Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Author Interview By A.J. Llewellyn

1. Anastasia, welcome to the Dark Divas’ Den. It’s so nice to have you here! My first question to you is about your extensive and fascinating range of books from contemporary titles to demons, vampires, and your Shahzar series. Dozens of books! Phew! So what can we expect next from the author whose motto is: Follow Your Dreams?

Hi A.J. and thank you so much for interviewing me and thanks to Dark Divas for letting me into the den.
Readers can expect love and passion in my stories although not all of my characters fit the norm of belonging in romance. I am a fantasy author at heart, and threads of that genre often weave heavily into my plots. I like magic, dark creatures, and the unknown. I like to find love where most people would not dare to look, and I like characters that challenge themselves and dare to look beyond what they see as well. So often we miss things in life that could be fabulous and wonderful because of how we see them on the surface.
An underlying theme in my stories is that love is often redemption—and redemption may be for a goblin, gremlin, demon, or sorceress.
Yes, I do have dozens of books available! Most are novellas and there are some short stories. It’s obvious I enjoy my writing time. I do have some contemporary works which I consider a successful fluke. The first was Rope, for the Cowboys anthology available at http://www.loveyoudivine.com/.
A fellow author invited me to write a cowboy themed erotic romance, and, after shaking my head no and repeatedly saying: “I write fantasy.” I decided to give it a shot. Two fun shorts, Seducing My Husband and The Envelope Room, were written more as writing exercises. I was coming off of writing Shahzar, which is a 150,000 word epic fantasy, and I needed to know I could write shorts as well.
I do love my demons. They are a recurring theme in my dark fantasy/paranormals. I think it’s because I see so many of the people around me who must face their own proverbial demons: addiction, obsession, depression, and even insecurity. The demons in my works are flesh and blood living creatures whose purpose is often to grow and change along with the main characters they are with. Demon in the Basement is a perfect example of that concept. Now available at http://www.purplesword.com/, it was a story I doubted because I thought it too odd. It proved me wrong and has been my bestseller.

2. You and I are both Greek Orthodox and with Greek Easter coming this weekend, (which I love more than any other holiday!) I am wondering what special family traditions you plan to follow this year?

I married into a Greek Orthodox family, and I am very United States southern because my parents were raised in Oklahoma. My husband was born in New York, but his parents were born in Greece. The traditions of the Greek culture are rich with meaning and center around family and the religion. Every Easter we roast a whole lamb over a spit, dye red eggs, and gather together in a raucous, loud bunch to celebrate. I was raised Baptist by Methodist parents who had gone to church regularly growing up, and didn’t feel like they needed to impose that on their children. So, when I met my husband, and his incense wielding father who keeps icons and shrines in the house, I was a little shocked!
For the last two years we hosted Greek Easter at our house, but this year we plan to go to a friend’s. He’s from Cyprus and he loves to cook (like my husband) so it will be a spectacular feast. We usually attend the service at the church the night before which goes past midnight, then further celebrate the resurrection by bringing home a lit candle in the car to make the sign of the cross on our door jamb. If my husband’s parents are here visiting from Greece, his father makes the mayiritsa soup and we stop at my brother in law’s house for a very late night of visiting.

3. I love that soup except nobody makes it like my aunty did and she lives in Australia…so…anyway, I know you originally started writing children’s books, then migrated toward fantasy and erotic romance. How did this progression occur?

After I left my job at a credit union to stay home with my first son, I became bored. I decided to take a creative writing correspondence course to write children’s books. That choice was really fostered by my being with my son so much. The last assignment was to write for a young adult—a full chapter. After I finished that chapter, my instructor encouraged me to keep writing. The farther I went into that work, the more I realized I wanted to write for adults, not children.
That first novel, to date still unpublished, was an action adventure, but heavy with romance between the main characters. Too embarrassed to write anything hot and heavy at that time, I ended up setting the book aside. It would be several years before I found a place where I could face that side of me.
I joined an online fantasy novel critique group after the birth of my second son—online because with two children underfoot, I needed to be able to write and critique when the kids were asleep. There I met a fellow author who confessed that she had joined the erotica critique group. She felt all alone in there and because we often traded reviews on our fantasy chapters and benefited from each other’s constructive criticism, I followed her over to the harem, confessing that I, too, had always wanted to write in that genre. With each other’s encouragement, we both broke into publication at about the same time with our cowboy stories.

