Interview with Vicki Pettersson, Author of Signs of the Zodiac

Welcome to Waiting for Fairies’ first ever author interview! Vicki Pettersson, author of The Signs of the Zodiac series, Feathered and Sequined Goddess of the Southwestern Desert, graciously agreed to “break [us] in”, so to speak. She even agreed not to do the interview by smoke signal as originally planned. My signal fire was a little weak that day, what can I say? This premiere interview is awfully fitting, since the very first book review ever posted at Waiting for Fairies way back in March of 2007 was Vicki’s first book: The Scent of Shadows!

I have to say, I was nervous to do this interview. Who wouldn’t be nervous when speaking to a tall, leggy redhead who is not only a NYT best-selling author but could also probably Can-Can me into the ground? You have no idea how often I’ve double, triple, and quadruple checked that I have spelled that name correctly, every time, so I wouldn’t completely humiliate myself. (Especially after recently doing a review of Jesse Petersen‘s last book!) Luckily for me, Vicki is a classy lady who didn’t begrudge me my interview-ginity. And, P.S. – it’s Swedish and pronounced “Pet-ter-suhn”, in case you were curious!

If you’re unfamiliar with Signs of the Zodiac, you can read yesterday’s review, check out Vicki’s bio on her website, or just skip ahead for the interview!

Book 6 - Signs of the Zodiac

 

Q1: The Neon Graveyard is the last book in the series. I’m sure Joanna is relieved her author won’t be off plotting new horrible things to do to her. Are you sad to be saying good-bye?  

VP: Oh, sure – blame me!

Here’s a secret, one I’ve held close to my heart throughout this entire series: I didn’t initially think the series, or Joanna, was all that dark. I mean, I was always aware that she was tough, but the way I saw it, my job was to create antagonists and conflicts to rival that toughness. So Joanna created her enemies (and the plot twists) which then returned to shape Joanna, and on it went.

It wasn’t until I was having dinner with my editor – who loves the series as much as I do – that I realized just how dark I was going with this character. I casually mentioned that Joanna’s reactions didn’t seem all that extreme to me, and my editor looked at me like I’d just stolen her cocktail. Twice.

That said, I too started feeling Joanna’s fatigue, especially after CITY OF SOULS. How much can one woman go through? And it was the answer to that question that steered me toward ending the series. I didn’t want to throw new monsters at her just for the sake of conflict, or to merely extend the series. That would cheapen Joanna’s previous efforts, and dilute the emotion of such a hard-fought journey. So I’m happy with this ending, and thrilled that even after everything she’s been through, she can believably retain her toughness and go out swinging.

Q2: Speaking of those horrible things… You never, ever pulled any punches in this series. Was there ever a point where you stopped and said to yourself, “Man, this is getting pretty brutal”? I know you practically had a reader revolt on your hands after City of Souls. Man, that was a long, long year to wait for resolution! Did you ever want to be nicer to your cast of characters?

VP: That year-long wait was awful for me too. I wanted to tell each and every reader, “Just wait, please trust me. I know what I’m doing!” But I think that strong reader reaction came precisely because Joanna’s journey had gotten so brutal. It also had nothing to do with the story’s fantastical elements. Readers had put themselves in Jo’s shoes, and were feeling her emotional pain acutely, so that was a real turning point in the series. From the fourth book on, the series had less to do with fantastical new creatures, or the world of the Zodiac, than it did with Jo’s emotions and personal life.

Did I ever want to be nicer? Yes. But not as much as I wanted to tell the truth about her and her world.

Q3: Midheaven is an interesting aspect of the books, and I’ve always wondered what you intended when you describe it as a “woman’s world”. What did you want people to take away from that description? For instance, I found it beautiful and mysterious – yet also pretty savage (kind of like women in general can be at times). Were you trying to make a gender statement there or was it simply something to fuel the story?

VP: I believe the primary purpose of fiction is to entertain, so while I wasn’t trying to make a statement, I did want to explore this matriarchal society I’d set up in the Zodiac series. Preaching, or having some sort of authorial agenda is a no-no, yet novels are such a great way to explore haunting social or emotional questions. Would it really be so much better/different if a woman were running things? My conclusion was exactly what you stated: at their best, woman are beautiful and mysterious. At their worst, they can be savage. Exactly the same as men actually, if in different ways.

Q4: When we readers are finally ready to say good-bye to Joanna and company, it appears you have something else wonderful in the works. It’s being described as “a partnership between a supernatural private eye and a rockabilly reporter with a real nose for trouble.” What can you tell us about the new Celestial Blues series that we can’t already find out from your FAQ?

