Genre: Urban fantasy
"There are things that go bump in the night, Mr. MacMillian. It's my job to bump back."
Private investigator Jesper MacMillian was sure he'd seen it all. After all, in a city like San Francisco, strange is what's for breakfast. Following a long recovery after a horrific accident, his life is finally the way he wants it- or at least, close enough. The only monsters on his radar are the ones that keep him awake at night.
All that changes the day he meets Lena Alan.
Before MacMillian has a chance to brace for impact, Lena drags him into a world where monsters aren't just real, they're hiding in plain sight. Suddenly, everything he knows is suspect, starting with his current case. For Lena, a medium since childhood, it's just another day at the office.
For MacMillian, it's the beginning of the end of everything he thinks he knows.
"I should hex the IRS."
Lena set down the receipt she was scrutinizing, and stared at the woman across the table from her. "You're not serious."
The woman blew a wisp of dark brown hair out of her face, tugged off her plastic-frame reading glasses, and stretched. The movement made her deep violet lowlights shimmer. "Why not? It might distract them for a while, and we could take a break from sifting through all this bullshit."
Lena snorted. "Hey, I said you didn't have to help me. My business, my-"
"Responsibility. Whatever." The woman rolled her eyes. "We both know you're shit with numbers. Hand me that calculator."
Lena bit back a grin, and obediently passed it over. "Have I ever told you you're like some kind of occult superhero? Georgia Clare: bookkeeper by day, badass biker witch by night. Seriously, you should put that on your business cards."
Georgia scowled, but her sharp green eyes twinkled. "Well, as your bookkeeper, I'm hereby suggesting you set up a network for this place. Are you kidding me with all this paper? If I didn't know your family, I'd swear you were Amish."
Lena shrugged. "I'll get to it."
The bell above the door jingled, and a small posse of women trekked inside. Lena flashed them a smile. "Welcome! Take a seat anywhere. I'll have someone right with you." She set down the receipt she was holding and stood. "I need to go find Connie. Thanks again, Georgia."
Georgia was already tapping away at the calculator. She waved without looking up.
Lena left their table in the corner, wove around the other tables and scooted behind the counter. The women were ogling the scones and tiny cakes in the pastry case. Lena nodded to them, pride warm in her chest. She pushed open the swinging doors and stuck her head into the kitchen. "Hey, Tiburcio! You seen Connie back here?"
Her head chef popped up from behind one of the stainless steel counters. "No, señora, not yet. Do you know when Jimmy is coming in? He was supposed to take a look at the stand mixer."
Lena's good mood immediately deflated. "I'm afraid we won't be seeing Jimmy around anymore."
Tiburcio's eyebrows went up, and she prayed he wouldn't press her for answers. Mercifully, he merely gave a single, short nod. "Qué pena. Nice guy."
She swallowed hard. "Yeah. Yeah, he was."
With Connie nowhere in sight, Lena backed out of the kitchen again, and turned to the group at the counter. This time, her smile felt tight. "Sorry about the wait, guys. Just pastries today?"
She forced herself through the motions, and heaved a sigh of relief when they finally headed out the door, already picking bits of scone from their crisp white paper bags. Lena allowed her gaze to wander to the park across the street. Maybe she'd head over there for lunch. For some reason, the shop felt smaller than usual. Some fresh air would be nice.
Maybe it would help dislodge the painful knot from her throat.
She was still staring into the park when a dark green, classic-looking car rolled up to the curb. The throaty engine rattled the shop's windows, then shut off. A tall, dark-haired man climbed out. He paused, turned, and looked directly at her. The bottom plummeted out of her stomach. Lena shook herself. Of course he wasn't looking at her.
He was looking at the shop.
Sure enough, he squinted at the sign, slammed the car door and started across the street. He walked with a barely noticeable swagger, his well-built body encased in a dark gray suit. She looked closer. No, not quite a suit: instead of a blazer, he wore some sort of belted military jacket.
She braced herself. The bell above the door chafed her already strained nerves. The man filled the narrow doorway. Lena swallowed hard.
