AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: S.E. Anderson

Hey, everyone! It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I’m excited to feature one of my favorite indie authors, S.E. Anderson! She’s a fantastic sci-fi author, but she’s also a kickass graphic designer (seriously, look at her covers for my series), she’s studying to be a scientist, and… oh yeah, she also happens to be a fan of mine.

Anderson is one of the reasons I love being an indie author, and I’m excited to tell you guys all about her work! First, let’s have a chat with S.E. Anderson.

 

What was your inspiration behind the Starstruck series?

Back when I first started writing the series, it was a joint effort between me and one of my closest friends, Joanna. We wanted to write what we weren’t finding in the books available to us: a girl struggling with real life, but also science fiction that was fun and possibly even hilarious. She wanted to work on characters who lived so long they couldn’t remember where they started out; and I wanted to write an adventure serial about teleportation. The two ideas meshed perfectly!

In my experience, and I know I haven’t read the entirety of it, the science fiction genre can be pretty doom and gloom, and a lot of times, it’s a genre that takes itself far too seriously. How important to you was it for your series to not fall into that trap? How important is the humor in these books?

It’s essential for the series. The universe is a massively chaotic place; the only way through it is not to fight the chaos, but go along with it. Living life by that logic, I’ve been able to have the funnest, oddest experiences. For Sally, it’s on a much larger scale. She struggles with depression and anxiety, so it would be really easy for the series to get quite dark. And it will: some moments are harsh and painful. But it’s in those moments of pure, unadulterated absurdity that she grows.

Tell me a bit about your background as a scientist. How does being a scientist affect your writing? Do you get story ideas from your academic work?

I’m still just a student, but I know enough now to see where science fiction differs from science-fact. I love learning a new concept in lectures and thinking about how to integrate it into my books. It’s fun trying to work out warp drives or faster than light travel with friends! I definitely love to learn, and hints of things that really hit me are dotted throughout the series.

Character vs. plot: the seemingly endless debate over which is more important for a good story. Which side of that debate do you fall on, and how do you approach character when your protagonist grow from one book to the next?

Personally, I’ve read books that fall on either side of the wall: great stories with flat characters and boring plots with amazingly relatable people. But I think character is the most important element. If a book has amazing characters, they could be doing absolutely anything and I’d still read them. I’d read a whole book of Percy Jackson doing his dishes or Harry Potter trying to help Ron with taxes. At the end of the day, those characters are the ones that make you come back to the series.

In my opinion, a plot cannot be separate from characters. Everything (interesting) that happens is driven by choices. So good characters make for a gripping story, no matter what. And authors who treat their world as a character and build it up in the same way usually create something more visually impacting.

Sally is constantly growing through the series. My biggest struggle writing Starstruck(s) comes down to how Sally is going to change. What makes her mad, what drives her to aspire to do more? The upcoming book 4 will make her decide if she wants to take on responsibility or if she’s not ready yet. In the end, the series is Sally’s saga, how she changes from a shy, isolated, self-conscious girl to a strong woman ready to take on anything the universe throws at her. But she’s not there yet.

Are you a heavy plotter, or do you just let the story take you where it will?

The more I plot, the more I procrastinate. I have a premise, my characters, and they lead me along to find the plot as I write. Editing will change a lot of my first drafts!

On top of being an author and a scientist, you’re a graphic designer and a book reviewer. How do you manage all of those different hats, and how does each piece of the puzzle fit into the greater whole that is S.E. Anderson?

I shall answer this with two words, one sound: *pterodactyl scream*

Tell me about some of the other projects you’re working on. I know there’s one more book coming in the Starstruck series, and I think you’re working on a re-telling of The Wizard of Oz?

That’s right! Celestial, book four of Starstruck, is currently with my editor. Book five is being written off and on. My real focus over the next few months is to bring YELLOW (read sneak peek here) to life. The book follows Dora, an illegal clone of the current royal princess, who finds herself trapped on a mysterious planet in the Outer Zone after making a costly mistake. She makes allies with a girl with no memory, a droid with no personality, and a genetically modified soldier with no orders. Together they need to find the Technomage, a genius engineer who could potentially solve all their problems – if he can be trusted. It’s a story about identity, friendship, and taking risks.

What are some of your favorite books right now?

So many! Absolutely loves Atlas Fallen by Jessica Pierce. And Children of Blood and Bone – Phenomenal!
Now, let’s check out her books!

