YA Indie Spotlight: RACHEL COLES
Rachel Coles, author of Pazuzu’s Girl, Into the Ruins, and Beyond The Veil, lives with her family in Denver, Colorado. She works in public health disaster preparedness. She enjoys researching mythology to incorporate into story-telling. Her family and friends share her enthusiasm for fantasy and science fiction, she is the proud mom of one of the youngest Trekkies in the state.
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Coles was already on board with the YA Indie Carnival when I joined. She has been a steady source of “geek mom” fun. Let’s get to know her a little better…
What is your all-time favorite book, and why?
I’m not sure I could pick a single one. One of my favorite series is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion series: Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, Rise of Endymion. I loved those books because they were complex, and when I put the last one down, it felt like my brain had changed after reading them. Mind-blowing. The series explored human evolution, not just physical, but religious and cultural, in the kind of time-span covered by Dune. It also explored artificial intelligence, in a different way than anything I’d read before. I also loved reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. I always enjoy reading that because Discworld really picks you up and carries you away in the story. And that world is hilarious. Terry Pratchett takes typical tropes like vampires, dwarves, werewolves, etc, and turns everything on its head. He’s a really fun read, great for escaping. But I would say that the book whose phrases stayed with me for decades was either Something Wicked This Way Comes, or The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. He was one of the most poetic writers I’d ever seen, and really impressed upon me the power of words.
Is there an author you could be compared to or a popular fictional character you could relate to and why?
I have been compared to Neil Gaiman once or twice, because of the mythological content of some of my stories. That absolutely makes me feel honored. He is another one of my favorite authors, and I have to admit that I’ve emulated him in a lot of ways. As for characters I could relate to, I guess I would have to say Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit. I come from a family of Hobbits, pretty much. We’re mostly little people who love to eat and talk, and eat and talk, and eat and talk. I’m mostly not exaggerating. When I went to my aunt’s retirement party, we stopped at a deli and got pounds of meat, knishes, whitefish salad, bagels etc, on the way to her place from the airplane. Two hours later, we went to her party at which we didn’t stop eating, talking, and dancing for five hours. And when we got home, we cracked open the leftovers and ate again, chatting around the kitchen table. And that was just the beginning of the weekend. Elevensies/luncheon/afternoon tea/dinner/supper, they all ran together. Somehow I’m not 800 pounds. That’s why I think we’re secretly Hobbits. I am specifically a bit like Bilbo Baggins because I like telling stories, I am a creature of habit, and don’t normally go for anything unexpected, but every once in a while, I throw my hands up, give in to my wild side, and get into trouble.
Can you give us your favorite quote from your book and explain it?
My favorite quote, spoken by Pazuzu, is “I will do whatever I have to do to protect you, even if I do it poorly in your eyes. You are young and angry and nothing is as simple as you imagine.” I like it because Pazuzu’s Girl is partly about what it means to be a parent. Whatever his other flaws are, he loves his daughter, and insists on being a dad, even if it means Morpho is mad at him. It reminds me of what I have heard some parents say, ‘It’s not my job to be your friend, it’s my job to be your mom/dad.’ I’m sure that I will someday have this conversation with my daughter when she is a teenager, because I had it with my parents at some point.
What types of things/people/music inspires you and makes you want to keep on writing?
Everything. I’m a space cadet and cannot stop daydreaming, and every experience I have somehow wends its way into a story. But specifically, I’m a child of the 80’s. I mostly listen to 80’s music because even though it’s corny often, there was an optimism then, and now a nostalgia. It’s energetic, bittersweet, and just kind of grabs my emotions. I write best when I’m caught up in some emotion or other. People who inspire me to keep writing are my family and friends. My daughter was the reason I started writing. She loves to hear bedtime stories, particularly scary stories. And when we had burned through all of the remotely age-appropriate scary stories we could find, we started making them up together. I started writing them down, and kept going. My husband who is my best friend is really supportive and beta-reads my stories. The writing group I’m part of, we critique each others material, and have peer-pressure writing nights and get each other to write (pssst, just a few words, you know you want to, all the cool kids are doing it…)
Describe your typical writing day or week.
My writing can be kind of scattershot. I have weeks where I’ll sit up until midnight after my daughter goes to bed, and write every night. Other times, it’ll be only on peer-pressure writing night, when I take my daughter with me to Panera and she plays Minecraft, while we all write, though I often have her write me a story on her iPad too.
