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Kim Wells, Editor

Spring 2007



Book Review


Sometimes, when you get to know an author outside of their work, it ends up ruining the fiction or poetry or whatever for you. You find out they’re a jerk, or they torture baby kittens, or they cheat on their taxes. It's not always a good idea to pierce that wall between the fiction-writer and their fiction.

Luckily, for lovers of strongly written Southern Gothic ghost stories with kick-ass female protagonists, Cherie Priest is none of the above. Apparently, I had received Priest’s first novel during a period of putting books aside for later, and I missed it. But when I was sent her second, I thought "yeah, this looks good." So I read the second first. Then I had to rush out and buy the first, not knowing it was already on one of my bookshelves. (Yeah, I know. Lame of me). So the way I read her two novels was a little out of order, which usually drives me crazy. But this time, I was okay with it. Her novels are so well-written that you don’t have to read the first to understand what is happening in the second (although I would read them in order, if I weren’t such a dummy).

Cherie’s first novel titled Four and Twenty Blackbirds and second Wings to the Kingdom will be followed by a third in the series called Not Flesh Nor Feathers. They feature a young woman who sees ghosts. Not in the creepy Sixth Sense way (although, I suppose that’s possible for her, but mostly, she doesn’t ever seem very scared of the ghosts.) In the first, we learn Eden Moore’s backstory, the story of how she grew up with this (sometimes dubious) talent for seeing the dead, and the three ghostly women who show up when she’s a little girl and warn her about impending danger, and about her dysfunctional family and the relative(s) who are trying to kill her. In the second, which takes place slightly later, Eden tries to help uncover the mystery of why previously quiet Confederate ghosts have begun actively haunting a Civil War battleground. Personally, I can’t wait to see the third installment. On Cherie’s weblog, there has been some chatter about who should be cast in the not-yet-in-the-cards movie version of the books. I think they would make wonderful Joss Whedon vehicles, myself. (Mr. Whedon’s people should get on it.)

Priest’s online presence, the previously mentioned website where she lists her "official" news, plus a more chatty, personal livejournal one, made me enjoy her fiction even more. Knowing these really cool stories were written by a really cool person made me happy to plunk down my credit card, depositing any of the percentage writers get for these kinds of things (I have no idea... I guess it depends, right?)

As I said earlier, I truly look forward to more work by Priest, and wish her a long and productive career of ghost stories, campfires, and creepy little tales that make us shiver, and read deliciously on into the night.

     


Biography

Cherie Priest was born in Tampa, Florida, beside the ocean and beneath the sign of the sun. In 2002 she graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with an M.A. in Rhetoric/Professional writing, and she also has a B.A. from Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, TN. She uses her college diploma as a mouse pad.

In October of 2005 her first novel Four and Twenty Blackbirds was released through Tor books, and the sequel Wings to the Kingdom, was released this past October. Not Flesh Nor Feathers will complete the trilogy in the fall of '07.

And furthermore, Cherie has recently wrapped up mosaic novel for Subterranean Press. Dreadful Skin will be available in February of 2007, and it will feature werewolves, steamboats, and a gun-toting Irish nun who's inordinately fond of silver bullets.

In March of 2006 she married her long-time significant other, Aric -- and together with their fat black cat named Spain, they moved to Seattle shortly after the wedding. 


Our Interview, March 2007

Q: My husband is reading your books now. We always share good stuff, and it always enters our common culture. So I'll be interested to see what he thinks of the books. :) I read them sort of backwards-- the most recent one first (since that's what Tor sent me first). Which was kind of fun, and kind of worked, believe it or not. It gave a sort of "prequel" feeling to the first one. Although it did take the edge off of the danger with her brother-- I knew it worked out fine all along. How do you feel about your novels-- is it hard to send them out into the world for critique? Do you want them to be read a certain way, and does it ever surprise you what people come up with that you did or did not intend?

Oh, I'm just so dumbfounded at the reality that someone is publishing them ... that the rest sort of falls to the wayside. Sure, I want the books to be well-received -- who wouldn't? But it's not something that makes me too crazy; I can't let it. I try to take criticism constructively (and sometimes I even succeed), and I try to keep improving with each new project. That's pretty much all you can do.

As for how people read them, well, that's beyond my control. There have been a few reader emails that made me want to stand up and wave my hands around, swearing, "No! No! You totally missed the point!" But that's a quick route to high blood pressure, right there. It's easier for me to say, if the readers misread-but-enjoyed the book, "Well, at least they enjoyed it, even if they came away from the story with something unintended" ... or, if the readers misread-and-disliked the book, "Fooey on them, they weren't paying attention anyway."

