Today I'm excited to participate in a blog swap with fellow Muse It Up fantasy author Susan A. Royal. Her latest novel, IN MY OWN SHADOW, combines romance, adventure, and fantasy--all taking place in an alternate dimension. Welcome, Susan!
When did you discover you had a “sense of fiction?”
Storytellers and their stories have fascinated me since I was a small child. I grew up listening to my grandmother tell about life as a child on a farm in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), or working as a telephone operator in San Antonio (think “number please”), my dad, telling us what it was like to grow up during the depression, living in a neighborhood where the children played out under the streetlights on hot summer nights while parents watched from cool, dark porches, and my mother shared what it was like to be a teenager during WWII. I had a cousin who told ‘ghost stories’ to a group of us as kids out under the scrub Oaks on her parents place in the country, where nighttime is always darker and spookier. I could think of nothing better than to be able to tell stories just like they did. When I got a little older it only seemed natural to make up my own, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What was your favorite book as a child? As an adult? How did those influence you as a writer?
When I was growing up, one book that stands out is Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. Anything by him was and is a painting with words. I found myself wanting to live in Green Town, Illinois or next door to Scout and Jem after reading To Kill a Mockingbird. Another book was Three Hearts and Three Lions, by Poul Anderson, about a quest in an alternate reality. As an adult, I loved reading Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series, and more of the above, along with Robert McCammon, Jim Butcher and others. I still read young adult—things like Divergent and The Hunger Games.
What inspired you to write this book?
I actually began writing this book when I was in high school. The whole idea of a handsome stranger showing up from an alternate reality and rescuing the MC by taking her to his world just kept swirling around in my head. Travel through portals in another world full of strange creatures and even stranger places. What more could you want? Add in some colorful characters and a quest and you’ve got an adventure.
How would you describe your writing process? What must you always have while writing?
I can write at any time of the day or night, but the best time for me is during the day. I try to set little goals and get up from the computer every 30 minutes to an hour. Even if I’m taking a break and doing something else, I’m still thinking about the story and sometimes taking a step away from it helps me focus better or decide where I’m going next. Sometimes I have the television going, sometimes I’m playing mood music.
What has proven to be your most successful marketing tool?
I’m pleasantly surprised about the hits I’ve gotten with the book trailer for my first book, Not Long Ago. We are working on the trailer for In My Own Shadow now and will have it up on youtube soon. And the guest spots on blogs have been good as well. But I think word of mouth has to be my most successful marketing tool so far.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
I was having a major meltdown over the plot of my WIP. A fellow writer on my critique group had this to say: If something needs to be fixed, you can fix it. This is your book, after all.
Please provide a favorite excerpt from your book.
A frantic sprint down the hall from my office brought me skidding to a stop in front of the elevator doors just as they whispered shut. The clock on the wall read half past five. Damn. Too much time spent in the restroom trying to make myself presentable. All because Carrie had conned me into another one of her blind dates. And with her cousin, no less. Why today of all days? I’d overslept and come to work resembling the undead from a zombie apocalypse movie. Tension knotted in my stomach. I punched the button beside the stainless steel doors and paced, remembering my conversation with her over lunch.
“I know losing your dad has been awful,” she’d said. “But, maybe it’s time you started moving on with your life.” Carrie couldn’t possibly have understood the burden of guilt that seemed to grow heavier every day. Dad and I had a terrible argument just before he died, one we never had the chance to resolve, and it still ate at me. Carrie hadn’t given up until I’d agreed to meet her cousin in the lobby after work, a decision that plagued me for the rest of the afternoon.
What was the guy’s name again? I couldn’t even remember.
When the doors finally opened to an empty elevator, I hurried inside, pulled out my cell, and stared at the screen. Carrie hadn’t returned any of my calls. She probably didn’t want to give me the chance to back out. My friend knew me only too well. Unlike her, I was no good at small talk. What if her cousin wasn’t either? My stomach twisted even tighter. If that’s all we have in common, it’s going to be a long evening. By the time I got to the ground floor, I’d chewed my bottom lip raw.
The lobby was empty, and my heels echoed against the marble tiles. Her cousin must have gotten tired of waiting and left. I squeezed my eyes shut and pinched the bridge of my nose. Carrie’s going to kill me. She’d never believe I hadn’t done this on purpose just so I wouldn’t have to go out with her cousin.
Someone coughed. I jerked my head around to see a man standing near the reception area, a canvas duffel bag at his feet. That’s got to be him.
