Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?
I'm a thirtysomething English graduate living in Los Angeles who has also studied game design. I've long been a fan of the dark and spooky, and I'm really loving the current trends in urban fantasy. Not just the plethora of stories with a modern setting dealing with the supernatural and fantastic, but I also really enjoy that one of the most common conventions for urban fantasy are female leads. Exceptions exist, of course, but it really seems to me as though urban fantasy is a very woman-oriented genre, and I dig that.
I also really appreciate how fluid urban fantasy is as a genre, and how easily it can adopt and incorporate tropes and conventions from other genres. A good urban fantasy could also be a mystery or horror or epic, depending on where the author decided to go. So when I sat down to write my first full novel, urban fantasy is what I chose.
What is it about the paranormal, in particular vampires, that fascinates you so much?
Vampires are the perfect engine for literary catharsis. When Aristotle wrote about the value of drama, he talked about invoking catharsis by making the audience experience both pity and fear. This feelings would happen at different points in the work, but I think vampires persist in our collective imagination because we find them so classically cathartic. Vampires (at least the traditional conception of vampires) have tremendous gifts and are exceptional predators - but at a terrible cost. We're afraid of what vampires can do to us (their supernatural powers, their immortality and seductive beauty), but we also pity what they've lost (sunshine, emotions, etc). This makes them complex and compelling.
I also like urban fantasy because of the juxtaposition of magic and mythology with modern life. There's a sense that just around the corner is a world of mystery and wonder - your bartender could be a werewolf, your neighbor could be a witch, you could take a wrong turn and find yourself in the middle of a fairytale. I really like anything which helps engender a sense of wonder and discovery in the reader.
What inspired you to write this book?
Two things really inspired Rain of Ash: Vampire$, by John Steakley, and Hunter: the Vigil by White Wolf.
Vampire$ is an extremely fascinating novel about a group of men dedicated to hunting and eradicating vampires; and about the relationships between members of the hunting team and how they respond to the stresses of their calling. I really got into the book, and I loved seeing an alternate viewpoint on vampire stories - and I kept thinking, If I were writing this book, I'd have done that a different way. No insult intended to Mr. Steakley! I'm actually not often inspired in that way, and it's a testament to his writing that I was able to so fully engage with the story!
Hunter: the Vigil is a roleplaying game (I am a giant nerd) where players assume the role of hunters. Not necessarily vampires - any critter from White Wolf's truly impressive line of horror RPGs can be incorporated. And I have so much fun playing the game! Hunter has a fairly unique mechanic for teamwork which I think is great, and really lays out what being a hunter would do to the average person.
So when I sat down to write Rain of Ash (working title: Oh, No! Vampires!), I decided I wanted to write an urban fantasy story, centered around a woman and chronicling how she became a vampire hunter.
Please tell us about your latest release.
Rain of Ash follows Gwendolyn Bradshaw, a woman in her early twenties who, through the mysterious disappeareance of her older sister Lydia, becomes aware of the existence of vampires. After vampires destroy most of Gwen's family, Gwen finds herself falling in with a team of vampire hunters. The story chronicles Gwen's growth from a mousy teenager into a committed and talented vampire hunter... all through the lens of Gwen's very complicated relationship with her sister.
Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?
Every name in Rain of Ash has probably been changed at least once. I think only Gwen and Timothy got to keep their original names. Tabitha started out as Teresa, and I must have changed Sava's name five times. One day, I'm going to be participating in a trivia event and get Teague's first name wrong because of how often I changed it (I actually named Tabitha after a cat I rescued many years ago, but could only keep for a short amount of time).
I do try to fit names to the characters. Teague, for instance, goes by his last name because of his time in the Army; everyone called him Teague for so long that it became what he called himself after being discharged. For Timothy, I tried to pick a very bland name.
I did have a lot of fun coming up with Vauliard, though the reasons why are a little spoiler-y!
Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?
