Rhoda Belleza

Author of: Empress of a Thousand Skies

Author Rhoda Belleza with her book Empress of a Thousand Skies


Rhoda Belleza was raised in Los Angeles, where she grew up writing XFiles fanfiction and stuffing her face with avocados. When she's not writing, Rhoda obsesses over nail art tutorials, watches kung fu movies, and sews together crooked things that pass for clothes. She's a children's editor at a publishing house and writes from a sunny Brooklyn apartment stuffed with far too many bikes and far too many shoes. Empress of a Thousand Skies is her debut novel.

To learn more about Rhoda, connect with her online:
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+ What can readers expect from the EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES series that they wouldn't gather from reading the summaries?

RB: So much of the summaries focus on revenge, war, and politics--all of which I LOVE--but at its heart the series is very much about faith. That doesn't exactly scream "fast paced!" or "adventure!" but faith requires such a monumental effort, and every character in these books is struggling with it. Faith in humanity, in love, in god, in themselves...it's about finding that conviction inside yourself and following that path. But just, like, in space.

+ How did the story idea for EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES first come to you?

RB: It started off with Rhee: angry, lonely, powerless. The political environment while writing the books (and still now, honestly) made me feel all of these things, and Rhee's character was a way to work through that. But I didn't want to write something all doom and gloom; the point was for her to eventually restore her faith. Her moving through the opening scene of book 1 came to me first. She's about to be sent away to take her place on the throne, and instead breaks free to say goodbye to someone she loves. It felt like the right starting point, this act of defiance and love.

+ Several aspects of EMPRESS OF A THOUSAND SKIES mirror social issues that we are experiencing in the world today (e.g. technology and privacy issues, discrimination and a man of color being falsely accused of a crime). Was this intentional and what inspired you to write about these issues in particular?

RB: It definitely was intentional, but I (hope) that this is all out of the space opera playbook. The genre has been deftly tackling themes of war, oppression, sexism, and more since before the term was coined. But it does feel like we're at some sort of real-life breaking point. Reading current events is heartbreaking and infuriating, and it’s impossible not to be influenced as a writer by the current political climate. Aly is a refugee accused of a crime he didn't commit. Rhee is a native to her planet on the verge of having her own land taken away. And both of them are not favored by the media because of the way they look. I wanted to create a world that mirror the world we live in.

+ You worked as an editor at a publishing house before you became a published author. What was your biggest takeaway from the editing world that helped you write and publish your first novel?

RB: So much of the publishing process is out of your control. Reviews, awards, sales, design, marketing strategy...I could go on. There's no fool-proof formula you can implement, no sure-fire way to dictate the reception. So while it's important to hustle and self promote, ultimately the only thing you can control is the quality of the prose and storytelling. So I choose to focus on that instead of freaking out that I'm not tweeting enough or something. (Though as I'm writing this my internal monologue is like "you should tweet more" so the question is is this actually a hot take?)

+ How do you go about translating your love for action movies into action scenes in your stories? What is your writing process to make action really come alive in your books and feel realistic?

RB: With action scenes I write out the first draft by hand; it makes me slow down and really think through the choreography. You can figure out what populates the setting and what props your characters can use, or how people physically take up space and where they are moment to moment on a granular level (i.e. if a character is a foot shorter than her opponent and she gets a running start three feet back, she can jump off that fire hydrant, launch herself up so by the time she reaches her falling trajectory she can bring her left elbow down on top of him...). At that point it's way less about the prose and more like scene direction. Then when I feel like it's decently sketched out I translate all that to my computer and start filling in the connective tissue.

+ What advice do you have for aspiring writers who struggle with opening up and sharing their work with other people?

RB: It's the only way to get better. When you're receptive to feedback your writing becomes more comprehensible and generous; you get to a place where you can guide your reader through the lyricism and plotting. It's natural to be protective, to fear criticism--but I'd be more scared of writing in a creative or intellectual vacuum, never communicating, or reaching anyone. Maybe even the most constructive feedback will always sting, that's okay too. But when you're working on a project and someone suggests a tweak that shifts everything for the better, then that sting is worth it.

+ Can you share what you are currently working on? Do you have anything planned to write outside of the fantasy or sci-fi genre?

RB: It's super duper early in the game, but I'm working on a project about a plague that sweeps over an island nation loosely based on the Philippines. I don't have any immediately plans to write outside of scifi or fantasy, but I want to try everything eventually.

+ What is the last book that you've read that you would rate 5/5 stars?

RB: Circe. I was dizzy and breathless for days after finishing it. I don't know if I've ever had a book hangover like that one.

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