Death is for the Living launch!

Death is for the Living launch!

Death is for the Living launch!

“When ‘here be monsters’ doesn’t only mark the unknown…”

With the Death is for the Living launch, I can finally call myself a sci-fi and urban fantasy author. I’m excited about this. Not only was Death is for the Living somewhat of a pet project for me (OK, all my books are pet projects, who am I kidding), but I wasn’t at all sure how it would be received.

I mean, vampire hunters, yachts, and the Caribbean? It’s a bit of eclectic mix. On the other hand, it met the reviewers, and so far the results have been very encouraging:

Readers' Favorite 5 starYes, pirates, vampires, vampire hunters and storms at sea can exist within the pages of one book — and they do it so well in Death is for the Living. It’s most highly recommended.” ~Readers’ Favorite 5 star review by Jack Magnus

 

I wanted to be mad at the author for the ending; how could they do this! But it was perfect! It ended the way the whole book was written, with mystique.” ~Readers’ Favorite 5 star review by Peggy Jo Wipf

I wrote the first draft of this book a really, really long time ago, and frankly had no intention of publishing it. I missed sunshine (any sunshine, I was living in Yorkshire at the time), palm trees, wind in my face, and the ability to go anywhere without supervision. (No, I wasn’t in juvie…boarding school.) However, one day I floated the idea (oh, ha) in a writers’ group, and instead of getting a roar of laughter, I got some ‘hmm, sounds interesting’ reactions, and began to seriously consider tuning the book up for publication.

While the yacht I grew up on was a 45-foot Mudie ketch, not a schooner nearly twice that size, a lot of the day-to-day aboard a yacht scenes are pulled from my experience living aboard, as are some of the locations (you can read more about those on the book page). I did most of the research on the places I hadn’t visited in the depths of last winter, and let me say that there’s nothing like researching the best sailing approach to Trinidad while there’s a foot of snow on the ground outside.

So, without further ado, here’s the teaser text:

By day, Cristina Batista is a deck girl on a Caribbean charter yacht, with all the sun, smiles, and steel drum music that entails. By night, she and her crew hunt the monsters that prey in the dark: the powerful vampire clans of the New World.

Unfortunately Cristina’s past is hunting her in turn – and it’s catching up. Without her partner, sometime pirate, sometime lordling, and ex-vampire, Jean Vignaud, Cristina wouldn’t simply be dead. She’d be something she fears far more.

Cristina and Jean are experienced, motivated, and resourceful. One faction wants them despite it. The other wants them because of it.

You can sit in for an interview both Cristina and Jean if you’d like to get to know them a bit better, or learn a little bit about yacht Artemis – or keep going for ‘buy’ links to contribute to my coffee fund 🙂

Get a copy of Death is for the Living:

Character interview: Cristina Batista

Character interview: Cristina Batista

Interview with Cristina Batista

Sitting on a nice secluded end of a breakwater with a good view of the harbour

J C Steel: There are times I miss sunshine, wind, and palm trees.

Cristina Batista: I didn’t want to move to Europe in my teens, and having seen it, I still don’t want to move there.

JCS: Your family was originally from Spain. Which area?

CB: My father was from Cáceres, in Extremadura. I have no idea where my mother was from, she left after I was born.

JCS: And your father moved you all onto a yacht and sailed for the Caribbean. What was growing up on a yacht like?

CB: …when it’s how you grow up, and you have known nothing different, growing up on a yacht is very normal. I played in the harbour with the children from other boats, when there were any; I learnt to row and sail; I learnt to shop in the open markets, and how to tie up a dinghy so I didn’t end up swimming after it. I explored around the anchorages, I snorkelled. You must have been asked this one often enough.

JCS: Very, very often. Now I’m asking you. How about schooling?

CB: We had a basic set of material from a correspondence course. It wasn’t designed for complex thinkers, but it provided the basics.

JCS: Yeah, amen on the last part. Where did you spend most of your time?

CB: Mostly between Grenada and Martinique. We visited St. Eustatius once.

JCS: Do they still keep an elephant at Pitons?

CB: I think so. I haven’t been there in a few years. Papá liked the less touristy areas. Union Island was one of his favourites.

JCS: Least favourite aspect of living on a yacht?

CB: Water runs. For something that empties so quickly, it takes an amazing number of jerry-cans to fill a water tank.

JCS: Any opinions of living in a house?

