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, Jenn Burke – I’m thrilled to have Jenn here with us today. 🙂
Thanks so much, Jenn, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Jenn Burke: I like my books to have adventure in them—that’s probably the one constant across everything I’ve written. I want them to be fun escapes for the reader.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JB: My first published work was Her Sexy Sentinel, a male/female paranormal romance published by Entangled Publishing. It’s set in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, and features a heroine who’s thrust into a mysterious, magical society and who has to work with her ex-boyfriend, the guy who left her without a word seven years before. Oh, and there’s a hell portal under Parliament Hill.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
JB: When I get a story idea, I try to nail down some of the heroes’ characteristics—good traits, bad traits, what they look like, what they do. I’ll also work out the basic rules of the world and maybe jot down some secondary characters’ names, along with a couple of plot points. Then I start writing.
When I’m writing with Kelly Jensen (my co-author on the Chaos Station series), things are a little different. We plot more—we have to, to make sure we’re thinking the same thing when it comes to the overall story.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
JB: My dad was in the Canadian Armed Forces, so we lived in various locations across the country as I was growing up. From age 3 to 11, we lived in Edmonton, Alberta, and I still have a bit of an Albertan accent.
JSC: What was the first speculative fiction book (sci fi, paranormal, fantasy, horror) that you ever read? How did it influence you?
JB: The first one that always comes to mind is Mail Order Wings, about a girl who orders a set of wings from a comic-book ad and…they actually work! It’s a little disturbing, since the wings turn out to not be the amazing thing she thinks they are at first. It’s a stick-with-you story of dreams and how the fantasy of something might not always live up to the reality.
How this book influenced me? Well, before I read it, I had no idea there was a whole genre of books like it. It was, literally, my introduction to science fiction. After I read it, I quickly discovered Madeleine L’Engle, Lois Duncan, Jane Yolen, and Monica Hughes—and wow, Monica Hughes.
She’s a Canadian author that was pretty prolific in YA sci-fi the late 70s and 80s, and I think I’ve read everything of hers. One that stands out in particular, though, is The Keeper of the Isis Light and its sequels. I won’t spoil why that series stuck with me—but if you’ve got young folks in your life, you should point them in her direction.
JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?
JB: Let’s go with a knife so I can prepare things for eating, a satellite phone so I can call for help, and my ereader so I can get caught up on my backlist of TBR books while I wait for rescue. 😉
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
JB: Kelly and I actually talked about this recently!
Kill – Felix. Sorry, Felix, we love you, but someone has to go here.
Fuck – Zed. Because have you read his description? Six-two, very muscular, dark hair, light eyes…yeah.
Marry – Elias, the captain of the Chaos, the least damaged and most stable guy in the series.
JSC: Do you have any strange writing habits or superstitions?
JB: Nope! I’m pretty average. The only thing I follow is the BIC principle (Butt in Chair).
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JB: Pantser! Which can be interesting when I’m writing with Kelly, because she’s more of a plotter. We’ve worked out a process between the two of us, though.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
JB: We’re currently working on the final book of the Chaos Station series (Phase Shift). It will be out in May 2016!
And now for Jenn’s newest book Skip Trace:
Zander Anatolius has been revived from the fatal effects of the super-soldier program, but now he has to face his estranged family and tell a story few would believe. With his lover and the crew of the Chaos at his side, Zander returns home to a media frenzy, threats from the military and pressure to join the family business.
Felix Ingesson still struggles with the horror of believing Zander dead. And no matter how strong their emotional connection is, Felix feels out of place in the glittery world of Zander’s rich family. His lover would be better off without a broken, low-class ship’s engineer holding him back.
When the crew receives word that another of Zander’s former teammates needs rescue, Felix travels with the Chaos…setting Zander free. But when Zander is arrested for treason, the men realize they need each other as much as ever—not only to survive, but to make their lives worth living.
Book three of Chaos Station
Alpha Station, 2269
“Does Zander have a large family?”
“Hmm?” Felix glanced up from the holotext he’d been skimming. Docking protocols were the same at all Anatolius stations. Of course, Alpha being the oldest, and home base to the Anatolius family, there were several hundred extra cautions. But really? He could land a battlecruiser on a comet; he didn’t need to be reminded of the buoyancy of a gravity differential.
Qek had a blue finger pointed toward the forward holoscreen, which showed a magnified view of their designated pier. “None of the seventy-three people waiting at Beta Twenty-Five bear a familial resemblance to Zander,” she said.
No one else in Zed’s family had ever worn an Allied Earth Forces uniform, either.
Felix studied the small crowd depicted in the holo. The front line shone with brass. The AEF had turned out a general to honor Zed’s return home—well, to the station where his family lived. To be reunited with the people he’d avoided after the end of the war, because he hadn’t been able to face them after the AEF had fucked him over so badly.
