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, Courtney Maguire – Courtney Maguire is a University of Texas graduate from Corpus Christi, Texas. Drawn to Austin by a voracious appetite for music, she spent most of her young adult life in dark, divey venues nursing a love for the sublimely weird. A self-proclaimed fangirl with a press pass, she combined her love of music and writing as the primary contributor for Japanese music and culture blog, Project: Lixx, interviewing Japanese rock and roll icons and providing live event coverage for appearances across the country.
Thanks so much, Courtney, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
Courtney Maguire: My first published work was a contemporary rock-and-roll romance called Wounded Martyr and was published in 2019 by Nine Star Press. It is about an aging Rockstar battling alcoholism and struggling to rebuild his damaged relationships. I actually wrote it while querying the first Youkai Bloodlines book and it was a finalist for an RWA Golden Heart Award that year. It’s not a perfect book by any means, but I do have quite the soft spot for my cranky hero.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
CM: Generally, when I get writer’s block, it means there is a problem somewhere earlier in the MS. I will pause and read back through the last few major plot points and consider making different decisions and how that would affect the flow. Maybe the MC discovered some bit of information too quickly. Maybe they should withhold something they divulged in order to maintain tension. Sometimes just changing the order in which things happen will shake something loose. If I’m really stuck, I’ll reverse outline working backwards until I find the problem. It’s frustrating for sure, but it usually works.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
CM: Be brave. Writing for an audience is an INCREDIBLY scary thing. Do it anyway. Yes, there will be people that hate it, maybe even a lot of people. Do it anyway. It’s all worth it for that one person who tells you that you inspired them.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
CM: I’ve never fully based a character on a person, but I have based character appearances on real people. I also tend to steal names. Not full names, but I’ll definitely pull a surname or something here and there. Occasionally, I get a little too close to comfort to the real thing, especially combined with the appearance, and I end up having to make late-stage name changes. It can be a little tedious and definitely results in some funny find/replace antics.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
CM: I know I shouldn’t, but I totally do. Call me a masochist, but I just have to know. When I get bad reviews, there’s always that burst of defensive anger but I just have to take a step back and remember that reviews are largely based on individual taste and opinion. A lot of times I can find something constructive to take away from them. And if not, that’s fine, too. They aren’t meant for me, they are meant for readers. When I get an especially good or inciteful review, though, I will shout it from the rooftops and share everywhere I can manage.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes in Blood Pact. What makes them tick?
CM: My main character, Hiro, was abandoned as a baby and raised by a woman that wasn’t his mother. He has no memories of his birth family and loves his adoptive mother very much, but that fear of abandonment is still very much alive in him. The LI, Hideyoshi, suffered a great loss in his past which makes attachment difficult for him and is likely the root of his aloofness.
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you? Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them?
CM: Hideyoshi fought against me once or twice. He is a stubborn, prideful person and if he doesn’t want to do something, he doesn’t do it…unless it’s Hiro asking of course. Then he folds like a cheap suit 😛
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
CM: Asagi will always have a soft spot in my heart. Asagi is the main character of the first book, Bloodlaced, and appears as a secondary character in Blood Pact. Their relationship with Hideyoshi is SO much fun to write. They act like they hate each other and bicker constantly, but there’s an undercurrent of…something else there. It’s delightful and I can’t help laughing to myself as I write it.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
CM: Process? What’s a process?
Honestly, it varies from project to project. I usually start with character and develop plot around them. I had a writing teacher tell me you should create characters you love then give them the worst day of their lives. I then zero draft, which is basically just dumping all my ideas on paper. I am a pantser for the most part, though writing a series requires some level of planning. I usually go in knowing the beginning, the rough midpoint, and the end and sometimes even those change in the course of drafting. Once the basic story is down, I spend the next two or three drafts fine tuning before sending it out to beta readers. Another draft based on their notes and then it’s submission time. I usually end up with anywhere between three and five drafts and I always celebrate submission with an adult beverage. Because I’ve earned it.
JSC: What are you working on now?
CM: I am currently working on Youkai Bloodlines Book 3 which, if all goes well, should be submitted by the time this interview is up. In Book 3, we get to see our cast of youkai in a much different context. I’m really challenging myself with this one and I’m excited to see where it goes.
And now for Courtney’s new book: Blood Pact:
In Hiro’s world, youkai are a supernatural story used to scare children into obedience, and to keep men out of back alleys and brothels. Until Sakurai Hideyoshi walks through his door with a fantastical tale of a samurai who had killed a thousand men and drank the blood of his enemies, a man that lived in darkness but sought beauty to keep it at bay.
A story both terrifying and romantic…and completely ridiculous.
Unless it is true.
Convinced something softer lurks behind Hideyoshi’s hard mask, Hiro follows him home. And discovers the story is real.
Only instead of the blood of his enemies, it is innocent blood taken.
Hideyoshi tells him never to return. Yet after Hiro’s mother is mortally wounded, Hiro runs back to the one being he knows with the power to save her. When Hideyoshi can’t, Hiro begs him for the next best thing: the power to avenge her.
