Tali Spencer

Since this is the first of my monthly updates, I thought it would be a great way to kick off the guest author interviews with one of my favorite SFF authors—Tali Spencer.  Tali is one of my ‘go to people’ when I have questions about writing, publishing, and fantasy. She’s a multi-published, award winning author and if you’ve not read her books, you really need to find out what you’re missing.

Also, Tali is giving away a free book to one lucky winner, so make sure you read through to the end to find out more details.

Welcome back Tali. Since it’s been a while, why don’t you tell everyone a bit about yourself.

IMG_0368I think I’m a pretty ordinary human being. No one would pick me out in a crowd. I enjoy the usual things: good food, good books, spending time with friends and family. But I’m also introspective and kind of solitary, I like my alone time. What I never am, though, is bored. Never. I think that’s because for my entire life I’ve carried around all these other worlds and people and stories inside my head.

So far I’ve written dozens of books and I plan on writing dozens more. 

You’ve been a published SFF author for many years. When did you first see your words published?

I’ve had a couple of writing careers. My first career was back in the Golden Age of Paperbacks, when mass market paperbacks were the entry point for genre fiction writers. I published my first novel, science fiction, with DAW and a few fantasy short stories in some of the genre magazines. I was exploring gender even then and it was thrilling to go to cons and have conversations with authors like CJ Cherryh and Tanith Lee.

What do you think are the most important aspects of fantasy?

350px-Earthsea_TrilogyWorld-building and imagination. The more I read, the more I realize that the stories that stay with me and pull me back into their magic again and again start with world-building: a sense of being immersed in something wholly different from this world, but in which my imagination can move freely. Even the most magical and fantastic world needs to feel immediate and real. It needs light, color, texture, a reason for existing and some way through which readers can connect with it. Setting is a big part of that, of course, but real depth comes from character aspects. Characters are part of the world-building; they must act and believe consistently with the world they inhabit. For me, there’s a big disjunction between a wildly imaginative setting and characters who act like the cast of a reality TV show. That just destroys the whole world.

As a long standing member of the Science Fiction Writers of America, can you talk a little about the long history of how the genre has always challenged assumptions about gender roles and alternative characters?

I’ve always loved the way science fiction and fantasy has openly explored gender roles. That may be because I first discovered fantasy as a genre when I saw Moondust on the rack at the local drugstore. As a teen, I thought the cover looked pretty cool and the book really had some interesting takes on sex—which as a teen I thought was damn weird anyway—so I bought another book by the author, and another. All of which led me to How the Mighty Are Fallen, which is absolutely about gay love between two men, in a Biblical story I knew well (I knew better than to tell my fundamentalist grandparents about this one), and it opened my eyes. That was in the early 70s. Yes, I am that old.

3160d4d1576c8b71c54e6ecd7668ea22The thing is, it was available. These books shared the same shelf space as Isaac Asimov’s science fiction and J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasies. It was there to be found—and an entire generation of readers and future writers found it.

Some truly ground-breaking novels tackled sexuality and gender. Ursula LeGuin, Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, and Michael Moorcock are among the many authors who in the 1960s and 70s were exploring gay, lesbian, and asexually gendered societies, characters, and themes. Many of these books were acclaimed critically and won major genre awards such as the Nebula and Hugo. Genre editors and later publishers such a Donald A. Wollheim (DAW) and Terry Carr (Ace) helped many gay and lesbian authors get their work in to print, even though it often meant going head to head with editorial boards.

Do you have any favorite books that should be on the shelves and eReaders of every SFF fan?

51waitAGcYL._AA160_I do think there are some authors who are must-reads. Tanith Lee’s Tales of the Flat Earth fantasy novels are wonderful. CJ Cherryh’s Cyteen is dense but rewarding. I’ve already mentioned Thomas Burnett Swann, who wrote Moondust and How the Mighty Are Fallen. And Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Heritage of Hastur is one of the best books I’ve ever read dealing with a gay teen protagonist whose denial of his sexuality is strangling his awakening power. Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books and the short stories set in that world are annual re-reads. If I could keep just one book from my collection—besides Lord of the Rings—it would be Dune.

