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: L.R. Braden is the bestselling author of the Magicsmith urban fantasy series, the standalone novel Demon Riding Shotgun, and several works of short fiction. Her writing has won the Eric Hoffer Book Award for Sci-fi/Fantasy, the First Horizon Award for debut authors, and the Imadjinn Award for Best Urban Fantasy (twice). She was also honored to be a finalist for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2021 Writer of the Year award. She and her family live in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies, where she spends her time writing, playing, and weaving metal into intricate chain mail jewelry that she sells in her Etsy shop.
Thanks so much, L.R., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
L.R. Braden: I write urban fantasy, which is generally part fantasy, part adventure, part mystery, part romance. I love this genre because it covers so many aspects of storytelling that you can literally do anything with it. It can be light or dark; sweet or spicy; funny or gritty; heavy on magic or have just a hint. Best of all, because it’s written in a contemporary setting it feels grounded and believable. Urban fantasy is the genre for readers who want to bring some magic into their everyday world.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
LRB: My first published work was A Drop of Magic, which is the first book in my Magicsmith series. Since it was my first foray into storytelling I stuck with the old adage, “Write what you know.” My main character is a woman in her late twenties named Alex Blackwood. She’s a metalsmith artist who lives in the Rocky Mountains and works part time in a bookstore. She likes her solitude but is fiercely loyal to the handful of friends she keeps.
Then of course, being a fantasy story, we stray farther from reality. Alex’s world is recovering from a war between humans and the fae, who revealed their existence when the spread of the human population threatened the last of the wild places in the world and the portals that anchored the fae realms. Alex lost her father to the war and does her best to avoid all things magic, but all that changes when her friend is killed and Alex finds out she has fae blood in her veins and magic at her disposal. After that the book, and the series, focus on themes of self discovery and acceptance as Alex uncovers more and more secrets about her past, and tolerance as she tries to act as a bridge between the various species inhabiting her world to preserve the hard-won peace.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
LRB: My books almost all start with a character followed immediately by a challenge that it would be interesting to see that character face. In the case of Alex in my Magicsmith series, I made someone with a reason to hate the fae and then made her part fae. In my newest book, Demon Riding Shotgun, I started with a woman who was possessed by a demon as a child, causing her to avoid connections with humans so she is both always and never alone. Then I made her hunt her own kind while she in turn is being hunted by the people she is trying to protect.
JSC: What are your favorite parts of publishing?
LRB: I actually love editing and revisions. I know, I’m crazy, but it’s true. I’m a perfectionist, and my goal is to create the best final product that I can. I like getting to tweak and polish things to improve the story and make it stronger. In fact, if not for my publishing deadlines I might never stop tweaking.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
LRB: Demon Riding Shotgun has two main characters (or three depending on if you’re counting bodies or personalities). Mira was possessed by a demon as a child, which was both a curse and a blessing. The demon protected her, but her mother was severely hurt in the process. Now she carries that guilt and the belief that her magic makes her dangerous to be around. As a result she’s almost completely removed herself from society. She both craves and shuns human connection. This is further complicated by the demon’s desire to connect, something it can’t do on its own as an incorporeal being. So the demon is always pushing Mira to make more connections.
The second character is Ty, the cop who’s hunting Mira. He recently quit his job as a PTF agent—a cop who polices magic beings—after leading his partner and friend into a fae ambush and getting him killed. He’s also trying to avoid the pain of human connections, but as the only available magic expert when Mira’s case comes in, he has no choice but to reengage. Ty is fighting his desire to wallow in his guilt while struggling with his fundamental desire to protect people and uphold justice.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
LRB: I wanted to write this story because I’d developed a whole world for my Magicsmith series but had only been able to show it through one perspective. I wanted to explore the world through a character who was totally different from my first protagonist, someone who was already immersed in the magical undercurrents of the world and confident in their own abilities.
This presented an interesting set of problems however, because I was not starting with a clean slate. I had to figure out where in the timeline of my existing series my new story would take place. I had to make sure all the facts of the world lined up with what I’d already established, but because I wanted this book to stand independent from the series I also needed to reintroduce information that I’d had a full five books to explore in a very condensed version to get new readers up to speed.
Hopefully I’ve succeeded in creating a book that is both a fun and complete read on its own, and will delight Magicsmith readers with fresh insight into a world they already love.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
LRB: I’ve had so much fun writing Mira because she’s basically two characters in one. Every time I put her in a situation where she might have one of those little voices in her head saying all the things we don’t say out loud in polite society, her demon totally gets to say them!
