Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Laura Bickle has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She and her chief muse live in the Midwest, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. Her short fiction has appeared here and there. Embers, first in this exciting new urban fantasy series, was her debut as novelist. Sparks continues the series.
Laura also writes as Alayna Williams. Alayna's "debut" was Dark Oracle, Pocket Juno's June 2010 release. More info on her work can be found at

What was the first thing you ever wrote for the pure enjoyment of writing?

When I was a kid, I used to write stories from the perspectives of the family pets. The dachshunds and the cats had pretty exciting adventures in the woods, chasing critters and climbing trees. The fish...not so much.

Who is your favorite character you conjured up and why?

My favorite character is Anya Kalinczyk's fire salamander familiar, Sparky. Sparky was handed down to Anya by her mother. When he's taking a nap or disinterested in Anya's work, he's housed in a salamander-shaped torque she wears around her neck. When he's feeling peevish, or in the presence of danger or ghosts, he's unleashed from the necklace. Most often, he takes the form of a five-foot speckled hellbender. Only Anya and ghosts can see him, but he makes his influence felt in the physical world: he can disrupt electrical fields. He's prone to chewing on cell phones, shorting out fire alarm systems, blowing up microwaves, and wreaking havoc on nearly anything he can get his paws on. He's not a bad salamander...he just manages to find trouble, wherever he goes. In SPARKS, he manages to get the fire department called on him at a baby superstore and sets off the sprinkler system at the crime lab while playing with a Bunsen burner.

There's not much to find about salamanders in the literature, beyond their origins. They're rumored to be capricious, destructive, and unpredictable as fire itself. That made a salamander a perfect sidekick for Anya. And Sparky hopped out onto the page, wiggling his tail and looking for trouble.

What inspired this book?

By day, Anya investigates suspicious fires as an arson investigator in Detroit. By night, she works as part of an eccentric group of ghost hunters. Anya's the rarest type of spiritual medium - a Lantern. Where other mediums allow spirits to use their hands and voices to communicate, Anya incinerates malicious ghosts.

I'd established a theme centering around flame....and decided to give Anya a fire salamander as a companion. Salamanders haven't gotten much press since Paracelsus' time. They are the elemental avatars of fire. Our ancestors assumed that they were the spirit of fire, as they were often seen crawling out of logs tossed into hearth blazes. The salamander was probably annoyed to have his peaceful woodland home turned to tinder, and was making a fleet-footed escape. But alchemists and sorcerers made the link between salamanders and flames, and the association has endured.

Sparky the fire salamander has nest of newts in Anya's bathtub in SPARKS. While Anya's juggling that, she's investigating a rash of spontaneous human combustion cases. For me, inspiration is pretty much following a theme down a rabbit hole.



Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern, who holds down a day job as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department--while working 24/7 to exterminate malicious spirits plaguing a city plagued by unemployment and despair. Along with her inseparable salamander familiar, Sparky, Anya has seen, and even survived, all manner of fiery hell--but her newest case sparks suspicions of a bizarre phenomenon that no one but her eccentric team of ghost hunters might believe: spontaneous human combustion.

After fire consumes the home of elderly Jasper Bernard, Anya is stunned to discover his remains-- or, more precisely, the lack of them; even the fiercest fires leave some trace of their victims--and she is sure this was no naturally-occurring blaze. Soon she's unearthed a connection to a celebrity psychic who preys on Detroit's poor, promising miracles for money. But Hope Solomon wants more--she's collecting spirits, and in a frantic race against time, Anya will face down an evil adversary who threatens her fragile relationship with her lover, her beloved Sparky's freshly-hatched newts, and the wandering souls of the entire city.


Anya stared down into a hole that had been covered by the Dumpster. It reminded her of storm cellars in old houses: a stone frame and steps leading down into blackness. It occurred to her that this was the same spot that the basement had occupied in the footprint of the original building. But, somehow she doubted that she'd find an old store of office supplies and shelves full of dusty bottles in this place. Nothing was as it seemed on the astral plane, and she expected this would be no exception.

"How does this remain hidden?" Anya wondered if there was a truck that came by every week to pick up the astral Dumpster.

"It's an illusion. A bit of camouflage Hope's using to cover her tracks on this plane."