What are some of your pet peeves regarding fantasy worlds.

41au1KPGJ1L._AA160_Underdeveloped worlds irritate me, the kind where there are two kingdoms and… well maybe there’s more to the world, but we never find out because once it’s established that there are two kingdoms and they hate each other, that’s all we ever get about it. At least tell me why they hate each other!

Another pet peeve is female characters who either need saving at every turn or are ball-busting bitches who snap a guy’s head off for even thinking about trying to save them. Inevitably they kick ass and use a sword. I like sword-wielding women, but must they all be smart asses? Give me Brienne of Tarth any day!

Oh, and in gay fantasy or science fiction stories, I roll my eyes when every guy in the story is gay. Unless that’s the premise of the world, that for some reason females and straight guys don’t exist anymore, having every man the protagonists meet be gay is rather absurd.

Paranormal books. Fantasy? Science Fiction? Its own Genre?  

Definitely its own genre. Paranormal fiction is set in this world, the one we live in right now. It just has these other elements that are not normal: vampires, ghosts, witches, etc.. One of the litmus tests for fantasy/science fiction vs. paranormal is to take away the magical creatures, or magic itself, or the weird science, and see what’s left. If what’s left looks just like this world—i.e. New Orleans and the hero drives a Hummer and owns a billion dollar corporation with Swiss bank accounts—you’re looking at a paranormal story. Take the away the weird from a fantasy or science fiction story and there isn’t a whole lot left, but it certainly isn’t Earth as we know it.

I’m a fan of the Pride of Uttor series. Captive Heart was M/F, but Dangerous Beauty is MM. I understand there are two more in the series, Can you talk a bit about the series in general and what’s next?

Dangerous Beauty Final #1The Uttor series is fantasy that follows the destinies of two families. The emperor of Uttor conquers Sebboy after one of the latter country’s princes kidnaps his sister. The series follows the Sebboyan royal family as the various princes and princesses find danger and romance in their new lives as imperial captives.

The next book, Adored, is scheduled for release in June. That book is MF and has—get this—a pregnant heroine. Can a hunky hero fall in love with an intelligent, outspoken woman who is clearly not a virgin?

It will be followed in the fall by Victory Portrait, a MM novel about Peta, the youngest prince, now a slave and bound over to an artist charged with painting the portrait of his country’s conqueror—Darius Arrento. Peta has idolized the Uttoran general for years, but the general has hated royal princes for far longer.

So let’s talk Thick as Thieves. Unicorn horn soap and all. Tell us about that book and what’s next.

ThickAsThieves2Thick as Thieves it sword and sorcery with a fun MM twist. It was another fun book to write. Vorgell the barbarian uses a unicorn’s horn in a way unicorn horns are never meant to be used and ends up in a state of almost perpetual lust. He becomes smitten with a pretty male witch and agrees to help him. Romance and adventure ensues.

They have another adventure coming up in Thick as Ice. I hit health problems and a snag while writing it, but I should have news on that book shortly.

What else are you working on that you can talk about?

I have an epic high fantasy series, Sordaneon, currently being read by an agent. Crossing my fingers on that. In the meantime, I’ve provided an excerpt.

 

Also, I am dying to write historical fantasy set in Colonial Peru. I spent a lot of time in Bolivia and the stories of that region really speak to me. A portion of the story is free on my blog for anyone interested.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

The creative part, just letting the story flow. I love when something or someone unexpected happens along.

What’s your least favorite?

Does marketing count? {Absolutely it counts! Umm, sorry please continue.} It’s the end game of writing. I hate putting my work out there and then hawking it. I love holding giveaways and writing blog posts, I do lots of those… but I dread contacting people and asking them to read my book.

What have you read lately that most people haven’t read but should?

