MRV: Hi, Mandy! Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk with me and the readers at Split Horizons.
AC: Thank you so much for the opportunity! I am always thrilled for the chance to chat with fellow authors and connect with readers.
MRV: I don’t usually do author interviews, but I understand you’ve had a bit of a special collaboration with this novella. Can you tell us how it happened, and how that feels to you?
AC: Yes. This book has been the absolute wildest ride. Four years ago (!) our editor at DefCon One proposed an anthology where those of us with pet/favorite heroes would team up with one another to write short stories featuring those heroes teaming up—the more unlikely the pair, the better. And in that initial conversation, [my coauthor] Erik and I joked that if his girl (Vivienne) and my girl (Ruby) ever wound up in the same room, they would either try to kill each other or end up in bed together; so obviously we were ALL IN.
That anthology wound up getting cancelled. But we were having so much fun working on the story that we decided to keep going. We were especially excited when we realized we didn’t have to keep to the anthology brief and could keep writing even after what had been our word count limit. So this manuscript became our playground. Even as we both got hired to write other books and had other projects going, we kept coming back to this story. Once we had about 25k words, we knew we maybe had something, and when the editor who had first proposed the anthology got wind of it, she asked us to turn it in when we finished.
It took four years for that to happen, but last March we both realized we had a book! We turned it in and the rest is history.
MRV: My personal experience is that getting published really does fall under the heading of “Strange Adventures” … can you tell us a bit about your first project to the press and what it was like?
AC: Oh wow. YES. It started when Dawn Vogel bought a pair of leggings. Seriously.
She posted a photo of these very cool leggings to Facebook with a caption that she wondered if they would be good for a cosplay. Several people reminded her that she writes & edits superhero fiction so she could just make up a character who wears leggings like that. Which she did. Cool.
And then I asked her if she would pretty please base a villain on me; I’d always aspired to Supervillainy. And not only did she say yes, she let me help craft the character who eventually became Ruby Killingsworth. After that first story Dawn wrote, I (a prolific fanfic writer at the time), mentioned I was likely to want to write a Ruby story at some point.
So, when a Cobalt City holiday anthology was proposed a few months later, Dawn threw my name into the hat to submit. I honestly thought nothing would come of it, I wasn’t a professional writer! But I was living in Germany at the time and not able to work as an actor (my prior career) so I figured “why not?”
I wrote Holiday Magic thinking that would be the start and end of my attempts at writing professionally. But then…IT SOLD. After that, I asked the folks at DefCon One, who handle the lion’s share of stories set in the Cobalt City universe, how they would feel about my doing a whole Ruby book. They said yes and a career was born.
MRV: I heard you had a near miss with a major award lately. Can you tell us about that, and what it felt like when you found out?
AC: Kermit flail.gif I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes.
When I realized how much work I had done for less-than-pro rates last year, I figured it would be worth it to throw my hat in the proverbial ring for the Fan Writing Hugo. And I thought it could be really cool to maybe see my name on the long list after the ceremony. And when that list came out and I saw I was NEXT in line—two individual nominations away from being a Hugo finalist—it was unbelievable. It’s so validating as a small press author to see people connecting to and enjoying my work on that kind of scale. It’s a gigantic honor and I will be grateful for it forever.
MRV: So this isn’t the first story for your character in this collaboration. Can you give us a 3 or 4 paragraph summary of the story arc so far for her?
Ruby Killingsworth has always had magic, and an alien abduction a few years back magnified her power in a way she found both thrilling and useful (Comeback Tour by: Dawn Vogel, 2016). Power, after all, is her favorite thing. In fact, she enjoys power so much she decided it would be advantageous for her to find a way to assert her will even over those with superpowers that normally allow them to escape her thrall. Unfortunately for her, a well-meaning employee interrupted the ritual she’d begun to make that happen and robbed her of the ability to use her magic at all (Holiday Magic; Christmas Harder, 2016).
Growing impatient with the fact her powers hadn’t returned on their own, Ruby implores the assistance of her old friend, Loki (yes, THAT Loki) who sends a band of magical beings to assist her in unlocking the powers of an ancient African gem. Without her magic, but never truly powerless, Ruby also sets her sights on seducing her famously heroic (and famously married) neighbor, Jaccob Stevens, aka Stardust—a feat she finds easily enough accomplished with the help of her magical minions. Jaccob, of course, is never the wiser—a good thing, too, seeing as he absolutely detests magic in all its forms.
Their romance comes to a screeching halt when Jaccob discovers Ruby in the midst of the ritual she hopes will return her powers. He feels lied to, betrayed, and hurt (Rites & Desires, 2018). In the days following that break-up, Jaccob heads to Seattle to lean on the shoulder of his friend Vivienne Cain, aka Lady Vengeance (It’s Just Drinks by: Erik Scott deBie, 2018). Vivienne, upon seeing her friend’s heartache, decides she needs to come to Cobalt City and give the wicked witch who hurt him a piece of her mind.
And that’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of Femmes Fatale.
MRV: So where did the idea come from?
AC: The idea of putting these two women together started with the aforementioned anthology. And my coauthor had the idea to use demon possession as the impetus for their team-up. Once those two ingredients were in place, the story really just grew organically. Again, we wrote this as writer recess over the course of four years, so every time an idea came we just plopped it down and went from there.
MRV: What sort of research have you done for your characters, your setting and your plot? While it’s obviously fiction, that can be a lot of hard work “keeping it real”.
AC: Ruby runs a gargantuan entertainment empire, and while I have zero firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be a billionaire, I did spend a lot of years in show business, so I’ve seen the industry from the inside—although not from the top. Cobalt City as a fictional location has been relatively well documented in a wiki that all of us who write in this space have access to, and that really helps a lot. Mostly, though, the thing I do is really getting into the characters’ heads, because as long as I can give them a consistent and authentic voice then having a less authentic reality doesn’t seem to be a problem.
