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S is for Soldiers of the Sun

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S is for Soldiers of the Sun, which is both the umbrella title for the series and the name of the novel. On the surface you’d look at this novel and wonder did she try to find a genre mash-up that would be impossible to sell? Honestly no, but as this is an urban fantasy historical novel with a polyamorous trio of main characters I can see how you’d think so. It would have a small group of people who’d be interested in it and it’s not served well by being listed as romance when it really isn’t. The paranormal/urban fantasy action-adventure part of it is the main plot.
It opens around Christmas 1931 where the group of demon hunters, Caleb, Agni and Temple are dealing with the loss of Temple’s lover, Li (see The Darkest Midnight in December to see Li alive nad in action) and their new reality of being in a three-way relationship. Add into that Temple’s new partner who turns out to be their general’s niece, a prince of hell terrorizing the city and a wave of French Knights Templar hot on the heels of that devil, Templars who just so happen to be Temple’s relatives.

I had enormous fun working on this novel. I really enjoy the character dynamics between the foursome (including Jo, Temple’s new partner in tahat). I didn’t know tremendously much about the 1930s beyond the obvious and I wanted to know more as this is the time period of my grandparents as they were just starting out in married life (or just a bit earlier, in their young adulthood). In fact, my maternal grandmother makes a cameo appearance with her girlfriends in the scene inside of Phipps conservatory. She was tickled pink about that. The ghosts of the 1930s can still be seen haunting the streets of Pittsburgh and uncovering what they looked like in their hey day was a blast.

In this novel I got to deal with real life themes such as surviving child sexual abuse and the effects of class inequality and the greed of those in power who want even more power. There is, of course, hints of prejudiced based on skin color, gender, religion and sexual orientation as it was the 1930s after all. Mixed into all of that is the paranormal demon hunting stuff ala Buffy or Supernatural.
I can’t remember exactly why I called them Soldiers of the Sun, other than they represented light in the darkness. I didn’t want them to be the Knights Templar (who are in this universe, who survived the attempts to wipe them out which they didn’t quite manage in the real world), mostly because the Templars are so religiously oriented. The Soldiers aren’t anti-religious in the least but they are secular. I wanted a group that would be inclusive of women, of other religions and ethnic backgrounds and of homosexuals because in a fight against demons it made sense to be all hands on deck (that and I’m all for inclusivity). I couldn’t see the Templars being that (and in the novel, they are not, drawing a strong contrast to the Soldiers. It’s why Temple ran away to join the Soldiers). I’ve created many demon fighting groups because I love writing these kinds of stories but man it’s getting harder and harder to think of sensible names for them!
I hope that maybe this interests you and you might want to take a look at the Soldiers’ stories.
You can find their stories here. (Yes they’re in a series but they can be read as stand alones because hey 1930s demon hunters, right?).

Soldiers of the Sun. (novel)

The Darkest Midnight in December. (novella)
Snowbound. (short story)

And check out Paul Richmond’s cover for this. I have been so lucky in covers.

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Blurb for Soldiers of the Sun Caleb Davies and Agni Pradesh are worried about their teammate and lover, Temple Chevalier. Not only has he lost his long-time partner, Fu Li, but he nearly died fighting a demon himself. Also, Temple isn’t sure he’s ready for a new teammate after Li. Caleb and Agni are even more concerned that their three-way relationship with Temple exists less because he loves them and more because he’s hiding from the pain of Li’s loss.
1932 shapes up to be a terrible year for the Soldiers as they welcome the New Year fighting demons and then end up investigating a case that pairs them up with the Knights Templar. This would normally be a good thing, but it forces Temple to face his painful past. Worse yet, the case leads right to Astaroth, a Prince of Hell, who might prove to be an unbeatable foe.

R is for Rhys

R is for Rhys. Remember the whole ‘sometimes I change a character’s name thing from N is for? Rhys was probably one of the biggest characters I’ve done that for. Originally he was Sebastian (knowing me, probably because I had just read Black Butler before I sat down to name characters). Then I saw no less than eight new releases with the name Sebastian in my genre and I said, yeah I have to change this. I thought about the character and who and what he is and decided why in the world did I ever think he was a Sebastian. He absolutely needs a Welsh name and Rhys is one of my favorite Welsh names.

You see, Rhys is a Tylwyth Teg, a type of Welsh fairy. He’d like to point out that the human belief that his type is only two inches tall is completely erroneous. I’ve mentioned before I love folklore about the fey both good and wicked. I enjoy stories about the fairylands and I knew I wanted to add to the volumes of material out there.

