I had a blast interviewing Holly and Robert (writing as H.R. Jackson), the team behind the unique urban fantasy series, The Nemesis Chronicles. Read the excerpts from their latest title, Hand of Time, and don't forget to enter to win your copy in the Rafflecopter contest at the end!
Welcome to the Speculative Salon blog Holly and Robert :)
Why did you decide to collaborate on the Nemesis Chronicles, and what's it like to work together on the series?
Robert: I had the ideas, she had the writing background. Sometimes it can be difficult having two different viewpoints, but at the same time once we make it to that middle ground I know it makes the story better.
Hollie: Agreed. Jack (Robert) has always had this fantastical imagination that’s fascinating to watch. As a child, my family fostered a very deep love of reading and I’ve always had an active imagination myself. When I met my husband, it was like something clicked. We had so much fun letting our story ideas run rampant. So, just prior to the first book, I’d been working on a different version involving two other characters in the Nemesis Chronicles universe (Sam & Bella) but had hit that dreaded “middle of the story…what do I do now?” wall. I started talking to Jack and I realized that we needed to follow different characters, that the story needed to go in a different direction, and that I needed not just his verbal input, but for him to really write Dirk’s story in relation to Morgan’s… and the rest is history. As for what it’s like to write together? Well, I guess it’s a lot like any other collaboration: we don’t always agree, but we’ve agreed to disagree just to keep the peace sometimes, discussions can get heated because we’re both very passionate about our ideas, but at the end of the day, we love each other and that is something we’re trying to reflect in our stories.
Have you always been fans of urban fantasy, and who are some of your favorite authors in the genre?
R: Yes, actually. I think I’ve always liked fantasy in general. Favorite authors: Jim Butcher & Neil Gaiman.
H: Oh yes. I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy. I love the idea of the fantastical blended with the everyday, seeing the world around you in a completely different perspective, finding the magic in the mundane. My mom has always been a romance novel fan, my dad loves his sci-fi/fantasy, so you could say it’s in my genes. Favorite authors: Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, and yes, Neil Gaiman too.
Can you explain a bit about the premise of the series and where the idea for Mythics got started?
R: The premise has always been about having both a strong female and a strong male protagonist, but at the same time showing the differences between having an alpha male character that isn’t portrayed from the get go as an alpha male character, and having an alpha female that isn’t portrayed as being overly masculine with no feminine qualities. I wanted to see a real relationship grow through all the different difficulties people really have. In other books I’ve seen, it doesn’t matter how much of an asshole the guy is or how much of a dainty flower the female is, they end up together at the end because they survived together, rather than by getting to know each other. And it doesn’t seem real. It’s a lot like Stockholm syndrome, in a way.
The idea for the Mythics was based out of wanting to have a smorgasbord of different characters that could be considered a different race but having a catchall term for all of them.
H: I’d noticed in many other UF books, the main protagonist is usually a male with these fantastical powers who saves the damsel in distress. On the flip side, if the main protagonist is a strong female, she’s only strong until she meets that “one guy” (or the two guys she can’t decide between) and realizes that she’s been missing that masculine presence in her life, then suddenly her every move is all about what he wants, what keeps him happy. That’s all well and good, but I really wanted to see a female character who isn’t defined by her romantic relationship, and a male character who doesn’t have to be the one to save the day every time. It’s a fact of life that we all are defined, at some point, by our relationships to others, but those relationships aren’t always romantic and that doesn’t make them any less important of a contributor to who we are. As for the Mythics, well, aren’t all legends to some degree “creatures of Myth”? They’re the ones stories are told about. It’s not confined to just “monsters” like Chimeras or Gorgons, Dragons or Gargoyles, Vampires and Werewolves. It’s all those legendary stories you hear about the Spartans at Thermopylae and their stand against the Persian invaders when all seemed hopeless. The Amazons of Scythia who battled against the idea that women couldn’t be warriors. The Viking raiders who struck fear into the hearts of men in shores of distant lands while opening up trade between countries. It’s about gods and goddesses, creatures that exist in both light and shadow, the stuff of magic and imagination.
If you could be any type of Mythic, what kind would you want to be?
R: A dragon. Because they do have a vast amount of ability and they’re truly in the middle ground because dragons are usually portrayed as either evil or good when they can have aspects of both just like other humans and Mythics. And you have to treat them with a little more respect than you would any other mythic or human because of what they are.
