Finley Fenn has been writing about people falling in love for as long as she can remember. She creates steamy fantasy romance tales with cranky-but-sexy men and monsters, loads of angst and drama, a dash of mystery and action, and wholehearted happily ever afters.
When she’s not obsessing over her stories, she reads everything she can get her hands on, builds her hoard of Georgette Heyer books, and drools over delicious orc artwork (find her faves on Facebook at Finley Fenn Readers’ Den). She lives in Canada with her beloved family, including her own cranky-but-sexy husband, and her cranky-and-hungry dog.
Q&A WITH FINLEY
These are all questions I’ve been asked at some time or another, some as part of Romantically Inclined Reviews’ awesome article here. If you have more questions, I’d love to hear them! Just fire me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why do you write about orcs?
For me, books have always been about escaping into another world… ideally one that doesn’t include any glaring reminders of one’s all-too-human ex, ha! I love that orcs are so removed from our own reality, while also giving me the chance to explore perennial themes like acceptance, desire, forgiveness, and growth. Also, huge, scarred, scary monsters are just really hot, right?! 😉
What’s coming next in the Orc Sworn series?
I’m working on Orc Sworn #6 now… and as per popular demand, it will be a M/M/F tale, featuring our sweet Baldr and our grumpy Drafli! It’s been a total angst-fest so far, but I am very excited about all the delicious possibilities!
And if M/M/F isn’t your thing, please rest assured I’m still planning to continue with M/F after this. If you have thoughts on what you’d like to see next, I’d love to hear them on my Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/finleyfenn. 😁
What are your orcs based on?
To be honest, a lot of my Orc Sworn world originally spun out from Grimarr, the hero from The Lady and the Orc. I really wanted to write about a big, burly, rough-and-tumble, and very messy 😉 monster hero… but I also wanted him to be a real, well-developed character, with a distinctive culture, religion, history, and code of ethics.
So as I worked through sketches for The Lady and the Orc (which I spent almost a year writing), I ended up taking a lot of inspiration from Old Norse legends and culture… those wild old Vikings from the sagas were often VERY orc-like, right? I’m also a huge language geek, and tried to give most of my orcs’ speech a strong Old/Middle English flavour. And as I’ve written these books, I’ve been continually inspired by so many incredible artists who have so generously shared their orc interpretations with the world.
That said, of course you can’t talk about orcs without talking about Tolkien. And while I personally still love Lord of the Rings, and can’t deny its huge influence in our cultural imagination (and therefore also my books) — I absolutely recognize the equally huge issues with how Tolkien described and depicted his orcs. I truly want my stories to be part of our larger reclamation of orcs, and a deeper exploration of the other side of the tale.
I hated Grimarr! Why did you write him to be so [cruel, devious, awful, etc]?
This is a comment I get a LOT, so I thought I’d add it here. I definitely realize that Grimarr is a contentious character, but I truly wrote him in what I felt was a realistic way. I personally find stories far more compelling when the characters have significant, complicated conflicts — of upbringing, culture, values, goals, priorities — and while I LOVE romance for its escapism, I sometimes struggle to believe in a story’s happy ending when these kinds of conflicts get swept away too easily.
So. In writing Grimarr and Jule’s story, I truly felt that Grimarr was a deeply conflicted — but consistent — character who’d backed himself into an impossible corner, and as a result, he chose to deceive both Jule and himself. When he promises Jule he’ll do better, make it work for 40 days, etc., my intention in writing it was that he DID believe that as truth at the time. In my alternate Grimarr POV (I often sketch these out as I go along), Grimarr rarely tells what he believes are lies to Jule’s face, but instead chooses to lie by omission. Not ideal, obviously, but we also see that Jule isn’t honest with him on multiple occasions as well, which in turn gives him mental justification to do what he feels is the same.
Also (trigger warning) I get a lot of comments that Grimarr is abus*ve. But having (unfortunately) spent a fair amount of time up close and personal with truly abus*ve people, I honestly don’t feel that this is the case. Throughout the book, Grimarr makes a genuine effort to listen to Jule, and learn, and change for the better. The kinds of choices he makes at the start of their relationship are NOT consistently made throughout. In my experience, abus*ve people often make plenty of claims about change (which, to be fair, Grimarr does)… but they do not change. They repeat the same kinds of actions and patterns again and again, and often escalate them, rather than learning or growing, or seeking to make true amends for their wrongs.
What’s the best part of writing?
For me, it’s always that massively satisfying moment when everything coalesces into an epic conclusion, even if you didn’t quite see it coming that way. I spend disgusting amounts of time fretting and obsessing over my plots and character motivations, and even when I think I’ve got it all figured out, sometimes I’m still surprised at how it all fits together in the end!
I have also been so honoured by the extremely supportive friends, readers, and fellow authors I’ve discovered through all this. Their generosity and encouragement has been truly awe-inspiring.
What’s the worst part of writing?
Oh my god, the time. I’m not a fast writer by any stretch, and it’s so hard to juggle the time investment with everything else in life. Writing is such a mental health factor for me, though, so I really do try to make it a priority.
