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Smugglivus Day 30 – A Chat With Nancy Holzner (& Giveaway)

Welcome to Smugglivus – Day 30!

Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2009, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2010.

Today’s Guest: Today we bring you our interview with Nancy Holzner, author of new Urban Fantasy novel Deadtown (reviewed yesterday by Thea HERE).

Please give a warm welcome to Nancy!


The Book Smugglers: First and foremost, thanks for taking the time to “chat” with us! Your new novel Deadtown is a gritty urban fantasy, set in an alternate version of Boston. Can you tell us a bit about your book, and why you chose Boston for your paranormal setting?

Nancy: Thanks so much for inviting me! I’m excited to be here, and I’d love to say a few things about my novel. Deadtown is Boston’s paranormal-only district, home to vampires, werewolves, two thousand zombies—and Vicky Vaughn, Boston’s only active shapeshifter. Vicky is one of the Cerddorion, a race of Welsh shapeshifters who trace their origins back to the goddess Ceridwen. Vicky exterminates people’s personal demons for a living; she spends her time dealing with demon-haunted clients, putting up with a pain-in-the-neck teenage zombie apprentice, fending off a research scientist who’s a little too interested in what makes her tick, and trying to squeeze in an occasional date with her kinda-sorta boyfriend, workaholic werewolf lawyer Alexander Kane. When one of her clients is murdered by a Hellion, Vicky must face the demons of her own past—before that Hellion destroys the city and everyone in it.

I chose Boston because I lived there for several years and know the city pretty well. I also liked playing with the idea of how a relatively compact city like Boston, one that has a reputation for being intellectual, liberal, and full of history, would deal with a plague that sweeps through the downtown and creates a couple thousand insta-zombies.

The Book Smugglers: Urban Fantasy is a genre that has been experiencing crazy growth over the past few years – every month it seems there’s another badass heroine with a flaming sword (or gun, or lasso, etc.) taking the paranormal world by storm. Why did you decide to write an Urban Fantasy novel (series)? Are there any UF authors in particular that you admire?

Nancy: I’d been reading urban fantasy for a few years, ever since a friend recommended Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and I quickly started hunting for similar books. I loved the genre’s inventiveness and sheer imagination; it’s so much fun to read. It wasn’t long before I was coming up with ideas for my own urban fantasy world. There are a lot of authors I admire: Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Devon Monk, Charlaine Harris, Rachel Caine, Jon Levitt. Those are the ones who come to mind immediately.

The Book Smugglers: Your heroine, Vicky, is a demi-human shapeshifter and demon slayer with n intriguing mythological background. You have a PhD in English and according to your biography you began your career as a medievalist. How much of a role did your educational background play in writing Deadtown? Did you do any additional mythological research for your universe?

Nancy: Well, you can take a scholar out of academia, but you can never entirely take academia out of the scholar; that’s why I call myself a “recovering academic.” I spent a lot of years studying and analyzing and teaching literature, and that remains a big part of who I am and the way I approach a project. I enjoy research, for example, and can get sucked into that phase of writing a novel for months if I let myself. For Deadtown, I reread the Mabinogi, the collection of medieval Welsh legends that inspired the background mythology for the novel, but I didn’t let myself go overboard. I didn’t, for example, spend time reading scholarly articles about that text, because I wasn’t trying to understand it in light of its historical context or contemporary literary theory—I just wanted to use it as a springboard for my novel. It’s possible to overdo it with research, with the result that you either straitjacket your own story or end up trying to cram in way too much of the cool stuff you discovered.

The Book Smugglers: Speaking of your heroine, her full name is Victory “Vicky” Vaughn – which has a lovely pulp-noir-ish ring to it. You also happen to be an author of traditional mystery…coincidence? Or fiendish plot? C’mon and spill – are you a Raymond Chandler fan?

Nancy: Most things I do are part of a fiendish plot, but I can’t really talk about that in public. I do like reading mysteries—I have ever since a grad-school friend got me hooked on Victorian detective fiction and Agatha Christie. Now, I’m a huge Donald E. Westlake fan, and the novels he wrote as Richard Stark have a strong noir feel to them. I’m also a fan of Victor Gischler, whose Gun Monkeys is brilliant neo-noir pulp, (and I’m excited because I just found out he wrote a vampire novel—I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my TBR pile.) If you’ve read either of those authors, you’ll know I like a little humor mixed in with my grit.

