Disaster brings everybody together. A cloned corporate assassin; a boy genius and his new robot; a tech-modified gangster with nothing to lose; a beautiful, damaged woman and her unbalanced stalker—these folks couldn't be more different, but somehow they must work together to save their own skin. Stranded in the epicenter of a monumental earthquake in the dystopian slum, Junktown, there is only one way to survive. These unlikely teammates must go...UP THE TOWER.
themes I return to again and again in my stories
One theme that is pretty consistent in my work so far is family. I find family absolutely fascinating because it basically decides everything you're going to be from a very young age.
For myself, I think I would have turned out as a much different, much worse sort of person if I hadn’t grown up in a loving, supporting environment. I think there are tons of people who don’t need that kind of environment to be awesome, but I am decidedly not one of them. By nature, I just have this huge list of flaws that can make me a pain: I’ve got a hell of a temper, I’m prone to resentment, I’m argumentative, and I’m stubborn. And let’s just say those are all things I can pretty reasonably trace down the genealogy line. But, because of my family, I also know how to apologize; I know my problems are my problems and not something to foist upon other people; I know how to see other people’s viewpoints; and, I know how to admit when I’m wrong.
So a lot of my characters are sort of spin-offs of myself with just different family backgrounds. Ward in DUST BOWL is a pretty accurate summation of what I would have been like without a family to back me. He’s lonely and feels abandoned, and is completely alcoholic, and with a loss for anywhere to turn, he joins an apocalyptic cult. Clay from THE RED COUNTRY TRILOGY is sort of what I imagine myself becoming if I ever went back to drinking and grew up another twenty years or so. Basically decent and very intelligent, but flawed all the way through and unable to cope with the presence of other people’s needs in his life.
But not all my characters come from that place. In my latest book, UP THE TOWER, it’s still very family-oriented in terms of theme, but not really any of the characters have much to do with me. I felt like a lot of my fiction was becoming about moving away from family, and so I wanted to write something where people were trying to drift back toward it. So the main thrust of Ore’s quest in the book is to find her boy-genius brother, Samson.
Samson’s main thrust for his whole life, pretty much, was to enhance the safety of the man who became his father figure. Unfortunately, his father figure is a gang lord, and so by doing this, Samson has created this immensely powerful bad person, which is sort of an allegory for the ways in which we can give the father figures in our lives too much power over ourselves.
Victor is a really interesting character in this vein because he’s a clone, and has never had any family. The nature of his clone-dom is that he's been killed and brought back to life a lot of times, so his brain isn't firing in all the ways it's supposed to be. When he's presented with the presence of Ana, who reminds him of his mother, he goes sort of crazy even though he's been designed to be this ultra-smooth secret operative.
All told, I think family is a great source for looking at what makes us tick.
An Excerpt from the Book
Samson ignored the jeer, focusing carefully on opening the box. He was twelve years old and he did not want to screw this up; being twelve was important, and people took the things you did seriously so long as you did them well.
“Smellson, hey!” The Crowboy banged his crowbar on the dusty ruins of the factory line where they had set up the six crates from their haul that morning. “Don’t blow us up, okay? I don’t want to die with your stench clogging me up, yeah?”
Again, Samson ignored the other boy, trying to concentrate as he eased his longtool through the gap in the crate before him. He very well could blow himself up; he could blow them all up. Inside the GuaranTech crate he tinkered with was a copbot.
Copbots blew up all the time. If their main processors or power source were damaged, they blew up. If they were being captured, they blew up. If they ran out of ammo and couldn’t refill within about ten minutes, they blew up. When they blew up, they incinerated everything in about a hundred foot radius. The warehouse was not big enough for the Crowboys to keep their distance and still work in the role of protection as they had been hired. So they were in the blast zone as well as Samson.
The copbots, deactivated, were precious and valuable. Strangely, they were valuable precisely because they were so hard to deactivate. A copbot was made almost entirely out of self-healing nanotech, and with enough time, it could repair from almost any wound to its metal shell. So, to keep this sort of power out of the hands of the gangster conglomerate that ran Junktown, the Five Faces, and any other sort of competitor, the copbots had a very liberal self-destruct mechanism.
This is what Samson worked against.
The author will be awarding a backlist ebook copy to a randomly drawn winner at every stop during the tour and a Grand Prize of a $25 Amazon GC will be awarded to one randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during this tour.
The only thing harder than lying about your life? Facing it.
Marissa tells lies.
To herself, about the fact that her brother abandoned her.
To her grandmother, when she says “everything’s fine.”
To the world when she pretends her mother is at home or working late. When she doesn’t tell them her mother is dead.