Starstruck (Starstruck #1)

In my experience, science fiction is a genre that takes itself far too seriously.Starstruck

Fortunately, Starstruck — S.E. Anderson’s debut novel — doesn’t have that issue. Don’t mistake: the stakes are high, both in Sally’s life and for the world at large, but this is a quirky tale that isn’t afraid to occasionally stop and take a moment to laugh at itself.

After all, Sally goes from a relatively dead-end life to one in which she’s knee-deep in aliens and trying to save the world. It’s an absurd concept, and the narrative not only acknowledges that absurdity, it embraces it. Sally is a great protagonist who is surrounded by equally remarkable characters. Zander is a treat, and Blayde was so much damn fun to read — very Faith Lehane-like — that I want much more of her going forward.

Most protagonists with Sally’s backstory spend the entire story feeling sorry for themselves, but she doesn’t fall into that trope. Instead, Anderson gives her remarkable agency, revealing layers of depth and bravery even Sally doesn’t realize she has, and it is viscerally satisfying to see how much Sally grows from the first page to the last.

In a way, the ending is a little bit of a head-scratcher, but a) that’s by design, and b) this is clearly the first in a series I have on good authority will be at least five books in length. And if the future volumes are anything like Starstruck, then sci-fi fans are in for a treat.

Anderson’s debut is a fun ride with more depth than it might appear on the surface. It’s not afraid to go for a laugh, but it also takes great care in making sure Sally is at the forefront of everything. She is a fantastic character, one I’m eager to accompany on future adventures.

Starstruck is one of the best books I read in 2017, and it is highly recommended.

Rating: *****

Buy Starstruck now!

 

Alienation (Starstruck #2)

Alienation, the follow-up to S.E. Anderson’s debut sci-fi romp Starstruck, is grander in scale and far more intense than its predecessor. Don’t worry, though; there are still 20623566_10213617375530787_675999032_oplenty of laughs to be had, and Anderson never loses sight of what drives Sally and what keeps her going in spite of… well, everything.

This is very much a fish-out-of-water story. I suppose Starstruck was, to a degree, but whereas the first book had a supporting character learning a new world in Zander, Alienation puts Sally through the proverbial wringer, plunking her on a foreign planet, separating her from Zander and Blayde, and… I’m not sure which winds up harder for her, the mental anguish or the physical pain.

Seriously, Sally goes through some stuff here.

But all the qualities that made Starstruck so great remain in Alienation. Sure, the fantastic world and strange alien species are cool, and it’s fascinating to see how the locals react to Sally as much as vice versa, but the strength of this series remains the humor and the heart. There’s a certain whimsy throughout much of this book, which makes the darker, heavier passages easier to navigate, and Sally’s continued growth is evident.

For all the change Sally endured from the beginning of Starstruck to the end, she grows even more here in Alienation. To see someone so anxious, so used to life being an absolute dumpster fire, seeing Sally stand up straight, ball up her fists, and pretty much say “Alright, enough of this crap” is as satisfying a journey as zooming through the cosmos.

Too much science fiction anymore is dark, gritty, and so damn focused on apocalyptic futures. That’s fine – there can be some great stories to come from that backdrop – but Anderson’s insistence on not falling into that trope is a large part of what makes Alienation every bit the excellent read Starstruck was.

Anderson is not afraid to go for a laugh, but she also takes great pains in crafting a memorable protagonist who’s easy to fall in love with. More than anything, Anderson proves that science fiction can not only be funny, but it can also have tremendous heart.

Rating: *****

Buy Alienation now!

 

Traveler (Starstruck #3)

Traveler, the third installment in S.E. Anderson’s Starstruck series, might not be as laugh-out-loud funny as its predecessors, but it is quite possibly the best, most well-rounded entry in the series to this point.38469649

A cross between Galaxy Quest and Clue, this latest has us join Sally, Zander, and Blayde as they appear on a rather large spaceship — one that winds up being not quite was it seems. In fact, very little is as it seems in this book, which in the hands of a less capable writer would be frustrating. But Anderson’s attention to character detail, and her ability to know when to let a moment breathe, make the journey worthwhile.

Though the outright laughs are not as plentiful in Traveler, there is still a whimsy to it all. The doom and gloom are doomier and gloomier than before, but Anderson never lets us forget how utterly ridiculous this all is. After all, Sally’s on a spaceship. There’s Star Trek fanfic. And a robot trying to do its best Billy Graham impression.

