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, Anna Kensing – Anna Kensing writes steamy paranormal historical and contemporary romances that flirt with taboo. Her characters are often weird, mostly queer, and always get their happily-ever-after. Eventually. She’s obsessed with octopuses and the tv show Supernatural, listens to flute duets and heavy metal music while writing, and loves her scotch and Irish whiskies. When she’s not thinking about writing, she’s usually thinking about her next tattoo.
Thanks so much, Anna, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it.
Anna Kensing: I LOVE taking trips to research stories! It’s the best thing about being a writer—the excuse…ahem, I mean, opportunity…to travel to a place I otherwise might not go to and call it work. I also come up with story ideas while traveling, too. I went to Port Townsend, Washington for a writing conference a few years ago and had just started brainstorming a new story. I fell in love with the Victorian history and charm of that town and decided to set the story in Port Townsend during its heyday. And that’s how Devilfish, Book 1 of my Octopian Shifters series, came about.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing Sea Change?
AK: In Devilfish, we meet Declan Fitzgerald and Elliot Bishop and discover Elliot’s true nature—the first male octopian, which are half human, half octopus shifters. An octopian’s shifts are tied to the supermoon (a full moon when the moon is at perigee, or closest in orbit to the Earth) and the tides, and obviously involve aquatic sexy-times. In Sea Change, book 2, Declan and Elliot are together but in Devilfish, I’d set up that there can be some dire consequences for human men who…ahem…mate with octopian women. So, the hardest part of writing Sea Change was figuring out how to get Declan and Elliot out of the pickle I’d written them into—how they can be together permanently without hurting Declan.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
AK: I usually take the dog out on a long walk and blast some heavy metal music in my headphones until I work it out or exhaust myself or the dog, whichever comes first. Usually, I lose steam before the dog does or before I work everything out. So, I take a lot of long walks.
When I was stalled in writing Sea Change I couldn’t get unstuck until I went back to Port Townsend for research and inspiration. I need a lot of thinking time for my books (I mean, A LOT) so I’ve started switching projects when I get stuck for more than a few days in a row. I’m also highly susceptible to the lure of new shiny things, so I usually have at least three projects on the go at any given time and switching among them gives my brain a chance to mull over whatever I’m stuck on while I’m working on something that seems shiny and new again.
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
AK: I do! I have a day job and an established career in a rather stuffy profession. Which is part of why I write smutty romance with tentacles—as a creative outlet from my day job—but also why I don’t really want my colleagues to know that I write smutty romance with tentacles.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
AK: Declan Fitzgerald is hands-down my favorite character to write. He thinks he’s such an unrepentant rogue but he’s really just a cinnamon roll. He puts protecting the people he cares about before everything else, even if that sometimes runs over what they might actually want for themselves. He’s a hedonist and self-absorbed, but he’s also deeply perceptive and far smarter than most people give him credit for.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
AK: What octopus blood looks like under a microscope. And you know what? I could not find the answer! I found lots of images of what human blood, frog blood, and fish blood looks like, and what semen looks like (it seems like no man who’s ever owned a microscope since microscopes were invented has been able to resist looking at his spunk under the lens!).
I know that octopus blood is blue and why it’s blue—because of the copper-rich hemocyanin proteins that carries oxygen through their bodies rather than the iron-rich hemoglobin proteins that gives our blood its red color. And I learned that octopuses don’t have red blood cells like we do and that the hemocyanin is dissolved in viscous plasma that circulates through their three hearts. But no one seems to have posted photos of the plasma under a microscope on the Internet. Come on, marine biologists, help a gal who writes octopus-shifter romance out!
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?
AK: It seems like there’s always a character in my books who likes drinking as much (or more!) as I do. Declan and I share similar taste in whiskey, though his crew like their rum and I do love a good Dark and Stormy cocktail. Elliot Bishop has a tinge of insecurity about himself that I recognize. I only have the two human legs, though, so I’m not as good a swimmer as Elliot is. I’m not as patient or forgiving as Declan is, but we both have a temper that when it snaps, you better look the fuck out. Also, Declan and I both swear like…well…sailors.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
AK: Oh hell, yes! I started reading around three or four years old, though the first book I “read” was just reciting my favorite bedtime story from memory, complete with turning the pages at the right points. Both my parents read aloud to me and my sisters and I think I was around eight or nine when I started correcting my parents’ pronunciation if they got words wrong. I read the dictionary and encyclopedias for fun. I read the back and sides of the cereal box while eating breakfast. I checked out ten or fifteen books from the library at a time. I even read my mom’s parenting books, but she put the kibosh on that when I started pointing out when she was using techniques from the books on us kids.
