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, Amir Lane – Amir Lane writes supernatural and fantasy with LGBT+ characters. From the frigid and mysterious land of Northern Canada, Amir is obsessed with loud music and black magic.
Thanks so much, Amir, for joining me!
J.Scott Coatsworth: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
Amir Lane: I really try not to. I don’t want to start associating people I know in real life with my characters, and vice versa. It just becomes awkward for me if I get to a point where I have to kill off a character that I’ve based off someone from work, or if that character gets developed further and I have to try to keep track of what’s real and what I’ve made up. It’s just easier to avoid it if I can. That said, it’s impossible to completely keep people I know in real life out of my characters. Sometimes I’ll grab a name from them, usually a last name, or I might give a character a habit from one of my friends. If I’m deliberately pulling from real people, it’s usually musicians. It’s less awkward for me that way.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
AL: I’m generally a plotter. I don’t mind pantsing short stories; sometimes I’ll have a scene or a couple scenes in my head and I’ll do those then work them together. But for longer works, I’d definitely rather plot. It’s way faster for me if I have at least some semblance of an idea where I’m going. Honestly, it is the same with short stories, I just don’t usually bother writing it down for short stories. So, plotter all the way.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
AL: I’m definitely character-oriented. Usually, I get a concept about a character and I build the plot around them. For example, I’ve got a novel I’m (not supposed to be) working on about a vampire hunter who got into it when his brother was turned. The original concept was a vampire violinist, and I started building from there. While I’ve been working on this, there’s a side character who’s a priest. He was the vampire violinist and hunter’s best friend while they were growing up, and the hunter stays in touch with him while he’s hunting. At the end, he goes back to the priest. And like I always do, I thought, ‘What’s he doing all this time? What does he think about all this that’s happening?’ How people react to situations is exactly how a book develops.
JSC: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
AL: I aim for 50k words in a first draft. I estimate about 1k words per hour. Usually I’m faster, but that accounts for fatigue and tea breaks. So a first draft takes me about 50 hours. I ballpark 6 weeks for a first draft, but I give myself 8 weeks to account for life. That doesn’t include prep-work. I usually spend about a week or two outlining and getting into backstories.
JSC: Where do you like to write?
AL: I’m a coffee shop kind of guy. There’s coffee, less distraction, no fridge to walk to every ten minutes. Plus there’s the feeling that somebody could be looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m writing (only when I’m writing with a friend/group) and I want to get my words out as fast as possible so I can go home and change into pyjamas. Doesn’t quite work as well if I’m already at home. Even if I’m wearing jeans, I’m already halfway there. It might be a bit stereotypical, but the Starbucks principle works.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for “Gift of Shadows”?
AL: I love cop dramas. They’ve always been my favourite type of media. I also love magic. Urban fantasy has been at the top of my favourite things to read since I first discovered Holly Black. Combining them is a natural next step.
This series in particular came to me in a dream. It started out with a scene that ended up being book two where my main character is undercover at a prisoner transfer that gets ambushed, and it sort of spiraled out of control from there.
With the first book in this series, I started with my opening line: “If nobody else is going to say it, I will. Our victim has no eyes.” It sort of cracked me up so I went with it. From there, I asked myself who would take my victim’s eyes and why, and how that would lead me to my prisoner transfer. Once I filled in some of the blanks, it was easy to go from there.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
AL: The covers for this series are done by Daqri at Covers by Combs. She also did the covers for my Morrighan House Witches series. The process for this series was even easier. Three of the covers were actually premades. Some artists will make covers and then sell them to authors instead of being commissioned. The first one she posted was the one for what became Gift of Ashes. I hadn’t known at the time what I wanted it for but I knew I wanted to write about a phoenix. Then she posted the one for what became Gift of Curses. The third was for Gift of Shadows. Since Ashes and Curses didn’t really have the kind of consistent feeling I wanted for a main series, I used them for side stories and commissioned two more custom covers to fit Shadows. Since one was already done, all she had to do was match it. I had a couple tweaks on the premades, mostly to get the consistent branding, but other than that, it was super easy on both of us.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about him or her.