Rhys is a fey prince, destine to rule some day when his mother decides to step down. His job until then is to police Earth and make sure the wicked fey aren’t messing up the humans much. He decides to shift his base to Pittsburgh, PA (because hey it’s easier for me to write about a place I know). Rhys has spent more time over the centuries on Earth than he has in his own dimension. He doesn’t mind. There are some bad memories there like war and losing not only his wife but his child too.

He meets Aaron at a steampunk party at first captivated by the amazing tech of his prosthetic arm then after they talk for a while, he knows he needs to see Aaron again. It doesn’t matter that Aaron is human. Rhys finds him intelligent, geeky and fun to be with. But he isn’t being honest with Aaron who has no idea Rhys isn’t human nor that Rhys has other children, his twins Bryn and Bran who are about two centuries old, and his daughter Briallen who is one century old. For the Teg, they age very slowly, a century equates to less than a decade in human growth so Briallen is quite young and the twins roughly are twentyish and live to torment Dad.

Even when he knows a past fey lover is after him, Rhys is still reluctant to tell Aaron what he is. He also doesn’t mention that technically he’s married to Gwenllian, an arranged marriage but he does care about her. The fey are polyamorous and Aaron eventually understands this, though unsurprisingly some readers don’t. In spite of there being plenty of open calls for polyamorous relationships there is a persistent belief that polys can’t possibly be happy or trusted. It’s also hard to miss, looking at reviews, that bi-erasure is a very real thing. People seem to want bi-characters but only when we see the homosexual side of it, not the hetero. There is a danger of course with a bi poly of treading into the negative stereotype of they can’t commit and that’s definitely not what I want. Rhys is often on earth for decades at a time and Gwen, also being fey wouldn’t think much of him having lovers. Aaron, however has some adjusting to do.

Rhys, of course, is magical and powerful and has fun with it. On the other hand, he feels some regret and guilt that he can’t use his magic to give Aaron back his amputated arm or fix the other scars the war left behind.

Rhys was such a fun character to write and seriously, one day I need to revisit his and Aaron’s world in long fiction.

 

 

You can find Rhys’s story Kept Tears here

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Q is for Quitting

Q is for quitting. No, not quitting writing, though I have to admit, some days I’ve considered that too. No, what I’d like to quit is all the self-doubt and second guessing myself. I’ve been doing that most of my life. It’s interesting. Our students did a study today on coaching, looking at which students had more self-confidence and success, the ones who were given praise or the ones who were subjected more to the militaryesque screaming. It was closer than comfort allows but praise did win out. I was raised the other way by teachers who screamed and belittled. I’ve come to automatically assume everything I do is wrong and not up to snuff. The worst were the surgeons who taught me surgery. Most of foot/ankle surgery isn’t done under general anesthesia which means the patients are more or less awake. During more than one surgery I had a patient call out, ‘will you quit screaming at her. You’re making me terrified.’ (Meanwhile my hands are shaking because they’re terrifying ME too).

So I am probably one of the most accomplished people you’ll meet with self-esteem this low. Have the time I’m convinced everything I’ve written, everything I am is absolute rubbish. I need to QUIT that. I let it paralyze me. Hell I haven’t written anything of note in nearly two months after being convinced my writing isn’t worth even looking over to edit.

I am crawling back out of that depression but I need to quit letting it get to me. I can’t take two month hiatuses because I’m letting self-doubt destroy everything I’ve worked for.

The other thing I have to quit is letting people talk me out of the things I want to write. That has happened so many times. I’m getting a little depressed with insta-freebie and other giveaways because I see SO MANY ghost and/or witch mystery stories. In the mid-90s I wrote a mystery novel where a ghost played a role in solving the mystery. My usually supportive writers group went ballistic (mostly the guys, the ladies were all right with it except for the lady lawyer). They were out rightly cruel, laughing at me, making me the butt of jokes for months. I put my mystery on the shelf (I think it died in a computer crash which is sad because I liked the one character, a homeless jazz sax busker.

Also in the 90s I tried selling stuff with Nephilim characters. No one wanted it. AT ALL. Some even yelled at me for being blasphemous. I ended up putting those characters in a shared universe I wrote in with & (One looked a lot like Heath Ledger and another like Alan Jackson).

Now you can swing a stick without hitting ghost mysteries or a Nephilim/Angel character. It’s a touch disheartening. I’m not sure I would have been good enough 20 years ago to be published but I would have been right there are the leading edging of a trend, not piling on at the end.

