The Witchkin Murders
Magicfall Book 1
by Diana Pharaoh Francis
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
I used to be a detective, and a damned good one. Then Magicfall happened, and I changed along with the world. I’m witchkin now—something more than human or not quite human, depending on your perspective. To survive, I’ve become a scavenger, searching abandoned houses and stores for the everyday luxuries in short supply—tampons and peanut butter. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, but anything’s better than risking my secret.
Except, old habits die hard. When I discover a murder scene screaming with signs of black magic ritual, I know my days of hiding are over. Any chance I had of escaping my past with my secret intact is gone. Solving the witchkin murders is going to be the hardest case of my life, and not just because every second will torture me with reminders of how much I miss my old life and my partner, who hates my guts for abandoning the department.
But it’s time to suck it up, because if I screw this up, Portland will be wiped out, and I’m not going to let that happen. Hold on to your butts, Portland. Justice is coming, and I don’t take prisoners.
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THE SCAVENGE HAD proved more successful than Kayla had expected, and she’d expected a lot. She’d come away with a treasure trove of difficult-to-find foods and spices, prescription and over-the-counter medicines, tampons and pads which brought a premium price, and most important of all, two cartons of cigarettes, three jars of peanut butter, and a stockpile of Mountain Dew, the latter of which she’d have to get later. She was already practically bent double with the weight of the backpack without the soda. It was too bad about the Skittles, but this was a good haul.
Going up into The Deadwood offered the chance to mine houses that hadn’t already been picked over by a hundred other scavengers. Mostly because the rest of them liked breathing and so stayed away. Kayla wasn’t so burdened with common sense. That, and she carried a gun, several knives, and a couple of magical taser charms. Not to mention she was pretty decent at hand-to-hand. Leftover habits and skills from her life as a cop. She could more than take care of herself against people hiding in dark alleys.
Of course, The Deadwood was filled with a lot more dangerous beings than the ordinary street scum that preyed on pedestrians back before Magicfall. Before the Witchwar. Before the whole world had turned inside out and all the monsters in the closets and under the beds came crawling out of hiding. Back when Kayla was just an ordinary human.
The Witchwar exploded within days of Magicfall—a worldwide eruption of magic that birthed The Deadwood, changed Kayla, and set off an untold number of other bizarre transformations straight out of fairytales and hallucinogenic nightmares. The entire world had been engulfed.
Right smack in the middle of all the chaos, witches leading armies of supernatural warriors and creatures out of myth, legend, and nightmare marched against the human cities that had survived. Humans were like termites eating up the world. They needed to be eradicated like roaches.
The war had gone on for a year or so when the attacks on the cities stopped. It still wasn’t clear why. Maybe they figured enough humans had died, or maybe they figured out humans aren’t so easy to kill. Over the last couple of years, an uneasy truce had developed between humans and witchkin. Turns out, we needed each other.
Kayla hitched the backpack higher, bending forward to help balance it. Her lips twisted in self-ridicule. How the mighty had fallen. From cop to scavenger. Before the shit had hit the fan, she’d been a detective, a damned good one. Then she’d been infected with magic and game over. Bye bye career, friends, and, worst of all, Ray.
A familiar ache bloomed in her chest. She missed him every day, even after everything he’d said, everything he’d called her, when she quit.
Back then she’d had zero control over herself. Not that she’d improved much since. But quitting the department had been a no-brainer. With the Witchwar and hatred of the supernaturals, she’d have either been lynched when it got out, or else locked up in a zoo somewhere.
Leaving had been the right decision. The only decision. Regretting it didn’t change that. And Kayla regretted it with all the fabric of her being.
She pulled her mind from the quagmire of memories and what-ifs that circled her like sharks, chomping down whenever she didn’t keep her mind on task. Focus, she told herself. Forget about who you were before. Staying alive today is all that counts.
The Deadwood lay west of downtown Portland inside the neighborhood that used to be Goose Hollow and extending into the Southwest Hills and Washington Park. When the magic had struck, a sinister black forest had grown up in the blink of an eye. The twisted, gnarled trees grew taller than the houses, and were spaced far enough apart to allow a lot of the buildings to survive. Possessive nettles and vines swayed and wriggled from the trees, growing over most of the houses. The blowtorch hooked to Kayla’s belt had convinced them to withdraw and allow her access.