The Book Smugglers: The concept of “Deadtown” – a cordoned off area of Boston following a freak airborne viral mutation that instantly killed all humans in the area – is pretty cool and original (kind of like an inner city enforced ghetto for supernatural creatures). What inspired this idea? Do you think the supernatural community of shapeshifters, vamps, werewolves, zombies, assortment of demons, etc would have come out of the closet (coffin, whatever) had it not been for that plague?

Nancy: In the case of a plague like that—immediately deadly and unlike any known pathogen—the first thing the city would do would be to set up and enforce a quarantine zone. And then when events got even stranger, when the previously dead (or seemingly dead) victims started to rise, there’s no way that those victims would be allowed to leave that quarantine zone. No one knew whether they were still contagious. No one knew, exactly, what they’d become. Instead of working to integrate them back into society, the impulse would be to keep them contained.

Before the plague hit, Kane had been encouraging the supernatural community to come forward. He was recruiting paranormals to an activist group that was supposed to show the humans that the “monsters” were friendly to them and could be trusted, that they could live side by side. But on one hand, many paranormals weren’t interested, and on the other, a lot of humans thought that Kane and his group were crackpots. When the plague hit, paranormals (who were immune to the virus) helped to manage the quarantine zone. Not only were the humans forced to acknowledge that paranormals were real, they also reacted with the same fear they felt toward the zombies. All residents of Boston were genetically tested; anyone not human had to live in Deadtown. Some cooperated; others left the state or went into hiding. But human society had to recognize paranormals officially—whether either side wanted that or not.

The Book Smugglers: One of the main characters in your book, werewolf lawyer Alexander Kane, is a passionate fighter for civil rights. In your estimation as their creator, do the undead/non-human inhabitants of your world (or, as Kane would say, “Paranormal Americans”) deserve the same rights afforded to humans?

Nancy: That’s a tricky issue, because many of the PAs (those Paranormal Americans) represent a real danger to humans. They’ve been operating under the radar for centuries and many of them chafe at the restrictions humans place on them now. Humans are right to fear them; some of these creatures mean them harm. Kane’s strategy is to try to put PAs and humans on an equal footing legally, but he’s a true believer in concepts of justice and fair play that many PAs don’t share. Although the zombies want and deserve equal rights, some other types of paranormals would rather be invisible predators living outside of human rule. The humans would be smart to treat the paranormals as a powerful but not-entirely-friendly nation rather than trying to control them.

The Book Smugglers: In Deadtown, bad dreams are often demon infestations, and we love the breakdown of different types of demons you cover in the book. Similarly, your take on zombies is refreshingly different too. What inspired your spin on these classic horror monster icons? Do you have any favorite zombie or demon movies and/or books?

Nancy: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the original zombie novel, and it’s still my favorite. Victor Frankenstein’s monster is an intelligent creature who’s trying to understand his place in the world and is angry with the creator who brought him into being and then rejected him. Although my zombies are plague victims, not the result of an overreaching scientist playing God, there are some parallels. They want to be accepted and allowed to get on with their existence, but their unnaturalness provokes fear and a desire to control. They raise questions about what’s “human.” For example, Tina (Vicky’s apprentice) is in many ways a typical teenager. But she’s also a zombie. Her character calls into question both what’s normal and what’s monstrous.

As for the demons, they represent those things that bedevil us. Where do they come from? In thinking about that question, I decided that there are two main kinds of demons: those that have no independent existence and come into being through strong human emotion—fear, guilt, anger, hatred—and those that do exist independently and operate on a larger scale. The first type of demon torments individuals, and these are the personal demons that Vicky fights for her clients. The second type is destructive on a much larger scale, hostile to humans in general, not just a particular individual. They represent Evil-with-a-capital-E.

The Book Smugglers: What writing projects do you have on the horizon? And when can we expect the sequel to Deadtown?