MRV: When is your release date, on Amazon? Where else can they get your eBooks? Are you considering a trade paperback edition?
AC: We release on November 15th and will have eBooks and paperbacks available. Getting small press books into physical stores can sometimes be a challenge, but we know we’ll be in a few local shops (Main Street Books; Monroe, WA and The Book Rack; Oak Harbor, WA) and hope to be wider.
MRV: Will there be another book? Can you talk about it a bit, if so? Is this the end of the road for Vivienne and Ruby?
AC: YES! When we turned this book in, our editor told us there was too much romance and not enough plot (we disagreed, but only a little) and suggested we split the tale up into two novellas, chopping off the end of the manuscript to weave it into a second adventure for our two wicked women. We were all in on this. The second Femmes book is coming along swimmingly. In addition to that, there is a second Ruby novel in the works and Vivienne makes an appearance in that as well. The plan is to keep them in each other’s orbit for a while, so there’s plenty to come!
MRV: Any plans for a story not related to your current works? Something you’d love to try, out in left field?
AC: I have a dieselpunk-flavored second world fantasy in the query trenches at the moment and I look forward to the day that book finds a home. And I have a historical magical romance in the drafting stages that I think is going to be a delight when it’s finished. I’m also a big IP nerd and am always hopeful for a shot at writing some of my favorite known quantities. (Star Wars, Star Trek, Shadowrun: hit me up!)
I want to do everything 😀
MRV: When you’re writing, what’s your “ritual” for getting words on paper?
AC: It honestly depends on whether or not I’m writing to a deadline. If I’m just writing because I want to write/have a story to tell then I pretty much open up my little computer on my lap wherever I am and write as the spirit moves me. But if I’m on deadline or for some other reason absolutely need to get words on the page, then I come into my office, sit at my desk, turn on very specific music (I have playlists for all sorts of moods and characters), and light a particular candle (I keep a generous supply of this scent in my house) and that puts my brain into “put words on page” mode. Provided I remain uninterrupted, I make progress pretty quickly under those conditions.
MRV: What do you think of book trailers? Do you have one for any of your novels?
AC: I have seen some book trailers that are really neato and have made me want to look closer at the book. And if an author or a publisher has the skill and the tools to make one, I certainly see no harm—especially since platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels are getting so popular with the bookish community. I personally lack such skills and tools, so there are no trailers for any of my books. But I wouldn’t be opposed to a fan vid….
MRV: Alright; you’re an industry veteran, compared to many. Can you offer four “do’s” and three “don’t’s” to aspiring authors?
AC: Ooh. Okay. Let’s see…
- DO write what you want to read; chances are someone else is going to want to read it, too.
- DON’T chase market trends, by the time you finish the work, the market will have moved on.
- DO finish what you start.
- DON’T think a story has to be perfect out of the gate—you can improve whatever you create, but its impossible to edit a blank page.
- DO grow your circle, make friends, and genuinely connect with peers.
- DON’T take criticism from anyone you wouldn’t hire for critique.
- And finally, DO remember to celebrate even the smallest wins, to take as much joy in the process as you do in the outcome, and keep doing what you love.
MRV: Who inspired you?
AC: For this book? Definitely my co-author. Nobody has ever egged on my inner villainy like he does. In general? The Superhero fiction community as a whole. There is always some fantastic idea to play with and some amazing people to talk to.
MRV: What convinced you that you had the chops as a writer to publish?
AC: Literally just my first story sale. And the one after that. And the work-for-hire job after that. I wasn’t sure I could do it until I was already doing it.
And, honestly, there are days when I’m still not sure. Imposter syndrome is a real thing and it can bite at literally any time. That’s why I think it’s so important to find joy in the act of creation and not just in the professional milestones that can come after.
MRV: Give us three other authors who are peers of yours that you think folks should pay attention to right now, once they’ve read your stuff?
AC: In addition to my brilliant coauthor, Erik Scott deBie, I think everyone should be reading Laura Anne Gilman and Seanan McGuire. If you like my stuff, you will love theirs. I also happen to know they’re fantastic people who are worth supporting.
MRV: What’s the funniest thing that has come out of you becoming a writer?
AC: The thing I find hilarious is that I turned my hobby into my job A SECOND TIME. I started out doing theatre for fun as a kid, and by the time I was in high school, I was performing professionally. After performing became my job, writing (fanfic!) became my principal hobby. Then, when I was in Europe & couldn’t make a living as an actor thanks to a language gap, I sold my first story and now writing is my job. These days I bake cakes as a hobby and BY GOLLY I will not let anyone pay me for a cake ever. EVER.
MRV: So where do you hope to be a year from now?
AC: A year from now, I hope to be working on revisions for both the sequel to Rites & Desires and the dieselpunk fantasy I mentioned earlier (either with an agent in preparation for going on submission, or with a small press editor in preparation for release). I hope to be headed back to convention programming and bookstore events with plans to see friends I haven’t gotten to hang with since 2019. And I hope to be happily creating new stories I haven’t even begun to think up yet.
MRV: Get linky with us … how can readers and fans-to-be catch up with you on social media?
AC: I’m @MandaTheGinger on both Twitter and TikTok, and those are my two most-used platforms. My Facebook: Facebok.com/TheGingerVillain is updates-only but it does get used. And my website at www.TheGingerVillain.com is the best place to find links to buy books and info on upcoming events—both live and virtual.
MRV: That’s it, we’re done. Any last words?
AC: Just a huge thanks for giving me the chance to chat about this book and the wild ride publishing has me on at the moment. I love being a storyteller and am so very excited for folks to see what’s ahead!
MRV: Thanks for joining us at Split Horizons!
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