Monday, March 9, 2009
Interview with Jessica Andersen
THIS JUST IN!! Stay tuned at the end of this interview for a first-time ever post of an excerpt from Jessica Andersen's upcoming FINAL PROPHECY book, SKYKEEPERS!!
The Quirky Ladies are honored to welcome award-winning author, Dr. Jessica Andersen. It’s a little known fact that Doc Jess, as she’s affectionately known to both friends and fans, got her start with a mini-mag publisher before moving to 5-Star Publishing, Harlequin, and now NAL.
All of this has required tremendous effort and dedication, a prolific mind, and a keen grasp of the industry, including designing the best website I have ever seen. Seriously. Visit http://www.jessicaandersen.com/ if you’ve been hiding under a rock and haven’t seen it yet. You can click on the link right here on the Quirky sight, under favorite authors.
Read on for her fabulous interview, and don’t forget to comment to be entered to win a copy of (either) DAWNKEEPERS, NIGHTKEEPERS, or a preordered copy of SKYKEEPERS, which will be available on Aug. 4, 2009! A second, very special contest has been added to the end of this interview, and you won’t want to miss out.
So, without further ado, The Quirky Ladies are proud to welcome Dr. Jessica Andersen…
Dalton Diaz (DD): Let’s start with the FINAL PROPHECY series. To tell these stories, you’ve had to build worlds that exist on three realms: What the Mayans believed happened all those years ago, a god realm that the Nightkeepers jump to (where even they don’t know what will happen), and the contemporary realm where the year 2012 is fast approaching. The research involved is mind-boggling! How long did it take before you were actually ready to begin writing? Did you ever get caught off guard by a halting detail and have to rethink your path with any characters, or use a different god?
Doc Jess (JA): Geez, nothing like jumping into the tough stuff, huh? LOL! Okay, here goes… The research that goes into these books is huge, because I want to be as consistent as I possibly can with the historical record when it comes to the Maya-based rituals, glyphs and artifacts (just check out the ‘references’ link on the website for a taste). Lucky for me, I’ve always been fascinated with ancient cultures, particularly the Maya, which means that the info-gathering part has become as much a hobby as it is work. Time-wise, the research is sort of always continuing alongside the writing… but the initial ‘let’s go build a world’ process took about eighteen months from when I first tripped over the 12/21/2012 end date (and the idea that Maya rituals were tied up in both blood sacrifice and sexual intercourse- rwowr!) to when I turned in the full manuscript for NIGHTKEEPERS.
As for getting caught off guard, it happens All The Time! In some cases, I’ll be writing in one direction, get to a turning point and realize I’ve foreshadowed things so much that I’m bored with the planned plot twist, so I sit there and ask myself, “Okay… so what else could happen?” More often, now that the characters and stories have really taken on a life of their own for me, I’ll be writing along, thinking one thing is going to happen, and the story goes in a completely different direction on me. That’s when I know the book has really come together and gone organic on me- when I’m just channeling the words onto the screen.
(DD): Which is why I'm always on the edge of my seat while reading them! Speaking of the, er, sacrificial sex, NIGHTKEEPERS introduced most of the characters, but the romance aspect focuses on Strike and Leah. DAWNKEEPERS moves us forward with the prophecy and the characters, and the romance aspect focuses on Nate and Alexis. SKYKEEPERS…? Well, you follow my train of thought, and inquiring minds want to know! If you can’t divulge who gets to call out to the gods in ecstasy, can you tell us when and where this info will be divulged?
(JA): Weeeeelllll… okay. I’ll talk. SKYKEEPERS is a little different in that it focuses on two characters we haven’t seen much of in the prior books. The hero is Michael Stone, an enigmatic loner-type who joined the Nightkeepers in the first book but has only just started coming into his own as a mage (and gets into an (imho) very sexy fight with Nate in DAWNKEEPERS). He’s very sensually motivated and has a seriously dark past. Partly seeking to atone for his sins, partly because he’s become obsessed by her photos, Michael sets off to rescue Sasha Ledbetter from the Nightkeepers’ enemies. Sasha is the daughter of a famous Mayanist who might also have been a lost Nightkeeper. She is the Nightkeepers’ only remaining hope of finding a vital cache of codices and artifacts that was hidden by her father. When she and Michael team up, sparks fly because although the gods might have meant them to be destined mates, Michael and Sasha have very different ideas!
