Monday, April 30, 2012

Scratch the Surface with Amy Lee Burgess

Today I welcome Amy Lee Burgess to my blog. She's recently celebrated the release of Scratch the Surface, the second of her series featuring Pack--people who shift into wolves.

ND: Who is Constance Newcastle? Tell readers a little bit about her and what has led her to the point where Scratch the Surface starts.

ALB: Constance Newcastle is a member of the Pack--a subspecies of humans who can shape shift into wolves. She’s had some bad personal tragedies in her life--the worst of them being losing her bond mates, Grey and Elena, in a car crash on her birthday. She was driving that night and the only one who walked away. As a result, she was kicked out of her pack, Riverglow, and moved to Boston where she bought a condo and tried to live life among the Others--humans--for two years.

The first novel in the series, Beneath the Skin, chronicles her decision to rejoin the Pack and find a new bond mate. She attends a Great Gathering in Paris and bonds with Liam Murphy, a former Alpha of the largest pack in the UK, the Dublin-based Mac Tire. He also lost his bond mate to tragic circumstances.
Together they solve the mystery behind a series of Pack deaths, including the deaths of their own bond mates. As Advisors to Councilor Jason Allerton, who serves on the Great Council, they discover a conspiracy within the Pack. Some Pack members don’t want to move into the modern world. They don’t want Pack going to college, getting high tech jobs, or anything that will cause them to work more closely with Others. They prefer to live in the shadows.

Constance realizes that a beloved grandfather of her former pack was responsible for her bond mates’ deaths. He tampered with the brake line on their car. Scratch the Surface starts with a New Year’s Day phone call during which Constance finds out that this grandfather, Tobias, has confessed and has been judged guilty by a Pack tribunal. She also finds out that her former pack wants to see her. They’d once been her family and best friends and they’d turned on her viciously. She doesn’t know if she has the strength to face them again after everything she’s gone through, but as an Advisor, she must do what Councilor Allerton asks of her and he wants her to talk to them.

ND: Stanzie has a difficult choice to make in Scratch the Surface. How does she justify having to act as executioner for the Pack?

ALB: Stanzie know it’s her right under Pack law to be Grandfather Tobias’s executioner, but when it comes time to actually administer the poison, she isn’t sure she can do it. She stays with him while the poison takes hold because she tells herself if she’s brave enough to give him the poison, she’s brave enough to see it through and stay until he dies. She reasons she was with Grey and Elena when they died and she needs to be with Tobias when he does. She’s hoping this will give her closure, but I’m pretty sure she’ll suffer nightmares and guilt over it for years to come.

ND: The path to true love is hardly smooth. Tell us more about the dynamics in Stanzie and Murphy's bond.

ALB: Stanzie and Liam bonded under difficult circumstances. It was not a love match. Liam has always been something of a knight in shining armor to Stanzie. He saved her at the Great Gathering and I think there’s a bit of hero worship going on. In her eyes, he’s got most of the power in the relationship. When she realizes she loves him, she doesn’t think she’ll ever compare to his former bond mate, Sorcha, or that he’ll ever reciprocate, so she doesn’t tell him.

Meanwhile, Liam has secrets he has yet to reveal. He’s helping Stanzie reach out to her wolf and work to bring her from a childlike playful creature to self-awareness, but he feels guilty about doing it because Stanzie’s wolf had always been such a joy to her and the new changes are difficult for Stanzie to deal with. Not to mention Stanzie’s wolf who is a very stubborn creature!

I think they both rely on the friendship bond they’ve forged and have no clue how to handle deeper feelings. Stanzie looks to Liam to make the first move, he waits for her, and the tension mounts between them until it threatens the foundation of their friendship.

In Scratch the Surface, they discover new, potentially devastating things about each other and have to deal with really stressful situations. They both have their less than shiny moments dealing with each other.

One of things I find interesting about Stanzie is that she usually calls Liam by his last name, Murphy. It’s only when she’s feeling very intimately connected to him, either through fear, fury, or passion, that she calls him Liam. One of my readers told me she thought Stanzie called him Murphy to keep an emotional distance between them since she was afraid to reach out and be as potentially happy again as she’d been with Grey and Elena. It’s the whole “I don’t know if I can handle losing everything again” thing. I think that makes a lot of sense.