So yes, I need to quit listening to the nay-sayers. I need to write what’s in my heart and I need to quit doubting myself.

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P is for Pradesh

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P is for Pradesh. My demon hunting trio in Soldiers of the Sun & The Darkest Midnight in December originated in the UK. Caleb from Wales, Temple who had run away from Paris to London and Agni Pradesh who ended up in London by way of Bombay. They were then sent to fill out the ranks in Pittsburgh’s Sun headquarters after a demon uprising decimated them.

I wanted a little cultural diversity in this story and considered, for better or worse, England’s colonial ties to India. I’ve always had a fascination with Hinduism so Pradesh was born. What I absolutely didn’t want was him to be subservient to his two White partners in any way. Agni isn’t the leader (that would be Caleb) but the Pradesh family is a well-known, well honored group of demon hunters stretching back generations on par with Temple’s family who had been Knights Templar (demon hunters as well in this universe) since before they were officially an organization.

Agni is the quiet level headed studious one of the bunch but of course this leaves me being cautious not to tread too close to the ‘inscrutable Asian’ stereotype. Agni is open and honest about his feelings but on the other hand, feels he needs to be the anchor for the group. Temple is certainly not up to that task (and definitely needs anchoring). He shoulders burdens to allow Caleb, whom he has loved since the beginning of their partnership, to lead without as many worries.

Agni does try to hold on to as much of his culture as he can, which isn’t easy in 1930s America. His apartment is his refuge, decorated as closely to the average household in Bombay as he could manage. He struggles more with food but since the Soldiers of the Sun pull from peoples worldwide they try to help them feel comfortable by supplying things like ethnic food items as much as they can. Agni is unashamedly Hindu and his gods are prominently displayed in his apartment including the god he was named for.

Of course, this is 1930s America and Agni’s dark skin and accent (more the skin tone) can be a problem. This does crop up in the stories, especially in Soldiers of the Sun and the high end exclusive clubs they have to investigate don’t want to allow him entrance. I didn’t want it to be a huge part of the narrative but I didn’t want to simply pretend it wasn’t there. Yes, this is a different universe but I kept it as close to our world as I could. Prejudice was a huge issue in the 1930s obviously and I had to address that.

He faces another issue, being gay in the 1930s. Their leader General Taglioferro knows they’re gay. He knows Caleb and Agni are lovers. He probably even knows they’ve invited Temple into their bed as well. So long as it doesn’t interfere with their combat skills, he doesn’t care. He even considers the fact they might fight harder to save each other because they’re in love. Their homosexuality isn’t well known within the organization in general, however and Temple is a known womanizer (more about him at another time) and probably distracts attention from Agni and Caleb.

Agni might be a studious taciturn bookworm in public but behind closed doors he’s happy to remind everyone that Indians actually did write the book on lovemaking. He had been uncertain about bringing Temple into the relationship as they are polar opposites but was pleasantly surprised to find how compatible they were in bed.

Agni also gets to use the coolest weapons, preferring chakrams as his weapon (If you’re unfamiliar with them, think the metal discs Xena Warrior Princess used). Technically they’re Sikh weapons, not Hindu but in a world where you’re fighting demons, you learn to use every weapon you can get your hands on.

Agni is a fun character but hard to write. I hope I did him justice.

You can find his stories here. (Yes they’re in a series but they can be read as stand alones because hey 1930s demon hunters, right?).

Soldiers of the Sun. (novel)

The Darkest Midnight in December. (novella)
Snowbound. (short story)
And here’s some fan art done by one of my friends, Kira. Isn’t it cool?

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O is for Once Upon a Time

O is for Once Upon a Time. Some of the best known stories in the world start that way. There’s something about those words that capture our attention. The once upon a time I want to talk about isn’t a fairytale. Instead it’s a LGBT anthology Once Upon a Time in the Weird West which is a great collection by some truly excellent authors.

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It started as an email that read something along the lines of would you be interested in writing a short story for an anthology with a weird west theme? Would I? I wanted it bad. Actually I’m not a huge Western fan but you jam the word ‘weird’ on there and I’m all over it. But my excitement was about more than that.

You see, I’ve been in anthologies before but they’re all open calls. This wasn’t that. This was the first time I was invited in by other authors. I was over the moon because of that. It was validation by my peers. In other words, they like me, they really like me! I felt honored and excited to be asked and there was no way I was going to fail to turn out a story. I couldn’t fail, not when I had actually been invited.

