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, J.V. Speyer – J. V. Speyer has been telling stories since she was a small child. Her father raised her on a steady diet of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, and she came to romance later in life. Most of her inspiration is drawn from music, whether from a specific song or just a rhythm.
Thanks so much, J.V., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
J.V. Speyer: There were so many things I wanted to be. I wanted to go fight in the Cold War, but it turns out I don’t like the cold. Or cabbage. Or speaking Russian. So that was out. (Also apparently my understanding of “Cold War” was a bit off, but hey. I was 8.) I wanted to go to Washington and Fight The Bad Guys Stealing Our Rights, but I don’t have the patience for politics. I wanted to be an archaeologist. I wanted to be an ER doctor. I wanted to rescue gorillas from poachers.
Now I’m a writer, and part of me gets to do all of the above. Except fight the Cold War, because I still don’t like cabbage and I’ve forgotten most of my Russian.
JSC: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
JVS: I don’t know if I ever knew that I “wanted” to write. I just kind of sat down and did it, lol! I think there was a point when I was a little kid when I stopped “playing pretend” and started writing things down, but that would have still been in the single digit years. Stories have always fascinated me, whether reading or telling.
As to finding that I was good at it? That’s kind of subjective – according to some reviewers, I’m still not! I guess the point when I figured I do what I wanted with it was in high school. We were doing a creative writing unit in English class, and the teacher said that only one student had understood the assignment. Then he read mine out loud (anonymously). Three people cried by the end of the story. (It wasn’t a feel-good story, so I’m okay with that!)
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with and why?
JVS: Sam Winchester, from TV’s Supernatural. I’d stopped writing for a long time, and early-seasons SPN helped to get my creativity flowing again. Sam’s got a lot of eclectic knowledge stored in that big brain of his, things that he knows just… because…. And that’s exactly the kind of person I could pass an evening with. Weird knowledge, picked up here and there and traded back and forth.
Kind of my idea of heaven, really.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JVS: Huh. Genre is hard to pin down for me, because I just write the story that’s in front of me. I do try to write a story that I’d want to read, so I like to write stories that have some kind of action component. Contemporaries take me longer to write, because I have to get up and do something else or I’ll sneak in a car chase or a gun fight or something.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
JVS: Meet Princess Kitty and Batcat. (Batcat is the tuxie.) Princess Kitty is the only cat I’ve ever met who named herself. (She has another name, but she doesn’t answer to it.)
This is Olive, the Beagle. She’s 10 years young, and likes to sit on the keyboard at night. Only at night.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JVS: My first published work was “See Me, Feel Me,” in Growing Pains. It’s a YA spec fic anthology about coming of age. In that story, the main character discovers the ability to become invisible.
JSC: What’s your greatest weakness as a writer?
JVS: Confidence, certainly. I’m not very good with it. I think a lot of us are plagued with self-doubt, though. I’m hardly unique in that way.
Also em dashes.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
JVS: I get an idea… no, seriously. I have ADD, so I try to plan things out as best I can ahead of time. Otherwise I WILL get sidetracked, and possibly start another six projects. So I come up with an idea – usually a character, or a character and a situation. Then I’ll sit down in Evernote and flesh it out, usually with a lot of profanity. (“This is Jason. Jason was literally raised by wolves, and it f****** shows.” That kind of thing.)
Then I sit down with Scrivener and make a kind of skeleton of the book. I build character sheets for all of the important figures. Sometimes I’ll use a random generator (like the ones found at springhole.net) to fill in some of the background, and I’ve come up with some great subplots that way. Then I figure out how long I want the finished product to be. I know about how long my chapters usually are.
I create blank chapters for each chapter until I get to my estimated word count, and I give a brief synopsis of what I want for each chapter and each section. It’s not set in stone, but when I sit down to work every day I have an idea of where I’m going and what I’m doing. I’m less likely to get distracted.
JSC: Would you visit the future or the past, and why?
JVS: Can I choose both?
I’d love to visit the past, emphasis on visit. My parents were both history majors, and I majored in archaeology and classical history in undergrad. I’ve always been fascinated by the way people lived, and who they were. What gets written down is, for the most part, the stories of wealthy (mostly white) men in power. We don’t get to see the stories of more normal people, or marginalized people, very often. When we do, what we see is a partial record.
Who wouldn’t want to go and get the facts for themselves?
But I’m also very conscious of the fact that most eras of history are not kind to people like me – not neurotypical, not religious, not straight – and that modern medicine is my friend. So I’d definitely want a guarantee of being able to return from my research trip unscathed.
And as for the future, I’d love to get a sneak peek and get a little bit of reassurance just to know that everything is going to be okay (at least on a large scale.)
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
JVS: Right now I’m working on a paranormal romance about a detective with a psychic ability who works on cold cases. It’s the first book of what I’m hoping will be a series. I’m hoping to finish the manuscript in September (?) and then we’ll see if I can find a publisher. Hopefully in 2018!
And now for JV’s new book: Rites of Spring:
Cameron has given up on romance, after a difficult childhood made it hard for him to trust enough for intimate relationships to develop. But mostly he’s happy with the life he’s built for himself.
When two paranormal investigators show up at the home he recently inherited, claiming he may be in danger, he sends them packing, convinced they’re nothing but con men.
Until several incidents prove they’re telling the truth. The past Cameron tried so hard to leave behind is coming for him, and it’s angry.