CB: I have hardly lived in a house. Let’s say…they don’t move, and if you open the windows there are bugs everywhere.

JCS: You have Spanish citizenship. How do you respond if someone asks you where you come from?

CB: I tell them I spent most of my life in the Caribbean. My nationality is never very relevant to my life until I need to pass Customs.

JCS: Most people don’t believe in vampires. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing, from your perspective?

CB: I find that the facts remain the facts no matter your beliefs. It makes my job a little easier, in some ways. Vampires have a vested interest in human ignorance, so populated areas can provide good cover under the right circumstances.

JCS: Is it true that vampires can be driven away with a cross?

CB: No. Or any other type of religious symbol, either, unless you sharpen it.

JCS: Where do you think that belief originated from?

CB: I’ve noticed that people believe a lot of strange things when it comes to religion. Personally I prefer stakes and fighting knives if I need to kill a vampire.

Guadeloupe – en route to the South

Guadeloupe – en route to the South

Guadeloupe – a really conveniently-placed island

In the case of the Artemis crew, it’s a convenient place to take on stores when you’ve sailed out of the Bahamas ass-backwards, with insufficient supplies of water, fuel, and food.

Guadeloupe mapWhat most people don’t know about Guadeloupe is that it is legally part of France; one of their overseas territories, or as the French refer to it, a département outre-mer. Given that, the fact that it speaks French with a liberal spattering of Creole is probably less of a surprise. It’s the southernmost of the Leeward Island chain, which stretches from St. Maarten (by Anguilla) in the North to Marie-Galante, a dependency of Guadeloupe, in the South.

Guadeloupe, before it got summarily re-named by Columbus, was known as Karukera, or the island of beautiful waters. As you can see from the header image, that’s not an inaccurate name for the place.

If you look at the curve of the island chain, then you’ll see that when sailing in from the North and seaward, Guadeloupe is a pretty logical spot to pick as a stopping point. In addition, the marina is large, and there’s various sections of anchorage, marina, and tourist beach speckled around, with a fair amount of traffic. Just the spot for a team of vampire hunters on the run to make a pit stop.

Guadeloupe monkeysMy only visit to Guadeloupe was in 1992; we began to head for Europe, sailing out of Martinique, and managed to blow out the leading edge of our jib. Since starting a four- to five-week sail with one of your primary sails frayed is considered contra-indicated at best and bloody stupid at worst, we made a left into Guadeloupe and spent a week there sorting it out. I can therefore personally attest to the fact that the marina’s a maze. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much more of the island than the marina (sails, supplies, water, go, is probably the executive summary of the visit).

I do still have a trio of hand-carved wooden monkeys that I picked up there, which hung over my bunk all the way to Gibraltar and are hanging from the curtain tie-back by my desk as I write. Because, if all goes well, there really isn’t a hell of a lot to do on a sailing yacht crossing the Atlantic, I spent a number of hours watching them swing back and forth as the boat rolled. These days, they only move when one of my cats goes on the rampage and uses my windowsill as a trampoline.

Nassau, Bahamas – where the hunters base

Nassau, Bahamas – where the hunters base

Nassau, Bahamas – base for the Artemis hunter team

At the beginning of Death is for the Living, the Artemis team is based out of Nassau, in the Bahamas. It’s a nice central location, and a thriving city, which provides supplies, and much-needed cover, as well as a large enough marina complex that a yacht moving in and out won’t attract much notice.

The Bahamas are actually very pretty, but offer very unusual sailing conditions. With shallow seabeds and low-lying islands, it’s not the first place I’d take a deep-keeled yacht like Artemis, but in terms of finding tourists for cover, it’s a popular destination – and, as we know, Artemis isn’t just there to look pretty.

Nassau, Bahamas mapFor those of you wondering where the hell the Bahamas are, exactly, here’s a map. You can find Nassau without too much trouble, due East of the tip of Florida and North of Santiago de Cuba.

You’ll see the whole area is a mess of little islands and sandbars, which makes for gorgeous blue-green water, really nervous watching of the depth-sounder, and a lot of white sand beaches.

Because vampire clans like a large, transient population, the Bahamas are a prime area for them. Violent crime in Nassau is high, meaning that a few disappearances don’t raise too many eyebrows. Yachts move through the Bahamas in numbers, especially in winter, and liveaboards vanish all the time – either intentionally dropping off the map, or through accidents.