H: My first answer would be an Amazon, mostly because, well, I’m short and they generally aren’t. *laughs* But in actuality, I think I’d want to be a Psychomancer. Telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation? Oh yeah.
Tell us a little more about Dirk and Morgan and their journey so far.
R: Going with the premise that they are two characters thrown together through the series of circumstances in the first novel, they’re compatible as a good relationship but both have to work through their own issues, just so they can truly understand that yes they do love each other and it’s not just because of a freak accident or anything else. They have to get through their issues to really see who they are. And that’s the progression through this book, it’s a journey so you get to see just how they interact and how they grow to understand their love for each other.
H: It’s sort of a story of boy meets girl, boy wants girl, girl says “what the hell, why not?” Boy and girl go to get it on, lightning happens, and then both of their worlds shift sideways and they have to deal with an unusual bond to each other that neither was expecting while fighting against external sources trying to tell them what they should do. It’s about Morgan discovering that being a loner is great and all, but it’s not weakness to ask for help, that it’s not weakness to give your heart to someone knowing full well it might get broken, that sometimes? You just fall in love when you least expect it, no matter how you say you’re not going to. That she can’t control everything. It’s about Dirk discovering that there’s more to life than being a sex object, that he has an inner strength that eclipses his impressive outer strength, and that patience can yield a great payoff. It’s about the both of them learning that family is important, but that family isn’t always blood, but who you choose to surround yourself with. And it’s about learning what you believe and what you’re willing to do for those beliefs.
What's the story behind the Society, and what are their dastardly plans in Hand of Time?
R: During the 1300s, in our book, we have something we call the “Cataclysm” take place. Pope Clement V and King Philip IV got together, raided the Templars, and found a cache of relics, imbued objects that made them stronger. Because they were greedy men, it had nothing to do with religion, just pure greed, they were able to use those relics to their advantage, surround themselves with the smartest people. Science was pushed further because they had a blueprint in the relics to show what was possible, and once that spring-boarded everything they started taking over. This was the basis for the Society: Greedy men trying to gain as much control over the world around them as they could, using whatever means (scientific and faith-based) at their disposal.
H: After The Cataclysm (a massive global war instigated by the Society discovering that humans weren’t the only inhabitants on the planet and the Mythics taking exception to the amount of power said humans were amassing without understanding just what they were messing with), the world was in shambles. The Society and Mythics both suffered massive casualties and society had to reset itself. The relics were mostly lost or collected by Mythic guardians (like Nemesis) and largely kept out of the hands of humans (and other Mythics) to prevent another war.
R: The Society took exception to this and set their sights on the ones they held responsible for their losses, the Mythics, whom they considered abominations. And so the battle began anew, this time, not just for the relics, but for the eradication of these non-humans who have abilities that set them apart from the humans around them. When religion declined in importance after the Cataclysm, the Society decided that science was the answer and so set out to do what they could to either elevate humanity to the level of the Mythics, or wipe out Mythics entirely.
H: The fly in their ointment right now is that humanity, by and large, doesn’t despise the Mythics as much as they do. So when the Society discovered the whereabouts of a huge stash of relics (in the first book, Minutes To Midnight) it was the missing piece of their puzzle and they grew one step closer to their goal. Without giving anything away in Hand of Time, their agenda remains the same: improve humanity at the expense of the Mythics through subterfuge, misdirection, and outright manipulation. The more humans they can get on their side, the more they can expose this Mythic menace… the better their odds of gaining that power they crave.
Do you have any world-building tips for anyone interested in writing urban fantasy (or speculative fiction in general)?
R: Let your imagination wander in the direction of the world that you want, try to stay true to that idea of what you want that world to be, and once you feel that you’ve fleshed it out enough you have to be able to present it to someone to see what they believe. There might be certain parts you need to rein in or push/develop more, that’s the great part about writing with someone else, because they see those needs, and it’s good to have someone with as vivid an imagination as you. But there has to be a sense of realism in there, no matter how crazy your world might be because if people don’t believe in your world you’re going to lose them.
H: Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae unless it’s absolutely integral to your story. Give your readers a chance to fill in details, to let them make the world their own. But the parts you’re certain they’re going to care about? Make sure they make sense. Description is great, but remember that you’ve got a story to tell too.
What types of stories or characters would you like to see more of in this or any other genre?
R: The true alpha female, dynamic characters: ones that you can truly feel for, and characters that are a little more abstract, outside of the box.
