This is an opportunity to go behind the scenes, get into the nitty-gritty of the many paranormal worlds and enter into the fertile imaginations of authors I love. Bring a flashlight. It’s sometimes dark in here, but so worth the trip. Remember, monsters need love too. Otherwise, how would we ever have baby monsters?
Think on THAT a while…
Welcome, Author Emmie Mears! You’re about to release THE MASKED SONGBIRD. Tell us a little bit about your story.
Thank you, Lisa! THE MASKED SONGBIRD is a superhero novel, but its main theme is that strength isn’t something you’re born with; it’s something you build. The story is about Gwenllian Maule, an oft trod-upon accountant who accidentally gets superpowers after drinking something meant to cure her boss’s daughter of cancer – and through that, she has to learn that superpowers don’t make a superhero.
Do you consider your book(s) urban fantasy, paranormal romance or something else? What attracted you to the genre?
We pitched it as urban fantasy, but superheroes are kind of hard to genre. Some would say sci fi (and I lean toward that a bit now myself), and Harlequin called it paranormal, but honestly, I don’t know. It’s urban. Superheroes can be considered fantastical or science fiction-y, so…sure?
Let’s talk beasties. Do any monsters make appearances in your novels. If so, tell us about a few of them. Do you have a favorite? Don’t lie. Every parent…erm…author…does. Spill it. If not, what makes your book paranormal, urban fantasy or science fiction?
The only monsters in THE MASKED SONGBIRD are of the human variety, but in my other books there are all manner of beasties. The first two and a half manuscripts I ever completed were full of vampires, shapeshifters, witches, and even dryads. Out of all of them, I think I loved the wildness of the shapeshifters and the otherworldliness of the dryads, because they were so unexpected. Those manuscripts might end up getting a polish this year and could end up seeing the light of day…
Is this a series? Stand-alone book? If it is a series, what does the future look like for this series? How many more books to come? What can we expect and more importantly…WHEN!
I’d originally envisioned THE MASKED SONGBIRD as a standalone, but when Harlequin asked for a sequel, I realized that there was more story there. It’ll end up being a duology, though I reserve the right to return to Gwen’s world for more if the muses lead.
What else are you working on?
I’m currently working on a witchy urban fantasy that I’m really excited about. I ran into some snags with a dual timeline, so I’ve been trying to figure out how I want to play it, but the premise is something that gets me all revved up. I’m also working on an epic fantasy, which is something I’ve wanted to do for ages. It’s been a stretch, but it’s something I’m very passionate about, and I can’t wait to delve into it once I’m past my deadlines!
Of all the characters in your fictional world, which one or couple would you most like to hang out with over a long weekend? What would you do together? What actor or actress would play him/her in a movie?
I’d love to take a nice mini-break to the western isles of Scotland with Gwen and Taog. Gwen’d probably spend most of her time roaming about, seeing how high she could jump – and Taog would likely enjoy hanging out and painting.
Let’s talk about craft. Are you a plotter or pantser? What are the first steps you take before diving into the writing of the next book?
I used to be a die hard pantser, but in the past couple years, I’ve become much more of a plotter. Whenever I’m about to dive into a new book, I sit down and work through character motivations, plot points, pinch points, and the structural girders of the book to make sure I have enough of a story for a novel. After that, I sometimes outline a few scenes. Other times, I’ll plunge into the words and see where they get me.
How long does it typically take for you to write a novel. Best case scenario? How about editing? How long will you pick at it before setting it free to the world?
It usually takes me about two months of full on work to finish a novel. That can change a bit depending on circumstances – last year I wrote 80,000 words of a magical realism in January and didn’t have time to finish it until this January – but for the most part, it takes me eight weeks. I put each manuscript aside for a month or so as soon as I finish it, because I don’t like to read it immediately. I want fresh eyes when I look at my own work. After that, I’ll do one “pass” (which usually consists of at least three read-throughs for structure, plot, character, etc.) before sending it to my betas. Once they send me their notes, I try to compile everything into a readable document so I can see if they said similar things or where they differed and how I want to utilize their feedback. After I go through my next stage of revisions, it goes to my agent.
