Author Interview: Alayna Williams

The Books

85436951. Embers (as Laura Bickle) | Buy the novel
2. Sparks (as Laura Bickle) | Buy the novel
3. Dark Oracle (as Alayna Williams) | Buy the novel
4. Rogue Oracle (as Alayna Williams | Buy the novel

Read the review for Rogue Oracle.

The more you know about the future, the more there may be to fear.

Tara Sheridan is the best criminal profiler around – and the most unconventional. Trained as a forensic psychologist, Tara also specializes in Tarot card reading. But she doesn’t need her divination skills to realize that the new assignment from her friend and sometime lover, Agent Harry Li, is a dangerous proposition in every way.

Former Cold War operatives, all linked to a top-secret operation tracking the disposal of nuclear weapons in Russia, are disappearing. There are no bodies, and no clues to their whereabouts. Harry suspects a conspiracy to sell arms to the highest bidder. The cards – and Tara’s increasingly ominous dreams – suggest something darker. Even as Tara sorts through her feelings for Harry and her fractured relationships with the mysterious order known as Delphi’s Daughters, a killer is growing more ruthless by the day. And a nightmare that began decades ago in Chernobyl will reach a terrifying endgame that not even Tara could have foreseen…

Author Interview

1. Being an avid fantasy reader, I come across vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, etc. on a daily base – but Rogue Oracle is probably the first fantasy novel I’ve read that focused on Oracles. What inspired you to write about Oracles?

The Delphic Oracle is probably the most famous oracle of the ancient world. The priestess of the Temple of Apollo, the Pythia, wielded a great deal of political influence over leaders who sought her advice and the priestesses who served the temple. The Temple of Apollo was sited over a crevasse in the earth emitting noxious vapors, leading to modern-day speculation that the Pythia’s visions were not sendings from Apollo, but toxic hallucinations. The Delphic Oracle operated from roughly the eight century BC until 393 AD, when all pagan oracles were ordered to be dismantled by the Emperor. After that, no one knows what became of the priestesses.

I was intrigued by the idea of an order of women exerting subtle and powerful influence over the ancient world. I wondered what would happen if that order of priestesses went underground and survived to the modern day. What would their role in world events be? In ROGUE ORACLE, the title of Pythia is handed down through generations of women, all oracles with their own unique talent for foreseeing the future. Delphi’s Daughters are a secret organization, nudging world events and gathering information through vast networks of helpers. Their behavior is sometimes sinister, sometimes pure, but always secretive. No one but the Pythia herself knows how the puzzle of world events fits together, and her priestesses are often left in the dark, guessing at her motives.

2. What I particularly enjoyed about Rogue Oracle, is the setting. Rather than set in a fantasy world, everything takes place in the world as we all know it. Especially the fact that a large part of the novel is focused on Chernobyl, I found very intriguing. How did you come up with that? And is there any particular reason why you decided to focus on Chernobyl?

One of my childhood fears was Chernobyl. I was in middle school when the news reports began to filter in that something terrible had happened in Europe…that a Soviet reactor had melted down, breached containment in fire and invisible poison. The Ukraine seemed a thousand worlds away. And I was less than a bystander, an ordinary kid on an ordinary street in the U.S.

But the story of Chernobyl – of the people who died immediately in the fire, those who died after of horrible cancers, of secrets and something invisible that could kill more effectively than an army – it seemed to seep into the minds of the adults. I remember that my class was shown a film about radiation in the school library. I don’t remember what it was called, but I remember that it was pretty graphic. It talked a lot about Hiroshima. Poisoned radioactive organs in jars. A man in a perfectly pristine white T-shirt who was covered in radiation burns. Almost a supernatural horror – more terrifying than the books about the making of classic Dracula and Frankenstein movies that we were reading.

There are just some fears that stick with you, I think. When I was coming up with the concept for ROGUE ORACLE, I wanted to work with a concept that held some emotional reaction for me. And there’s something very viscerally frightening to me about that kind of invisible power.

3. My favorite character in Rogue Oracle is, without a doubt, Tara. I like the fact that she’s intelligent, brave and very intuitive. Who was your favorite character to write?

Definitely Tara. She’s patterned after the Queen of Swords and Strength cards in the Tarot deck…she’s very intellectual and quietly strong. She’s not the kind of heroine who jumps into a fray with guns blazing…she considers the likely outcome of her actions before she reacts.