Q: Your novel has a strong female protagonist, as well as several very strong female supporting characters. Do you consider your writing feminist, or yourself a feminist? Are the characters feminist?

Sure, I'm a feminist -- and I don't doubt that it comes through in my fiction. This having been said, the books don't have any real political agenda behind them, except insomuch as I write female characters who are competent, sane, and successful -- yet this doesn't make them the exception to any given rule of womanhood. I don't think that strong, interesting women are rare beasts to be fetishized. As a matter of fact, I seem to be surrounded by them.

Q: Since your novels have a lot of historical background, how do you research them? Do you do the research first, or write the story first and add the "details" later?

Usually I learn (in passing) of some strange historical tidbit, and then a story grows up around it. Of course, this prompts research to flesh out the historical tidbit ... which often turns up even more historical tidbits which are interesting and story-inspiring ... and an entire book can blossom in this manner.

Q: This may seem like a dense question, but I'm really interested in how a writer approaches a character who is very different from themselves. Your characters are of a different race than you are, have you caught any flak about that? How do you deal with that critique? If you haven't caught any flak, why do you think you haven't?

I haven't really caught much flak about it, truth to tell -- and in fact, every now and again I'll get an email from someone who's of mixed race, telling me how much they liked reading about Eden and her family. Those emails really warm the burly cockles of my heart, because it's there -- in the back of my head -- the question of, "Am I portraying this character correctly, or am I missing something due to the limitations of my own experience?"

Eden herself is an amalgam of 2 women I've been lucky enough to know through the years -- and I knew both of them quite well. By pure coincidence, both of them were of mixed race (or, "ethnically ambiguous," as one of them liked to put it). It would have been quite odd for me to base a character on them and make her a white chick. Maybe this is part of what makes Eden so credible ... I don't know?

Q: Are the characters in your novel sort of "real" to you? How?

I don't know. Since most of them are based at least loosely on real people, they're more like caricatures to me, I guess. In Wings to the Kingdom, I went ahead and lifted a handful of folks right out of real life (with their permission). If you check the thanks page up front, you'll see that I make mention of them.

Q: Do you have any recommendations for women (especially young ones) trying to break into writing?

Nothing ever works except for more. More writing. More querying. More submitting. More writing. Network like a fiend if you can; educate yourself on the process of publication. Find out what's expected from you, and learn the ropes by trial and error. Then write some more.

Q: What are you working on now?

Right now I'm finishing up edits on Dreadful Skin (coming in February from Subterranean Press), and I'm about to start editorial tweaks on the third Eden book -- Not Flesh Nor Feathers. All the fresh writing I'm doing right now is going towards a young adult project I've been cooking up for the last few months, a suspense/supernatural tale called, The Ado Ward. ("Ado" pronounced like the first syllable of "adolescent.") I've been dragging my feet on it; we moved a couple of months ago, and I started a new job, and yada yada yada. I've got a million excuses for why I'm not even halfway finished with it yet, but none of them matter. I just need to suck it up and get back on the pony.

Q: Is your shift in location from TN to WA affecting your work? How?

Yes, in good ways and bad ways. It's been good because (since my husband took a job at amazon.com) I've been able to afford to work much, much less from the pays-the-bills-day-job standpoint. I went from working 40 high-stress hours a week for a dot.com in Tennessee to having no day job at all for a few months after we first got here -- and that was great. Unfortunately, I was not able to pay my bills by my pen, or by my keyboard, or whatever; so I recently took a part time job with a great little data aggregate here in town. I do pretty much the same work I did in Tennessee, but here I only have to do it 20 hours a week and the pay is about the same.

However, I tend to write from a position of "place," if that makes sense. I build stories from the ground up; I like to be able to visit and touch the places that I'm going to portray. It's hard for me to do that here, since I don't know my way around terribly well -- and since I'm new to the area, I simply don't know very much about it yet. It's been hard for me to start new projects here, and I don't know what the future's going to look like from that standpoint. I've got 2 more novels in the queue (after Dreadful Skin and Not Flesh Nor Feathers); but both of those are in draft form already, written a couple of years ago. I don't know when or if I'll get around to writing Seattle into my fiction, but I'm already tinkering with the idea of tweaking one of those future projects to reflect Seattle as a backdrop. I don't know. We'll see.

Q: Is there a question you've always wanted to answer in an interview but never have been asked? If so, consider that question asked here.

I can't think of a thing, I'm afraid. Wish I could be more clever!



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March 2007