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Happy Holidays from some of your favorite Urban Fantasy/Fantasy/Paranormal Romance authors! Five lucky winners will receive a random selection of books from NYT Best Selling Authors Faith Hunter, Jennifer Estep, Darynda Jones. Also Christina Henry, David B. Coe, John Hartness, Gail Z. Martin, Stuart Jaffe, Laura Anne Gilman, and Mindy Mymudes. (Not all authors will be included in each prize pack.)
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Violent Ends: Burning Effigies and The Editor Answers Some Last Questions

Burning Effigies—Kendare BlakeVIOLENTENDS9.3 copy

Q: Secret crushes play a huge role in this book and in your chapter.  Is this just a continued exploration of the theme of secrets, and masks, and hidden pain, or are the crushes communicating something else?

A: Yes. Burning Effigies was all about the anger. The hatred that Kirby created in his wake even in people who were disconnected from the act, and might not seem like they would or should be affected. 

I can’t speak to the motives of the other girl having sex in the book, but I can tell you that for Alice, she does it because she wants it to be damaging. She’s angry and heartbroken. She isn’t even truly present while it’s happening; she’s thinking of Tyler, lying in his grave, and she’s left behind and in a way feels just as dead. 

Before the shooting, Alice was a relatively good kid. Now she breaks into homes, and wants to do violence. Now she’s reckless with her body. She won’t really see the connection between these things of course. She isn’t doing it to make a point. But her life is the after-effect of Kirby’s actions. It is part of the havoc he has wreaked in lives that he never even thought about.

As for the theme of secrets, it is certainly a theme, but I didn’t realize that while writing. Alice’s secret crush was just good motivation. An unexpressed hope that will never get to be expressed.

Shaun speaks again: Courtney Summers was not able to participate in this interview, but I am intrigued by her chapter and how the “psychopath in training,” Nate may actually have been the only one who saw Kirby’s pathology.  Is this a “takes one to know one” or is there just a difference between being mean and obnoxious and being truly sick and dangerous?

I wish I could answer this one, but I can’t speak for Courtney.  You mentioned the theme of “everyone wears masks” earlier.  Another theme I often explore is the idea that there’s no such thing as a villain.  Very few people are ever totally evil, even the ones who believe they are.  Maybe Nate recognized something of himself in Kirby, something he didn’t want to admit.  Maybe Nate knew if their circumstances had been different, he could have been the shooter and Kirby the bully.

It’s an interesting question, but one I don’t think there’s a definitive answer for.

Shaun: could you also comment on the chapter from the gun’s point of view. Such a break in style from the other chapters.  Why, as the editor, did you want to include this? Does this give us insight into Kirby, without Kirby have to tell us?

When Neal and Brendan proposed the idea of writing from the gun’s point of view, I was a little nervous.  Something like that could be amazing or a disaster.  But I’m a huge fan of Neal’s work, and I trusted he and Brendan could pull it off.  And they did.  I just love their story.

One of the criticisms I see from readers is that they were hoping for a story from Kirby’s point of view.  I have a lot of reasons for not including such a story, though I did consider it, but the main reason was that nothing Kirby wrote would have been or could have been true.  By the time he made the decision to kill his classmates, the way he viewed himself would have been so warped that he wouldn’t have been capable of honest self-examination.  He might have seen himself as a villain, but as the other stories show, he wasn’t a villain so much as a screwed up human being who committed a horrific and unjustifiable crime.

The gun, however, is probably the closest we get to a story from Kirby’s POV.  It senses his emotions, directly and without a filter.  The gun can’t lie, it can’t embellish, it doesn’t know hyperbole.  And if you look at the way Neal and Brendan created this story, I think the gun tells us a great deal about Kirby.  The gun is created with a single purpose.  Its drive is to fulfill that purpose.  It is a gun.  Guns are made to be fired.  An unfired gun is a gun that has failed the one purpose for which it was created.  I think it says a lot about what the gun senses from Kirby that the gun would rather its life’s purpose unfulfilled than for Kirby to follow through with his plan.

THANK YOU TO ALL OF THE AUTHORS for participating. 

Violent Ends: The Single Most Disturbing Chapter, Plus A Little Time Travel

VE BackplateQ: Alright Elisa Nader,  We gotta talk about this chapter.  For me, it is easily the most disturbing chapter of the book. The stunning reveal of who this character is at the end of the chapter is absolutely haunting.

Awesome! That’s exactly what I was going for: Disturbing.

And “haunting” is a plus.