Gwen is the point-of-view character, so she was certainly the most challenging. I had to try hard to strike a balance between a woman experiencing profound grief at the loss of her loved ones while also writing about her journey to overcome that grief and find meaning and passion in her new life. I also had to be aware of a few subtle conflicts in Gwen's psyche, so I could carefully convey to the reader what Gwen's attitude was while also conveying that Gwen herself wasn't consciously aware of these feelings.
Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?
I really liked writing Roddie. He's such a gentle spirit, and trying to do the best he can for those around him. I modeled a lot of him after my best friend's father, who was also an excellent cook from Oaxaca with a solid sense of hospitality. Writing scenes with Roddie reminded me a lot of happy memories spent having dinner with my best friend's family in high school.
Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?
The most important thing I need to know about every character is what he or she wants, and why. Sometimes I can start writing a character and know exactly what she wants and how she's going to get it. Sometimes, though, I'll have included a character to fulfill a specific role, but I will be hazy on what he, as a character, wants. In that case, I'll engage in some writing exercises to help me flesh out who this character is and why he is the way he is (my favorite are the exercises detailed in Novelist's Boot Camp by Todd A. Stone). Once I have a character's desires down, the rest comes easy to me.
What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?
My favorite scene is in Chapter Eighteen, when Roy (a member of the vampire-hunting squad) and Gwen go to the bar together, and Gwen sees some 'Black Dog' larpers across the room. The scene is taken directly from my experience larping in Santa Barbara, and the two people playing rock paper scissors are cameos of good friends of mine. And I don't want to give away too much, but Gwen and Roy going to the bar definitely has consequences later!
Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?
I've really been influenced by the World of Darkness multiverse, and that comes across in my stories. The world of my books looks a lot like our world - cell phones and computers existing alongside vampires and potentially other powerful supernatural entities. It's not quite so threatening, however - there is hope that, if regular people can figure out a way to work well together, they might be able to take down even the worst threats.
With the book being part of a series, are there any character or story arcs, that readers jumping in somewhere other than the first book, need to be aware of? Can these books be read as stand alones?
Rain of Ash is the first book in Project Fifteen, readers need have no familiarity with anything else.
Do any of your characters have similar characteristics of yourself in them and what are they?
I don't like self-insert characters and avoid them at all costs. Though I share a somewhat similar background to Gwen, I took great pains to separate her personality from mine. Gwen is far more direct than me, and certainly more self-reliant than I was at 22!
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
I've found the most successful antidote to my writer's block is physical activity. At a certain point, I'm just wasting time sitting at my computer with nothing happening. So I grab my mp3 player (the music is a critical element) and go for a run. While I'm out and moving, the answer to my issue will come to me. I have to be Zen about it, though - the answer won't come if I think directly about the the problem. I have to let my mind wander and eventually I'll have a flash of inspiration and know exactly what to do.
If that doesn't work, then I'll switch projects. I have a document I call the Vault of Ideas, which is a list of various creative inspirations I've been struck by. If vampires aren't working out for me at the moment, I'll switch to my adventure game or my post-apocalyptic fantasy project. Or perhaps I'll abandon words altogether and instead sew or cook (I'm surprisingly domestic).
Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?
I absolutely cannot write in sans-serif fonts. I have an unreasonable and completely unjustified disdain for Arial, I much prefer Times New Roman or Georgia.
I also usually need to be drinking something. Not necesarily booze, but coffee or mineral water or something else I can sip on while I ponder.
Do you find it difficult to write in multiple genres?
Not in the slightest. Each genre has it's own unique conventions and tropes, and I enjoy taking a break from one genre and being able to play around in another. I do generally always prefer science fiction or fantasy genres, with a slight preference to fantasy.
When did you consider yourself a writer?
Several years ago, I co-wrote Game of Tears with John Wick. We released the book at a convention, and when the first person came up and asked me to sign their book, that's when I really felt like a writer. Though I'm glad that e-books exist, I'm a little sad that there's no good way to distribute signed copies of Rain of Ash yet.
