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, Cari Z – Cari Z was a bookworm as a child and remains one to this day. In an effort to combat her antisocial reading behavior, she did all sorts of exciting things, from competitive gymnastics to alligator wresting (who even knew that was legal!) to finally joining the Peace Corps, which promptly sent her and her husband to Togo, West Africa, stuck them in a house, and said, “See ya!” She also started writing then, because it was a good way to entertain herself with no electricity. She writes award-winning LGBTQ fiction featuring aliens, supervillains, soothsayers, and even normal people sometimes.
Thanks so much, Cari, for joining me!
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
CZ: I didn’t realize it would be research at the time, but I spent an afternoon at a reptile rescue learning to alligator wrestle one birthday. After that, it HAD to go in a story 😊
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
CZ: I do! At first it was because I worked in a very conservative environment and worried about being identified/ostracized, but now I’m glad I’ve got Cari Z’s body of work under one name, and can write in other genres as someone else.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
CZ: As long as my toddler is sleeping! Around 4 hours right now, which…doesn’t feel like enough, but I take what I can get.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
CZ: I used to read them religiously, thinking I’d learn something from them. Now, never. NEVER. They rarely help and often hurt, so unless one is specifically brought to my attention, nopenopenopenope.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
CZ: I’ve written 100k in a month before, and I’ve written 105k in four years. That averages out to…*looks at math, shrugs* At any rate, generally I need three months to get the bones down.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
CZ: The more I get, the better I deal with them. Lately I’ve gotten a LOT of them, and I mostly nod and smile and archive them, then move on.
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
CZ: The oldie but goodie book of mine that I adore, adore, adore is Changing Worlds, which is a science fiction story about a human ship captain who marries an alien and goes back to live on his world, which forces a lot of change and adaptation on both sides. I recently got rights back and will be republishing it as soon as I can.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Luckless?
CZ: I wanted to write something with dragons. Oh yes, the detail that I put into my decision-making, I know it’s stunning.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in Luckless, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
CZ: Oh man, I just wanted to write a fun book and get it out into the world, but the publisher I first contracted it to ended up being a bad actor, so I got rights back. Then I subbed it to Tor.com, waited a year, and subsequently got the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever received. Then I subbed to a small press and got another rejection, not nearly so nice, and then I decided, “Screw it, I’ll publish it myself.” So..voila!
JSC: What are you working on now?
CZ: I’ve got a lot in the works right now! I’m editing a holiday novel for Entangled for 2021, I just finished the first draft of a Middle Grade dystopian fantasy retelling of The Odyssey, and I’m in negotiations for something WAY COOL that I hope I get so I can share, share, share. Plus L.A. Witt and I just finished out latest collaboration, Hitman Vs. Hitman, which is dark and funny, so…lots of great stuff is coming up, stay tuned!
And now for Cari’s new book: Luckless:
Evan Luck is a dragon rider with no dragon. Five years ago, his dragon gave her life defending the monster-ridden remnants of Marble, and ever since, his ability to connect empathically to another dragon had been as broken as his heart. Now he spends his days dodging his disappointed mayor, crafting arrows, fighting off the not-as-legendary-as-they-should-be beasts that’ve overrun America, and just trying to get by in the city of Forge.
But when he meets newcomer Lee Caldwell, Evan thinks his lonely luck might be changing. Lee is the only person in the city who doesn’t blame Evan for his dragon’s death, and he welcomes Evan into his own little family. There’s more to Lee than meets the eye, though, and between his refusal to talk about himself, pressure from the mayor to split them up, and a monster attacking the city’s foundations, Evan isn’t sure he’ll live long enough to learn the truth.
But not learning the truth will almost certainly be fatal, both to Evan and Lee’s budding relationship, and to the entire city.
Evan watched as the gunner swung his .50 caliber M2 machine gun toward an incoming flock of harpies—carrion feeders who only banded together when there was bigger prey in the offing. The gunner fired a short burst and half of the monsters fell, losing feathers and blood and shrieking almost intelligibly. This machine gun was one of only four in the city, and one of the very few firearms that they still managed to produce ammunition for. Even so, its store of brass casings would wear out eventually, and then they’d have little more than muskets to fire along with their arrows.
Some of the defenders cheered, but Evan simply tuned them out and glanced over the edge again. The first wave of crix was almost within range, their leg blades singing over the whistle of the icy wind, their armored bellies nearly scraping the chunks of pitted concrete and rebar that were all that remained of southbound I-25. Their front legs were shaped for climbing, short and stubby and tipped with thick, sharp claws, while their hind legs were long and built for propulsion. When they rubbed those blades together, they made a sound almost too beautiful to possibly herald death.
They were no more than a hundred feet away now, the bigger ones starting to jump in anticipation of bounding up the wall. It was an ugly, patchwork thing, made from the bones of skyscrapers and museums, the city it surrounded packed to the brim with the survivors, their herds, and their dragons. In most places, it was too steep to jump straight over, and the crix had to climb, but sometimes a few of them got lucky—especially the bigger ones, closer to mule-sized than dog-sized.
The gunner lifted his megaphone again. “Archers, fire at will!”
Evan had an arrow nocked before the man finished speaking, and loosed it at the largest crix within range. It hit a glancing blow on the creature’s head—not quite enough to crack its shell, but it was still stunned, limbs waving dazedly as it rolled onto its side. Five or six smaller crix immediately diverted to attack it, and Evan smiled grimly. There was no better way to take out a monster than with another monster.
He fired again and again, striking true and winnowing down the oncoming horde as effectively as he could. Unfortunately, most of his fellow archers weren’t having the same success. Ollie in particular seemed to have forgotten Evan’s advice in the heat of the fight, firing almost blindly and with no thought to aiming, which meant most of his arrows skittered into the ground. Evan gritted his teeth over it until his last arrow was gone, then lowered his bow and ran to the boy’s side.