In addition to the list of suffering our characters face, this adds the traditionally taboo subject of self-injury and hair pulling.  I used to work in the mental health field, and I know how terribly common this is. What made you go there?

This probably sounds incredibly shallow, but I went there because I needed a title! After Shaun read my chapter, he suggested the title “Grooming Habits,” which went well with the story idea. I was worried, though, that the reader would guess the ending based on that title, so as a Red Herring (something that is intended to be misleading), I added in Abby’s Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). I hoped the reader would think that was the “grooming” referenced in the title, allowing the ending to be a real surprise.

After doing some research, I thought the compulsion made sense for Abby given what happened in her past, and, of course, her home situation. Her mom is absolutely awful to her.

I think the most disheartening part of this is that the horrors of bad parents, emotionally absent parents, and insecurities don’t go away with age. 

YES! The reader assumes Abby is something she’s not based on her behavior and her relationship with her mother. People think as we age, we don’t need need the approval of our parents/caregivers. It’s so not true. With your parents, you’re always in the role of child, not matter how old you are. They’ll always make you feel like a kid.

Q: Are we to assume that Kirby was being sexually abused?

Yes? No? Maybe? I think that’s what’s so clever about this book. Shaun carefully ensured no one story gave a reason for why Kirby opened fire in the gym, and leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusion. Anything could have happened after Abby asks Kirby to close the classroom door. And what exactly happened? Even I don’t know.

Hypothetical Time Travel—Mindi Scott

I thought it was great to get Carah’s point of view.  We get to see the family dynamic from her perspective, which, while not perfect is not horribly abusive either.  We get to see a fairly normal family dealing with this loss, while others are judging them, assuming they are horrible parents.

This chapter also shows us a possible genetic link to depression and suicide.

And, of course, we do like that Kirby makes a special gesture to his sister with the dog.

In your view, why was it important to show Carah and her state of mind? And why was it important to have the ending the way it was?  The ending was powerful and showed us caring friends, not some of the dysfunctional, so-called friendships we see in other chapters.

I’m so gratified to hear that you liked reading about Carah and found the ending of her chapter powerful!

The main reason I wanted to include her point of view in this story is because I’ve been in a similar (although far less extreme) situation in the past. I know what it’s like to be close to someone whose actions have been reported on by media, and I can relate to the devastation of not being able to comprehend what’s happened, while at the same time recognizing that the news stories out there are filled with as many mi-sassumptions and inaccuracies as they are truths.

A couple of years ago, I watched a press conference in which the younger sister of a school shooter spoke about how her brother’s actions had affected her and her family in the immediate aftermath, and in the year that had passed since. As I listened to her, I was thinking, Yes. This. THIS is what it’s like.

So, when Shaun later approached me about contributing to this novel, I knew immediately which point of view I was interested in writing. In the scope of this book, I could never show Carah’s full emotional journey after experiencing so much trauma and loss, but like you mentioned, through Carah, readers can gain insight into the home and family life of Kirby, our central character. It was also my hope that readers would empathize with Carah’s situation, and that maybe if someone they knew was ever faced with similar heartbreak, they might choose to be like Carah’s friends, who continue to care for her despite the deplorable actions of someone she loved.

Violent Ends: Saying No, Astroturf. The View From Other Side

VIOLENTENDS9.3 copyThe Girl Who Said No—Trish Doller

What is it about the word “no” that is so powerful? 

Why was it important to explore Morgan’s mental state?  The only other person who is “like” her in the sense of the book’s story is Nate, since they both witness their best friends’ deaths.  And yet, I think Morgan is one of the most sympathetic characters.  I was stunned when Morgan recognizes that Cara has a right to be happy.

Q: What is it about the word “no” that is so powerful? 

A:I think what makes “no” the most powerful answer is the potential for devastation that it holds. At best, the person who does the asking is disappointed they don’t get what they want. At worst…well, we’ve seen the rage that rejection can cause and the length to which some people will go to exact revenge. I think it’s terribly important that girls (and women) hold onto that word and not let its power be taken away from them.

Q: Why was it important to explore Morgan’s mental state?  The only other person who is “like” her in the sense of the book’s story is Nate, since they both witness their best friends’ deaths.  And yet, I think Morgan is one of the most sympathetic characters.  I was stunned when Morgan recognizes that Carah has a right to be happy.

A: You know, it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be happy after an event like this. And Violent Ends takes us down some really hopeless paths, so I knew from the beginning that I wanted to introduce a measure of sweetness to the story through Morgan. She could easily have fallen to anger or destructive sadness, but I loved the idea of a girl who is strong enough to take back her sense of agency, let go of guilt, and allow herself to be happy again.

