It’s June and that means it’s time for another year of Pride Month spotlights! I’m so excited to spotlight Game of Strength and Storm by Rachel Menard and share the interview with the author!
Welcome Rachel! Thank you for allowing me to interview you! Can you start off by introducing yourself?
Hi Felicia! Thank you for having me. To all of your readers, my name is Rachel and I write YA fantasy stories, although I do have a YA contemporary draft somewhere in my files. I’ve been writing YA for about 12 years now. I admittedly didn’t get hooked on the genre until I read Twilight and thought, “I could write something like that!” Full disclosure, it’s not as easy as it looks. In fact, every time I start something new, it feels like I’ve never written a book before in my life. The important thing for me is to just get words on the page and edit them later. The magic really happens for me in editing.
How would you describe Game of Strength and Storm in one sentence?
Game of Strength and Storm is a feminist, gender-bent retelling of the Labors of Hercules.
Can you introduce us to the main character(s) of Game of Strength and Storm?
Absolutely! So there are three POV characters in Game of Strength and Storm. First is Gen. She is my Hercules stand-in, a seventeen-year old fantasy mixed-race teen with two abilities: she has super-strength from her mother, and the ability to communicate and influence animals with hair, blood, or saliva. She and her family formerly owned an animal circus until her mother was killed and her father was arrested for supposedly murdering some of the people responsible for her death. Since then, she’s been an outcast. The book starts with Gen appealing to the Olympian Empresses to set her father free and clear his name.
My next character is Castor. She is daughter of the Duke of Storms, duke of the island of Arcadia and home to the StormMakers, a race that can command weather with their magic. Castor is my boss bitch, semi-antagonist although I subscribe to the theory that every villain is the hero of their own story. Castor is a victim of her island’s patriarchy. Her twin brother, Pollux, is set to be the next duke, and Castor is appealing to the Empresses to change the succession so she can inherit. The Empresses set Gen and Castor on a quest to defeat ten labors, and whoever gets the most wins their wish.
Pollux is my third POV character. He is, as readers have described, my golden retriever boy. He is a violinist with crowd anxiety and also has a long-standing crush on Gen. He steps into the game to keep his sister from winning and to help Gen in the hopes that some romance may brew.
What representation will readers find in Game of Strength and Storm?
Gen is fantasy mixed-raced and also demisexual. Castor is gay, and Bale, a side character is bisexual. I will tell you, though, their sexuality is not a prominent piece of the story on purpose. I wanted to have a story where queer people could just exist without explanations. So I haven’t been pitching it as gay book because I feel like people who want gay books want gayer books than mine. It’s just a book with people who are all different. (Although book 2 is getting a little gayer.)
Pollux, as I mentioned, has anxiety, and there is another side character who is deaf and his deafness is a strength that defends him and his people from a creature that can kill with sound. I love twisting things around so I really enjoyed having scenes where the hearing people are disadvantaged.
Do you know from the beginning how your books will end or do you let your characters decide their journey?
I always know the beginning and the end. It’s the middle I have trouble figuring out. I usually have the major scenes plotted in my head, but I leave room for the characters to make their own choices. My first drafts are about WHAT happens. Then in edits, I have to decide WHY it happened, which often changes things. For instance, if I want my character who is afraid of heights to climb a ladder, I need to make sure there is a solid reason, something stronger than their fear, to get them up that ladder.
For Game of Strength and Storm, since it is a retelling, I had a road map to follow in terms of plot points. I also had to make more choices about what I wanted to keep from the original story, and what I wanted to change. My goal was to make sure people could connect the dots to the original myth and also create a unique and contemporary story that would surprise readers.
Do you have a favorite scene, moment, or quote from the book?
I’m admittedly Team Castor even though she does some horrible things in the book. I just admire how unapologetic she is, and with what is happening to women’s rights today, she appeals to my feminine rage. So I am going to share one of her lines.
“Her father’s words had been a challenge. Trying to infiltrate the legacy wasn’t enough. If she wanted change, she had to smash the entire system. Only then could it be rebuilt.”
What is something readers will find in Game of Strength and Storm that they may not realize based on the synopsis?
On the surface it looks like a Greek myth retelling with a fantasy competition, and it is those things, but Game of Strength and Storm at its core, is a story about three young people whose lives were written into a particular fate, and they all want to change it even though everything is stacked against them: from their parents, to their government, society, and a giant nine-headed swamp monster.
What’s something you hope readers will take away from Game of Strength and Storm?
What I hope readers will take from ALL of my books is to challenge the status quo. Just because something is rooted in tradition, or your parents want you to be a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s right. The people in charge do not always make the correct decisions.
What are three books you would recommend if someone enjoyed Game of Strength and Storm?
I had come off reading Three Dark Crowns when I started writing Game of Strength of Storm so if you want a similar fantasy competition, that is a great series. If you like clever and unique retellings, read any of Marissa Meyer’s books. Gilded is her latest, a Rumplestilskin reimagining, and a recent Greek myth inspired book I adored was This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron.
What’s next for you? Anything you can share?
Well, I’m finishing up book 2 on Game of Strength and Storm, and I can’t say much because I feel like everything is a spoiler. Just know there will be much more drama, danger, and adventure. After that I am drafting a new fantasy murder mystery series, and maybe one of these days I will go back and edit that YA contemporary story in my files.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Victory is the only option.
Once a year, the Olympian Empresses grant the wishes of ten people selected by a lottery—for a price. Seventeen-year-old Gen, a former circus performer, wants the freedom of her father, who was sentenced to life in prison for murders she knows he didn’t commit. Castor plans to carry the island Arcadia into the future in place of her brother, Pollux, but only after the Empresses force a change in her island’s archaic laws that requires a male heir.
To get what they want, Gen and Castor must race to complete the better half of ten nearly impossible labors. They have to catch the fastest ship in the sea, slay the immortal Hydra, defeat a gangster called the Boar, and capture the flesh-eating Mares, among other deadly tasks.
Gen has her magic, her ability to speak to animals, her inhuman strength—and the help of Pollux, who’s been secretly pining for her for years. But Castor has her own gifts: the power of the storms, along with endless coin. Only one can win. The other walks away with nothing—if she walks away at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Menard was born in New Jersey, raised in Arizona, and then relocated to Rhode Island. Throughout her life she has been a barista, college radio DJ, singer in an alt-country band, marketer, designer, and finally, a writer. Her short fiction has been featured on the Cast of Wonders podcast and her non-fiction has been seen in Writer’s Digest. Her debut novel, Game of Strength and Storm, is coming from Flux Books in 2022.