Alexa Padgett talks writing romance and fantasy with Deana Luchia.
Q: You are writing two different series: The Echo Series and Seattle Sound Series. These are very different series of books, one fantasy, one steamy romance. Where did the ideas come from to write these two very different genres?
A: The idea for Echo came to me a few years ago. I live in New Mexico, and I wanted to read a book that focused on the native cultures to the area. No one was writing fantasy about the Pueblo Indians or the Spanish culture that pervades my town. So I decided to write it, but I decided to write a sassy Latina, someone whose snark gets her into way too much trouble.
For the romances, I’ve always been fascinated with music. My brother had a garage band in high school, and I loved the idea of gigs, singing–a creative outlet. But I knew I didn’t want to write about the dark side of music—about the addiction or the burnout. A couple of years ago, my husband went to a conference and my parents took the kids for three days. I sat down at my computer, thinking about an ageing rock star and what he’d want out of life. Fifty thousand words later, I had the genesis for the Seattle Sound series.
Q: Was it a conscious decision to write two very different series?
A: Yes. I’m not saying it was smart. In fact, writing two series simultaneously isn’t the easiest choice. But I do think it’s pushed me creatively as well as organizationally.
One issue of concern was becoming pigeonholed as a writer. This tends to be more common in the American literary world than in the British one. But I’ve always wanted to be considered a great storyteller, not a great fantasy author. So I set out to write in two of the genres I enjoy reading. There are more—I love thrillers and mysteries, suspense, women’s fiction; I love relatable literary fiction and dystopian and steampunk and paranormal, YA and middle grade. But I only love all these genres when the story pulls me in and holds me tight in the protagonist’s voice and emotions.
Q: Do you have a favourite when it comes to writing books in these series? Do you sometimes feel more like writing romance than fantasy? Or do you have a writing schedule where you do a bit of one, then a bit of the other?
A: Readers have a favorite—they like the romances more. So I’ve moved in that direction to accommodate my readers. I enjoy writing both and hope to continue in both genres for the foreseeable future. Though I have this really cool idea for a thriller series I’d like to get to…
Q: For anyone writing romance, what are the most important elements of a good romance?
A: The same as any other book, really. I think the key to any great story is focusing in on what the character craves, how their decisions change them, and, in romance, how love conquers those fears or handicaps. I’ve heard it said that all romances are the same. I see the point—there is a formula—but I disagree because all stories, the great ones at least, showcase an individual’s growth. Just as each of us is individual, a story must be, too.
Q: How important are sex scenes? Are they at all awkward tor difficult o write? Or is this the fun part?
A: First off, in romance, if you’re not writing sweet romance, the readers demand good sex scenes. That said, I don’t like writing about sex—at least not in great detail. Don’t get me wrong. Sex is an important part of a solid, loving relationship, and I like to think intercourse magnifies the mutual respect and passion necessary to build a long-term, intimate partnership. That said, up until three years ago, I refused to even try to write about sex in any kind of detail. I was embarrassed. I worried my mother would read my sex scenes (which she has!). But, as I reach forty, I no longer care quite so much about others’ opinions. I have to write the story as it deserves to be written. And in steamy romance novels, that means sex. Sometimes a lot of it.
Q: How do you ensure that there’s chemistry between protagonists? Is this difficult to create on the page?
A: Great question! No, I don’t think so. By the time I get through the meet and the build, the chemistry feels established. There are scenes that don’t work and get cut, but that’s more me trying to write something I want to see than letting the characters act out their passions.
Q: How important was it for you to have a strong female character in your fantasy series?
A: Strong female characters are important in all my books—in any series I write. I have daughters, and I want them to know they have a right to their feelings, to their dreams, to their education—basically, to do and be the best versions of themselves. I try to write women they’d be proud of.
That’s not to say a female has to be bold or brash—I don’t think I’m those characteristics (often). Many of my friends are not larger-than-life, but they are women who work hard, who are smart and capable, and I respect them for making tough choices and for living lives of purpose. I want to celebrate these fantastic ladies and make sure other women are as empowered through my work.
Q: When you write your fantasy novels, do you plan out in advance all the details of these fictional worlds, or do you just start writing and see where it takes you?
A: I made a huge mistake when I started developing the Echo series and Echo’s world. I assumed I should—and could—try everything. Don’t do that! Such an approach leads to paralysis, or worse, pages of writing that go nowhere. Setting parameters for the world first will save so much time and energy—both mental and emotional. These don’t have to be restrictive (no one can have blue eyes, all creatures must have seven toes, and gravity is ten times as strong on my planet as it is on Earth!). Of course, if those restrictions do fit in your world, run with them.
Instead, I suggest working to understand the world your character lives in by asking questions about the character: Why this particular point in time? Why this place? Why does the protagonist live with these people/ in this society? Why is the protagonist’s journey important (and how does it impact his or her world)? What roadblocks (if any) does the world create for the protagonist? What benefits (if any) does the world create for the protagonist? How, specifically, will the protagonist change within the world and why does that change matter?
You may not answer all of these questions, but have something to build from is simpler than starting from ether. And good luck! World-building, done right, is hard work.
Q: What are your top three romantic novels and top three fantasy novels as a reader?
A: Hmmm, this is so tough. I have lots of writer friends, all of whom write amazing books! For fantasy (with romance), I’d have to say Grace Draven’s Eidolon, Jeffe Kennedy’s Sorcerous Moons series and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I’m also a big fan of traditional fantasies: David Eddings, J.K. Rowling, Roger Zelazny, and J. R. R. Tolkein.
As far as romances go, there’s tons of great stuff out there right now. Katie Lane writes heart-warming and fun Texas romance. Tamra Baumann writes small town contemporary romance. I’ve read Elle Kennedy’s entire Off Campus series and I enjoyed Vi Keeland’s The Baller. You didn’t ask, but I always recommend Sharon Kay Penman. I loved her historical novels Here Be Dragons and The Sunne in Splendour.
In case you didn’t notice, I try to keep my reading eclectic. Right now I’m reading Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching and Melinda Snodgrass’s The Higher Ground. Next up is Carly Simon’s Boys in the Trees and American Gods by Neil Gaiman. And I have Toni Morrison’s Beloved waiting on my shelf. Soon, Beloved, soon…