Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Urban Fantasy Perspectives: Laura Bickle

I am very pleased to welcome author Laura Bickle (aka Alayna Williams) to the Salon. She's the first guest in my new interview series called Urban Fantasy Perspectives, where I pick the brains of UF authors to uncover their secrets and illuminate the genre.

Welcome, Laura!

Thanks so much for interviewing me today! I'm super-excited to get the chance to meet you and your readers.

What attracted you to the urban fantasy genre?

I've always been intrigued by the idea of a hidden supernatural world existing beneath our own. Urban Fantasy allows me to explore the "what if's": What if a criminal profiler turned to Tarot card divination? What if a dragon lived in the salt mine beneath Detroit? What if the future could be told through the use of magic...and how would we try to change what we saw?

Do you read a lot of UF, and if so, who are your favorite authors in the genre?

I love fantasy, urban fantasy, magical realism, and contemporary fantasy. Some of my all-time favorites are: Robin McKinley, Ann Aguirre, Peter S. Beagle, Patricia McKillip, Jeri Smith-Ready, Jessa Slade, and M.L.N. Hanover

You've worked in the criminal justice system and studied criminology and victimology. How does that influence the way you create your characters?

I worked in and around criminal justice for more than ten years, and my educational background's in criminology. I never did any super-secret or particularly exciting criminologist things...but I picked up some ideas that I work into my stories.

I try to ground my heroines' adventures with a good dollop of criminal procedure.  My heroines are investigators, and I want to include as many forensic details that are as accurate as possible.

When dealing with the fantastic, I think a healthy dose of realism adds a counterweight to the supernatural elements. If the real-world elements are accurate, I tend to be able to suspend disbelief for the fantastic elements more easily.

Urban fantasy seems to run the gamut from super grisly and dark, to more light-hearted fun. How early on do you usually decide the tone of your books, or does it develop organically as you write?

My books are definitely on the grisly and dark side. I think that they just grew that way, out of the conflicts that I wanted the heroines to face.

What types of stories or characters would you like to see more of  in paranormal/urban fantasy books?

I like to see flawed characters and relationships. Characters who don't always make the right choices seem more realistic to me and easier to relate to. I also want to see characters and stories that challenge me and make me think, stories that have unpredictable endings.

You have written two different urban fantasy series so far. Do you consider them to be part of the same 'world', or are they completely separate constructs?

They're both urban fantasy and very much could exist in the same world, though the characters don't overlap. My Laura Bickle books, EMBERS and SPARKS, are best described as "Ghostbusters in Detroit with dragons and arson." They follow the adventures of Anya Kalinczyk, who's an arson investigator and psychic medium. She spends her days working as an arson investigator and her nights exterminating malicious spirits with an eccentric group of ghost hunters. She's joined by her faithful familiar, a feral fire salamander named Sparky.

My Alayna Williams books, DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE, are about a criminal profiler, Tara Sheridan, who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes. These books are a mashup of science and magic - similar to Fringe and the X-Files. Tara's a reluctant member of an ancient society of oracles tracing their lineage back to the Oracle of Delphi. In ROGUE ORACLE, Tara and her skeptic partner Harry Li are on the trail of a Chernobyl survivor who's selling nuclear secrets on the international black market.

Fantastic! How is the worldbuilding unique for each series?

The world in the ORACLE books is very much a mashup of magic and science, and was intended to appeal to fans of The X-Files and Fringe. The world of SPARKS and EMBERS focuses more on the supernatural side, and is centered more in the geographical center of Detroit. So, the ORACLE books border on sci-fi, while EMBERS and SPARKS are more true UF.

Anya Kalinczyk, the heroine of Embers and Sparks, is a Lantern who absorbs ghosts in order to dispel them. What inspired the idea for her unique ability?

Anya's the rarest type of spiritual medium - a Lantern. Where other mediums allow spirits to use their hands and voices to communicate, Anya devours and incinerates malicious ghosts.

I had some dreams about that that were rather persistent. It might have been the result of indigestion from too much pepperoni pizza, but they were very vivid.

Hmmm, maybe I'll try eating pizza before bedtime, LOL.

Anya works with a group called the Detroit Area Ghost Researchers, and ghost hunting has become kind of a popular hobby lately. Did you take any cues from real-life paranormal investigators, and will DAGR ever get their own reality TV show? 

I did talk with some real-life ghost hunters and did a lot of reading about ghost hunting to get background material for the story. It would be funny to imagine the DAGR folks getting their own reality show, but I suspect they're really camera-shy.

Your protagonist in the Delphi's Daughters series, Tara Sheridan, reads Tarot cards in order to solve crimes. How much research did you do on card reading, and have you ever tried it yourself?

I've been puttering around with cards since I was a teenager. I read them for myself and use them for story prompts, but have never read them professionally.

I go to the local Renaissance Festival every year and get my Tarot cards read by the same card reader. She's amazingly accurate, and I always have a good time when I go.

Sounds like fun!

Tara's divination skills derive from a magical way of thinking, yet there is also modern technology and science involved in your plots. Is that an intentional juxtaposition? 

I do enjoy the contrast between magic and science, though they each have their own challenges and research needs. I knew very little about astrology and particle accelerators, for instance, and getting the chance to research them was something entirely new.

What are you working on now, and are you planning any future UF series?

2012 is going to be an exciting year for me. In fall, my first YA book will be released by Houghton Mifflin's Graphia line. It's called THE HALLOWED ONES, and it's pitched as "WITNESS meets 28 DAYS LATER." It's a thriller about an Amish girl who must confront not only a massive disaster unfolding in the world outside her community, but also the threat of darkness in her own increasingly fragile society. I'm working on the sequel now, and that will be released the following spring.

I'm also looking forward to attending RT Booklover's Convention in April in Chicago. My critique partners, Marcella Burnard and Jeffe Kennedy, will be hosting a reader party with me called: Sidekicks - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It'll be wonderful to reconnect with my fellow authors and meet new readers.

Sounds great, Laura! Thank you so much for answering my questions. I look forward to reading more!

Thanks so much for hosting me! It was a lot of fun. :-)

Laura Bickle has an MA in sociology-criminology (research interests: fear of crime and victimology) and a BA in criminology. She has worked in and around criminal justice since 1997. Although she does read Tarot cards, she's never used them in criminal profiling or to locate lost scientists. She recently took up astronomy, but for the most part her primary role in studying constellations and dark matter is to follow her amateur astronomer-husband around central Ohio toting the telescope tripod and various lenses.

Writing as Laura Bickle, she's the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket - Juno Books.Writing as Alayna Williams, she's the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE.

More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here

Laura/Alayna’s blogs and


Anonymous said...

Loved the interview!
Sounds like you've created a fascinating world with your two series :)

Laura Bickle said...

Thanks, Ali! I confess that world-building is my favorite part of writing. I love figuring out the laws and rules of magic. :-)

gavirz said...

Great interview, I like the statement that your inspiration came from indigestion. I look forward to reading some of your books

Laura Bickle said...

Thanks, gavirz. Dreams make strange fodder for books, but that one worked!

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