In her sci-fi novel Free Chocolate, writer Amber Royer not only created a galaxy in which chocolate is worth killing for, she did so by melding elements of space operas with telenovelas. In the following email interview, she discusses the second book in this sweet saga, Pure Chocolate (paperback, Kindle), the next chapter in her Chocoverse series.
First off, what is Pure Chocolate about and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to the previous book, Free Chocolate?
Pure Chocolate picks up a couple of months after Free Chocolate. You know, just enough time for Bo to sort out her legal problems in the aftermath of the first book, while allowing the reader to skip the boring bits. At the end of Free Chocolate, Bo has made a promise to go to an alien planet to forward Earth’s diplomatic efforts to avoid the invasion that’s trying to force trade. It’s the deal she’s made to save her life, since what she did in Book 1 made her guilty of crimes that should have resulted in her execution. But HGB needs her to be on Zant, so they let her live. Which introduces the theme of mercy, which runs throughout the book.
We catch up with her shortly after she arrives — bringing with her Brill (Bo’s alien boyfriend) and Tawny (her HGB-appointed publicist).
This time, Bo digs deeper into HGB’s secrets and discovers they may have far wider galactic implications than she could have imagined. And on Zant, people have started acting weird. To the point where Bo suspects there may be an unknown virus causing altered behavior. When it starts to affect the people she’s brought with her, Bo realizes she has to solve this mystery too — or risk losing everyone she cares about.
Where did you get the idea for Pure Chocolate, and how, if at all, did your idea evolve as you wrote this story?
I was looking at the intersection of science fiction tropes and soap opera tropes. One of the biggest, most over-used soap tropes is the evil twin, second only to the character who dies, but turns out to not really be dead. I mean seriously, if there’s no body, there’s a good chance that character will show up at the most dramatic moment possible. Sometimes, even if there is a body, this can happen. What? That wasn’t me that burned to death in the car, despite what you thought about the dental records. I tried to think what the science fiction equivalent of this would be, and I wound up with a character who, in effect, comes back as his own evil twin.
I had to fit that into the Chocoverse, and use it to move the overall narrative forward, knocking down some of the plot-dominos I’d set up in Free Chocolate. To do that, I took a standard science fiction trope and tailored it to my specific protagonist. Bo’s all heart and looks for the best in everyone. So where everyone else sees a monster, Bo sees someone in need of help. Which I think makes for a much more interesting story.
It also helps keep Bo front and center, and makes this her story, when it could so easily have gone to Brill or Chestla or even Tyson — all characters who protag with their fists as much as their hearts.
Free Chocolate was a space opera story, but it had some situational humor, as well as romance that came courtesy of the influence of telenovelas. Does Pure Chocolate have these same elements or are there others aspects to this story as well?
This story does still have the humor and romance and total cheesetasticness of a telenovela — to the point where Bo has started looking for the tropes and wondering why her life has started to have so many over the top coincidences. I don’t go as far as breaking the fourth wall or having her speculate as to whether or not she’s fictional — my agent asked at one point as to whether or not I see Bo as this ‘verse’s Deadpool, and no, I don’t think she’s quite that self-aware — but people are designed to look for patterns and meaning, and it’s fun to let her talk about how she’s seen a trope in a script (she was a minor telenovela star before the start of the first book), but it’s totally different living it in real life. I did this a bit more subtly in the first book, but at the point where you’re looking at the empty coffin and the return of the evil twin — subtle just makes it look like a writing mistake.
This one has a lot more perilous space adventure than in the last one, with a huge space chase to track down one of the characters, and visits to two of the home planets of characters introduced in the first book. It also dips one toe into the realm of the mad scientist story.
Are there any writers or specific stories that were a big influence on Pure Chocolate but not on Free Chocolate?