(DD): I loved that scene! The testosterone was off the charts! Let's step back to the human world for a minute while I fan myself. You’re also still writing for the Harlequin Intrigue line, with book number 20, Snowed In with the Boss, just released this month. Congratulations! Are there more Harlequin books planned in the immediate future? You know, before 2012?
(JA): Absolutely yes! This past October, I kicked off a second miniseries set in the Bear Claw Creek crime lab, with MANHUNT IN THE WILD WEST. (Or, as I typo-ed it in an email to my editor, ‘Manhung in the Wild West’… which quickly became ‘Well Hung in the Wild West.’ LOL!) The second and third books in that miniseries are coming up, with MOUNTAIN INVESTIGATION in July 2009, and the conclusion (yet untitled, because I stink at titles and turned it in as ‘Intrigue #22’) in October 2009. There are some additional Harlequin projects being kicked around for 2010 and beyond, so stay tuned!
(DD): Now something for the writers among us. You are a huge supporter of aspiring authors. I’ve seen this firsthand at the New England Chapter conference, when you began revising pitches with anyone who asked for help. Word got out, and before you knew it, there was a line in the lobby until two a.m.! You now run a pitching clinic called Surviving the Editor/Agent Appt. at the New England Chapter Conference, and this year you are also the featured luncheon speaker. Can you tell us a little about that?
(JA): I’d love to! This will be my tenth New England Chapter Conference, and in a way they’ve marked my milestones. I went to my first one right after I finished my first manuscript; I was wearing my job interview suit and was so nervous I could barely breathe! I spent six minutes of my eight-minute pitch describing the hero in great detail, whereupon the incredibly kindhearted editor interrupted me, asked a couple of questions, and gave me her card to submit the story. She forwarded it to an editor in the appropriate line (Intrigue, as it happens), who sent me back a revise-and-resubmit letter that taught me things about romantic suspense that I still keep in mind today (e.g., keep coincidences to an absolute minimum!).
That particular story was rejected, and it took me another couple of years before I got The Call … but that, too, was because of the New England conference. In fact, in the spring of 2002 I sold three stories to three different publishers (Harlequin, Avalon and Five Star), all through pitches I had given to editors at the NEC conferences of ’01 and ’02. I was on my way! This was largely thanks to the incredible support I found through the New England Chapter, where I met some truly fabulous authors who have always been there for help and advice. When I tried to thank one of these ladies at one point, she said simply, “Pay it forward.” So that’s what I try to do.
I remember my first conference, my first pitch, my first sale… and I can’t tell you how much I love getting emails every now and then, letting me know that an author has sold a story based on a pitch we once workshopped at the NEC conference. So yep, I’ll be there, sitting in the bar on Friday night after dinner, running pitches with anyone who needs some practice. Keep an eye out for me!
And finally, yes, I have the great honor of being the luncheon speaker this year, which is one of the things that’s made me look back on (eep!) a decade of NEC conferences. (That, and the note on my to-do list that says ‘write luncheon speech’- LOL!) I’ll be following some really tough acts (Pat Grasso’s tiara comes to mind), but even if my speech isn’t the cleverest or the funniest, or if I forget myself and drop an f-bomb (entirely possible), I know that whatever I end up saying (see to-do list, above), it’ll reflect back on how much I appreciate the support of my chapter members and the opportunities provided by the conference. And the chocolate, of course. And the free books. And the… well, you get the point.
(DD): So you’ll be featured and signing at the New England Chapter Conference, March 27th – 28th. Can you tell us about any other appearances on the agenda?