“That’s not his family, Qek.” Felix’s ire rose quickly and reliably. He stabbed the holo, bent finger of his crooked left hand sinking through the image. “Turn it off—”
“What the fuck?”
Too late. Zed had arrived on the bridge and stood openmouthed in the entry. The panel beside the open doorway flashed in irritation as his bulk prevented the hatch from sliding closed. Resisting the urge to chew on his lips, Felix studied his lover’s face, looking for clues on how to handle this particular situation. Swear? Throw out an off-color joke? Blame the alien? No, Qek had done nothing wrong—except indulge in her habit of using the forward-view screens when they could rely on sensor data to dock.
“Is this what you would call a welcome wagon?” Qek asked. “There appear to be no wagons attached to the contingent, but human idioms often account for factors not present.”
A muscle jerked along the tight line of Zed’s jaw, and that damned crease teased the middle of his dark brows. Felix hated the crease. Back when Zed had been on a sharp decline to oblivion, that line between his brows had been a permanent furrow.
“Only my family knows we’re arriving today.” Zed stepped forward and the door slid closed with a sigh of relief.
Felix turned back to the copilot’s console. “I’ll contact Docking Control, request a new berth.”
“Don’t bother. We’re obviously on approach. If we change course, they’ll follow. And it’s likely someone in Docking Control leaked the information in the first place, because my family sure as hell wouldn’t give me up.”
“Y’all need a private dock or something.” Felix reached over to kill the display.
Zed arrested his hand halfway. “We have one. But with the whole family here to meet me, the private dock is full, and I thought we’d draw less attention this way. The Chaos isn’t registered to me or anyone related to me.”
No, it wasn’t. Despite having thrown enough credits at the small corvette to replace every system—and she still looked as if she’d flown through a debris field backward—Zed did not own the Chaos. Felix did…half of it, anyway. The other half belonged to his business partner, Elias Idowu, who captained the vessel. Felix kept engineering humming. Qek was their pilot, which was awesome as the Chaos had an ashushk star drive and no one handled jump-space like the little blue aliens who’d figured out the best way to traverse it. They also had a doctor on staff, and Zed served as their security officer.
Given the events of the past few months, however, it would be reasonable to assume that Zed had become linked with the Chaos. The AEF had followed them to Ashushk Prime when they were trying to save Zed from the effects of the experimental training he’d undergone during the war with the stin. Other aliens. Not blue, not friendly.
The AEF also must have followed them to Alpha. Or made the assumption they would stop here before resuming business as usual—shipping shit from one end of the galaxy to the other, tracing the occasional skip or bounty, or—
“You don’t think this has to do with the project Marnie’s working on for us, do you?” Felix grabbed the water bottle he had stashed next to his console. The flexible plastic crunched as he sucked on it. Man, his throat was dry. Recycled air, fear…pissedoffedness.
“If it is, we’re up shit creek without a paddle.”
Qek turned away from the pilot’s console, unblinking gaze flicking between them. “Do you mean we are in trouble?”
“If the AEF suspects we’re tracking down the last members of Project Dreamweaver, then, yes, we’re in trouble. Deep trouble,” Felix said.
Zed huffed. “Marnie is covert ops. This didn’t come from her. Let’s just assume someone in Docking Control sold me out.” He waved at the holo. They were a couple hundred meters out from their pier, and the small sea of faces had come into sharper focus. “They scrambled to put this unit together. Check out the uniforms. Ground ops, station ops. No special forces, no MPs. It’s an honor guard or some shit.”
He sounded confident, but Felix caught the more cautious undertone. Zed was worried, and if he was worried, then it was time to hit the panic button.
Or come up with a plan.
“What does the bright green uniform signify?” Qek asked.
Felix glanced at the holo again. Behind the AEF and spilling around the sides were a number of men and women dressed in the ubiquitous green skin suits of the media. News was entertainment, so reporters on assignment dressed in suits that could be programmed at a whim to resemble anything from military armor to ashushk formal wear.
“The media. Scum suckers.”
“Tell us how you really feel,” Zed said.
“That would take too long.” Felix smacked Qek’s console, killing the display. “Okay, I’ve seen enough. D’you think if we just docked and sat there, they’d eventually go away?”
“Not likely. Get us locked in. I’ll go call my brother.” Zed delivered a quick squeeze to Felix’s shoulder before ducking back through the hatch, leaving the bridge feeling empty.
Felix twitched his display toward Qek. “Can you lock us in?” They’d been coasting through the docks with minimal input from him, anyway. Just as well Alpha Docking Control ran a tight operation—Felix had been so distracted by the view of their pier that he might have hit anything that wandered off course, or similarly disregarded the hundred or so extra cautions.
