Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our Friday spotlight on Young Adult Fantasy and Historical Fiction author Amber Lough. I happened to meet Amber at one of our Zoom events, and she very kindly agreed to answer our Author Spotlight questions for us. I first asked her to tell us a bit about herself, and this was her response:
I’ve wanted to be a writer since 2nd Grade, but my first job after college was in the USAF. After a tour in Iraq, I decided to leave the service and put my energy toward writing novels, and I’ve been doing that ever since. I am a world traveler, a learner of languages, and a lover of the sea. I’m also a wife, a mother to two kids, caretaker of two cats, and a gardener.
Where can people find your work? (Besides Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester–though they should totally check here first!)
OPEN FIRE can be found at all booksellers and online, but Indiebound and Book Depository are good places to go to first. After that, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
You might also find it in your library!
How can we follow your work and share your awesomeness?
I spend too much time on Twitter (@amberlough) and Instagram (amberlough), so that’s the first place you’ll find me. Twitter is where I talk about writing and my personal life, and Instagram is where I post pictures of cats, my garden, and places I travel.
For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Open Fire?
I write both fantasy and historical fiction, but my stories are all ones that I deeply care about. OPEN FIRE has a character who doesn’t know what she wants all the time – just like me, just like many – and yet she is forced to make a decision that sometimes doesn’t sit right with her. My books aren’t all sunshine and roses, because I try to tackle some hard themes while also (hopefully) making the story exciting to read.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
SO MUCH research went into the writing of OPEN FIRE. For starters, I bought about 50 nonfiction books (ok, maybe 8) about Russia in WWI, the Women’s Battalion of Death, the Russian Revolution, etc. Then I asked a friend I met on Twitter to meet up with me in Russia so we could both research for our books. Elizabeth Wein and I spent several days in St. Petersburg (with a foot of snow on the ground!) for me and a few days in Moscow for her to research her nonfiction book about Russian women aviators in WWII, A THOUSAND SISTERS. It was the best trip of my life, to be honest. We talked about it here (https://lernerbooks.blog/2020/02/elizabeth-wein-and-amber-lough-on-women-soldiers-in-world-wars-i-and-ii.html).
What was the inspiration for Open Fire? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
I started writing OPEN FIRE because I was so frustrated that in all of the Russian history classes I took in University, in all the Russian and military history stories I’d gobbled up my whole life, I had never heard of the Women’s Battalion of Death. Of course, that’s because the stories of women throughout history are often forgotten or brushed aside. Worse, some are mocked or said to be more legend than truth. I was insistent that their story be told outside Russia, particularly for an audience that might want to hear about strong, determined women who are willing to die to change the world. At one point, I was asked to add a fantasy element to the story to make it more palatable to a wider audience, but I put my foot down there. I love fantasy–especially historical fantasy—but I didn’t want to blur the lines between legend and truth here. Their story had to be as accurate as can be (for a novel), because they were certainly real women, and not so different from us.
What draws you to the particular genre or style that you write? What do you think draws readers to these kinds of books?
I’m drawn to historical fiction because I want to understand how we ended up here. Diving into a really good historical novel brings the reader into that time period, so they can get a realistic glimpse of it – not as some exotic experience but as a communication between the past and the present. Only then can we see our similarities to people in the past and understand why they did what they did (however horrible), and how easily it could happen again. I think a lot of readers go for the journey, but some are there for this same reason—to understand our current era better.
What do you consider the most challenging part of the writing process? And how do you overcome that?
For me, it’s scraping out time in the calendar to focus on my writing – and then protecting it to the teeth. As a mother, I often found myself brushing my writing time aside as though it was an afterthought. It’s not an afterthought—it’s vital to me, to my mental health, to my goals in life. And I want my children to see that it’s acceptable to put boundaries on your time like that. That said, there are obviously emergencies. But all in all, I’ve learned that if I don’t write down exactly when I will be writing each week, the time will suddenly fill up with things I need to do for other people and when the week is over, I’ll have written practically nothing at all.
Are there any groups, clubs, or organizations that you would recommend to other writers that have helped you in your career?
Certainly! I joined SCBWI when I first started writing seriously, in 2007, and it helped me tremendously. I’m still a member here in Germany, and it’s how I found other writers (who write in English). Community is incredibly important to us writers, because we spend so much time writing alone. We need the network and support of other writers.
Thanks so much for answering our questions for us, Amber!