(JA): Hm…. next month I’ll be in Orlando (with you, Mz. DD!) at the Romantic Times Convention. In May I’ll be up in Maine at the MERWA Retreat, and then in July, it’s RWA National in DC, where JR Ward and I will be doing our ‘stand up at the front of the room and poke fun at each other whilst discussing critique partner relationships and paranormal worldbuilding’ workshop. Actual dates and specifics are posted on my website, stickied in the Forum.
(DD): That’s it for today, folks. Well, for the interview itself, anyway. As promised, keep reading for that first time posted anywhere excerpt from SKYKEEPERS! We are also running a very special contest here on the Quirky Ladies site. Just leave a comment by midnight on Sunday, 3/15/09 (EDT-aka, NY time!), and you will not only be entered to win a FINAL PROPHECY book of choice, you will also be entered to win an autographed copy of Jessica Anderson’s very first published story, the mini-mag titled, “The Shelter of My Heart.” No, we didn’t misspell Doc Jess’s name – the publisher did! They also slapped on a Victorian-ish cover (it’s a contemporary). Leave your comment to own this rare piece of history, available for all of a month in 2001 before the publisher shut down. If they’d only known the value of the gold they held right in their hands!
EXCERPT FROM SKYKEEPERS
Sasha awoke, blinking up into the light thrown down by an unshielded fluorescent tube. Something’s different, she thought. But a quick look around her said it wasn’t the scenery.
She was still in hell. It wasn’t the Christians’ fire-and-brimstone hell or her father’s nine-layered Mayan underworld of rivers and roads and monsters, though. No, this hell was one of cool, blank walls and a narrow cot in a ten-by-ten cell with gray walls, floor, and ceiling. This hell was being the prisoner of an enormous, green-eyed, chestnut-haired man who called himself Iago, but whom the others called “Master.”
Where is the library? his red-robed, forearm-tattooed interrogators asked her over and over again while drug-spiced smoke oozed from stone braziers carved into the shapes of screaming skulls. Each time, her muscles screamed protest at the crucified position they’d tied her in, roping her to a wooden cross that represented not the son of the Christians’ god, but the world tree of the Maya and Aztec, with its roots delving into hell, its branches reaching to the sky. Where did your father hide it? Sometimes they lashed her with stone-tipped flails that drew bloody, purple-black lines on her body. Other times they didn’t hit her at all, but rather somehow put her in agony without touching her, watching with avid eyes as she writhed and screamed.
She would’ve given anything to make the torture stop, but she couldn’t tell them what she didn’t know. She’d kept insisting that Ambrose had never told her anything about a library. They didn’t believe her, though, which meant that the cycle kept repeating over and over again—days of impotent, drugged fugue interspersed with pain and terror. She thought they might have moved her once or twice, but the details had blurred together, growing ever more distant as her mind insulated her consciousness from the reality her body was suffering. Each time the interrogators had opened the cell door, reality had receded further, her burgeoning fantasies coming clearer.
She knew the waking dreams were nothing more than illusions, constructs that her mind created for her as an escape. But she clung fiercely to the fantasies in her drugged stupor, because if her consciousness was wrapped in the dreams, she wasn’t aware of what was happening in the interrogation chamber. And that was a blessed relief.
Sometimes the fantasies brought her to a strange cave, a circular stone room that should have reminded her of the interrogation room and the horrors within it. But she wasn’t terrified in this chamber, wasn’t hurt. Instead, she was wildly aroused, wrapped around a big, powerful man with long, wavy dark hair and green eyes that reminded her of the pine forests up in Maine. In the dreams, she breathed him in, lost herself in his kiss, and felt, maybe for the first time in her life, like she was exactly where she belonged. Which was how she knew it was a fantasy, because Sasha had done many things in her life, but she’d never truly fit anywhere.
