Today I am interviewing Amber Royer, author of the new science fiction novel, Pure Chocolate, second book in the The Chocoverse series.
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DJ: Hi Amber! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Amber Royer: Hi DJ! Thanks you for the opportunity.
I write science fiction, much of it comic. I also teach creative writing to both teens and adults for Writing Workshops Dallas and UT Arlington. About a million years ago, I was a youth librarian, so I come at books and writing from a number of different directions.
I’m also a bit of a geek and a bit of a foodie, and both of those show when you read the Chocoverse books.
I’m known among my friends for making decorated cupcakes.
DJ: What is Pure Chocolate and then The Chocoverse series about?
Amber: You have a future where aliens (the Krom) make a secret first contact. They buy samples of commodities, which they then plan to share with the galaxy. They take coffee and sugar cane, but they miss chocolate. Which becomes the only unique thing Earth has that the galaxy is hungry for.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Chocoverse series?
Amber: This story is basically a telenovela on the page. So it’s going to share a lot of the plot elements and sensibilities from that genre. And there will be novela-ish character arcs. There’s glitz and glamour and celeberazzi fun. Think how people react in soap operas . . . there’s going to be that level of drama. But at the same time this is a comedy, and I’m playing with the overused soap opera tropes as the punch lines to jokes, to the point where by the time you get to the second book Bo is actively wondering how her life has taken on so many elements of a novela.
There’s also a bit here from the culinary mystery tradition, especially in the first book (a number of corpses do hit the ground in this series). Bo’s the daugher of one of Earth’s biggest celebrity chefs, and after her acting career crashbangs, she flees to the other side of the galaxy to get away from the press — and her family, who think she has behaved badly. Bo’s boyfriend, Brill is also a foodie — he’s a galactic trader who specializes in luxury foodstuffs and he’s also a connoisseur of fine wine.
And of course, this is space opera. There’s tons of geeky in references to everything from Jurassic Park to Star Wars to The Thing to E.T., but there’s a big bit about how we didn’t get the first contact Star Trek promised.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Amber: This series has a large cast, but here’s a rundown of some people to keep your eye on.
Bodacious Babe “Bo” Benitez — Earthling born in Mexico, who moved to Brazil with her mother and siblings after her father’s death. Culinary Arts student and failed actress. Age 24. Bo may be a bit naive at the beginning of the first book, but that’s because she’s all heart and always looks for the best in people. Bo’s deep empathy is what allows her to make decisions at crisis points in the series that heal rather than destroy, in ways the other characters — who often protag with their fists — don’t even consider.
Brill Cray — Krom, born in Sungwalen in the Burriene Province of the Krom Homeworld. “Gray” trader (one important moral step away from space pirate) and Bo’s boyfriend. Equivalent human chronological age: 28. Brill’s planet is the one that stripped Earth of unique commodities during a Krom first contact, which the Krom consider a public service they do for the galaxy. There’s still a lot of hostility on Earth towards Krom, and Krom tend to think of Earthlings as inferior, so there’s a huge barrier to their romance before it even begins. But it does, because both of these characters are willing to look past their differences and see someone worth caring about. Krom biological gifts include book lungs, antifreeze-rich blood and the ability to move at flash speeds. Drawbacks include fragile cardio systems and color-changing irises that make it difficult for them to mask emotion.
Chestla (no last name) — Evevron, born in the Nargo Canyon Region in the Mountainous Continent on Evevron. R.A. at the cooking school Bo is attending on Larkssis 9. Equivalent human chronological age: 25. Chestla is an alpha predator on her home planet, and the natural gifts (which include claw-nails, slip-pupil eyes and hefty doses of predator pheromones) that would keep her safe on her home world, have isolated her from the people on Larkssis. Which is a problem, as her people are naturally extremely social.
Frank Sawyer — Earthling, born in Pennsylvania but has been living in Brazil since HGB (the mega-corp protecting chocolate from the galaxy) assigned him there. Age: 52. Frank is a man of mystery. I don’t want to reveal too much, but there’s more to him than you expect given the way he’s introduced in the first part of Free Chocolate. He lived through the First Contact War (which Earthlings fought among themselves after they realized what had happened to their commodities) and has seen horrific things and fears what will happen if Earth loses the monopoly on chocolate.