Honestly? The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing, by Marie Kondo. Hey, you asked! LOL Because seriously, this book changed my life. My guiding principle since reading it: Does this (person, thing, activity) spark joy? It really helps to examine our relationships, whether with people or our socks.

If you could meet any writer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

MA Church. We’ve talked on the phone and are good friends, but I would love to meet her in person. She’s very interesting—funny, smart, and absolutely delightful.

Besides reading and writing, what else do you enjoy?

A game called Pandemic. My husband and I play it all the time—sometimes we save the world from a gazillion plagues, though sometimes the world comes to a putrid end. I love going to the theater; we have season tickets to the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia where I live. Going to concerts is always fun, too. Bring on the live performances! Oh, and I love taking cruises! I am a water sign, after all.

Last question is all yours – feel free to talk about anything you want readers to know about you, your book, anything at all.

As a writer, I’m most comfortable not letting my ego follow my books out the door. I learned this lesson after my first novel was published back when I was a baby writer. I thought it would be fun to hang out at Barnes and Noble and watch people buy my book. I think a hundred people picked it up and looked at it and only one person carried it to the cashier. Lesson: Don’t watch readers. They won’t do what you want them to do. LOL

That same lesson also taught me to love the readers I have. When I meet one, I’m thrilled beyond words. They’re why I write my stories down and why I put them out in public.

Excerpt from Sordaneon

2

Seven Years Later

 

The bridge of his nose broke first, then his left cheekbone. Stefan’s boot had found its mark. Blood gushed beneath his eyelid along with sharp, blinding pain. Dorilian refused to cry out and let Stefan know he felt it, but his breathing betrayed him. He gurgled as blood poured from between his lips along with his final expletive. The next kick, aimed at his mouth, broke his jaw.

“Stefan! Stop!” Maybe one voice, maybe more. “He’s bleeding! Hells! You know how they are about that!”

Dorilian did not know who had spoken. He didn’t care. There were four of them, and he despised them equally. None of his attackers had ever pretended to be his friend. He was more surprised by the attack itself—and the sight of his blood as it splashed on the wood parquet floor in a steady crimson stream.

“Stefan!” someone shouted again. “Let’s go!”

Though Dorilian braced for it, no third kick came. Metal scraped on the floor—the plates affixed to the heels and toes of Kheld boots—as the boys wrestled Stefan aside, then away. Dorilian gasped for air, inhaling blood along with it. Coughing, he collapsed, only just managing to turn his face so that his unbroken cheek struck the floor first. Footsteps echoed in the hallway outside, receding. Someone stayed behind and knelt at his side but did not touch him.

“Are you all right?” the Kheld asked.

He recognized the voice now. Cullen Brodheson. A damned barbarian Kheld speaking accented Stauba, trying to sound as if he cared.

“Go ’way,” Dorilian snarled as best he could, the words misshapen. He could barely move his jaw and it hurt just to open his mouth enough to breathe. In all his fifteen years, he had never felt such pain as now flooded every nerve. “Fuggin’ Khelds. Damn fuggin’ Khelds.”

“You shouldn’t have said the things you did—”

“Glad.” Dorilian refused to admit his mistake in responding to Stefan’s taunts. Especially when the Stauberg-Randolph prince’s friends had held him by the arms, holding him down on his knees, bent over. He had made matters worse by retorting that Stefan must be especially talented at providing certain oral services to the King or that perhaps he preferred offering up another orifice. At least Dorilian had enjoyed the sight of Stefan’s face turning a deep shade of purple before seeing his boot hurtling toward his face. “Go ’way.” He opened the one eye not swollen with blood so he could see Cullen’s face. Typical of his race, the other boy had dark-lashed blue eyes and wavy hair the color of shit. “Hate him forever… for this. Hate all fuggin’ Khelds.”

He meant it, meant it with all that was in him. Perhaps Cullen felt that. The boy’s concerned expression faded, acknowledging something, maybe merely that Dorilian was not going to die. Nodding, Cullen rose and quickly walked away, leaving Dorilian as he wished to be: alone.