ND: What makes your Pack different from regular wolf shifters one encounters in fiction?

ALB: I think my Pack differs from most wolf shifters in fiction today in several ways.

In order to shift, they need to have sex and then the window to shift is 24 to 48 hours. They can’t just shift whenever they want.

Packs are loosely ordered and instead of an Alpha pair that rules the rest of the pack for years until death or a takeover, reproduction is the main reason to become Alpha. Only the Alpha female can have a baby in a pack, so the Alpha status changes more frequently than in other books.

I don’t have betas or omegas, my shifters don’t have super strength, although their senses are elevated.
Packs are pretty autonomous. There are Regional Councils made up of members of local packs and these positions are like the Supreme Court, once appointed, they are on it for life unless they resign or move up to the Great Council, which oversees all the Regional Councils and the Great Pack in general.

While they believe the lead their lives with minimum interaction with Others, in fact, they are pretty integrated. They have day jobs. They own houses. They pay taxes (well, some of them). They lead pretty normal lives. Yet they have very close bonds and ties within their packs and it’s more than just friendship and lovers, it’s a loyalty to the pack and to the Great Pack. They rarely leave their packs to live life as “loners” even though many of their life choices are dictated to them by the packs.

For instance, they can only attend college, even public school in general, if the Alphas allow. They contribute a decent amount of the money they earn to the pack for use by all. As I’ve mentioned, they can’t even plan families unless they become Alphas. Most of them never question this because their loyalty and devotion levels are so high.

Another crucial difference: Others can never become Pack because being bitten by someone Pack does not turn them into a shifter.

Also, I think their wolves are fairly different than most shifter novels. There is a theme of self-awareness that runs through my novels. Stanzie looks at her wolf as a different entity from herself although others will say their wolves are their shadow selves, or a different aspect. They can think and reason, but they are not simply the human shifter in wolf form.

My shifters are not as violent and aggressive as many I’ve read about. They definitely have their politics and their rivalries and in-fighting, but they settle disputes with the help of the Councils versus staging duels or fighting for dominance.

I think of them as a small sub-culture co-existing with the rest of mankind. They have their own customs and rules, but they blend in so well with mainstream civilization no one suspects they are there.

ND: What was the most difficult scene for you to write (without giving spoilers)?

ALB: There’s one scene between Liam and Constance that becomes a little violent. It was very difficult to write because I’ve emphasized that people in the Pack don’t generally resort to violence. I thought I might be treading a fine line between dramatic tension and domestic violence and I very much did not want to fall on the wrong side of that line. I guess reader feedback will let me know if I succeeded or not.

ND: What can readers expect from Scratch the Surface?

ALB: An exploration of obsession. Many of the characters come face to face to the objects of their obsession in this novel. How do they handle either getting what they thought they wanted or being thwarted in their desires?  How far will they go?

Here’s an excerpt I hope you’ll find entertaining!


 “You were acting as the Hand of the Great Council,” Allerton explained to me.

“I heard all this upstairs from Councilor Manning. You can make it sound as flowery and noble as you like, but it doesn’t change the fact I killed him.”

“It’s our law. It’s our way.” Allerton sighed and set aside his book. He picked up his wine glass and walked toward me. I had nowhere to go--my back was literally against the wall.

“You accepted the task, Constance.” His handsome face loomed closer and closer until I felt trapped and wanted to hit out and scream, but instead I took another big sip of wine.

“He said he was grateful that he got to die with someone he loved. Can you believe that shit?” I muttered, swiping my free hand across my eyes. They burned with tears but I did not want to cry. I so did not want to cry.

 “You were compassionate, Stanzie,” said Allerton and that did it. I had not been compassionate, I’d been awful and paralyzed and accusatory and bitter and mean and, shit, the man had killed Grey and Elena. He’d been lucky I hadn’t torn him apart with my fingernails.

I burst into ugly tears. Allerton took my wine glass away and put it somewhere. The next thing I knew he was holding me, his arms strong and supportive around me while I wailed into his shoulder.


Here’s where you can buy my book:  Scratch the Surface at Lyrical Press 
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