I’m happy to share a link to this month’s fantasy channel podcast at New Books Network! I was interviewed by the host, Gabrielle Mathieu, about Taylenor, and the interview is currently available here!
Gabrielle interviewed me about Jaena, the main character who is a Priest of her goddess, Imn-ashu, and about what Imn-ashu — and Jaena — stand for in their world. We talked about Mage Herrein, the Mage Defender, who steals the power of children to feed his own. And about some of Jaena’s companions on her desperate quest to save a life.
I thoroughly enjoyed the interview. There is a new author podcast available every month as Gabrielle interviews authors of new fantasy releases.
Taylenor is available in ebook or paperback editions.
I was recently interviewed by the wonderful author and reviewer Lisa Haselton on her award-winning blog. The interview was about Taylenor and writing in general. It also includes a short excerpt from the new release! Check it out at the link, here.
I’m delighted to be a guest this week on Lorna Suzuki’s blog, “All Kinds of Writing”. Lorna asked some interesting questions about my writing process and about the two Color Mage novels. Check out the interview here!
Gary Wedlund’s new novel, The Queen’s Return, was released in September — it’s the latest in his Hidden Shaman fantasy series, about a remarkable character named Abi. He’s also a member of my critique group, so I’ve had the opportunity to read and enjoy this fascinating series.
I asked Gary a few questions about the new novel, and about his other work.
Tell us a little about Abi, whose story you tell in this series. What’s special about her?
Well, I’ll start by saying that The Shaman Within is the first fantasy novel I ever attempted (not the first novel). In fact, I started it a couple of times, and even the final version was subject to about 20 full edits. It took years, and I was ten times the writer by the end of it. I think it was very much a learning experience, and it only ended well because of what I studied as I edited it over and over again. Sometimes when I talk to other writers who are reluctant to edit, I think back…. Good writing is work. For example, I read ten books on fiction writing while going through the process. I shopped it twice, chapter by chapter in writers groups.
Trust me, I’m getting to the question.
I realized that I wanted to write fantasy, but didn’t know anything about the genre, so my first part of writing The Shaman Within was to read 100 fantasy novels in a year. The thought was: Okay, I’m going to do this, but I needed to know the playing field. Prior to that I wrote sci-fi and horror. I had no idea beyond Tolkien and Mary Stewart, both of whom are useless in today’s competitive arena.
Through my reading I came to realize that a lot of our fantasy heroes didn’t feel right to me. On one hand I was reading fantasy literature about young people leaving the comforts of their parent’s comfortable castle, cottage or farm, but on the other hand I researched how people actually lived in Medieval Europe. Peasants often only had one square of cloth that they cut holes into in order to make a kind of sack cloth. Shoes were rare and simple. Most never wandered more than five miles from the plot of land the noble overlord allowed them to sharecrop. A day’s wages would buy six minutes of lamp oil. Life expectancy was twenty-five years, if you’re lucky. Some people lived their whole lives never having touched a coin. They owned next to nothing, and I mean that as literally as imaginable.
Women were often treated like cattle. In some countries today, women are not allowed an education, or even medical care. Hundreds of years ago, that was the norm. They belonged in the house or fields and were defined by class and their husbands. Even in America, women have been allowed to vote or own land, only in the last hundred years. Certainly they had no place in the military or political structure. In fact, it is unlikely that most of them even knew to question any of this. Religion helped keep them focused.
In Eastern culture, there is this idea that if you live a perfect life, you can avoid reincarnation and find Nirvana. That means the suffering is finally over. I can only imagine that women felt this way a bit more than men, though nine out of ten individuals must have seen life as one misery after the other. Men didn’t have it easy, and most owned nothing but a share of a crop. As well, imagine the conflict. A perfect life meant they toed the line. An imperfect life would mean that they tried to make something better of themselves. Conflict is the lifeblood of any decent literature. Being a part of the fabric is the day-to-day easy thing, even today. That explains why so many of our social norms continue, even though they defy logic. We can see it in other cultures, but we rarely realize the exact same thing in ourselves; thus the power of fantasy literature.
Abi has a backstory. I chose to not put it into the Shaman Within because Abi is my point of view, and she is completely unaware of it. Like any peasant, she is unaware of a lot beyond farming and her illegal poaching. So, we start with her, move through the book with her, and end up in a different place, but still with her, eyes now wide open.
The backstory is that her captive and forcedly married mother used to be a member of a very different tribe, the Debricians (patterned after the very real Amazonian culture of Eastern Europe). The Goddess has told the fallen mother to never tell Abi about her true heritage. In exchange, the Goddess will set a hand upon Abi’s life. The mother lives for Abi and sees to her illegal education in both letters and fighting skill.