Nancy: Deadtown’s sequel is currently with my editor and will be out in about a year. I’m working on proposals for more books in the series. I also have an idea I’m playing with for a contemporary fantasy set in the Catskill Mountains. It’s a wonderful setting for a fantasy, an eerie land that’s home of Rip van Winkle, the Headless Horseman, Native American legends, stories about witches and gnomes . . . I’m having fun playing with the possibilities.

The Book Smugglers: In the spirit of Smugglivus, can you share with us your favorite books of 2009? Are there any books you are looking forward to reading in 2010?

Nancy: Some of my 2009 urban fantasy favorites:

Blue Diablo by Ann Aguirre

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews

Magic in the Shadows by Devon Monk

Three Days to Dead by Kelly Meding

In 2010, I’m looking forward to the next books in the Kate Daniels and Allie Beckstrom series. I’m also looking forward to Sean Cummings’ Shade Fright, which I was lucky enough to read early. It’s got a heroine who likes opera and still kicks ass—that’s my kind of book.

The Book Smugglers: ARGH! Human blood’s been spilled and the ravenous, unstoppable zombie horde is coming! You can save ONE book, ONE movie, and ONE TV show – QUICK! What are they?

Nancy: Oh, no! Years ago I gave up watching TV to find time to write, so can I sacrifice a TV show and save two books instead? Okay, I’ll play by the rules. My husband wisely advised me to save The Zombie Survival Guide, but before I could act on that the medievalist in me rushed forward to grab the book and the movie.

Book: The Riverside Chaucer, which is the complete works of Chaucer in one volume. Chaucer’s got everything—sex, humor, piety, science, allegory, romance, philosophy, war. His writings are endlessly fun, except maybe for the “Treatise on the Astrolabe,” but that might come in handy if I had to lead a band of survivors away from the zombie infestation (and assuming I, um, had an astrolabe). It’s also a massive book that could double as a weapon in a pinch.

Movie: Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 film The Virgin Spring, which is based on a 13th-century Swedish ballad. The first time I saw this film, I was blown away by its unsentimental depiction of the contradictions of life in the Middle Ages: beauty and harshness, love and despair, brutal violence and deep faith—faith that persists in the face of evidence that suggests an absent or hostile God.

TV show: Hmm . . . are you sure I can’t swap this one for another book? Well, I’m a crazed opera fanatic, so for myself I’d save the PBS series Great Performances at the Met. But my daughter has some favorite shows, so for her sake I might save 30 Rock or Mad Men.

The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ’smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?

Nancy: Not into my house. My husband buys at least as many books as I do. We’ve got overflowing bookcases in almost every room of our house, and even so we still have books stacked up in piles everywhere. We live in constant danger of getting buried under a “bookalanche.” We’re probably good candidates for ebook readers at some point in the future, but we both really like physical books. (Although now that I think of it, when the zombies attack I could grab my ebook reader and save my entire library! For some reason, that’s suddenly become a major temptation.)

The Book Smugglers: Thanks again for your time, Nancy, and we wish you all the best with your release of Deadtown!

Nancy: Thank you! I enjoy your site and look forward to reading your reviews, conversations, and posts in the coming year.


Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts with her nose stuck in a book. This meant that she tended to walk into things, wore glasses before she was out of elementary school, and forced her parents to institute a “no reading at the dinner table” rule. It was probably inevitable that she majored in English in college and then, because there were still a lot of books she wanted to read, continued her studies long enough to earn a masters degree and a PhD.

She began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Most of her nonfiction books are published under the name Nancy Conner.

Nancy lives in upstate New York with her husband Steve, where they both work from home without getting on each other’s nerves. She enjoys visiting local wineries and listening obsessively to opera. There are still a lot of books she wants to read.

You can read more about Nancy online at her website HERE.

Giveaway Details:

We are giving away one copy of Deadtown, courtesy of the publisher! The contest is open to entrants in the US only, and will run until Saturday January 2, 2010 at 11:59 PM (PST). To enter, simply leave a comment here letting us know what YOUR favorite first book in an Urban Fantasy series is. Good luck!

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  • CrystalGB
    December 30, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Great interview. Deadtown sounds good. Nice cover. I love the first book in Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson series, Full Moon Rising.

  • Michelle M
    December 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Thanks for the great interview! My fav first book in a UF series must go to Moon Called by Patricia Briggs – fabulous intro to one of my favorite werewolf worlds. Love everything about it!


  • Erin T
    December 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    Love the way this book sounds! And Boston is one of my favorite cities to visit! Great interview!

  • Erin T
    December 30, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Jeez I forgot to leave my favorite Urban Fantasy title! Definitely Blue Diablo! Looking forward to the next book in that series!

  • Sarah
    December 30, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    That’s an EXTREMELY HARD question for me. I’m going to say Rachel Caine’s “Ill Wind” — hooks you from page one, dives right into the story, introduces immediately engaging characters, etc etc etc.

  • Raelena
    December 30, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead is one of my favorites.

  • Emily
    December 30, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    I haven’t read much UF, but I really enjoyed “City of Bone” by Cassandra Clare, the first in her Mortal Instruments trilogy.

  • RKCharron
    December 30, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    (I’m Canadian)
    I loved the interview with Nancy Holzner. Thank you for having her here and to Nancy for sharing. I liked how true-to-life her explanation of the quarantine & creation of Deadtown is. I am SO looking forward to reading Deadtown.
    Here’s to an amazing 2010!

  • Collette
    December 30, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Holy cow, that’s a tough question. There are so many great ones. I think the one that got me hooked was Rachel Caine’s “Ill Wind” in the Weather Warden series. I started reading it when book 3 came out and I ate up those first 3 books in a weekend. I remember being at my MIL’s house for a holiday and not coming up from the basement. Good books/family avoidance = win/win. 😉

  • Jackie Burris
    December 30, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    The 2 UF book series that just read are tied for me in first place and they would be the Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews and the Jill Kismet books by Lilith Saintcrow. Both these ladies hooked me and cannot wait for their next books coming out in 2010…
    Deadtown is Nancy Holzners book version for me of my favorite Movie Series “Resident Evil” and cannot wait to get to the store and get my hands on my copy of Deadtown….

    Jackie B Central Texas

  • Dee
    December 30, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    I’m from Boston and I love urban fantasy so I’m super excited about this book.

    Hmmmm so many great books…I’m going to go with Bitter Night by Diana Pharaoh Francis. Max is such a kick butt woman. I can’t wait to read the next in the series.

    Great interview!

  • joder
    December 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    This sounds like a great book and I’m dying to read it! My first/fave is Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty & the Midnight Hour.

  • Danielle
    December 30, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    The irony is that I have to read “Treatise on the Astrolabe” for school (and, no, I am finding no enjoyment out of Chaucer).

    I only read about three or four UF series, but I must say my favorites are either Moon Called or Nightlife.

  • Jen D.
    December 30, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Thanks for the great interview and contest.

    I can only pick one?! 😯

    I’m going to go with Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking. My eyes were glued to the pages.

  • Virginia C
    December 30, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    L. L. Foster’s Servant: The Awakening

  • Nancy Holzner
    December 30, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    @Danielle: Yikes, that’s an unusually cruel assignment–you have my sympathy! I never tried to teach that text. My favorite Chaucer to teach was the first fragment of The Canterbury Tales because of its brilliant deconstruction (and I use that word on purpose) of the ideal of romantic love.

  • van P.
    December 30, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Great Interview, Can’t wait to read Deadtown.

    My favorite is Bitter Night by Diana Francis…I stayed up till 4am to finish it, because it was tooo good to put down!

  • Stacy
    December 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I like City of Bone. I’m just getting into Urban Fantasy and am eager to read some more!

  • Paige
    December 30, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I really enjoyed On the Edge.

  • Ava North
    December 30, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    That would be Moon Called by Mrs. P Briggs.

  • Donna S
    December 30, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Congrats on the release. Deadtown sounds great. My favorite first in a series is Kitty and the Midnight Hour. I still love that series and read them as soon as they come out. I was instantly hooked.

  • LunaMoth
    December 30, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    great interview!! Deadtown sounds FABULOUS
    my fav series? i only read one, that was Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead

  • Raquel Vega-grieder
    December 30, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Awesome Interview Your book Sounds Amazing.

    What YOUR Favorite First Book In An Urban Fantasy Series Is.
    That Would Have To Be Vampire Academy By Richelle Mead. That Book Sets The Tone For The Whole Series Which By The Way is An Amazing Read.

