Waking up to find a naked faerie prince in your rose bed can only mean that the rest of the day is going to go downhill. Alfhild, hiding in her new life far from home, far from a murderous brother and tabloid notoriety, is singled out by Cadfael, the prince of the Unseelie Horde, as the answer to the Horde’s prayers, the prophesied savior in their eons-long battle with the Seelie Keep. Alfhild just wants her coffee.
Taking on a new identity to hide from the crimes of her notorious half-brother Gulliver, Alfhild takes up residence in her family’s ancestral home and finds herself drawn unwillingly into an ancient battle. Fighting Cadfael’s attraction and her own unsettled feelings, Alfhild must decide if it is truly her place to help the Unseelie, or if it is time to let ancient empires die and the human world go on without them.
Coffee with Architects of Worlds Afar is thrilled to announce that Meredith Spies, author of Unseelie, is with us to talk about her novel — which, it’s worth noting, hit virtual shelves less than two weeks ago. I can think of a couple of appropriate hashtags: #NewReleaseAlert, #GetItWhileItsHot.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m from Southeast Texas and live there again, for the moment (things are always changing!). I love traveling, cooking, playing with my kid (who is six going on thirty, I swear…), plotting impossible gardens, reading, writing, stargazing… I’m a stay at home mom and a writer, and a burlesque performer (formerly a belly dancer… I made the transition to solely doing burlesque a few years ago and I miss performing belly dance, but I keep my hand in the field with teaching private lessons). I majored in anthropology in college as an undergrad and have a minor in French language and literature. I aspired to be the next Dian Fossey and work with gorillas but ended up more in the cultural anthro side of things before graduating, and when I finally got to grad school years later, I got a Master’s of Liberal arts with a focus in Women, Culture, and Society (I wrote my graduation papers on the queer femme in the arts, from the Bacchae to modern literature).
2. When did you start writing?
The pat answer is “I’ve always been a writer!” but really, aside from a haiku published in my elementary school’s very brief attempt at a paper, I didn’t really start writing until I was about 23. I wrote a short story called Saturday Night and it was published in Byzarium E-Zine (I feel so old… I was in an e-zine!). I had been poking at Unseelie for a while but it hadn’t been finished, and seeing Saturday Night get published drove me to finish the novel. I sent it around and got a healthy dose of rejection letters, but then an awesome indie publisher picked it up. While with them, I wrote under the name Meredith Holmes (I was teaching at the time, in public schools, and didn’t want to run the risk of any students or admins finding out I wrote sometimes racy things) and had several short stories published—Widow’s Walk, Love in the Time of Airships, and a few others. The publisher folded soon after Unseelie finally went to print and my poor book barely saw the light of day. Skipping ahead several years, it was revised thanks to an awesome lady named Jennifer Murphy whom I met through a different publisher and who is not only an amazing friend but a kick-butt editor, and I decided to self publish under my real name so I could get the book back out there, and get it’s sequel out there too (due in November/December!).
3. Why did you start writing?
Frankly, because I have a vivid imagination. And it was a means of escape for me when I was younger. I say I didn’t start writing till my twenties, but I’d always jotted things down, had notebooks of stories for myself, things I will never mine for ideas because they’re so personal. But I had a not-great childhood through young adulthood due to abuse and sexual assault being part of my life back then, and bullying, so I sought escape through imagination. And as I got older, and my situation got better and I was able to heal and move on from the bad stuff, I found writing was a wonderful way to relax, to really find a center. I loved telling stories, I loved reading, and sitting down to actually write something to share, to take that exercise I’d used for calming and escape and make it into something for others to take part in, was exciting for me. I don’t claim to be a literary genius, but if I can offer someone a few hours of escapism and entertainment, I’m all for it and happy to do so.
4. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your novel?
Yes! There was this awesome shop called Tranquil Thymes where I used to teach belly dance. They had beautiful cards on display in the front of the shop, the artsy blank-inside kind. One in particular stood out to me, every time I walked by the rack. It was a very handsome man with almost elfin features, clad in greens and browns, with long, reddish brown hair. He was supposed to be an elf or a supernatural creature of some sort, and I mentioned to the lady behind the counter one day that he looked like a faerie prince. The idea for Unseelie popped into my head a few minutes later. The story originally was much shorter, and from Cadfael’s (the faerie prince). It had the same elements—the war between the Seelie and Unseelie, the human woman he fell in love with, but it was a gentler story, much more “happily ever after faerie tale”. When I finally started really writing it a few weeks later, it quickly became much closer to the Unseelie that’s out today.