Within the shadowed gloom of The Deadwood, hundreds of denizens lived and hunted. All too often, folks who wandered too close disappeared, never to be heard from again. So people—human and not—avoided the place, which suited Kayla just fine. The untouched houses made the forest a scavenger paradise. If you could stay alive long enough to get out with your haul.
Since Magicfall and then the Witchwar, so many of the comforts of everyday American life had stopped getting made. Sure, the metal infrastructure of the cities had protected them from complete transformation and given birth to the technomages who worked with all sorts of technology, which meant industry could still function. But shipping proved supremely expensive and dangerous, so anything the locals needed either had to be made in Portland, or it had to be scavenged.
Tampons were popular. And chocolate. A lot of foods, really. Jeans, too. And silk. Some enterprising entrepreneur had started a toilet paper factory on the east side, so that wasn’t much in demand anymore, but pots and pans were. Medications, cosmetics, spices, CDs and DVDs, olive oil, guns, ammunition, bows, arrows, toys . . . anything that couldn’t be obtained without a lot of money or magic.
Most people didn’t like going to Spider Island—over where the Willamette had expanded into a giant lake covering West Linn and Oregon City—to buy magic. That’s where witches and other supernaturals had set up a bazaar to sell their skills and wares. Humans called it Nuketown, since they’d have liked to nuke the place.
Humans had a love/hate relationship with magic. They liked the benefits, but feared the dangers, not to mention all the mythological creatures besides witches that had crawled out of the woodwork after Magicfall.
They counted the technomages as good guys since they’d fought on the human side in the war and because mages made most electronics work again. People still couldn’t live without their cell phones and video games, and it was damned nice to still have working modern hospitals and refrigerators.
Unlike witches, technomages had hard limits to their powers. They worked with industrial magic and couldn’t heal or make charms or anything separate from wire, steel, electricity, and computers—or what computers had turned in to, which was an amorphous semi-sentient cloud of information the technomages called The Oracle. Every big city had birthed one. The mages were working on getting them to talk to each other like the old internet.
That made Nuketown necessary and despised all at once. Most humans only went there when desperate, usually preferring to buy from middlemen, a service that Nessa—Kayla’s usual buyer for salvage—often performed. A few went for the thrill.
Kayla hitched the pack higher again and dodged around a glass bush. It chimed in the light breeze. It marked the edge of The Deadwood and the return to civilization. She climbed up a bank to the road, using the thick, wiry grass to help pull herself up.
The asphalt had buckled and cracked apart, leaving knee-deep potholes and long trenches. Portland’s ubiquitous blackberry vines crawled across the road and sprouted out of the crevices and holes. The city hadn’t gotten around to repairing this road yet. Maybe they wouldn’t, not with it so close to The Deadwood.
It took her a little over an hour to work her way back to downtown. After that, it got trickier. Fog had rolled in off the river again, smothering sound and sight. The breeze did nothing to dissipate it. Kayla could only see a few feet ahead of herself before the walls of gray nothingness closed in around her. She sighed and turned west.
The tule fogs rolled in once or twice a week. They didn’t usually last more than a day. They’d started after Magicfall and didn’t seem to coincide with any weather phenomena. It tended to settle maybe a mile wide on either side of the river. As annoying as it could be, Kayla couldn’t hate it. It had given her cover more than a few times when the transformation had taken her and she’d no way to hide.
Tonight she had no need. Her shifter form wasn’t threatening. She decided to head uphill until she was above the fog and go home for the night. She’d take her scavengings to Nessa in the morning.
A noise from the right sent the hair on the back of her neck prickling. A ring of metal, like a sword being unsheathed, and muffled movement. A loud sound and the tang of something in the air—hot, wet, stony, acrid. She recoiled as it coated the insides of her nose and mouth, feeling caustic.
Kayla’s cop genes ignited. She jerked forward a step then made herself stop and retreat. Not her circus, not anymore. She’d walked away from all that. She should leave it alone, whatever was happening.
She took a couple more steps toward home and stopped. Goddammit. Curiosity killed the cat, she told herself, then slid the pack from her shoulders, setting it down against a fire hydrant. She glanced around, seeing only cottony fog. Odds were nobody would see her pack and take it. Even if they did . . . there were always more backpacks and more stuff to scavenge.
