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: Jackie Keswick was born behind the Iron Curtain with itchy feet, a bent for rocks, and a recurring dream of stepping off a bus in the middle of nowhere to go home. She’s worked in a hospital and as the only girl with 52 men on an oil rig, spent a winter in Moscow and a summer in Iceland and finally settled in the country of her dreams with her dream team: a husband, a cat, a tandem, and a laptop.
Jackie writes a mix of suspense, action adventure, fantasy and history, loves stories with layers, plots with twists and characters with hidden depths. She adores friends-to-lovers stories, and tales of unexpected reunions, second chances, and men who write their own rules. She blogs about English history and food, has a thing for green eyes, and is a great believer in making up soundtracks for everything, including her characters and the cat.
And she still hasn’t found the place where the bus stops.
To chat with Jackie about books, boys and food, join her in her Facebook readers group, Jackie’s Kitchen, or find her in all the usual places.
Jackie’s Kitchen Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/JackiesKitchen/
Thanks so much, Jackie, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Jackie Keswick: Magpie. I like to explore all kinds of characters, situations, locations, and genres. I love to mix them up, too. A touch of magic in a contemporary romance, paranormal elements in a suspense novel, a love story in a fantasy setting… it’s all good and all fun.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
JK: I wish there was such a thing as average! The fastest book I’ve ever written took six weeks. The “oldest” item on my WiP stack has been there since 1998. Most novels take 3-4 months of actual writing.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
JK: It can go either way. My romantic suspense series, The Power of Zero, started with its main character. Undercover Star did, too. Other stories, like fantasy novella Repeat Offence, or my current fantasy series, A Balance of Magic start with an idea or a concept I want to explore.
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
JK: That I can draft stories more easily when I dictate into my phone while out walking.
JSC: What are your favorite parts of publishing?
JK: Formatting. My inner neatnik rejoices when it’s time to put the paperback together! (And I do that first, before the ebook gets done.)
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing Caught?
JK: I often use my writing to process topics that bother me. At the beginning of last year, I found myself at a very low point, disconnected and unable to finish any kind of writing project. I reached out for help – and Caught was the story that came out me trying to sort out my head. As a result, writing involves a lot of processing, acceptance, and discarding… and sometimes it’s hard not to overwhelm the story.
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?
JK: Raijin isn’t at all what I imagined when I started writing. Instead of “owning” the second book, he’s turned into the catalyst that prompts three of the other characters to change. I sometimes wonder if I should find him a story of his own to make up for it.
JSC: What fantasy realm would you choose to live in and why?
JK: I’d love to hang out in Tenzen’s garden. Why? One… garden. Two… gorgeous death god. Three…the idea that Tenzen could help me plan out all the stories I want to tell in my next life!
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
JK: Therem Harth rem ir Estraven from Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. One of the most courageous and open-minded beings I can imagine. And I’d love to ask him why he chose to ski down that hill…
JSC: Would you visit the future or the past, and why?
JK: The past. There are too many things I’d love to know the answer to. (Did Richard III really kill his nephews? Where – precisely – did King John lose his baggage train and royal treasury? And I’d love to see the face of the King of France when he heard is ex wife had married Henri of Anjou! Among other thing…)
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
JK: I’m editing Cursed, the second Balance of Magic book and sequel to Caught. It’s going to be out on March 23rd. And I’m writing the third book, Claimed, which wraps up Tenzen and Rakurai’s story, for release later this year.
And now for Jackie’s latest book: Cursed:
Two worlds, separated by a veil and linked by magic. Threatened by the very people sworn to guard them.
Carrying both celestial and earthbound magic, the Yuvine are the only ones who can pass the veil at will. Solitary and secretive, they guard the worlds and balance the magic … until greed and lust for power upset that balance with disastrous consequences for both the human realm and the Otherworld.
Those who are drawn into the fight to save the worlds—a death good, three Yuvine, and a group of human witches—find themselves thwarted at every turn. Because the reason the two worlds are dying is more terrible than they could have imagined. Until the only choice left is whether to save two worlds or each other….
He walked through the mists, gaze scanning the trees and bushes lining the path. Judging by the colour of the leaves and the bounty of fruit, the seasons still aligned on both sides of the veil, though the time of day did not. He’d left the human realm in the late afternoon, yet here it appeared to be early morning. And something—or someone—called to him.