Other times the dreams brought her back to Boston, to the pretty, sun-filled studio apartment where she’d lived across the hall from a firefighter’s widow, an elderly ex–concert violinist named Ada, who’d become her friend. Sasha had cooked for her neighbor a few nights a week, gladly trading pumpkinseed dip and spicy barbecued shrimp for snippets of Bach and Mozart, and the knowledge that someone cared whether or not she made it home at night. Only she hadn’t made it home, had she? Instead she’d gone looking for Ambrose and wound up in hell, stuck there as her menstrual clock told her months passed, almost a year, while she lay dazed by drugs and hopelessness.
Except she wasn’t drugged or hopeless now. She felt sharp and energized for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Hardly daring to trust the sudden change, she sat up on her bunk and braced herself for the pain to hit. It didn’t. Instead, nerves and excitement and all sorts of other sharp, hot emotions poked through the numb confusion that had cloaked her for too long.
“What the hell is going on?” she asked, and jerked at the sound of her own voice, the alien clarity of words that weren’t drugged mumbles or throat-tearing screams.
Starting to shake now—with hope, with fear—she took stock. She was wearing the sturdy bush pants she’d had on when she’d been captured, along with a too-big navy sweatshirt she’d had for a while now, though she didn’t know who she’d gotten it from, or when. Her underwear, T-shirt, and socks were long gone to rags, her boots confiscated. All that was the same as it had been. The cuts on her palms, though, were new.
She stared at the shallow, scabbed-over slices as a hazy memory broke through. Had she dreamed of a brown-haired man bending over her with a serrated combat knife, his eyes flickering from hazel to luminous green and back again? If so, it was a new, less pleasant fantasy than the others, her imagination run amok. But no, she was positive he had been there; she had the scabs to prove it. Had he done something to neutralize the tranquilizers they’d been mixing in her food for so long? Or had the red-robes withdrawn the drugs for some reason, wanting her fully aware for whatever they had planned next?
But she wasn’t just awake; she felt damned good. Energy coursed through her, effervescent bubbles running in her veins, making her want to leap up and run, to scream with the mad exuberance of being alive. More, she was warm. Hot, even, and suddenly needy in a way she hadn’t been in a long, long time. Her heart pounded; her skin tingled. She thought of her dark-haired, green-eyed dream man, and ached for him, for the press of his flesh on hers.
Lifting her hands, she cupped her suddenly flushed cheeks, then let her fingertips drift down to skim across her collarbones and along her ribs. Surprise shuddered through her at the feel of smooth, toned flesh. Slowly, almost afraid to look, she lifted the hem of her sweatshirt so her eyes could confirm what her hands had found. Although it seemed impossible, the festering sores on her hips and shoulders had healed overnight, and the crosshatched welts, scabs and scars of the repeated whippings had faded from her skin. Her wasted flesh had been restored; her arms and legs were muscled, her butt and breasts rounded, as they had been before her captivity.
Stunned, she let the sweatshirt drop back down to cover her irrationally taut, toned stomach. Her head spun with disbelief, but not with drugs.
If she’d believed in miracles, she would’ve called it just that. How else could matching slashes on her palm cause her body to heal itself?
“Doesn’t matter,” she told herself as the embers of the strong woman she’d once been kindled to a low, guttering flame of determination. “Don’t waste whatever time you’ve got trying to figure out what’s going on. Just get your ass out of here.”
Rising from the narrow, blanketless cot, she stood for a moment, thrilling to the sense of balance and power that coursed through her, the awareness of her own body. She acutely felt the weight of her sweatshirt and pants, the press of the floor against the soles of her feet. In the back of her head there was a splash of fear that this was nothing more than another sort of torture, that Iago had given her back herself only to take the feeling away again. But on the heels of fear came determination. “If that’s your plan, you bastard, you’re going to regret it,” she said softly. “That’s a promise.”
For longer excerpts from the first two books please check out: http://www.jessicaandersen.com/extras/nightkeppers-exerpt/ and http://www.jessicaandersen.com/extras/dawnkeppers-exerpt/