The crew of the Chaos called him Fixer, a nickname he’d acquired in service aboard an AEF battlecruiser. It suited him. He fixed stuff. Zed, on the other hand, called him Flick, and had done since they were boys. So often lately, though, neither name fit properly. He’d been confronted with stuff he couldn’t fix. Or flick aside.
Qek took over operations, initializing the sequence that would guide the Chaos into position, equalizing conflicting fields and activating the virtual tethers. Shaking off his moment of introspection, Felix reached for a more useful mental exercise. What he could fix or flick, otherwise known as “reviewing the mission.”
One, get Zed home and all cozy with his family. Two, track down his other family, the members of Project Dreamweaver. His teammates, the ones who hadn’t been fixed. How they’d help those men and women hadn’t been decided, so three was vague. None of them knew who they’d find or what state they’d be in. Three was a rolling point. Four…four was even more nebulous. Four was trying to be what Zed needed him to be. Friend, lover…could he ever be considered family? Could families consist of only two people?
Wondering about that was not useful.
He activated an external feed. The Alpha Station docks were typically Anatolius. Beautiful and functional. Strung in an arc around the vast bay, ships hung from their platforms like bristled jewels. The gravitational differential between the docking cradles and the access piers caused each “jewel” to bob slightly, giving the illusion of a current moving beneath them. Running lights flickered and flared against the black oval of space behind the stasis field. Felix had seen pictures of ocean-going ships in harbor at night, and the scene was eerily similar, even the backdrop of stars. The AEF contingent lining their pier stripped any romanticism from the vista, however.
“Are you searching for something in particular?”
Felix switched the view to the approaching pier, specifically the lower portion. “That.” He pointed to the end of their berth. “Ladders down. There will be an under dock. Maybe we can duck down there. Avoid the welcome wagon altogether.”
“My experience of the AEF has not been particularly welcoming to date. You and Zander being the notable exceptions, of course.”
“Amen.” Felix had enough of the AEF to last several lifetimes. So had Zed. Was it too much to ask that they could have a couple of quiet days on Alpha—let Zed do the family thing—before disappearing into the black to do stupidly unremarkable things for the rest of their lives?
Not that Zed would ever be unremarkable. Zander Damianos Anatolius would always be the third son of the richest man in the galaxy. He would always be a hero, the AEF’s prize, the man whose actions might have ended the eight-year war with the stin. He would always be the man who had died—no matter how hard Felix had wished him to live—and been resurrected by the mysterious gatekeepers of the galaxy, the Guardians, for a purpose which none of them could divine.
“We are locked.”
Felix deactivated his console and pushed out of the copilot’s chair. “Thanks. I’m gonna go see if Zed and his brother have worked out a Plan B.” Being an Anatolius, Brennan would have Plans C through Z already laid out as well.
Felix found Zed in conference with Elias and their doctor, the redheaded Nessa O’Brien. Nessa and Qek were a package deal. Best friends for over a decade, they always crewed together. Nessa and Elias were something else entirely. Felix had given up keeping track of their on-again, off-again relationship.
“We throwing Zed to the wolves or what?” Felix put on a smile that felt a bit too tight.
Elias’s return grin flashed white in his dark face. “I thought I might go out there and announce I tossed him out of an airlock somewhere around Zilos.”
“The media would rip you apart,” Nessa said.
If the media knew who was on board, and it would be stupid to assume they didn’t.
“Plan, ah…F?” Felix surveyed faces for clues.
“Fuck ’em all?” Elias’s brows formed two high arches.
“Yeah, that’s always my go-to.”
“We’re going to go with Plan A,” Zed said. “Get out there and see what they want. Could just be a ‘we know you’re here’ kinda thing. The AEF throwing their weight around and making sure everyone hears the thump.”
Felix swallowed for about the thirtieth time in the last half hour. His fingers curled into his palm and he wished he’d brought the water bottle with him. He could use a soft object to squeeze and break. “That better be all they’re about.”
“Bren’s on his way with the entire Anatolius legal department. If they want more, they’ll get it.”
Felix was not comforted. He didn’t go in for legalities. Action begat action. “There’s a ladder at the end of the pier. We could head out the auxiliary hatch and be under the docks before anyone knew we’d left the ship.”
Zed shook his head slowly. “Whatever this is, I want to face it now.”
Like a damned hero. Fine.
“I’m standing right beside you then.”
“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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Jenn’s always been drawn to weird and wonderful stories, particularly those juxtaposed with our normal, boring world. Her love of the written word prompted her to get a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Ottawa, and she’s spent the years since working in corporate and web communications—and dreaming up weird and wonderful stories of her own. A self-confessed geek, Jenn loves spending time in the worlds of video games, surfing her favorite websites, reading all the romance novels she can get her hands on, and accumulating an impressive collection of nerdy t-shirts. She currently lives outside of Ottawa, Ontario, with her husband, two kids, and her writing helper, Alenko the husky.