She drew her .357 semi-auto from her hip holster. All carry laws had been suspended after Magicfall. Mostly because everybody ignored them. The blowtorch bottle bounced against her thigh as she followed the noises.
She moved cautiously, placing each foot carefully to keep from tripping or worse. She nudged up against a curb at the side of the road and stepped up onto the sidewalk. It shuddered and rippled under her feet, and she began to sink. Kayla jumped back onto the solid asphalt. Her boots stuck to the ground. She smelled the acrid stench of her rubber soles melting. Dammit. She liked these boots.
Weird spots like this one popped up all the time. They all manifested different properties and none particularly pleasant. The worst part was they could appear anywhere at any time, with no warning. Once reported, technomages would get rid of them, but finding them was usually a matter of stepping into one. Sometimes that was fatal.
She jerked her boots free from where they’d cooled and stuck to the ground, and followed the curb, listening closely. More noise came from the left. Kayla tested the sidewalk and found it solid. For now, anyway.
Taking several quick steps, she scuttled across, finding herself at the top of a flight of steps at the edge of a small park. The muted sounds of running water made her stomach drop. She’d stumbled into Keller Fountain Park.
Taking up the entire block, the ziggurat-shaped fountain for which the park was named had been constructed into the side of a steep hill. On the high side, an angular maze of wading canals channeled water over a mashed-together collection of square-topped pyramids of various heights and sizes. The blocky juts and peaks had always reminded her of an Aztec temple. The different sizes created deep chimney insets in between, some fifteen feet wide and ten feet deep, others a scant five. Water cascaded down each of the flat planes. No little fountains of neatly contained water here.
She shuddered. Her worst nightmare. Now she really should leave.
She didn’t move.
Kayla drew in a slow breath. Something was wrong here. She could feel it. Her instincts had never let her down before. She wouldn’t forgive herself if something awful happened because she was too worried about herself to check it out.
She started down the steps, listening for telltale sounds, trying to hear through the splashing of the fountains.
Guttural words—not English—spoken in a gravel-filled voice that rumbled through the air like thunder. A cadence to the language, sort of chanting, but nothing musical about it. Weighted silence, heavy and breathless. Movement. A rippling and clutching in the fog. A red glow washing outward, turning the fog bloody.
The wave of power hit Kayla like a club and sent her sprawling onto the shallow steps. The hard concrete cut into her back and legs.
She lay still a long moment, her head reeling from where she’d hit it on the cement. Perfect. Carefully she examined the sudden lump on the back of her skull with the fingers of her left hand. At least her ponytail had kept the blow from knocking her out. She still clutched her gun in her other hand. Old habits died hard.
She firmed her grip and sat up, glancing down at herself. A shiny white powder covered her clothing and the ground all around. Kayla stood, dusting herself off with one hand. The powder clung to her skin and clothing.
She licked her lips. Fine grit coated her tongue. It tasted like vinegar and something putrid. Worse than the air before the spell. She grimaced and spit. If her fall hadn’t already alerted whoever had set that spell, a little spitting wouldn’t give her away.
The sour grains clung to her mouth and then seemed to absorb into her skin. That couldn’t be good. She resisted the urge to try dusting herself off again. She didn’t need to give the stuff more opportunity to infect her, whatever it was. On the positive side, she hadn’t broken out in boils and weeping sores. That was good.
She resumed her descent to the bottom of the fountains. Gray cement platforms layered over each other like giant slices of bread stacked ten or so feet back from the angular, red fountain walls. Between, a patchwork of rectangular pools collected water.
The splashing of the fountain covered any sounds there might have been. Holding her gun ready, Kayla walked closer, heading for the central platform, knowing instinctively that it was the best place in the park to cast a spell. Her feet found the first of the stacked cement sheets. Three others were layered on the sides and in front of the base platform. She stopped again to listen, breathing silently. Still nothing.
Adrenaline thrummed through her veins. She stepped up on the left platform and then to the highest central platform. She expected to find a spell circle like the kind used by witches, but as she stepped up, she found only cement coated in a sheet of silvery-white powder.