My heart thudded with relief. “Sorry I’m late. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” I motioned toward the rain spattering against the windows. “This weather is awful, isn’t it?”
The man watched me with a self-assured air that left me feeling like an awkward teenager.
So much for witty conversation. At least Carrie hadn’t exaggerated when she said he was good looking. His sensitive mouth held the only trace of softness in a finely chiseled face. Broad shoulders and powerful hands. He would have been right at home on the cover of a sports magazine. Was I drooling? “Umm…” His intense stare made me squirm. “I should introduce myself. I’m—”
“Lara. My name is Rhys.” We shook hands briefly while his eyes flickered over me. My height intimidated some men, but it didn’t seem to bother him. “I never imagined you’d be so—”
“Don’t bother with flattery. Surely Carrie told you I’m immune.” The grin across my face was so he would know it was a joke, but his stern expression remained unchanged.
Doesn’t this guy know how to smile? “Umm…My car’s across the street. We really should go before it starts pouring again.”
Without a word, he grabbed his bag and followed me through the big glass doors. The wind had picked up, and thunder rumbled in the distance. Streetlights flickered on, a halo of light crowning each pole. We crossed the street and hurried toward my car parked beneath one of the lights in the middle of the empty lot.
I stuck my umbrella under my arm and dug in my purse for the keys. “Do you like Italian food?”
Rhys drew his eyebrows together and frowned slightly.
Doesn’t he understand plain English? Funny how Carrie never mentioned he was the silent, brooding type. I’d get even with her for this. “Okay, what about Chinese? There’s this great little place not too far from here…”
He jerked his gaze away from mine and stared into the darkness behind me.
A finger of cold traced its way along my spine. “Did you hear something?” We were alone in an empty city parking lot after dark. Not the safest place in the world.
He grabbed my arm. “Quiet.”
I flinched in surprise and pulled away. Rhys was beginning to give me the creeps. “What is it? Did you hear something?”
He pointed toward the back of the parking lot where lightning flashed, touched the ground and disappeared. Two dark shapes burst from the shadows and advanced across the asphalt without a sound.
Rhys dropped his bag and stepped in front of me. Chills raced across my arms. I backed into my car with a thud and gripped my umbrella so tight it made my hands hurt. No time to call for help. We’d have to defend ourselves. But how?
One of the men threw a punch at Rhys, who caught it with his open hand. He used the momentum to throw his attacker off balance and slammed him against the car beside me. Before the guy hit the ground, Rhys whirled to face ninja number two, who charged. With his left forearm, Rhys blocked and returned his kick. The man sidestepped, and Rhys’ foot missed the mark.
By this time the first guy had stumbled to his feet. He staggered over to Rhys and grabbed him from behind, pinning his arms to his sides. The other guy slammed his fists into Rhys’ stomach, making him double over and gasp for breath.
It was up to me to do something fast, or Rhys was going down. With my heart pounding in my ears, I darted behind the guy holding him and kicked him in the back of the knees. He buckled and released his grip on Rhys. Before his attacker realized what had happened, Rhys had grabbed him by his collar and head butted him with a sickening crunch. The man howled, blood spurting from his nose.
Both men turned and fled back into the darkness. My umbrella slipped from my shaking hands and clattered to the pavement. Who were these men with strange tattoos covering their faces? Gang members? Muggers?
This time it was me that grabbed Rhys’ arm. “Are you all right?”
“Don’t worry about me. Let’s go.”
After I fumbled with the keys and unlocked the car, he yanked the passenger door open, threw his bag in the back seat and jumped inside. The automatic locks clicked while the engine coughed and sputtered to a start. With my hands in a death grip on the steering wheel, I drove through the entrance and made a hard right, my rear tire rolling over the curb.
A few blocks away I tried to hand Rhys my cell phone, but he wouldn’t take it. “Didn’t you see those guys?” They had eyes like sharks, their pupils almost completely dilated. “They must have been on something. We need to call the police.”
He shook his head.
“What, then? Have you got a better idea?”
“Drive to your place.”
He didn’t get any argument −something totally out of character for me. Shock, maybe? Everything had happened so fast, it almost didn’t seem real. Accelerating, I switched lanes to pass a slow driver and watched my passenger from the corner of my eye. He should have been breathing hard after being punched in the stomach, but he wasn’t even winded. And he didn’t seem upset or surprised by anything that had happened. He only stared through the car windows, focusing on the darkness around us.