Do you have any advice to new authors or anyone considering writing fiction?
Learn to love criticism. There isn’t a single stage of this game that is free from it, so you’d best learn to not only deal with it, but to filter out what you need to hear and use it to make you better at your craft. Rejection is a rite of passage — one that keeps on happening over and over again. If you let it tear you down, you won’t get far in this business. It’s easier said than done, but learning that criticism of your writing and rejection are not personal reflections on you as a human is one of the most important things that you can do if you want to make a career of telling stories in print.
Can you give us a taste of what to expect?
Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving. She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent. Gwen’s biggest challenges: stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.
Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength. All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.
Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved. Finally—and most mysteriously—she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.
Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends—even her country.
Days Until Referendum: 24
That’s the sound I imagine my boss’s head making when it explodes.
Or maybe BLAM. A comic book noise, written in all-caps in a jagged bubble at the top of the panel while I dance a jig and pick bits of her out of my hair. As Annamaria de Fournay speaks into her mobile, not facing me, the back of her head displays no outward indication of an imminent explosion.
She toys with a white card, eyes fixed on a bouquet of purple-blue flowers in a fluted white vase. “I appreciate the flowers,” she says without a hint of irony. “Interesting choice.”
I wait for her to notice me, but her gaze remains locked on the angular petals. After a beat, she goes on.
“The research has been completed? You’re certain, then.” She pauses, a hint of a smile hovering at the corner of her mouth. “You’ll have to work out what to put it in. Something sweet would work.” She turns her head away from the bouquet and starts, seeing me. The almost-smile vanishes. “I’ll ring you back.” She drops her mobile on the table and looks at me as if I’ve walked into the loo to find her on the toilet with her knickers around her ankles.
She says nothing for forty-seven seconds. I cough. “Ms de Fournay, you wanted to see me?”
“Took you long enough to get here.”
I’m not going to remind her that she was on the phone when I arrived. What research was she talking about? A momentary picture of de Fournay at a chemistry set blowing up beakers of bright green liquid intrudes, and I shake it away before I crack a smile. She’s probably just researching the top ten habits of highly effective arseholes.
The Queen swivels in her chair and turns her green eyes on me. I instantly pity the bouquet for having to endure forty-seven seconds of that stare.
Her hair falls in exquisite curls to her breasts, and her nose rises toward the ceiling when I fail to apologise at once, and I look at my hands where they sit clasped in my lap, focusing my gaze on the small ruby ring Mum gave me when I turned eighteen.
De Fournay laces her fingers on the table. Not one of her nails is smudged or chipped. Even if I made her salary, I don’t reckon I’d get a manicure every day. I refuse to accept that she keeps them so perfect without daily upkeep.
“The financial you ran on Francis Duck’s merger lacked any glaring errors. He was very pleased, and he requested that I tell you personally of his…esteem.” Annamaria de Fournay’s lip quirks as if someone has tugged at a marionette string.
I stare at her, waiting for her to continue. I don’t trust myself not to squeak or belch or scream if I open my mouth, so I nod with as much grace as I can muster.
“Additionally, he asked that you be responsible for his summaries for the foreseeable future. I trust you understand the value of his continued loyalty to our company and conduct yourself accordingly.”
I nod again, not sure if de Fournay just praised me or if I fell through my mirror this morning into Wonderland. Or Bizarroworld.
For one shining moment, I think she’s going to let me go without a thrashing.
Instead her lips, top and bottom, as even and calculated as the rest of her, flatten into a line. She gestures to the chair across from her, dropping a folder on the table.
I sit, cupping the arms of my chair with both hands and trying to absorb the coolness of the plastic as a buffer against the verbal flamethrower she secrets away behind those lips. Her eyes are stony jade, her chin high, her skin smooth as a morning loch.
