Tuesday, November 22, 2011

INTERVIEW: Denise Verrico (author of My Fearful Symmetry)

A happy (chilly!) November morning to you all! Please join me this morning in welcoming the lovely Denise Verrico, who has stopped by for a chat to help promote her newest release, My Fearful Symmetry.

Denise is a New Jersey native who grew up in Pennsylvania.  She attended Point Park College in Pittsburgh, where she majored in theatre arts.  For seven seasons she was a member of The Oberon Theatre Ensemble in NYC with whom she acted, directed and wrote plays. Denise has enjoyed vampire stories from the time she was a little girl and a fan of the Dark Shadows television series and Chiller Theater.  She enjoys reading non-fiction and fiction of all kinds, particularly historical fiction, thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy, manga and graphic novels.  Every April through October you can find Denise climbing to heights of four hundred plus feet at speeds exceeding one hundred and twenty miles per hour on her favorite roller coasters.  She currently lives in Ohio with her husband, teenaged son and flock of seven spoiled parrots.

Before we get into Denise's interview, let's take a quick look at Book Three of The Immortyl Revolution, My Fearful Symmetry:

A boy becomes a vampire and fights to become a man. Only the most gifted and beautiful Immortyls are chosen to serve Mother Kali as adepts of the ancient arts. For nineteen-year-old Cedric MacKinnon, the promise of eternal youth and celebrity sounds like a dream come true. It becomes a nightmare when a master vampire plucks the boy from the London streets and spirits him away to India. In the fabled ashram of the adepts of the ancient arts, Cedric undergoes the grueling process of training as a temple dancer and courtesan. With the threat of revolution hanging over court, the chief elder employs the boy he names Shardul in dangerous games of seduction and intrigue. Hated by the chief’s mistress and abused by those he entertains, Cedric struggles with visions of a violent destiny that seem to come from Kali herself. The stakes are heightened when the rebel leader, Loki, is brought to India for trial and Cedric is forced to choose between the protection and patronage of a powerful elder and his love for a female adept.

And now, without further ado, please welcome Denise Verrico!


♥ Thanks for stopping by, Denise! For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet checked out your latest release, please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m originally from the East Coast, but I currently live in Ohio. New York City is my favorite place, and I lived there for several years. My background is in theater, and I’m a big movie buff. I love reading about science and nature. I have six exotic birds, including a Timneh African grey parrot. Parrots and other birds often crop up in my writing. I work in education. I’m married and have a nineteen-year-old punk-rocker son. We’re also part of a very close extended family. My husband, son and I are roller coaster fanatics. We’re ideally located in Columbus, between King’s Island and Cedar Point and have ridden over 100 coasters, including the tallest and fastest in the world. We also love to cook and eat good food. In our excursions to amusement parks and sci fi cons, we try to visit restaurants we’ve seen on the travel channel. We’re known to go out of our way on a local recommendation as well.

♥ The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

My husband and I lived in New York and Orlando in the eighties. I began writing plays and fiction in the late nineties, after moving to Ohio. I was in my late thirties. Motherhood and a husband in grad school made it difficult to pursue acting, so I turned to writing. When we moved back to New York in the nineties, I had my first play. Attempting Fate, produced. I read a lot of books on writing and tried to learn as much as I could. We moved back to Ohio eight years ago, and I puttered for a few more years with fiction before getting up the courage to send out queries. Cara Mia was published by L&L Dreamspell in 2009. I’ve learned a lot more about the business and the craft of writing since then. I credit my critique group partners for a lot of this knowledge. There is nothing like holding your book in your hand the first time.

♥ Did you deliberately choose a genre because there's something specific that draws you to it, something you feel it offers that other genres don't, or was it just 'right' for the story you wanted to tell?

As a playwright, I’ve mostly dealt with the real world and everyday people, but I did do an adaptation of the Bacchae, a Greek tragedy based on mythological characters. The name Denise is derived from the god Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman myths), so it seemed appropriate.