She circled the platform, angling inward until she came to the middle. Nothing. What was she missing?
Her brows furrowed. Maybe someone had used an amulet or charm? A hex? Kayla didn’t know enough about magic to make a decent guess.
A thought struck her, and she gritted her teeth. Son of a bitch. Of course. Things couldn’t just be simple, could they?
She crossed to the edge of the platform where it jutted several feet above the catch pools and squatted down. She could only see a foot or two out into the fog. A scum of white powder floated across the top of the otherwise clear water, disguising the mortared river rock bottom.
Kayla rubbed her hand over her mouth. Was she really considering jumping in? This wasn’t her problem, and anyway, who knew what this even was? Nobody would thank her for getting involved. And if she went into the water--
She could only hold off a transformation for so long once she got wet. If she dried quickly, she could keep it from happening, but wading into water? Risky. Too fucking risky and stupid.
Kayla straightened and turned away from the water and then stopped. Instinct fought against instinct. The need to protect herself wrestled with the need to serve and protect the people of the city. Being a cop was in her DNA, and leaving the force hadn’t changed that. God, could she be any more fucked up?
Don’t tempt fate, she admonished herself. The universe never refuses that kind of challenge.
She pivoted back around. The water wasn’t deep. Mid-calf, maybe to her knees. That wasn’t so much. She could handle it, no problem.
In your dreams, came the mocking voice of reality in her head.
“No one will see with the fog,” she said out loud, her voice paper thin, but steady with purpose. Her heart, her soul, had already decided. Time for her brain to get with the program.
She gave a little hop and splashed down into the pool.
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I didn’t start writing until after I graduated from college. (Aside from some really bad poetry in high school. Really. Bad). I read a whole lot. I ate through libraries. In my senior year of college, my roommate had an immense library of romance novels, mostly the thin, category variety. When I’d read a bunch of them, I’d started wondering why I couldn’t write one.
I got a job doing lay out and paste up at a local newspaper, and during my lunch hours I’d drive to the nearby Taco Bell, get a diet soda, and then park and eat my lunch in the car while I wrote the novel in my notebooks. I finished it, and it remains in notebooks in my proverbial trunk. But it taught me how to write a novel from beginning to end.
After that, I decided to go to graduate school and learn more about writing, which I did. Then I got a PhD in literature, all the while writing. I published a few stories, and when I had my first completed fantasy novel (Path of Fate), I submitted it to Roc, who bought the trilogy, and that’s how I broke into publishing.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I have a really morbid sense of humor. My reverse-superpower (which everyone has, by the way) is that I can hurt myself in any situation anywhere, even in a bubble-room while wearing a bubble suit. I’m that much of a clod. Hence my nickname: Clodzilla. Oh, and I have aphantasia, which is a blind mind’s eye. I can’t visualize images.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
My uncle was a superior court judge in California. One year he read the story of the history of the electric chair and gas chamber in his local newspaper. He thought it odd because the first man gassed in the gas chamber shared my uncle’s last name, including the spelling, which was unusual. He decides to call up my grandmother and ask if she’s ever heard of him, and she said: “I don’t want to talk about it,” and promptly hung up.
Intrigued, my uncle dug into it. Apparently I had a cousin Albert who participated in a kidnapping sometime after the Lindbergh kidnapping, got put into Folsom prison. At some point he and some buddies took part in a riot and the warden was killed. So these men were sentenced to death. My cousin Albert and other man were gassed together, the first in California to be executed in that manner.
So my uncle decides to frame all the information, including a mug shot of Albert with the word “Dead” written across the photo (courtesy of Folsom Prison), up in his judge’s chambers. I find this amazingly awesome.
What are some of your pet peeves?
I hate when people use loose for lose. I realize that that’s silly, but it drives me batty. Another is when men don’t put the toilet seat down. Another is just rudeness. I hate it when people are rude.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I grew up on a cattle ranch in Northern California, which is now part of a city sprawl. I loved it. We ran Black Angus and I was a horse freak and rode constantly. What’s kind of funny is that most of the place was hardpan, which is pretty much dirt cement. You can’t dig through it. To put in fence posts, we had to use a big drill on the back of a tractor.