One immaculate French-manicured fingernail lands on the file folder that bridges the mahogany conference table between us. The white crescent of the nail’s tip reflects the fluorescent light from the ceiling, and as she leans forward, I smell the rosewater she dabs at her temples every day at two-thirty.
It might be a friendly gesture if I hadn’t seen it every day for three years. In spite of the compliment she just paid me, something in that file is my fault, and those even lips are about to part in a searing tirade against my character, my work ethic, my mum’s Welshness, my parochial highland crofter upbringing and the ethical conundrum of Mum allowing me to live past birth. Most days, Annamaria de Fournay believes my mother ought to have shrouded me in white linen and fed me to the selkies.
She opens the folder. A rush of rose scent crests over the table like a breaking wave. Pushing one sheet of paper toward me, her lips manage to stay in formation even as she speaks.
“Do read this date for me.”
I blink, following the line of her finger down to its gleaming, polished end and read aloud. “Nineteenth of August.”
“Do you not find that curious?”
I find her accent obnoxious, but the date looks mundane enough to me.
Annamaria de Fournay came to Edinburgh from Cambridge, but if you ask her about it, you’d think she came straight from Buckingham Palace. While I don’t doubt that she’s English, the way she pushes every vowel out through the bridge of her nose makes it sound as though she’s thanking her subjects in St James’s Court rather than pointing out a discrepancy in an accounting report.
I shift my shoulders in response to her question.
“This report was due the ninth of August, Ms Maule. Not the nineteenth, though I see how someone who squints as much as you do could imagine a one in front of the nine.”
Och, aye. That. Truth is, the report was turned in on the eighth of the month, but telling her would just make her set me aflame.
My eyesight is fine. I squint because her rosewater makes my eyes burn.
I used to try to argue my case with her. At least until it resulted in her dragging me into her office every day to flay me with words. Bringing up Francis Duck’s account will only make her angrier. Now I shut up, try to tune her out, and hope she’ll let me return to my blissfully unscented office.
I settle in, painting my face with an expression I hope radiates contrition and humility. I likely just look constipated, but she prattles on, and I wait for her mobile to beep for her next meeting. Two-thirty, rosewater scratch and sniff. Three o’clock, humiliate Gwenllian Maule. Three-thirty, fawn over clients and water them with expensive single malt.
I’m a part of her schedule now, as surely as the rosewater.
“We are Edinburgh’s finest accountancy firm, and the go-to resource for businesses in the northern United Kingdom. Our clients expect more than a crofter’s level of professionalism, Ms Maule. Sheep and accountancy are not bedfellows. You will submit a revised report by Friday. And,” she continues with no change in tone, “I will not tolerate any more careless mistakes of this nature. Do it again and I won’t wait for your annual review to fire you—and no number of compliments from Francis Duck will keep you in this office.”
Fired. I can almost see bills popping up above my head in bubbles. Rent. Mobile. The university loans I make just enough to pay monthly. Credit cards. Car repayment for a car that doesn’t even run. My shoulders curl in, and the air I draw into my lungs feels thick, heavy. I’m glad I’m already sitting down, because I feel wobbly and lightheaded. My annual review is coming up in a couple short weeks. The review is just the excuse she needs to get rid of me, contract or no contract.
De Fournay waits for my response, her eyes trained on my face.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. I force the words out so she’ll stop looking at me. “It won’t happen again, Ms de Fournay.”
I almost sound sure of it.
Just my luck. One of our best clients picks me to do his reports, and she still finds a way to remind me that nothing I ever do here is good enough.
Her eyes drop back to the desk, and I uncurl my shoulders, waiting for the air in the room to thin without her unblinking gaze to thicken it. Her fingernail scans across the report like a heat-seeking missile, searching for more mistakes she can throw in my face. Finding none, she returns to the subject of my idiocy.
I stop listening and watch Annamaria de Fournay’s head, looking for signs of it going POOF. If only I could press a red button and make it so.
Where can we find you and your books online?
Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.
Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.
Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.