Once unleashed upon the world, Abi embarks upon a whole new world of discovery, ten miles from her abusive father’s plot of land. Everything is different, and she is utterly naïve, trapped between an upbringing of peasantry and book learning that is miles removed from anything real.
I simply put my head into that of a naïve peasant girl and moved through space, imagining how this culture shock might feel. The fact that she doesn’t fit anywhere drives the character. She is awkward, restless, constantly feeling like she’s living on borrowed time, and thus also quite heroic. After all, she might have been senselessly murdered for a dozen different things, already. There are worse things than death, such as living. Like many soldiers who’ve been shot at one too many times, courage becomes a means of enduring the inevitable. At the same time, she is aware that the Goddess has promised her glory. When she speaks of “God” (it’s illegal to believe in the Goddess) having something grand for her life, those around her imagine that she is insane. She is also extremely capable. Tangling with Abi is a huge mistake.
What challenges does Abi face in The Queen’s Return?
The whole thing is driven by basic human survival. She can’t do A, B, C or E, so she does D, which in the book amounts to her magically disguising herself as a man, so she can indenture herself to the local noblewoman’s guard and pay off her father’s missing taxes. Not that she cares about her father; she just doesn’t want her mother to also be put off the land. It is also convenient to avoid being discovered as a murderess. There is an ancient spirit within her, but she doesn’t understand any of it and is surprised when she succeeds at anything magical. For the most part, she’s all about sweat and toil, being no stranger to it. Magic is a minor part of the storyline, but not a minor part of her soul because a shaman hides within. This is a working class heroine. Readers identify and want to walk every step with her.
What inspired you to write this series?
I imagined a scene: The Debrecians had won a battle, but upon turning a wounded Abi over to kill her on the battlefield, they noticed a necklace that is considered sacred to the Debrecian tribe. Those who have exhumed Amazonian burial mounds have studied the importance of necklaces to their culture, and it is suggested that the more coins on the necklace, the greater the warrior. The question becomes, why is this enemy warrior wearing this necklace? Why was she fighting for the enemy? Why is she a woman at all, when the enemy only has male soldiers? I coupled that with the idea that nationalism had not yet been invented, but tribal loyalties are rigid. Thus, the peasant soldier was just a drone doing the bidding of the man who drove them forward. Mindless or not, this wounded warrior needed to be revived for questioning.
That mentioned scene doesn’t happen in the book; I took it in a slightly different direction, but it served as my inspiration. Abi is fighting for the wrong side, and as the story progresses, and her naivety fades, she increasingly comes to know it. Why is the Goddess doing this to me? The result is a coming of age story.
The second book, Search for the Queen, has its own theme showing a selfish Abi’s maturation as a person who thinks on a wider scale. It’s not as much a search for the queen as it is a search for a sense of altruism. I liked to separate the three books into themes, giving each its own unity. I don’t like series that leave the reader feeling empty. This, too, was a learning process. By the end of this series I’d learned that lesson well. If you buy a book, you should get a story. It became increasingly the case, book to book, as I learned this talent. I also believe that the second book should be better than the first. I never write sequels just to write them. That’s cheating the reader.
The last book of the trilogy is The Queen’s Return. That one is all about proving a title. Queens are basically born to it, but what if that isn’t assumed? What if you have to prove your worth? In this case, the Debrecians don’t even know this imposter queen who is famous, to them, as an enemy. It starts with them kidnapping Abi, dragging her north to face a trial and execution for her insulting claim. If you like battles, this is the book to buy. While there are many battles within the series, this depicts the final war in a series of deadly conflicts.
What will your next project be?
The trilogy actually has two more books to it, though they depict new characters in the same world. I believe that the best fantasy book I ever wrote is book 4 (yet unpublished), Mad Mercy. The book defines mercy and why it matters. The main character is a girl who Abi stole at the end of book 2, Search for the Queen. The little witch, Sarah, steals the show, though. She can barely say six words in a row, but they’re always amazing. In fact, book 5 is Sarah’s Magic, which is just plain weird, traversing both time and space.
I actually have a bunch of recently written books I am trying to sell. I have been doing urban and paranormal fantasy, to include a lot of farce. I have the following novels finished, waiting for publishers: Succubus and My Sister, Succubus Conium, Succubus Wolf, Satan’s Daughter Goes to Pittsburgh, Satan’s Daughter Walks to Portugal and This Book Sucks. Then I have a very serious historic/post apocalyptic novel called Lia’s Scream. Last year I finished The Condotte the Gods forgot to Kill and Belladonna, both fantasies with a more sober tone. I self-published The Condotte’s Daughter, hoping to sell it cheaper, though I think it’s a great novel.