Anyhow, they built houses on the property and my mom was somewhere one day and listening to a woman talking about how she couldn’t get trees to grow. Mom had to explain that in hard pan, you have to essentially drill a hole just big enough for the roots, and then you have to lightly water regularly. If you water too much, the hole fills up and drowns the tree because it doesn’t soak in to the soil very quickly. The people whose houses ended up on the old pond or the corral had a lot better soil to work with. Lucky them.
Who is your hero and why?
I have a lot of heroes, and more appearing every day. Elizabeth Warren is one. Kamala Harris. Christine Blasey Ford. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. I love that they are strong women who stand up for others, who don’t cow down, and who speak their truth and hold their heads high.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
Indecisive. I know that so many things are relative and that there are generally extenuating circumstances for everything, and a decision here will help these people and hurt those . . . . I’d be frozen with worry that I might make the wrong choices. That said, I’m a feminist, I lean pretty far left of late, I despise people who hurt children and women, so that should tell you the kinds of things I’d protect and want to do.
What are you passionate about these days?
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I’ve taken up knitting and I enjoy that a lot, except I have to be careful with knitter’s elbow, which I develop if I’m not careful. I read, I take walks in nature, and I love to go to the ocean, which is only about an hour from here. And I snuggle dogs. And play table-top games.
How to find time to write as a parent?
Now that my kids are older, it’s easier because they need me in different ways. But I just make the time that’s necessary and try to be productive in my writing time.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Klutzy, smart, easily amused, friendly
Do you have a favorite movie?
I neither have a favorite movie or a favorite book. There are too many really really good ones! And then it all depends on my mood. One of my favorite movies is A Midsummer’s Night Terror, which has Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff. It’s funny and dark. You should definitely check it out.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
That’s such a crazy dream. It’s so hard to imagine because of the magical elements. But I’d love to see Trace of Magic or Putting the Fun in Funeral as a movie. I think they’d play very well on the screen.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I love this question! But I haven’t made any. Not really. Not to visit places where famous or not-so-famous authors did things, or to go meet an author. I have gone traveling for research purposes. I went from Montana to Washington to do a three-hour tour (no, not on the SS Minnow), on three-masted ship so that I’d understand more about a ship when I wrote about it in The Black Ship. That was amazing fun and I learned so much.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A corgi. I’m a little bit fixated on corgis. I have two and a mini blue heeler. A friend of mind who sees these things tells me my actual spirit animals are a buffalo, a dog, and a raven. Another (shaman) friend says that as I start listening to them, more will come. I’m sadly not very in touch with the spiritual world, so that’s not easy.
What inspired you to write this book?
First, I wanted to explore the world a little more. The Witchkin Murders are set in the same world as my Horngate Witches books. What happens is that wild magic is let loose in the world and what it touches, it transforms, with some limitations. So there’s a surge of magic in the world and enchanted forests come back and all sorts of magical creatures. It’s so much fun to explore the changes and what remains. Second, I wanted to write a fantasy murder mystery. I enjoy those a lot. But I wanted there to be romance, so I wove that in as well.
What can we expect from you in the future?
More books! Ha! More in this series (Magicfall). I’m working on my next Everyday Disasters book, and my next Diamond City Magic book. I should have another Mission: Magic book out fairly soon. Depending on how the revisions and production goes.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I have a side story about characters in my Horngate Books, but not in any others. One of these days I want to write more side stories and explore some more character and events. There are a ton of characters in The Witchkin Murders who could have stories and I may have to write all of them.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in The Witchkin Murders?
Ray and Kayla are former partners--detectives. Then Magicfall happens and Kayla quits the force for no reason he understands. He’s off his game because he’s had some life issues. So they have a big fight and he says some pretty nasty things to her. Thanks to that fight and the devastating secret she’s hiding, she stays away. But then she stumbles across a murder scene and calls him. That forces them back together and they have to uncover a lot of truth--about themselves, about the world as it’s become, about each other, and about what they are willing to fight for.