5. Tell us a little bit about your book’s title.
For me, it was always Unseelie, never any other title. Originally, it was three novellas with Unseelie as the first, and the other two were Unseelie: Stone Circles and Unseelie:A Year and a Day. When I decided to make all three novellas into one full length novel, Unseelie was the only way to go for me. The word comes from an old German word meaning “unholy” and was used to refer to “bad faeries” while Seelie came from the word meaning “holy” and was, well, the opposite. I loved the idea of a play on the word and on the image of the Unseelie Horde, not being as “wicked” as depicted in folklore and also the war between the Seelie and Unseelie in the novel being over the “unholy” desires of the Seelie queen and what she wanted to do to gain absolute power.
6. Does your story have a moral?
Family is not always blood, it’s often made. And take a chance but don’t be a pushover. There’s deeper themes in the book itself, pertaining to equality and the cost of war over time, wants versus needs, but the major one is family is a choice, and being open to someone shouldn’t mean being their doormat.
7. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
All of them! It’s difficult, really, at least when it comes to Unseelie. They’ve been part of me for so long, from first concept to numerous rewrites and edits and false starts… I could say Du is my favorite because he’s such a sarcastic, sharp, but ultimately kind fellow. And Alfhild is my favorite because she is the reader, she is us, seeing the world of the Sidhe (the impossible, the fantastic) and facing test after test, just wanting to live her life without having to fight every day. And Cadfael is my favorite, too, because he’s the first one I “met,” and he’s the only calm one in the bunch!
8. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in Unseelie.
Curious, smart, cautious, passionate, exasperated.
9. What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I tend to write quite late at night, or very early in the morning, since most of my days and evenings are spent in Mom-mode and taking care of the spawn. As such, I don’t play music much, and if I do, it’s quiet and usually classical or something that doesn’t have many words so I don’t get too distracted by it. Sometimes, I’ll listen to a comedy album in the background if I’m writing something really intense and I need the comic relief. For some reason, that doesn’t distract me like words over music does! I try to get at bare minimum 2000 words per day. That’s my bottom line number, unless I’m in edits, then it varies wildly. I used to write exclusively on my laptop, sitting on my bed, but I started to get too lazy and distracted so I switched to using a desktop PC and sitting at a desk. It not only minimizes my distractions but it helps keep me in a productive mindset, “This is work, you have deadlines!” seems more real at a desk than tucked up in the middle of the bed! I prefer to write at home or in private. I’ve tried the “sit in a coffee shop” thing before and had too many people want to chat with me about their own writing, or wanting to see what I was doing and I just got too annoyed by it all! When I sit down to write, I usually have a cup or glass of tea, because I embrace that writerly stereotype, and I get my sound going (music or some comedians) and just start typing. I make a deal with myself—hit the minimum goal and I can get up and move around, get distracted for a bit, and that usually works!
10. How do you feel about outlines? Are you for or against them?
I am a “seat of my pantser” but I’ve started to use outlines more lately, now that I’m working on a very long project. It’s a mystery and I want to make sure I’m not giving away “whodunit” in the early chapters, so I’ve started outlining to keep track of all my details. That said, it chafes! I prefer to have my idea written down, then let it just flow organically, at least for the first draft. This outlining is helping with this new project but I hate to admit it, after years of firm outline denials.
11. What is your favorite book genre?
That’s tough. I love romance novels. Love them. I write the genre so that’s not a surprise, is it? I also really enjoy scifi/space opera (Lois McMaster Bujold is my all-time favorite in that genre), supernatural stuff like The Dresden Files and Kelley Armstrong’s series, thrillers, mysteries, classics… I think the common theme in all of the genres I enjoy is the romance element, and sharp, witty characters who are unconventional and not too tropey.
12. What are you currently reading?
I’m re-reading the Phryne Fisher mysteries, and I am finally getting around to reading The Girl on the Train.