Kaliel Johannson — Earthling, born in Sweden, but confined to the HGB facility in Rio, awaiting trial after an accident that took the lives of a number of innocent people. HGB transport pilot. Age 26. Kaliel is a romantic at heart, and a truly honorable guy. He has always been a bit of a hot-shot pilot and took a few risks HGB would not have authorized (he’s a sunrunner — which means he sling-shots around stars to save fuel and shave time off his transport runs).
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role for in story? Why?
Amber: Bo’s mamá is one of my favorites. She doesn’t get to be on “screen” much, but when she is, she’s a force of nature unto herself. Mamá Lavonda is one of Earth’s biggest celebrity chefs in a future when chefs are bigger than rockstars. She’s a diva, and not getting something she wants is unthinkable. But there’s more to her underneath, and she loves Bo more than Bo will ever realize.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Chocoverse series like?
Amber: The Chocoverse spans the distance of the galaxy, but a few planets that are home to characters in the series are:
Earth — As far as the economics and justice system, it is a very different place. The Chocolate Belt (20 degrees North and South of the equator) has become the most important region. Large areas of the rainforest are caged in, and the areas outside it routinely sprayed with genetically selective herbicides to keep people from growing unauthorized cacao trees. Transporting cacao pods or unfermented cacao beans offplanet is treason, punishable by the shave (media-tastic execution by beheading). Criminals at that level answer to the Global Court of Earth, which is in turn answerable to the Galactic Court, which employs a police force (informally known as Galactacops) with jurisdiction everywhere. In most other respects, everyday life on Earth hasn’t changed all that much, which is somewhat surprising, considering most of the planet was involved in the First Contact War.
Zant — Zant is a large planet mostly made up of island chains (though there are a number of small continents). Zantites are humanoids who usually range from 7-10 feet tall, and have enormous mouths with two rows of razor-sharp teeth. Zantites from their southern continent have serrated teeth, and their jaws can unhinge similar to a snake. Zant is a dangerous place to visit, because Zantite law states guilty until proven innocent, and punishment is swift. The planet itself is beautiful, teeming with jewel-like sea life and phosphorescent plants.
Krom — Krom is predominantly lush and green, due to centuries of terraforming efforts. Gardening is a competitive sport, and certain animals are bred to offer sound, movement and color to the gardens — including kresps, Krom “bats” which are intelligent enough to whistle complex songs, and eyknuits, large fish kept in decorative ponds. Most Krom households are strictly vegetarian (including Brill’s), but in those that are not (Brill himself is only mostly vegetarian), eyknuits are sometimes farmed for food. Other animals aren’t. It would be horrifying for a Krom to eat something as intelligent as a kresp.
Evevron –The planet is like a amethyst-tinted Mars when seen from space. The oceans are deep indigo, and almost all water on this planet is thick with salt and other minerals. This planets ecology is out of balance, so large swaths of the area Chestla is from are plagued with dust storms. Animals here are large and dangerous, and people hunt them both for food, and to keep the populations down, so predator-species don’t overrun the cities. At the same time, the cities are beautiful, and art and culture is prized, as is scientific advancement.
Flowing Heart Want — This is home to the Myska, a venomous reptilian humanoid race. Myskas are immune to their own venom — but very little else on the planet is. This imbalance has caused a number of land animals to go extinct in the planet’s distant past, making fishing a key to survival, and dietary needs are sometimes supplemented with powdered insect protein. They also import much of their food, which is why the Myska character in Free Chocolate doesn’t mind stocking his ship almost exclusively with packaged foodstuffs. Myska who leave their planet are required by their home planet’s law to carry antevinin with them in case of accident.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first book of The Chocoverse series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Amber: I was surprised at how much everyone seems to like Chestla. (One reviewer said Chestla deserves all good things, and I’ve adopted that as a hashtag I sometimes use when talking about the series.) I actually re-wrote part of Pure Chocolate to give her a larger role, and I re-worked the outline for Book 3, because I didn’t have her on screen for the first half of the book.
I think it is this moment that endears her to readers (the whole series is first person, so this is from Bo’s POV):
In response, Meredith takes aim and vaporizes one of the quizllen fruits, leaving behind the strong scent of ozone. She hits a second one, which takes part of the granite countertop with it. Vapguns are unpredictable in determining the edges of objects, which is always used to comic effect in the telenovela I favor. In real life, it’s terrifying.
