Science fiction romance author E. G. Manetti has been spinning an intriguing space opera tale in her Twelve Systems Chronicles since 2012, blending interstellar politics, romance and adventure seamlessly. With the recent release of Thorn Bearer, she’s now completed the series and I thought it was an ideal time to catch up to her for an interview on what it was like to write such a large scale series with a love story at the heart, and how it feels to have finished the saga.
The blurb for Thorn Bearer: Four years ago, Lilian left the First System ruined, indentured, and in peril of execution. Now as the Nightingale flies toward the Thirteenth System, she returns to the glittering spires of Pinnacle City, triumphant and soon to be consort to the ruthless and powerful Lucius Mercio. With her dreams within reach, she discovers disturbing clues to the identities of the Despoilers, a vile sect bent on returning the Twelve Systems to bloody anarchy. Beset by ominous prophecy and dire Guild revelations, Lilian must set aside her desires to accept a thorn bearer’s duty—a quest to uncover the leaders of these ancient adversaries of order.
With his cartouche and cartel weakened by his kinsman’s betrayal, Lucius must let Lilian complete her quest alone. Resolved to protect her from afar, Lucius will utilize every resource at his command. But even his considerable shadow may be too small to save her from a web of deceit and corruption that exceeds their worst imaginings. With their enemy’s reach far greater than they feared, Lucius must race to forge new alliances and exploit old ones before the Despoilers lay waste to the Twelve Systems.
In the uncharted expanse of the Thirteenth System, Lucius and Lilian will risk all to defeat the forces of darkness.
Veronica Scott for Amazing Stories Magazine: First, some stats. How many pages (roughly), how many characters, how many spaceships in this entire saga? Do you keep a series bible? What’s it like?
EGM: The ten volumes of The Twelve Systems Chronicles total approximately 4,900 pages in ebook format by Kobo’s count. The first book, The Cartel: The Apprentice, Volume 1 is the shortest at 331 pages and the final book, Thorn Bearer: Thornraven, Volume 3 is the longest at 613 pages. The books are also available as quality paperbacks in 6×9 format through Amazon and those total 3,600 pages. The word count is a bit north of 1.3Million. It makes me a bit dizzy to think about it.
The character list at the beginning of The Cartel has thirty names. The character list at the beginning of the final book Thorn Bearer has 108, although half appears via reference. Of the other 60, two dozen are central throughout the narrative. In between The Cartel and Thorn Bearer, another dozen or so characters appear and disappear, about half of those are killed.
Spaceships are known as stellar transports in the Twelve Systems. Excluding the single pilot stellar craft, The Twelve Systems Chronicles utilize 34 stellar transports of various sizes and purposes. They are referenced in all the books, but it is off-page until Transgressions (Volume 3) where twenty small, single-pilot flyers compete in the moon races. In Fortuna (Volume 4) the heroine, Lilian, travels to the planet Fortuna on the luxury stellar transport, Shimmering Horizon. The Shimmering Horizon reappears in Nightingale (Volume 6) and Shield Bearer (Volume 9). In addition, the luxury transports Fire Sword, Stellar Wind, and Socraide’s arrow appear in Nightingale (Volume 6), Chalice Bearer (Volume 8), and Thorn Bearer (Volume 10), respectively. Chalice Bearer also includes an unnamed transport used to transport the hero, Lucius, and threescore soldiers.
In addition to passenger transports, Thorn Bearer features stellar warfare with 28 stellar warships of various classes and 144 single pilot fighter craft.
And, of course, there is the Nightingale. A stellar exploration vehicle that is constructed and sent on a voyage to explore the Thirteenth System over the course of volumes 2 through 10.
Do I have a ‘bible’ to keep this all straight? More than one. There is a master folder of support details for the series with a dozen documents with everything from PowerPoints of building layouts to spreadsheets with the number of votes in the Twelve Systems’ Governing Council. The most critical document is a 27-page ‘Support Details’ that holds critical reference materials such as; the annual calendar of Metricelli Prime, comparative life time lines for major characters, and the full inventory of the habitable planets in the Twelve Systems. There are twenty-three planets when the series starts and two more discovered by its conclusion. The characters visit fifteen including the two new ones.
In addition to the ‘series bible’, starting with Serengeti Valor (Volume 5), the individual books have mini-bibles with details specific for that volume.
ASM.: What was the original story spark for the series?