I was going to say authors come in three varieties, the super self assured, the quiet competent one and the neurotic but that’s true of most jobs. The quiet competent ones are always there bringing their A game without much of a hub bub. Then the super self assured ones can be split into two or three groups themselves. There are the arrogant Tony Stark types who ARE as good as they think they are. I was going to say Elon Musk types but I’m not sure he’s arrogant (I don’t know him but oddly enough I was friends with his former father in law!) There’s no doubting their skill. The other super self assured think they’re better than everyone else but aren’t. I had one like that in a shared universe I was part of. You could NOT criticize her at all (because her work was too good for that) and if you did (because no, her work really wasn’t) she would have a tantrum. Once at a con after her work was shredded in a writing workshop she infamously locked herself in the bathroom and had to be bodily removed by her lover.

Then there’s the neurotic type. That’s me. I’ve been a big ball of anxiety and self doubt my entire life. I’m always afraid I don’t measure up (even though I know I’m pretty damn good at most things I really work at). Being asked helped to wipe those fears away.

I’m proud of my story in spite of the fact it was nearly 10K too long and I had to hack and hack to get it to only 3K over (sad face). This story wrote itself so easily. The theme of ‘weird west’ is so wide open. The anthology has SF stories, ghosts and demons and so much more. (Seriously if you like this sort of thing, pick it up!). My story is set in Virginia City, Nevada (fascinating place) and is steampunk. Dr. Isaac Adler was a doctor in the Civil War and it haunts him so he tried running from himself to the west, answering an ad from a retiring doctor to take over his practice. Isaac gets screwed by this guy and is scratching out a practice just the same. He answers the call when an airship is attacked by pirates. This is where he meets Tsela Zahnie, the Navajo first mate. Tsela is being followed by a skinwalker, an evil witch from Navajo lore. Isaac’s life just got complicated.

I’m proud of this story and this anthology. It took a lot of research of Jewish customs in the 1800s, ditto Navajo and all that rich Virginia City history. I loved every second of it (even when I was complaining). And yes even though I was asked, even though I knew the story was good, I was still neurotic about it somehow getting rejected. That’s just how I am.

You can find the anthology here.

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And here have a picture of Tsela drawn by Lex Chase as part of a trading card set for the anthology  photo Jana_WW_Fin_zpsntrigvof.png

N is for Names

N is for names. If there is anything harder than putting a title on a story (I’m horrible at it) it’s finding the names for your characters. Of sure, on rare occasion I’ll end up with someone who pops in my head fully named and confident about it, like Temple Chevalier from Soldiers of the Sun. Mostly I waste hours going through name books (back in the old days and occasionally now) and hanging out at Behind the Name. online. I love that you can sort by ethnicity because on more than one occasion the character’s heritage is important to he or she is.

Finding the right name can be agonizing for the author. I’ve been known to change a character’s name mid-way through. Thank God for the search function in Word because I put it to good use. I’ve also been known to put in place holders like XXX or YYY to use the global find and replace later on once that jerk of a character finally chooses a name. I’ve even held contests to help name characters. My usual beta will help me and then say ‘you won’t use them. You never like my names.’ That’s true (and probably goes both ways).

And that brings me to the other difficult thing about naming characters. What works for someone might not work for another. There is nothing you can do about that of course. I once knew a woman who literally hated her parents in part for her name which was a bit different but I thought it was beautiful and would have loved it. There’s a romance author I’ve run across recently (I don’t read a lot of het romance but this cover struck me and I looked her up) and the names were so bizarre and so weirdly spelled that I found it off putting. Heck I find it off-putting even with my students where you have a relatively normal name spelled so strangely as to make their child ‘different.’

Some names, however, should probably send up red flags to us and make us rethink. The fantasy genre for instance usually has bizarre names and using regular names might give the fantasy reader pause. I mean would Frodo, Samwise, Gandalf and Aragon have been the same if they had been named John, Tim, Dave and Bob? Conversely if you’re writing contemporary fiction and you named your protagonist, Dylton we might look at you strange (Charlaine Harris does that in her Midnight Texas story, all the characters have slightly weird names like Fiji, Xylda, Manfred and Bobo but they ARE slightly weird people). Right now I’m reading a story that I keep getting kicked out of because of the name Jock. Yes I know it’s a real name but naming the assassin athletic jock character Jock is just weird.