What are your guilty pleasures in life?
I kind of make it a point to not feel guilty over things that give me pleasure!
Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?
I am a huge nerd. I like games of all kinds - tabletop roleplaying games, video games, even live action games. Several times a year, a bunch of friends and I will descend on a local park and spend the weekend hitting each other with foam weapons; it's a blast!
I also like other creative hobbies. I enjoy sewing as a way to relax, and I sometimes will brew beer or make pickles.
What was the last amazing book you read?
Feed, by Mira Grant. A lot of zombie stories focus on the Zombie Apocalypse, but Feed is set twenty years afterward. Grant has done an amazing job of imagining not only where the zombie plague came from, but also what society would look like in the wake of zombies. I really got into her setting, and her story immediately drew me in.
Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?
Oddly enough, the bus or other public transit! I usually can't read for long periods at home; there are too many distractions and things to do. But on the bus, I don't have to worry about dishes or laundry or getting the next task done - I can just sit and enjoy whatever I'm reading.
What can readers expect next from you?
Rain of Ash is part of a transmedia project which will ideally occupy me for the next several years. The next installment scheduled to come out is Lydia's Story. Rather than being a book, Lydia's Story is intended to be a game (playable on most e-reader devices which support apps!) which tells the same story as the novel; but from the perspective of Lydia. I'm really excited to start working on this, and I can't wait to see how it turns out!
Where can readers find you on the web?
My website is Stolen Fire (http://stolen-fire.com), and you can also follow me on Twitter, @Stolen_Fire.
Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?
Here's the first half of the first chapter. You can also find a more extensive preview at Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/477697), where I've made available the first 20% of the book.
I'm working on a theory that police station coffee is really condensed misery. They brew it dark, thick and bitter, and somehow you always get to the coffee station right after the cream and sugar have run out. The thin paper cups scorch your hands, and the coffee stays tongue-blisteringly hot... until it immediately drops twenty degrees. No one ever drinks coffee in a police station because they enjoy it, they drink it because they need to.
As to why police station coffee behaves this way, I think the coffee pot is channeling all the
unhappiness which it sees during the day. I mean, few people are ever overjoyed to be at the station house. I imagine there might be a few happy reunions or a detective experiencing the triumph of cracking a difficult case, but those are exceptions. By and large, a police station is a miserable place to be, and the bitter black coffee reflects such despair perfectly.
I first came up with this theory in high school, as I waited to be interviewed about the very recent disappearance of my older sister, Lydia. On Monday evening, she and Dad had gotten into a fight, and Lydia ended it by storming out of the house. Everyone assumed she'd be back after cooling off. As much as Dad didn't want to admit it, Lydia was an adult and could mind herself. But by Tuesday night, when no one had heard from her, and her cell phone went straight to voice mail (even when I called), we knew something had gone wrong.
The police didn't believe us at first, thinking she'd be back on her own soon enough. But after she had been gone for nearly two days, Dad managed to bully a rookie into filing a Missing Persons report.
Then he bullied the sergeant into bumping this up to a kidnapping case, despite there being no evidence Lydia had left against her will.
Until that day, I hated any coffee which didn't come from a blender, fully loaded with sugar and milk. But tonight, at the station, I needed something to do with my hands or I would go completely fucking batshit. I tried playing with my car keys, but the jingling earned me several dirty looks. My phone had some games, but I was paranoid Lydia would try calling and somehow not get through.
So, I spent my time slowly acquiring a taste for black coffee. Cup after cup of bitter black swill.
Mom was in the same jittery way, though she spent her time walking the twins up and down the hallway. Of course, decaf coffee just doesn't exist in a police station, so my jitters only got worse.
After the cops finished interviewing Dad and then Mom, my turn finally came. I refilled my cup and followed an officer, surprised by how unlike TV shows the station looked. I expected to be taken to a bare room and questioned repeatedly while a lieutenant watched through one-way glass. Instead, I sat down at a neatly organized desk, across from an underslept detective.
