Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: AJ Sherwood believes in happily ever afters, magic, dragons, good men, and dark chocolate. She often dreams at night of delectable men doing sexy things with each other. In between writing multiple books (often at the same time) she pets her cats, plays with her dogs, and attempts insane things like aerial yoga.
She currently resides in Michigan with aforementioned dogs and cats. Being in snow country gives her the excuse to stay inside and watch bl dramas, which suit her perfectly.
Reading and writing cannot be separated. Reading is breathing in; writing is breathing out.
Thanks so much, AJ, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
AJ Sherwood: Not angtsy is the best description I can give. I like to write a story that’s easy to read, something that’s lighter on the heart. I realize that’s an interesting thing for me to say as I routinely write high fantasy and murder mysteries, but none of my books are emotionally draining to read.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
AJS: This routinely happens at page 50. I call it fifty-itis. If I can somehow figure out why I puttered to a stop, and drag myself to page 60, it magically goes away again. Usually, there’s something about the plot that’s giving me trouble. Some minor detail that makes the whole story come to a careening halt. Either that, or I don’t know the character well enough to know how they’ll react to what happens next. Once I figure it out, it’s smooth-er sailing.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
AJS: I do. It’s branding thing, really. I write under two pen names, and each pen name is a totally different genre.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
AJS: Roughly 4 hours. I write two chapters for two different books a day, unless I’m editing.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
AJS: It depends on the book, really. Fantasy books tends to demand all the words, they’re generally larger. My average mystery book takes about four weeks to write. Any fantasy or urban fantasy takes about seven weeks.
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
AJS: No such thing as a bad time. I write it down, and put it in a folder to follow up on later. I’m….not going to admit how many folders I have at the moment.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
AJS: I think the most heartfelt, amazing thing was when a young man messaged me and said he was alive thanks to my books. He’d hit a bad spell of depression at one point, to the point he was contemplating suicide. Just as he started really spiraling, he found the first book of one my fantasy series. He was so intrigued with the book he decided to at least live long enough to finish the series. It carried him through that dark patch, and he’s now living and in a much happier spot. He gives all credit to me. I give all credit to him to be strong enough to overcome that pain and bring himself to a better place.
JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?
AJS: I experimented a little with covers the first five years I was in this business. I learned that graphic or text based covers sell better. They just do, no matter what pen name I’m publishing under. I approach covers now with the idea that they should be bright, eye-catching, and without people if possible.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing A Mage’s Guide to Human Familiars?
AJS: I severely underestimated how much time this book would take for me to write. I thought it would be much shorter, not the 110,000 monster it became. It knocked everything off schedule, as it took two weeks longer to write than I anticipated, and that caused a domino effect. Rearranging my schedule for the rest of the year was not fun.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.
AJS: I would love to write both Wicky’s and Belphegor’s stories. They’re just such fun, dynamic characters. Belphegor is the type to do whatever he wants, consequences be damned. Wicky has no filter on his mouth and does crazy stuff just because he can. They’re precisely the type that’s fun to both write and read about.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
AJS: Demons. I did more research about demons in Christianity for this story than I have ever in my life.
And now for AJ’s new MMM fantasy book: A Mage’s Guide to Human Familiars:
One mage, Bel Adams – needs a familiar, gun shy about being rejected by one again.
One familiar, Nico di Rossi – Army Ranger, needs a change of pace and a new purpose in life.
Plus one familiar, Garen Adan – Secret Service, needs his ex-lover Nico back.
One second chance – all for the taking.
Summoning a familiar was supposed to be an exciting thing. The epitome of a young mage’s training. It was the event everyone dreamed about.
Bel looked at the summoning circle, at the power-booster spell inscribed on his own chest in its simplified circle of glowing light, and sighed.
He felt sick to his stomach and ready to go hide in a blanket fort. With snacks. Snacks would do nothing to help the situation, but he was sure they’d make him feel better.
Victoria came up and put a supportive arm around his shoulders. “You’ve got this, honey.”