I started reading romance novels when I was twelve or so and this was in the days of the real bodice-rippers, with Fabio on the covers. My mom tried briefly to monitor what I was reading but couldn’t keep up. And anyway, I’d just read them under the covers with a flashlight. I’m quite certain that a lot of what I read was highly inappropriate for my age, but I was kind of an innocent kid and most of the details just went over my head until I got older. I remember re-reading something in college that I’d read as a girl and realizing “Oh, so that’s what they were doing!”
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
AK: Okay, not a book, but I’d love to spend an evening with Dean and Sam Winchester. When they’re not fighting monsters, losing their souls, or dying for each other, of course. We’d drink some good Scotch. Dean and I would eat bacon cheeseburgers and mock Sam’s salad. Sam and I would lecture Dean on how porn objectifies women (and then Dean and I would watch some hentai anime porn anyway). I would NOT bring up Chuck Shurley or the Supernatural books or wincest fanfiction, but I might ask them for some suggestions on weapons to fight fictional supernatural monsters, because I’ve got the beginning of a new series percolating and I need something good and scary to pit against my next set of characters.
JSC: What are you working on now?
AK: I just finished the first draft of Hard Chrome, which is a contemporary romance about a small town mechanic who’s worked his whole life at his dad’s classic car restoration shop and the big-city lawyer who inherits half the shop when the mechanic’s dad dies. There’s nothing paranormal in this story, but it’s got stepbrothers with some history, an age gap and a bit of opposites attract, vintage American muscle cars in various states of repair, and car sex.
And now for Anna’s latest book: Sea Change:
Elliot’s octopian shifter side is at odds with the proper gentleman he knows he really is. He can’t deny that he needs Declan’s rock-like stability to get through the shifts at low tide during the supermoon. Elliot is the water flowing along the riverbed, the waves crashing against the bluffs. Declan is the rocky gorge that holds him and contains him, the cliffs standing firm, keeping him where he belongs.
Declan’s love anchors Elliot while their passion permits him to shift back to human from octopian. But their nights together take an increasing toll on Declan and if they can’t find answers, Elliot must give Declan up for his own good.
Return to the sexy, tentacle-filled world of the octopians, where passion sucks Elliot and Declan into a whirlpool of love and desire with consequences that ripple far beyond their relationship.
By the time the last guest left Elliot’s interminable supper party in the wee hours, Declan was too tired and not sober enough to do anything more than leave his clothes draped over a chair and climb into Elliot’s four-poster bed. Elliot said he’d be in after locking up, but Declan had fallen into a deep sleep before Elliot came to bed. Now he was awake, his head still swimming with all the whiskey he’d drunk and his mouth drier than a hardtack biscuit. Elliot wasn’t next to him, and the small lamp Declan had left burning on the bureau was sputtering with the last of its oil.
Declan glanced around the room. His clothes were still draped over the chair. Elliot’s wardrobe was closed, and the bureau’s surface clear of his collar, cufflinks, or other accessories he’d have left there if he had undressed for bed.
Declan slid from under the warm covers and shivered in the room’s chill air. He pulled his shirt and trousers on and rinsed his mouth with water from the pitcher on the washstand. He padded barefoot from the room and peered down the stairs. A light spilled from the open door of Elliot’s study, and Declan headed there, figuring Elliot must still be wired from supper and didn’t want to disturb Declan’s sleep. Now that he’d had a couple hours of sleep, he’d see what he could do to get Elliot to relax.
But Elliot wasn’t in the study. Nor was he in the parlor or dining room or any of the other rooms on the first floor. The house was quiet, Sally and her girls long since retired to their own rooms. The fire in the study’s fireplace was banked for the night. After a second round through the empty first-floor rooms, Declan realized where Elliot must be.
When they’d returned to Port Townsend from the octopians’ den, Elliot had found a secluded spot in the Kah Tai lagoon where he could shift without anyone seeing him. It was early for the shift to come on him, but the day or two before the supermoon made Elliot restless.
Declan returned to his room to finish dressing. His kit was half-open at the top of his sea chest, and a small, cork-stoppered bottle was under the jumble of other items in it. His stepmother had given him the bottle last year, and he held it up to the kerosene lamplight and flicked a fingernail against it. A small piece of seaweed lay in the bottom, which had kept Marie’s blood from clotting, but there was no blood left now. She’d warned him that it might not be enough to keep the consequences of being with Elliot at bay, but he’d followed her suggestion and taken her blood at the new moon before each supermoon.
Until the most recent new moon. He shook the little bottle again, but no liquid sloshed in it, and the blood-soaked seaweed clung limply to the bottle’s base. He tossed the bottle back into his kit and left the room. Whatever would happen would happen. He wasn’t going to stop fucking Elliot, no matter the consequences. He’d figure it out later.