The nameplate read 'Det. Vincent Moore.' Unlike the officer who had led me in, he didn't wear a blue uniform. Instead, he dressed in in a plain button-down shirt without a tie. His salt and pepper hair stood slightly askew, and I could tell he hadn't shaved in a day or so. A picture sat prominently on his desk, a framed photograph of a girl about ten years old with a Golden Retriever. His daughter and her pet, I assumed. I liked that detail, it made the detective seem more human.
I wondered in turn how I would appear to him. I'd been raised strict evangelical Christian, and though I'd begun to rebel in small ways against a faith which wanted me to do nothing more than bow my head and say 'yes', I still very much looked like my father's daughter.
My unstyled, mousy brown hair hung halfway down my back, and I wore excruciatingly modest clothing – a long belted skirt, plain blouse, and simple flat shoes. In defiance of the warm California weather, I also wore a pair of black leggings, just to be extra modest. I had on a little makeup, too. Not much, just some lip gloss and a dab of neutral eye shadow. Nonetheless, daring for a girl like me to wear (if my father hadn't been so distracted, he probably would have ordered me to wash it off by now). Would the detective think of me as a Good Christian Woman, or a dumb religious girl?
I clung to my coffee while Detective Vincent Moore arranged a few papers on his desk. He looked at me, a warm and disarming smile which put me somewhat at ease.
“You're Gwendolyn Bradshaw?” he asked, copying some information off my driver's license.
“Yes, sir,” I answered, “but I go by Gwen.”
“And your birthday is... oh, you just had one! Happy birthday!”
“Thank you,” I said.
“How old?” he asked, I suspect more to make conversation – after all, he had my ID right in front of him.
“Eighteen, sir,” I replied, trying to be as polite and helpful as possible.
He made a brief note in the file on his desk. “Vincent's fine, hon. My boss is the 'sir' around here.
So, tell me about Lydia. She's three years older than you. What's your relationship like?”
“Pretty good,” I said. “I mean, she's my sister. She made me this messenger bag for Christmas last year.”
Detective Vincent Moore eyed my black canvas bag, but apparently decided it wasn't evidence and moved on.
“Did you two fight much? I know how older siblings can be, I have three older brothers myself.”
I shook my head. “No, not really. We've always been close. She's at college half the time, now, though, and I have my own school things going on. I'm going to Uni this fall, too,” I said, before realizing the busy detective probably didn't care about my college plans. But he dutifully took my words down anyway.
“How about your parents? She fight with them much?” he asked.
I squirmed, a little uncomfortable. I didn't want to reveal my family's dirty secrets to a stranger, but what if I kept something from him which could help find Lydia? “Yeah, a little,” I finally got out.
“A little?” The detective was gentle yet insistent with his questioning, making it hard for me to not answer.
“Well, my Dad is... he's very conservative. Our family is evangelical. So the only way Dad let
Lydia enroll at university was if she still lived at home, and she hates how Dad treats her. Says it's demeaning to still have a curfew as an adult, and she's not going to live happily in the box Dad has for her.”
“Hmmm. Did they ever have any bad fights?”
I paused. “Um, I'm not going to get her in trouble, am I?”
“No, of course not. We all just want to find your sister,” he reassured me.
“So, hypothetically, if I wanted to tell you about a time when Mom might or might not have found half a joint in her purse, you're not going to care?”
Detective Vincent Moore shook his head, chuckling slightly. “Half a joint in this precinct isn't worth putting on shoes for, not even for the boys in Narcotics. I'm more interested in the fight it caused. When did this happen?”
“Okay. About six or seven months ago, around Thanksgiving. When Mom found it, she flipped out. She wanted to send Lydia to rehab, and Dad almost made her drop out. Lydia just barely managed to stay enrolled by promising to attend youth services twice a week, plus regular services. And now Mom goes through her purse almost every day. She won't admit it, but I've caught her a couple times.”
