E. Chris Ambrose credits first grade teacher Mrs. Krackhardt for nurturing an early enthusiasm for reading by allowing her to stay inside and read during recess—and she hasn’t looked back! In addition to the books in her Bone Guard series, she has written for Thrill Ride Magazine, Warrior Women, Fireside Magazine, and many others. Chris is not only a graduate of, but also an instructor for the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and is a participant in the Codex on-line writers' workshop. She's been kind enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions.
MB: You've led quite an adventurous life. You've went horseback riding in Mongolia, diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and even searched for tigers in India. Is there one particular adventure that sticks out above all the rest as your favorite?
ECA: This is a tough one! On the one hand, that was my first experience with SCUBA, and I loved how peaceful everything seemed under the surface, just hovering in this deep blue space filled with aliens…on the other hand, being stalked by a tiger in India gave me some very useful insights into how to create tension, and what kind of details to capture. From a writing perspective, I'll be eternally grateful…for an experience that left me kind of terrified. That's writers for you 😊
MB: Your Bone Guard thrillers mix adventure fiction with history and archaeology. The series has touched upon Genghis Kahn's tomb, the Knights Templar, and even Mayan royalty. Tell us what it is about such archaeological finds that draws you to write about them in your books.
ECA: I wasn't much of a history buff when I was younger, but I had to do some research for a writing workshop, and I discovered that the closer I looked, the more interesting almost any moment in place and time became. One of the things that traveling has shown me is the way that elements we may view as ancient history are still reverberating through the world today—like the animosity between the Chinese and the Mongolians. To me as an American, Genghis Khan's tomb is a fascinating historical mystery, but to the Mongolians, it's the sacred resting place of a revered founder. History never really dies.
MB: For your book series, you've had to do quite a bit of research to ensure accuracy in the details, including learning to hunt with a falcon and clearing a room of assailants. What is the most interesting thing you've ever learned from the research you've done for your stories?
ECA: Bone Guard 3, The Assassin's Throne, was originally meant to be about a completely different medieval mechanical wonder—one that turned out not to have ever existed. I could've made it up, plausibly, but while I was doing that research, I stumbled across references to the Throne of Solomon, an actual mechanical throne used by the Byzantine empire for years, complete with animals that moved as the ruler mounted the steps. Numerous accounts by visitors to Constantinople mention seeing the throne. Stranger than fiction? Oh, yeah.
MB: Let's chat about writing for a moment. Every writer has their own specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have a special place set aside for writing. Some outline their plot, while others "fly by the seat of their pants." Tell us about your writing process.
ECA: I'm definitely a plotter. I have a large bulletin board next to my desk with envelopes for projects pinned on. As I have an idea about the project, I jot it on a note card and drop it in the envelope until I’m ready to write. Then I pull out those cards and brainstorm around them, coming up with more connections. I have a spreadsheet for each book where I make a timeline and add research and historical notes. When I have enough notecards to see the throughline for the book, I enter that into another part of the spreadsheet and copy it over to Scrivener. (notecards…spreadsheet…scrivener. Yep, that checks all the Plotter boxes!)
MB: What do you think makes a good story?
ECA: My basic definition of commercial fiction is: A sympathetic character, fighting great odds, to achieve a worthwhile goal. The most important thing a story needs to do early on is establish a character worth rooting for. Make me care about what happens to them, and worry about whether they'll succeed. After that, it's all about the conflict, at many levels: the character shouldn't just face external problems, but their own baggage that gets in the way of solutions. Even on the same team, characters shouldn't always agree with each other. Only trouble is interesting!
MB: Let's shift gears for moment and talk about reading. What is your favorite under-appreciated novel, and why?
ECA: One of my favorite authors is Mary Doria Russell, who is best known for her science fiction novel, The Sparrow. Hardly under-appreciated! But she's also the author of an amazing historical novel called Doc, about Doc Holliday, prior to the events of the O-K corral. She builds him as a fascinating character, deeply conflicted and deeply engaged with the community around him. That lends context to the more famous moment of his life. It's a moving and engaging book that more people should read.
MB: Let’s finish this up with something a bit offbeat. I think I know the answer to this question, but I'll ask anyway. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
ECA: My editorial assistant, Diana, will take issue if I name anything other than Herself. But if she's off-duty, then I'd say a falcon. Taking the high view, then diving in to seize the moment. Just don't tell Diana I said that.
MB: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.