Monday, February 20, 2012

Interviewing Author Betty Cross

Today, I interviewed science fiction/fantasy author Betty Cross about her new release, and of course, about herself. Leave a comment and email, and you’ll be entered to win her new fantasy release, MISTRESS OF THE TOPAZ, as a download.

1.) -Please tell us about your latest book.

My latest is a fantasy named MISTRESS OF THE TOPAZ, a fantasy taking place in an imaginary world which I call Malga. It’s inspired my Middle Eastern folklore and Middle Eastern history from Alexander to the beginning of the gunpowder era. Expect big shots in big turbans, monstrous flying birds instead of dragons, great three-headed serpentine demons from Avestan folklore, and a species of genie called Ifreet, who can be stored in bottles although it’s not wise to try.

In this exotic scene, two powerful women battle for global power. One of them, the World-Queen, owns the Oracular Topaz, which can answer any question you ask it, except about the future, and no more than ten questions per day. The other woman can manipulate people’s thoughts, with some limitations. You need a kryptonite for every Superman, or else there’s no real conflict and no story.

The novel also contains an element of steampunk. One of the World-Queen’s enemies develops a steam turbine and powers an experimental (and highly effective) warship with it. This, by the way, is something that could have happened much earlier than it did. Hero of Alexandria in 100 BC invented a steam-powered toy called the Aeolipile.

2.) -What can we expect from you in the future?

The sequel to Mistress of the Topaz will be called MISTRESSOF THE LAND AND SEA. It will finish the battle for world power, which still hangs in the balance at the end of Topaz.

My first novel is DISCARDED FACES, a dystopian science fiction novel, will also have a sequel. The dictatorship has been overthrown and the question now is, what to do about it? The wild card is the younger generation, the teenagers and young adults who provided the shock troops for the urban guerrilla fighting at the end of the first book. They grew up under the dictatorship. They say they want freedom but do they know what it is? Generational conflicts are intense. All sorts of possibilities are open. I’m a Sixties kid. It’s a theme I want to explore in fiction before I die.

3.) - How would you describe the genre in which you do most of your writing?

Science fiction and fantasy are often considered separate genres, but so many people are fans of both and so many people write both that perhaps the best name is “speculative fiction,” or “spec fiction” for short. So that’s it.

4.) –What other genre would you like to write in?

I’m not sure. I’ve considered supernatural thrillers, especially making use of Lovecraftian concepts, the Great Old Ones. But I don’t have any good story ideas yet. One thing I won’t do is try to imitate H. P. Lovecraft’s style. I’m not sure it worked even for him. My favorite Lovecraft story is an atypical one, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. It’s sort of transitional between the Earth’s Dreamland stories and the later Cthulhu mythos.

5.) What motivated you to start writing?

I just love making up stories. I’ve loved science-fiction since my childhood in the Fifties, when the first satellites went up. I was reprimanded in class occasionally for designing space ships instead of paying attention to the teacher. When the first Star Trek series was on TV, in front of the TV was my place to be on Thursday night. The fad for theLord of the Rings awakened my interest in fantasy. However, none of those things made me want to write. That ambition was awakened in me by reading1984 by George Orwell.

My writing is related to my passion for history, which was my major in college. History is story-telling on a vast scale with the very important added detail that history is supposed to be true. History is a great help to me in constructing my imaginary worlds.

6.) -What kind of research do you do?

For Topaz I needed to research gemology, folklore of the Middle East (Muslim and non-Muslim), ancient and medieval military and naval tactics, weapons and armor of the same region and period, and steam turbine technology. Nearly all of this research was done on the web, with only an occasional resort to books.

Sometimes I research by reading other fiction. The naval warfare in the World-Queen books is almost all of the sailing ship era, so to research that I read three volumes of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books to get some idea of life on a warship in the era of sale.

7.) -Do you have a set schedule for writing or do you just go with the flow?

I try to write every day between noon and 8 pm, although medical appointments and mealtimes sometimes get in the way of that. One thing I’ve learned in all my efforts to write is that you have to write at least a few sentences every day or you’ll never get anything finished. I keep a spreadsheet and assign myself a monthly quota of words. One year at RavenCon I even took my laptop to meals with me and worked on a chapter while finishing my morning coffee.

8.) -Where do your ideas come from?

I don’t know. I don’t think any writer does. Maybe it’s that mysterious right cerebral hemisphere that’s always drawing analogies, making connections, and visualizing things. I get my best ideas when my conscious mind is working on something else – the bed-bath-bus phenomenon.

To me, there are two great areas of creativity. One is world-building, where your continents and countries are, the climate, the people’s customs, etc. Often I make up that first, and afterwards come up with a character with a story to tell.

The other, of course, is creation of characters. I find that’s much harder. Usually a vision of a character comes to me – somebody doing something – and I try to come up with a story and a world for her. I say“her” because all my protagonists are women.

9.) -Who, if anyone, has influenced your writing?

I really don’t acknowledge a literary influence. I don’t directly imitate any other writer’s style.