AL: That is just a rabbit hole I don’t even want to start going down. I love exploring backstories and scenes from other points of view. I want to explore all of them.
So far, I’ve explored two side characters. The first is Angelo the Phoenix. In the opening scene of Gift of Secrets, the murder victim spontaneously combusts and disappears. He turns up later and helps the main character solve the spree of murders. Gift of Ashes follows him through the events of book one of the main series. I also have a chapter involving Rowan Oak, who I’m not going to talk about too much because his backstory has some spoilers. I would like to write some more about him, because he does have a very convoluted backstory and he has so many secrets through the series, and I think it’ll be fun to walk through his thought process while everything is happening.
The other characters I’d like to explore are the other members of Fairuz Arshad’s team. Kieron Harper is a former Irish step dancer turned sniper turned cop, and a low-level witch. He’s another character that I’d love to write parts from the main series from his point of view. There’s also Indira Krishnamurthy-King, an alkonost adopted into a misfit family of parahumans. He’s got a very peppy attitude that I think would be so much fun to see the world through.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
AL: Oh man, ‘voracious’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. One of my aunts used to take me to the library to give my parents a break from me, and since then, I’ve never been seen without a book. I’d take out as many books as the library would let me at a time and I’d be done the stack by the end of the week. I started reading encyclopedias just because I was bored. Anything I could get my hands on, I’d read. I don’t read as often as I’d like to, but I’ve always got something on the go.
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
AL: I’m a tea drinker. I get teased about it a bit because I drink so much tea. We’re doing a Secret Santa at work, and one guy said he hopes he gets me because he’d just get me tea. Everybody agreed. The people at David’s Tea know me by name. I swear, I’m stocking up every other week. My current favourite is called S’mores Chai. It has mini chocolate chips and marshmallows in it.
And now for Amir’s new book: Gift of Shadows:
A corpse with no eyes bursts into flames before Toronto’s Special Crimes Detective Fairuz Arshad can investigate. Her superiors are ordering her to close the case before it’s even been opened, and it isn’t the only one. She tracks down a siren and a faerie, both missing organs and brushed off by the police. Fairuz and her dryad partner, Rowan, suspect there’s more to this mystery than it appears. The evidence points to a string of parahuman murders, with all the victims missing organs.
The police are covering up the crimes, and Fairuz realizes the killer may be one of their own. As Rowan joins the ranks of those keeping secrets from her, the list of people Fairuz trusts grows smaller. More bodies are uncovered, and she fears something far more sinister is at work than a simple serial killer.
With her own team turning against her, can Fairuz catch the killer before he strikes again?
A fully naked man lunged at me, reminding me once again why I was a lesbian. His body twisted midair, his face elongating and his fingernails turning into claws. I threw up another barrier, this one smaller and more localized than the one by the door, meant only to protect the part of me the werewolf was aiming for. He hit the barrier, and I dug my heels into the floor to keep in place. His claws raked over the barrier. Red lines rose on my arm.
“A little help!” I shouted.
An officer was kind enough to wrench the werewolf’s arms behind his back. The werewolf, who couldn’t have been much older than myself, shifted back to a fully human form and thrashed against the officer.
“This is police brutality!” he shouted. “I’ll sue!”
“Are you kidding me?” I muttered.
I touched at the red lines on my skin. They weren’t nearly as bad as they would have been if he’d actually gotten his claws into me, but it still hurt. If the officer shoved him harder than entirely necessary, I didn’t say anything about it.
By now, most of the action was dying down. These things always went much more quickly than they did in movies. It wasn’t a big, drawn-out thing, and it wasn’t the magical firefight I’d been led to believe I would be seeing in the Police Academy. Maybe it was different for parahumans like Rowan, but it generally took a few seconds to work up a spell, longer if someone wasn’t trained right. That meant magical firefights just didn’t happen all that often.