VP: The first book in the Celestial Blues series is called THE TAKEN. It alternates narratives between Griffin Shaw, a moody fallen* angel/P.I., and a female reporter named Kit Craig, who is full of modern-day rockabilly swagger. Mind, “fallen angel” is a bit of a misnomer. Grif hasn’t fallen as much as he’s been busted, and working with Kit is a by-product of his punishment. I’ve just handed in the first draft, so I promise you’ll be hearing a lot more about THE TAKEN very soon!

Q5: What authors are YOU reading right now? I know in the past you’ve praised the work of Richard Kadrey. Is there anyone else we should be checking out while we wait for Celestial Blues?

VP: Other than the usual suspects, I can recommend Sophie Littlefield, who does an amazing job in both mystery and UF. She’s quickly becoming one of my auto buys, and UF readers should definitely pick up her AFTERTIME. I got behind on my reading in J.D. Robb’s IN DEATH series, so I’m playing catch-up now. (Problem is, she writes faster than I can read!) Alie Condie and Suzanne Collins are my most recent YA reads; I’m really enjoying the dystopian YA trend. Other than that, lately it’s been a lot of thrillers. I also can’t recommend Diana Gabaldon enough to those who may not yet have picked up OUTLANDER. I actually feel sorry for people who haven’t read that book.

Q6: Thank you so much for stopping by and giving us a little bit of your time! Is there anything else you’d like to say to either long-time readers or those just picking up the series?

VP: I just want to say thank you to all my readers – no matter when they started reading. Without them, there wouldn’t be a Signs of the Zodiac series … or the upcoming Celestial Blues series. I also want to give props to those readers who’ve been with me the last four years. Following Joanna Archer hasn’t always been an easy journey, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Thank you, Vicki, for stopping by! I hope my readers out there will consider picking up Signs of the Zodiac if they haven’t already. This series has the Waiting for Fairies Seal of Approval! (Yes, I just made that up. I can totally do that. It’s my blog!)

How to Miss Out On Great Books

I said in a recent review that I would come back and tell the story of how I came so late to the Retrievers novels and Laura Anne Gilman‘s Cosa Nostradamus world.

Retrievers #1

It’s really quite simple and easy, but if you’re curious, here is Kiara’s Guide to Missing Out On Really Great Books™ .

  1. Hold tight to your tropes.
    • When I first picked up Staying Dead back in 2004 or 2005, I was really big into Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. (We’re all youthful and naive at one point or another.) The genre was just getting big on vampires and werewolves and kick ass chicks in leather pants. Staying Dead had none of these things. Here was a book with a nervous heroine whose “super power” was being ignored. What kind of kick ass chick was THAT?
  2. Scoff at anything outside the “norm”.
    • Electricity as a magic power? That was just too… normal… to be fantasy. Fairies that weren’t tall and coolly elfin and romantically aloof? A heroine who not only had never killed anyone – or even beaten anyone up, from the look of it – but who was afraid of guns?
  3. Dis the romance. Overlook the other relationships.
    • One of the major elements, I think, in the Cosa Nostradamus series is the relationships. Sure, Wren and Sergei have “a thing” blossoming, and that’s the only place I looked at first. “Romance,” I thought to myself, disgustedly. “Who has any use for a heroine who can’t even figure out her love life? Or one who even NEEDS a love life?” But the beauty of this series is that it looks at the ways different people interact with one another. I mean – I’m sure the author didn’t give her main character the ability to be overlooked because she thought it would be FUNNY, you know? Sure, it’s useful for a thief, but what does it do to the person inside – the one who’s being ignored? That’s just one of the incredibly subtle ways that Gilman makes a statement in this series.
  4. Dismiss anything unique as “silly”.
    • A demon who looks like a polar bear? I admit it, I scoffed. Sure, it was cutesy. But he was supposed to be a “fucking demon” (to quote Jason Lee in Dogma). Never mind that this gives a character who could very easily become one dimensional a depth and richness that moves his story from trite to significant. No one takes a monster who looks like a cuddly stuffed animal seriously, after all. So neither did I; I didn’t look any deeper.
  5. Don’t give a decent book a second chance. Or even a first chance, if you can help it.
    • I’m ashamed to admit that I only read Staying Dead a second time because I won a signed copy in a contest and – after months of seeing it still sitting on my shelf – I guiltily decided that I’d better at least READ the damned thing before I found another home for it*. That, and because I agreed with so much of what the author was saying on her website. SURELY, if I liked her non-fiction blogging so much, there must be SOMETHING to like in her fiction too, right? So I decided to read it again.

