TNA: Hi, Marie, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself, things that readers may not know about you? Say, for instance, the fact you have an amazing shoe collection that I envy beyond all reason.
Marie: Hmm. Well, I’m not sure there’s anything people don’t already know. I’m a soccer mom. I love shoes, wine, coffee, and football. I like monster movies and old-school slasher-style horror. I love my home state of Colorado, and I really dig a good antihero. (Boyd Crowder is the bomb.) (Do people still say ‘bomb’?)
TNA: What was your first published M/M title? If you could go back in time to the moment you began writing it, what advice would you give yourself now that you have the benefit of experience?
Marie: Promises was my first book. If I could go back in time, I’d probably tell myself, “Yes, you can do this, but you really don’t want to. Go back to being a reader.”
TNA: Do you remember the first M/M book you ever read? Would you say the book might have been influential in your own writing career? If so, how?
Marie: Well, this depends a lot on how you define “m/m.” Way back in high school, I read The Catch Trap, but that doesn’t really qualify. Later, I read Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, which made me desperate for more fantasy novels featuring gay protagonists. From there, I sort of fell down a slippery slope of fantasy novels featuring gay men into m/m, but it’s hard to say which was the first “m/m,” as opposed to a fantasy novel with gay characters. I will say that at one point, I read a series (I won’t say which one) with such an unsatisfying ending, I spent the next few days re-writing the final book in my head. Shortly after that, I woke up with an idea for a book. I started writing it, and that book turned into Promises.
TNA: Let’s chat a little bit about your new book, Release. You’ve published it under the name A.M. Sexton. Why did you feel it necessary to separate this particular novel from the rest of your work? What makes it so different?
Marie: This book is dark. I mean, it’s DARK. It’s about a whore and sex slave who are employed/owned by a violent, powerful man who can’t control some of his more sadistic impulses. It has a lot of sex, but not much in the way of romance. What I found as I was sending this story to various betas was that even though I told them ahead of time, “This is dark. This is nothing like my other work,” they’d still come back afterward and say, “Whoa. I wasn’t expecting that, and I think your fans are going to freak.” And that’s problematic, because no matter how many times I say, “This is new,” and regardless of the fact that I’ve written nearly fifteen books that are NOT Coda, people still always associate me with the very first novel I ever wrote. A ridiculous number of the reviews I see for my books start out talking about Coda, even when the book in question is scifi or fantasy. But at least those stories always felt like romances. How much worse would it be when the reader went in expecting Coda and ended up in Davlova, which is a seething, angry pit of moral ambiguity?
The obvious solution was to use a new pen name entirely, but I’d already been talking about my dark, kinky, semi-cyberpunk on social media for a year and a half. People were asking me constantly when it would be available. So it wasn’t like I could pretend it wasn’t me. In the end, after discussing it with just about every writer I know, it was ZAM who convinced me to published it under a slightly different name. Yes, everybody still knows it’s me, but at least nobody can claim I tricked them into thinking Cole would suddenly make an appearance.
Trust me. He won’t.
TNA: If you were to give us a thumbnail sketch of the main characters, how would you describe them, what’s the chemistry between them that makes them work, not romantically but as individuals who manage to connect?
Marie: The main character, Misha, is a street rat who’s been raised in a den of thieves. His boss, Anzhéla, is the head of an enormous crime syndicate, and Misha knows she’s grooming him to take over at least one portion of her enterprise. Despite being a career criminal, Misha has a pretty soft heart. He sees a lot of predators around him, and it bothers him that he has to choose between becoming one of them, or becoming prey. Neither choice appeals to him.
Anzhéla sends Misha to spy on a man named Miguel Donato (by setting Misha up as Donato’s whore). Donato is one of the most powerful men in the city, and he has some pretty dark impulses. He’s definitely a predator, and yet not without his own demons. Misha instinctively distrusts him, and yet in a way, he understands him. Donato then introduces Misha to Ayo, a sex slave, a victim in every way. So again, Misha has to choose between predator and prey.
And then there’s Davlova, the city that frames it all. She’s a twisted wreck of debauchery, rank with corruption, teetering on the brink of revolution. In many ways, this whole nasty mess is her fault. But knowing that doesn’t change Misha’s situation. He has some pretty tough choices ahead of him.
TNA: What are a few things you hope readers will take away from the book?
Marie: I don’t know. I guess I hope they end up wanting to read the sequel. LOL.
Really, these books are all about moral ambiguity. There’s very little black or white, right or wrong. Davlova is all shades of grey, and it’s up to Misha to decide which of those shades he can live with.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Released with us?
Blurb: Davlova: a poverty-ridden city-state ruled by a tyrannical upper class. Resources are scarce and technology is illegal. But in the slums, revolution is brewing.
Misha is a common pickpocket until his boss gives him a new job. Disguised as a whore, Misha is sent to work for one of the most powerful men in the city. But his real task is far more dangerous: get close to Miguel Donato, and find something – anything – that will help topple Davlova’s corrupt government.