I love speculative fiction because of the world-building aspect. I like also that you can discuss big questions outside of today’s politics. Mythology is a life-long interest of mine, and I’m very big on Joseph Campbell’s idea that people need to create modern myths.

Vampires have been my passion since childhood, when I was a big fan of Dark Shadows on TV. I loved Anne Rice and Fred Saberhagen’s vampire books. I wanted to write a vampire story from the female POV, because at the time I started writing Cara Mia I couldn’t find any. Vampires can be a neat metaphor for many things, but for me they embody man’s inhumanity to man. I often show that humans can be far worse than vampires. I’m now writing other types of fantasy and sci fi.

♥ For some authors, it's coming up with a title, and for others it's writing that first paragraph - what do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing?

The first chapter always tends to be rewritten the most, I’ve found, but plotting is my least favorite task. I have a basic story outlined in my head and on paper, but I find it grows organically as I do more research and let my imagination run wild. I tend to come up with characters first. Dialogue flows easily for me. I look at a novel like a painting. I sketch the basic picture out and go back and layer on the colors. You can always paint out or paint over if something isn’t working. I tend to write a lot of dialogue and relationship stuff at first that ends up getting scrapped as the other elements of the story deepen. As a writer, I need to understand on a gut level how each character relates to the others, and look on that deleted stuff as an exercise.

♥ Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Has a twist or turn in your writing ever surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

Cedric MacKinnon in this latest book is one of those characters. He’s strong-minded and also egocentric like a lot of artists. He insisted on having his story told, which turned out to be helpful because I needed to have a POV character moving inside the Immortyl ruling class in India. Cedric’s story also fleshed out the origins of the Immortyl culture to my readers, and opens a window into their tantric religion and the adepts of the ancient arts. I touch upon the Indian aspects in the first two books, but only briefly. Cedric is an adept, technically a devotee of Kali, but he is exploited as a courtesan in political schemes.

I really created a monster in this boy. He has his own Twitter account and Facebook page where he posts David Bowie videos and engages in naughty conversations. He’s begging me to allow him to write an advice column to the lovelorn.

♥ When writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

I write to please myself first. If one isn’t passionate about the work, it will show. This is something I’ve heard agents and publishers tell writers. It’s up to them to decide where your book fits commercially, but it’s also wise to know what the market is looking for.

If my writing is off track and that little voice inside me says that something won’t fly, I’ll leave it in just to see the reaction of my critique groups. They always find the bits that I felt weren’t working, but they also help me brainstorm to fix the problems.

Some people think I need to play up the “romance” in my work, while others are turned off by it. What some call “romance”, I call exploring relationships. I look upon relationships, sexual, romantic or otherwise as a vital part of the human experience, whether that “human” be an elf, vampire or android. “Romance” in the commercial sense is about idealized love and commitment, and my characters’ relationships are far more complicated. The romance genre calls for alpha male heroes and HEA endings, and I find that too confining. I have a male writer friend, who jokes that I should write paranormal romance where the heroine talks about her shoes a lot. I’m a Tomboy at heart, and shoes do nothing for me. Well, I’ll make an exception for thigh-high boots on sexy guys like Cedric. He’s the most clothes-conscious character I’ve ever written.

I write for grown-ups. There is frank discussion of sex, religion and politics in my books. I don’t back away from violence. Some people take exception to the homosexuality in some of my stories, but I’m from the theatre and interacting with gay people is a large part of my circle of experience. The world is full of all kinds of people, and so is my speculative fiction.

♥ What is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've ever encountered?

When I sent inquiries about My Fearful Symmetry to reviewers, I mentioned that there is some male homosexuality in the book, to alert them in advance if they object to this content. I got back a lot of replies, saying they don’t review m/m erotica and m/m romance. This book isn’t either. It’s urban fantasy and the sex is largely suggested, not graphic. It’s more about the politics of Cedric’s position in his society, which is based on ancient cultures that were more accepting of bisexuality.