Astroturf by EM Kokie

Q: Poor Ray. He is fixated with Kirby, and Kirby has no idea.  And yet, while Ray thinks Kirby has everything, in the end we realize that Ray is more emotionally sound than Kirby.  What should we get from this?  (By the way, I really like Ray.)

A: It took me a while to find my story. I knew I wanted to write from the periphery of the shooting. I knew I wanted my chapter to end before the shooting took place, when my character is still innocent of what is to come. I had this hazy idea, but I was having trouble finding the voice or my way into the story.

Then I figured out the first line: “Kirby Matheson stole my life.”  And I knew that I had my story.  Sometimes the belief that someone else has it better — that everyone else has it better than you — is a toxic illusion.  It can eat away at you. It can make you feel small and damaged and caged. I imagine that Kirby may have felt some of that. I know Ray did.

Ray has not had it easy. He has envied the life he thought Kirby had, a life he felt Kirby stole from him. But the reader knows from the beginning of my chapter that Kirby didn’t “have it all” and that something in Kirby, or in his life, caused him to murder innocent people and then kill himself. So, Ray thought Kirby’s grass was greener than his, but in reality something in that grass was not what it seemed, and might have been toxic.

We all make assumptions about the people around us. We envy these lives we think other people are living when things are tough in our own lives. We think everyone else has it easier. We dismiss some people as not worth our attention. We label others as dangerous.  And some we never see clearly. My chapter ends before the shooting, just after my character has just made this tiny, human connection with Kirby. It’s a small moment, but something about it feels significant to Ray, even if he doesn’t really understand why.  And it falls in between other moments that cause Ray to stop and look more closely at his life. By the end of my chapter Ray has been changed. He has let go of some of that anger and jealousy and resentment. He can see his own life more clearly, and see where it is green and good. But the reader knows that in less than a day, my character will be changed again, and Kirby will be dead.

I hope my chapter causes readers to reconsider their assumptions about the people around them, to consider that they might not be be seeing people or events accurately.  I hope it makes some readers appreciate the green and good spots in their own lives. And I hope readers think about how fast life can change, and that it’s important to pay attention, to be active in our lives and not just coast through waiting for the future to arrive. I hope we will work to see each other more fully and make fewer assumptions. And that maybe other potential Kirbys will draw someone’s notice — someone’s kindness or someone’s intervention — and maybe another tragedy can be avoided.

Q: I’d like you to comment on the numerous evil or absent parents in this book.  I know a lot of parents of teens and I’m not seeing this. Am I just fooling myself? Is this really what it is like for teens today?


A: There are few perfect or ideal parents. Parents are human. They are flawed. They make mistakes and do the best that they can.  And since there are few perfect or ideal children, the parents are also dealing with flawed humans, and often the story is told from the point of view of an imperfect adolescent character. One of the huge developmental steps adolescents go through is realizing that their parents are flawed and don’t have all the answers. Some kids go through it younger than others. And some parents are more than flawed. Some are negligent, absent, recklessly neglectful, and even abusive. I hope that the later categories are not as prevalent as they may seem from reading literature for teens, but I think there are a few reasons we see so many “bad” parents in YA lit.

First, I think we tend to focus on the “bad” parents. I hope that you read Ray’s mother as one of the “good” ones. She has had to work hard, often more than one job at a time, to support herself and Ray. Sometimes that meant cobbling together safe places for him to be while she worked. But he knows that she loves him, he respects her, and she is a good, involved parent.  His father is absent, but his mother is great.

But, to the extent there is an over-representation of “bad” parents in literature for teens, it might partly be because fiction is driven by conflict. And for many kids, that conflict starts at home, the place they should feel safe and cared for and loved.  If every story had good, loving, involved parents, there would be far less room for conflict.

And many of our teen readers feel like their parents don’t understand them or care about what is important to them. The prevalence of “bad” parents might have something to do with how often teens feel misunderstood and even mistreated at home. I hope that these “bad” parent stories help some kids see just how good they have it, and help others to realize that they deserve better and to ask for help.

As a pragmatic matter, adolescent characters in YA novels need to have agency in their stories. They need room to have a problem significant enough for an engaging plot, room for the problem to get worse or roadblocks to spring up in their paths, and room to solve the problem or attain what they desire through their own efforts. I think that is why we often see distracted, overly busy, or borderline negligent parents, even if they aren’t abusive or otherwise damaging to their kids.