Is there a typical food/drink you have to have when you write?
Well, I don’t know if I have a particular food or drink, whatever I’m in the mood for at the time. Usually iced tea of some kind. I’ve gotten into the habit of eating a Panera sandwich and soup, and one of their brownies. I love eating their brownies when I’m writing, and am sad when they’re all out by the time I get there. Their chocolate chip cookies are nice, gooey, and chewy too. But I can’t eat those every time I write, or I’d need a forklift to get me to the restaurant.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now, possibly an excerpt?
I’m working on a sequel to Pazuzu’s Girl. For now the working title is Iron Butterfly. But I will probably change it, because there are really four main characters: Morpho– the demon Pazuzu’s daughter who is also part Sidhe, Ereshkigal–ruler of the Underworld, Ninhab Agresti–Morpho and JD’s high school principal and future consort of Ereshkigal, and Marduk–ancient god-king of Babylon now a CEO.
From Iron Butterfly—
The tunnel went on in darkness for a ways. Morpho couldn’t tell how long. She had the feeling of rough walls on either side and above. The ground felt like loose dirt underneath her sneakers. But light grew ahead, and slowly they emerged out of the tunnel. There was sky overhead, but it wasn’t like any sky she’d ever seen. There was a moon like the moon outside in the regular world, except bigger, and brighter. It was clearer, and looked somehow like a bowl of molten silver dripping little pearls into the rest of the sky. The sky around the moon was deep emerald green shading into black velvet, which was littered with rainbow swaths of stars.
“Whoa.” JD stared around him at the thick bushes and trees. Their leaves were bronze and teardrop-shaped, with an iridescent sheen. Other bushes looked periwinkle blue in the glow from dozens of insectile motes that flitted away through the trees. The forest went dark, and she had somehow gotten the impression that they hadn’t been alone when they had come out. “Okay, then.” JD whispered. He kept going along a faint trail. “That was cool. Like Tinkerbell’s family.”
She looked back at the tunnel, but there was only foliage behind them. “Tunnel’s gone…Of course.” She muttered. “Okay.” She followed him until the trees thinned out to a broad plain of rolling grass-covered hills. The trail widened into a road that threaded through the swells of land. They had been walking for about five minutes, cresting the first hill when the baying started in the distance to the left. It got louder quickly as whatever made that sound came closer, but as she stared out at the hills, she couldn’t see anything, at first. Then a form took shape in the low mist that cloaked the valleys. As it got closer, it looked like a woman riding a chariot, that was drawn by the largest dogs she had ever seen. They were the size of horses, so black the light of the moon just sunk into their fur. Their ringed yellow and red eyes shone from their heads like lamps, and their sharp teeth were as black as obsidian. She didn’t get as far as noticing what the woman looked like.
“Oh hell!” Morpho and JD turned and ran.
“Change, Babe, change!” JD yelled to her. “They won’t be able to chase all of you!” he panted. “Or maybe you could test your Cuisinart wings move!”
She changed into a cloud of butterflies with razor wings and flew up into the sky above the chariot to get a vantage point, but the chariot had gained on JD. Then just when she thought that it couldn’t get worse, the chariot split into three. Three chariots, three sets of hellish dogs, and three women. They circled JD.
Leave him alone! She thought, as she dived at them. But the woman in the middle raised her hand, and suddenly, Morpho was human again as she slammed down onto the ground in front of the figure, whose hand was still outstretched toward her. Morpho couldn’t move, not even to turn her head, so she had a moment to see the women who had captured them. The tallest one had blazing red hair, not just Irish red, but so red it was almost like flames drifting around her head, barely restrained in long braids that were bound by delicate chains ending in tiny golden balls. She wore a gold circlet with swirls across the band. Her eyes were blood red. The woman to her left had a face very much like the red-haired woman, enough to be sisters. Her hair was as black as the messenger Raven’s wings, almost as black as the hell-hounds’ fur, absorbing light. Her black irises were like two holes in her eyeballs. Her nose was long and slightly curved, and her lips were thinner than her sister’s. The last woman was as pale as her sister was dark, the shortest of the three. She had pure white hair, as long as the other two. Her skin was the color of bone, and the eeriest part was her eyes. They were completely white. There were no pupils or irises, just milky white all the way across. They were terrible to look at, and oddly beautiful.
