Plus, she's giving away a free copy of Captive Heart to someone who comments on her blog post between now and 12 a.m. on Saturday, August 18th. So, let's get to it lol!
~So tell us about yourself. What got you interested in writing?
I’ve always loved the spaces between words and images. Like many writers, I dabbled as a child, but I was also considered artistic and loved science. My first dream was to be a doctor. I never really thought about being a writer, though, until a ninth grade English teacher gave me a copy of the first book of Tolkien’s Lord of the Ringstrilogy, and I read it and realized fantasy was that perfect space where words create images. So Mrs. McPeak from El Paso, wherever you are now, thank you. I haven’t stopped writing since, though I’ve hit a few detours along the way.
~If there was one piece of advice you could give a new author, what would it be?
If you want to have a career as a writer, not be a hobbyist, educate yourself about the business. I meet a lot of new authors, really talented young writers, who approach getting published very casually, when in fact publishing is serious business. Writers who learn the ins and outs of that business will be better able to weather the ups and downs. And I’m not kidding when I say getting a book accepted by a publisher is only the tip of the process.
If you want to be published, learn the etiquette and how-tos of submitting to publishers, editors and agents: seemingly small details really can send your manuscript to the top of the pile—or straight to the bottom. Do yourself a favor and learn how to research potential markets, read and negotiate a contract, understand how a publishing company works, and ferret out the basics of distribution and promotion. That’s all stuff you need to know.
Seriously, my advice is to relax about the writing. Enjoy the writing! Tell the stories you love and have fun with building your skills as a writer. Get a good beta reader or two. But learn everything you can about the business end for when you decide to make that jump into the big pond. Acquiring that knowledge now will pay off for your career down the line. I’ll step off my soapbox now.
~How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?
All of it. Literally all of me and all of my life is in my books. Not all in one book. Not all in one character or setting or plot. Some parts are in books no one but me has read yet, and maybe no one ever will. But the places I have lived, or have visited… they’re in my fiction, my settings, and my worlds. The people I have hated or worshipped or loved… they’re in there, too.
If you know me at all, you may recognize a bit here, a quirk there. Julissa has my utter faith that people are basically good. Vorgell, my basically cheerful nature. Gaspar has my way of putting information together. Lukacz has deep roots in my childhood. If you know me really, really well, you may identify bits and pieces of my sons, my father, my husband. They show up a lot. :D I believe all fiction is autobiographical… it’s just a matter of to what degree.
~Is there anything you’d like to tell? Maybe something in the works you would like to promote? Feel free!
In addition to Captive Heart, I have two M/M novellas coming out soon. Sorcerer’s Knot, a magical tale of wizardry and ambition—and tentacles!—will be available on August 22nd from Dreamspinner Press. The other is a long novella, The Prince of Winds, an Arabian Nights flavored fantasy of adventure and romance, coming from Dreamspinner as a September release.
If you’re in the mood for something really different, I have a demon story set in the Andes that will be coming out in October in the “Devil’s Night” anthology from Storm Moon Press.
I have so many, I can’t decide. If I have to go with just one, make it Celebrity Apprentice—the best damn train-wreck on TV! Donald Trump says the most amazing, idiotic things… sexist, racist, crazy stuff.
And I don’t think he’s any of those things, by the way, he just says them! And the B list cast of characters always includes a few loop jobs who go bat shit insane. You can’t make this stuff up.
~ What was your favorite character to write, and why?
I absolutely loved writing Gaspar. He’s an emperor, and weighed down by responsibility, but he’s also a loving, passionate man—and he wants to rescue his sister, who has been kidnapped by Julissa’s brother. So he conquers a country. He’s overjoyed by his victory, anticipating revenge on the brother… and this lovely young woman, who he thinks is a servant, falls into his lap and he thinks, “Why not?” So he entices her into bed. Being on top of the world makes a man horny. Except the world delivers one of its famous“gotcha” punches and Gaspar discovers bedding Julissa has made both their lives complicated.
His range of emotions was fun to write. Triumphant, furious, vengeful, remorseful, playful. That Gaspar is playful is something I, at least, find sexy. But he has to be serious a lot and that part doesn’t suit him so well. He’s also self-conscious about his looks, because of his nose and having being rejected for marriage by several princesses. Gaspar’s got a lot of me in him, poor guy.
Because you’re very special guests, I would make ossobucco. Or, if there are a lot of you, I would make a big pot of homemade gravy with meatballs—I’m from Wisconsin, where we call it spaghetti sauce, but I married a Philly guy and everyone here calls it gravy—an even bigger pot of gnocchi and a pot of ravioli, and serve that. There’d be a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad, and a big loaf of Italian bread. And for dessert we’d have cannolis. But if you dropped in unexpectedly, I’d have to serve up ice cream bars for dessert. The pasta, gravy, and tomatoes, I always have on hand.
~ Do you have a historical crush and if so, who is it?