But lastly, sadly, yes, there are a lot of incompetent, distracted, overly busy, recklessly neglectful, and even abusive parents in our world.  Some may be well intentioned people who aren’t  able to be the parents that their children need, some may be struggling with what life has thrown at them, and some may have made choices that impact their ability to parent. There are probably some of these “bad” parents in each of our corners of the world, and many of them are good at hiding their flailings, failings, and abuse.  Many kids who have incompetent or abusive parents have also learned to cover well. Neglect and abuse happen across class and geography.  I hope there are fewer abusive or evil parents in our world than YA literature would suggest – far, far fewer — but a lot of kids are growing up in less than ideal homes, and too many in truly damaging ones.

Violent Ends: The Editor Speaks

VE BackplateShaun David Hutchinson is the editor of this incredible book and he also wrote a chapter entitled “The Perfect Shot,” which is a double entendre. I’m featuring his questions and answers below. We cover his chapter and the process for writing a book with seventeen authors.

The Perfect Shot—Shaun David Hutchinson

A clever and disturbing double entendre, this is the only chapter from the POV of a character who Kirby kills. Why?

Killing characters helps me channel my inner Joss Whedon.  I feel like I haven’t fully completed a book if I haven’t killed someone off.

Seriously, though.  When I pitched the idea to the writers I was hoping would sign on, the idea was that each story would be from the point of view of a victim.  Someone Kirby had wounded or killed.  I’d already written an early draft of my story by the time we finished all the paperwork and the other writers started throwing their ideas out there.  It became clear pretty quickly that my idea of what constituted a victim was too narrow.  The authors came up with brilliant ideas, and I didn’t want to hold them back.

But I was happy with Billie’s story.  It felt complete to me, so even though we’d broadened the scope of the stories, I still felt like Billie’s story worked in the overall context of the book.

As the editor of this book, why did you want to explore so many secrets, many of them horrible?  We have a book full of suffering.  Transgender issues, eating disorders, child abuse. The book paints a scary picture of high school. Is this really what it is like now?

Well, I mean, high school is a scary place;  I think it always has been.  Going back to my Joss Whedon influence, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an entire show based around the idea that school is quite literally hell, and that show worked because people could relate to that central idea.  But it’s also awesome.  I had a difficult time in high school because I thought everyone else was living a life of ponies and rainbows while I slogged through a pit of suffering.  But they were dealing with their own shit too, and now that I can look back on those years, I recognize that they were also filled with some amazing times.

I don’t enjoy writing about people suffering, but people do suffer, and I won’t ever shy away from showing that.  I think if people can see and understand that they’re not the only ones suffering and that they don’t have to suffer alone, maybe the world will seem a little less horrible.

How did you all work together to weave the characters into each other’s stories?

We used an online collaboration tool called Trello.  It allowed us to share characters and places as we built the world, feeding off of each other’s ideas.  We also made a lot of connections during the editing process.  If I saw a way to connect a person or idea in one story with another, I’d suggest it to the authors to get their input, and they were always game.

We also shared early versions of our stories when possible.  I have this crazy flowchart mapping the connections between the stories.  It’s a web of awesome.    I was blown away by how well the collaboration worked.  The authors exceeded my wildest dreams.

I’d like you to comment on what I see as the central theme of the book:  the masks we wear.  This entire book is about how we don’t know what is really going on in someone else’s life and mind.  Did you discuss this as a group?  Do agree with what I see as the central theme?

I do think it’s one of the themes, and definitely an important one.  We didn’t discuss it beforehand though.  When we began, it was with only the most necessary details.  I didn’t want to do anything that might limit the writers’ imaginations. 

But I do think it grew naturally out of the subject matter.  I’d probably distrust anyone who says they don’t have anything to hide.  Especially in high school.  And with each writer exploring who Kirby was through the lens of their own narrator, I’m not surprised many created characters with secrets of their own.

And that is definitely something I wanted people to take away from the book.  The need to understand why someone could commit such a horrific act leads us to want to slap labels on the shooter.  To stuff him into a neat little box.  He was this or he was that.  But nobody is ever just one thing.  We’re all microcosms of pain and happiness and insecurity and hilarious contradictions.  When a school shooting occurs, people look for the “why.”  They want to blame it on violent video games or guns or mental illness so that they can profile students and stop the next potential shooter.  But those profiles don’t work.  My personal belief is that the only way to prevent school shootings is to stop trying to find school shooters based on some flavor-of-the-week profile, and start treating teens like real people with real problems.  Get to know them.  Try to help them.  You never know what mask they’re wearing or what secret pain they might be using it to hide.