Misha is plunged into the decadent world of the upper class, where slaves are common and even the most perverse pleasure can be found. Although he’s sure Davlova’s elite is involved in something horrific, proof is hard to come by, and Misha begins to fall in love with the man he’s supposed to betray. Then Misha meets Ayo – a sex slave forced by the neural implant in his brain to take pleasure from pain – and everything changes. As the lower class pushes toward a bloody revolution, Misha will find himself caught between his surprising feelings for Donato, his obligations to his clan, and his determination to save Ayo.
Excerpt: “It’s our turn to be seated,” Donato said at last. He guided me with a hand on the small of my back, through the crowd, up a flight of stairs, around a silk screen to a private table overlooking the city.
I stared in awe at the sight of it—lights laid out below me like stars in an upside-down sky. I’d had my eyes closed in the carriage, but I realized now that wherever we were, we were high up on the hill, right in the center of the purebloods’ world. Their electric lights circled us, bright white and unwavering. Farther down, I saw the towering city wall which surrounded the upper city, hiding the trenches of Lower Davlova from sight. The taverns and their keepers. The shop owners and fish vendors. The booksellers and whores, all conveniently concealed. The wall eclipsed the dark buildings lit only by lanterns and candles, and the alleys between, which I knew as intimately as any lover. Everybody I’d ever known lived on the other side of that white stone barricade, scraping a living, some legally and some not. In the shadows beyond that wall, I’d been born, raised, trained.
From this spot on the hill, I could almost believe none of it existed.
“Like the view?” he asked.
“It can be yours, you know. Not right now. Not yet. But eventually, if you please me, you could live on this side of the wall for the rest of your life.”
“Or until you replace me.”
He laughed. It was a cruel, dark sound. “Yes. There’s always that possibility.” He grabbed my arm and dragged me backward. “Why don’t you ponder those options while I take what’s mine.”
TNA: Release will be followed up with the sequel Return later this year. Did you know when you sat down to start writing that this would turn into a multi-book project, or did it evolve as you were writing?
Marie: No, I don’t think I did (although I started them so long ago, it’s hard to remember). I certainly had no idea how hard the book would end up being for me to write. It tried many times to turn into a trilogy, but I think it’ll be cleaner as a set of two.
Besides which, writing a third Davlova book would probably kill me dead.
TNA: You have a pretty varied backlist, everything from genre romance to speculative fiction to sci-fi, and everything in between. You obviously disagree with the advice “pick a genre and stick with it.” What makes it fun for you to write outside of just one niche?
Marie: Whatever I’m writing is inevitably rooted in whatever’s going on in my life at that time, and I am absolutely not the same person I was back in 2009 when I wrote Promises. Everybody accepts that you have to write quite a few books before you find your comfort zone. What people don’t necessarily realize is that Promises was the first book I ever wrote. Not just the first book to be published, but the first thing I ever wrote at all. I don’t have a trunk full of my beginning work. I didn’t set out determined to become an author in any particular genre. I just started writing. My learning curve and my search to find what I love most are all out there, for every reader to see, from the very first scene I ever typed (Matt and Jared arguing in a hallway), all the way to Release.
I’m not sure if I’m actually answering the question.
I guess it boils down to this: I don’t pick the stories. The stories pick me. They tap me on the shoulder and say, “I’m next.” Sometimes they whisper. Sometimes they practically hold a gun to my head. But because I’m a human being, changing from day to day and year to year, the story that finds me today won’t be the one that finds me three years from now.
I change. Therefore my stories change.
TNA: I know this is sort of like asking you to name your favorite child, but of all the books you’ve written, do you have a favorite? If so, which and why?
Marie: Song of Oestend. It has so many things I love. Alternate universe, cowboys, opposites attract, friends to lovers, a haunted house, scary monsters, a tiny bit of BDSM, a reversal of stereotypical relationship roles, an antagonist who later becomes the protagonist in his own book (trying to redeem Dante was tons of fun)…
I could go on and on. But the two Oestend books are definitely my favorites.
TNA: If you could bring any one of your characters to life, who would you choose and why?
Marie: Probably Cole, because he could take me shoe shopping anywhere in the world.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs?
Marie: Well, there’s not a lot to talk about. I’m currently procrastinating on finishing Return (the sequel to Release), but I’m very, very close to the end. I also have a project planned this summer with Amber Kell, RJ Scott, Amy Lane, and Mary Calmes. I have a trunked novel from a couple of years ago that’s hounding me to finish it. And eventually, LA Witt and I will write a follow-up to Roped In, so that Jackson can get his HEA.
Okay, now that I spell it all out, that sounds like a lot. I really need to get my ass in gear. LOL.
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?
The Giveaway: A $50 Gift Card to the online book retailer of your choice