The Netherworlde Book 1 by Sara Reinke Genre: Paranormal Romance
Jason Sullivan has everything he could have wanted in life -- his own business, the perfect girlfriend and the perfect opportunity to ask her to marry him. Then, in one violent, unexpected moment, he loses it all. Murdered in cold blood, wrongly condemned and enslaved to a sadistic demon, Jason must fight to reclaim not only the life and love he'd once known, but also his soul.
This has to be a joke, Jason thought, leaning heavily against Sam as he shuffled through the front door of the upstairs apartment above the bar. He’d lived there for years, but like the tavern below, nothing but the floor plan was remotely recognizable to him. His hand-me-down furniture was gone, the metal-framed futon with faded black upholstery, the ugly standing chrome lamp that Sam had always teased about being “circa-1980s-chic.” The oversized wooden crates he’d used for a TV stand were gone, along with his bookshelves and stereo, his drafting table and computer, the faded and threadbare oriental rug that had covered the hardwood floor.
“Here,” Sam murmured, easing him down against a stack of cardboard boxes. These were everywhere, some opened, others sealed with tape, as if someone was in the process of either moving in or out. She went to one that had already been opened and dug around until she found what she was looking for, a large, dark blue wool blanket. She hurried back to his side and wrapped it around him.
The dog sat nearby, watching. It hadn’t tried to attack Jason again, but its lips would occasionally wrinkle back to reveal its teeth, and it would utter a little sound that would start off as a growl, then end in a short, rasping sort of whoof, more an expulsion of air than a bark, as if to say, I’ve got my eye on you, pal. This has got to be a joke, Jason thought, looking helplessly around while Sam turned again, darting down the hallway toward the bathroom. They moved my stuff while I was out in the alley…Eddie and David and the rest of them…packed up all of the tables downstairs, shoved it all into the storeroom somehow, maybe the kitchen. Then they came up here and packed my furniture, everything. Just one big practical joke.
Except being stabbed wasn’t anyone’s idea of a joke, Jason realized, wincing as he eased the blanket back from his shoulder, trying to get a look at his wound. The electricity hadn’t been working downstairs, but was on in the apartment, and by the orange glow of a nearby lamp, he could see that he’d suffered one seriously gruesome injury. The fissure in his flesh was wide and ragged, the blood-crusted edges puckered like crude lips, the exposed meat beneath bright red and spongy. He was still bleeding heavily and when Sam returned, carrying a first aid kit in her hand, she gasped, her eyes flown wide.
“What happened?” She fell to her knees and threw open the kit, ransacking it until she found a large gauze dressing pad. Using her teeth, she bit into the paper wrapping and tore it open. “Oh, God, who did this to you?”
“A man…in the alley,” he murmured, jerking and sucking in a hurting breath as she pressed the pad against his shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Sam whispered, close enough to feel her breath against his face, to her smell her perfume. This, at least, remained familiar and the same: Estee Lauder’s Pleasures. “Can you hold this here? I’ll go get some water. We need to stop the bleeding.”
He nodded, draping his hand against hers, holding the bandage in place. They stayed this way for a long moment, during which Sam’s rapid-fire, frantic breathing drew to a complete and silent stop. Then she stood again, pulling away from him.
“Just hold it,” she said, winding her way once more through the maze of boxes and ducking into the galley-sized kitchen. He heard more clanging, then the rush of water pouring full-blast from the tap. When she returned, carrying a large pot between her hands and leaving a sloshed, slopped trail of water in her wake, the dog rose to its feet, its tongue lolling out of the corner of its mouth, its tail wagging expectantly.
“No, Barton, this isn’t for you.” Sam knelt in front of Jason again, dunking a dishrag into the water.
“Whose dog is that?” he asked.
“Mine,” she replied, and he blinked in surprise. “I got him at the pound right after you…”
Her voice faded and she cut her gaze away. Right after I what? he wondered, bewildered. Then he shook his head. It didn’t matter, not the wound in his shoulder or the fact that his entire world had otherwise seemingly been turned upside down and inside out, then given a hard shake. Only one thing remained that truly mattered, the one thing he’d been neglecting for far too long.
“Marry me,” he said and she looked up at him, her eyes wide in surprise.