Carrie, you’ve got one strange cousin.
* * * *
We rushed inside my apartment. I slammed the front door and twisted the deadbolt, listening to its comforting click. The shadowy apartment was filled with normal noises like the hum of the refrigerator, water dripping from a faucet and the furnace running. I flattened a hand against my chest as my thudding heartbeat slowed to normal.
Home safe. Everything’s okay.
Someone pounded the front door three times, rattling the hinges. Every nerve in my body hummed with electricity. I tiptoed closer, placing a cautious eye against the peephole. A man well over six feet tall stared back, his pale skin a contrast to the wild, dark hair falling past his shoulders. Wide shoulders under black leather gave the man a lean look. He had classic features and a narrow face. Very handsome, except for eyes that glittered with something cold and unyielding. Shivers began at the nape of my neck and traveled over my entire body.
“Lara, let me in. I must speak with you,” he said, but the words didn’t come from his mouth. They came from within my own mind.
I gasped and turned to Rhys. “H-he’s talking to me…from inside my head.”
“Block him.” Rhys dug his fingers into my shoulder. “The longer you allow him access to your mind, the more dangerous it becomes.”
“Is that you, Guardian?” The man’s mouth split into an evil grin, revealing blinding, white teeth. “Are you taking up new duties these days?”
“Leave her alone.” Muscles bunched along Rhys’ jaw. “She doesn’t know anything.”
The man’s chuckle seemed to vibrate from somewhere deep inside his chest. “If that is true, then why are you protecting her?”
I narrowed my eyes at Rhys. “What the hell’s he talking about? Is he high on something?”
“Ignore him.” Rhys grabbed my arm and pulled me into the kitchen.
Inside my head, the oily voice took on a coaxing tone. “Rhys is being overprotective. He takes things far too seriously. I mean you no harm, Lara. All I need is a little information.”
Rhys stretched out his hand. An orange dot appeared and hovered above his palm. In an instant, it became a streaking light, burning into my refrigerator and creating a jagged hole. “My God, this can’t be real.” I gasped and moved closer, staring. “W-what’s going on?”
My visitor hammered at the door once again, so loud my temples throbbed with the sound. This time, the distraction was welcome, because it helped drive the sound of his voice from my mind and served another purpose as well. I lived in a quiet, respectable part of town. Surely one of my neighbors had already called the police. All we had to do was hold off a little longer.
Only Rhys had other ideas. He shouldered his bag and made his way toward the gaping hole he’d somehow created. Just before he passed through, he turned. “Give me your hand.”
I hesitated and raised my eyes to his. Let’s face it. Just the idea of stepping through my refrigerator made my heart bounce like a yo-yo.
“Come on. He isn’t going to leave until he gets what he wants.”
“What does he want?”
Rhys clamped his fingers around my wrist. He bent his head as though moving against a hurricane force wind and dragged me through the opening. I struggled for air, but none of it reached my lungs. This must be what it feels like to drown. My heart accelerated, one beat at a time, and my vision clouded with spots.
No more than a few seconds could have passed before we burst through to the other side and stumbled across a thick carpet of leaves. Behind me, my kitchen wavered like a mirage, its familiar colors fading to gray. The tear Rhys had made grew smaller, shrinking until it disappeared and left me staring at a dense wall of foliage.
With my first few gasps, my lungs had felt like they were on fire, but at least I could breathe again. After being deprived of oxygen, the fresh air made my vision swim. My knees buckled and I would have fallen if Rhys hadn’t grabbed my arm.
“Relax. It only makes things worse if you fight it.”
“You’ve done this before?”
“Do you ever get used to it?”
“Sooner or later.”
Unsure whether to puke or pass out, I leaned over and braced my hands on my legs, waiting for the nausea to subside. After a few breaths, the dizziness cleared enough for me to raise my head. We were standing in a grassy clearing alongside a meandering gravel path that disappeared into shadows in both directions. Dense woods shrouded in darkness crowded the other side of the path.
We weren’t outside my apartment.
Where can readers find you and your book?
Buy link for In My Own Shadow: http://tinyurl.com/bqbxm4l
Buy link for Not Long Ago: http://tinyurl.com/85vgye3
Also available on Amazon, B&N and Goodreads
Web Site: http://susanroyal.moonfruit.com
Thanks for participating in the blog swap today, Susan! To see her interview with me, visit http://susanaroyal.wordpress.com.