10.) -Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Not always. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. I was 13 when I read 1984. I’ve been writing fiction off and on ever since, but nothing I wrote was publishable until after the turn of the century.

11.) -What is the most rewarding thing about being a writer?

Holding the published book in your hand, seeing your name and your title on the cover, and then opening it and seeing the words you labored over in print, finally, so somebody besides you can read them.

12.) -Are there any words of encouragement for unpublished writers?

Don’t give up. Everything I wrote before age 29 I threw away. Then I began the book that would be my first published novel. Even after that, it took me two decades to finish Discarded Faces. After that, it got easier.

Write every day or nearly every day. Set yourself a words count goal for the month and try to meet it. If you have a day job, reserve some time to write, even if it’s only an hour. I used to write on a smart phone during lunch and coffee breaks at the last day job I used to have.

Revise, revise, revise. Don’t just write one draft and say to yourself, “This is an inspired work. It’s perfect.” That attitude is why so much self-published work is trash.

Let somebody else read it and tell you what needs fixing. You can’t be completely objective about your work. Writer critiquing groups are good for that. One other thing I do is hire a free-lance editor to look over my MS before I submit it to a publisher.

If you write speculative fiction, go to science-fiction conventions. Go to the panels of writers there and pick their brains in the Q&A session. Cultivate relationships with the small press publishers represented there, and go to room parties sponsored by the con organizers. Network, network, network! Writers are often socially isolated from readers but spec fiction has a great counter-measure for that – Cons. So go, and enjoy.

13.) -Please tell us about yourself (family, hobbies, education, etc.)

I’ve never been married and have no children.

My hobbies are reading and movies. I don’t watch TV much anymore except for Big Bang Theory, and occasionally New Girl andHot in Cleveland.

I got a BA in history and an MA in journalism, but I didn’t have a real job until I got some computer training. I worked in the IT field for about three decades while struggling to get Discarded Facesworking. My passion for history has helped me in designing the imaginary worlds of my fiction.

14.) - Tell us your website, FaceBook, Blog, any urls so the readers can find out more about you.

My website is I have a blog ( I’m on Facebook as Betty Cross. My politically minded readers can look for me on DailyKos as Kimball Cross. Facebook and DailyKos are the places where I post something, even if it’s a comment, daily.

15.) Now for something fun:

Chocolate or vanilla? Both, but usually vanilla.

Do you like science fiction, fantasy or horror? Yes, yes, and yes.

Favorite science fiction character? Han Solo.

All time favorite book? I have a lot of favorites, but if I had to pick one, I would say The Space Merchants by Frederick Pohl.

Favorite movie? Empire Strikes Back.

Favorite TV show? There’s been a lot of great television in the past half century, but if I had to pick one show which is dearer to my heart than anything else, I would have to say that MTV cartoon show of days gone by, Daria.

What makes you laugh out loud? What cracks me up is clever riffing of movies, especially Mike, Joel, and the bots on Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

If you could go anywhere in the universe where would that be? Coruscant in the Star Wars universe, right after the Empire is overthrown, and all the options are suddenly open again. That would be exciting.

A secret wish? I’d like to be a 25-year-old, tall, sleek brunette woman, knowing everything I do now.


This is a fantasy novel featuring psychic powers and steampunk in the otherwise pre-industrial world of Malga. Promono-Dei the World-Queen has a jewel called the Oracular Topaz which will answer any question, except about the future. Her antagonist is Kordo-Strî, a member of the Council of Forty-Two which rules the great naval dominion of Nobalos. Kordo-Strî can plant ideas in people’s heads, although she can’t force anyone to do something unwillingly. These two are at war for domination of Malga.

Meanwhile, Kordo-Strî’s husband Bashânîr, a great philosopher, designs Malga’s first steam-powered warship for the Nobalan navy. Nobalos needs it, because they’re fighting two other wars in addition to the one against Promono-Dei, and are over-extended.

At the beginning of the novel, Promono-Dei is crowned World-Queen. After the coronation, her forces march east to challenge Nobalos. She defeats Nobalos’ second-string allies one by one. Her victories put pressure on Âryoso-Rûn, King of Roude-Kî, Nobalos’ most important ally, but one of uncertain loyalty. His wife Queen Plâkî can ride on the back of a soin, the most powerful of birds. Because Plâkî hates war, she flies only to observe the conflict, not to fight.

Promono-Dei faces no easy victory. Kordo-Strii has made a new Nobalan coalition including Âryoso-Rûn, but Nobalos’ other forces begin pushing her soldiers back even before his troops arrive. With the enemy’s revolutionary steamship launched, and one of the Queen’s allies planning to betray her, the fate of the Hegemony – and all Malga – hangs in the balance.

Synopsis: This is the beginning of Chapter One. One of the main characters, Promono-Dei the World-Queen, is stabbed in her bath house.

Soft sounds of still water echoed off of the blue-tiled walls and vaulted ceiling of a great room. “I’m all rinsed off now,” Promî announced. She waded through the steamy water toward the steps leading up to the tiled floor.