I hadn’t been trained in magic at all. Not officially, at least. My parents hadn’t wanted me to be. Even though this gift had saved my life, it could have also put me in danger. Whether or not it was safe to do what people here called magic was largely dependent on the militant group that had the most power, which changed from week to week. I’d practiced in secret as much as I could, and then openly when I moved to Toronto from Lebanon for university. By now, I was pretty damn good with the barriers, but the suppression limited my skill. I should have been able to do so much more. This was all I had, and I made the most of it.
By the time I shoved my way to the centre of the warehouse, all but three of the werewolves were contained. It was a good thing, too. I was drenched in sweat from holding up a barrier so far away from me. The werewolf by my feet was wrapped in the long branches I was now quite familiar with. I dropped the barrier at the door, and I used the extra energy to put up another one around the remaining werewolves. Two were in wolf form, both bigger than I expected wolves to be, and covered in black fur. The third was still in a human shape, but brandishing a knife.
This barrier was much thicker than the first one to account for the wolves throwing themselves at it. Each hit bruised my shoulder. I ground my teeth together and held both hands against it. It wasn’t enough to stop my feet from sliding across the concrete floor. The back of my shirt felt damp and my hair was starting to stick to my face. Even though I wasn’t in bad shape, I wasn’t much of a match for two adrenaline-filled werewolves. The one with the knife slashed at the barrier, and tiny papercuts appeared on my arms.
“Ow! Hey, stop that!”
If only I could do that electrified barrier thing I’d been told my grandmother could do. That would be handy right about now.
At the sound of Rowan’s in-case-I-don’t-have-time-for-both-syllables nickname for me, I allowed a small hole in the barrier behind the wolves. It was only just large enough for him to push a hand forward through it. More of those malleable branches extended from his fingers like ropes to wrap around the first wolf, then the second. That left the guy with the knife running for Rowan.
In the span of a single breath, I dropped the barrier and ran at the man. I threw all my 160-pounds at him. He let out a startled sound as we fell onto the ground. He writhed beneath me as I held him down, fishing for my cuffs in my back pocket. I yanked him to his feet, cuffs securely in place around his wrists, and threw him at the nearest officer. I officially hated werewolves.
“You all right?” Rowan asked.
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak without giving away how out of breath I was. He slipped my arm around his shoulders and helped me outside. It was easy given we were about the same height. Pressed this close against him, I could smell sweat and root beer. It was not a great combination.
The cool air felt good against my skin. I closed my eyes, enjoying the late-winter air. It had been a colder week than any other we’d had this February, and I was glad for it now. We made our way back to our car, and I grabbed my jacket with the intention of calling Sabine to let her know we were done. I had a missed call from Oscar.
While Rowan chatted with one of the detectives, I listened to the message.
“Hey, Arshad, it’s Oscar. You told me to call you if I came across anything weird. Well… I did some poking around for you. There’s a faerie girl at Toronto General who was attacked the other day. Her wings were cut out and so was her gallbladder or pancreas or something. Dunno how she survived but—”
He went on to give me details I could barely hear over the sound of my heart racing. A phoenix, a siren, and now a faerie. Oscar had a saying, the same one he left me with at the end of his message:
“Once is an occurrence, twice is a coincidence, three is a pattern.”
I swallowed and looked over at Rowan chatting with the detectives. His eyes met mine and his smiled dropped.
We had a pattern.
Amir Lane writes supernatural and fantasy with LGBT+ characters. From the frigid and mysterious land of Northern Canada, Amir is obsessed with loud music and black magic. They spend most of their writing time in a small home office or doing the circuit of local coffee shops. They live in a world where magic is an every day occurrence, and they strive to bring that world to paper.
When not figuring out what kind of day job an incubus would have or what a necromancer would go to school for, Amir enjoys visiting the nearest Dairy Queen, getting killed in video games, and watching cat videos.