Both of them are strong-willed and stubborn with a huge streak of fairness and the need to help others. Both are scared they’ll screw up in a variety of ways, professionally and personally and both have a lot to lose.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
It was really fun to explore the world and think about what sort of cool changes have happened and enjoy the sense of wonder about magic. That and I tend to have a fair bit of snark and humor in my books, and so I found that quite entertaining.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
My first novel was Path of Fate. In the book, my character--Reisil--is offered a change to basically become an avatar of the Goddess by pairing with a goshawk. This is a great honor and everybody wants this. Except Reisil who declines. She likes her life, thank you very much. But then the goshawk sticks around and haunts her. Reisil is annoyed by determined. So then the daughter of a foreign ambassador is killed and the peace treat is out the window unless they can get the daughter back. Reisil feels desperate to help, having befriended the girl, but she can’t without the gifts of the goddess. So she accepts, finally. (That doesn’t go very well. The goshawk is very irritated). Anyhow, Path of Fate is the path you take and how you decide who you’re meant to be. Is fate fated? Or is it one you choose?
Who designed your book covers?
When you publish through a publisher, they design the covers and writers have very little say over them. For my two self-published novels, I worked with two very good artists. For The Incubus Job, the designer and artist was Fiona Jayde. For Putting the Fun in Funeral, the designer and artist was the amazing Lyn Forester.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I may change my mind later as I develop as a writer, but no, not at this point. I wrote the story I wanted to write and I think it’s a good one. I hope readers agree. I write first to entertain myself, but I always hope that readers will enjoy the book as much.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I always learn things. In this one in particular, I learned more about pacing relationships. Not just romance, but also friendships. I also learned a lot about some other cultures and gods. That was fun. I love research. I also did a lot of research in Portland so I discovered some places I never knew about.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I totally would have Michelle Rodriguez play Kayla. As for Ray? I kind of like Wilmer Valderrama or Juan Pablo di Pace. I think someone like Bradley Cooper for Logan, though Charlie Hunnam might work better. As for Raven, I’d probably go for someone like Mary McCormack, though Raven would have to be aged up to do that. Kristin Bell could do it. I’d like to see her, too.
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I love you. Without you I’d not be able to do this thing that I love and I so appreciate that you buy my books, that you talk about them, that your review them, and that you trust me to tell you a good story. Thank you!
How did you come up with name of this book?
I didn’t have a working title for the longest time. Then I decided on: Gods and Monsters. Which has been used a lot and while it makes a terrific fitting title, it wasn’t going to work. So my editor and I did some brainstorming, and it came down to The Witchkin Murders. I’ve had a comment or two that people don’t think that’ the best title. I wonder if anybody here has thoughts on what they might have called it.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
I always base characters on real people. Ish. What I mean is that I will take traits from a variety of people and mold them into a character. I take from people I like and people I don’t like, and a lot of them are mostly strangers because I’ll notice something really cool about someone’s speech or mannerisms and borrow that.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
I have the reins, but mostly I’m holding on while the story goes where it feels like it needs to. The characters tend to be true to themselves and so I think I know what they’ll do, but then they do something else and I have to wonder--is this really the right way to go? Or did the story just jump the shark? Most often, it’s totally within character and more what they’d do than what I originally imagined. That’s why I love my lizard brain. It thinks cool things while my conscious brain is busy trying to be logical and reasonable.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
I am so good about telling you why you should read books by other people and I’m never good at my own, but I’ll give it a shot. First: you should read it for the story. It’s a roller-coaster ride with action, romance, humor, emotional punches to the gut, twists, a cool magic system, and you’ll enjoy every minute of the read. Second: you’re going to fall in love with Ray and Kayla and you’re going to be rooting for them every step of the way. Three: for Nietzche-cheese and Itza-pops-a lot. No, I’m not going to explain those.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
My trunk romance novel--the first novel I wrote that told me I could actually write and finish a novel. I have parts of other novels written, but none completed and unpublished. I’ve got a whole lot of them I still want to write however.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
Fun question! I’m going to say cinnamon, clove, orange, and a bit of ginger. Lots of spice with an edge, but all of it working together.
What did you edit out of this book?
Oh so many things. Poorly written things, things that I repeated too much (aka hitting my reader over the head), stuff that didn’t make plot sense. I didn’t take any of the big pieces out, though.
Is there an writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?'-type tidbits about the author, the book or the writing process of the book.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
I have so many favorites! Okay, so let’s see. I’m going to stick with contemporary stuff, though I’m a huge Austen and Dickens fan. So here it is, not in any particular order:
What book do you think everyone should read?