H: That’s one of the things I love most about fantasy and urban fantasy. The sky is really the limit as to what sort of characters you can create, what sort of stories you can tell. I, too, would like to see strong feminine characters spotlighted, but I’m not discounting the guys at all. I guess I just really like to see fully fleshed out characters and stories that don’t leave me wanting to throw the book (in a bad way) against the wall.
How did your path to indie publication unfold, and do you have any advice for those who might follow that route?
R: It was a series of fantastical events: we both wanted to write a novel, Hollie started hers and got to a point where she lost her muse, and then I got to a point where I wanted to write, so I started writing. And then she wanted to write again. So we got all that together. She did all the research for finding out the ground level of what we needed to do, amazon.com helped out a lot. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what we would’ve done. And then there’s the research that led to Createspace and so on. It does take money, though, even as an indie publisher to get your work out there. If you don’t have at least a little capital, it’s like … it’s a hope and a prayer. I mean, there’s twitter and Facebook, and you get the people who say it sounds interesting but don’t actually read it, and then you generate that buzz because you have so many people talking about you in so many different areas that makes you buy your writing. Once they get it, it’s all about your writing because if your writing isn’t good, they aren’t going to keep reading no matter how good your story might be.
H: Bottom line? We wanted to maintain creative control. Yeah, it’d be awesome to be published by a big name, but there’s good and bad to both paths. You have to do your research, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and network, network, network! Try new things, don’t undervalue yourself as a writer. Make sure your work is solid before putting it out there and your writing will speak for itself. Also? Be patient and be persistent. That’s been the hardest lesson. Yes, there are overnight successes out there in the IP world, but by and large? You have to get used to not getting the immediate feedback you want, not selling a million copies overnight. You really have to love writing and putting yourself out there to Indie Publish. Not everyone is going to be a fan, but at the end of the day? It’s worth it to be able to say, “Look what I did!”
And seriously, don’t discount social media. But don’t turn your twitter into a nonstop ad-feed. Let people get to know you as a person and they’ll be much more likely to read your work.
What are you working on next? Will there be more Nemesis novels?
R: Book 3 for the Nemesis Chronicles, as yet untitled. Yes, there will be more. I’m the type of person that if I like the character(s), I like to see them in many different situations, be it on this world or others. I have threads built in where I can go to different dimensions and planets, because I don’t want anything to become stale. I know that if I get bored with it, the readers will be bored by it, so it’s one of those situations where things are always changing.
H: I’m also working on a side project that, right now, I’m not sure if it’ll be an ongoing novella series or a novel one. It’s outside of the world of Nemesis, so it’s a bit of a different flavor, still urban fantasy with a touch more sci-fi than magic. And heck yeah, there’s definitely going to be more Nemesis novels! We have so many stories to tell, so many different characters to follow… it’s definitely going to continue on.
Thank you so much for answering our questions!
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Geek Treats CollectiveDate of Publication: April 20th, 2013
Number of pages: 352
Word Count: 154,224
Cover Artist: Robb Lombard
Morgan... Three months after the events of Vegas turned her life upside down, she's finding that getting back to normal is anything but easy.
Dirk... Trapped between juggling his new responsibilities and making Morgan understand his feelings, the former courtesan is discovering that letting go of the past is much harder when the past refuses to let go of him.
Nemesis... Still reeling from the Society's attack, they find themselves facing a familiar foe and a new menace hellbent on testing their fortitude.
Midsummer madness heats up Nemesis Island. It's a time of celebration and renewal, but the Society has other plans... with Dirk, Morgan, and the rest of Nemesis at the top of their list.
Excerpt from Dirk’s POV:
“I’m fine, Dirk.” She wasn’t and we both knew it, but I wasn’t about to press the issue.
I let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ll go see if my father has a shirt or something he can lend me to wear.”
“Good idea,” Morgan said, starting a slow pace in front of the terrace doors that reminded me of a tiger restlessly circling its enclosure. She sounded distracted and the concern I’d already been fighting to keep from spilling all over her nudged its way back to the surface of my demeanor. I wanted to scoop her up and port back to my home, tuck her into bed and remind her of my stellar bedside manner. But as she made another pass across the doorway, I could see the limp in her step easing, slowly, until her strides were sure and smooth. Her body was healing.
Ah well, I thought, there’s always next time. Although, I really hoped there was a very long interval of non-injury between them full of bedside activities that were infinitely more fun.
“And shoes,” I added, curling my toes against the cold, damp hardwood floor as I glanced down and finally got a good look at the damage. My pajama bottoms were soaked through with rain and had clearly seen better days. My skin was grimy with sweat and blood, the mottled green and yellow of my healing bruises slowly fading. “Gods. I look like a war refugee.”
