Thursday, April 28, 2016

Interview With Author J.C. Nelson

In case you missed it, I recently read The Reburialists by J.C. Nelson and LOVED it (you can read my review here). You can also check out the book on Goodreads.

J.C. was kind enough to agree to an interview and let me pick his brain about the book.




Q: Where did the idea for The Reburialists come from?

A: The Reburialists began as a project after I’d completed Wish Bound, the third book in my Grimm Agency series, and the completion of the first trilogy. And in the Grimm Agency series, it’s really all about the women. From Marissa and Ari to Queen Mihail and Isolde, the women are the moves and shakers.  But I read widely and have read many books featuring traditional alpha-male heros, and I wanted to try my hand at this.


Q: You mentioned wanting to explore the alpha-hero, did you find you learned anything from writing this story?

A: So the book starts off with an alpha-hero doing alpha-hole things—but almost immediately, it goes off the rails, because, well, that’s not terribly interesting. I wanted to peek into what would make a person behave like this, and in essence, any time you have an addiction, be it drugs (like some characters) or sex (like Brynner) you are dealing with someone self-medicating to avoid their life. So I knew his life wouldn’t be all that shiny.

And then I began wondering – What is it like when the media’s not on him, when the party is over and he’s alone on the road, and these things are still after him. When the expectations of his legacy become more than any human could bear, and yet he feels like it’s his duty? What about when injuries mount and there’s no magic healing, just layers of scars, and an enemy who only grows stronger with the passage of time?


Q: Where did the inspiration for the characters come from?

A: Brynner was definitely modeled on your classic alpha male. He’s a monster of a man (and not as large as his father was) and trained from birth to do what both his parents did. And for him, his faith is a weapon as much as any blades or guns. For him, love and faith are things he just accepts as coming.

Grace, on the other hand, I originally envisioned as a BSI psychic (there’s still two references to them in the book. J), but the more I learned about her, the more I wanted to ask “What happens when you have someone for whom science is a burning passion teamed with someone who lives a life believing in destiny, fate, magic, god?”

Everything grew out from these two and their interactions.


Q: Why did you choose Egyptian mythology?

A: Zombies interested me, but not so much for the gore/horror factor as in the “what would happen?” aspect. Humans, in my opinion, are basically talkative, violent cockroaches. If the dead started rising, we’d figure out how to deal with them so we could get back to the business of killing each other like God intended. And then I kept thinking about mummies, and wondering if those sarcophogai were built to keep something in as much as out. For a while I had all sorts of wild Egyption mythology, but the more I saw the book as a lense onto the world as it would be post zombie invasion, the more I understood it was the dressing put on by primitive humans to try and explain.


Q: How long did it take you to research?

A: I spent about three months reading and thinking while I finished Wish Bound before I dove into The Reburialists. I was so eager to tell the story, but it hadn’t quite gelled. I didn’t know where I was going to take it right up until it started spilling out.


Q: I caught a reference to Van Helsing, can you explain the connection?

A: Heinrich Carson was the infant survivor of a car crash in post-war Germany. His father (a serviceman) and mother (a nurse) were killed. By fortune or providence, Dr. Van Helsing (a descendant) was in the area dealing with an infestation, and recovered the baby while disposing of his re-animated parents.

This was the midst of post war upheaval, and when the family couldn’t be located, he chose to take the baby in. He and his wife had a son who died, and saw this infant as gift from God – a sign that they wouldn’t be the last of their line. Only the parent’s last names were known, so he gave him a fitting first name—and was delighted to see the boy grew to be a hulk of a man. So you have Heinrich taught from his first days that he’s favored. That he’s destined to return to his home country and hunt these re-animus everywhere.  And many times, what we believe becomes our truth.


Q: The emotions are so raw with Grace and Brynner, how was that to write?

A: Some times hard, and sometimes easy. You have two damaged, imperfect people. One who has a media image as this icon, and another who’s struggled for years in situations most of us couldn’t dream of. And novels are about the moment of change: That moment when everything tips, and things building for years burst into motion, so we have this extreme pressure on the two, and they don’t always deal well with it.