Benjamin Franklin. Not only was he brilliant, interesting, and a founding father devoted to principles I hold dear, but he sounds like he’d be fun in bed. My husband knows about my Ben crush. When we were dating, we visited Ben’s house here in Philly, and there was this man there who would dress up like Ben and pretend to be Ben. He was sitting under the tree in the courtyard and we got to talking. Next thing you know, we were just lost in each other, grinning and laughing. He stayed completely in character and it was like being with Ben! When I walked away later with my husband, he looked at me and said, “He was flirting with you!” And I said, “Yeah, and you’re lucky he’s dead!”
Blurb and Excerpt for Captive Heart
A vengeful emperor conquered her country…now he’s after her heart.
Julissa has only known life as a sheltered princess in Sebboy's opulent but restrictive society, ruled over by strict parents and the righteous Prophets of her god. She is all but destined to a marriage of alliance until her brother kidnaps a foreign princess as his bride, and Julissa's country becomes the target of the girl’s vengeful brother. Gaspar Leonnte may have a big nose and be the subject of ridicule at Julissa's family table, but he doesn't have any trouble conquering Sebboy.
While fleeing the city, Julissa falls into Gaspar's hands and everything she ever knew changes. When a misunderstanding brings Julissa to his bed, the victorious emperor sees no reason not to enjoy his pretty captive for the night. Julissa should refuse him and honor her duty to her family and Prophet, but how can she fight the passion Gaspar awakens… even if doing so might mean her life?
A great noise in the hallway and the sound of fighting caused Aurelia to shriek and Julissa to leap from her bed and dart, still in her nightclothes, into the antechamber of apartments belonging to the royal sisters. Male voices boomed outside the chamber door. She recognized Lorant’s and flung the door open to see what was the matter. Ilona and Serafina crowded behind her.
In the dim light from the sconces, she saw Lorant drag a naked Petraeus to his feet then hurl him hard against the wall. Her older brother’s bellows of rage filled the corridor. A brace of soldiers propelled another man, also naked, down the hallway toward the stairs.
“What’s happening?” Julissa couldn’t understand why her brothers were fighting on the eve of battle. And wasn’t Lorant supposed to be at the front?
Ignoring her, Lorant slammed Petraeus’ head against the wall three times until his brother’s hands, which had been grappling with his, dropped. He threw the unresisting youth to the floor. Only then did he attend his sisters.
“Go back to your rooms!” he snarled.
“But Peta—” Julissa had never seen her brother, any of her brothers, naked. To see Petraeus now, so pale and exposed, and also so helpless, seemed impossible and wrong. “Stop!”
She grabbed Lorant by the arm but could not prevent him from delivering a hard kick to his moaning brother’s middle. This time, Petraeus coughed blood.
“I found him being a whore to men!” Lorant wrenched out of her grasp. “Go back to your rooms, Jules! Father will deal with him and his paramour, too.”
More soldiers charged toward them from the stairs down which the other man had been taken. On Lorant’s order, two of them seized the naked prince and dragged him quickly away. When Ilona and Julissa tried to follow, Lorant shoved them roughly back into their chamber, so hard they both tumbled, gowns about their knees, to the floor, where Serafina and Aurelia descended upon them with cries of concern. But Lorant simply slammed shut the door and they heard him slide the outside bolt home, locking them in.
Through the door, they heard Lorant ordering the soldiers to keep them secure. For an hour, they scribbled prayers to every Prophet, burning them in holy candles, sending heavenward their entreaties that the terrible screams echoing through the palace cease. In the oppressive silence that followed, Julissa lay in her bed, comforting a sobbing Aurelia, saying it was over, that no more soldiers would come. That Peta would be all right. She stared sleepless at the ceiling until, hearing noises in the courtyard below, she scrambled from the bed and ran to the window. Through the shutters, she saw a closed carriage leaving, clattering off by way of the service gate into the night.
* * * *
The sisters were released from their rooms in the morning and told to act as though nothing had happened. They knew better than to disobey, though the family meal that evening was strained. Lorant, mercifully, had gone back to the front. Julissa didn’t think she could have held her tongue around him, but her father and mother terrified her into silence with their cold expressions. She fled as soon as she was able, her feet carrying her onto the south terrace and its gardens, where she hoped to blot her mind of her last sight of her brother by silencing those thoughts with icy cold and prayers.
The night air smelled of winter daphne, a light scent of sweet viburnum wafting from the low shrubs her gown brushed along the path. Clipped pillars of honeyed box trees screened the view toward Cheda with its scores of white marble shrines bejeweling the hills like pearls. Beyond those unseen hills, cannon fire rumbled, rolling over the city in waves.
“What your father did to your brother was wrong.”
Julissa inhaled deeply of the crisp cold. Her father had decreed that none of them speak ever again of Petraeus and his disgrace. Only Adora would be so heedless of the Sebboyan king’s wrath. Through wet eyes, she cast a quick look around the garden. The winter path was far from the house, and empty but for the two of them, so she dared to speak.