4. Please tell me about how your Shahzar series came about and can we expect more titles from you in the series?

Shahzar was a direct result of back story for that first teen novel I started. She was the main character’s mother, a seemingly cold-hearted queen possessed of powerful, dark magic. I wrote her story in bursts on notebooks, often while driving to and from the restaurant my husband and I were starting. I feel like that time writing is the only thing that kept me sane during such a stressful period in our lives. My husband had lost his auditing job, and we decided to open a Greek restaurant—a lifelong dream of his.
After the restaurant, there was no time for writing. My in-laws watched our children for us while we both worked from open to close. I was the cashier. My husband was the cook. It was grueling work and I “quit” on many days because my husband and I have very opposing personalities. I am the calm, and he is the storm. It balances us out though, and I never went more than ten feet out the front door. It got to be a joke between us after a while. That first week after we opened I found out I was pregnant! Months later, we were able to hire an employee, and I again, found myself as a stay at home mom, this time with three little boys to keep me very, very busy.
Time went by as it does. Life got in the way of writing and Shahzar was forgotten. But then, I got bored again. I wanted to open Shahzar’s file, but the document was so old that it was not compatible with Word. In the meantime, I had made several online friends and one, Fernando who lives in Spain and works as a software tester, was able to convert the old file into a Word file. The rest is history after that!
Shahzar is a strong willed woman who, throughout the story, is misunderstood and often hated because of her drive to do what she feels is right. There is always a reason behind everything she does, but she doesn’t always make the best choices. It’s a story about love and all it can endure. She has closed herself off to the emotion. Part of the tradition of her city requires that she conceive a child with the bishop of the temple. When he is sent to her bed, she plans to kill him on her uncle’s wishes, but he is not what she expected.
Her dark magic is another facet to the story. She doesn’t understand it or know how to wield it, so she plans to seek out someone who does. Her city is threatened by war, and she believes if she can bring back the old priests of the temple who do know how to use that dark magic, that her city can be saved. There is a Pandora theme to Shahzar.
The series was first released as a four part set of e-book novellas at Forbidden Publications. Unfortunately, on March 30, 2009 Forbidden closed after three years of business. At present, Shahzar is available in a three part series at Lulu.com, and in one epic e-book at http://www.purplesword.com/. Purple Sword will eventually release the full length novel in print as well.
As to when you can expect more from the series, I’d like to go back to that original teen novel and rewrite it with the knowledge and experience I have gained since I finished it. It would be a romance and certainly a bit of spice would not hurt the plot at all. That’s what I think it’s missing, that and a lot of self editing for excessive adverbs! I would love to see that book come out by next year. Again, it’s an epic, so it takes much longer than my novellas.

5. Do you have any favorite authors in fantasy/erotic romance?

One of my favorite fantasy authors is J.K. Rowling of course. She is certainly an example of a strong-willed woman who followed her dreams. When I was younger I read a lot of Dungeons and Dragons twist a plot type books. Mercedes Lackey and T.S. Elliot, as well as C.S. Lewis were ones I enjoyed. I love Anne Rice and Stephen King. I’ve dabbled in James Patterson, too. Lately, I only get to read what I’m editing, and that leaves little time to choose a book I want to read for pleasure. Editing has changed the way I read. I have to consciously turn off the editor so that I can enjoy the book.
I read some erotic romance books as a teen, but I can’t say that I remember the authors. They were my mother’s books and she’d left a big box of them out. I was probably too young to be turning those pages. Again, I’ve read a lot in the genre but mainly those works that I’m editing. I love Dawné Dominique’s stories, S.D. Grady’s, and Max Griffin’s. Cyna Kade wrote a hot one at Ellora’s Cave that sticks in my head.

6. I know you are married and have three sons. Hot mama! How on Earth do you manage such a high output with such a big fat Greek life? Do you write every day?

