This feels weird. Like, really weird.
David B Coe, (our own darlin’, and yes, I’m blaming him) suggested that we writers at MW should take an empty Friday when we have a book coming out, or freshly out, and do our own bit of PR. We all agreed, and and then he suggested that I be the first to stick my toe in the water with Skinwalker. It sounded good at the time, but now I’m asking myself if there are gators in the blackwater who’ll chew me up. Or worse, chew me up and spit me back out. I’m from Louisiana, so I have mental pictures of both. Ick. Okay, getting off track here.
I’ve done a number of interviews for Skinwalker. It’s getting great reviews. (Some of the reader and interview questions I’ve answered in a different way here, with a nod to writers.) And hey! I got good news about BloodRing this week! It went back to press in MassMarket for the third time which makes me psyched! But even so, PR is hard for me. And when it comes to PR *here*, I feel awfully foolish and exposed, like I’m…well… Hey, I’m trying to avoid the call-girl images, but I can’t, and it’s making me laugh. I’ll try to be a nice girl despite somehow feeling exposed to the elements and chased by gators. (Puts on professional face. Smiles.)
Q: Can you share with the readers about your series, your character, and the general conflict / storyline that drives it?
FH: Yes! This I can talk about easily. Do you know how you read a character and you feel that instantly you know her and she’s your bestest pal? The day I first envisioned Jane Yellowrock was like that to me. I just fell head-over-heels for her. Jane is a Cherokee in an alternate reality, current time. She is a traveling rogue-vamp hunter who tracks down and kills rogue (insane) vamps for a living. And by accident, she ended up with the soul of a Beast inside her head with her, a beast with her own agenda, hopes, and hidden memories. This is a dual first person book, Jane and her Beast, and it was both challenging and exciting to write!
In Skinwalker Jane is contracted (by the first sane vamp she has ever met) to take out a rogue vamp who is terrorizing New Orleans, killing vamps and tourists, which is bad for the tourist dollar.
But because Jane isn’t completely human either, she elicits a peculiar, and dangerous, reaction in vamps, bringing out their predatory reactions. She is a skinwalker who has the ability to change into whatever animal she wants, providing she has a sufficient quantity of viable genetic material, and so far, no vamp has ever heard of her kind. She is a singularity in her world, and one of the underlying storylines is her search for her people, her own past, and her place in the world. But the primary Skinwalker storyline is Jane, and her Beast, keeping alive in a dangerous world, one peopled with blood-sucking predators, some of whom are her employers, some of whom want her dead, and one who is something very different from the creature she thought she would be hunting.
Q: Skinwalker contains a lot of Cherokee language and lore. How did your own background inspire your interest in and influence the use of these topics?
FH: The short answer is that my family lied and I found that intriguing. My grandparents told us all that we were mostly English, Welch, and French. Not. No way. It was a lie. The long answer is far more interesting and complex. My first recorded ancestor came over to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. He was a minor nobleman in William’s court, and I have ancestors buried in the Nunney Castle graveyard in Somerset, England. Nunney Castle should you be interested.
When we started tracing our roots, my generation discovered that my paternal grandfather’s last English ancestor to arrive in the states was a younger son in a family with way too many sons and not enough money to go around. He came over to the states, er… the colonies, in 1640 as a bond slave to his sister and her husband. When he earned off his passage (in 20 years) , he promptly took off for the mountains of the Carolinas and bought himself a Cherokee bride. Which is what his sons did. And their sons. They always called themselves white—whites had the political and economic power. But they weren’t. PawPaw’s family look Cherokee and PawPaw spoke with a Cajun accent. And PawPaw claimed to be Caucasian, English. Sheesh.
My paternal grandmother, well, gramma was likely at least a quarter African American, and maybe as much as half AA. I learned that when she was in her 90s and let a few stray comments slip out.