The red-haired one spoke. “You certainly are curious little creatures, aren’t you? Lugh told us you were coming. I warned your mother that you would be too curious for your own good at some point. I told her you would be your father’s child.”
“Who are you?” Morpho choked and strained against the force that held her head down. It released suddenly, and she sat up, spitting soil.
“I am Nemain. We are the Morrigan. We rule here. You would do well to show us some respect. Especially since you are trespassing.”
“Lugh is here? He told you about…us?” She glanced at JD. The dogs stood in front of him, a low rumbling growl issuing from their throats.
“Yes, though Macha saw that you would come.” She nodded at the white sister.
“Uh, sorry, we didn’t mean to trespass.” JD gulped, looking at the length of the dogs’ teeth.
The black-haired sister turned to her sibling, opened her mouth and a caw bordering on a shriek came out. It wasn’t amiable, like Raven’s caw. It was sharp and dangerous. Her nose seemed longer and her lips and white teeth seemed sharper.
Nemain studied JD. “Badb says you are young and…cute, like a lapdog. She wants to let you live, for now. Very well.” She reached over Morpho, as if her arm simply stretched and grew. Her long-fingered white hand grasped the back of Morpho’s shirt and hauled her up as if she were a kitten, into the chariot and dumped her at her slippered feet. Badb took JD. His face was frozen somewhere between terror and the goofy look he got when he stared at his busty guitar girl posters. If Morpho had been closer to him, she would have smacked him. But then, the chariots took off with a lurch and they were moving so swiftly she didn’t have a chance to do anything but slit her eyes against the wind as they flew. Everything turned grey and when she looked down at her hands, they seemed insubstantial, like mist. The dogs, JD, Badb and Macha, all of them seemed to blend into the grey so their edges blurred. She didn’t want to turn and see the red-haired queen behind her. And then, they slowed to a halt. Now, they were in a circle of grey stones so tall, the shadows they cast from the moon must have spread across the plain they were on for a mile. And across the shadows, filling up the plain behind them were hosts of fairies of all kinds. At least that’s what Morpho thought they were when the chariots pulled around. There were some very powerful looking fairies around a semicircle of thrones in the center of the stone circle. Their thrones were all different too. One of them was made of what looked like carved amber, inlaid with gold in the same swirling designs as the red-haired queen’s circlet. Another was made entirely of silver, another of pure gold, shining in the moonlight. Another appeared to be made of woven branches and soft emerald moss. Lounging in the amber throne, was Lugh, their erstwhile legal guardian. He had a gold circlet around his forehead, the only thing controlling his wild tawny locks. He wore what looked like a fine red linen tunic with gold embroidery and woolen plaid leggings.
“Hi, luv! Took you long enough.”
“You knew we were coming.” Morpho said.
“I’ve been livin’ with you for almost a year. And I know your mama.”
“So…you’re not mad? That we, uh, poked around and, uh, followed you?”
“I didn’t say that.” His pale eyes flickered for a moment with golden light. “But you’re my cousin’s girl. I’m under a geas that I’d look after you if something happened to…the other side o’ yer family.”
“Under a what?”
He smiled grimly. “Geas. An oath.”
“Oh.” She swallowed, somehow deflated.
“Relax, I like you. I like yer boy too,” he nodded at JD, “or we’d be havin’ a very different conversation right now.”
“Do you vouch for them, Lugh Lamfada?” The man who sat in the golden throne boomed. Though he was seated, he was obviously tall and powerfully built. His hair was silver. He had none of the other marks of advanced age, but Morpho could tell he was old. Really old. Not crusty though. He radiated power. He had the bearing most jocks took steroids to try to look like, with half the brains.
“I do, your Highness.” Lugh inclined his head.
The Morrigan hauled her and JD out of their chariots in front of the King. Then the chariots collapsed into a single throne made of black sharp rock and padded with what Morpho seriously hoped wasn’t human skin. There were six heads tied by the hair onto the sides of the throne. And instead of three women, there was only Nemain now. She stared at Morpho. Her expression was somewhere between contempt and curiosity. Either way, it was unsettling. She said nothing.
Books by Rachel Coles
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