I also write in the horror genre. Open Casket published Zombies in Our Hometown, and the much better Atomic Zombies. I’m currently finishing up Eaterz, set in Nelsonville, Ohio, like Atomic Zombies and Belladonna were.
My next novel is forming in my head. I’ve been mulling over another witch novel. I’m imagining a girl who keeps trying to do evil spells to impress this moronic warlock for a boyfriend. Her culture is all about doing no evil, etc., in the modern Wicca context, so she’s swimming upstream, against momma’s will. When she actually manages a spell that doesn’t go foul on her, and something evil happens, she instantly realizes how stupid she’s been acting. The boyfriend dumps her anyway, and that doubles-down on the feeling that she’d been an idiot. She didn’t think anything really bad was going to happen. Now she has to fix it, and she’s still not all that good at the craft. The tone will be important, and I’m leaning toward outrageous farce. Voice is also an issue, given I vary that a lot, novel to novel.
I have no idea how that whole thing plays out, but that’s how novels are with me. I like to start with character, situation and tone, then let the story happen. Usually I have much better plots for it because they feel lived in and not forced. As well, I get to go along for the ride and enjoy the story. Sometimes I finish writing for the day by sitting back, smiling and saying, “Oh, so that’s what happened.” I don’t want to miss out on those moments.
You are also an artist. Tell us a little about your work?
I like to watercolor (therapy). My current focus is on portraits, usually kids (because they are so joyful) or people in costume. Years ago I had shows with nothing but abstracts in them. I love to work big, usually full sheet, 22 by 30. The fun thing about watercolor is you don’t need a lot of fuss. You need paper, palette and a tiny bit of paint. I’ve used the same three $1 brushes for years. By far and away, the biggest expense is frames. I paint five minutes then walk away, but I am very fast. This usually results in a painting every 10 days or so, and people say they’re professional. I’ve had several one-man shows in local galleries, and could probably do more with marketing it, but I consider my prime art to be writing.
In general, I believe that some people are just born with art in their souls. I used to play in a lot of headline local rock bands. I’ll jump on an art form then back off for a decade. It’s kind of weird, but I’ve come to understand it. The artistic expression just has to get out. It doesn’t matter, one bit, how. This makes me feel like the whole art community is a shared one. People who are not plagued by this curse have no idea what I just wrote. That’s okay. I just hope you like the work and can tolerate our being so weird.
Thanks, Gary! Here’s a little more information about the new novel, The Queen’s Return:
The Queen’s Return:
Convincing those in power to believe that Abi is a queen seems daunting. Then again, Abi has grown a good deal since leaving her father’s cabin as a naïve peasant seeking no more than the next day’s comfort. Mostly she has learned that the Goddess provides and has her own way of doing things, often not timely.
The details of royal recognition hardly matter. No, there is a noble marriage to arrange, a fiancé’s parents to coerce and an enormous Farstand army to stop from decimating her reluctant allies.
We shall start with a kidnapping and get bloody in a hurry.
The Queen’s Return is available from Amazon, here.
Denise Verrico is the author of the Immortyl Revolution series, an adult urban fantasy series about vampires who are intriguingly different. This week she is releasing Annals of the Immortyls, a collection of three short stories based in the same world. Denise is also a member of my critique group, so I have read and enjoyed her work!
Can you tell us more about the short stories you’ve put together in Annals?
Thanks for having me here, Anne Marie. I wanted to put out a sampler of short tales for readers new to my work, as well as those who have read the novels published by L&L Dreamspell. The three stories each feature one of my three main characters in the series, Mia Disantini, Kurt Eisen and Cedric MacKinnon.
I always wanted to delve into some of the events in Kurt and Mia’s backstories, but they would have been too much of a digression from the main action of the novels. For instance, it’s understood in Cara Mia that Ethan uses Mia in schemes to bilk money from wealthy men, but I never really show in the novel how they go about this. Mia’s story in the collection is called A Gentleman’s Wager and it deals with Mia seducing a mortal man named Michel Barrault. However, Mia finds herself the one being seduced.
Readers have asked me a lot about Kurt’s background and how he meets up with his progenitor, Brovik. In Special Treatment, I explore Kurt’s origins in Nazi Germany. When Kurt is fifteen, his family is rounded up and shipped to Auschwitz. Kurt is taken to Dachau for “special treatment”, where he basically becomes the property of an SS officer, Ubersturmfuhrer Friedrich. Kurt makes a Faustian bargain to survive. Oddly enough, Brovik, the vampire elder who “rescues” Kurt, proves to be less of a monster than the humans that held Kurt captive.