“Very well, my queen,” said Enstâmî, immersed up to her underarms. She turned to follow her mistress.

Promî emerged from the bath into multi-colored sunlight filtered through stained glass windows, showing a toweled head, trim muscular arms, a firm abdomen, a long waist, and sturdy thighs. She turned to Enstâmî behind her and said,“I’ll see you back in my private chambers.”

Although the soap had been rinsed away, its sweet aroma hung about them in the air. The queen took a deep invigorating breath of it as Enstâmî handed her a pair of wooden clogs. Putting them on, she started for the arched doorway that led to the cold water room. Her clogs rattled loud on the slippery wet floor. In the cold room, she met Hultenî, a petite slave woman, whose duty was to dry off the queen after her dip in the cold bath. Not speaking, Hultenî sprang to her feet with feline litheness and bowed low. Nodding her head in return, Promî slipped off her clogs.

As the queen turned toward the steps leading down into the cold bath, Hultenî stepped up to her, very close on the right side. Something was amiss. Promî glanced to her right in time to see the glint of a tiny blade in the slave’s hand. Instinctively she swung her right arm to parry the blow. The blade scratched her right side just above her pelvis. Losing her balance, she stumbled down the steps and into the water. The towel covering her hair slipped off. A second later, her soaked head re-emerged.

“Assassin in the bath house! Call the Guards!” she sputtered.

Hultenî stood before her with feet wide apart, holding a slender blade in her right hand. With a contemptuous smile and a belligerent gleam in her eyes, she snarled, “You’re dead. The blade is poisoned.”

In the distance, Promî could hear Enstâmî shouting, “Guards! Guards!” She struggled up the steps from the bath. Her breath was coming in short gasps. Her feet were moving too slow. Her knees were stiffening. Poisoned! The thought screamed through her head. A pair of wooden clogs rattled across the wet tiled floor, louder as they approached. Enstâmî was coming!

Promî fell to her knees. Her head reeled. She steadied herself on her hands and tried to pray. Only the first gasping words came out. O Djeu kontujowan haistomid,” she began, but her voice failed. She added the last word dideimroi in her head. As her face struck the tiled floor, her blurring eyes caught a cavalcade of images.

Enstâmî slamming into the assassin at a run.

Hultenî falling on her back, rolling, kicking the other slave off, and slicing her own throat.

Two pairs of military boots running up.

Blood pooling on the tiles.

Clear sight began to fade. She could see only moving shadows.

She heard a voice screaming,“The blade is poisoned.” It was Enstâmî’s. “She stabbed the queen. Get a healer!”

The swirling shadows merged into one.

Betty Cross Bio:

I was the middle of three kids that grew up in an Atlanta suburb. The family emphasized education and reading. We weren’t allowed to watch TV on school nights unless the homework was done. My dad loved Shakespeare and Milton and classical music, especially the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

I was a nerd in high school. Puberty was rough for me. I was no good in sports and unpopular with girls. I went from being a science nerd at age 13 to a liberal arts nerd at 18. I entered college in 1968, a very heady time to be an American college student. I marched against the Vietnam war, grew my hair long, and smoked pot, but turned up my nose at the hard stuff.

I got a BA in history and an MA in journalism, but I didn’t have a real job until I got some computer training. I worked in the IT field for about three decades while struggling to get Discarded Facesworking.

In my twenties (the 1970s) I began wrestling with my gender identity issues. My denial of my true nature was the source of the intense feelings of depression which I lived with for a very long time. I avoided relationships with women because I knew I could never be the man they wanted me to be. That’s why I’ve never been married and have no children.

I left my last computer job in April 2010 to become a full time writer. I’m technically retired and living on my pension and savings while I build my writing career.

The spring of 2010 was also when I started living full time as a woman. Everybody tells me I’m much calmer and happier as Betty, and that confirms my own feelings.

My hobbies are reading and movies. I don’t watch TV much anymore except for Big Bang Theory, and occasionally New Girl andHot in Cleveland.

My website is I have a blog ( I’m on Facebook as Betty Cross. My politically minded readers can look for me on DailyKos as Kimball Cross. Facebook and DailyKos are the places where I post something on a daily basis, even if it’s a comment.

Find Discarded Faces as eBook at: Double-Dragon

Find Mistress of the Topaz as eBook at: Double-Dragon

Find Mistress of the Topaz in paperback at:


Keta Diablo said...

Hi Betty (and Pamela),

Lovely interview! Big Birds and big turbans sound fascinating to me. I like reading about this era too,

Best of luck with this new release, Betty, My best, Keta

Gary Val Tenuta said...

"I’ve loved science-fiction since my childhood in the Fifties, when the first satellites went up. I was reprimanded in class occasionally for designing space ships instead of paying attention to the teacher."

LOL! I can relate. Did the same thing! I was totally captivated by the cover illustrations on the pulp sci-fi mags of the time. Can't recall the names of all the mags but one favorite was "Amazing Tales".