Q: Brynner is quite the ladies man, but I liked when he mentioned that he only wanted consenting partners, and consent when they were intoxicated didn't count. It was pointed without being preachy. Was that intentional?

A: When we start the novel, Brynner uses sex as a drug—it’s a convenient way to feel good and escape the fact that tomorrow, there’s going to be another murder, another hostage, another trail of bodies, and the clock is ticking inexorably to the moment when his strength fails, he isn’t quite fast enough, and like his grandfather before him, he’s torn to shreds.

But yes, this was intentional. Both the mention of condoms and consent are explicit and intentional – I went through so many iterations to avoid having it be him preaching, because for him, this is just one of those foundational rules – you can’t have sex without consent and protection, and consent must be explicit, affirmative, enthusiastic.


Q: What was it like switching series since this is so different from The Grimm Agency novels?

A: It felt great. I love Marissa and Ari and Grimm, but after three books in that world, one novella and a Christmas short, I wanted to take a breath. It took me time to find Grace’s voice and make sure she wasn’t an echo of Marissa, but as I learned more about her, writing these characters became something that drove me to get up early and go to bed late.


Q: The women you write seem to kick ass as much as the men. Do you plan it that way or does it just happen?

A: I didn’t plan for that in The Reburialists, but I don’t like damsels in distress. That doesn’t mean characters can’t get into situations where they need help – Amy rescues Grace once, he saves them both in one case, and Grace saves him on a couple of occasions. My guiding principal was that it’s fine for a character encountering something they’ve never experienced to need help. It’s not fine for a character to fail just so another character can step in.


Q: When do you find time to write?

A: Early mornings, these days. I get up around five when I’m drafting and write for a roughly an hour before I have to start getting kids ready and preparing for work. And I sneak words in whenever I can.


Q: What is the best part about writing? The hardest?

A: For me, the hardest part is waiting until I’m ready to tell the story. I get the idea and I just want to jump in, but it’s that ripening, maturing time that makes the characters gel and things just pop.  My favorite moment, hands down, is when the novel suddenly clicks and you realize everything fits together like a puzzle.


Q: Plotter or pantser?

A: 
Both – when I’m learning a character’s voice, pantser. I use an outline as an overall goal of where I want to go with a story, but if my gut says we’re taking a left turn at Albuquerque, we are. My current WIP went from one book to a trilogy following this, and I have loved every moment of it.


Q: Do you have any quirky writing habits?

A: 
When I’m writing, I zone out so badly my wife has been known to throw things at me and still not get my attention. I just get lost in the words and the story spills out.


Q: What are some of your fave books and authors?

A: I loved the first Whisper Hollow book by Yasmine Galenorn. I’ve read and enjoyed Lauren M. Roy’s Night Owls series. I own all the Dresden Files books and read every one voraciously. I loved Planetfall by Emma Newman, the Time and Shadows series by Liana Brooks, and the Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt was all kinds of fun.


To learn more about J.C. Nelson, check out his blog
You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Reburialists - A Book Review

The mark of a great book is when you can't put it down...even to cook. That was me reading The Reburialists. I was useless for three days until I finished it. I'd read J.C. Nelson's Grimm Agency series, which I liked, so I was looking forward to The Reburialists. I LOVED this book. It's been a day since I finished reading it and I'm still in book hangover mode, not ready to start reading anything else.

Brynner Carson works for the Bureau of Special Investigations. He's their top operative and son of BSI founder and legend, Heinrich Carson. Trying to live up to his father's reputation isn't easy as he works to kill Re-Animus (undead). When a corpse talks to him, demanding the return the heart of the Re-Animus's long-dead Queen that his father stole, Brynner is forced to return to the home he ran away from.

BSI Senior Analyst Grace Roberts is sent with Brynner to decode Henrich's journals, hoping to discover the location of the stolen heart, and earn the extra pay she desperately needs. In the home of Brynner's aunt and uncle, Grace finds a kindness she isn't used to. Though she knows all the theories, soon she is forced to fight along Brynner to save the world.

Because I'm not a zombie fan, I was a little leery going into the book. Mythology is my thing and this story is drenched in it. The Reburialists uses Egyptian mythology, one of my favourites, so that scored it big points.