13. What is your favorite book?
This is another tough one! I have more than one favorite! I’ll go with two: First, A Civil Campaign. It was the first book I read in The Vorkosigan Saga by Bujold and is actually far down into the series, but it is so well written that I got through it without going “wait, who what now? When did this happen?” I read that one, then had to go back to the beginning of the series and just devoured them whole. They’re excellent space opera without being heavy handed. You can get into the series without having a deep and abiding love of scifi—the tech is light and you don’t need a major in math to get through any of the chapters. The characters are so beautifully written in all of the books that you really feel empathy for them. A Civil Campaign handles the situations such as ableism, dating/romance while disabled/”different”, just romance in general really, and the captivating sociopolitics of the worlds Bujold’s created in such a way that you want to just binge-read it and not come up for air till the last page. Second, I highly recommend Good Omens. Neil Gaiman writes modern faerie tales. His books are pure magic. Combine him with Terry Pratchett and it is damn near perfect. Wit, mythology, social commentary, characters you care deeply for, quick humor, and sharp insight that leaves you breathless with happiness and going “Ah! AH!” at the end.
14. Any project in the works?
A few! Working on the edits to Wild Hunt, the sequel to Unseelie, and I have a new series in the works. The first book is under way and it’s set in a space colony where the people are known as demons because of their oddities. It’s a fun combination of a cozy mystery and a space opera! I have a historical romance I’m poking at again, because I love the characters so much, but it’s second on the list to finish after my “big project” of the cozy mystery/space opera.
15. How long does it usually take you to write a book?
It depends, really. I’d say, for the first draft, anywhere from a month to six months. It really depends on what is going on in the non-writing parts of my life, and if I am visited by the Dreaded Writer’s Block! When I’m working on the subsequent drafts and into the editing process, it can take another handful of months and up to a year.
16. In your opinion, what makes a story ‘good’?
If it engages me, as a reader, if I care about the characters (even if it means I hate them, so long as I am hating them because they deserve it, not because they’re poorly written), and if I feel like the world they’re existing in is “real”—if I can picture the details, see the characters interacting in it, then that, to me, makes a story ‘good’.
17. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Way back in the dark days when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was starting out, someone sent me a picture of a harried-looking woman slumped over a computer keyboard and the caption “BICHOK: Butt in chair, hands on keys!” That’s been my motto ever since, when it comes to writing. Writing won’t get done by thinking about it, you have to actually do it. Even if it’s journaling the story ideas, making an outline (the dreaded outline…) in a notebook, scribbling something down, so long as the writing is happening.
And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Summer or winter?
Winter! I hate hate hate summertime! I live in Southeast Texas and pray to the gods every year for actual cold weather.
2. Cake or ice-cream?
Ice cream. All the fun of frosting without the cake part to slow me down.
3. Car or motorcycle?
Car! The more layers of protection between me and traffic, the better!
4. Nights out or nights in?
Nights in! I think I outgrew clubbing and late parties.
5. Living in the city or living in the country?
I want to say country but I like city conveniences.
6. Having telepathy or having telekinesis?
Telekinesis. I don’t want to know what others are thinking about me, but I’d love to be able to grab the remote without getting off the couch.
7. Being able to travel to the past or being able to travel to the future?
That’s tough. The past, I think, so I can see my grandparents again!
8. Making a phone call or sending a text?
Text. I’m more likely to get an answer to a text!
9. Travelling by car or travelling by airplane?
I’m terrified of flying, so I want to say car, but cars only get you so far, so I’ll say plane but with a healthy dose of wine.
10. Staying in a hotel or going camping?
Hotel. I’m terrified of spiders as well as flying. I love outdoors, but I want to sleep in a spider-minimal environment.
11. Working in a group or working alone?
Working alone. I like to go at my own pace!
12. Losing all of your money or losing every picture you’ve ever taken and every picture that has ever been taken of you?
Losing all my money. You can always make more money, but you can’t always replace pictures.
13. Being Spider-Man for a day or being Batman for a day?
Spider Man! Batman has way too much baggage. Besides, despite my fear of spiders, I’d love to be able to fling myself around like Spider Man does.
14. To find the love of your life (only to find out that you’re not the love of their life) or to have someone declare you the love of their life (note, however, that this someone is not a person whom you are romantically interested in)?
Maybe it’s mercenary of me, but I’d prefer the latter. I’d feel bad for the person, but I think I could handle being the love of someone’s life and not loving them back the same way than I could the opposite happening. Ugh, now I feel bad for hypothetical people!
15. Finding yourself trapped in the universe of The Walking Dead or finding yourself trapped in a slasher film?
Can I hang out with Darryl and Carol? If so, I pick The Walking Dead.