He leaned forward and kissed her, his lips settling lightly. Her breath caught and he felt her stiffen against him for a long, uncertain moment. When she relaxed, the tension draining in her body, palpably releasing from her mouth, their kiss deepened. The tip of his tongue brushed the seam of her lips and when she parted them, she uttered a soft, breathless sound, slipping her tongue gently, sweetly against his own. Her long, slim fingers, still wet and cold from the water, trailed against his face and caught in his hair as she lifted her chin and leaned into him. There was an unexpected and urgent passion in her mouth, as if she’d waited and wanted that moment, that kiss, for a long time.
Which, like everything else, made absolutely no sense whatsoever, since he’d only last kissed her surely no more than an hour ago.
When she drew away, her hands lingering in a caress, her eyes glistened in the lamplight with tears. When one spilled, he drew the thumb of his pad across her cheek to catch it.
“Marry me, Sam,” he whispered again, managing a weak smile. “I wanted to ask you last weekend at the waterfront, at Holiday Island, but I…”
More tears spilled, but to his surprise, when he reached for her, she jerked back. “How do you know about that?” she asked, rising to her feet. Twin patches of hot, angry color bloomed in her cheeks and she balled her hands into trembling fists. “Who the hell are you?”
“What?” He’d thought she was crying because she was upset about his attack, or happy about his proposal, or maybe even both, but when he realized she was more than upset, she was frightened of him, he tried to stand, but gritted his teeth against a spasm of pain and sank back to the boxes again. “Sam, it’s me. It’s Jason.”
“No, you’re not.” She shook her head. “I don’t know who you are, or…or how you know about that day at the park, but you…” Tears rolled down her cheeks and her voice grew hoarse and strained as she backpedaled. “You’re not Jason Sullivan. Jason is dead. He died five years ago.”
"Definitely an author to watch." That's how Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine describes Sara Reinke. New York Times best-selling author Karen Robards calls Reinke "a new paranormal star" and Love Romances and More hails her as "a fresh new voice to a genre that has grown stale."
When she's not writing, Sara is probably dreaming up her next fictional adventure, driving one or both of her kids to or from school, trying to keep her house from looking like a hurricane ripped through it, or working full-time as a registered nurse. During her free time, she's likely to be found with a margarita or glass of Moscato in hand, failing miserably to replicate a recipe she saw on an episode of The Pioneer Woman.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I remember asking for a typewriter for Christmas when I was in grade school, because I wanted to be an author like Stephen King. In the early 2000s, I had a really lucky break and had two mass-market paperbacks published through Kensington, paranormal romances about vampires called Dark Thirst and Dark Hunger. I’ve continued the Brethren Series these titles kicked off, all on my own in the years since then, and last year, released the tenth and final installment, Darkness Falls. In addition to the Brethren books, I’ve written dozens of other stories over the years (including Forsaken). Most have a paranormal romance angle to them, but I’ve been known to explore other genres along the way, too. Romance is always a key element to my work—probably because I’m such a sucker for true love and a happy ending!
What is something unique/quirky about you?
In addition to being a writer, I’m also a registered nurse, and a couple of years ago, I worked for a regional poison control center. It turned out to be the most fascinating job I’ve ever had. I worked night shift, which unfortunately was just too much for me, so I found another nursing position elsewhere. But to this day, I can walk through my backyard or a public park and point out toxic plant species, among other things I learned in my work as a poison specialist, and I definitely came away with some great ideas for plot twists for my books!
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I served on the national board of directors for Romance Writers of America back in the early 2000s, and at the annual conference, I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Nora Roberts. I remember feeling surprised at how petite she was, because in interviews, she’s so strong and confident, larger than life. She was extremely gracious and elegant, the epitome of class, and I will never forget that experience.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
My daughter takes horse riding lessons on Saturday afternoons, and spending time in the barns at the farm where she rides is one of my favorite ways to unwind at the end of a long week. I usually bring along carrots or peppermints to pass out among the horses and have gotten to know several of them pretty well over the years. My favorite is a black mare named Mariah, and she’s a gentle giant. She’s shy before she gets to know you, but once you win her trust, she’s basically a snuggle bug. She loves to have behind her ears or just under her chin scratched, and I’ll watch her stand there and doze off if I scratch long enough. Sometimes she’ll just stick her nose right up to my cheek and nuzzle, and it sounds really weird, but there’s something really peaceful and comforting about warm horse breath in your face. I’m a city girl at heart, but I admit, having that opportunity to go out to the farm is rewarding and relaxing to me.