You like to ask really hard questions, don’t you? Robin McKinley’s Sunshine is just amazing. I don’t know that everybody should read it, but if they try, they’ll certainly love it.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Both. Some I start with, others just come into being. Some are supposed to just come and go but end up staying and becoming main characters.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I do all that I have to in order to write. Sometimes that’s a whole lot, sometimes that’s a little. I often have to research a lot more as I go as well. For instance, in my Path books, my main character is a healer. I had to do a lot of research on plants and herbal remedies. I read a lot of old herbals and dug into websites and looked at preparations and growing and collecting of all the plants.
For The Black Ship, I needed to know all about sailing ships and the language of them. I went sailing on The Lady Washington, a tall ship. I joined a Facebook group of tall ship captains. I read novels set on ships, I read true accounts of sailing, I looked up pinmaps of ships, I looked at manifests and I read manuals. I had to learn the language of the ships in order to write it. If I had to look up language every other word, then I didn’t know enough. Once I could write comfortably, I started writing. I still had to do research and look things up, but once I had the language, I could be in the minds of the characters.
Do you see writing as a career?
Yes and no. It’s hard to making a living writing and you have to be able to publish frequently and develop a following. You’ve got to hope readers will tell their friends about you and give good reviews to help get the word out about you. You’ve got to figure out marketing and promotion (a lot of publishers won’t do that much for you, and many writers are self-publishing and doing it all on their own). Along with day-to-day living, that can leave little time for actual writing.
That said, I keep writing and trying to figure it out. I also teach online and take on private clients here and there to make sure I'm bringing in money. I’m also married and thank goodness my husband’s job is a good one.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
It’s a nightmare. It’s a jungle of opportunity. It’s a swamp. It’s a glittering universe of possibility. It’s constantly changing and you’ve got to stay on your toes. Publishers and some agencies are getting some draconian clauses into their contracts and you’ve got to really know what you’re getting into and be careful. If you self-publish, you’ve got a lot of work to do to put out a quality product, but also do the marketing and promotion. If you persevere, make smart choices, are resilient, and believe in yourself, you can do well. You can also get beaten down or feel overwhelmed. All I can say is don’t give up, keep learning and practicing and improving your craft, and regroup and reevaluate and change your path as you need. Be nimble.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I read romantic suspense, mysteries, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance for the most part. With side trips into historical non-fiction. I read regency romance, as well, but I’m finding less and less that I like. I may be a bit burned out there, but eventually I’ll read it again. It’s cyclic with me.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I tend to write with music, but basically it doesn’t matter. Once I get into the story, I don’t really hear things. I like music to get me in the mood and for when I sort of breach the surface and am thinking, it’s there and I can chair dance. Or just dance, depending on if I’m sitting or standing. I have a desk that converts into a standing desk.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I prefer one book at a time because it’s hard to shift my thinking. That said, I’m currently working on three books. However I’ll probably work on one for a while, then shift to another when I get stuck, and keep doing that a necessary. It’s hard for me to work on multiple projects, but I am trying to develop that skill.
Pen or type writer or computer?
Pen, computer, and dictation. I use a pen when I’m out and about and don’t have my computer, or when I need to slow down to think and I feel productive even though I’m going slower. Computer for quicker stuff, brainstorming, and zero drafting (which means writing fast without correcting anything and just getting words down as fast as I can. It releases the floodgates on my imagination and cool stuff happens).
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
You know that saying--if you can do something else other than writing, do it? Because writing is hard, doesn’t pay a lot, and you have to persevere despite a lot of rejection? I taught for a long time in a University and I love teaching and still do it part time for the joy of helping other writers, but I love writing so much more. It’s one of those jobs that yes, feels like work the way that climbing a mountain feels like work, but it’s also incredibly fun and fulfilling and I’d do it whether I got paid or not.
So that’s to say, it really wasn’t a choice. It’s just the thing I have to do.
A day in the life of the author?
All the days are different because of kids. But for the last year, a typical day during the school year goes like this:
Get up around 6. Take kid to school at 7 (Other kid is in college and driving himself).
Walk/run the dogs.
Start writing at 9. Get 2-3 thousand words.
Do other chores/errands/online teaching stuff around the writing.