On mama’s side, her mother’s maternal family looked pure Choctaw, but claimed Black Welch ancestry, which was a common claim for Am.Ins (American Indians) to make when they were passing as white.
My maternal grandfather was a quater Bavarian with probably a quarter African American and the rest was an ethnic mixture I give up trying to describe. I am a mongrel—a true melting pot of Americana. Discovering that so much of my ethnic heritage was mixed AmIn sent me on a study into Cherokee lore. Out of that came Jane Yellowrock, a Cherokee skinwalker who lives in an alternate universe with vamps, witches and other creatures who roam the night. I told you it was the long answer!
Q: Do you consider your writing paranormal romance or urban fantasy and do you think it is important to distinguish between the two?
FH: I feel it’s important from both a reader’s viewpoint and a writer’s viewpoint to distinguish the two. As a reader, I am paying for a certain type of reading experience. I have certain expectations if a book is listed as a paranormal romance, and certain other, very different, expectations if it is listed as urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is action adventure, dark, modern day, but with things that go bump in the night. Paranormal romance *always* has its emphasis on romance. It is only fair for the writer and publisher to present the story between the covers (ahem) honestly and fairly. I don’t want to pay my hard earned cash only to be lied to.
As a writer I had to categorize my books properly to sell them to the agent and editor. As a writer, I want to please my readers, to give them a great story and a fun ride, like an amusement park ride that lasts for hours. I want them to be happy with the experience. If my readers are expecting a paranormal romance, and the romantic angle of the story is minimal, and if the character doesn’t even end up with a romantic interlude (which may not happen in every book in an urban fantasy series) then they will be disappointed. I do write a romance angle into every series, but it is usually long term, taking several books to evolve fully. So I tell my editor and my readers that I write urban fantasy. The romance is there, and is vital to the long-term, series plotline, but it is secondary to the short-term plot of any particular book. For me? Urban fantasy = Lotsa action. But not between the sheets.
Q: How much research do you do for your books? How much of it actually gets used in the finished book?
FH: I do a lot of research. Jane Yellowrock belly dances. With Misty’s influence, I took a year’s worth of lessons from her teacher/mentor. And I loved it. I want to start back dance lessons sometime soon! (You should see Misty on a dance floor. She is molten lava, baby! [waves to Misty. You blushing yet?])
Jane uses a Benelli M4. I had to do research on that shotgun. To kill the whacked-out vamps she is paid to track down, Jane uses hand-packed rounds, loaded with silver flechettes. I had to understand how they were made, even though I’ve never had to put that info in the books. Jane loves tea. I love tea. I get to research the teas so I can portray them properly. Most everything Jane does, except for staking insane vamps, I try. I’ve spent time on the shooting range, hiking, and studying Harleys. Jane is from the Appalachian Mountains, and I had to make a decision on what area, settling on the Nantahala River gorge and surrounding mountain range. That took a lot of traveling, not that I’m complaining at all!
In the Rogue Mage novels, Thorn St. Croix was a mage-warrior, a stone mage, a jewelry maker, and lapidary by trade. I learned how to make jewelry, some of which I give away in promo events. Jewelry making, which started out as research, has become something I love and do all the time. It’s more than a hobby. It’s my art. I use found objects in my own pieces, old things from flea markets, old jewelry which I break up and put together. I just finished a necklace for my only Skinwalker signing, with a Jane Yellowrock influence. The focal is a five and half inch long, hand-knapped spear point, made of dark green aventurine, with green fluorite stones and green freshwater pearls. I have to be very careful not to injure myself with the sharp point. Seriously, the spear point is wicked sharp!
What doesn’t go into books is often the details of the things I learn. How to mount a cab into a setting, how to perform a Maya, that sort of thing. I am always attempting to find the comfortable balance between world-building and teaching. In a novel it isn’t my job to teach someone how a craft or dance step is done. It’s fiction, after all.
Q: How do you keep track of your world-building?