  • SaraC
    December 30, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I think my favorite first in an urban fantasy series is dead witch walking by Kim Harrison. It just sucked me right into the world!

  • Tiah
    December 30, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I can’t wait to read this book. The cover is my favorite kind of book cover. Kick ass chick with weapons!
    My favorite first book in a UF series is Dead Witch Walking. I love the fast pace, the world building, and trying to figure out what the heck is up with Ivy. I love it.

  • Roxy
    December 30, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    Nice interview.
    Currently my favorite first is Dead Witch Walking, the start of a great series. However, today I received four new firsts in series that I’m really excited about, so in a few weeks I may have a new favorite. I’m really excited about the Ilona Andrews and Ann Aguirre titles I got… Yay books!!!

  • Lori T
    December 30, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Great interview and this sounds really good.

    I would have to go with Moon Called by Patricia Briggs.

  • Rebecca B
    December 30, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    My favorite first book in a UF series is “Bitten” by Kelley Armstrong.

    Loved the interview. “Treatise on the Astrolabe” was mentioned. (I’ll admit, that treatise,not quite my cup of tea. Now if it were Bernard of Clairvaux’s “On Loving God”… 🙂 )

    Picking up this book right away!

  • Pam P
    December 31, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Nancy, I’ve looking at your book all around this week, and had to put it on my want list.

    I’ve got a few favorites mentioned here still to be read, for now I’d say Moon Called, too.

  • Ginny
    December 31, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Deadtown sounds great! My favourite UF book has to be Magic Stikes, as it is the best in the series, out doing both previous books which was surprising as the other two were amazing.

  • Lisa B.
    December 31, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Congrats on the release Nancy. I’ve been waiting for Deadtown ever since the cover came out.

    I love Keri Arthur’s Riley Jensen Guardian series. I can’t believe it’s almost over.

  • Teresa W.
    December 31, 2009 at 8:21 am

    My favorite was Skin Game by Ava Gray!

  • MeganS.
    December 31, 2009 at 10:07 am

    My favorite first is Rachel Caine’s Glass Houses, the first in her Morganville Vampire series.

  • Linda Henderson
    December 31, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Your book sounds wonderful. I haven’t read that many yet but Apocalypse Happens by Lori Handeland was probably the last one I read.

  • Cathy M
    December 31, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Lots of great titles this year, one of my favorite’s was Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison.

  • Jen A
    December 31, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Im going with Ms Briggs Moon Called! I cant wait ti get into Deadtown! The interview was wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to share!

  • GSM
    December 31, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    “Full Moon Rising,” which begins Keri Arthur’s Riley Jenson Guardian series, is my favorite first UF novel. Thanks for the interview and visit.

  • Courtney
    December 31, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I would have to choose Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. I absolutly love that series and that first book really got me hooked!

  • LaurieF
    December 31, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Don’t enter me in the contest either, also Canadian 😀 . Just finished Deadtown and thought it was great. I’ll be looking for the next book in the series and anything else Nancy Holzner writes. Happy New Year.

  • Dottie
    December 31, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    My favorite reads this year would have to be a toss up between Kim Harrison’s White Witch, Black Curse or Jocelynn Drake’s Dayhunter/Dawnbreaker releases.

    Can’t wait to read Deadtown!


    Dottie 🙂

  • Sarah D. F.
    January 1, 2010 at 10:04 am

    I am really looking forward to this book, it sounds like a great read.

    My favorite is Moon Called by Patricia Briggs.

  • Veronica F.
    January 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead is my favorite first book in an UF series.

    Looking fwd to Deadtown! :mrgreen:

  • Marie
    January 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Great interview!

    My fave UF is a tie : ‘Angels’ Blood’ and ‘Moon Called’.

  • tina
    January 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I always tend to like the first book in a series the least. But Storm Born by Richelle Mead and Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill rocked!

  • Ren
    January 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    “Moon Called” would be mine. So good! 🙂

  • Katalyn
    January 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    My favorite is “Angels’ Blood.”

  • Thuyvu
    January 2, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    Moon Called by Patricia Briggs, can’t wait to read Deadtown!

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