Also, editing really sucks. Especially the wild swings of “Oh wow, this is pretty good” all the way to “I hate EVERYTHING and EVERYONE in this book”, ha.
What authors have inspired you?
I know her books haven’t always aged well, but (those issues aside) I’m an absolute stan for Georgette Heyer, who I consider the reigning queen of romance. She’s hilarious and heartfelt, with very real characters and wonderfully clever prose. I also adore L.M. Montgomery, whose truly delightful book The Blue Castle was a massive inspiration to me.
I’ve also always had a deep-seated love of poetry — especially by John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Keats. The Eve of St. Agnes is one of my favourite works of all time.
For more contemporary authors, I’ve loved everything KJ Charles has ever published (including her fabulous blog!), and I’m a huge fan of Anne Stuart, Alexis Hall, and Eris Adderly. I’ve also had so much fun digging into books by my fellow fantasy romance authors like Ruby Dixon, Octavia Hyde, and Tiffany Roberts (to name just a few!).
Finally, I also read a LOT of fanfiction… Manacled (Harry Potter/Dramione) was one of my absolute favourite reads this year. I love how fanfiction’s less strict structures allow for so much cleverness and creativity.
What’s your writing process like?
So I’m mostly what’s called a “pantser”, which is writer-speak for “writing by the seat of your pants”, as opposed to plotting out your entire story in advance. I do have a general idea of key points, scenes, etc. (especially when it comes to the sexy stuff!), but I personally enjoy writing a LOT more when the characters are in charge of the story, and I don’t always know what’s going to happen next. I find my writing flows better this way, and it allows for a lot of fun, unexpected moments when your characters surprise you!
That said, I’ve found that this actually requires a crap ton of extra work. Including:
- a lot of up-front character planning — I spend gobs of time writing through histories, past scenes, strengths/weaknesses, etc. before I even start writing.
- needing to track your plot points carefully — I keep a constantly updated list of “open/closed brackets” as I write (see: Brandon Sanderson’s excellent podcast), and for me this list is massive (like hundreds of bullet points, broken out by subplot).
- TONS of editing after the fact, because your stubborn characters will usually spend the entire book trying to drive the plot off the rails (or over into the sexy weeds, hehe). When I’m editing, I always break the entire book out into a gigantic spreadsheet (the “Story Grid”, highly recommend), and then work through it chapter by chapter to make sure that all the plots and subplots are moving at a good clip, there are no laggy parts or unresolved plot points, etc. I feel very strongly that pantsers need to be RELIGIOUS about this (looking at you GRRM).
I also spend a lot of time doing overall developmental editing as well — making sure everything flows well and is consistent, that my main emotional/turning points are hitting strongly enough, that I have enough context/foreshadowing. Then I’ll go through again, cutting back fluff, and incorporating feedback from my lovely alpha/beta readers.
Once I’m happy with a book’s overall structure, I’ll then go through and tighten up more, chart out the timeline, check details like names/directions, review each character’s speech for grammatical consistency… and THEN I get into line editing, and copy editing, and repeated-phrase-hunting, and then I run it all through at least three different proofreading programs, and read it several more times (in different fonts/formats!).
By the time I’m done, I’ll have gone through the entire book maybe 15 or 20 times… and yes, I will hate the entire world (AND the book)… until I start the next one. 🙂
Why do you sometimes use modern-feeling language in your books?
This is definitely something I have thought about a LOT, and while I’m open to argument, this is where I am currently.
Obviously, in a fantasy world/book, the English the book is written in is NOT presumed to be the actual language being spoken, right? As readers, we assume that the English that’s used is some kind of approximation/translation of the original world’s language (in the case of my Orc Sworn books, my English is a translation of their “common-tongue”). So then the question becomes — do you use a historical-feeling translation to better suit the mood of the book, or do you translate in a more modern-adjacent way, which gives you MANY more options for conveying unique character accents and dialects, overall expressiveness, and reader relatability?
So right now, with my Orc Sworn books, I try to straddle this a bit — I try to avoid anything that feels TOO modern-sounding, and I love giving my characters distinct accents and ways of speaking (many of them more “historical”-feeling than others). BUT I am definitely not writing in 19th-century English (or whatever) either, and I’m not actually trying to, if that makes sense!
Will you be writing more books in your Mages series?
I’m always excited when readers mention they’ve enjoyed my Mages books! These were the first books I tried publishing, after spending my 20s writing 10+ other novels that shall never see the light of day, haha. I still have such a soft spot for them, though I realize they may be a bit intense for some folks! (I really wrote them for myself at the time, so honestly did not think about this, heh.)
In terms of future Mages books, I hate to say, but the series is on a bit of a hiatus at the moment. They didn’t get many readers when I first put them out, so I switched gears toward orcs (which I obviously also adore!). However, I would still love to finish the series someday — I have thoroughly planned out books about Runar/Thora and Ilsa/Johan, all of which had MUCH delicious potential! So, maybe someday? And readers’ kind feedback definitely helps! 🙂