Book Tour Q&A: The Stars Within by Lena Alison Knight
Today we're taking part in the book tour organized by Escapist Book Tours for The Stars Within by Lena Alison Knight! Continue reading for the book blurb and a Q&A with the author.
About the book
For Kerelle Evandra, her psionic powers have always meant three things: mandatory service to a multigalactic corporation, a luxurious lifestyle as a prized asset, and an electronic collar that will kill her if she steps out of line. As a powerful telekinetic, she’s spent the last ten years of her life in the corporate military, fighting anyone and anywhere the company demands. While she might resent her gilded cage - and obedience to her corporate masters’ cold directives - everyone knows that escape is impossible. And defiance risks not just her own life, but also the life of the person closest to her: Galhen Ambrel, her lover and fellow bound psionic.
But when Galhen’s service contract is suddenly sold to a distant oligarch, Kerelle learns that obedience was not the guarantee of safety she once thought - and that escape may not be as inconceivable as she was taught to believe. When a mission brings her into contact with an unexpected ally, she must decide how far she can go, and how much she’s willing to risk for freedom.
On to the interview...!
This is one of our standard podcast opening questions, so we’ll include it for written interviews as well! Tell us something great that’s happened recently! :)
This might be stretching “recent,” but I had the opportunity to stay in Yosemite for several days in March this year, and it was a pretty magical experience. It was my first time going in winter, and I was a little apprehensive because the weather is such a wildcard at that time of year. But we got really lucky, and there was just enough snow to be fun (but not enough to cause problems with roads, etc). Plus, the park was relatively empty - we went over an hour without seeing anyone on the trail, which is unheard of in the summer months.
What are you currently reading or what’s up next on your TBR? What made you pick up this book?
One of the next books I’m planning to pick up is Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin, which won the inaugural Self-Published Science Fiction Contest. A lot of really interesting-sounding books made it into the quarterfinals and beyond, and I have a pretty long backlog of SPSFC books I would love to read at some point.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start writing?
So in a way I’ve been writing my whole life; I was that kid who was always making up elaborate stories about my toys and filling up notebooks with various scenes and ideas. I’d always had a terrible time actually finishing things, though, and that contributed to feeling like maybe I wasn’t cut out for this whole author thing. I wrote a lot for my job, but my fiction kind of fell by the wayside after college. I had some ideas jotted down, and sometimes I’d write a scene or two, but it never went anywhere.
This is going to sound ridiculous because “plotter vs. pantser” is such a well-known idea in writing circles, but I was in my early thirties the first time I ever heard it. And a lightbulb went on. At work, I was a meticulous outliner, and I had an excellent track record of finishing substantial writing projects on timeline. With my fiction, I’d been taking the pantser approach my whole life…and never finished anything.
I sat down and started trying to actually outline one of the stories I had bouncing around in my head. The rest is history; I published the complete Gift of the Stars trilogy in early 2021.
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of reading/writing that you can talk to us about?
I’m a huge RPG nerd, both video games and tabletop. I’ve also gotten really into hiking in the last few years. I love writing, but it does mean spending a lot of time hunched over a screen inside. Getting out in the fresh air is a nice counterbalance, and I’m lucky to have a pretty good number of trails within short driving distance.
Writing is a hard and lonely affair in the best of circumstances. How do you achieve a good work/life/writing balance?
I get up early. It was actually easier back when I was commuting, because I had this built-in time where I was riding the train up to the city and I could just spend it working on my book. It’s a little harder at home because there are so many distractions, but I find I can still be really productive if I’m awake when the rest of the world is asleep. On good days, I can get a few hundred words in before I have to start my day job, then I have my evenings open to recharge.
Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influences?
Oo, that’s hard! Seanan McGuire and T. Kingfisher are probably at the top of my current favorite list, maybe Hailey Edwards also. I clear my schedule for their new releases.
One of my biggest influences when I was writing Gift of the Stars was Lindsay Buroker (who has also been a personal fave for years!). She was one of the first self-published authors I discovered and got really into. I think I read all 7 books in the Emperor’s Edge series in a weekend. And she was really inspiring to me, partially as just proof that self-publishing was a thing you could do, and be successful at. Her books were also the kind of stories that I wasn’t used to seeing from traditional publishing - adventure stories with middle-aged protagonists (middle aged women protagonists, even), and a freewheeling approach to genre mixing. Her success was proof that there was an audience for that kind of story, which was the kind of story I wanted to tell too.
I mentioned I play a lot of RPGs - I think that comes out sometimes in my writing also. The sequels to The Stars Within have a larger set of main characters, and I realized partway through The Stars Unbound that I’d been unconsciously structuring it like Mass Effect - go out on a mission, lots of action, then go back to the ship and talk about everyone’s feelings, then go on another mission. So that was kind of wild.
What are your favorite types of stories? Of characters?
I like stories about complicated situations where there isn’t always a clear-cut right answer, because life doesn’t usually have clear-cut right answers. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I like a straightforward hero story as much as anyone, but the stories that stick with me tend to be a little more gray. I also like stories that take a realistic approach to things like social and political change - i.e., that it’s hard work, and you can’t just magically fix society by winning a boss fight.