Eat lunch in there somewhere.
Make dinner after family get home.
Write after dinner, watch TV, play games, grade things.
Basically every day is different, but I block out time for writing/revising/etc. When I zero draft, I can get about a thousand words down in an hour, give or take, so in three hour I should get three thousand words done. I don’t go back and revise until the draft is done. I want to stay in creative brain while drafting. If I have other things to revise, I try to do it after I finish writing for the day.
Advice they would give new authors?
There are several.
1. keep learning and growing as a writer.
2. persevere and don’t give up
3. learn the business
4. as Neil Gaiman says, Enjoy the Ride. Don’t lose the fun of it.
Describe your writing style.
I’m a linear writer. That means I tell a story from start to finish. I can’t write scenes out of order because so much develops as I write.
What makes a good story?
You can screw up a lot of elements, but a good story requires compelling characters that the readers care about, an intriguing conflict, emotional connections, and a satisfying resolution that grows out of the characters and fits who they are.
What are they currently reading?
Devon Monk’s Death and Relaxation. A fun book, by the way. Totally recommend it.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first? What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I try to outline, but I really suck at it. I try to get a sense of the characters, the major conflict, and the ending. That doesn’t always happen. I often discover characters fully in the first 20-30 thousand words, which means a whole lot of revising later. That’s fine. I’m content with that. Creativity tends to happen for me through the process of writing.
I write linearly, from start to finish, and discover characters and what happens as I go. I don’t revise until I get to the end and find out what the story is.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Depression. I’ve been fighting it since 2016. Some of it is political, certainly, some of it is what’s going on the country and world and the worries I have, some of it is climate change, and some of it is just life stuff. Normally I’m fairly happy-go-lucky, so I find this very annoying. My doc is on top of things and we’re working it out, but yep, that kills my writing sometimes.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I honestly try not to think about readers when I”m writing. I just want to entertain myself. Sounds really narcissistic, doesn’t it? But if I can’t have fun doing my job, I bet readers wouldn’t have fun reading my work, either.
The good thing is I like a good story and hopefully what I find entertaining, others do too.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t waste time. Write more, live more, enjoy more. Don’t watch so much TV.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Same thing that’s hard about writing characters who are disabled, people of color, from other cultures, other identifications--knowing enough to make them feel real and truly represented and not cliché, stereotypical, or flat.
I got into a little trouble with readers because a male character in my book The Cipher did some rotten things to the main female character because he was a gambling addict who owed money. Readers didn’t like him giving into the addiction when he clearly wanted to do better. Readers really wanted him to do better and be more heroic. I think he redeems himself, but it’s not easy to stop your addiction cold turkey. I wanted to show that struggle, and that the repercussions could really hurt--not just him, but others he cared about. Honestly I love that book and those characters and I wouldn’t change them for anything.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It varies. If I write 10,000 words a week, then I finish a book in about 9 weeks. At least a draft. Then there’s time going into the revision, and that could take a few weeks or a couple months, depending on how much I think I need to change. An editor said one of my books was really good and just needed a few tweaks, but when I tweaked the beginning, it had an avalanche effect through the book and I ended up throwing out 60,000 words and rewriting it. It was a better novel and a better story, so I don’t regret it one bit.
So that’s the timeline that I like to stick to, but the truth is, if depression sets in or family stuff happens, it can go longer. I’m working hard to stay stable, though.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes and no. No, because that makes it sound like one thing and it isn’t really. Yes, because every writer encounters internal resistance to writing. Something that keeps them from committing words. Call it block, call it resistance, and there are lots of other names for it, too, but mostly it’s freaking annoying and discouraging.
Why this happens for as many reasons as there are writers. Sometimes it’s because they have no faith in themselves. No faith in the story. They fear something and don’t want to push through. They get depressed or emotionally can’t do it. They are overwhelmed. They don’t think they have good ideas or good characters. They think they suck and why are they writing anyhow? And the list is endless.
You know that Tolstoy quote? “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Writer’s block is that way. Each kind is different because it’s the writer’s brain throwing up obstacles. If you can solve what’s stopping you, you can get around it. The main thing to do when you’re facing it is be kind to yourself, and then start digging in to find out why you aren’t writing.
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