Rites Book One
Cameron didn’t have a lot on his walls. Most of the walls were bare. He had a couple of paintings that he’d picked up cheap because his friends had painted them back in school, hanging in different parts of the house. He had a couple of his own pieces too, just because he liked them and didn’t want to get rid of them. And he had one photograph that he’d had restored and blown up, hanging in the most prominent place in the living room.
The picture was a portrait of Cameron, his older brother David, and his little sister Ashley. Grandpa had taken the picture right in front of the ancient, gnarled oak tree in their grandpa’s backyard. Cameron couldn’t remember why they’d all been over at Grandpa’s house, but he couldn’t have been older than seven when it was taken. His mother, Catherine, had made sure that visits with Grandpa got to be few and far between after that. Cameron could still remember little details from those mini-vacations without his mother’s looming presence. He remembered the smell of roses, from his grandfather’s beloved bushes. He remembered some kind of a Portuguese stew that Grandpa made for them, filling and delicious. He remembered the quiet most of all. Even with three rambunctious children running around the place, Grandpa’s house had been an oasis of peacefulness.
Now that Grandpa’s house was Cameron’s house, he loved coming home and seeing that portrait as soon as he walked in the door. He’d found it among his grandfather’s things when he inherited the place, in a manila folder, along with all of the maintenance records for the appliances and the lease records for the other side of the duplex. The folder had one word on the label: “Cameron”, written in a shaky hand, as though Grandpa had always intended to pass the house down to Cameron. As though Grandpa had anyone else to leave the place to.
Cameron had gone out and gotten the picture restored, and framed, and hung it up on the wall. It was the only record he had that they’d been a family, three siblings living together, and as twisted as their childhood had been Cameron wanted to honor the potential they’d had. He hadn’t expected to feel much about it. After all, he’d had years for the wounds to scab over. As January stretched into April, he started to recognize the warm feeling he got every time he saw the photo. He stopped fighting it. It was nice to feel like part of a family again, even if the family had to be in the past tense.
Naturally, the thing fell off the wall on a regular basis.
Cameron couldn’t figure out why the frame kept falling from the wall. The duplex stood on a side street, with no heavy traffic or big trucks to make it shake. None of the other pictures came down, at all. It had been hung in a good, solid spot, even if the walls were a good two centuries old, but this one lightweight frame flew off the wall at least every other week. It didn’t just fall, it flew. When Cameron complained to an old friend, the friend laughed at him. “Maybe it’s a sign,” Tyler said. “Maybe you should stop kidding yourself about family and look to the future.”
If it had come from anyone else, Cameron might have thrown a punch. Tyler had grown up in the system, though, same as Cameron, and Tyler understood more about Cameron than other people. So Cameron just sighed and said, “Maybe.” He bought a new frame and hung the picture right back where it had been, and the cycle began again.
He came home the Wednesday after Easter to find the picture on the ground again, glass shattered, and cursed out loud. Sometimes he missed living in a nice, modern apartment up in Boston. Okay, so there hadn’t been any privacy. He’d had to share an apartment with four other guys, which had gotten uncomfortable by the end, but at least the building had been built in the seventies and had absolutely no idiosyncrasies whatsoever.
Then again, the price was definitely right here. Worth the occasional bit of glass, anyway. He could pay for replacement frames out of the amount he wasn’t paying in rent or a mortgage.
He closed and locked the door behind him and lugged his groceries into the kitchen. The other side of the duplex had gotten a complete kitchen renovation before the current tenants came in; apparently Grandpa didn’t want the Shaladis coming into an old-fashioned kitchen, or maybe the prior tenants had trashed the place. There was no way to tell now. The old man hadn’t left any notes or messages about it. Appliance records and lease records were one thing, but the inner workings of the old man’s mind were a different story. Cameron’s own kitchen had a few newer appliances, but the bones of the room hadn’t changed since Cameron had been a little boy. Eventually Cameron would get around to renovating the kitchen, but for now he could live with the way things were. It wasn’t as though he needed anything fancy to throw together a few salads a week.
A knock on the back door shook him out of his reverie. When he looked up, he saw his tenant standing at the door. He relaxed when he saw that she was alone. Mrs. Shaladi had come here from Libya two or three years ago. She was picking up English as quickly as could be expected of anyone, but it was still slow going. When she had something big or complicated to discuss, she brought her son to translate. Otherwise, she was content to communicate in a combination of her half-understood English and Cameron’s half-remembered high school French. Today she’d come alone, so things on the other side of the wall must be good.
He opened the door and smiled at her. “Hey, Mrs. Shaladi. How are you?”
She smiled back. Her smile was lovely, the kind of smile that improved Cameron’s mood right away. “I am okay,” she said, picking her way around the words. “And you?” Today the tight scarf that framed her face was light pink, perfect for spring. It set off her warm brown skin perfectly.
J. V. Speyer has been telling stories since she was a small child. Her father raised her on a steady diet of science fiction, horror, and fantasy, and she came to romance later in life. Most of her inspiration is drawn from music, whether from a specific song or just a rhythm.
J. V. grew up in Upstate New York, in a deeply diverse city in the heart of the Rust Belt. She now makes her home just outside of Boston in an old farmhouse with more animals than people. She’s held jobs in security, accounting, finance, and non-profit management before turning to writing professionally.
In her spare time, J. V. enjoys baseball, history, and music. She can often be found avoiding direct sunlight and seeking out the perfect martini.