Some names make us judgy even if we don’t mean to be. If I told you this woman’s name was Cinnamon you probably would assign jobs in your head to her (like I know I’ve seen strippers with that name, just saying) and never guess she writes science text books (she does). Some really make you think what were the parents were thinking (and if that’s part of your story then by all means go for it!) Like the race car driver, Dick Trickle, with all due respect to the man who has since passed. Or like someone I interact with professionally whose actual name is Precious. That’s a cute nickname for a baby sure but now she has to endure that name professionally and to an outsider, hearing a doctor call a nurse that would sound like grounds for a sexual harassment suit.

Names are very important. My great grandmother on Mom’s side of the family refused to Anglicize her children’s names when she came here from Italy. She was forced to do it for herself by the government (going from Guiseppina to Josephine) but her children she gave Italian names. On Dad’s side of the family they hid their Italian heritage. Many people did because of the racism of the day. We use names as clues to heritage and sexual identity, for better or worse (often worse). My actual name is unisex. When I noticed I couldn’t get a single response to my job search back when I was seeing patients I removed ‘American Association of Women Podiatrists’ from my resume and got dozens of call backs because they thought I was male (and then hung up on me when they learned I wasn’t). A prejudiced character could easily use a character’s last name to judge him or her without even meeting them, assuming for instance Lanisha is African American or Po Chin is Chinese or Stern is Jewish (Hell I’ve seen people doing that looking over resumes and tossing the ones they think could possibly be non-White, non-Christian because that is their only clue since ethnicity etc. would be off limits when it comes to job applications, and yes it made me see red.)

So yes, naming those main characters is a time consuming job, fraught with emotions (damn you why don’t you like ANY of these names?). Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes you just want to murder the character before you’ve even written about him.

 

 

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M is for Me

M is for Me. I thought this might be a good time to really introduce myself to everyone.

This is the blurb I hide behind: Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in) and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. There is no coincidence the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s still disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds or a roguish star ship captain to run off to the stars with her.

It’s pretty true but I am, naturally so much more. I’m my parents’ only daughter. I grew up in the country outside of Pittsburgh and I remain a country girl to this day. Cities make me itchy. I love popping in to enjoy all the things a city has to offer and fleeing back to where I can see stars and listen to the wind in the trees.

I was the wrong girl in high school, too smart, too weird, too much a loner to fit in. Hell, I AM Lisa Simpson right down to the saxophone. I only fit in with the other Dungeons & Dragons playing SF/comic book geeks. (I’m house hunting now and seriously considering living an hour from work just to be closer to my D&D playing friends). I hate high school and almost everyone in it (even now there are some I won’t friend on FB because of how horrible they were to me in h.s.).

I blossomed in college, working on three degrees at once (chemistry, biology and English. I didn’t quite finish that last one). I was in three bands, in three plays a year, worked three jobs, was an officer in my sorority for all four years and did a massive amount of ghost hunting back in the days before everyoen was running around with gauss meters. I went to podiatric medical school from there. I’ve been a doctor in Harlem and on Pine Ridge reservation. My specialty was diabetic wound kill.

The first time my life went sideways was 1992 at the end of the year. Between October and April of 93 I gained over 150 pounds. No one knew why. I was at the gym every week. I was barely eating because who has time in med school? They blamed the stress of getting a residency. It would be more than a decade before we realized I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I have yet to lose any weight in spite of medically guided weight loss programs. Much of my hair fell out and I’m severely diabetic as a result.
The second time my life was ripped apart was 2000. A patient kicked me (he was demented, I can’t blame him) and ruptured the nerve in my right hand. My surgical career was over. I fought for six months but I didn’t repair. (Watching Doctor Strange last year made me cry for the first 20 minutes or so. I’ve been THROUGH those horrible PT sessions). Eventually me and my half dead hand went back to school in Florida. I lived with a friend in Cassadaga, the psychic community. That was cool. I do have some feeling back in my hand but it’s often painful, stiff and weak.

From there I moved into being a professor in Appalachia (near the Hocking Hills in OH and Point Pleasant and the Mothman in West Virginia). It’s a challenge. It’s not my dream. That died with one well aimed kick. But I am good at it.

And through it all, I’ve written. It started with Star Wars fan fiction after seeing the original movie when I was 10. I’ve written fan fiction for forty years now (oh, good god). I remain a fan of SF, urban fantasy, fantasy and mystery and that is what I write.

What else can I tell you about me? I love to swim and hike. I love music and books beyond all reason. I love to cook. I’m still a ghost hunter. I travel and I love historical travel and museums. I love to talk and talk and talk and I am LOUD. I make my own jewelry and desperately wish I could draw my own characters (but I can’t).

That is the story of Me. Chapter One at any rate.