Blending fantasy, mystery, and adventure, A.W. Exley is a rising star in the speculative fiction realm. Eschewing tired tropes, she brings a vibrant new voice to her readers.
RLM: What age were you when you decided to pursue writing as a career?
AWE: At the risk of sounding cliché, I’ve been writing for as long as I could remember. I worked on the school newspaper at high school and always had a novel ticking away, in long hand back in those days – PCs were only just coming out and they were all green screens and DOS based! I didn’t think of it as a serious option until I took a career break while my kids were young and wondered what the heck to do with myself all day. I cracked open the drawer, pulled out those old manuscripts and thought, just maybe, I could have a serious go at this 😉
RLM: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
AWE: For fantasy, Raymond Feist and Anne McCaffrey were both early loves from a young age. I admire the way Anne’s son took over her world and still continues to write in the Pern universe. James Herbert has always been my “go to” author for horror ever since Rats scared the heck out of me when I was eleven. I love Regency mysteries and I am a big fan of C.S. Harris. There is a level of detail and complexity to her plots that I can only hope to achieve one day.
RLM: If you could no longer writer (fiction OR nonfiction) what would you do for a living?
AWE: I’m a Forensic Accountant by trade and used to work in enforcement. I used to investigate the illegal sector and quantify income derived from criminal activities. It’s a pretty solid back up job.
RLM: Would you describe yourself as a “pantser” writer or a “planner?”
AWE: Can I answer both? I have a rough idea when I start (and I normally have endings first and work out how to get there) but I will just sit down and type until a project has proven itself. For me that’s when I hit around 10-15,000 words. At that stage I will plot out what ideas I have, where it’s going and certain beats I need to hit. I don’t do very detailed plans, but I always have a structure outline to follow.
RLM: You write in the often slippery steampunk subgenre. What draws you to steampunk? And what do you think are the defining elements of the genre?
AWE: Firstly, I’m drawn to the aesthetic and it dovetailed with my personality long before I knew the word “steampunk.” I ride sidesaddle, wear corsets, and have always thought we should bring back parasols. Secondly, I love that we can give women characters more latitude, they can break out of the strict Victorian mold and have adventures, stand up for themselves, and sometimes shoot first and ask questions later. It also allows you to play “what if” games with history and take plausible science at the time and extrapolate it along a different timeline.
I hate definitions and unfortunately there is a small element that believes you have to follow a strict set of guidelines otherwise you’re not writing steampunk. These self-appointed police telling people what is/isn’t steampunk is one thing that saddens me terribly about the community. Being told your individual interpretation/vision is NOT steampunk is one of the reasons I am moving out of genre.
RLM: Your books all contain strong elements of romance. What, in your opinion, is key to creating a convincing and satisfying love story?
AWE: Body count. I firmly believe you can’t have a romance without someone getting killed… J
I don’t think of myself as a romance writer and as a reader, I have a particular loathing for love-triangles. I think strong women need equally strong men to have their backs. I believe no woman needs a man but it’s about finding the perfect match that compliments her life and supports her in whatever she wants to try. Sometimes it’s an expected combo, like the individual who stole Amy’s heart. I also try and inject a dose of realism, I’m not a fan of “insta-love” so always think relationships need a solid grounding and try to figure out what characteristics/traits appeal to my heroines. Plus good relationships take work – it’s about give and take.
RLM: Which of your characters is your favorite?
AWE: I really like Jackson, the gruff ex-pugilist and Nate’s right hand man. There are layers to his personality that even I am just discovering. He really surprised me in my little novella, The Unicorn’s Tail, because he wasn’t supposed to feature prominently in that story at all! Lol
RLM: Is there a message in your stories that you want readers to grasp?
AWE: This is the horrible moment when you find out there is no deep and meaningful subliminal message in my books! Lol! I have always tried to show the value of true friendships more than “having a man.” A woman can be independent and fulfilled on her own, that she doesn’t need a man but the right one can complement and enhance her life.
RLM: What do you want to have accomplished in your career when it’s all said and done?
AWE: Gosh that’s a hard one. I just want to entertain people for a little while, to take them away to my world and have them forget what is going on outside the window for a few hours. If one person reads and enjoys my books then that is more than I could have imagined. If my books have any longevity after I am gone, then that is its own sort of immortality.
RLM: What can we expect next from you?
AWE: I’ve just sent book 4 in the Artifact Hunters off to my publisher and sorry to say, it is THE END for Cara and Nate. I’m taking a break and going to try something different. I have a dark fantasy world I am playing with, that will be a series of standalone novellas. I’m also going to try my hand at a Regency romance, although it will be more “romantic” than a true Romance (with the capital R) and will probably have a stronger mystery element.