Today I’m fortunate to present the very talented, Holly Hook, author of multiple YA Fantasy books including one of my favorites series – The Flamestone Trilogy.
Hi Holly, thank you for agreeing to this interview!
Question 1) What part of the world do you come from?
I’d say that I come from central Michigan. I’ve lived in this area most of my life.
Question 2) What do you think makes a good story?
I think what makes a good story is getting to know a character and seeing how they change and learn in response to a conflict (which can be pretty much anything.) I like writing about the intricacies of characters and how they respond to each other and different situations.
Question 3) What inspired you to write your first book?
If you mean Tempest, the first book of the Destroyers Series, the inspiration was a dream I had after eating some mini burgers that I left on my counter by mistake for three hours. It took strange dreams to come up with a story about a human hurricane.
Question 4) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I used to squeeze my writing in whenever, but now that I can (barely) just now support myself writing full time, I make sure to begin each weekday at 9AM. First, I work on romance (which I am writing under a secret pen name) until I knock out about 3,000 words or close. I then take a short break to get out and walk. Then I spend the second half of my morning working on my current Young Adult project and try to shoot for the same 3,000 word mark. I take a lunch break after that and spend my afternoon editing, creating covers, networking with other authors, looking for promo opportunities, preparing newsletters…there is so much to be done that I can’t list all of it here. It definitely takes about 8 hours of my day, sometimes more, but the great part is that my schedule is flexible and I’m no longer getting up at 5AM to drive 40 miles to an 11-hour a day job.
Question 5) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I tend to use a lot of dashes in my writing like–
Question 6) Give us the title and genre of your latest book.
My latest book will be called Death Magic and is a Young Adult urban fantasy. It’s the third book of the Abnormals Underground series. The first one, Blood Magic, is on sale now.
Question 7) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
I learned that I really enjoy writing about how people interact with each other, how people treat each other, and why people are the way they are. I think that working on this stuff makes me a better writer.
Question 8) Do you have an excerpt from your current work you’d like to share?
Probably the best thing I could share would be the first few pages from Blood Magic, the first Abnormals Underground book. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.
CHAPTER ONE of BLOOD MAGIC (Abnormals Underground #1)
My day was going real great. First, I had probably bombed my Algebra test and there would be hell to pay when Dad found out about it. Second, the sun was out in full force and all I could do was fake a migraine and stand in the doorway of Cumberland High School while my friends, Maisha and Janine, got to go out and do soccer practice with all the other Normal girls. And third, there was a creepy guy standing at the gate to the football field, staring at me.
I didn’t notice the weirdo at first because I was busy stewing about my plummeting grade in math (again) and about the fact that I couldn’t stand being out in the sun for more than five to ten seconds without getting really sick. Thank you, other creepy people who bit me and my family years ago. And thank you, rare gene that let their disease take hold.
Janine kicked a killer goal and Coach Lancey blew her whistle and shouted something. She glanced at me, to my shadow sanctuary. I drew back, hiding from her glare. That was when I saw the guy, a kid who had to be around my age. He stood there, silent, leaning against the fence like he was totally comfortable in his leather trench coat, brimmed hat, and sunglasses. He was only about fifty feet away, not close enough to make me uncomfortable but close enough for me to know he was studying me hard. My vision was better than Normal eyesight but those sunglasses were so dark that I felt like I was staring into a couple of black pits.
Coach Lancey blew her whistle again. Over on the soccer field she waved at a couple of girls who were over on the perimeter, chatting away. I adjusted my own sunglasses to block out the unbearable light and checked the guy again.
In the second I’d glanced away, he had moved closer.
As in, he now stood leaning against a traffic pillar only ten feet away. His arms were folded across his chest. He stood a full head taller than me. His face was smooth and young, unshaven. His hair, long and scraggly. I hadn’t heard him take a step.
No. I was not dealing with this right now.
I hadn’t met another Abnormal other than Dad since I was two and the fateful bite happened on that country road. We, no they were out there, staying out of sight of both the authorities and human society. Everyone knew that shifters, human magic users, and even demons existed among them, blending in the best they could or staying out of sight. Schools taught kids to stay away from them just like they warned against strangers and above all, to tell a grownup if they spotted an Abnormal. The human ones who had magic were okay some of the time, but it was the ones like me, the ones capable of preying on Normals or worse, infecting them–we were guilty without a trial. Losing your job, getting disowned by your family and turning into human society’s punching bag were only the beginning.
It was the reason I filed my canines down every morning.
The guy continued to stare at me for what felt like an eternity. I couldn’t tell what his motives were. I caught no whiff of metallic adrenaline pumping through his veins, which was always a strong scent. He was calm but he also wasn’t going away. If I got into the shadows enough, I could try to fight the guy, but out in the sun I was too useless to even slap someone. I was stronger than the Normal girls, a fact I had to hide during practice, but I wasn’t sure what I was doing here. I could fence but my equipment was at Thorne’s Fencing School and that foil wouldn’t do much damage anyway. I thought about running down the hall and hiding in a classroom but that would brand me as easy prey, so I stood there and stared back at the guy. I never let my secret out to anybody so I wasn’t sure why he’d chosen me out of all the girls to eyeball.
I was alone. Maybe that was it.
“Do you have a problem?” I asked, licking my teeth to check that I really had filed them earlier. They were sharpening again like they always did later in the day but it wasn’t that bad yet. “Or are you some kind of pervert? You’re even dressed for the part.”
The guy smiled at me and patted his trench coat. “Oh. You mean this. I know. Crappy impression but it’s best if we hide, you know?”
I looked around to make sure no one else was standing there. All clear. Coach Lancey had sent the two girls to sit on the bench and the others were running around the field again, kicking at the ball. They were so far away, across a forbidden field of light. I was trapped until I could bum a ride from Janine and hide under the official Fake Migraine Blanket until she drove me home.
“Are you trying to do some cosplay thing?” I asked. “What character are you?” I scrambled for anything and to not sound all freaked out. “I had a friend at my old school who loved cosplay.” I had to steer this conversation in another direction and fast.
The guy stepped forward, keeping his sunglasses trained on me. The wind blew and the air got warm, almost crackling as he approached. The teachers always taught us that magic felt like that, to watch out for that sensation. He might be one of those humans who had it. Mages. There were supposed to be different kinds. “Alyssa,” he said.
The world dropped out from under me.
I hadn’t heard my real name spoken anywhere but home since I was two, since Dad had brought me here to Washington after our bites and bought us new identities on the black market. Even he had started calling me Roslyn when I was five and the last time I heard my name spoken was when Mom called us to check in a couple of years ago.
(Lucky Mom. She’d been bitten like Dad and I, but she didn’t have the rare gene that made someone turn.)
It was then, as I stood there in stunned silence, that I caught the full scent of Mr. Trenchcoat’s blood. Adrenaline and stress were the strongest smells but most people gave off whatever they had eaten for lunch—I had to endure the afternoons in a cloud of greasy pizza, Mountain Dew and Cheetos—but this guy gave off the scent of wood smoke and something I couldn’t identify. He was definitely human but I had never encountered anything like it.
“Alyssa,” he repeated like he was trying to make it sink in.
“Are you from the government?” I asked. I’d heard too many stories about Abnormals getting sent off to special therapy to become more “normal” and none about them ever coming back. “How do you know my real name? And by the way, it’s still rude to stare.”
“I…” the guy said. He stepped closer. “You can’t hide much longer, Alyssa.”
I tried to come up with something to say to blow this whole creepy thing out of the water, but there was nothing this time. I felt naked, like this guy could see every flaw that was me. My disease. My secret that I hadn’t dared utter to even myself for years.
So I did the last thing I should have done. I backed away, searching around for a weapon. There was a dust bunny on the floor and someone’s cell phone case by the lockers, smashed into pieces. If he attacked I’d have to use my fists.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t know how you know my real name but please. Someone could see you dressed all weird like this. You’re standing out. And I’m not hiding.”
“You are. Every day.” The guy looked up and down my body, checking out my legs and the shorts I had thrown on because I’d been too dumb to check the forecast this morning. “You know,” he said, flashing me a grin. “For such a hot girl, you’re really missing a good tan. And not to mention, you should be skin and bones since you never eat anything at lunch. Or all muscle since you fence all the time. You’re not on a liquid diet by any chance?”
I had to act. This was dangerous and I needed answers. I lunged at the guy and grabbed the front of his trench coat. Now that I was more out of the sun I was stronger, strong enough to pull him towards me. I held him there with my left hand, pulling him closer and closer until I could feel his breath against my face. The wood smoke smell got overpowering now, so much that my stomach rumbled.
I could hold my hunger back. I always managed it until I got to the freezer at home.
“You’ve been watching me,” I said. “I suppose you peek in my windows and watch me undress, too?” That was impossible—or maybe not if he was some kind of Mage who could teleport. I always kept my blinds shut to keep out the sun and to hide…other things. But this guy had magic. I still hadn’t worked out what he was capable of. Maybe he teleported into my closet every night and watched the show from there.
The guy grinned. “I’ve thought about it, but—no, you don’t have to hit me. I was just joking.”
I lowered the hand I had raised. “Sorry. This is just a really tense situation for me. How much do you know?”
“Well, I know now that you file your teeth. I was wondering how you blended in. You must really hate sunny days, though.”
He knew everything.
A stranger knew the secret Dad and I had been working years to keep covered. Even if he was a fellow Abnormal, he might be one of the more acceptable ones–he was human–so this made the whole thing not cool. I’d heard stories about some Mages selling out worse Abnormals to the treatment centers to save their own skin.
Or maybe he just wanted to talk. I needed answers and punching him wouldn’t get me there.
So I did something I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t regret. I let go of him.
“Thanks,” he said, brushing off his coat. “Maybe we can get down to business now. Is there a room around here that’s a little more private than this?” He gestured to the hallway, which remained empty except for the janitor lady rolling a trash can out of one of the foreign language classes.
The whistle blew from outside again and Coach Lancey yelled something else. Practice was still in session but not for much longer. “Okay,” I said. “Tell me how you know what I am. I have to meet my friend after practice and she needs to drive me home. Then I need to finish my Lit homework.”
The guy looked at me like I was some kind of freak.
“Your Lit homework? Most Abnormals don’t have that problem.” And he snickered.
I felt naked. If Janine found him with me or worse, caught him teleporting, suspicion would go on me next. She’d wonder why the heck I’d been talking to an Abnormal. Already I hatched excuses in my mind.
“In the conference room,” I said, pulling open a door nearby.
The light was off in here which was a welcome relief. I guided Mr. Trench Coat inside and closed the door, leaving us in almost pitch darkness. I expected him to freak out, since he was in my element now, but he stayed calm. My eyes adjusted quickly and I could make out the conference table within two seconds, and then the phone on the table, and then the shelf with all the stuffy old books on the walls. Everything was gray in my night vision. I couldn’t remember a time I’d been scared of the dark.
Well, that fateful night. That was it.
Mr. Trench Coat banged right into one of the chairs that I could clearly see. “Can we turn on the lights?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Someone might notice. Really. Not trying to be a jerk, but my friend Janine goes crazy when she thinks someone’s making out somewhere.”
“I’m Xavier,” he said. “I’m a War Mage from Abnormals Underground.” He spoke like I should know what that was.
“From where?” I asked. War Mages were some of the stronger ones and more in the class of Mages to be avoided. They were the kind known to shoot fireballs and roast their opponents and the media made them look like monsters waiting to happen. Maybe Xavier wasn’t planning to sell me out to the government after all. A Nature Mage would have scared me more. The government was more likely to work with them.
“You know,” he said, rubbing his elbow. “Abnormals Underground.”
“I’ve never heard of your group,” I said.
“That’s because we’re underground,” Xavier said. “Your dad never told you about us?”
“My dad mostly just talks about work. He’s an insurance agent.”
Xavier burst out laughing, leaning over the table. “Sorry. I can’t help it,” he said. “A vampire insurance agent. That’s the most Normal career I’ve heard of one taking.”
“That’s the point,” I said. “We want to be Normal. That’s all we want.” I felt the familiar pain rising in my chest, constricting my heart like a snake. Mom wouldn’t have left. I wouldn’t have screwed up so badly when I was eight…
“But you’re not Normal,” Xavier said, catching a breath and facing me. “Neither one of you are and you never will be. Question. Are you happy right now?”
“Where is this going?” I asked. “Of course I’m happy. If you’re looking to have us join your club, we’re not interested. Sorry.” Practice was getting close to ending. It must be. It was only supposed to go until four and the clock on the wall told me it was three fifty and sometimes Coach Lancey wrapped up early if she needed to pick up her daughter from daycare.
Xavier took a step closer. His eyes were adjusting. I could tell because he was actually facing me and not bumping into the chairs. “Your father registered with us years ago. Most Abnormals are registered with us. We helped you both get your new identities and move place to place. I’m here to represent us. We offer you protection.”
“We’ve been doing fine,” I said. This was a revelation. “I’ll keep you in mind, though.” I moved back towards the door and put my hand on the handle, but remembered that he probably couldn’t see the cue.
“Alyssa,” he said. “I came here for more than that. We’re going to need fighters soon. Strong fighters. Some people in the city government have started cracking down on us. Cumberland’s not a good place to be right now. We need people like you. You’re strong and I have a good feeling about you.”
I started opening the door, but stopped when what he said sunk in.
“Fighters?” I thought about him watching me at my fencing classes—maybe even my tournaments. “I don’t, you know, kill people when I fence. I don’t kill anybody. We all wear padding and it’s safe. It helps me get my anger out. Sure, I have a sword collection at home but I have no plans to use those on anybody. And by the way, I don’t hurt people, period. My dad has a friend who gets us rejected blood bags from the Red Cross–”
I had never told anyone that before. In fact, I’d never even said it out loud.
“But what about your kendo classes?”
“And the Iaido club?”
We used wooden sticks and real swords for those along with actual armor. Thorne also instructed those classes but I was the only one under eighteen in those classes. The rest were college kids. Thorne and my father had worked out some deal I still didn’t know the details of to get me into the university club on weekends and supply me the equipment. Fencing was about focus but Kendo and Iaido–actually learning to “kill” with a sword–was actually about learning to hurt people. Or pretending to hurt them. It vented my aggression better than fencing did.
“I still don’t hurt people there,” I said. “We all wear armor. I can’t do things like boxing, you know? I’d get found out.”
“You know,” Xavier said, leaning against the table and looking all cool. “You’re going to have to deal with this sooner or later. We both know you’ll stop aging in just a few years and people are going to notice. You can’t carry on like this forever.”
“Then we’ll move,” I said. “We always do. I’m used to it. Dad already moves because of that. Throne can find me more classes in another state. He’s got connections with all the instructors. Now I need to get back to practice.”
“But you’ll get sick out there.”
“I need to talk to my dad, too,” I said. Why hadn’t Dad told me about this? Xavier could be lying. He had some other plan, even though I couldn’t think of what that could be. “I only fence to vent my stress.”
“And sword fight,” Xavier said. “You’re a natural fighter. I’ve seen you and heard about you. You can get better–much better. It won’t take that much.”
“I can’t. I have too much to do already.”
