Vanessa North joins us today to talk about her shifter series, The Ushers.
Let’s start from the beginning. Here’s a blurb for Amazon – The Ushers.
Born albino, Bianca was spared death in infancy when her mother found safe haven among the ghosts and misfits of Amazon Pack. As Guardian of Amazon, she protects the hidden pack with a ferocity that belies her delicate appearance.
Jack’s routine investigation of rogue wolf sightings in his territory uncovers both Bianca’s secrets and her passionate nature. He finds her alluring and terrifying: he’s convinced she’s his mate, but is she also the Usher–key to their culture’s most sacred prophecies?
The Usher’s destiny requires a sacrifice to repair a rift in wolf culture and set the Goddess free. Can Jack and Bianca trust each other enough to pay that price?
Please tell us about yourself.
I was born in New England but moved to the South as a teenager, where I learned to appreciate biscuits and gravy, bluegrass, and that most welcome of greetings: “Hey y’all!” I have a degree in Mass Communication but have long since abandoned journalism in favor of writing romance. Instead of telling the news, I would rather tell stories.
I have a voracious appetite for books and loves all kinds. I writes obsessively: every day brings new ideas and stories to tell. When I’m not buried in a book—mine or someone else’s—you can find me taking thousands of photographs of the people I love.
I lives in Northwest Georgia with my handsome husband, not-quite-civilized twin boy-children, and a pack of dogs.
The title of your book intrigued me. Can you tell me a little about Amazon and Ushers?
Amazon refers to Bianca, but it’s also the name of the mostly-female werewolf pack that Bianca belongs to. She’s the Guardian of the pack, which is sort of the head of law and order. Jack holds the same role in his pack, Mid-Atlantic. Bianca is also the first of three “Ushers,” figures in werewolf mythology/prophecy who are predestined to rescue their Goddess from a sort of metaphysical captivity. The Ushers are called that because they each bring about, or “usher in,” a societal change.
Jack and Bianca are quite the interesting couple. What inspired their creation?
Bianca came first in my inspiration. I wanted to write about a woman who didn’t fit into a traditional beauty role, whose appearance might stir up superstition and fear. Her appearance had to be something she absolutely could not hide. So I made her albino–and she’d still try to hide it sometimes with makeup. She is a very physical person, she’s all about fighting and biting. She also has a fairly relaxed view of sexuality. She’s fiercely protective, but she’s got a very deep streak of resentment running through her. Bianca has a hell of a large chip on her shoulder. She gives off an aura of being sort of tough and wild, but she’s very rigid in her toughness, which is part of why Jack is so perfect for her.
So, in figuring out who Jack needed to be, a few things were clear. In order to earn Bianca’s respect, he had to be an alpha-wolf–strong, capable, self-assured. But he also needed to be open to new ideas and able to support Bianca in her task. The culture he grew up in was male-dominated and he was privileged to be born a powerful male wolf in a powerful pack. He would have to come out of his place of privilege and support the Usher because it was the right thing to do, not because he would gain anything by it. He had to be able to bend because she couldn’t.
I’m interested in getting to know those two a bit more. If I invited Jack to dinner, what should I cook? How would he engage me in conversation? Would he go for “dessert?” *wicked grin* I’m basing my outfit on your response to that last question, by the way.
Well, Jack likes to eat, and he especially likes meat dishes. Something like a bigos, a polish stew with several different types of meats, mushrooms, and cabbage would probably go over well, but he’s not picky. He’s a really good listener, so he’d probably ask you to tell him all about yourself, and he’d ask lots of questions. He would deflect the topics of conversation away from himself though. Not because he’s not interesting, but because he’s pretty modest. As for dessert? He and Bianca always share dessert, so make sure you, ahem, have enough for two. 😛
It’s Bianca’s turn. What’s her idea of the perfect date? What’s the best way to leave a lasting impression on her?
Bianca is all about action. She’d love to go for an early morning run in the woods, or go bowling, or something where she could be up and moving around. Nothing impresses Bianca like someone going out of their way to be kind to others, so if you wanted to spend an afternoon volunteering somewhere, she’d be first in line to help out and she’d probably get your name tattooed on her somewhere afterwards.
Can we find bits of your personality in any of the characters?
Maybe. I don’t consciously try to write myself into my characters, but there are definitely things about them, especially speech patterns, that probably come from me. There’s a lot of cussing in my dialogue, and I know that’s all me. I need a swear jar on my desk. If I put a dollar in it every time I typed a naughty word, I’d never need a savings account.
The world you’ve created in this book is interesting and unique. Ghosts, rogues, hidden packs – What inspired you?
The ghosts in particular were inspired by the Indian practice of sati (aslo spelled “suttee”)–when a wife would be burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. I guess that’s a pretty gruesome inspiration. I chose to make the ghosts more a metaphysical response to grief and mourning: a werewolf who can’t shift. Because they didn’t have the decency to die along with their mate, they are now treated as if they were dead by the pack.
Rogues are wolves that don’t belong to a pack, solitary creatures living outside of societal convention. There are many reasons a wolf would go rogue: to better fit in with humans, because they don’t like pack life, because they want to live somewhere where there isn’t a pack nearby, etc.