EGM: It began with a vivid dream I had the night before a five-hour drive. By the time I reached home, the dream solidified into the plot for The Cartel.
ASM.: Wow, wish I had dreams like that! If you had to sum up the series for a reader in a short ‘elevator speech’, what would you say?
EGM: The Twelve Systems Chronicles are epic science fiction romance that blends action-packed space opera with the intrigue and suspense of a political thriller. In a technologically advanced society ruled by the warrior elite, Lilian enters a three-year trial by ordeal as the indentured apprentice of a ruthless warrior, Lucius Mercio. The passion between them is incendiary, but his rivals and her enemies will exploit any weakness to see them destroyed
ASM.: When you started the series (in 2012?) did you plan the entire thing out in great detail or?
EGM: I started drafting The Cartel in the spring of 2010. What I thought was a novel became a trilogy and then a series. By the spring of 2012, I had roughed out the complete story arc. As that mega-draft became discrete books, more details emerged, the characters became fully formed, and the Twelve Systems took dimension. As a result, Bond Proof became two novels, Nightingale and Bond Proof. The Thornraven trio—Chalice Bearer, Shield Bearer, and Thorn Bearer—was drafted as five books and then consolidated into three as the story arc clarified.
ASM.: Did the plot or the characters ever surprise you along the way by taking a different turn than you expected? If so, what was that?
EGM: All the time. When I first drafted The Cartel, it was all from Lilian’s perspective. Lucius disapproved and insisted on a voice. Lilian’s mother, Helena, is a pivotal character who surprised me more than once with her choice of a love interest. I can’t say more without spoilers.
ASM.: What’s your writing process?
EGM: I’m part plotter and part panster. The overall arc for The Twelve Systems Chronicles came in a tidal wave over two years. There were only a few instances where I back-tracked when new developments contradicted or enhanced earlier passages. Once I had the story arc, creating actual books became more methodical; reworking passages that were all blocking to include action and dialog, refining action and dialog to convey emotion and character development, and feathering in world-building.
ASM.: Which is your favorite character in the series and why?
EGM: Lilian, my heroine, is my favorite character. I put her in an impossible position and compelled her to fight for her existence day in and out. For all she is brilliant, compassionate, and fierce, she is also flawed. She can be impatient, clueless when dealing with interpersonal nuance, and intolerant of those she considers meager. But in the end, although she is in fear for her life for much of the narrative, she is tenacious, hard-working, honorable, passionate, and utterly loyal to her family and friends.
ASM.: If someone was going to film one scene to use as a teaser to generate interest in a movie or TV for the project…What would be the most cinematic moment in the series?
EGM: The ‘climatic’ moment is too much of a spoiler. But for the series as a whole, I would use a moment from Serengeti Valor. In the aftermath of a battle, Lucius searches for Lilian and his reaction when she emerges filthy and exhausted, but alive and victorious. Lilian lives.
ASM.: Who did the book covers?
EGM: The extremely talented Jim O’Connor of Jim O’Connor Photography. I worked with his wife, Kat, and was impressed by his photography. When I approached him about the book cover, he was all in. To add that distinctive ‘sci-fi’ feel, I thank Elle J Rossi at Evernight Designs for the title work.
ASM.: How does it feel to now have finished with such a huge project?
EGM: Thrilled at the accomplishment and a bit bereft. I’ve been living with Lilian, Lucius, and all the other characters in The Twelve Systems Chronicles for over eleven years. It seems strange not be thinking about them during most of my waking moments.
ASM.: What’s next for you as an author?
EGM: I’m not certain. I’d like to try something along paranormal lines, a half dozen ‘Tales of the Thirteen Systems’ titles are flitting around in my head. Then there is the true story of Adelaide and the Five Warriors, the origin story of the Twelve Systems. I suspect that my creative muse will decide.
ASM.: What’s on your To Be Read List?
EGM: There are over 100 titles sitting in my e-reader’s want-to-read section, and while heavily slanted to SFR and PNR, there is plenty of mystery, suspense, and historical. I have Pets in Space6 on pre-order and it will jump to the front of the line when it drops, as will Cynthia Sax’s B-Free. I also need to catch up on both of Karen Chance’s series; Cassandra Palmer and Dorina Basarab, along with Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series. Last, but by no means least, I’m way behind on the Badari Warriors (by Veronica Scott) and tempted to skip ahead to Tratus.
For more about E. G. Manetti and her books visit https://egmanetti.com/