He fought the pain and dragged himself to the tall window. There he wedged himself shoulder-first into the corner of the wide, deep frame, tight against whatever invisible fabric would not let his body pass and fall into oblivion. It was not oblivion he sought but escape. Escape from pain, from knowledge he did not want… from this land and this place. Somewhere out there, the Rill raced toward freedom.

I hate this place. I hate Essera. I hate them all.

He cursed the day Esseran nobles had succeeded in pressuring his grandfather and father into sending him and his brother to attend their “exalted” school. For their own good, the bastards had said. Maybe for Lev, who thrived as never before. But not for him. In this Citadel of wonders ruled over and attended by Sordan’s oppressors, all he knew was hate and fear, thick and foul as an apothecary’s fog as it seeped through every corridor, glance, and carefully inflected word.

Because of the Rill.

More than just its sheer ability to hurl men, goods, and information across a continent in the time it took to cross a road, the Rill created wealth and hierarchies. Because they sought to keep their hold on the Rill, these Esseran lords and their masters had raped his country and killed his mother. They had allowed the barbaric Kheld folk to slay others of his family in ways monstrous beyond description. The Sordaneon bloodline to which the Rill’s life was tethered had been reduced to a pathetic handful. Now they wanted to silence him, too. Force him to adopt their habits, their rulers, their words. Only in that way might they render him powerless. And he refused. He refused to acknowledge their power, refused to fear them, refused to be ruled.

He was Highborn. Sordaneon. What he was mattered.

Holy Leur, it hurts. He put his hand to his mouth and spit into his cupped palm. Blood and a tooth. It was not the only one. A second rolled against his tongue and he knew he had lost yet another on the floor. Damn Khelds. Damn fur-faced Khelds. Their facial and body hair offended him. He would exterminate the lot of them if he could. More footsteps, this time heavier, familiar. Go away! he willed, not wanting to be seen this way by any of them, ever.

“Dorilian?”

His kinsman Elhanan Malyrdeon met him daily in this chamber. Even by Essera’s laws, only another of Highborn kind could draw a blade in his presence or serve as his instructor in using a sword. They did not let him keep a weapon. But Elhanan had been delayed today, and Stefan had been in the practice room instead with his three friends, waiting in the shadows to catch Dorilian unguarded.

Elhanan’s footsteps quickened, paused—perhaps at the sight of the pool of blood on the floor—then ran toward him. “Dorilian! What happened?”

He tried to curl away but the man would have none of it. Unlike Cullen, Elhanan had the right to touch him and he did so, pulling him around by the shoulder.

“Aw, Gsch! Who did this?”

By the sound of it, he must look as bad as he felt. Dorilian nearly laughed. “Stefan.”

That truth sat between them like lead. He and Elhanan were both god-born. Highborn. To lay hand on their kind was forbidden. To spill their blood was a crime. Just by naming Stefan as his assailant, Dorilian had condemned the Esseran king’s grandson and his friends to death.

 

3

“I didn’t know you were going to kick him! Hells!”

Stefan flinched as Cullen Brodheson grabbed his shoulders and spun him against the garden wall. After fleeing the weapon room, the boys had split up, but Cullen had known his mind well enough to have followed him. “Stefan,” his friend said, ignoring the warning look sent his way. “He’s bleeding bad!”

“He’ll live!” Stefan snarled. Shaking Cullen off, he vaulted over the garden wall and ran toward the mosaic of shallow pools that pebbled the lawn. The water reflected the sky, bright blue. “He’s Highborn. They heal. I can break every bone in his body and it won’t fucking matter!”

“But it still hurts, Stefan.”

“I hope the hell it does hurt! I want him to feel it. Maybe he’ll think about something except being so high and mighty next time he wants to start calling me names.” Stefan walked into the nearest pool, his boots splashing. Bright red ribbons of blood curled into the water.

“This is bad, Stefan.” Cullen couldn’t stop glancing over his shoulder.

