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.
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!