This was in fall of 2010 and I was in a much different place than I had been. When I first read these books, I was single and bitter about it. I was lost, lonely, and was just starting to gain back some of the confidence and self-esteem that had been destroyed by a bad relationship. Now, I have been happily married for a handful of years and have learned to say things like “No” and “I don’t need you in my life”. Back then, I was happy with a two-dimensional heroine who had what I thought I wanted in life (ruthless ambition, a pair of leather pants, and the power to make sure no one ever hurt her again). The more mature me of now has decided she’d like a little real life (a little moderation, a bit more than a wee taste of fun, and most definitely no chafing from leather pants) in her fantasy, please, kthxbai.

Moreover, now that I have grown a bit older (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) and have begun to take myself more seriously as a writer, I can look deeper into the story and see the grace and finesse. Now, I can appreciate Gilman’s obvious experience as an author and what she’s trying to do as an artist. I had previously (idiotically) been dismissing the very things that make this series so interesting and unique. I’m now three books into the series and I’m waiting to get my hands on the fourth. The only reason I took a break is because my TBR shelf was giving me sullen stares when it thought I wasn’t looking.

So, kiddies, don’t be like me. Just because you’re not in English Lit anymore and just because genre novels aren’t the usual college fare doesn’t mean that you have to turn your brain off when you’re reading a novel. (Although that’s fun sometimes, too!) So pay attention, be on the lookout, and don’t forget to eat your Wheaties. Oh, and give the Retrievers a look. You might be as surprised as I was on your first (or second) time through.

*And in case you’re wondering: no, you can’t have my copy. I’ve changed my mind. It’s not going anywhere.

 

A Precious Gift, or How David & Leigh Eddings’ Books Taught Me to Be A Decent Human Being

I’ve done lots of stupid things in my life. I think just about everyone has. Regardless, I try not to spend a whole lot of time on regrets because if even one thing in my past were changed, I think the whole domino pile of craziness would collapse — and, well. I kind of like where I’m at now.

So I only really ever had one big regret, and it has nothing to do with past loves or big mistakes or foolish choices.

It is simply this: I never got to meet David or Leigh Eddings. If you’re not familiar with this King and Queen of Epic Fantasy (and why aren’t you?), then you’ve probably never read the series known as The Belgariad. Or the ones titled: The Mallorean, The Elenium, The Tamuli or the stand-alone The Redemption of Althalus.

The Belgariad in particular is a universal, coming-of-age, farm boy becomes a King kind of epic fantasy. Yes, that’s become a familiar trope but dare I say (and yes, I do) that even if Eddings did not do it first, then at least he did it best. This is a truly world-encompassing tale with sorcerers, knights, both benevolent and evil gods, and a pair of dueling prophecies that could shatter the entire universe with their opposition.

I admit it – I read this series when I was very young. I read it, and loved every bit of it. From the illiterate kitchen scullion to the fiery-haired princess to the magic-wielding aunt to the curmudgeonly old story-teller/sorcerer. I didn’t love it in the same (lesser) way that I enjoyed Dragonlance, which I read at about the same time. That was adventure, but this was something else.

The Belgariad is carried not by its plot (which is, though entertaining, fairly predictable for anyone familiar with the fantasy genre), but on the backs of its characters. Garion, our hero, is very young when the story starts and is essentially “raised” during the course of the books. From his practical old friend, Durnik, he learns the value of hard work and that the best course is always honesty. From the old storyteller, Belgarath, he learns that many things can be accomplished based on the way others perceive you. From the burly Barak, he learned swordsmanship; from the knight Mandorallen, bravery; from the spy Silk, cunning and wit; from the horse-lord Hettar he learned a sort of stoic justice; from Her Imperial Highness the Princess Ce’Nedra, he learned passion; from his impulsive friend Lelldorin, he learned  devotion. And from his aunt, the sorceress Polgara, he learned the value of boundless love.

As Garion learned these things… So did I. As I read of serpent queens and mad gods, I was also taught the value of self-worth, honesty, the real meaning of courage, practicality, and much, much more.

When I am exhausted, defeated or lonely, I come back to this story, these books (and, to my great satisfaction, I am not the only person I know who does this). The characters are all the oldest of my friends. Each one has a voice of their own in my head, and I could probably quote long portions or at the very least tell the whole tale without reference. It was only recently that I started to wonder at the fact that it seems very apparent that The Belgariad taught me how to be a good person. I am grateful for that, more grateful than even I could know, I think.