My answer for characters is similar - I enjoy stories about complicated characters, who maybe haven’t always made the best life choices. Hailey Edwards in particular does a great job with this; a lot of her urban fantasy books are as much about recovering from past trauma and transgressions as they are about saving the world. This is a bit of a theme in Gift of the Stars as well, actually. A lot of the main characters have had to do things to survive that they aren’t especially proud of. Particularly in the later books, there’s this question of, “okay, what can I do now to try to even those scales a little.”
Can you give us an elevator pitch for your book?
Indentured psionic soldier hits her limit, sets out to rescue herself and her boyfriend from a corporation that puts the “terminate” in “termination of employment.” What starts as a personal mission escalates over the course of three books into a larger conflict for the future of psionics everywhere.
In your opinion, what kind of reader would like this book?
Well, fans of telekinetic explosions in space are definitely in luck! I would encourage readers who enjoy action/adventure and space opera (or fantasy - I’ve said more than once that Gift of the Stars is essentially a fantasy set in space) to give it a look.
I think it’s also a good fit for readers who like some less-conventional elements to their stories. Like books with established relationships? Friendships that are just as important as romance? Protagonists in their thirties? Give The Stars Within a try.
How much do you plan when you write? What’s your writing process like?
I have to plan everything, otherwise disaster will ensue. I go through a full plot outline before I even start drafting, which sometimes takes just as long as drafting the actual book. Arguably, figuring out Where This Whole Thing is Going Anyway is the hardest part (for me, anyway).
Once I have an outline, I’ll sit down and start actually writing the draft itself. I do still have my pantser moments , though. Sometimes something from the outline just doesn’t hit right when it’s actually in the prose, and I’ll have to rethink a scene. Other times I’ll have an idea for something cool that could happen between points A and B and decide to add it in. Overall, though, I always know where point B is, which is what keeps me from writing myself into a corner and getting stuck like I did in my pre-outline days.
Is this your first book? If so, what lessons have you learned from writing it? If not, what lessons did you learn from writing earlier books that you brought into this one?
It is my first book! One of the biggest things that happened over the course of writing it was that I had to almost re-learn how to write fiction. As I mentioned earlier, I did a lot of fiction writing as a child/teenager, but for most of my twenties the primary writing I did was for work.
I work in marketing, and brevity is key. For things like headlines and ad copy, and even for longer pieces like blogs or white papers, you want to use as few words as possible. There’s no room for extraneous detail or prose; if it’s not directly contributing to the message, it gets cut. And so when I sat down to finally write fiction again, I had to kind of un-learn some of those habits. The first complete draft of The Stars Within was very sparse. There was minimal description, minimal worldbuilding, and events unfolded in a very straightforward way. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t terribly good either.
Fortunately, I got better as I went along….and also fortunately, I wrote all three books in Gift of the Stars before publishing, in part because it’s really one story in three parts (that would have been a doorstopper as a single book). By the time I finished writing The Stars Ablaze, there was a very noticeable difference in quality between the third and first books. I ended up going back and completely redrafting The Stars Within before publishing, to bring it up to par with books two and three.
Do you usually write to background noise, music, etc. or do you prefer silence?
In a vacuum, silence. Music tends to distract me. However, background talking is more distracting, so in those cases instrumental music can help me block it out. Back when I used to write on the commuter train, I definitely had to pull out my trusty headphones to block out loud conversations.
They say to never judge a book by its cover and maybe that’s true in the philosophical sense, but it certainly happens with books. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of your book?
The idea for the cover was, I wanted to get across that this was a space opera with military elements, but also character-driven. We also meet our heroine Kerelle at a low point in her life; she’s spent ten years fighting for the bad guys (because they’ll kill her if she doesn’t), and it’s starting to catch up with her emotionally. I wanted to capture some of that inner conflict as well. My cover artist did a custom photo shoot, and I thought the image we used for the Stars Within cover really nailed it.
That said, I’ve gotten feedback from multiple people that the cover led them to expect the book would be a romance (or YA)...which it’s not. So, I’m considering doing a new cover at some point that emphasizes the action element - though I’d still want to capture that feeling of Kerelle’s ambivalence about it all.
Is there anything you can tell us about any current projects you’re working on?
I actually have a couple of projects I’m splitting my time between right now. One is a sort of science fantasy with more of an academia setting; Gift of the Stars got pretty dark in places, and it’s nice to be working on something lighter and lower-stakes (more “will we get our grant money” than “are we all going to die.”) I’m also working on something that’s turning into more of an epic fantasy - though it may well end up being set in space too…
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for us! We always enjoy this little peek behind the curtain. Do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to leave for our readers?
Thank you so much for having me! As a parting thought - I would encourage readers, if they aren’t familiar, to give indie books a try. There are some really excellent stories out there, that followed a nontraditional path to publishing, and they might find something they quite like!
And finally, where can you be found on the internet if our readers want to hear more from you?
I post updates to my website and blog at lenaalisonknight.com, and I also have a mailing list for anyone who wants to keep apprised of what I’m working on. For people that prefer social media, I do have an Instagram: @lenaalisonknight.