How to find time to write as a parent?
This has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced as a writer, and I’ve found the answer changes as my kids get older. In many ways, I’m more pressed for free time now, as the parent of teenagers, than when they were younger. They may need less direct supervision, but they have extracurricular activities galore, and on top of me working full-time and trying to juggle in housework, it can be tough. I pack my laptop with me whenever I take them to music lessons, and I try to squeeze in writing when dinner is cooking or before I hit the bed for the night. I also have my own office in my home (even though the only time I usually have to take advantage of it is on the weekends!).
Do you have a favorite movie?
Several, actually, LOL. They all run neck-and-neck. I love The Fellowship of the Ring, the first in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I remember going to see it in the movie theater and being absolutely spellbound. I loved those books as a child, and the movie brought all of the characters so perfectly to life.
I’m also a sucker for superhero movies, since I was addicted to comic books as a teen. As with comics, I’m a bigger Marvel fan than DC, but the Wonder Woman movie was absolutely fabulous. Loved it! And of course, Avengers: End Game. I admit it: I was cheering and clapping out loud in the theater. (And bawling at the end—come on, who didn’t??)
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I think like most authors, I can imagine any of my stories on the big screen, LOL. But honestly, I’ve written plays in the past, had the amazing actor Chris Patton narrate an audiobook from my Brethren Series, and a horror short-story, “Periphery People” that had several podcast readings after it appeared on the Creepypasta website. I have to say that seeing and hearing someone else’s performance of my work is both flattering and amazing. They bring their own unique interpretations to the stories, and for me, it’s like enjoying them for the first time, as something brand new. I can’t imagine how thrilling it would be to see my characters brought to life in a film version, but it’s something I’d love to see one day.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I often joke that my Patronus would be a honey badger. Maybe a possum.
What inspired you to write this book?
Years ago, I read a graphic novel called The Crow by J. O’Barr. It told a tragic love story in which the hero loved his girlfriend enough to defy death for her. It was dark, violent, and hopelessly romantic, and the contradiction of those themes really stuck with me over the years. I wrote Forsaken with that in mind—a man who would literally go through Hell and back to be with the woman he loved.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on a romantic fantasy. It doesn’t have a title yet, which is kind of sad because I’ve been working on it off and on over the last fifteen years. One of the reasons I’ve held onto it for that long is because I really love the characters..
I’m also working on another manuscript, a shifter romance called Badlands that’s set in the Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada mountains. My brother-in-law used to live there, and my husband and I visited a long time ago. I fell in love with the scenic beauty and have actually used the same region as a setting in some of my Brethren vampire romance stories. It’s very hard not to be inspired by it if you’ve ever been.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
In Forsaken, the hero, Jason, befriends a young runaway named Mei, who is originally from Louisville, Kentucky, which happens to be my hometown. She talks briefly in the book about her parents owning a small Chinese restaurant downtown. She speaks disparagingly of it (because she’s a teenager, LOL), but the actual restaurant I had in mind is a place I have personally fond memories of—this tiny hole-in-the-wall place I used to walk to for lunch when I worked downtown. I knew the couple who owned it, and the people who worked there really well, which tells you how often I grabbed take-out from there. They had the best chicken fried rice EVER. I still crave it even now, years later.
And while not a character in the traditional sense, the setting for Forsaken plays a large role in the story. It’s based loosely off San Francisco, which I visited ages ago for an RWA national conference and absolutely fell in love. It had such a unique feel to it, from the architecture to the streetcars, the waterfront and Chinatown. I love how some cities just seem to have their own personality, a life all of their own, and San Francisco is definitely one of those. I didn’t make Forsaken specifically set there (in fact, like in many of my books, I never state exactly where the story takes place), but it was definitely the primary inspiration.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Forsaken?
I wanted to explore a romantic storyline with a darker edge in Forsaken. I found the idea of a couple torn apart by circumstances beyond their control to be an appealing challenge as a writer. The hero of Forsaken, Jason Sullivan, is an average guy, one who has historically relied more on his looks and common sense to get by in life than anything else. He inherits his father’s business, a bar, but doesn’t give himself credit for successfully running it on his own. He’s not a bad person, but he doesn’t have a lot of ambition in life until he meets Samantha. In Sam, he finds his perfect match, someone who encourages and challenges him. Jason wants to be a better man—and more importantly, a better person—because of Sam.