Getting into her head was a lot of fun to write, since she falls into the world of the Tarot in her dreams and meets figures from the Tarot deck. I enjoyed watching her make the connections between those scenes and the events in her investigation.

4. I absolutely loved that you included so much information in this novel: about Chernobyl, about tarot cards, guns, etc. Were you already familiar with one of the subjects you explained throughout the novel, or was it all new research for you?

My background is in criminology, so a lot of the aspects of criminal justice are familiar to me. I’ve also read Tarot cards for myself since I was a teenager, so I have a deep love for the hero’s journey tale depicted in the cards.

The Chernobyl information took me down a rabbit hole of research. Like I mentioned, I had a visceral fear and some dim recollections from childhood, but very little hard information. I spent many hours reading interviews of survivors, looking at photographs, reading books and maps. The research was tough. Very heartbreaking, especially photos of the children who survived the aftermath.

5. Rogue Oracle is the second novel in the Delphic Oracle series, the first being Dark Oracle. Which book did you enjoy writing the most: Dark Oracle or Rogue Oracle? And why?

They’re both my children. I used Tarot cards as story prompts to help profile the characters and flesh out the storyline in each book.

But I feel as if ROGUE has a farther-reaching scope, and gave me the opportunity to experiment and push out of the envelope with the idea of espionage in a fantasy world.

6. This novel seemed surprisingly dark to me, with the addition of the Chernobyl drama, and the horrors Galen had to go through while he was still very young. The traumatic experiences during his childhood made me, as a reader, understand some of the things Galen did. He strikes me as a tragic murderer, the kind you actually feel sorry for. Was this on purpose, that you chose the ‘bad guy’ to be more of a tragic character than an actual villain?

I think that most people behave as they do from a mixture of motivations. Most of my villains do terrible things and must be stopped…but I think it’s more challenging for the hero if the opponent has some good or tragic elements about him.

I never want my protagonist to have an easy time of things, LOL.

7. How come you decided to write under two different names, namely Laura Bickle and Alayna Williams?

Writing under two names is like having multiple personalities. Writing as Laura Bickle, I’m the author of EMBERS and SPARKS from Pocket Books – an urban fantasy series that can best be summed up as “Ghostbusters in Detroit with dragons and arson.” Writing as Alayna Williams, I’m the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE. Two different series, both urban fantasy. Having two names is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot to keep track of.

My editor recommended that I use a pseudonym for the ORACLE books. My first book, EMBERS, came out in April, 2010, under the Laura Bickle name. It was to be the first of a series. DARK ORACLE was scheduled for June of that year…and it was also scheduled to be the start of its own series. We thought it would be confusing for readers to have two UF series going on under the same name, with alternating release dates. For that purpose, it made sense to create “Alayna.” In that sense, it was a branding decision.

8. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing, and how long does it usually take you to write a book?

I tend to pretty deeply immerse myself in what I’m working at. When I’m not at the day job, I’m living, breathing, researching, and dreaming the story. It usually takes me about three months to get the book from an outline to my editor. I entirely credit National Novel Writing month for teaching me how to finish a book and integrate writing into my daily life – both DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE are NaNoWriMo books.

9. If you were an oracle, what kind of oracle do you guess you’d be? A pyromancer like The Pythia, a cartomancer like Tara, an astrologist like Cassie or an ovamancer like Irina? Or something else entirely?

Hee. I would probably be an oracle who would talk to animals…the Oracle Doolittle. My off time is entirely ruled by cats, and I imagine that I’d be a puppet under their control. A tool in their furry world domination.

10. Are you currently working on a new novel? If so, can you tell us something about it?

I am. I’m working on revisions for a rural fantasy right now. I always like to have a project in the nest to cluck over; otherwise, I feel utterly bereft.

Author Bio

Alayna Williams (a.k.a. Laura Bickle) has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She lives in the Midwest with her chief muse, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. Writing as Laura Bickle, she’s the author of EMBERS and SPARKS for Pocket – Juno Books. Writing as Alayna Williams, she’s the author of DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE. More info on her urban fantasy and general nerdiness is here: http://www.salamanderstales.com.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for the interview! I had fun, and appreciate the chance to come by your blog! 🙂

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