Today I welcome one of my Lyrical Press authors, Amy Lee Burgess, creator of The Pack novels. Beneath the Skin is her debut novel, and I'm both thrilled and honoured to introduce her to you here on my blog.
Where does Stanzie originate? Was she a fully formed character?
I knew I wanted to write about a woman shape shifter and about wolves. I had the opportunity to participate in NaNoWriMo last year and knew that on November 1, I would begin a tale about werewolves. But I had no story or plot line in mind. Stanzie came to me in a sort of lucid dream Halloween night. Just her name Stanzie and that she’d be blond with blue eyes. I remember struggling with the idea that Stanzie was more of a nickname and what would her full name be?
At first I thought “Constanza” but that didn’t seem right because I wanted her to come from New England and “Constanza” sounded Italian. So then I thought “Constance”. Newcastle is the name of a street I drive past frequently only I didn’t consciously pick it, I realized a few weeks later that it must have come from there. Apart from that, I only knew that I didn’t want her to be a standard, ass-kicking, violent, ninja warrior woman and that I didn’t want her to have any special talents or powers. I wanted her to be an ordinary woman (who happened to be able to shift into a wolf) under extraordinary circumstances. What those circumstances were I didn’t work out until after I started writing.
How does your Pack differ from ordinary wolf shifters?
For one thing they are a separate species who cannot interbreed with regular humans. Their bite does not turn a regular person into Pack. Most shifter novels I’ve read have shape shifting abilities tied to magic, a curse or a virus.
I don’t think my Pack shifters are as violent as most wolf shape shifters seem to be. They don’t have a lot of fights and solve their problems with their fists. They are generally “normal” people who live by their cultural and societal rules. They have their own laws and their own system of justice and they do not tend to befriend outside the Pack.
Aside from being able to shift into wolves and enhanced senses, they possess no super powers. They cannot read minds, they are not exceptionally attractive or physically fit although they don’t age as quickly as humans.
In order to be able to shift, they must have male/female sex and when they do, they have a twenty-four to forty-eight hour window in which they can shift.
While they become wolves when shifted, they still retain a sense of self and can think almost as intellectually as they can while in human form.
They exist in packs, but all adults above the age of twenty-six need to be bonded with one or two other members of the pack. I call these duos and triads. Duos are male/female but triads can be male/male/female or female/female/male. I think most Pack are bisexual, but the majority tend toward hetero because they need male/female sex to shift.
Packs are led by the Alpha duo or triad, but leadership is frequently changed in order to give fertile females the chance to reproduce. Only the Alphas can reproduce and once a woman has a full-term pregnancy, she can never get pregnant again.
What are some of the key themes you treat in Beneath the Skin?
Isolation is a big theme in Beneath the Skin. What do you do when you want desperately to belong but have been set apart from your peers? The Pack itself is isolate from human society. They exist within it, but apart and in secret. Stanzie and Murphy are both isolated from their packs and are trying to realign after a long exile where they lived alone and struggled with grief and guilt. Even when they bond together, they still have to act in secret and are apart from other Pack members.
Fear is another. How do you handle it? Do you let it rule you or do you rise above it? I think Stanzie faces her fears, although sometimes they get the better of her whereas Liam Murphy fights his or turns his back on everything and pretends it doesn’t exist.
How do you go about creating tension in your writing?
I like to set my characters up and have them accused of crimes they did not commit but cannot prove they didn’t do. Lots of shades of gray. I also use sexual tension – one character falls for another but is convinced his/her feelings are not reciprocated so they stay silent yet cannot keep away.
I’m not above using the weather or repetitive sounds or even strange angles in a room description to set up tension.
Which authors have been the most inspirational in your writing?
Stephen King and Agatha Christie definitely. For years. Lately, Kelley Armstrong, Lilith Saint Crow, Marjorie M. Liu, Patricia Briggs, GA Aiken, Ilona Andrews and Eileen Wilks.
Tell us a little more about your writing process.
I use lucid dreaming a lot. I fall asleep plotting out scenes and wake up with dialog and ideas in my head. Most of my novels come from an opening scene I come up with in a half asleep state and then I write it down. I let myself get maybe two chapters in and if I don’t have a coherent plot and ending by then, I stop writing until I do. I like to use recurring characters and reveal more and more of their back stories in subsequent novels.
I write every morning before work whether I want to or not. At least one hour every week day. Sometimes I come home and write until bed, but definitely at least an hour in the morning.
It’s a pretty fluid process. Sometimes halfway through a novel, I realize something I’ve already written is not going to work or is contradictory to where I want to go and I’m not afraid to go back and rewrite. I re-read what I’ve written every few chapters and sometimes I have an “aha” moment where a seemingly throwaway line or description takes on a whole new meaning and changes everything. I both love and hate it when that happens!
I like to have a few main ideas in place, but let the details work themselves out as a write. I also write about places I’ve been, live, or want to go. I buy a lot of travel books with photos of cities I write about so I can get details right. I hate reading books set in cities I’ve lived and know right away the author does not know what he/she is writing about.
I don’t think I’m very good a descriptive writing. I want the reader to have a high level understanding of a room or a house, for instance, so I find that room or house online and write about it as I stare at the photo.
Stanzie is obsessed with shoes and every pair of shoes she wears or sees in Beneath the Skin I’ve found online.
Curious about Beneath the Skin? Read more about it or purchase it here.