Special Treatment was a difficult story to write because it deals with an uncomfortable subject, sexual abuse. It’s tricky trying to convey what is happening to Kurt without becoming graphic. I would never choose to describe the actual rape of a teenaged boy. The object is to show the sense of horror and despair in the victim with taste and sensitivity.
The third tale is more of an action story, featuring Cedric MacKinnon, a devotee of the Goddess Kali and vampire courtesan turned assassin. Yes, a male vampire courtesan, you read it correctly. In my novel, My Fearful Symmetry, I tell of Cedric’s journey from London street kid to Immortyl celebrity, who learns that his dreams of fame and fortune come with a price. His tale in Annals of the Immortyls is The Path Diverges. In the story, Cedric fights an old foe and discovers that he still has a lot to learn before he can complete his mission of toppling the old regime.
How are your vampires different?
Well, they don’t sparkle, but Cedric is pretty flamboyant and does on occasion glitter. However, that’s simply make-up. His idol is David Bowie. My vampires aren’t for the faint of heart. There is blood, lots of it, and the odd disemboweling or beheading. There is loveless sex for political ends. People and vampires often treat one another abysmally. But there is humor, the gallows variety. Romance? Hmm…in a twisted way perhaps.
The series is dark urban fantasy. Some reviewers have called the novels “supernatural political thrillers”. The overarching plot of Immortyl Revolution deals with a rebellion among the vampire slave class and a race between rival vampire clans (and eventually the US government) to capture the secrets of immortality.
I guess you might say Immortyls are more “sci fi” or “viral” vampires, because they’re biologically muted by a symbiotic organism. They have no “magical” powers like flying or shape shifting, although Cedric believes that Kali directs his actions. They are stronger, faster and immune to disease. They don’t age. They heal quickly, but are still vulnerable to serious injury and blood loss. My vamps don’t go out in the sun because ultra violet light causes a necrotizing effect that turns them into vampire soup.
Your stories are usually firmly based in some historical period or culture. What makes you choose a certain time and place for your stories?
Immortyl Revolution is set in the 20th and 21st century, but Immortyls live in a complex underground society, based on ancient cultures. Slavery is widely practiced. My three characters were all slaves, who rebelled against their masters. The novels are set in present-day New York and India, although Mia tells her tale in Cara Mia starting in the 1950s. I chose that time, because it was a time where women lost gains made during WWII, reflecting Mia’s situation with her master, Ethan. It was the beginning of the sexual revolution, the time when DNA was discovered and the eve of the social upheavals of the 1960s. The modern world comes crashing down on the heads of the Immortyl elders.
New York City was a natural place for Kurt and Mia’s domain. I lived there for several years and love the unique character of various neighborhoods. Museums, parks, ferries, subways, rooftops and parking garages offer opportunities for settings. It’s the ultimate urban jungle for my predators. I’d love to write a prequel someday about Ethan and Brovik during the Civil War era, using some of the seamier locations in historical NYC like Five Points.
I’m fascinated by Eastern cultures and religions, so I chose India as the center of the Immortyl culture. I wanted an exotic, mystical setting for the chief elder to hold court. Also, India has many vampire-like spirits in their mythology. My Indian Immortyls practice Tantra (not Hindusim) and worship Kali. She’s associated with blood-drinking and haunting places of death like battlefields and graveyards. However, Kali is often misunderstood in the West. She is Kali Maa, defender of her earthly children, the fierce aspect of motherhood, the embodiment of Shakti, female power. She’s creator as well as destroyer and sets the universe in motion when Shiva sleeps.
You’ve created some memorable characters in the Immortyl Revolution series. Do you have a favorite? And, why?
Well, I’ve always liked Kurt the best because he’s the least like me. He’s quiet, contemplative, cool and methodical to a fault, a diplomat, never one to act impulsively. In short, he’s Mia’s opposite. Kurt is this small, angelic-looking man with nerves of steel and blue eyes to die for.
Hmm, sounds like a role for Elijah Wood.
The other two main characters are too close to me. They remind me a lot of my faults. Mia embodies my grumpy, somewhat impetuous nature and sense of justice. I actually based her attitude about her place in Immortyl culture on my experience as the production coordinator of a theater company. She does all the grunt work and feels she never gets the glory. Cedric is the diva of my theatrical past, the one who craves attention. He’s vain, often self-centered, must be stroked and made much of, but he’s loyal and has a heart of gold.
What authors have influenced you?