JSC: What other artistic pursuits do you indulge in apart from writing?
LRB: I was a studio arts major, so I love just about anything arts-n-craftsy. One specific pursuit is that I weave chainmail jewelry, which I sell in my Etsy shop: Wimsi Design.
JSC: What food fuels your writing?
LRB: Tea! I’ve pretty much always got a mug of hot tea next to me when I write. Granted that’s not exactly a food, but food and I have a complicated relationship. Tea I can trust.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
LRB: I’m currently working on book six in my Magicsmith series, which I’m super excited about because Alex has finally grown into the person I always wanted her to be. Now it’s time for her to really take her place in the world, and boy is she going to have her hands full.
And now for L.R.’s latest book: Demon Riding Shotgun:
Possessed by a demon since she was eleven years old, Mira Fuentes maintains a fragile alliance with the snarky soul who shares her body. Together they hunt down unstable Rifters—demon-controlled humans bent on causing chaos in the mortal realm. But when a routine hunt leads to a powerful Rifter with plans for Baltimore, Mira quickly finds herself in over her head and at the top of the city’s Most Wanted.
Recently retired from the PTF after losing his partner, Ty Williams now works for the Baltimore PD and keeps his distance from cases involving magic. But when a person dies of clearly magical causes and the PTF doesn’t have any agents to spare, Ty is the closest thing the department has to an expert. Saddled with a new partner he doesn’t want and a mountain of self-doubt, it’s his job to track down a suspect who looks suspiciously like the one-night-stand he brought home from the bar last night.
Mira will have to set her trust issues aside and enlist the help of a man determined to uncover her secrets if she hopes to learn the identity of the demon’s host and prevent the human race from becoming meat puppets for the denizens of the Rift.
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Mira darted across the open space between the buildings and crouched under a glassless window opening. Voices drifted out.
“. . . area is claimed. You’re drawing too much attention.”
“There’s plenty to go around.”
They’re . . . talking?
Mira rolled her eyes. Or rather, the demon riding shotgun in her soul did.
<We can speak, you know. Well . . . most of us.>
Since when do rifters stop to chat with their victims? Besides, it seems like that old guy is leading the conversation. Mira peeked over the lip of the wooden frame. The construction worker had his arms crossed over his Day-Glo vest. His face was twisted into an unhappy scowl that created deep creases in the skin around his eyes, but his flesh seemed intact—no signs of puppet strain, as Mira called the marks usually created by demon possession. Could he be a rifter, too?
<If he is, he’s hiding deep.>
<Don’t get your hopes up. What we have is not normal.>
But not impossible. She bit her lip. If there’s another pairing like ours . . .
“This is your only warning.” The construction worker uncrossed his arms and widened his stance, planting his feet. “We won’t let you upset our plans. Find somewhere else to gorge and die.”
This guy definitely knows what he’s facing. And did he say “we”?
The rifter sneered, his upper lip rising just enough to reveal grayish teeth and black gums. “Make me.”
The rifter Mira had come to kill launched forward, striking the construction worker in the chest. The second man took the impact, leaning forward slightly to keep his feet as they slid a few inches across sawdust-covered plywood.
<Definitely not human.>
Whatever he is, I want to talk to him. Mira vaulted the window frame, calling her magic. She landed in a crouch, one knee touching down in sawdust. Both men turned to look at her. Energy swirled through her, pulled from the air and focused, with the help of her hitchhiker, into a glowing ball on her palm. Tendrils of blue static cracked around a white center. The presence that was always with her but not quite a part of her swelled.
Picturing the result she wanted, Mira flicked her wrist and exerted her will. An arc of pale lightning connected her to the rifter she’d tracked, resting for a moment against his chest before he was blown off his feet. Two-by-fours splintered as he made a new opening in the skeletal frame of an interior wall.
Mira didn’t rise from her crouch but pivoted to face the second man. Maybe another rifter. Maybe a practitioner. Maybe someone like her. . . . “Who are you?”
The man’s gaze shifted between Mira and the broken wall. He pursed his lips. Then he stepped through the doorway behind him that led deeper into the building.
The downed rifter sat up amid snapped beams and a cloud of dust.
She’d come to end him—she needed to end him—but what she’d overheard from the mysterious construction worker had raised more than a few questions, and Mira wanted answers.
Racing past the stunned rifter, she darted after the second man.