As Hiro becomes youkai, he faces a new threat, something darker, older, and far more dangerous. With Hideyoshi at his side, Hiro must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice–and what he’s willing to do–to protect this new life before he loses everything for a second time.
If you like Bella Forrest, P. C. Cast, AJ Tipton, or Anne Rice, you will love this beautiful dark paranormal fantasy romance.
Amazon | iBooks | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | City Owl | QueeRomance Ink
With a deep breath, I squared my shoulders, picked up my head, and slipped out into the main house. Our guest had already arrived and a herd of servant girls in their sleeping clothes had gathered around the door to his room, all whispering and peeking through the crack. Saki, a petite girl with a small, round face, straightened and rushed to my side as I approached.
“His name is Sakurai Hideyoshi,” she said in a hurried whisper. “They say his katana has killed a thousand men and he drinks the blood of his enemies.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I chided, frowning toward the crack in the door.
“It’s true!” chimed in another girl. “I heard he was once struck in the heart by an arrow, pulled it out, and used it to kill the archer!”
“He traded his soul to a demon in exchange for immortality,” Saki said.. “Now, he’s doomed to walk the earth for a thousand years.”
I groaned and shooed them all away, swatting them across the shoulders with my fan. They disappeared down the hall in a giggling mass, leaving me alone in front of his door. Surely it wasn’t these fantastical stories that had the house in such a stir.
The crack in the door was just wide enough to emit a flickering beam of light. Despite myself, I leaned toward it, my head filled with images of ghosts. When I was a boy, a traveling merchant told me a story of an old battlefield haunted by the headless spirits of fallen soldiers, their consciousness gone, fueled only by spite. I’d spent every night for a week after that in Okaasan’s bed. But now I was grown, the magic had worn off such stories and yet, as I peered through the gap in the shoji, the boy inside me thrilled at what could be behind it.
A shadow passed through the light and I jumped back. “Just a samurai,” I whispered to myself, taking a deep breath before sliding the door open and entering the room.
What I found inside wasn’t a ghost, but a man sitting cross-legged on the floor, back straight, sipping sake from a white ceramic cup. He was dark like the night. All the customary lamps had been lit and yet the light pulled away from him like a retreating tide. His simple but elegant black kimono and hakama stood in sharp contrast to the white screen behind him. Extremely long black hair spilled from a high ponytail at his crown and fell in a thick stream over his shoulder, the end grazing his waist. His free hand rested on a short sword on his hip and his katana lay out on the floor beside him.
The katana that killed a thousand men.
“Hajimemashite, O-Sakurai-han,” I said with a low bow.
“You must be Hiro,” he said in a deep, soft voice, flicking eyes like razors up at me.
“Yes.” Heat crawled up the back of my neck as he raked that gaze over me. I bowed lower. “Please forgive my appearance, Sakurai-han. Your arrival took us a bit by surprise.”
He made a low sound in his throat, almost a growl. “You’ve come to sing for me?”
“Y-yes, if it pleases you.”
With a wave of the hand, he signaled me to begin. I unfurled my fan and found his eyes again, dark as obsidian and just as hard. Something caught in my chest and for a terrifying moment, I couldn’t draw breath, like the shock of sudden cold.
I closed my eyes and held the song in my heart until it warmed again. It was an old song, filled with mystery and romance. One I’d sung a million times and it never failed to move me. It told the story of a woman who fell in love with the spirit of a lonely mountain and as my voice rose and fell with the lamentations of love, of desires just out of reach, my imagination drifted with the words and I was transported.
I walked the base of the mountain in search of my love, felt the cold air on my face and the earth beneath my feet. Real longing, not the empty affections of our patrons, filled my heart and warmed my cheeks. I peeked out from beneath my lashes. Over the years, I’d pasted a thousand different faces into this fantasy, let them fill my heart and mind until they believed I sang only for them. That was my talent, my gift, to bring my patrons into the fantasy with me, and this time it was Sakurai Hideyoshi, his fierce eyes softening, his dark presence warming with every note.
The song drifted to a close and reality settled around us again. A faint smile crossed his lips and a thrill went through me as he nodded his approval. He set his empty sake cup on the small wooden table in front of him. Like the dutiful geisha, I knelt down beside him, took up the carafe, and refilled his glass.
“You’re not like the others are you, Hiro?” He looked me squarely in the eye and I shivered. Those eyes. I couldn’t escape those eyes.
“H-how do you mean?”
“You’re not rough or crude like the other men here.” My cheeks heated as his gaze drifted over my face. I nodded in acknowledgement, flashing a demure smile. He drained his glass and made a small hum of pleasure as I leaned in too close. Our arms touched and my sakura-perfumed hair brushed across his shoulder.
“What about you?” I asked, a bit of a tease in my voice. “Are you like the other men I meet here?”
He pulled his gaze away from me and his expression shuttered. I saw him so clearly then, sat atop that high mountain. And like the girl in the song, I felt the desperate urge to reach him, to touch him, to warm the cold that had leached into his heart.
I wanted him to look at me.