I’m sad that Kirby kills Billie without knowing how she felt about him.  I think she would have been someone he liked and saved like Jenny.

I wish Kirby had gotten to know Billie, too.  I think in the same way Billie recognizes some part of herself in Kirby, he would have recognized some part of himself in her. I knew that her death would be polarizing, especially since she’s the only transgender character in the book.  She’s also the first transgender character I’ve ever written, so I felt the pressure to do my best to write her well.  That’s why I made the decision for Kirby to shoot her before she has the opportunity to speak to him.  Billie dies because she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because she’s transgender.  It’s an important distinction to me, and one I wanted to make certain was very clear.

In another story written by me in a parallel universe, I think if Billie had reached Kirby a day earlier, maybe he wouldn’t have brought the gun to school that day.

Violent Ends: Chapters 4 and 5

Chapter 4: The Greenest Grass—Delilah Dawson

You’ve bVIOLENTENDS9.3 copyeen very open about suffering abuse in your past. What was it that made you want to explore them mind of an anorexic girl suffering under her mother’s influence and the need to be perfect?

Violent Ends is the sort of anthology that demands a close look at oneself and at one’s prejudices. I was bullied in high school, and so my first instinct was to write a kid like I was– geeky, smart, gothy, misunderstood. But other writers were already writing characters like that, so I took the opposite viewpoint. I imagined a character who had everything I didn’t have, back then. Lauren is popular, rich, beautiful, thin. On the surface, she has everything. I wanted to find a reason to pity her as her counterparts in high school never seemed to pity me. I wanted Kirby to pity her. And yet, despite her weaknesses, I wanted her to be rebellious and strong and kind, in her heart.

We learn here that Elsa, mentioned in the first chapter, didn’t die. How and why did you weave this in here? What was important about that?

The writers of Violent Ends shared plot points and character names as we hammered out our entwined stories. When I wrote in Elsa as Lauren’s friend, I didn’t know what another writer might do with her. For me, she represents the cruel and painful randomness of such tragedies. There’s no telling who will live and who will die. Even Kirby didn’t know, in the moment. Just having a name or line, just existing, doesn’t lead to any conclusions. Kirby warns Jenny and Lauren to stay away and offers Zach his gun. He protects them from his own killing spree.

He obviously feels a connection to other people in pain. As well as band girls. Why are we allowed to see this side of Kirby?

A sentiment all the writers share is that Kirby isn’t a sociopath or a born monster. He is a person with ups and downs, friends and foes. He’s conflicted. Until the moment when he steps into that gymnasium, anything could happen. The right word might’ve stopped him. I feel like many of us wrote stories in which we hoped our character would be the one to reach Kirby, to tip his scales toward redemption. Even knowing, as we wrote, what the end result would be, there was still an undercurrent of mercy and kindness, that there was still goodness in Kirby that might be tapped. The overall message, for me, is that if we all worked a little harder to tip that scale toward empathy, kindness, understanding, and bravery, maybe we’d have fewer school shootings.

Chapter 5: Feet First by Margie Gelbwasser

Jenny, another band kid, is the most obviously “saved” person from Kirby’s killing spree.  Why does he make such a special effort for her? 

What I enjoyed about this chapter is that there was something positive to the ending. We felt that Joe was going to help her and she would be able to move on. Not all the chapters are like that. Why is this one?

Honestly, I don’t know. I think, just like in the tragedy of real mass shootings, we never truly know why the shooter does what he does. When I wrote this story, I understood Jenny and her motivations, but Kirby only came to me in bits and species–through the filter that was Jenny. I think part of Jenny’s struggle is not knowing why Kirby saved her, and that’s also the guilt that eats at her.

What I enjoyed about this chapter is that there was something positive to the ending. We felt that Joe was going to help her and she would be able to move on. Not all the chapters are like that. Why is this one?  

Jenny, like the others in the book, suffered. I don’t think she will ever forget Kirby, the shooting, or her pain, but I didn’t want it to define her. She says, “How can someone understand that even though I should feel grateful to be alive, I feel dead?” That’s a very telling statement. I didn’t want her to die that day. She was saved. She may not understand why, but she was. And I wanted her to live and thrive and realize she can survive without Kirby and his feet. She is a strong person in her own right, and as much as she thought Kirby saved her, it was time for her to save herself and realize she could.

A Week of Violent Ends: Day 1

VE BackplateI am beyond thrilled to be able to share this book with readers. I don’t just think this is a good book, I think it is an important book.  Let me tell you why: This book looks at a high school murderer, a shooter, a messed up kid, a loner, a protector, a friend, a son and a brother.