She knew a wolf when she saw one, and this man was definitely a wolf. He stayed in the doorway for a moment, then started towards the counter. His gait swayed, and she realized what she'd thought was a swagger was actually an injury. An old injury, judging by the practiced grace with which he wielded his curved black cane.
Lena relaxed slightly. A wolf was bad news, but a wounded wolf? That, maybe, she could deal with.
He reached the counter, and leaned against the glass. Lena frowned. "Can I help you?"
His eyes took a quick tour of her body, then he straightened. "Maybe. I'm looking for the owner of this place."
"You found her. I'm Powonia Alan." Lena crossed her arms. "If you're looking for a job, I'm afraid we're not hiring at the moment."
The man blinked. "I'm not here for a job. I'm looking for a friend of mine. His parents told me he'd been working here."
Something started to ache in the pit of her stomach. "Is that so?"
The man arched an eyebrow. "Jimmy Vaspurkan. You know him?"
She didn't know what made her open her mouth. Maybe it was the man's eyes, too heavy on her face. Maybe it was the way his voice reached deep into her gut and made her insides quake. Maybe she just needed to talk to someone.
Whatever the reason, she was answering before she could stop herself. "You're a little late. He's dead."
Did you always wanted to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
Actually, I really wanted to be Indiana Jones. Needless to say, that proved a less-than-viable career choice, so writing won out in the end. My writing partner is a former archaeologist, though, so I figure that's close enough.
When did you first consider yourself a “writer”?
I was in second grade, and a short story of mine was selected for a county-wide award. I don't even recall the circumstances; I just remember standing in a room with a bunch of giddy kids, getting a medal pinned on my hand-illustrated manuscript. It was magical. That was the first time I felt like a writer.
How long did it take to get your first book published?
It ended up being about a year. I self-publish, so I bypassed the whole querying and pre-pub cycles, but that doesn't mean I just finished the book, uploaded my Word doc., and hit "publish". I believe whichever publishing route you choose to take, the most important thing is doing it right. So yeah, that first book took a while.
Do you do another job except for writing and can you tell us more about it?
In addition to writing, I am also a stay-at-home mom to a toddler. It is glorious, maddening, surprising, delightful... and anyone who doesn't see it as a job is welcome to take over for a day.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?
My latest book is called A World Apart, and it is Book One of my new series, Shades Below. In 20 words or less: A private detective and a paranormal investigator wind up on the same case, and work together to solve a murder.
20 on the nose! Boo-yah!
Who is your publisher? Or do you self-publish?
Like I said, I self-publish. I've seen how long it takes to go the traditional-publishing route, and while it works out great for some, it's just not my ball. Don't get me wrong, being an indie is a stupid amount of work, but it's work I feel good about at the end of the day. Perhaps more importantly, it's work I really enjoy.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
That's a tough question, because it really depends on the book. I've whittled my standard turnover rate to about 5 months, and I'm still trying to improve. When you're an indie, quantity and quality go hand-in-hand, and the more books you have on your backlist, the more likely you are to start seeing real money coming in.
What can we expect from you in the future? ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
I'm so glad you asked! I mentioned A World Apart was the first book in a new series, and man, I am really excited about that series! Shades Below has really become a universe unto itself, and I can't wait for people to start exploring it with me!
Next up is a standalone companion novel built around two of the minor characters you'll meet in A World Apart. Think reluctant mediums and badass-biker-witches. It's called Season Of The Witch. Keep a weather eye out this summer!
What genre would you place your books into?
Shades Below is urban fantasy with a dash of paranormal romance.
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I cut my literary teeth (so to speak) on romantic suspense and noir romance (you can find my previous incarnation as Laura Oliva here). That said, I've always been a huge fan of speculative fiction, so I feel like with urban fantasy, I've found my true home.
I still love a love story, though. Hence the "dash of paranormal romance".
Do you have a favorite character from your books? And why are they your favorite?
God, that's like asking a parent who's their favorite child!
If pressed, I think Jesper MacMillian is probably my favorite. He's Rom, the newly-appointed leader of his community...and he doesn't want anything to do with it. He's still emotionally recovering from an accident in which he lost his leg, and is figuring out how to navigate a world that insists on treating him like a cripple.