The story is deep and a lot happens. By the time I finished reading The Reburialists, I felt like I'd been through a long, hard journey, which is good. Nelson made me laugh, broke my heart (several times), made me cheer, and made me worry. He had me wondering until the very end how they were going to overcome the Re-Animus Queen.

I knew within the first few pages that I was going to like this book. Brynner is a tough smart-ass, my favourite kind. Add in his emotional wounds and I'm all over that! I loved Brynner's deep character and my heart ached for him as he struggled. Then there's Grace, a smart, tough woman who speaks up and won't take Brynner's crap...love it! Grace has her own issues and again, I really felt for her. I truly cared about these characters.

The women in this book were very strong. I liked that. Though Grace wasn't trained to fight, she did well enough, even saving Brynner at times. It was nice to see women who didn't just follow the male main character around blindly. I was also extremely pleased that Grace didn't talk a lot about what she wore, tried to run around in high heels, or worried about getting her hands dirty. That's my kind of character!

Pile on some action. There's lots of action, being killers of the undead, how could there not be. I'm a fan of knife work, most of the characters I write use knives, and that's Brynner's weapons of choice. I thought the action scenes were very well done, descriptive, without being confusing or overly gory (I know they are tricky to write).

And the topper...a well-done romantic sub-plot. As I've said before, I'm a huge sucker for a good romantic sub-plot, and this one delivered. I felt the connection, the longing, their struggle. It drove me crazy (in the way it should)! I was practically screaming for Brynner and Grace to get together. I needed to know what happened between them, as much as I wanted to know how they were going to win and overcome their inner demons.

This was a well rounded book with everything I love. The only minor issue I had was that Brynner was made out to be too much of a ladies man. I didn't mind it at first, but eventually I wondered how many women he'd bedded and found it gross.

Though this book just came out, I am hoping there will be another in the series. I want one soooo bad!

So do I recommend this book...oh hell yes!

If you'd like to learn more about The Reburialists, check out the interview I did with J.C. Nelson here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tarot Spread For Your Character

I'm writing a new novel that's unrelated to the two other series I have started. Being a non-plotter, I have my ideas and am working on an exploratory draft of the story. Unfortunately, the character is not coming to me as easily as I'd like. So today I got out my Tarot to delve into her a little more.

I peeked at a few spreads I found on the internet, but didn't see any I liked. I usually make up my own spreads anyway, so that's what I did.

Here's the one I used:



Protagonist

This is the card the represents your main character. It gives you an idea of the core of the character or what the character's life will be like.

Strength

This is what it sounds like, your character's strength, or a strength that needs to be used during the story.

Weakness

Also what it sounds like. Where is your character weak? This could also be viewed as an area of improvement.

Remember that strengths aren't always good and weaknesses aren't always negative. A strength can be the wrong trait at the wrong time, a weakness could be the right trait at the right time. It depends on how your character uses these in the story.

Short Term Desires

What is your character looking for in the near future? Could be days, weeks. It's a short term goal.

Long Term Desires.

This is what your character wants in the coming years.

Hidden Desires

We all have them, those secret things we want to do. Sometimes we know about them, sometimes they are sub-conscious.

Knows About Self

This is something the character is sure about her personality. This could be an area of confidence (maybe over confidence?) or something that plays off the strength.

Misconception About Self

What does the character think she knows about herself but isn't true. We can see ourselves positively or negatively, but our perception isn't necessarily the truth.

Needs To Learn About Self

This could be something the character could learn about herself in the course of the book, or maybe it's a longer term awareness.

Attitude Towards Friends

How does your character treat her friends? How does she feel about them? How does she act towards them?

Attitude Towards Lovers

How does your character view lovers? How does she interact with them?

Attitude Towards Word

What is your character's feelings towards her employment? How does she act at work?



This spread is just a guideline. You can remove or add cards as necessary. Maybe you're writing a young adult book instead so you need to know how your character feels about school rather than work. Maybe you need to know how your character feels about money, add it in. Tarot spreads are never set in stone, play with them until you figure out what works for you.

I've been learning, teaching, and reading Tarot cards for about 25 years now. If you have any questions, about this spread or Tarot in general, feel free to contact me.