For her part, Sam can be naïve and trusting, but has learned to harden herself after Jason’s murder. The time that has passed in what seems like seconds for him has been years of grief and coping for her. Throughout the book, she struggles to reconcile the future she’d once wanted and longed for with Jason, and the new reality and future she’s had to build and aspire towards since his death.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
I was inspired by a graphic novel I read years ago called The Crow, by J. O’Barr. It was a tragic love story that somehow, despite the grim, tragic storyline, managed to remain romantic at the same time. (They made a movie version of The Crow, but it never really captured that same sort of dark love story that was at the heart of the books.) The hero’s driving force was his love for not only the girlfriend he’s lost, and the life they’d had together, but the future they’d envisioned for themselves, as well. Forsaken was my chance to explore these same themes, that dichotomy between darkness and light, life and death, love and loss.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
The hero of Forsaken, Jason, is motivated by his love for his girlfriend Samantha, and his desperation to reclaim the life and love they once had together. For Sam, five years have passed since Jason’s murder, and she’s not only grieved, but tried to move on—and that includes finding love again. For Jason, the time passed in the blink of an eye, and he’s hurt and confused to realize how much things have changed. He’s desperate not only to win her back, but to try and find a place for himself again in a world—a life—that’s moved on without him.
My villain, Sitri, is immortal, and to be honest, he’s kind of bored with that. I present him as having inhabited many different names and personas over the course of human history, including Loki. Not like Loki from the Marvel movies—no offense to Tom Hiddleston, who is delicious in the role—but the actual Old Norse version, who was a lot more sadistic and cunning. He enjoys interfering in human affairs and causing hardship and heartache whenever possible. In Forsaken, Sitri manages to steal Jason’s soul and binds it to an entity known as the Eidolon. By doing so, Sitri is able to enslave them both, and uses Jason’s physical form as a vessel through which he can harness the Eidolon’s tremendous strength, resilience, and powers for his own purposes.
The Eidolon is referred to by other characters in the book as a shadow demon, but as Jason comes to discover, it’s not demonic at all, but rather something living and sentient. I wrote about it with a wild animal in mind, like the wild mustangs you’ll see roaming through the high desert country in Nevada—something magnificent, full of energy, strength and power, unbroken and indomitable. The Eidolon has no physical form of its own and appears as an amorphous shadow whenever it manifests. Jason serves as the Eidolon’s host, and throughout the course of Forsaken, the two learn to work together as a symbiotic unit, making the most of their combined strengths and abilities.
Who designed your book covers?
I designed the cover for Forsaken myself. Years ago, I worked in part in graphic design, and I like to joke that I learned enough Photoshop to be dangerous. I’ve bought premade book covers in the past and have even had a professional design a cover for Forsaken when I first planned to publish an earlier version of it several years ago. But since then, the publishing world has changed, and for me, my goals as a writer have, too. I lost a lot of my enthusiasm for writing because of all the bullshit that goes with publishing, whether you self-publish or try to go the “traditional” route. I’ve learned to follow my heart and make my personal publishing experience something rewarding and satisfying to me, if no one else. And that has come to include utilizing my own graphic design abilities (such as they are) to build my covers most times.
It’s a very gratifying experience for me—as much as writing itself, sometimes. I felt such a click when I was able to meld the images together in the cover for Forsaken, the young couple I felt perfectly personified my main characters, along with the dark, smoke-like wings that, to me, incapsulate what the Eidolon—the shadow demon possessing Jason—would look like. Additionally, you don’t see white space used much in book covers, especially for paranormal romances or urban fantasy. Everything is set again dark backgrounds, with dark color palates. I really wanted something that stood out from the pack and looked unique, so I use a lot of white space to off-set the artwork, and simple fonts I felt would guide a reader’s eye along the page. I love what I was able to come up with.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Since my most recent book is my current WIP, I would have to say what I’ve learned is that good ideas die hard. My WIP is a romantic fantasy I’ve been working on for years. I had no idea how long it had really been until recently, when I found an old backup CD (remember those?) with an early version saved on it—from 2004. That means this story has been in my heart and mind for so long, in one version or stage of development or another, and the reason is simple—because I love it. I love the characters; I love the premise; I love the challenges my main characters face, and I want to know what happens to them. At this point, I feel like I owe it to them as much as to myself.