She doesn’t even question the wisdom of living in a world built on lies anymore—until she meets Brandon. Unlike Marissa, Brandon faces his grief head-on. As their relationship sweetens, Marissa realizes the value of letting someone in and not letting her grief destroy her. But when her past filled with denial catches up with her, Marissa is forced to tell Brandon her darkest secrets, or risk losing him.
The only thing harder than lying about her life? Facing it.
Themes I return to in my stories
One theme I gravitate towards is loss. There is something so intense about loss. Bringing loss to the extreme of death is the ultimate state to write about. Greif is an extremely complex beast, and one that is different for everyone. The way the mind handles loss, the way the soul continues on, the way an individuals energy shifts, the way the world keeps moving on, it’s all related to the loss. This comes from a very deep and personal place for me. I’ve experienced loss on the very deepest level, and I use that grief to connect to my characters, my readers, and myself.
Loss is also relatable. At some point or another you are going to lose someone. Whether it be your best friend, your boyfriend, a family member, a pet even, it’s a universal understanding that within life there is death. This is a fragile fiber that connects us all. Having a support system to deal with your loss is essential to one’s own fight.
I find it fascinating how two totally different people can react to a similar loss. Having come from such a place I’m happy to say that I use my creativity to help me cope with my loss. And I hope others can find peace in their passions.
Read An Excerpt from Susan's New Book!
I held my breath as I ran past the cemetery. Stupid, I know. Regardless, it’s one of those idiotic things that stick with you from your childhood. Like fragments of your being that imprint themselves on your chemical makeup. It was my older brother, Marc, who had told me that once when we were in the backseat of Mom’s old hatchback and were driving past the Sacred Path Cemetery.
Marc poked me in my side. “Quick, hold your breath,” he said before taking in a puff of air and holding it in.
“What? Why?” I looked around from side to side.
He didn’t answer me. Instead he just kept motioning with his hands, pointing out the window, putting his hands around his neck like he was choking or something. Finally, when we turned left onto Harper Street he let out a big exhale.
“Oh man, now you’re toast.” He pointed at me and laughed. That maniacal laugh only older brothers know how to do. I was seven at the time, and Marc was ten. “You probably have a ghost inside you now.” He grinned like a devious villain.
“A ghost?” I said.
“You didn’t hold your breath while we drove past the cemetery. Again I state — you’re toast.” He began drumming on his lap with his hands.
I didn’t comprehend what he was telling me, but I knew I didn’t like it. Tears started forming in my eyes, and I knew I had to rely on my failsafe. “Mooommm,” I cried out, and immediately I felt Marc’s sweaty hand over my mouth.
“Yes, Marissa?” Mom’s sweet voice carried from the front of the car to the backseat.
“She’s fine, Mom. I got it.” Marc’s tone was of the dutiful son. He unclamped his hand from my face. “Listen,” he began, talking kind of slow. “You’ve got to remember this. I’m going to give you a life lesson here. Are you ready?”
His green eyes were sparkling, and I nodded my head in agreement.
“Okay.” He crouched down a bit so he was eye-level with me. “You must always, and I mean always, hold your breath when you drive past a cemetery. And if you’re walking past one, you must run — run and hold your breath until you’re clear. Otherwise, the spirits of the undead could invade your body. And you don’t want that to happen. Do you?” I almost couldn’t tell if the last part was a question or a statement.
“But I didn’t hold my breath back there, and all the times before. What if one’s in me right now?” I began pawing at my body.
Marc threw his head back and laughed. “Nah, you’re fine. Just be careful. Now that you know you have to do it, always do it. Understand?”
Again I shook my head. Marc gave me a thumbs-up, and I begged Mom to take Chester Street instead of Maple because I knew there was a big cemetery on Maple. Luckily she agreed.
So now, here I was ten years later, holding my breath as I ran past Sacred Path Cemetery. While I ran, my new sneakers — the ones I had to work double shifts on Saturdays for three weeks to get — started rubbing the back of my left heel, and I knew I’d have a blister the size of a quarter later on. It’s hard to keep your pace when you’re holding your breath. Luckily Sacred Path Cemetery isn’t that big. Just big enough. It’s just big enough. That’s what my grandmother said anyway. I was almost halfway through when I heard the clicking of the tips of my shoelace on the ground. My thoughts concentrated on what those tip things were called, anything to get my mind off the cemetery. Aglets, I remembered! My aglets were hitting the pavement, and I knew if I didn’t stop and retie that lace, then I would land flat on my face. Grace has never been a character trait of mine. My mother, yes, but not me. Marissa No-Grace McDonald should have been my legal name. How my mother came up with Scranton for my middle name I’ll never know.
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Angela Shelley, herself.
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