So it was with a heavy heart that I heard of Leigh Eddings’ death – on my birthday, no less – in 2007. Later, I read with real devastation the announcement of David’s own death in 2009. Gone were my heroes, the most beloved of the hundreds (thousands?) of authors I have read. I think it took me another year or maybe even two before I realized the full tragedy: I would never meet either of them, would never hear them speak at a convention or book signing, and I would never possess a signed copy of any of these books.

Until now.

Slip case and cover

A dear, dear friend who has often spoiled me far more than I truly deserve has done it yet again. (There is a reason, my dear Reader, that she was the best “man” at my wedding. We could find no better person – woman OR man.)

#280!

This is a Signed, Numbered, Hard Cover, Slip-Cased, Limited, FIRST edition of The Redemption of Althalus. Althalus is, of course, my favorite of Eddings’ work now that I’m an adult. The Belgariad is an old childhood friend that taught me everything I know about growing up. Althalus is the devious, incredibly fun friend of dubious morality – a perfect grown-up companion. Garion’s world is where I retreat when I’m feeling beaten. Althalus’ realm is where I go when I’m feeling sort of naughty*. (*In a “short-sheeting the bed” prank-y kind of way, not the Adults Only kind of naughty.)

I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve friends like this, but boy am I grateful for them. And? Not only do I have the one thing I never thought I would (which is the second best option to actually meeting David and Leigh, which would be sort of difficult at the moment), but apparently the dough that was ponied up for this book also went to benefit the people of Japan after their recent disaster(s). That, I think, would make Durnik awfully proud.

I’m not ashamed to say I cried when I realized what I was holding. I don’t think that even after this entire post that I can really express to you what it means to me to be holding a tiny piece of the history of two people that, despite my never having met them, made a very large difference in my life. It is a gift beyond measure, and I am doubly blessed that not only can I hold it, but that I have a friend who would go to this distance to put this most significant gift into my hands.

The only way I could think to repay her (since she would not accept anything else) was to share this story with you.

Reading Meme – Day Twenty-Nine

Day 29 – Current book obsession

That’s not really even a question, is it? My entire world was altered by Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I have great friends and a loving husband because of this series. I was able to extract myself from a very bad situation because of the people I met because of this series. I’ve cos-played, traveled 8 hours by car to Atlanta (3 times!)  and even had a wedding ceremony at a convention for this series.

Sadly, Robert Jordan’s Wheel has moved past the rest of us lowly creatures, and he left us back in 2007 for great things in the next Turning. However, the successor chosen by Jordan’s widow, Harriet has given WoT fans every indication of a most satisfying, and true-to-the-series, conclusion. I don’t know a single Wheel of Time reader who won’t admit that Brandon Sanderson is this series’ absolute biggest fan. Which is as it should be.

Only one more book to go!

Reading Meme – Day Twenty-Eight

Day 28 – First book obsession

What counts as an “obsession” really? The first book that lead me to buy everything else the author ever wrote? Wow. If you look at it that way (and I hadn’t until I wrote that just now) then my first book obsession was:

I bought this book when it was first published way back in 1992. It was one of the few books I was allowed to buy (we weren’t poor, but weren’t rich and I tore through books like a hurricane), and every time I was allowed another I chose one from this author. This may actually be the very first series I had where the books were new and not hand-me-down or borrowed from the library.

I read the entire Secret Circle series, followed by The Vampire Diaries (you children didn’t really think the whole TV series was a new thing, did you?), then The Forbidden Game and The Darkest Powers. And I tried to love the Night World series just as much, but it is (as far as I am aware) still unfinished.

Reading Meme – Day Twenty-Seven

Day 27 – Favorite non-mainstream writer

I’m not even sure what this means by “non-mainstream writer”. So I guess I’ll just talk about the least-recognized writer that I can think of – which would be Tim Pratt. The series I was reading was, frustratingly, canceled by the publisher. The author has since published one book and a short novella online. Which was kind of him, since the last commercially published novel sort of ended in a cliffhanger.

The series is now, unofficially, complete. The author may write more, but has said that the last online novel does give the series an ending of sorts. So if you’re interested, please check out the Marla Mason series.

Reading Meme – Day Twenty-Six

Day 26 – OMG WTF? plot

Well, the plot point that made me shout OMG WTF was the end of Jim Butcher’s Changes. As a matter of fact, a lot of things in that book had me yelling things like that. So congratulations, Changes.

If I told you why, though, I’d ruin not only this book but the 10+ book series. So you’ll have to read it on your own.

Reading Meme – Day Twenty-Four

Day 24 – Best quote

That which yields is not always weak.

This was a prophecy of the dromonde given by Hyacinthe to Melisande, as a warning to her about Phedre. She didn’t really believe it, however, much to her folly. The book is Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey.