My spotlight author for this week is Tonya Macalino. Thank you, Tonya, for being my guest. Tonya and I had one of those “right time, right moment” meetings. I was down in Portland for a book signing at a local bookstore. She stopped by to see how the signing was going, and introduced herself to me. That was how I found out about NIWA (Northwest Independent Writers’ Association). What a great group of writers writing across all genres of fiction! Tonya, let’s get to know you and your books better. Interested in Tonya’s books? Click on the covers and go straight to the Amazon page.
Well, thanks so much for having me over, Ashlyn! What a privilege. It’s been so wonderful to get to know you and watch your career blossom! Here’s to the beauty of serendipity!
Thank you 🙂 and back at you! You write urban fantasy thrillers. What exactly is it?
Ha! I think the technical term is “kitchen sink.” There’s a little of everything in there: a touch of the supernatural, a little folklore, a little suspense, a little mystery, a little romance, even a little future-facing technology—all delivered at a break-neck speed. I’ve never really believed that our lives are as neatly compartmentalized as strict genres try to force them to be.
When folks ask what flavor my writing is, I usually say Lara Croft Tomb Raider meets Pan’s Labyrinth—a little surreal with a whole lot of kick butt!
Was there an event or a person that sparked your interest in writing your first novel?
The original version of The Little Mermaid. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and saw the Hans Christian Anderson cartoon. That ending just absolutely offended me. She died for him just because he flaked out and married someone else? And that’s when I realized that the only thing forcing that to happen was the author. I could rewrite that ending. I could change that outcome. That was a truly empowering moment.
What do you love about being an Indie author?
Definitely the “indie” part. I like setting my own pace, my own career direction, my own artistic direction, my own readership strategy. I like that energizing zing that comes with entrepreneurial freedom. Yeah, it’s a little scary that there is no one there to catch you if you fail, but there really isn’t in the publishing houses anymore anyway. So why not catch the wind and ride it to that sky full of endless career possibility? No one but the trolls is asking you to be perfect and they are down there on the ground. Leave them there.
I completely agree! What do you find most challenging?
Ugh. EVER GETTING THE CHANCE TO ACTUALLY WRITE!!! It’s ridiculous! Paperwork, bookkeeping, marketing, publishing, sales events, networking… Writing when? It’s definitely a matter of setting boundaries—which is sometimes easy and sometimes very, very hard!
What advice would you give to those who want to invest time and money into Indie publishing their books?
The very first thing I would say is, Be aware that this step will completely change your relationship with your writing. Understand that writing for a career means learning to see your work as a product and yourself as a CEO of a very small, but potentially very powerful business. It is no longer about channeling muses; it is about channeling readers. It’s a ton of fun, but if you want to write purely for the joy of writing, you may want to rethink your next step. There is no law that says, If it is written, it must be published. Some writing is purely for the writer’s soul and that’s okay.
The second thing I would say is, Get educated. Join a group like NIWA, network, go to the NIWA annual Symposium on Independent Publishing…know what you are getting into. There are so many predators out there willing to cash in on people’s dreams. If you are being asked for more than $2,000 for a full package of editing, layout, and publishing, QUESTION IT. If they are asking for your print/ebook rights, QUESTION IT. With a little education, you can do most of the work yourself.
The third thing I would say is, Be professional. Have a professionally designed cover, have well-edited content, know the difference between a professional layout and a distracting one. This is a crowded playing field and readers demand—and have a right to—your best, most professional effort. That extends to your marketing persona, too. With an eye to your target market, your dress and your conduct both online and off represent your business and indie writers as a whole. Not every genre requires heels and hairspray, but they all require you to show up to signings on time and to treat the event organizer, the readers, and your fellow authors with respect.
As a relentless supporter of Indie authors and local bookstores, what suggestions would you give readers to further help authors and mom and pop bookstores?
Read local! It’s so easy to reach over and click BUY NOW on Amazon—and I don’t actually discourage this. I love Amazon. But every time you get the chance, pop into your local bookstore and say hi. Ask for their favorite local authors, check out the indie shelf, find out their schedule of upcoming events and get involved in supporting the local literary community. Supporting local bookstores and local literary events…I cannot say enough about how important this is. Literacy has been connected to lower crime rates and a dozen other things that keep our communities safe, strong, and innovative. If you love your local community and want to see it thrive, prove it. Support your local bookstore!
As for supporting Indie authors, we are in there at those local bookstores, supporting them as often and as vigorously as we can. Buy our books from your local bookstores and you’ll be giving your local literacy cheerleaders the boost we need to keep on rallying the community. It’s a win-win!
Okay, I have a shared quirky question I ask of all my guests. I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead. If you were caught in an apocalypse and could only take one item and one person with you to a no zombie place, what and who would you take, and why?
Bear Grylls and one of those super deluxe Swiss Army knives. Hey, Mamma didn’t raise no dummy. It’s all going back to nature eventually and I will be living large on larvae paté and pine needle tea! (Which all goes down much easier listening to that beautiful accent!)
Where can readers find you on social media?
I am extremely sporadic on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TonyaMacalino), fairly regular on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TonyaMacalino), but am awesome about getting my readers coupons for new releases on my 99 Cent New Release Alerts email list (http://eepurl.com/o5ruf)! I only email a couple times a year, but new ebooks go to my readers for 99 cents and autographed print copies are available from Jacobsen’s Books for readers-only discounts as well!
Again, thank you for being my guest! Tonya has provided an excerpt from her most recent release and a link to her Amazon page with all of her books. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the app on your phone. Prefer Nook or Kobo? There’s a link for that too.
Barnes & Noble (http://ow.ly/xTxGY)
We all have lies we tell ourselves in order to survive. We breathe life into these lies, set them before our eyes, and see the world through them. We create safety that way, order.
Maybe that’s why what I was doing felt so dangerous.
I was trying to see through mine.
I crouched on a half-submerged rooftop and watched as my fingers drifted back and forth through the filmy green water of the former Venetian lagoon. And I tried to feel the truth. I let the electric charge of the coming storm envelope me, rushing cold over the flesh of my exposed face and forearms, flicking sharp fingers up the legs of my cargo pants, up the sleeves, down the neckline of my winter-weave t-shirt until I shuddered in the charge of too much awareness.
But I had to know.
I would know. A far off island—marked only by fallen walls and rooftops protruding from the sea—became my focal point as I fought to release what I’d always believed. As I narrowed my world to those distant walls, the clouds above them began to roil, blocking out the early morning sun, casting me in pale darkness. It was in that darkness that I reached down deep, deep into my lie. And beyond it. I reached past the idea of a healthy body so carefully tended for a physically demanding profession. I strained to feel the stark reality of the disease crouched within me, a disease so vile it would send any child I met into a stasis-like coma—forever. Sleeper’s Syndrome.
I couldn’t feel it.
It wasn’t true.
It was true.
I’d run the goddamn test myself. I shoved to my feet, my eyes riveted on those clouds as they slammed and billowed out their destruction. Their wind whipped at my clothing, ripped at my long black hair. Even as I closed my eyes against it, my mind spun out into the violence. The test. That goddamm test. Three flashing red lights and my life is over. I raked my hair back from my face, fisted my hands there, tossed my head back to face the sky.
A petty indulgence.
It had its price. My foot slipped. I threw my weight forward, but I knew, I knew it was already too late. I couldn’t even work up the give-a-shit to flinch. Fine, I thought. If this is how it is going to end, then this is how it is going to end. Just make it go the fuck away.
My plunge toward the toxic water and jagged masonry jerked to a halt. I registered an ice-cold hand wrapped around my upper arm. Shock sent me scrambling to set my feet under me and I spun around.
“What the hell—”
The snarl dropped from my lips as I looked up into those flat, unblinking eyes on that too-white face. Wet black hair hung down his naked chest; a few strands of it clung to my cheek. My fingers wandered up to brush it away. I stared at it, black satin against my white fingertips.
“You’re real,” I whispered.
He loosened his grip enough that I could turn to face him fully. His hard alien features did not bend in expression, but I felt sadness seeping from him as he scooped my own hair back from my face. He backed up the roof, drawing me with him.
Short flashes of memory assailed me, half-remembered images of two nights ago, the night I’d died: Desperation as the waves knocked me under. A scream that filled my lungs with the sea. A white and black shark charging with teeth bared. A man, this man cradling me as I died. I raised my hand to his arm.
“Before. You saved my life. You…”
I left the sentence unfinished in case the rest had just been a beautiful dream, fed by an undernourished libido. But then he drew me up to my toes and what I felt matched that dream too perfectly. His cold, hard lips brushed mine, his strong fingers cupped my head, bearing the weight for me. I reached for his tongue with my own, tasted his salty essence as he opened and let me slide into him. So perfect. I leaned into him. His arms wound around me, pulling my shoulders and hips tight against him, protected, safe. For the first time in days I felt the dark coil in me loosen; the tension in my shoulders eased so fast my head floated. All I could do was cling and watch those dark eyes as they stared inside of me, as they drew me up and in until the body I’d just tried so hard to know loosened its hold on my mind.
And was gone.
I was in darkness. But it was not emptiness. I felt him, my shark god, wrapped around me, protecting me from the open wildness around me. Unleashed energy, emotion raged all about us, threatening destruction, creation, explosive life. The sheltering cocoon of him kept me centered in the fierce storm, kept it from ripping me apart. But he couldn’t keep me from drinking it into me.