“I know I can do the spell.” That so wasn’t the problem. He looked at the woman who was basically his adoptive mother in many ways, the person who’d supported him when things had gone to shit three years ago. He’d worked with her and her mage-husband, Matt, for those three years. If not for them, he wasn’t sure how things would have fallen out, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. They’d given him the space to heal in, the support he needed to be able to work.
Her familiar, a Norwegian forest cat named Wodge, came over and twined around Bel’s ankles, showing support. Bel leaned down to give him a scratch under the chin, making Wodge purr. Some people got nice, easy familiars. Like cats. Bel could go for a cat.
Would Bel get a cat?
Because that’s not how a R’iyah mage rolled.
Victoria gave him another squeeze. “That wasn’t what I meant, and you know it. This time, the spell will bring you a familiar who will love you.”
“I really hope you’re right.” If it didn’t, Bel was never doing this again. Ever. No matter how difficult it made life for him. No matter how dangerous it got. He’d find another way. The only reason he was doing it now was MAD insisted he had to have a familiar if he was to continue to work.
But he’d quit them if he had to. He wasn’t going to be forced back into this if things didn’t pan out. Again.
It was terrifying, really, to face the circle. Even with Victoria and Matt at his back. Breaking his previous familiar bond had felt like someone had ripped his heart straight out of his chest. The gaping wound left behind had left him raw, aching. Pain like that was reserved for amputated limbs, and Bel felt like he’d lost just that. It had taken almost a year before Bel felt normal again afterwards. No way did he want to repeat that.
This time, he was going to be upfront about all of it. Every single thing about himself that had driven off his first familiar. He would clear the air, give the familiar time to think about it before making the decision to stay or go. None of this trial basis nonsense. That’s what had gotten him in trouble last time.
Matt was off to the side, propping up a wall well outside of the circle’s range. “Ready?” he called, his usually affable expression closed down in worry. The little mini-dragon in his arms turned its dark crimson head and gave Bel an encouraging chirp. Treasure was supportive that way.
“As I’ll ever be.” Bel stepped forward, readying the limited power he had available to him. It would be barely enough to do the summoning with. Which was a sad state of affairs, but unfortunately normal for him.
He took a deep breath and found himself praying this worked. Despite all of his protests to the contrary, Bel really wanted a familiar. Wanted that relationship, that steadiness in his life. He closed his eyes for a moment, his feelings jittering in his chest, too many to comfortably name. Then he let out a slow breath before uttering the spell.
The sigil on the floor lit up with pure white light, blazingly bright, almost too bright to look directly at. The power pulled strongly from his core, so much so that Bel had to wonder—just who was he summoning this time? And from where, because that was quite the power draw.
Victoria stood at his back, her palm flat between his shoulder blades, giving him a much-needed power boost. Bless her. Bel quickly felt drained by this summoning.
He watched the middle of the circle intently, where the familiar would appear, trying to tease out any hint of shape or size. Even as he did, Bel found himself praying again. Please let this one be kind and patient. Let them have the talent he needed, the ability to offer the necessary protection.
Please don’t let this be a repeat of three years ago.
A shape started to take form. It was tall—six feet easily. Slender. Maybe a man?
But seriously, why so much of a power drain? Was he coming from across the country? Bel was in Michigan, so the familiar could be coming from practically anywhere and it would be ‘across the country.’
Between one blink and the next, the form solidified, and the light from the sigil faded. The power draw died down to a hum, then to nothing at all, the summoning complete.
Bel stared at the man standing in the circle. He looked bewildered, on guard, already braced in a fighting stance. The uniform was that of the USA forces, although Bel couldn’t tell from what branch. Army? Marines?
Two facts impacted and careened through Bel’s head. One, he’d once again summoned a soldier. Two, the man in front of him was damned handsome. His thick hair was jet black, with a slight wave that lay close to his scalp. He was lithe and trim, movements graceful as he slowly came out of the guarded stance. Hazel eyes locked on Bel, and when he spoke, it was with a light, smooth tenor.
“I don’t suppose someone can explain why the hell I’m in a summoning circle?”
The spell just had to summon someone exactly Bel’s type.
Damn it all to hell.