“What’s wrong with being shoeless?” asked Bree, looking up from where she’d been hunched over, studying the Pithos. She stretched out one of her naked feet, her expression all ruffled feathers and huff. “I prefer it. Helps with my Credomancy.”
Opening my mouth to apologize, I was stopped when Betty strolled back into the room. She’d disappeared down the stairs after leaving us and it looked like she’d been busy raiding my father’s closet. One arm was laden in textiles, an expensive looking auburn and charcoal three piece suit on a hanger dangling from the fingertips of her free hand.
“Morgan,” Betty let the name roll off her tongue, her brogue giving it a delicious quality that almost made me jealous. “Why does that sound familiar?” she mused, stopping in front of me and thrusting the garments into my startled grasp.
A flash of black around her throat gave me pause to stare and suddenly, I understood what my father and Sam had been talking about when they’d mentioned Betty answering their call. My father had long employed a specialized group of bodyguards as his security detail, scattered all across the globe, acting as his eyes and ears. His Ravens, he called them, and they all sported the same tattoo as an indicator of their allegiance to him. My eyes drifted to Sam. She had received hers shortly after our hookup.
I wondered if my father’s interests ever conflicted with those of Nemesis.
“Why does what sound familiar?” Morgan murmured, still pacing.
“I can’t quite place it…” Betty’s eyes widened and she did a slow turn, snapping her fingers in Morgan’s direction. “Wait. Wasn’t that the name of your horse?”
“Betty.” I knew that tone. Morgan didn’t want to talk about it. Based on Betty’s delighted expression, she was going to poke the bear until it snacked on her. I didn’t know if I wanted to be present for the carnage. Betty’s grin widened and Morgan’s glower scrunched her face until I wanted to kiss it.
“What are you talking about?” I couldn’t help it. I had to know. I felt like I’d been left out of a private joke, and I wanted in, damnit.
Betty trilled out a laugh. “Och, you mean she hasn’t shared that with you? Well now, doesn’t that make me feel all special.”
“It hasn’t come up,” Morgan stilled and focused her glare on Betty. “It’s a moot point anyway.”
I knew that names held power within both our cultures, but it was the first time I’d ever heard Morgan called by an alias and I was intensely curious to know why she’d changed her name. I knew she had a history, one that I’d apparently not even scratched the surface of discovering, and I’d take Betty’s rendition of things over nothing at all.
My gaze swung to Betty. She didn’t say a word. I narrowed my eyes at her. She dissolved into a fresh round of laughter that practically lit up the room. “Fine. Since Dirk insists. Let me procure a little story for you. Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived an Amazonian Princess named Airlea. She was fiercely beautiful, fearsome on the battlefield, and more than skilled between the furs. She had this thing she liked to do with her tongue –” Morgan crossed the room in three strides and clapped a hand over Betty’s mouth as my eyebrows rocketed to the ceiling.
“So help me, Betty,” Morgan said in frosty, clipped tones, “I’ve half a mind to shove something in your mouth to shut you up. If you wouldn’t like it so much.” Betty wiggled her eyebrows at me from above Morgan’s hand and I couldn’t help but chuckle. Reaching out, I pried Morgan’s fingers away from Betty’s face and dusted a kiss against their tips. Morgan responded by pulling away and punching my arm in protest.
“Oh come now, you know how I love a good story,” I grinned, rubbing my arm. If it took a little pain to get what was promising to be an amusing-as-hell insight, I’d take my lumps gladly. “Please continue, Betty.”
“Long story short,” Betty resumed the second her mouth was free, ignoring Morgan’s warning scowl, “it appears someone decided it was time for a name change. Honestly, Morgan, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear you were trying to avoid me altogether.”
“Maybe I was.”
Excerpt from Morgan’s POV:
Sam was a flash of Cimmerian shade, her outfit matching her blackberry hair as she zigzagged through the dense forest with the fluid grace of a gazelle with a lion on its tail. She played hide-and-seek with the shadows, and I was having a hell of a time keeping a bead on her. Bursting through the pines and out into a large clearing of short grass, I spanned the distance between us, waylaying her with an aerial kick to the back that sent her tumbling forward into a combat roll with an explosion of breath. Springing to her feet before she came to a full stop, Sam pivoted into a roundhouse kick that I barely dodged, my fist aiming directly for her jaw.