Written by seventeen authors, each chapter tells another side to the story of a school shooting, but never one from the perpetrator’s perspective. We get to see the repercussions of the shooting from the perspectives of those around him. I will be featuring questions and answers from the various authors all of this week.  I hope a lot of people will read it.

We start with Chapters 1 and 3:

Miss Susie, written by Steve Brezenoff

Q: Why do you think it was important to start the book off with this chapter? What was the purpose of starting here? 

A: So, I should start by saying I had exactly zero to do with where this chapter would go in the final anthology/novel. But I will say that I suspect Shaun and the book’s editor at Pulse went with “Miss Susie” to open the book because it takes place well before any of the other stories the other authors submitted. But more than that, I think it also sets a pretty strong theme that will move through the rest of the stories: bullying, violence, guns, death–and just the way all of those things can affect interpersonal relationships, maybe particularly among school children.

Q: What is it supposed to tell us about Kirby?
A: I don’t tend to write with that sort of intention, and you’re certainly learning more about Susanna Byrd than about Kirby. OK, that caveat established, I think Kirby in this story is remarkably misunderstood, in particular by Susanna. Though he doesn’t behave in the way Susanna would probably have liked–he doesn’t sweep in and stop these three bullies from tormenting Susanna or destroying her birthday present–he perhaps doesn’t deserve the tongue lashing he gets from the birthday girl. But Susanna in this piece is the victim, and her rage is misdirected. If I had one intention, it was for the story to serve as an example of Kirby seeing injustice in the world, and seeing it dealt with in such a way that the real bad guys walk away without facing justice. I wanted to plant that little seed in him.
Q: Were the boys with the guns supposed to be Nate and his crowd?  I wasn’t sure.
A: OK, so this question leads to some other question we should clear up first. VIOLENT ENDS was written by lots of us, but it wasn’t written by committee. We did have an online worksite, where we could bounce ideas off each other and check in to see who had done what yet, or to see if Kirby’s hair color had been established, or the name of his street, or his shoe size, or things like that. However I did very little checking in, and part of why I chose to set my story so far in the past before the central shooting was so that I could avoid restrictive entanglements with other stories. The short version: when I wrote the three unnamed boys with the rifle into “Miss Susie,” I had no idea who Nate and his crowd were. If the crow-shooters became Nate and company over the course of the other stories, that suits me just fine.


Chapter 3–Survival Instinct, written by Tom Leveen

Q. Why was it important that Gabriel, the future soccer store, was the one to find her.
A. As we collaborated on our notes, I saw that Gabriel was likely being built as a typical jock, or was at least viewed as one by students not in his circle of friends. One of the things I enjoy playing with in my novels, particularly with PARTY and RANDOM, is turning the tables on our expectations; showing characters and readers alike that for all we think we know about someone, there’s always another side to the story. People are not two-dimensional. They are like diamonds that have to be held up and examined from a multitude of angles before getting even a close composite of who they are. While Gabriel was not going to feature in a major role in my chapter, I wanted to use the idea of the entire novel — that there are many sides to Kirby — in a supporting way by giving Gabriel this moment to shine as a multidimensional person. I’ve learned in my years of theatre that giving a “minor role” more than one function or personality lends weight to the entire show. Likewise, Gabriel’s minor role in my chapter I hoped would help lend dimension to the entire novel. I hope that’s what happened. That’s kind of what the idea behind the book was: let’s all get together and build someone (Kirby) from all our collective experiences and see what happens. My rendering of Gabriel was meant to be an echo of that concept.

The most intriguing part of this chapter, along with the horrible abuse, is the fact that even at the end, Zach is unaware of the school shooting.  Why did you do this in this way?

Our instructions from the beginning were to reveal Kirby as a human being, good and bad, and as a result I didn’t feel a need to focus on the shooting as a plot element in this chapter. I wanted readers to leave the chapter knowing there was this girl out there who Kirby was trying to help. I also wanted to leave with a cliffhanger of sorts; it didn’t feel like my place to announce the shooting. In a way, Zach will always think of Kirby as a friend, as someone who cared about her, because her story fades to black before she learns the truth. As long as “we” don’t show her the shooting or its aftermath, she can cherish that memory of him. It’s kind of a “let’s not ruin the moment” moment. Other characters will have their take on Kirby, and that’s fine; if I as the creator-god of Zach’s story tell her about the shooting, then Kirby loses his place in her heart and mind. I thought it might be important to have a character who could represent the memory of the good Kirby…if that makes any sense at all.

Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane 1_Mark of the Black Arrow

I absolutely loved Robin Hood: Demon’s Bane 1: Mark of the Black Arrow, published by TitanRobin Hood_mark of the black arrow. It is creative, fun, loyal to canon and yet thoroughly modern. It is also a quick read, so pick it for a weekend’s read, a road trip or a chilly fall evening by a fire.

I asked authors Debbie Viguie and James R. Tuck to talk to me about this book.

  1. One of my favorite things about your take on the Robin Hood story is the prominence of Maid Marion as a true heroine. No shrinking violet here. Did you go into this book with that as a goal or did it develop as you worked together?

Debbie: I always loved the hint of Marian as a spy in the Errol Flynn film. While we decided to make Will a court spy in our book it was important that Marian have a vital part to play as Robin’s equal without her feeling like a modern woman dropped into a medieval story. I love how she feels true to her time yet totally heroic.

James: I wanted Marian to be fairly kick ass but at the same time a woman of her time. She has been shaped by the social mores and a bit sheltered but also raised by a kind man who loves her and pushes her to be all she can be. She’s as much a hero as the rest of the crew.

2. Can you describe the process of co-writing this book? How did you work together?

Debbie: I have to say writing with James is a dream. Our strengths complement each other nicely.

James: We swap off via email. I wrote a section then sent it to Debbie who wrote a section and so forth. We kept in touch with text and emails to swap ideas that came up in the writing and the rewriting.

3. I couldn’t quite tell.  How old are Marion, Robin and Will?

James: I picture youngish for our time, 18-21, but in those days you had to be pretty grown up by the time you were a teen. I worked under the assumption they could be a little younger acting than they really would have been back then by virtue of Kind Richard’s peaceful reign.

Debbie: What James said. I see them as the modern day equivalent of mid-twenties. Their actual age I picture to be 17-19.

4. When the black arrow comes to Robin, the original guardian thanks him for releasing him from his prison.  Are we to suspect that Robin is the new guardian and will, at some point, wind up locked in Sherwood Forest?

Debbie: I’d say he is the new guardian of the arrow. What that means for him, we’ll just have to wait and see.

James: You may suspect that. We shall see how that works out. *muwa ha ha’s to himself *

5.  How challenging is it to work with a story with such an established canon?

Debbie: One of the great things about the Robin Hood story is that there are several characters to work with that will be familiar to the audience but that don’t always get a lot of attention. It’s been a lot of fun to flesh out some of the secondary characters and even introduce new ones. We use people’s knowledge of the myth and their expectations as a jumping off point for our story. We let it inform our work but we don’t let it constrain our work.

James: Not difficult at all. I found it allowed a lot of material to mine but whenever we wanted we simply ignored it and did our own take on the things happening in the story itself.

Bonus Question–Why such a long title? It couldn’t have been Robin Hood: Mark of the Black Arrow? What’s the purpose of the Demon’s Bane?

James: Ha, publishers. Totally the call of Titan. I would have liked a series title of Robin Hood: Demonslayer but they felt with all the Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter knockoffs it would hurt the book.

Debbie: What James said. We all wanted the series title to reflect the supernatural element and then have the individual book titles reflect something specific about that book.

Bonus question 2: Tuck, did you design this cover?

James: Nope. That was the good folks over at Titan. I had nothing to do with it, but I like it!

Debbie: I was thrilled when our editor revealed to us the book covers.  They are so beautiful and mysterious.

SW: I loved it too!


5 Questions in 5 Minutes with Alma Alexander

Hi Alma: TRandom cover high reshanks for being with me on SlipperyWords! We are talking about the first book in your Were Chronicles, Random

1. The story appears, at first, like it is a traditional were story but it
turns into a very deep, profound story about souls and racism. How do your YA readers react to those deeper messages?

Surprisingly, sometimes, it turns out that young people DO think about stuff that older people don’t think they think about. And several responses involved things along the lines of, “I recognise characters like Celia, that sort of things happened to me/to someone I know. I can identify with that character.” I wrote a book which has themes of bullying, and of discrimination – and those are “real world” problems.

That leads to deeper thinking, to questioning where and what one’s
soul is. But of course those are teh THEMES and the story itself rolls
along as a story and readers will respond to that directly. They
acquire the deeper things almost by osmosis, as it were. And that’s as it should be. The last thing I would ever want to do is devolve to
being preachy about something from my own personal sandbox. I like to lead people to thoughts, not to force them to think…

2. The part of the half-souled reminded me a little of the Golden Compass, when the characters were separated, cut off, from their animal avatars. Did you think of that when you wrote it?