“You must hate Abnormals,” Xavier said. “I know one did this to you, but trust me, we’re not all like that.”
“Everyone thinks we are,” I said, trying to ignore the fact that he also knew my history. Maybe Dad was the one I should be angry at. He’d betrayed my trust. Dad had always told me we would keep this whole thing a secret from the outside world, that the Normals would never figure out what we were.
But Xavier wasn’t a Normal.
“Don’t listen to the crap you hear,” Xavier said. “None of us chose to be what we are. I didn’t choose magic. They want us to feel bad so we’ll turn ourselves in.”
“People say those like me chose to turn when they were bitten.”
I often wondered if I really had chosen to turn when I was two and just didn’t remember it. Some scientists said different but a lot of people didn’t believe that. I wasn’t sure if I did because the gene hadn’t been proven yet. It was a theory.
Xavier waited for my response. Outside, the whistle blew again but he didn’t seem to notice. His wood smoke smell got stronger and my stomach rumbled. I was shaking and getting hungry. I had to get home soon and have a snack.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Please. I have homework tonight and a test to study for.”
Xavier kept his cool. I couldn’t tell what kind of expression he had behind those sunglasses. He reached into one of his trench coat pockets. “Take my card, at least. You’ll never know when you’ll need it.” He produced a cardboard rectangle and handed it to me.
I took it mostly to humor him. It was a plain white card, with his shining name sunk into the paper in shimmering letters. XAVIER LOVELLI. His name was beautiful and perfect in the gothic font. Underneath it, more shimmering letters read APPRENTICE MAGE for ABNORMALS UNDERGROUND. There was a picture of two flaming, crossed swords in the corner and as I stared, the fire seemed to dance. It was the coolest business card I had ever seen, but I kept my face stony, trying not to show my amazement. Things like this got people in trouble.
And the card was warm, like some life force was running through it.
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Xavier said. “That ink, by the way, is made from a dragon scale and incubus blood mixture.” He paused there like I was supposed to know what he meant. “It’s awesome binding magic in there.”
“That’s…cool, I guess.”
“Take it out if you’re in trouble,” Xavier said. “Rub your thumb over the swords.”
“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.” I’d take this card home and keep it but using it wasn’t something I’d have to do anytime soon.
I heard footsteps approaching the school, scraping grass and then concrete. Someone was coming. Practice had let out. I had to get back to Janine, get under the Migraine Blanket in her car and have her take me home. Then I had to figure out how to get to fencing practice tonight. Dad wasn’t supposed to be home until nine or so and he usually drove me but he worked late shifts to avoid going out too soon on sunny days.
I went to leave the room, but Xavier brushed past me and the wood smoke smell got even stronger. He opened the door, oblivious to the fact that someone was coming, and made a left down the hall.
Before I could stop him, the double doors to outside squeaked open.
Question 9) What can we expect from you in the future?
I shoot to get out one book per month (in YA, anyway) and I like to write anything YA that’s fantasy, fairy tale, post-apocalyptic, you name it…I was thinking a straight science fiction series or dystopian series would be a great thing to try next. Right now, I try to stick with things that are popular with readers at the moment. I can usually find a good match between what I like and what readers are enjoying currently.
Question 10) What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
That’s a hard one. I’ve spent a lot of money over the last seven years I’ve been independently publishing. Right now, I try not to spend much at all, but in the past the money spent building my mailing list through Facebook ads might have been the most valuable. That still benefits me to this day.
Question 11) How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
You can either follow me on Amazon at my author page, which is here and has a follow button:
Or you can join my newsletter. I usually send out two newsletters per month and sometimes I offer up free books of mine and even from other Young Adult authors who have books similar to mine. You get three free ebooks of mine just by joining! My newsletter is here: http://www.subscribepage.com/e3w3s2
Oh, and I also have a website where you can find all of that stuff: http://www.hollyhookauthor.com