“He didn’t want to go!” Emotions she’d bottled up all afternoon burst from her lips as though some dam had broken. “How could a father refuse to listen to his child? How could he subject his own son to torture, to silence? His crime was great, but—”
From servants she had learned enough. While Petraeus had been forced to endure the horror of seeing a close friend blinded and emasculated in the cruelest of ways, she had been hiding in her bedchamber. Not hiding, she reminded herself. Locked. She’d been locked in her room, where she’d just curled in her blankets like her sisters and been the worst of cowards.
“What crime?” Adora argued softly.
It was difficult to believe so young and unassuming a woman had been a celebrated advocate in Uttor—until she spoke. Julissa tried to look away, but the Uttoran princess placed a hand upon her arm, insisting on being heard.
“Your brother shared his body with another man? It is his to share!”
“It is a crime against god’s creation!”
“But not your god who punishes him! It will be the hands of men that blind your brother’s eyes, remove his tongue and condemn him to live in a cell far from the kindness of his family or the advantages of his station. Men, not your god, commit these acts against him.”
Julissa walked away from this woman and her heresies. While it was true the god lauded by her chosen Prophet, Garmael, was gentle and kind and would not have punished a man for something that harmed no one, another Prophet, Mamatas, had spoken against unions that bore no fruit, calling them acts of theft, and therefore harm, against the creator. Thieves lost their hands, and those who stole from a god lost their lives.
“Men, gods…women can stop neither!” Julissa realized her words lacked the discipline of a reasoned argument and stopped to face Adora again. At this moment, she wanted nothing to do with the young princess Lorant had abducted and forced into marriage—acts for which, even now, Uttor’s cannons besieged Julissa’s country. “I wish this were not so. But I can do nothing. We are all helpless now. Petraeus is already taken away.”
Somewhere in the hills was the ridotto of the Sileres, the brothers of the Seventh Prophet of Koth, where her brother would undergo a ritual of purification before taking the oath of silence that would precede a priest ripping out his tongue. So that it never pleasure a man again, or speak of the foul deeds it had performed.
She could barely conceive of the sex acts Ilona had described to her in lurid and quite possibly imagined terms. Only Adora, said by servants to have spoken passionately in Petraeus’ defense to Lorant, defying his threats to strike her, seemed to have any real concept of what was involved. To place one’s lips upon a man’s member and taste it with tongue or suck it like a teat, or for a man to accept another man’s member into his body…it simply escaped Julissa why anyone could wish to do such a thing.
“Perhaps, sister, if you can learn to which ridotto—”
“I’m not your sister, and Petraeus is not your brother! Your brother is attacking my country and killing my people! I’m sorry Lorant kidnapped you,” Julissa said, angry that she could not keep tears from her eyes, and that she liked Adora but hated Uttor for having brought all this down upon them. “He shouldn’t have taken you, and he shouldn’t have married you, and if he forced himself on you, he shouldn’t have done that, either. But there didn’t have to be a war!”
Turning on her heel, she walked away from the garden and Uttor’s unsmiling princess.
* * * *
Gaspar Leonnte was tired. Two weeks on the march, worn to the ground tired. So were his men. He’d pressed his two corps of imperial troops hard to cover the distance between Sardona and the Sebboyan city of Nicohemas, effectively cutting the country in half. His energy had been spent long before this campaign, however. Though the Sebboyans didn’t know it, he’d begun his war against them on the very eve of his sister’s abduction, producing cannons, carracks and munitions in secret, playing shell games with the deployment of his ships and troops.
“Anything from Arrento?” he asked his aide-general, Niarchus.
The striped command pavilion with its golden poles and fringe afforded rustic comfort, including heat against the winter cold, and a freedman, Gaspar’s trusted Banno, to provide food and drink. He accepted Banno’s offer of a deep bowl of mulled wine, cupping it in his hand.
“Only his last communication, that he had joined the army outside Cheda along with the reinforcements from Juta and Facciolo’s cavalry. He believes he has a plan that will take the city.”
Cheda meet Darius. His best friend could slice an army through the heart of any foe.
Gaspar dropped into a camp chair and smiled at the thought of soon seeing his sister again. “Good. He’ll cut them to pieces, or I don’t know him. I just hope he can reach and find Adora quickly.”
“They won’t harm her. If not the Kordeun royals themselves, someone in the city will trade her for peace.”
“They should have done that before I invaded.”
Niarchus snorted. “You caught them by surprise. They thought you would wait until spring to make war. Nor could they imagine you would invade with such a massive force so soon and without warning. You caught them before they could ask for assistance from their allies. We should still take control of the road to the Benarri kingdom. The royals may attempt to escape Cheda that way.”
Gaspar nodded. It would be prudent to seal off the road. He lifted the bowl to his lips and took a deep, warm drink, confident the next vintage he tasted would be Sebboyan. “Do it. I don’t want any of the Sebboyan royals to escape me, especially Lorant. I want them all.”
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