She deflected the strike with the momentum of her spin, managing to avoid my follow up kicks, before rushing in to clip my chin with her elbow. The shockwave from the sharp hit almost made me bite my tongue, pain spiking down my jaw and into my neck. Capturing my next jab, she used my kidney as a speed bag before I managed to retreat with a grunt of rapidly mounting irritation. Regrouping quickly despite the ache in my side that threatened to drop me, I lashed out with a flurry of fists and feet, hoping that sheer speed would somehow get past her defenses.
Sam expertly blocked and dodged everything I threw at her before unexpectedly stopping my forward inertia with a hard palm to the chest that sent me reeling back gasping for air as my lungs forgot how to work.
Breathing is highly overrated anyway.
In the two months since I’d joined Nemesis, I’d had many occasions to spar with Sam, the current head of the group and perpetual pain in my ass, but never at quite this intensity. With the exception of Sam’s fraternal twin, Tequila, no other member of Nemesis understood the training style I’d grown up with in my Amazonian tribe. It was a brutal, no holds barred, out for blood mode of fighting, meant to test our skills, to keep them as honed as our blades. But there was a fine line between training and the outright brawl this session was quickly turning into.
And damned if I didn’t have the first clue as to what set her off this time. But then, getting a read on Sam was like trying to capture smoke with a sieve. Holding back, she eyed me as we circled one another slowly.
She and her sister had been raised outside the tribe until they were fifteen by their mother, the former Queen Antiope. Both were formidable fighters in their own rights, thanks to her guidance. Tequila, the resident healer of Nemesis, had come back to her Amazonian roots, while Sam decided to serve with our shield-sisters the Valkyrie, before they were both recruited into Nemesis’ ranks. Where her sister was exceptionally skilled in the healing arts, Sam’s abilities resided in tactical strategy and a natural talent for Psychomancy.
I deflected another whirlwind of strikes and growled, dancing out of the way. Over the years, my experiences going toe-to-toe with Psychomancers had shown me they generally resorted entirely on fighting with their mental acumen, relying on telekinesis and telepathy to swing the odds in their favor.
But Sam had elevated it into an art form, wielding both blade and brain with the ferocity of a woman possessed and the skill of an accomplished warrior. She’d managed, numerous times, to make even me question if I’d somehow become dumb and clumsy, and I’d been swinging swords since before she and her sister were even a twinkle in Antiope’s baby blues.
Truth be told, this fight had been a long time coming. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Sam, per se, but I was unaccustomed to being bossed around, even if I understood the hierarchy as it stood within Nemesis. I wasn’t used to being the puella, the rookie. It rankled me, getting under my skin like a sliver of glass.
Sam motioned for me to attack, egging me on with a gesture. I hung back. She was baiting me. My eyes narrowed.
When she’d suggested we ‘take it to the wood line’ after our most recent verbal altercation, I was more than happy to oblige, despite wishing her timing had been better. We had a house full of reveling Amazons, Valkyrie, and other guests for Midsummer celebrations, and I had a gala date later that evening with Dirk. I’d been dragging my feet about it all day and that black cloud had gotten me into this predicament.
Still, it felt good to take out all of the pent up frustration and worry on someone who’d been an absolute thorn in my side for the last two months, even if she was making me wonder if this was going to end with one of taking a one-way trip to Bella’s morgue. The gnawing sensation of impending disaster intensified when Sam reached for her blade, a scarily grim and focused expression smoothing the lines on her face into an impassive mask. I immediately followed suit, loosing Aduro from her scabbard and pulling her free with a single smooth movement.
The slow circling continued and I knew she was waiting for an opening. The ground below me was springy, damp from the perpetual moistness that helped to keep the Emerald City its lovely verdant hue. It was a hell of a drastic change from the Vegas citadel’s sandy sparring fields, but at least it wouldn’t hurt as much to get knocked down.
And with the way Sam kept eyeballing me, I knew one of us was going to end up ass over teakettle soon.
What the hell is with her today? I hadn’t realized that telling Sam I had plans for the evening that didn’t include sitting through another boring debriefing warranted this kind of ass kicking.
Inspired by Sci-Fi and Fantasy, with a healthy appreciation of all manner of geekery, they longed to create a world where sword, sorcery, and a little sprinkling of real life could come together. With this in mind, the pair sat down and started the stories that would eventually become The Nemesis Chronicles.
When they aren’t weaving fantastical tales, they spend their time being owned by the Feline Mafia and watching the rain fall in their home city of Seattle.
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