There were no words, just a powerful tug on his awareness. A tug that made him want to follow the path, walk faster, run—
The tug eased a fraction, but didn’t disappear.
“Who are you and what do you want?” The trees swallowed Rakurai’s question and returned no answer. Could this be the rafeet’s doing? Did it have the power to make Rakurai rush headlong into a trap? He’d never read of such a skill.
He took a careful step forward.
The tug eased a little more.
He took a step back the way he’d come.
The tug grew stronger.
“Understood,” he said, irony strong in his voice. He had to find the rafeet, but he could spare some time to see what other creature had need of him.
He followed the path, watching the bark of the trees, the grass, and the rushes underfoot for signs of the rafeet’s passing. There weren’t any now. The demon wouldn’t hunt on its own turf, and it would take care not to lead a hunter to its lair.
It grew warmer as Rakurai walked, and the sun had passed its zenith when he topped a ridge overlooking a manor house set in a neat pattern of fields. The dwelling looked much like his own: three wings of rooms arranged around a courtyard, dark wooden beams on foundations of rough stone, with a veranda edging each wing, and shoji screens hiding the interior from view.
Servants passed back and forth, and Rakurai saw people tending the fields. He thought about approaching openly, like a traveller looking for a place to rest, but finally dismissed the idea. Instead, he slept the afternoon away, up on his ridge, then slid through the fields under cover of dusk, found a sheltered spot beside the house, and waited for full darkness.
The statue in the courtyard had drawn him here, he realised as he came closer. Shaped like a tall man with long flowing hair, it stood on a plinth surrounded by water. The artist had caught each swirl of robes and hair with precision, as if the figure walked in a light breeze and was just about to take the next step. It was an exceptional work, worthy of an emperor’s court, and Rakurai wondered who had stolen it, and why.
He waited until a cloud dimmed the moonlight, then crossed the courtyard to get as close to the sculpture as he could.
The statue regarded him from glowing violet eyes, and the moment their gazes connected a voice, deep and commanding, rang in Rakurai’s mind.
Get me out of here!
Rakurai recoiled so hard he almost landed on his arse. He’d not had another’s voice in his mind since Naomi’s death and the sudden command—and command it had been—came as a shock. He wrapped himself in mist, hoping to hide his hasty movements, and heard a chuckle.
I can still see you, Yuvine.
I wasn’t hiding from you, Rakurai thought, using the same pathways he’d have used to talk to Naomi. It didn’t feel as strange as he’d expected.
You don’t need to try so hard, either. I’m not deaf.
What are you?
Can’t you tell? The sculpture shot back, its eyes flashing violet.
Only death gods, Shinigami, had violet eyes. Rakurai had never met a death god. Or thought that they stood frozen on plinths, surrounded by water.
And then it all came together.
A demon trap.
Yes. The voice held so much sorrow that tears gathered in the corners of Rakurai’s eyes. It caught me as I was returning from a soul collection.
Rakurai could fill in the rest for himself. If the Shinigami had gathered souls that had died in fear and pain, he’d have appeared like a walking banquet to the rafeet. It wants the souls.
It will not have them, the god said. Even if it keeps me trapped here for the rest of my years. Are you hunting the rafeet?
Then you can help me escape this prison and we can defeat it together.
Why would I do that?
Because if you try it alone, you will fail. This rafeet isn’t like the others.
Rakurai hesitated. It was common knowledge that Shinigami valued truth and honour above all other traits. Despite that, his teachers had warned him to mistrust the gods and never to do their bidding.
Help me out of this trap and I will grant you a boon of your choosing, the Shinigami offered as if he had heard Rakurai’s thoughts.
Rakurai stared into the glowing violet eyes and recalled the hint of mirth when the god had first spoken to him. Any being capable of mirth while caught in a rafeet’s trap deserved his respect and his help. He drew a deep breath. I am Yamakage Rakurai, hunter for the Custodia, he offered. And gathered all his courage. Will you honour me with your name?
The impression of a smile came to him first, comforting like a cool wash of summer rain on parched ground. Then the Shinigami’s chuckle sent shivers rippling over Rakurai’s skin. You are a brave man, Yamakage Rakurai, to trust me with your name. Such bravery shall not go unrewarded. Again, Rakurai felt the smile. My name is Tenzen.