Best-selling author S.J. Kincaid talks to us about The Empress, the sequel to her hit book, The Diabolic, writing herself into a corner, and following the shiny ideas that drive story.
Here is what S.J. Kincaid had to say about The Empress:
Congratulations on your success with ‘The Diabolic’! Can you give us the elevator pitch for your sequel to ‘The Diabolic,’ ‘The Empress’?
Tyrus Domitrian is the new Emperor of the galaxy, and at his side, the most astounding choice of Empress- Nemesis dan Impyrean. She’s a Diabolic, and in the eyes of so many, a subhuman. In a highly religious and superstitious society, how can someone fundamentally regarded as an abomination possibly rise to power over them all? Nemesis herself must struggle with throwing off the trappings of her life as a Diabolic, and learning the new role of galactic Empress… But it’s difficult for her to disregarded her protective instincts when the enemies she and Tyrus face are more determined than ever to destroy them. If not in body, then in every way that matters…
How did the inspiration for a sequel to your stand-alone occur? Were you always hoping that you would get the chance to continue Nemesis’s story? Or did you only realize that there was more story you wanted to tell after you finished the first book?
My previous series was a trilogy, so I didn’t set out to write a series this time around! I think what ultimately changed my mind was having a really shiny, irresistible idea that I couldn’t quite turn away from. I had a lot of hesitations about continuing the story because I really loved the way THE DIABOLIC ended, but the idea was just something I could refuse. I floated the idea of a continuation by my editor, and I was so glad after THE DIABOLIC came out that my publisher liked the idea, too, so we were a go!
Last time you talked to us, you said that writing ‘The Diabolic’ as a standalone was fun because you didn’t have to worry about saving fuel for later books, so everything was up for destruction. In writing the sequel did you find that you accidentally created challenges for yourself because you had done such a good job of closing out the initial book so thoroughly?
Oh, definitely! I really do kick myself over a few of the deaths from the previous book, especially this villain I absolutely loved writing. Had I known in advance I’d continue the story, that woman would’ve survived for sure and lived to vex my hero and heroine for another two novels. However, destroying that one villain did force me to improvise and decide upon the next one, who turned out to be pretty sinister in a very different way, and I definitely enjoyed developing elements to take the place of those already destroyed.
In ‘The Empress’, Nemesis has a new kind of power as the ruler of an empire. What kinds of challenges come for her having this kind of power? How has Nemesis changed since we initially met her, both internally and in terms of her social status?
Nemesis has definitely changed internally, in that she’s moved beyond the view instilled in her since birth that she’s lesser than those about her, but she definitely still has some struggles with transitioning to her new role both as an equal of the people around her, and as a future empress. She was totally instilled with a protector mentality, and now she’s not only stepping into a position of incredible importance in her own right, but she also has to learn when to temper her own instincts for the sake of better fulfilling her new role in life. Her status also continues to cause friction among an Empire where people have, like Nemesis, been taught since birth rigid roles in a hierarchy, with an understanding of oneself and others both spiritual and legal
This series deals heavily with the themes of humanity and inherent personhood. Are there any conclusions or realizations about humanity that you’ve come to while writing this series?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve changed my views or come to new conclusions, so much as explored the ones I’ve already had about what constitutes a human being.
One thing that was really interesting to me back when I was studying history was exploring the idea that, say, the Elizabethans had a completely different view of the world than we do. We in the contemporary USA understand the world in (ideally) pretty egalitarian terms, whereas the Elizabethan era featured the Great Chain of Being where certain people were fundamentally more important than others, and it was just accepted and taken for granted. Such thinking is a total anathema to us nowadays, but learning about the past really helped me construct the idea of this future where some people are lesser, or ‘creatures’, or some are Excess (the commoners), others Grandiloquy (the nobility). Writing a second book really let me begin tearing down some of this system in my sci-fi world, and Nemesis, the Diabolic who would be Empress, is really at the center of all of it.
She is someone who thinks, feels, experiences the world and has total awareness of self but she’s been relegated to the role of subhuman purely due to the circumstances of how she came into existence, and the reason she came into existence — for service to others. She’s considered a ‘creature’ and not a person, and yet there is a great range of such creatures, such as ‘Servitors’ which were created appearing entirely human but without any awareness of self, any capacity for making independent decisions, or ultimately any instincts of self-preservation. A great assertion of the story, due to being from Nemesis’ point of view, is that she is fundamentally a person, and yet when I consider, say, Servitors — I myself am a bit more dubious. I don’t necessarily believe a Servitor would constitute a human being, and were such creatures made, I would probably think there is some fundamentally wrong and unethical to creating any being with some trappings of humanity but not others. That’s certainly an idea I explore at least in my head while writing these books.
Finally: what makes you passionate to continue telling Nemesis’s story
Basically, the plot of book two. As soon as I knew exactly where I wanted to take this story, I just burned for a chance to write it! We will see what people who enjoyed The Diabolic think of the storyline from here. Needless to say, things do not get easier for Nemesis or Tyrus once they’re in power!
About ‘The Empress’
It’s a new day in the Empire. Tyrus has ascended to the throne with Nemesis by his side and now they can find a new way forward—one where they don’t have to hide or scheme or kill. One where creatures like Nemesis will be given worth and recognition, where science and information can be shared with everyone and not just the elite.
But having power isn’t the same thing as keeping it, and change isn’t always welcome. The ruling class, the Grandiloquy, has held control over planets and systems for centuries—and they are plotting to stop this teenage Emperor and Nemesis, who is considered nothing more than a creature and certainly not worthy of being Empress.
Nemesis will protect Tyrus at any cost. He is the love of her life, and they are partners in this new beginning. But she cannot protect him by being the killing machine she once was. She will have to prove the humanity that she’s found inside herself to the whole Empire—or she and Tyrus may lose more than just the throne. But if proving her humanity means that she and Tyrus must do inhuman things, is the fight worth the cost of winning it?