes her first bite. Can you remember your first bite of ice cream? I was too young to remember. But not Merryn. What if right now, you were getting your very first taste of something so incredibly rich? What if you knew it would also be your last?
I’ll let Merryn explain the experience in her own words:
I scooped up the first spoonful of creamy deliciousness and let it settle on my tongue. I had never tasted such flavors—sweet and salty together in one bite. The pistachios, we were told, came from one of the Leader’s closest allies. It was a rare thing for a citizen to get a taste of them—this was how special, how important we girls were to the Leader.
Our teacher always said we should savor the things we love best. I tried to eat slowly, but even so, it wasn’t long before my bowl was scraped clean. My eyes watered, realizing this was an experience that wouldn’t be repeated.
I do as my teacher says—I savor the things I love best in this world; the taste of pistachio ice cream licked from a silver spoon; the sound of my mother’s voice calling me in to dinner; my father’s arms wrapped around me. I remember best the moments that will never come again.
Which character is your favorite and why?
Definitely Jeffers. When I first wrote him into the story, I thought he would serve a purpose (not necessarily a big one) and when that purpose was done, he’d fade into the background. But he didn’t fade. He became one of the story’s most important characters. He totally earned his place. The story would have ended much differently without him. Plus, he’s a warrior archetype who has no clue there’s a comedic genius hidden under his gruff, tragic exterior—think Jayne Cobb from Firefly. I just can’t help but love him.
What authors and works most inspired you in the creation of this story?
I love that we continue to re-imagine folktales and am especially drawn to those that take the fairytale in directions you would never imagine. One of my very favorites of these is the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. The third book in this sci-fi series, Cress, is also a retelling of Rapunzel, wherein the Rapunzel character is trapped in a satellite orbiting earth and the witch is a mind-controlling moon-dwelling mad woman. It’s fabulous, and if you haven’t read this series, I can’t recommend it enough. I hadn’t initially intended to retell Rapunzel, so I’m sure my subconscious was at work thinking about Cress when I began writing EDIM.
In my story, the witch appears as an evil dictator. The Leader, as he is called, is an amalgamation of many real life dictators, past and present, particularly the current leader of North Korea and his predecessors. Last year I read a non-fiction account of life inside North Korean labor camps called Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden. That’s what inspired EDIM’s Red Camps as well as the general tone of life in the Land. This is a devastating but eye opening read. If you think the actions of the Leader in EDIM are farfetched, think again.
Finally, there’s Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale. This is a dark, dystopian story where people are pressed into circumstances they would normally never find themselves in. Theo’s mother, Francesca, is in some ways reminiscent of Offred, the narrator of The Handmaid’s Tale, as she is forced into a role someone else designed for her.
Do your characters ever surprised you? Or are you always in control?
Am I always in control? For several reasons, the answer is no. Firstly, to be in constant control over my characters, I’d have to have complete awareness of my own thoughts. I’m just not there yet. There’s a lot going on in that brain of mine that surprises me and therefore the characters I produce are pretty much just as flawed and unpredictable as I am. Secondly, once a story is shared with anyone, those characters exist outside of myself and therefore outside of my sphere of influence. They exist in the imaginations of readers. And anything can happen to them there.
One of the greatest things about Wattpad is that it affords the opportunity to interact with readers and get a glimpse at how they imagine my characters to be. I think as readers, we lay claim to the characters we identify with. Several of my readers would like to date my male protagonists, for instance. And, since as I’ve already stated I don’t have real control over them, I guess they are free to do so!
What are your plans for this book? Are you considering publication? Traditional or independent?
I’m not sure a traditional publisher would pick up this story since it’s already posted on Wattpad in its entirety. Plus it’s not a full length novel, it’s a novella. I wrote this story exclusively for Wattpad and I’m happy with it living on Wattpad. That said, I might still pitch it to a few eBook publishers, and I have considered self-publishing it. Maybe. That might happen eventually.
What’s your favorite writing secret?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Octavia Butler’s words, “Forget inspiration…forget talent. Persist.”
How I interpret this for myself: I am not a precious snowflake and neither is my writing…and that’s okay, as long as I keep writing!
I might think I’ve written the best line ever, but it’s not and I haven’t. No line is too precious that it can’t be reworked or eliminated altogether. Even some good lines sometimes just don’t work in the context of a specific scene or story. I am a lot less attached now to my initial sentiment about what I’ve written. I’ve also given up on the notion of being original. We don’t write in a bubble, we build upon what’s already been created. We make connections. We can and should strive to be innovative, but originality is not important. What is important is that we keep showing up—we keep writing, we learn to accept criticism, we write some more, we persevere.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not on Wattpad?
My life revolves around books. My husband is a bibliophile and I am a librarian as well as a writer, so our house is filled to the brim with them. I have a young son, and I enjoy spending time with him. While he is an active kid, if you ask him what he most likes to do with me, he’ll say reading, and I second that! One of my favorite things about parenting has been to share so many awesome stories with him. I also garden and I love experiencing life without Wi-Fi every now and then. I live near several mountain ranges. There’s nothing better than spending a summer day in the mountains hiking.
If there was one thing that you would like your readers to know about your story, what would it be?
I get asked a lot if there is going to be a sequel. The answer is no.
It’s hard for me to say no to a sequel because I am probably more attached to this story than to any others I’ve written to date. Last May was such an intense month—staying up late to edit before posting early in the morning, getting daily feedback on each update, the intensity building with each day as the story escalated and the stakes for its characters grew exponentially. It was all so wonderful, and when June hit, I went through major EDIM withdrawal.
That said, I feel very strongly that a second story could not have the same emotional impact that this one had. Plus, the truth of the matter is, the characters live outside of the narrative now. They live wherever readers imagine them to be, and that’s where they belong. I don’t want to take back the reigns. I think Merryn and Theo and the others deserve better than that. I’m happy with where I left them.
Any other exciting events you want to share with us?
I have a series on Wattpad called The Fold. Book 1, Unseen, has been featuring since June. When its six month stint ends in December, Book 2, Unheeded, will begin featuring, and I’m very excited for that. I’ll begin posting Book 3 sometime around then, so that’s something to look forward to as well. Until December, I’m working on contest entries, primarily, and, fingers crossed, will be finishing another manuscript to pitch to literary agents.
Thank you so much, Amber. It was our pleasure to have you here. To all of the readers, I can also tell you that The Fold is a splendid series that you should certainly check out as well. Really you can’t go wrong with any of these stories. Thank you again, Amber, and all the best to you.