Conversely, I’ve also heard from some readers that Cedric wasn’t “gay enough”, because he falls for a woman. I don’t think in terms of writing to the m/m market, although I think some of those readers might enjoy the book. My vampires are pansexual, poly-amorous creatures. I thought with bisexual characters like Louis and Lestat in the Vampire Chronicles, Jean-Claude in Laurell K. Hamilton’s books and Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood that it wouldn’t be so strange to have a bisexual hero.

♥ Just for fun, who would you single out as your number one celebrity crush, and what would you like most to do with/to them?

The young British actor, Nicholas Hoult is about the most gorgeous man I’ve ever seen. He was in Skins on British TV, X-Men First Class and A Single Man. Yes, that funny-looking, little kid from About a Boy grew up to be a major hottie. I tend to like pretty and slender, rather than rugged and muscular. Considering my advanced age, any fantasies are probably better left unspoken. I do have Nick as the wallpaper on my laptop. I’m content to gaze upon his beauty. If I weren’t happily married for 21 years, I’d be a cougar on the prowl.

♥ If your book were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?

Nick Hoult is a fine actor, and I think he’d be marvelous playing Cedric. Mia and Kurt would have to be Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood. I love Elijah’s eyes and ethereal beauty and admit to stealing them for Kurt.

♥ If you could live a day in the world of someone else's story, whose would you choose, and why?

Wow, I’d be very interested in visiting the world of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness where the people are androgynous and shift sex. I’m fascinated by sexual politics and how gender expectations shape people. It’s a common theme in my stories. I enjoy sometimes writing from the POV of a male, and would find it interesting to walk in the other gender’s shoes. I’m very happy being a woman, but it’s always interesting to see how the other half lives.


Thanks so much to Denise for stopping by. Please enjoy the brief excerpt of My Fearful Symmetry below . . . and then grab a copy for yourself. :)

Excerpt from My Fearful Symmetry
I reached for the golden door to the ashram, only to crumple to my knees again swooning and dizzy.  With the last of my strength, I inched my way on my belly across the open courtyard to my room.  The sky above turned from black to purple to lavender.  In another thirty minutes, the rays of the sun would cook my tattered flesh into Bolognese.  It seemed like a good idea.  I collapsed against the paving stones.  Deep inside of me a voice called my name—only it wasn’t my name.
I lifted my aching head.  The sacred spring lay between my room and me.  The Goddess stood sentinel above the pool.  Hers arms beckoned.  The waters hastened healing.  I pulled myself over and eased in, letting the water bathe my broken skin.  It stung and burned, but at least I knew that I was still alive. 
Kali’s black face looked down.  Her long tongue stuck out as if to taunt me.
I clung with what strength remained to the pool’s stone edge.  “Is this what you mean about the tyranny of the flesh?” But she didn’t answer.  She remained silent and oblivious as death.  “Bitch…” I lost my grasp on the lip of the pool and slipped below the surface, still gazing into her unseeing eyes.
I thrashed, but couldn’t pull myself to the surface.  My body sank like a stone.  Water filled my throat and nostrils.  Consciousness dissipated into an explosion of dots, like colored pixels.  My Mum’s voice floated in my head.
Hush a bye, don’t you cry
Go to sleep my little baby
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty little horses…

The wavering image above me dissolved into golden skin and waves of dark hair.  The Mother reached out two arms and pulled me from the water.  The avatar’s supple, golden form suggested Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva.  An aura of pulsating color surrounded her.  I sputtered and coughed the liquid out of my lungs, collapsing into my benefactor’s arms.   My head rested against a bosom soft and rounded, not hard and bony. 
She lifted me as if I were a child, bearing me away to my room, and rolled me belly-down onto my bed.  My head lay on its side.  The hand stroking the wet hair away from my face felt warm.  Lips full and red with blood kissed mine.  Was this real, or was I hallucinating? 
The Goddess anointed and bandaged my wounds.  She pressed her own wrist to my lips restore me.  Blood never tasted so sweet.  Warm tears bathed my face as she kissed my mouth again, a sweep of silken hair brushing over my arm.  As she drew back, my eyes focused and her image became clear.
A pained hiss passed my cracked lips.  Sandhya?

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