Charon descended the worn steps, and Anya followed. Sparky oozed down the stairs beside her, while the young salamanders leapt down the stone risers like Slinkies. There seemed to be no light in this place, but Sparky and the newts gave off a shifting amber glow that was sufficient to see by, casting writhing shadows on the earthen ceiling. Plant and tree roots reached down from the above as they descended down the broken spiral staircase. The place smelled like winter, like cold earth: sterile and barren, with nothing living.

She heard water, wrinkled her nose. "What's that? The sewer?"

Ahead, Charon shook his head. He didn't seem too need the light of the salamanders to see by; he walked down the uneven steps as if he'd known them well enough to wear the dents in the tops of the steps. "No. It's the Styx."

Anya's breath caught in her throat. The staircase spilled out onto a silty causeway, into the broken edges of a canal hewn into the stone. It was man-made; the arches curved as far as the meager light reached over the shallow black water.

"Are you sure it's the Styx? Because it looks like a sewer."

Charon sighed. "It's not _the_ Styx. Just a weak tributary. If you remember your mythology, it wrapped nine times around the perimeter of Hades."

"I thought we were going after Hope." Anya clenched her fists, trying to resist the urge to strangle the psychopomp's laconic throat.

"This is where she's retreated, at least on this plane. We've got to bring the fight to her." Charon began to pace beside the bank, kicking at pieces of trash: moldering newspapers, plastic cups, pop cans. The salamanders seemed to recoil from the water. Perhaps fire elementals didn't care much for the Styx. Given its dubious origins, Anya didn't blame them.

"Does she know we're coming?" Anya clunked to the water's edge. There was no way she could swim across in her armor. She ran her fingers along the seams. She had no idea if her astral self was wearing clothes under her armor, but she figured that death's ferryman had seen it all. She took her helmet off and set it in a clean patch of gravel by her feet. She began stripping off her gauntlets.

"Probably not. Not yet." Charon was piling up empty milk jugs and was counting caps in one hand. In the other, he was dragging a dented green plastic kiddie pool in the shape of a turtle.

He stared at her trying to open her breastplate. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Getting ready to swim across," she said matter-of-factly, though her cheeks burned.

Charon looked at her as if she was stupid. "Humans can't get into the water. This is the Styx."

"First of all, jackass, this is a sewer. But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, and say it is, at best, a tributary of the Styx. Second of all, the Styx made Achilles invulnerable. And lastly, you seem to have survived it. So, kiss my ass."

Charon made a slicing gesture with the hand full of plastic caps. His expression was dark.

"You don't know the cost. All magick has a price, and the Styx is no exception. But, hey, if you want to walk around naked, don't let me stop you." Charon turned away and began fitting caps on the plastic pop bottles and milk jugs, but Anya thought she saw a spark of wry amusement in his expression. Just for an instant.

" the hell am I getting across? Is there a bridge, somewhere?" Anya concentrated on wriggling her fingers back into her gauntlets.

Charon was tying the plastic bottles together with a piece of electrical cord, lashing them to the hard rim of the turtle pool. "If you would stop talking and stripping and doing other distracting things, you'd see that I'm working on that."

Anya gave him a sour look. At least he found the prospect of her nudity distracting. That was the only flicker of humanity she'd seen in him.

Charon turned his creation over. The kiddie pool resembled a warped artist's conception of a jellyfish, constructed of trash. Bottles of air were trapped under the rim, and Charon cast it in the water with a splash that made the salamanders scatter and hiss. The pool floated, tentacles of plastic and wire reaching out behind it.

"Here's your boat."

Anya stared at the makeshift craft. "Um, thanks."


Genene Valleau said...

Hi, Laura! So nice to meet you here on Paty's blog!

Your book sounds very interesting! Love the idea of an unusual critter being a familiar. And you might reconsider fish not having exciting adventures. I have a 16-plus year old algae eater who looks like a prehistoric creature and has a wicked sense of humor. Just sayin'...

Laura Bickle said...

Hi, Genene! So nice to meet you, too! sounds as if your algae eater might have much more exciting fish than I had as a kid. I remember having plain 'ol goldfish won at the school carnival. They were hardy critters, and lived for many years. But they didn't have a sense of humor.

Now, I'm curious...what kinds of pranks does your algae eater play? I've never met a fish with a sense of humor... ;-)