“Does it look like I’m laughing?”
That sounds like such a cliché, I can’t help but roll my eyes, even though my clenched stomach and pounding heart are taking her seriously.
The door slides open, and Chestla rushes into the room, a plunger in one hand and a Taser in the other. I hadn’t mentioned the nature of my emergency, so she’d come prepared for anything.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Pure Chocolate?
Amber: Developing the Krom language and culture. Brill is such a part of it, and Bo has such a hard time understanding it, it colors everything about their relationship. And that relationship is a metaphor for the relationship their respective peoples’ have with the galaxy, so it’s truly important to the book.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Amber: About who’s right and wrong in the plot and why. I mean, Bo commits treason. And Frank is doing what he truly believes is right. Brill has reasons for his less-than-stellar actions that Bo has no clue about — And she won’t understand the backstory reasons for some of those actions at all in the first book. The Zantites execute people with their teeth. I didn’t want to create a ‘verse with a clear-cut good and bad side. I wanted everyone to have their reasons for their actions, and most of the time they’re being pushed by circumstance to make the best of bad options.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing the The Chocoverse series? The series is not yet complete, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Amber: Underneath everything, it’s about how love can survive despite cultural and individual differences. And how empathy changes everything. Friendships, family and relationships are super-important in this series.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Pure Chocolate that you can share with us?
Amber: Here’s a few:
One that helps set the stakes: A Krom can outrun any bullet he sees coming, no?
One that shows there’s something deeper to the Zantites: “Refusing a duel is not the mark of a coward. It is a sign that you respect the preciousness of life.”
One on why Bo’s the protagonist: “You think I’ve never been lied about? Or that I’ve always been popular? The only way that you get to grow up to become me is by refusing to care.” Minda gestures with the towel. “You’re here because everyone loves an underdog. And because you’re the one who put your life forfeit to do the impossible already.”
One that sets up a running gag: “Didn’t that guy bite you once?” . . . . “We’re friends now.”
DJ: Now that Pure Chocolate is released, what is next for you?
Amber: I’m writing Chocoverse 3, and also dabbling a bit in time travel — the literary sub genre, not the hobby. I’m also self-pubbing a revised/expanded version of my choco-cookbook this summer.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Amber-Royer/e/B00PFV4CGM
Author Fan Club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Chocolateers/
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Pure Chocolate and The Chocoverse series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Amber: I’m a linguistics junkie. You’re going to find smashedword portmanteaus, invented alien languages, Spanish, Portuguese and more.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Amber How much is Bo like you?
Emotionally Bo and I are a lot alike. We’re both the first person in the room to want a microphone if it’s to teach or to entertain – and the last one to want to be the center of attention if it’s to talk about our problems. We both need social connections, which is why perhaps the cruelest thing I’ve done (or plan to do) to Bo in the entire series is to have let her run away to that little planet on the other side of the galaxy where we find her at the beginning of Free Chocolate, trying to pretend that it doesn’t matter that she’s far away from everyone she cares about. Despite the fact that demographically, we’re drastically different, I have a feeling that if we both took a Myer’s Briggs, we’d wind up with the same classification.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Pure Chocolate is published by and Angry Robot is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
In a galaxy where chocolate is literally addictive, one celebrity chef is fighting back, in the delicious sequel to Free Chocolate
To save everyone she loves, Bo Bonitez is touring Zant, home of the murderous, shark-toothed aliens who so recently tried to eat her. In the midst of her stint as Galactic paparazzi princess, she discovers that Earth has been exporting tainted chocolate to the galaxy, and getting aliens hooked on cocoa. Bo must choose whether to go public, or just smile for the cameras and make it home alive. She’s already struggling with her withdrawal from the Invincible Heart, and her love life has a life of its own, but when insidious mind worms intervene, things start to get complicated!
About the Author:
Amber Royer is the author of the high-energy comedic space opera Chocoverse series (Free Chocolate, Pure Chocolate coming March 2019). She teaches enrichment and continuing
education creative writing classes for teens and adults through both the University of Texas at
Arlington and Writing Workshops Dallas. She is the discussion leader for the Saturday Night Write writing craft group. She spent five years as a youth librarian,where she organized teen writers’ groups and teen writing contests. In addition to twocookbooks co-authored with her husband, Amber has published a number of articles on gardening, crafting and cooking for print and on-line publications.