“Thank you for telling me this, Gwen. Do you know if your sister was involved in any harder drugs, something she really didn't want your parents to find out about? Heroin, maybe, or meth?”
“No,” I shook my head emphatically. “I'm positive. Only weed.”
“How about any other secrets? Anything she might not have wanted to tell your parents?”
I didn't say anything at first. I wanted to find Lydia, and I didn't want to lie to a cop. And I didn't know if Dad had already mentioned it. I wasn't sure if my information could even be relevant.
But Detective Vincent Moore picked up on my ambivalence quite easily, and gently pressed me until I started talking about Emily – Lydia's girlfriend. Three months ago, Lydia had sworn me to dire secrecy before telling me she'd just started dating a girl. And I'd kept my promise, but our parents found out when a church 'friend' ratted on Lydia. Discovering Emily had precipitated the whole fight which made Lydia leave.
“I could tell Mom felt weirded out, but she tried to be accepting,” I told the detective. “She thinks Lydia's just going through a phase. Dad, though, thinks it's gross. Or, like, sinful. They had a really bad fight. Dad threatened to make Lydia drop out, and he meant it this time. He wanted to put so many restrictions on Lydia, it was insane. Our little brothers have more freedom!”
“I take it Lydia wasn't happy with these developments?” he asked, and I was relieved to hear no judgment in his voice.
“Not in the slightest. They both got really loud. Lydia said he was a bigoted old fart, and Dad said he was a bigoted old fart who paid her bills, so she'd do as he said. He said he wasn't going to have someone living under his roof in open rebellion against God, and Lydia said that was fine by her. Then she just grabbed her keys and left.”
“Could she have moved out and not told anyone?”
I nodded. “That's what I think she's done. She can't stay away forever!”
“Do you know any of her friends? Anyone she might be staying with? What about this girlfriend, Emily?”
“We called most of them all already, but I know about some Mom doesn't.” I rattled off a short list of people Lydia had mentioned, tagged faces I'd seen on her secret social media profiles.
“I don't know anything about Emily, really,” I said after the detective finished taking down my list of Lydia's friends. “I know she and Lydia had been dating for a few months and that they'd met at some kind of campus club. I don't know which one, though. I'm sorry, I wish I could be more helpful.”
“You've been plenty helpful, Miss Bradshaw.” He handed me one of his business cards. “Call me if you think of anything else which you believe might be helpful. Day or night, doesn't matter.”
I tucked the card carefully into my wallet. “Do you think you'll be able to find Lydia?”
The detective seemed confident when he told me yes, he thought Lydia would resurface soon. I took hope from his words.
Too bad Detective Vincent Moore turned out to be dead wrong. If you look up the newspapers from back then, you can follow the whole drama. The days wore on, one after the other, and we slowly realized Lydia wasn't just cooling her heels at a friend's.
Something had happened – but no one knew what. Even if Lydia had run away or moved out, I knew she'd at least send me an e-mail or a text message, letting me know what was up. She might not call Mom or Dad, but she'd let me know.
But, nothing. Every lead, no matter how promising at first, eventually fizzled and came to a dead end.
Rain of Ash
Rachel Elisabeth Judd
Three years ago, after a terrible fight with her father, Lydia Bradshaw vanished without a trace.
Her younger sister Gwen never gives up hope, though, waiting for Lydia to eventually come home.
But when Lydia finally does resurface, it's not what Gwen expected. Lydia's changed in her time away, in ways Gwen can barely understand. After her family home burns, Gwen gets taken in by a cadre of vampire hunters who call themselves Project Fifteen. They welcome Gwen, teaching her how to hunt and fight vampires. And Gwen embraces the opportunity to take revenge on the vampires who have hurt her family.
But not everyone is what they seem. Everyone has secrets, even Gwen. Will Gwen be able to survive her introduction into the hidden world of Project Fifteen?