Yup. I like MacMillian.
How long have you been writing?, and who or what inspired you to write?
I think I've been writing since before I could write. Even before I knew what letters were, I was making up stories with my dolls, and let me tell you, they got pretty epic. I was fortunate to have adults in my life early on (my parents being two of them) who encouraged me to strive and improve. I haven't seen many of those people in years, but they still inspire me today.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
It's hard to have much of a routine with a small child around, but I do what I can. I have Spotify playlists that get me in the write frame of mind (see what I did there?). When it's time to get to work, I sit at the kitchen table, pop in my earbuds, and go.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
Um, yes. People say you shouldn't, but I totally do. I think deep down, I still can't quite believe I'm doing this whole "writing thing", and reading reviews is my way of pinching myself. I never respond to them, though; not the good, ones, and ESPECIALLY not the bad ones. I've heard too many tales of good-writers-gone-batshit, and have no desire to become one of them.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
Again, it really depends on the book. At the risk of sounding like a putz, stories are like trees: they start from a single seed. Sometimes that seed is a title, sometimes a character, sometimes a single event that shines so brightly you simply can't ignore it. Whatever the seed, my job is to nurture it the best I can and pray I don't kill it.
How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
I'm such a nerd. I keep lists of names (men's names, women's names, and surnames) on my computer. Every time I stumble across a name I think has presence, I add it to the appropriate list. When I'm naming a character, I basically go through my lists and play tetris.
Are character names and place names decided after their creation? Or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?
It depends on the character (are you sensing a theme here?). Really. Sometimes I have a name that just feels like something, so I weave a character around it. Other times, I'll have a nameless character relatively fleshed out in my mind. In those instances, I just play around with names until I find something that fits.
Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
Characters are funny things. As a writer, you really don't have a lot of control over them.
I once mentioned this to my husband (who is brilliant and wonderful, but not a writer), and he looked at me like I'd sprouted a second head. It's true though. After the initial birthing period, if you've done it right, your character starts to breathe. Once that happens, they become whoever it was they were going to be, and you just sit back and watch.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is...")
I once read that the instant you start writing with a "message" in mind, the fire behind that message dies. What I took away from that was this: don't sacrifice your story on the altar of some moral agenda. At best, it will sound contrived. At worst, you'll look like you have ulterior motives.
Do I hope people take away things—profound things, even—from my books? Absolutely. But I try not to think about it too hard when I'm writing.
Which format of book do you prefer, eBook, hardback, or paperback?
For my own publishing needs, eBooks are my bread-and-butter. Overhead is low, and I sell more of them. However, hardbacks will always have a place of honor in my own personal library.
What is your favorite book and Why? Have you read it more than once?
Redwall, by Brian Jacques. I have been reading that book (and that series) since I was in short pants. I crack it open again every once in a while. It's like re-living the first time I fell in love.
Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favorite/worst book to movie transfer?
My husband and I have this debate every once in a while (him being a movie person and me being a book person). My theory is this: books and movies both tell stories, but they tell them in fundamentally different ways. Each have their strengths and their drawbacks. Movies are fantastic at making you feel like you're part of the story, but they can't get inside the characters' heads the way books can.
By far my favorite book-to-movie transfer was the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. The storyline stayed pretty true to the book (although they cut out a lot in the interest of time and a more linear plot), the acting was fantastic, the settings were breathtaking. It's a good example of the type of magic that can happen when you do it right.
Your favorite food is?
Mmm...sushi. Love me my raw fish.
Your favorite singer/group is?
Tough call, because it largely depends on my mood (aka what I'm writing). Right now, though: Simon Curtis.
Your favorite color is?
Would it be cliché if I said black? Probably, but I really like black.
Your favorite Author is?
Karen Marie Moning, of Fever Series fame. She's my spirit animal.
L.J.K Oliva is the devil-may-care alter-ego of noir romance novelist Laura Oliva. She likes her whiskey strong, her chocolate dark, and her steak bloody. L.J.K. likes monsters... and knows the darkest ones don't live in closets.
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