To the point of agony.
I struggled, desperate from the almost-knowing, the almost understanding. He wouldn’t release me to it, wouldn’t let me grasp that final ecstasy of comprehension. Instead, he drew me into his calm.
And, impossibly, I did calm. My frantic thrashing settled into a quiet awareness as the sensory immersion artist in me remembered how to switch off any emotion not pertinent to the scene, any outside thoughts skewing the sensations that would tie the audience to the character that housed them. Slowly, the cacophony became a storm’s symphony—ecstatically beautiful to behold.
I became the observer, but I sensed the ancient clash with something other than the tools of my profession: my skin, my eyes, my ears, my tongue. I sensed it with the same senses I used to understand the peace in a dappled patch of shade in my beloved woods; the same senses I used to feel the lives that had gone before me as I wandered a forgotten cemetery. Those senses that knew there was something more.
Something more. Something more, if I could just reach out, just reach a little further into that bright darkness. Then I would know; I would understand and everything that had seemed so utterly senseless would reveal its meaning with blinding clarity—the death of my father; the loss of my life and my freedom to this disease; the violent indifference of this sunken city. All that awful, beautiful mystery taunting me, it could fill me. All I had to do was fling myself open to it, embrace it with fang and claw and an animal scream. It licked at the edges of me. With its touch, I felt powerful and terrifyingly whole.
The kiss broke.
A chill wind slapped at me. The tiny flicks of pain matched the scattered charges of fear sparking in my chest. Unsteadily, I drew back, looked up at him.
“What did you do?”
I shivered. I could feel residuals of that desperate pull in my arms, my legs, everywhere. It wasn’t fading fast enough. It was fading too fast. I was missing something. Something important.
“What just happened to me? What was that?”
My shark god, he just rested his hands on my shoulders and looked down at me with his blank face, but warmth seeped into me from his cold body, warmth and a soft feeling…affection.
He wasn’t going to answer me.
“No, you can’t mess with me like that, take me apart like that, and then—”
He pressed on my shoulders, directing me to turn. I watched him, wary, but finally curiosity won out and I let him turn me back to face the waters.
My strange guardian kept his hands on my shoulders as we both looked out at the boiling, black clouds lit with lines of electric fire. What did he want me to see? I looked down the length of the ruins, but there was little left. The encroaching sea was too powerful for a small island to stand against alone.
Mo, help me. What is that place?
San Michele, the island of the dead.
Island of the dead: a cemetery. I waited. My AI knew I needed more than just a mere place name.
San Michele once housed the workshops of the great cosmographer, Father Mauro. Working deep within his convent laboratory, this Camaldulian monk created the greatest piece of Late Medieval cartography known to historians, his mappamundi or map of the world. The famed detail and proportion of the map he humbly attributed to discussions with Venetian navigators, the masters of the sea.
But there were whispers. How could a man who had not traveled to these exotic locations have drawn them with such precision? How could conversation alone lead to mapmaking of so much mastery? Those whisperers looked to the skies above the island and found their answers there in the tearing lines of the lighting, in the fractured shapes of the storm clouds that hovered over the convent. They intimated that the good father had stolen into Lucifer’s dreams and projected those dreams onto the dark clouds above the laboratory. They claimed that as Lucifer dreamed his chaos into the world, Father Mauro copied down the shapes of places still unknown even to the sea-faring Venetians. They warned that such manipulation would end in disaster. You see, Lucifer’s maps, hidden in the terror of midnight storms, served their own purpose: they guided witches and other unholy beings to their wicked enclaves where they would plot how best to steal souls for their master.
And indeed tragedy struck. Father Mauro’s life’s work, the great mappamundi, was sent to the man who commissioned it, King Alfonso V of Portugal…and was lost to the negligence of time. Only a mere copy was destined to survive, a copy displaying but a portion of the master’s power. Father Mauro died in 1460 before completing the second work.
I sighed in frustration. A map dreamed by the devil. That lingering fear of missing something vital sharpened. I stared ahead and saw only clouds.
But as I watched, the darkness cracked. The morning sun ripped through the split horizon, golden and illuminating below the ceiling of the storm. The sea shimmered in the light and I felt the warmth brush my cheeks. I tilted my face up for more.
His cold hands slid from my shoulders. The marrow in the bones of my shark-bitten arm shot with pain: he was gone. My shark god had slipped back into the sea. But the sun was still with me, clearing my head, sharpening my senses, setting my heart to beating again.
And for the first time in twenty-four hours, I had a thought that wasn’t about poor little ol’ infected me:
If my shark god was real…
…then those psychotic feral Carriers were real, too.
And I’d left Ryan and Ben alone.
Hands shaking, I turned to scramble back across the tile rooftop.