I’ve always loved reading historical fiction by authors like Robert Graves and Mary Renault. These authors imbue stories with intrigue and historical detail, yet they tell them in an accessible first-person. The Persian Boy by Mary Renault inspired me to write a book featuring a male courtesan. Renault wrote a series of novels about Alexander the Great. The Persian Boy is seen through the eyes of Alexander’s lover, the eunuch Bagoas.
I also have to give a nod to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. She was one of the first to explore the vampire’s POV. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is my favorite “viral” vampire story.
What are you working on next?
I’m polishing up an urban fantasy called Prophetess, then finishing an 18th-century-inspired fantasy, Shards of Obsidian. I’m also trying my hand at a Steampunk short story. There are some non-fiction projects in the works as well. Eventually, I hope to be putting out Cedric’s further adventures in a serialized format.
Thanks for having me here, Anne Marie.
Denise’s novels are available in trade PB and ebook on Amazon, B&N, Omni lit and other online retailers or can be ordered through local bookstores. The Annals of the Immortyls ebook can be found at Amazon, B&N and Alliteration Ink and the paperback at Denise’s website or on Amazon.
For signed paperback copies click on this linkto go to Denise’s website.
Denise is currently offering an exclusive sale at her website store for signed trade paperbacks of My Fearful Symmetry for $10.00 and Annals of the Immortyls for $5.00.
About the author
Ms. Verrico is an Urban Fantasy author and New Jersey native who grew up in Western Pennsylvania. She attended Point Park College and majored in Theatre Arts. For seven seasons, she was a member of the Oberon Theatre Ensemble in NYC. Denise has loved vampire stories since childhood and is a fan of the Dark Shadows television series. Her books are published by L&L Dreamspell Publishing and include: Cara Mia (Book One of the Immortyl Revolution Series), Twilight of the Gods (Book Two of the Immortyl Revolution Series), and My Fearful Symmetry (Book Three of the Immortyl Revolution Series). She currently lives in Ohio with her husband, son, and her flock of spoiled parrots.
Earlier this year I happened to discover an interesting project on Kickstarter. It was a funding drive for a web series called Silent City, a post-apocalyptic series to be filmed using the real-life abandoned spaces of New York City.
I’ve been following Silent City’s progress ever since — something made easier by the updates and directing tutorials the writer and director, Rubidium Wu, posted online. Now the first three episodes are up on the web. You can follow this link to see them on Youtube. Since the series began, there have been articles in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, as well as several blog articles.
The episodes run 5 minutes or so. The photography is beautiful, making excellent use of the unusual spaces used for filming. The story is compelling. Also, Eric Stafford does a good job of sensitively portraying the main character.
I wanted to blog about this because I found the funding process intriguing. I also wondered why the concept was so fascinating, to me and apparently to others. It’s hard to remember that in New York City, a place we think of as being crowded and fully utilized, there are spaces where no one lives, places where there are only ghosts. The atmosphere of these sites seems perfect for this post-apocalyptic work.
Director Rubidium Wu answered a few questions for this blog:
What inspired your idea of using New York’s abandoned spaces for the web series?
New York City is such a rich, amazing place. Having grown up near Melbourne, Australia, where the cities are (comparatively) new and modern, the amazing history of New York City is everywhere you turn. It seems to be full of stories and mystery – I wanted to shoot something here and the empty, forgotten spaces of the city just spoke to me.
What was the coolest abandoned space you’ve filmed in so far?
Has to be the Glenwood power station in Yonkers (where the episode 5 chase takes place). It is so grand and so decrepit at the same time. It was dangerous to film there but I think what we got was worth the risk. The Battery at Fort Totten is amazing as well, despite its age it has almost no graffiti which is a change from most abandoned spaces. I think that may have something to do with being directly opposite a NYPD training facility.
Why do you think people have responded so well (through funding and other assistance) to your idea?
Appeal is a personal thing and its very hard to say why its gotten the reception it has. I made a choice early on that we were going to keep the episodes short and focus our resources on doing something very high quality rather than length. I wanted to make a web series that could sit alongside anything on TV, because most people hear the term ‘web series’ and think of a couple of guys ad libbing in front of a web cam.
How did Zombie Day go? (Note: some Kickstarter contributors had the opportunity to participate in a day of filming — as zombie extras — in New York.)
It was a lot of fun and we got some good shots! For me, it was great to finally put faces to the names of people that had funded the project and put their trust in me to make something, and to thank them personally. Kickstarter, I’ve discovered, is not about projects, its about people.
Thanks again for the quick response. Glad all is going so well!
More information about the Silent City series, including a trailer and information about the cast and crew, is available at the series’ website, here.