Yet it all works.

All three books in the series to this point have taken place in different locales, and Anderson is showing that she’s just as good at building multiple worlds as she is in crafting memorable characters. Her love for the genre is obvious, even in the moments when she lampoons it, and that’s just another piece of the puzzle that makes Traveler such a great read.

If you’re not in on this series yet, you really should be.

Rating: *****

Buy Traveler now!

 

In addition to the Starstruck series, be sure to catch S.E. Anderson’s work in several anthologies. Check out S.E. Anderson’s website, as well as her Amazon and Goodreads pages. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and be sure to check out her covers, too!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: E.A. Copen

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another Author Spotlight! Today, I bring you all one of my favorite self-published urban fantasy authors, E.A. Copen. She is the author of the Judah Black series, as well as the Fairchild Chronicles, and she has even more projects coming in the next few months.

Let’s talk to E.A.

What was your inspiration behind writing the Judah Black series and its offshoot, Kiss of Vengeance?

They came from two very different places! When I started writing the Judah Black novels, I knew I wanted to have a heroine who was real. She’s got problems. Some are supernatural, bust most aren’t. Most importantly, I knew I wanted to write about a mom because too many stories just end when the female lead gets married or gets pregnant. Stories don’t have to end just because your heroine is a parent. I wanted to write about a mom who could still kick ass and somehow managed to raise a son in the process.

Kiss of Vengeance rose partly out of my frustrations as a writer (mundane things like writer’s block and deadlines), as well as something personal I was going through. I knew I wanted to explore the world of the fae, which Judah doesn’t interact with much, and to also tell a story from the other side of the law. While discussing something completely different with a friend of mine, he uttered the phrase “reluctant white knight” and the idea is sort of born from that.

You’re one of my favorite urban fantasy authors. What draws you to that particular genre, and – specifically in terms of the Judah Black series – what made you combine that genre with elements of other genres, such as mysteries?

Aw. Thank you.

Mostly, I started writing urban fantasy because I love to read it. I write the books I think I’d like to read. As an adult, I watched Supernatural and fell in love with the monster-of-the-week type story, but also with the writers’ ability to use the small plots to create a larger plot.

And they have elements of other genres too, like westerns and dystopia. Mainly that’s my own fandoms bleeding through. I love a good western, and dystopia is my favorite book genre to this day, aside from urban fantasy.

So many of my favorite characters anymore are female – Buffy Summers, Kate Beckett, Sydney Bristow, I could go on and on and on. What drove you to create Judah Black, and what stood out to you about her even from the day you first created her?

I wanted to write about a mom and it wouldn’t be far off to say I was inspired at least in part by my love of Dana Scully in X-Files who could be feminine while still being a force to be reckoned with. She had her career and she was very serious about it.

Judah’s a little different, though. She gets thrown into fighting things way outside of her weight class. Instead of upping her powers all the time so she can go kill all the baddies by herself, I give her a team. The people who love and support her throughout the series is really what makes her unique. Lots of heroines out there can defeat monsters and play the lone gunman. Judah’s strength comes from the people she has in her life.

Character vs. plot: the seemingly endless debate over which is more important for a good story. Which side of that debate do you fall on?

Character, definitely. There are probably hundreds of werewolf murder mysteries out there. What makes a reader stick around isn’t plot. Most plots have been done before. You stay for the characters. When a reader finds a character they connect with, it’s like magic. You’ve got to have someone to root for.

Are you a heavy plotter, or do you just let the story take you where it will?

The only plotting I ever do is a one- or two-sentence summary that names the protagonist, antagonist, and their goals. I used to try to outline, but I found that once I plotted everything all out, I lost interest in finishing. To me, once it’s down on paper it’s done. I like having the excitement of not knowing everything that’s going to happen.

Kiss of Vengeance takes place in the same universe as the Judah Black novels, but it has a completely different feel and sometimes feels like it’s an entirely different genre. How did that book come about, and what are your broader plans for this universe going forward?

Kiss of Vengeance is about finding who you are when your back’s against the wall and everything you’d normally use to define yourself is stripped away. When I was writing it, that’s sort of what I was going through in my personal life. I had to find a way to describe who I was without resorting to my go-to list of mother, wife, writer. Plus, I just love film noir and wanted to see if I could pull it off.