Due to the presence of vampires in the Cays, Artemis was based there semi-permanently to watch and hunt, and was supplemented by the presence of the wise-woman, Mama Gale, a magic user of some power and influence – at least until a routine raid went startlingly sideways.

However, don’t let me put you off the Bahamas. They’re a lovely place to visit – especially in daylight.

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Character interview: Jean Vignaud

Interview with Jean Vignaud

At a table in a hole-in-the-wall pub with a good view of the exits

J C Steel: I like the location.

Jean Vignaud: Try not to describe it too well, I would like to come back. My partner tells me you have some questions.

JCS: I heard you like Chinese take-out. How did you come across that?

JV: Take-out is one of my favourite things of this century. When I was born one had to travel to eat differently, and the experience was not always…positive. If you are trying to put the Frenchman at his ease by asking about food, be assured: I am quite relaxed.

JCS: In fact, you’re rolling a cigarette. You only do that when you think I’m going to ask questions you don’t want to answer, but I notice you never smoke them.

JV: Science has discovered many miracles. Among them, unfortunately, that smoking is not good for you. Not something for vampires to be concerned with, but for me, yes.

JCS: So there are some things that you miss about being a vampire?

JV: Ah. The end of the small talk. As the junkie misses his high, there are things I miss, having left the night. Cristina tells me you are fortunate, and have never encountered a vampire. Do you think, once this book publishes, that that happy state will continue?

JCS: I will quote you a great British author, Terry Pratchett: ‘…no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences.’

JV: A wise man.

JCS: I think so. Not a very popular definition of freedom in this day and age, as it happens. What’s your take on consequences and personal responsibility?

JV: I believe that my actions are my own. Who else should I blame? God?

JCS: You’re religious?

JV: I was raised a good Catholic, but according to that religion, vampires have no soul. Therefore, the only judge I need to satisfy is my own conscience.

JCS: Renouncing the chance to live forever sounds like a penance.

JV: …I fear I have not had enough rum to have that talk.

JCS: The first Pirates of the Caribbean. I understand you were an actual pirate in the Caribbean for a time.

JV: Pirates is such a generic term. In this day and age I would wear an expensive suit and gamble with other peoples’ money.

JCS: So you would equate stock-brokers with piracy?

JV: Let us say…in my day, if a man stole your money, the expectation was that you would try to kill him. Today, the expectation is that you elect him.

Background to Mama Gale

Background to Mama Gale

The inspiration for Mama Gale

Believe it or not, my godmother by courtesy was a lady named Cyralene Gale, and she ran the Bequia Bookshop until sometime in the early 1990s. Needless to say, she was neither a witch nor several hundred years old; she was originally from Barbados, but had lived on Bequia with her husband, Ian Gale, for longer than I’d been alive.

When I was a kid and we happened to be anchored in Port Elizabeth, one of my favourite things to be allowed to do was to go and hang out in their bookshop and dust the books, and occasionally, be allowed to stay over up at their house in the hills. Every so often, they would come out to our yacht for lunch – a visit which usually lasted well into the afternoon.

So, when I was looking for a name for this character, it was a given that she was going to be called Gale.

Mama Gale in Death is for the Living

Mama Gale is a bit of a mystery figure. She holds significant authority over the Bahamian hunter teams; she and Francis Hardy know each other well, and she’s got a history with Sean, Cristina, and Jean.

We first meet her directly after the Artemis’s return to their home port, when she comes aboard to decide what shall be done with the vampire captive, and not at all coincidentally, to evaluate Sean and Cristina.

‘…he stood, belatedly, as an Islands woman in a patterned dress came up the ladder, followed by Cristina. The setting sun, a huge red ball hanging just above the edge of the sea, illuminated her mass of silver hair.’

By the time we meet her, she appears elderly, but her authority is unquestionable. Francis defers to her; she shuts the team loudmouth down with a few well-chosen words. Although she is clearly powerful, it’s an adjunct to who she is.

‘…either immune or oblivious to the humming power coming off the tall, portly lady wearing her bright dress like a robe of office in the middle of their cockpit.’

Mama Gale is, by intent, more of a wise woman in the true sense of the phrase than a witch or a voodoo priestess (both of which character types have been done to death in my not-even-slightly-humble opinion).

She sees almost everything, but she comes across as a very calm presence, even if that is with a distinct undercurrent that it’s the calm at the eye of the hurricane, and she could unleash some serious whup-ass if the situation happened to call for it.

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