Only now did Stefan duck his head and sigh. “He deserved it.” Even so, he didn’t think he would ever forget the look in Dorilian Sordaneon’s bloodied eyes.

He wouldn’t admit it to Cullen, but he wished he hadn’t kicked the other boy so hard. And he wished there were more trees in this garden, more cover. Permephedon was such an overly arranged and civilized place. Nowhere to run or hide. And even if they did hide, the damned Epoptes always knew where to find them.

Stefan marked the Rill rising above the glassy towers. The god-machine’s enormous structures thrust high into the sky, arrays of arches and angles in motion. Scythe-like shapes sliced through the air, unfolding and elongating to receive arriving charyses or send outgoing ones on their way. No one—not even the Epoptes who ordered the thing—really understood how it worked. Just then a series of resonant thrums reached his ears and Stefan felt the same pang of wonder he always did when the Rill’s white arms unfurled, opening to capture a wide streak of light. Before his eyes, a needle-shaped sliver more massive than any sailing ship materialized out of the very air to glide soundlessly into the city. He looked at Cullen and noticed his friend also watched the sight, his expression sick.

Rill blood, it was said, flowed in Dorilian Sordaneon’s veins.

Guards wearing the saffron garments of Permephedon’s High Citadel approached along an elevated, grass-carpeted walkway leading from the Scholar’s Quad. In the distance behind them, another contingent of men emerged from a wooded park between two of the nearer glass towers, dragging two more struggling Kheld youths with them.

“Looks like they got us,” Stefan said. Together he and Cullen walked toward the soldiers, their feet pressing tufts of pale green grass between twilight-colored stones.

About The Author:

Tali Spencer fell in love with writing at an early age and never stopped, though she took a lot of detours. It’s not unusual to find her daydreaming at a window or sitting in the corner of a busy room, people-watching and scribbling character tips in a notebook.

Thanks to a restless father, Tali grew up as a bit of a nomad. You may have gone to school with her if you lived in Virginia, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, or Wisconsin. It was during this time she developed her superpower sense of direction and love of diverse landscapes, people, and cultures. As a young adult she spent a lot of time in Bolivia and deeply loves the people and cultures of South America. Her longest stint in one place was Milwaukee where she went to college, enjoyed a series of interesting careers, and raised three surprisingly well-adjusted sons. She still loves to travel whenever she can. She married her second husband on a cruise ship and they love to cruise whenever they can, hoping one day to cruise around the world.

Since marrying her true love, Tali has put down new roots in Philadelphia, where she lives in an ongoing Italian American family sitcom. At least she’s learned how to make her own gravy and pasta. When not writing, Tali reads everything from sweet goofy romances to medical research, manages her fantasy football team—go Gekkos!—and takes long walks with her loving, if slightly neurotic, poodle.

Links:

I’m pretty easy to find.

My blog: http://talismania-brilliantdisguise.blogspot.com/

My Amazon.com author page.

My Goodreads author page.

I’m on Facebook

and Twitter

And my email: tali.spencer1@gmail.com

Thick as Thieves

Paperback available in paperback at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Dreamspinner Press.

ebook available from AmazonBarnes and NobleDreamspinner Press, and AllRomance.

Sorcerer’s Knot

Sorcerer’s Knot is available at AmazonDreamspinner Press, and AllRomance.

The Prince of Winds

The Prince of Winds is available at AmazonDreamspinner Press, andAllRomance.

 Dangerous Beauty

AmazonResplendence Publishing and AllRomance. Also available in paperback.

The Last Cannoli

http://www.mmromancegroup.com/the-last-cannoli-by-tali-spencer/

Giveaway:

Tali is giving away an eCopy of any book in her backlist. To enter, just email me at Andrew@andrewqgordon.com and put – “I’m in” in the subject heading. That’s all I need. I’ll pick one winner on July 4th.  Remember this contest is only open to subscribers of my newsletter.

To see a complete list of Tali’s books, check out her the book page on her website:

Tali Spencer’s Books