FH: That is hard. I have lots and lots of computer files and it gets confusing, time consuming, and clumsy. I am getting ready to try something new for that. The webmage here at MW has created something called Character Keeper, which is a file-system with easy-to-use info boxes. I am going to transfer all of my Jane Yellowrock files to this system. I can tell it will make my world-building easier to keep track of. An *updated* Character Keeper will be available *for free* here at MagicalWords.Net for a very limited time starting (I think) on Saturday, June 25. Keep an eye out!
Q: If you could be any literary character, who would you be?
FH: Oh! No fair! (lol) There are so many that I associate with, that I feel close to. But…hmm…okay. Jim Butcher’s character Harry Dresden is near the top of the list. But, I suppose that I feel closest to my own characters. I know them best, their hopes and dreams and joys, their weaknesses and faults. They are my friends as well as my creations. If I could step into their shoes (one at a time, mind you. I’m crazy enough as it is) I would.
Q: Speaking of crazy, You talk to yourself on some of your blogs. Share with us how that came about.
FH: (eeek) Yeah. I write thrillers under another name, Gwen Hunter. On Facebook, I found myself answering comments that my other self made. Soon my two AKAs were talking back and forth a lot. It’s a little weird, but when I write in different genres I feel like two different people, as if a totally different personality bleeds out through my pores when I sit down to write. It’s a mind-shift that feel natural but is maybe a bit schizoid. (laughing) Okay, is maybe a lot schizoid.
Q. Ideas. Where do they come from?
FH: Everything I read. Everything I see on TV. Inspiration can come when I have lunch with friends or when I sit alone with a cold beer and a cigar and watch the sun set over a mountain river. Inspiration isn’t the problem. It’s finding the time to develop all the ideas. I really do need two personalities inside me in order to get all the ideas in print. Now… if I can just figure out how to let one of me write while the other sleeps, I’ll be set!
There are ideas scooting around in my brain all the time. It’s downright scary sometimes. I have two that are predominant, one a Jane Yellowrock book, and one a Thorn St. Croix (Rogue Mage) book. I am aching to do both! Oddly, I don’t have any Gwen Hunter novels in mind. My current creative endeavors seem to be all paranormal / dark fantasy.
Q: Will the future Jane books be set in New Orleans, also?
FH: That’s a good question without a definite answer. I’ve just sent in a two-book-proposal to my editor with two options. One option has Jane Yellowrock in New Orleans for one book and in the western US for the second. The other option has her in New Orleans for both books. I don t know which the editor will prefer and I don’t care. The book will work well enough in either site.
Q: If your series had a theme song, what would it be?
FH: The drum solo WipeOut (she said with a cheeky grin) with an AmIn flute playing in the background.
Q: If you could pick one of your characters to have dinner with, who would it be and why?
FH: Not Beast, who is Jane Yellowrock’s alter ego. She likes her food raw and bloody. Still twitching if she can get it. I mean, ick. And not Thorn St. Croix. She has to eat what’s available in a mini ice age, so little is fresh. Probably Jane Yellowrock. She’s a tea snob like me, and we have other similar tastes in food. It is fun doing tea research for the series; I get a chance to taste all sorts of different teas and it’s a tax write-off. I’m sure Jane would offer something delightful, with a steak and salad.
Q: If you could shapeshift, what animal would you be? And why?
FH: Ooooh. A big cat, puma or African lioness, maybe black panther, which is weird because I am a dog person, not a cat person. Cats don’t like me much. I’ve been told that they see me as a cat, that it’s a dominance / pride thing. I’m a Leo, so who knows! But my desire to be a big cat is why my character most often shape shifts into one, and why she shares her body with the soul of one.
Q: What is in your CD player/iPOD right now?
FH: A CD by Ah Nee Mah called Spirit of the Canyon. It’s AmIn music—edgy and poignant, with a modern rhythm and pathos. It speaks to Jane Yellowrock.