Do you ever use Tarot to delve deeper into your characters?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Library Project

I was scrolling through Twitter on Thursday and found a post asking for help from bloggers. Once I read it, I couldn't pass it up.


I've loved books for as long as I can remember and always try to support projects that get books to children who may not otherwise have access to them. Reading is such an important skill and should be encouraged. Books can expand your mind, help you escape, give you a different perspective, and more. All children should have access to books.

The Library Project donates books and libraries to under financed rural primary schools and orphanages in Asia.

So to fulfill this blog I will tell you about what I read when I was younger...



My first book obsession was Nancy Drew.





Just seeing these covers, takes me back. I remember both of them and I'm not going to reveal how long ago it was that I read them.

I used to eagerly wait for new books to be released and often had them on reserve at my local library. I also had quite the collection at home and I wish I'd kept them.

While other girls my age read Sweet Valley High or The Babysitters Club, I couldn't get enough of the amateur sleuth. Looking back, the books weren't filled with a woman worrying about clothing choices, finding a date (though she did have a boyfriend, her life didn't revolve around him), or putting down other women--something often found in books geared towards girls/young women/women. Nancy and her friends went off on adventures and used their heads to solve mysteries.

Nancy Drew was a huge part of my life for at least three years. I remember lying in bed most of the day reading or my mom bringing me my morning tea (we are a tea drinking family so I started early) when I'd wake up and start my day by reading.

In the past year, I met an editor who worked on newer Nancy Drew books. I admit, I totally fan-girled on her. She instantly became one of my heroes.

Writing this post has left me feeling quite nostalgic. I think I'll have to pick up one of these Nancy Drew books and reread it.

What was your favourite childhood book?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Guest Post - A Toast To Blackbird Summer

Before I relinquish control of my blog for the day...I want to wish a heartfelt congratulations to Em Shotwell on the release of Blackbird Summer, which I really enjoyed (you can read about it here). It's a long journey to get your book out into the world and Em did it!


Take it away Em!




Thank you Elesha for letting me take over your wonderful blog to celebrate the release of my debut novel, BLACKBIRD SUMMER.

You can read the synopsis following this post- but Blackbird Summer is the story of two sisters who belong to a…err…strange family in the Deep South. They live on the edge of a town that hates them because of their special, X-Men like abilities.

Since Elesha and I connected on twitter over the hashtag #WinosWrite (Also known as THE best writing sprint hashtag around. We need to revive it soon!) I thought it would be fun to have a few author-friends who have read and reviewed Blackbird Summer play a “drinking game.”

No. Not THAT kind of drinking game.


I asked the question: 

Who is your favorite character in Blackbird Summer, and if they were a cocktail, what would they be and why?
(*Please enjoy alcohol responsibly)


C.L. McCollum, Author

Tallulah’s Grandma/ Mojito

"Tully's Grandma was unsurprisingly a fave of mine - something about strong Southern women always wins me over! And her gift of Vigor was so intriguing. She strikes me as a mojito. Sweet as sugar with a fresh feel of green growing mint and the bit of sass in the sour lime juice topped off with that slow giddiness from just the right amount of rum. It's the perfect drink for sipping on a muggy summer afternoon out on the back porch of the Caibre home."





Randi Perrin, Author

Logan/ Red Wine Sangria

“Red wine sangria... Because he's sweet, comforting, and, like sangria, is a mix of a little bit of everything in just the right proportions to leave a good taste lingering on your tongue. Logan, like the drink, is a sleeper. He seems innocent enough, but too much of a good thing leads to questionable judgment and a swirling head.”




And of course—I have to share one of my favorites!
Em Shotwell- Author of Blackbird Summer

Jack/ Pimm’s Cup

I have a couple of favorites, but I think Jack is an underrated character, and I simply adore him! Jack would be a Pimm’s Cup. The cool, light flavors of the mint and cucumber are perfect for a chill guy like Jack, and like the drink, Jack is sweet—but not too sweet.




How about you? What’s your favorite cocktail? What beloved character from a book or television show would go best with your drink of choice? Comment below, or find me on twitter or facebook and let me know.
-Em


Em Shotwell is the author of Blackbird Summer (City Owl Press, 2016). She lives in South Louisiana with a husband who spoils her and two mini-superheroes who call her mom. Em think the most interesting characters are the ones who live on the sidelines, and that small towns often hide the biggest secrets. She is inspired by tall tales and local legends.