Some of these are going to seem like coming at it from odd angles, but: The Host by Stephanie Meyer, with its emphasis on competing / shared intelligences. They don’t really work the same in the Chocoverse, but it gave me a bit to think about; Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton, with everything it has to say about taking responsibility for your science and whatever you’ve created; Beggars In Spainby Nancy Kress, with the undertone of fearing what you’ve created; The Island Of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, because Moreau was the original irresponsible scientist and introduces the trope of the monster turning on its creator; the Ender series by Orson Scott Card, with the ongoing discussion of safety vs. aggression and the moral lines of xenocide, even under threat; and the Pern books by Anne McCaffrey, for reasons that will become obvious mid-way into Pure Chocolate.
Interesting. What about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big impact on Pure Chocolate?
Also, The Great British Baking Show. After all, Bo is going to Zant to appear with one of the Zantites’ most popular celebrities on a cooking show.
Now, when we did the previous interview about Free Chocolate [which you can read here], you said this was a series, but you didn’t say how many books you were thinking it would be. So, are there plans for more books post-Pure Chocolate? If so, what can you tell us about them in terms of how many there will be, what they’re called, when they’ll be out…?
I’m hard at work on Book 3, tentatively titled Fake Chocolate, because there’s a whole subplot involving carob. At this point, I’ve outlined everything for the Chocoverse as two separate trilogies, with distinct plot problems. Fake Chocolate will wrap up everything with the Zantite invasion, and then we’ll see if there’s enough interest to do the second half.
As you may know, Angry Robot is transitioning to a new London Office, so I do not have details at this time as to specific plans for Book 3. But I hate a story that ends in the middle, so rest assured, that at some point soon, this will be in the hands of the fans.
Now, as you know, some people wait until every book in a series is out before they read any of them, though they then read all of them in rapid succession. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read them? Or should wait? Or should wait but not read them all in a row?
Read them now! While they are part of the larger narrative, I’ve tried to build the books in the Chocoverse series so that they are satisfying reads in and of themselves, with a specific plot problem introduced and solved in the self-contained narrative, while at the same time Bo is getting pieces of the overarching problem that drives the series. I’ve also tried to re-introduce information in the later books so that a reader who skipped the earliest one won’t be completely lost, and readers for whom it’s been a while will have that nudge to remember what happened previously.
Look at it in the spirt of the telenovela. Before you could stream everything, people had to tune in for one episode at a time, usually with a cliffhanger ending to build anticipation for the next one.
When we did the interview for Free Chocolate, you said there were no plans at the time to make it into a movie, TV show, or video game. Is that still the case, or had that changed?
Nope, no news on that front. Dear reader, if you are someone who makes movies or video games, this one has a lot of visual appeal, and you should consider it.
No. I doubt I’m on their radar. And if I was, they probably wouldn’t care, either way. My books are intended to be fun, lighthearted and celebrate all things chocolate.
I have made connections with local chocolatiers through Dallaschocolate.org, and they had me out to do a reading at this year’s Dallas Chocolate Festival. Seeing these people whose small businesses are all sparked by a passion for chocolate is truly inspiring. Many of the chocolate makers who do single-source bars travel the globe in pursuit of flavor and excellence, helping local economies in the process.
That said, while I do love exploring high-end chocolate, and I can flavor-note snob with the best of them, I still sometimes eat grocery-store candy, especially if it involves peanuts or hazelnuts. And mass-produced chocolate is definitely easier to bake with, as the blended-bean uniformly “chocolaty” taste doesn’t require recipe tailoring.
Good to know. So, finally, if someone enjoys Free Chocolate and Pure Chocolate, what similar book of someone else’s what would you suggest they read next?
Pure Chocolate is hard to match exactly, but for a reader who’s okay with something less on the humorous side, I’d suggest A Fire Upon The Deep by Verner Vinge. It’s also got a lot of adventure and interesting aliens, and like Pure Chocolate, deals with the consequences of an out-of-control alien intelligence. The science in Vinge is a bit harder than what you find in the Chocoverse, but the story inside A Fire Upon The Deep and its two sequels really does focus on the characters, which should please Chocoverse fans.