My goodness, I get asked this question a lot! I try to write every day. But I also edit and design cover art for several publishers, so that takes up a lot of my writing time. I am currently the PTA president at my sons’ school and I volunteer to help at Student Council. I’m also a soccer mom. I like to be involved with my children’s life and their education because I feel it makes a huge difference for the better.
Here’s the big secret to writing as much as I do. I stopped watching so much television. It was really more of a choice the men in this house made for me because they like to control the remotes. I do a lot of writing while my husband watches sports. Football makes me fall asleep—literally! The kids prefer age appropriate TV which I grow tired of. I find it amazing how much time people spend sitting on the couch in front of the TV. That’s the majority of my writing time. Or late at night after the kids get to bed. The only shows I like to watch are the news and American Idol.

7. Please describe your life in Tucson to me. If I had just landed there, what places should I see? Where would I find the best cupcakes? Best cup of coffee?

Tucson is a funny city. It’s big, but not as big and sprawling as Phoenix, and once I get out and start visiting with folks I realize how small and interconnected it is. If you visit Tucson, you must see Old Tucson Studios, the Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon, Colossal Cave, and travel up to Mt. Lemmon. If you visit in March, look for the Tucson festival of Books and the 4th Avenue Street Fair. We also host a Gem and Mineral show every year. The city is in a valley surrounded by mountains. In the summer it gets horribly hot, as much as 117 degrees in the shade, but there is little humidity.
Winters are relatively mild compared to most of the world. Snow is rare. People who have never been here expect the desert to be made of dunes, but it’s not that way at all. The Sonoran Desert is a “living desert” filled with plants and animals well adapted to living in our arid conditions. We have coyotes, bobcats, cougars, javelinas, and deer in the wild places.
The best cupcakes? That’s tough. If a muffin can qualify as a cupcake, the best ones are at Costco (where I do a lot of shopping weekly for our restaurant). They make monster sized chocolate chocolate-chip muffins that are to die for.
Best cup of coffee, and don’t laugh, is either at the local McDonald’s drive through or the Dunkin Donuts. I’m not much into fancy coffee. Now, if I want the luxury kind, like an iced mocha extreme with whipped cream, I’d go to Coffee Xchange. Mmm.
My life is not as exciting as some might think. I do a lot of shuttling kids to school and soccer! When I’m not being Mommy or restaurant owner/accountant, I’m usually writing.

8. What virtues in life do you think are the most overrated?
No sex before marriage? Can I say that here? *taps microphone* I think people ought to live together before marriage and make sure they’re with a person they can stand for the rest of their lives. I’m all for the test drive before the contract, but that’s my personal opinion. There is no excuse for irresponsible sex though.

9. You’re having a dinner party. You may invite six people (living or dead). Who would they be and what would you serve?

I’d serve something my husband cooked because my cooking is not reliable unless I’m making a dessert. As to the people I’d invite…hmm. That’s tough. If I were being completely selfish, I’d invite no one and pig out on whatever the hubbie made for dinner. If I absolutely have to invite someone, it would be my mom. She’s my best friend and biggest supporter. Then my husband. My father. My brother. Can Elton John come play the piano for us?
AJ says: Sure!
Then I guess I’d have Barack Obama over. Why not? That’s just completely weird. Haha.

10. What is the worst advice you were given as a writer?
“Stop writing. You’re wasting your time on this.”
AJ says: Somebody actually said this to you?

Yes, but I must counter that with the explanation that when someone tells me I can’t do something, it only makes me want to do it more, especially if it’s something I truly enjoy.
The best advice I’ve gotten was to find a writing critique group that suits my needs.

AJ says: I can’t believe somebody told you to stop writing! You rock Anastasia! On behalf of Dark Diva Reviews, I’d like to thank you for coming by today. To learn more about this awesome author, please check out her links:

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Sandy said...

Well, I can say for sure you lead a busy life, Ana.

And she writes great stories, too. I read the one about the demon in the basement. Great.


Anonymous said...

What a great interview. I can imagine writing a story 150,000 words long. Wow, you go girl.

Unknown said...

Thanks Sandy and Jasmine! Another secret to writing so much is late nights. Hopefully, there's no time stamp on this comment. (o: The kids are asleep and hubbie is watching soccer. Time to meet with my muse.

Anonymous said...

Your Shahzar series sounds great. Great interview AJ.