When she’s not writing about misfits and oddballs, Em enjoys spending time outdoors hiking, or indoors where she can be found daydreaming and wishing that she could play the banjo.


About Blackbird Summer


When people hate the unknown, being Gifted is a curse.

In the cornerstone of the rural south, Brooklyn, Mississippi, no one dares make eye contact with the strange Caibre family. Until the rewards are worth the cost. The townsfolk come, cash in hand, always at night, to pay for services only a Gifted can provide.

No matter the Gifts prevalent in her family, at twenty-one, Tallulah is expected to follow the path laid out for her: marriage, babies, and helping her mama teach the family home school program. She’s resigned to live the quiet life and stay out of trouble…until she meets Logan.

An outsider and all around rebel, Logan doesn’t care about her family’s reputation. Yet after a tragic loss wreaks havoc on the crumbling relationship between the Caibres and the townsfolk, Tallulah must decide if love and freedom are worth risking everything.

Add Blackbird Summer to your list on Goodreads!

Buy Blackbird Summer on Amazon.ca or Amazon.com



Monday, April 4, 2016

Musings From Sonic Highways

In case you haven't figured this out from other blog posts, I love my music. Not only do I love specific bands, but I have a great appreciation for music as a whole, regardless of genre. Confession time--I wanted to be in a rock band. Obviously, that worked out for me. So when it comes to things based around music, I'm very interested.

Having children has left me separated from the music scene for over ten years, as my attentions have been drawn elsewhere. Now that my children are a little more independent, I'm slowly getting my groove back.

I've been watching the HBO show Vinyl. I LOVE the historical music aspect, not too keen on the drama. My husband and I have so much fun watching it and seeing the musicians referenced.

For quite a while, my husband has been after me to watch the Foo Fighter's HBO documentary, Sonic Highways. We really enjoyed Foo Fighters: Back and Forth. Though my husband watch Sonic Highways, I hadn't made time for it yet.

Saturday night I wanted something to veg out to before bed and decided to watch the first episode. On Sunday, while folding laundry, I watched another...which turned into two more. So I'm four episodes in, half way through. It's fantastic.

The band spends a week in eight different cities in the US to record a song for their Sonic Highways album. What makes it so interesting is that the band's lead singer, guitar player, and sometimes dummer, Dave Grohl, interviews different musicians, producers, and others involved in that city's music scene. So far I've watched Chicago, Washington D.C., Nashville, and Austin. I must admit, I'm looking forward Los Angeles because many of my first favourite bands came out of the scene there in the '80s/early '90s. And, naturally, I'm looking forward to the Seattle episode, not only because Chris Cornell is in it, but because the music that came from there in the '90s was the soundtrack for my high school days. I will admit that I was sad that the music scenes in Toronto or Vancouver weren't part of it.

As a writer, it's interesting to see the creative process in other mediums. Listening to the musicians talk about where they came from and seeing Foo Fighters put together the song for that city, is inspirational.

There are a few things I've picked up from the series so far.

One of the biggest is, believe in yourself and be true to your vision. Many of the musicians interviewed didn't have it easy and had to fight to get where they were. I loved how Dischord Recordings was started by a young band because they wanted to put out a record but no labels were interested, so they did it themselves. I believe the founder said that the label had sold over four-million albums worldwide. I was super impressed when Zack Brown told the story about how another band recorded Fried Chicken, with Zack Brown's permission, but he asked them not to release it as a single. When the other band did, Zack Brown stepped up and had the song pulled, even though it would piss off a major player in the Nashville music scene. You can read more about it here. Good for him! As artists, we need to stand up for our work.

Another thing is many of these artists thought outside the box. They were often going against the grain and trying new things. Sometimes the music was a blend of genres, or a new spin on a genre. The message: your audience is out there, you just need to find it. As a writer, it's important to try new things, to think outside the usual tropes.

If you're a music fan, I recommend checking out Sonic Highways, even if you're not into Foo Fighters. The episodes explore different genres of music from blues to punk to country to rock (in all it's forms).