There are also misfits like Bianca and the character Kathy, werewolves who are considered omega by traditional packs, a draw on resources because they are physically different from other wolves. In Bee’s case she would be omega because she’s albino, and in Kathy’s case because she’s very small in size. Amazon Compound sort of becomes a haven for wolves like these, a melting pot for those who never fit in anywhere else. It’s kind of a wolfie island of misfit toys. 🙂
You have another release this year, can you tell us about it?
I actually have a few more releases this year, including the second Usher’s story, United, but I’d love to talk a bit about Fight or Flight, my sci-fi courtroom drama romance. Fight or Flight is a story about two people who are pitted against each other: Tirzah, a woman on trial for murder, and Zeke, the man tasked with prosecuting her. Neither one has any good reason to like or trust the other, but over time, they start to offer each other little olive branches of good will until a friendship of sorts blooms between them. Over and over again, these two characters have to choose how they want to survive–by fighting for what they want, or by flying away from it and learning to live without. It’s never a black and white choice–there is always a continuum of right and wrong and every choice carries a price tag.
Did you always want to be an author? How long have you been writing books?
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I don’t think I ever consciously said “I want to be an author.” I think I always thought that word meant something bigger than me. I started writing books maybe two years ago (maybe not even that long!) and I just devoured everything I could about character building and plotting until I could tell the stories I wanted to tell. All of a sudden, I had written all these stories and I decided I’d try to get some of them published, all the while, continuing to write new stories and work on the craft. My first book, a contemporary retelling of the Norse myth of spring called Two in Winter, was published by Liquid Silver Books this past July, and that’s when it all began to feel “real.”
If you were going to create a character based on yourself, what would she be? What traits would she have?
She would be a feminist for sure. She’d probably be an artist of some kind. She’d be geeky and she’d laugh a lot. She’d probably have a potty-mouth.
It’s been great learning more about this amazing title and I’m glad you decided to share it with us. Would you indulge us with an excerpt?
Bianca pulled her v-neck t-shirt over her head, shucking off her shoes and jeans. Jack immediately started shedding his clothes as well. Growing up among wolves, he’d never really given much thought to nudity. Their bodies grew in size as they shifted, so he was accustomed to stripping down before a run in order to preserve his wardrobe. He glanced over at the Albina as she shook her hair out. Standing in the moonlight, she was stunning. He saw her delicate pink nipples were still hard and aroused from his kiss. The curls of hair on her mound were as fair as her hair, and he saw the delicate pink folds glistening, swollen with arousal, peeking through the white curls. Her beauty was astounding. He saw marks on her skin, leaned closer to examine them. Tattoos, he realized suddenly. All wolves were tattooed after their first shift. Most of them were tattooed in black ink with colors for emphasis, but several of hers were done in white. As befits Albina, he thought as he admired the elegant symbols. Her entire back was covered, here and there a shadow in grey? or a bit of color drawing attention to some of the more consequential tattoos. Clearly she was a powerful Guardian for her pack–she’d not have been tattooed so many times without having achieved her place of power by virtue of her skills. As she turned to fold her discarded clothes, he could see some scars on her body, remnants of fights won. The tattoos glimmered in the dark, beckoning him to trace them with his fingers, his tongue. He groaned, and she looked over her shoulder at him with a smile.
“Kathy has changed already, are you ready?” she asked, turning to stare at his body in the moonlight. Hard and muscled everywhere, his upper body hairy and tattooed all over. She looked at his signs and symbols of strength and honor, a visual representation of his place in his pack. They confirmed that he was a fit mate for her–his beautiful body bore scars of fights clearly dominated, and the tattoos that marked him as a leader curled around them. She smiled, her gaze lingering at the proof of his arousal, standing proudly from the bed of black curls at the top of his legs. She blushed slightly as she realized he had followed her gaze. He grinned back at her with a wink as he sank to his knees.
She had seen many wolves shift before. However, she found herself curiously watching him, to see if her mate–there was no longer a doubt in her mind that he was indeed her mate—would seem different from those others. It was sensual, witnessing his change–his body shook and he turned his head with a loud cracking noise. He owned his change like only a powerful wolf could–it was masterful, graceful almost, as his black fur grew over his body. Then he sat, watching her, a huge black wolf with golden-brown eyes. He was resplendent. She knelt next to him, still in her human form, and caressed between his ears. His fur was soft and his eyes kind. He closed them and rolled his head into her hand like a dog seeking a touch from his mistress. His essential masculine scent still surrounded him in his animal form, and as she stroked his head, he snorted and his tongue lolled out between sharp lethal teeth to lap at her hand. She loved the feel of his fur between her fingers, and he clearly enjoyed her attentions. But then he shook his head, took a couple of steps towards the woods and whined back at her. If they were mated, they’d be able to read each other’s thoughts, as pack-mates could, and even more than that, they’d be able to share their feelings through their mate bond. But even without that bond, she could sense his eagerness to run. She grinned and let loose her wolf, feeling the change work over her, bringing forward the animal, tucking the woman away inside.
Is there anything else that you’d like readers to know?
I’m thrilled that out of all the books to read, they chose one of mine. Thank you! I hope y’all enjoy it!
It was great having you, Vanessa and I can’t wait to read this story! Have questions of comments for our guest? Fire away! Want to know where to find her online?