Actually, no, because I don’t think I ever read those books (I saw the
movie, I think – or parts of it – lo these many years ago, but I don’t
think I ever actually read the books…) And from what I do remember
of the story of the Golden Compass the situation wasn’t at all along
the lines of my world. My baseline was the concept of Were creatures, not animal avatars – these aren’t avatars, they’re just a different shape of the same creature, part of each other – my Were are genetic, at base, not “spiritual”. My Were’s animal forms aren’t spiritual familiars they’re a different reading of their DNA. The concept of the “half-souled” stems intrinsically from – well – losing a dimension of yourself, becoming paper thin and two-dimensional, fragile and vulnerable. In that sense, the duality of Were is a literal strength – and the loss of that duality a literal physical weakness. The moniker of “half-souled” is a descriptor, here. It translates, if you want, to ‘half-genomed’. I like the idea that we all potentially carry these different creatures inside outselves, that being that ‘different; doesn’t mean that you are a monster. It just means that your deeper secrets are more visible to the world…

3. I like to also ask craft. What is your process for writing? Are you a
pantser or a planner.

Pantser. Half the time I have no clue what is going to happen next,
any more than my readers do, and I keep writing to find out. I am
currently researching a new book – and with every new thing I find out the nebulous idea of the storyline which I think I halfway nailed down changes into something else again. I wrote a terribly inadequate “synopsis” when I first conceived the idea – but here I am, not even having started writing yet, and that original synopsis already bears no resemblance to the story I am currently spinning in my head. And by the time I start writing it will be something else again. This is an immensely dangerous way to work, prone to detours and no-exit dead end roads and meanderings and false starts – but oh MAN, when I finally find the right path, then I forge ahead and I basically never write that horrible proverbial “first draft” because what comes out is already Draft #4. Not perfect, not yet, not ever, but considerably more evolved than anything that a purely planned novel which was written according to a rigid scheme might be. I do all the preliminary editing and discarding in my head, long before words hit page (or screen)…

4. What advice would you give to new writers just starting out who want to publish traditionally?

Um, pray…? It happens. It still happens. But it’s taking an
increasing abount of pure luck – not to mention pig-headedness, and
the hide of a rhino (come to think of it, you might as well be a Were
creature…) In order to get within smelling distance of the Big Guys
you need an agent, and these days getting an agent is every bit as big
an ask as it is getting your story under an editor’s eye. You need to
research your market, pick wisely, submit to the people likely to be
interested in your line of work, and then cross your fingers and hope
that someone sees that glitter of pure gold inside of your novel. And
while you wait… write the next one. Keep writing. Always keep
writing. You’re far more likely to sell a career than a single novel.

5. What’s next for these characters? Can you give us a hint?  I think it
could be very useful for to have a were that turns into another human without any “were” markings on his identification.

The first book – “Random” is all about the Random Were, the kind of
Were critter I seem to have invented purely for this story, the kind
that can Turn into the last warm-blooded thing they see before their
time of change comes upon them.

But “Wolf”, the second book, delves deeper into the science and the culture of the Were kind, specifically the Lycans, the true Were-Wolves, who in my world are scientists with a secret agenda – and the second book belongs to Mal, the brooding, damaged, tragic, fragile older brother of Jazz who was the protagonist of “Random”. It’s about his journey of discovery, and about his growing up and stepping up to accept his own place in his world at last.

The third book, “Shifter”, out in November 2015, is about the creature who helped Mal the Wolf along his path – the ‘shifter’ of the title, an entirely new and unlooked-for kind of shapechanger. This i spossibly the best character in the entire series, and I can’t wait for the world to meet him. There is likely to be a set of stories to
follow this book, more in this world, which is just too complex and
too delicious for me to leave behind that easily. There’s the next
generation to think about, after all.

Give you a hint? Well, there’s an explanation of the genetics of the Were… a glimpse of how the half-souled might be restored to themselves (or die trying)… drawing aside the veil from the dark schemes of the Lycans, and what that means for my protagonists’ lives… and the inevitable war with the fundamentalists whose mission in life is to denounce the Were and their kind as abominations, hated by God himself. These are books that
are nominally about Were-kind, wrapped in the silver tissue of
fantasy. In essence, though, as at least one reviewer has pointed out,
these are books that are essentially… about being human.  And that
is one story that will never get boring, or old.