The universe can certainly expand. I’d like to do more Fairchild books, but it is a little harder to write Dal’s stories because he lives in a brutal criminal underworld. Because of some events that happen in upcoming books, I also opened up the possibility of doing another series in the same world set in Alaska and leaning heavily on Inuit mythology. There’s also a prequel novella and some prequel short stories I’m working on to eventually release. One day, I’d love to go back and explore all that happened during and before the Revelation. I hope I get that chance.

Without giving away too much, where do you see the Judah Black series going from here? I understand Playing With Fire’s coming sometime this fall?

Well, there’s always been something of a political sub-plot in the series. As the crimes get more publicity, regulations will get tighter. Eventually, that kind of treatment can only lead to one thing. That is, if the werewolves, fae, and vampires can figure out how to get along long enough to fight back. They are monsters, after all. They just can’t seem to get along. And of course, Judah can’t ever keep out of trouble. Whenever she sees a loose thread, she has to unravel it. It’s going to get her into even more hot water in the highest echelons of government, both on Earth and in the fae.

Playing with Fire is sort of the kick-off book for that. It’s the first glimpse I give my readers into how deep the rabbit hole goes. I’m hoping to have it out in October of this year.

What are some of your favorite books?

In no particular order, my current top 5 books would be:

Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
River Marked by Patricia Briggs
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Ask me again next week and I’ll have a new list. Books tend to rotate in and out of it depending on my mood. When someone asks me my favorite book, my answer is always “the one I’m currently reading.”

 

Beasts of BabylonIn addition to the Judah Black series and Kiss of Vengeance, Copen will have a new release on Aug. 1: Beasts of Babylon. This entirely new story is already up for pre-order on Amazon.

Gunslinger Anastasia Thorne won’t stay dead.

Ten years ago, monsters murdered Anastasia and her children. Now, she’s back to hunt down the monsters responsible. She knows their names, their faces, and even where they’re hiding.

There’s just one problem. No one in town believes her.

When the sheriff refuses to help, Anastasia strikes a deal with the notorious outlaw, Jesse Gallagher instead. The pair ride into the mountains in search of vengeance, but the hunters quickly become the hunted. With the sheriff hot on their trail, ghouls on their heels, and werewolves and skin stealing monsters in the mountains, Jesse and Anastasia quickly find out they’re outgunned and in for a long night.

It’s going to take more than silver bullets to put these monsters down.

 

Now let’s see what I think of Copen’s work so far.

Guilty by Association (Judah Black #1)

Three things I love:Guilty by Association

1) Kickass ladies;

2) Genre mash-ups; and

3) Stories that start off as one thing and end up being something else entirely.

Guilty by Association, E.A. Copen’s debut, checks all three of those boxes. Special Agent Judah Black, new to a middle-of-nowhere stretch of Texas stuffed to the gills with the supernatural, finds herself staring a classic whodunit in the face — only this time, the victim is a werewolf. Before long, though, the case turns into something much larger than even the victim, and the result is an entertaining, engrossing read.

Copen treats us to an entertaining cast of characters, and even though I’ve never been a particularly big fan of werewolves, a few of them wound up being personal favorites. Judah Black sometimes reads as a cross between Buffy Summers and Kate Beckett (two of my all-time favorite female ass-kickers), and I can already tell she’s a character who’s going to stick with me.

Part murder mystery, part urban fantasy, part conspiracy thriller, Guilty by Association does a masterful job of creating and laying the foundation for a rich, vibrant supernatural world. Even if the setting makes Sunnydale seem like a bustling metropolis, Copen has done a fantastic job of showing us just enough of the world to get us interested; I’m beyond glad that I already have the next two installments in my collection, and hope there will be even more down the line.

Books like this are why I will vehemently defend independently-published books. Indie authors are some of the most creative, most daring individuals I’ve met, and when they create stories like this, we’re all the better for it. To me, Judah Black is every bit the equal of, say, R.R. Virdi’s Vincent Graves, and I’m glad to count myself among one of Copen’s biggest fans going forward.

Okay, enough blabbing; I’ve got to read Blood Debt. If you haven’t read Guilty by Association yet, do yourself a favor and change that. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: *****

Blood Debt (Judah Black #2)

Blood DebtConsidering how much I loved Guilty by Association, despite my distaste for werewolves, I was chomping at the bit to read Blood Debt given my affinity for (…almost) all things vampires. And as I suspected, E.A. Copen’s second entry in the Judah Black series doesn’t disappoint, offering yet another action-packed mystery and enough character moments to add depth as well as bite.