What did you edit out of this book?
Earlier versions of Forsaken had more scenes set inside the Netherworlde itself after Jason is murdered, and his soul is enslaved by a shadow-demon, the Eidolon. I never felt like they fit, and felt they were too jarring a transition from Jason’s world to that of the supernatural, and ultimately, in the published version, they were eliminated.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
For me, the amount and kind of research depends on the book I’m working on. For ones set in the “real world,” or contemporary settings, it ranges from the type of work my character does for a living to specific places or points of interest in the areas where I imagine them living that I can incorporate into my story. But for the fantasy manuscript I’m working on, for example, which is set entirely in a world of my own creation, I’m basing the cultures and civilizations off of actual, historical examples, like the ancient Romans and Vikings, which involves a lot more in-depth research into things like social structure, religious beliefs and traditions, clothing styles, architecture, music, etc. Whatever the genre or story I’m writing, I enjoy the role of research in worldbuilding, and for me, it’s something that remains ongoing throughout my writing process.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
It’s not unusual for me to have more than one manuscript in the works at any given time, but as a rule, I don’t work on multiple projects at once. Does that make sense? I’ll often write story for awhile, then get to the point where I feel stymied on it, so I’ll work on something else and come back to it later. I bounce between projects like that frequently, especially since I don’t have a lot of free time to really dedicate to writing as I’d like to. However, when it comes to writing two or more stories simultaneously, that’s something I can’t do. When I’m focused on a project, that’s the narrative voice in my head, and it’s where my attention has to lie, otherwise I feel like I lose my emotional investment in the characters and story.
Pen or type writer or computer?
I’ve done all three (because I’m old, LOL) and I honestly don’t know how I survived as a writer before computers and word processing software. I don’t just change a line or two here or there as I write—I sometimes replace entire chapters, go back through and insert previously deleted scenes, or rework scenes to fit new plotlines. I joke that my writing process is more like putting together a patchwork quilt than anything linear.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I used to be a complete pantser. I’ve also written a few manuscripts that were meticulously plotted out. I feel like now I fall somewhere in between. I’ve tried using Scrivener but it didn’t really work for me. I use OneNote in MS Office to organize my story notes, character worksheets, and research. Additionally, having a general plot outline (like this one, which I love: https://plot-diagram-blank.pdffiller.com/ ) helps me keep my thoughts organized as I write, because if I find myself getting off track, I can always fall back on the loose plot points I’ve listed and reorient myself, so to speak. Every once in a blue moon, I’ll write a stand-alone scene, then find a way to incorporate into my manuscript, but for the most part, I work from “Chapter One” to “The End” in order. This doesn’t mean I don’t change things along the way (I tell people my writing style is like stitching together a patchwork quilt or maybe even Frankenstein’s monster) but I try to keep progressing in an orderly sort of way.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It depends. I wrote the first draft of Dark Thirst, the first book I had published, in two weeks. But I’d had the story in my head for at least 10 years before then, and I pretty much knew where I wanted everything to go. My current WIP is an untitled fantasy I’ve been working on (off and on) for 15 years. I know this because I recently found an old CD (good lord) that I’d used as a back up in the olden days before cloud servers, and it was dated 2004.
Unfortunately, this means I’ve left readers stranded before, which makes me feel awful. On the Brethren Series, which Dark Thirst launched, it took more than five years from the first ideas for the final book in the 10-book series, Darkness Falls, to its release last fall. I don’t plan on it ever taking that long again to get my proverbial shit together on a book, but with life, you never know—and all you can do is your best to try and roll with whatever it throws your way.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes. It can be a nearly constant battle. I’ve found one thing that helps me deal with it is #vss365 on Twitter. VSS stands for “Very Short Story,” and you can visit https://vss365today.com/ each day to find a new word prompt that you can then incorporate into a very short story of your own in your Twitter feed. I stumbled across it by accident and try to keep up with it as much as possible. It’s a lot of fun and I’ve really found it keeps my creativity stimulated. It’s quick, easy, no muss, no fuss, but it keeps my muse from shriveling (and is a fantastic way to connect with other writers online!).
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