Yes, that was totally intentional.

To my pleasant surprise, a fair number of players from the first book also appear in Blood Debt giving Judah’s admittedly small world a much larger feel. Even so, there are enough newcomers to keep things fresh, including magick wielder Mara and the mysterious vampire-but-not-really-sorta-kinda Abe. As much as I enjoy Judah as a protagonist, having interesting side characters along for the ride turns an entertaining read into a certified page-turner.

The side stories are plenty — almost too much so, as it felt like one of the side stories got dropped around midway through the book in favor of the main plot — but again, they help flesh out Judah’s character and world.

A common critique of the mystery genre (and a valid one) is that it often feels paint-by-numbers, that it hits all the typical notes without offering anything that would provide depth and/or resonance. Copen’s series doesn’t fall into this trap, and the result is a world that is simultaneously otherworldly and intimate. She’s knee-deep in a world of monsters, yet the reality of her life is so intimately personal that the scope never once overwhelms the reader.

Blood Debt was a fantastic follow-up to Guilty by Association, and Copen has quickly established herself as one of my favorite indie authors. I’m anxious to read Chasing Ghosts and hopeful that the wait for the series’ fourth installment is a short one.

Rating: *****

Chasing Ghosts (Judah Black #3)

Chasing GhostsIf Guilty by Association and Blood Debt, the first two novels in E.A. Copen’s Judah Black series, were worldbuilding affairs, the third book — Chasing Ghosts — puts all the puzzle pieces together in an emotionally fraught, highly intense adventure that wraps up the initial arc and sets up what promises to be an exciting future.

Everything that made Guilty and Blood fantastic novels is back for Chasing Ghosts; Copen is clearly growing and maturing as a storyteller, and she’s fine-tuned each of the characters’ voices. Judah is quintessentially herself, but she is so much more, as she progresses both on her own and with regards to several of the relationships she keeps.

Chasing Ghosts is, fair warning, an emotional gut punch. There are at least three occasions where this book practically moved me to tears, and there’s something viscerally satisfying about that. Yes, we often read to escape, but we also read to feel. Copen gets us to feel for several of the key players in this tale, while simultaneously taking us on a journey that twists and turns far more than I had anticipated.

The depth Copen has given not just Judah, but several of the other important characters, really helps flesh out Paint Rock — a world that, on its own, doesn’t really amount to much. Paint Rock makes Sunnydale seem like a bustling metropolis, but the reservation’s inhabitants more than make up for the lack of scenery.

I’m excited to see where this series goes from here, even though Chasing Ghosts would make a fitting end to a trilogy. Judah Black is one of my favorite characters, and Copen has established herself as one of my favorite independently-published authors. If TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayerand Supernatural tickle your fancy, then this is a series you should be reading.

And if not? Hell, read it anyway. Cause it’s really, really good.

Rating: *****

Kiss of Vengeance

Kiss of VengeanceKiss of Vengeance might take place in the same universe as E.A. Copen’s Judah Black novels, but it is a much different story. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the worldbuilding this short story offers alone is worth the price of admission. Fortunately, Copen gives us a solid story and memorable characters to go along with this.

First a caveat: there will be a few passages that might be uncomfortable for some readers. The violence is graphic and there are occasional moments and mentions of sexual violence, both against adults and children. Nothing explicit, but it exists, so it’s worth mentioning.

In short, this is a mafia revenge story with a supernatural flavor. Dal is an enforcer for a fae crime family in Boston, and he finds himself on one hell of a revenge kick after he finds his wife and daughter murdered. The rest unfolds like you would expect such a tale to unfold: lots of blood, lots of anger, lots of angst.

But Copen still manages to weave a satisfying tale, because the characters are what drive everything. Dal is very much a Frank Castle-like figure, and those allied with him and those opposing him are each memorable in their own rights. The characters (even a pleasant cameo from the Judah Black series) make this tale.

If you’ve read Copen’s Judah Black books, Kiss of Vengeance is a chance to revisit that universe and find something different. If you haven’t, this isn’t a bad place to start. It’s a short, quick read, and I’d like to see what comes next. Copen is quickly becoming one of my favorite indie authors, and this is another strong entry.

Rating: ****

All of Copen’s works are currently available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats; be sure to visit her Author Central page to pick up your copies. Also, be sure to check out the new audiobook version of Guilty by Association.