JMW: Your heroines have such interesting powers. Whatever inspired you to create a protagonist as you did in the Spirit Guide series, who can smell ghosts?
E.J. Stevens: Well, I was actually on a walk with my corgi, walking past a graveyard, and all of a sudden I smelled this really strong cologne and I looked everywhere and no one was there. And it made me start wondering about the different ways that people interact with ghosts, with the dead, with the spirit world, and not that I felt that I was actually interacting in that moment, but it really inspired me and I started thinking about things like smell and taste and touch and all these different ways that we interact. And with Yuki, the protagonist of the Spirit Guide series, she’s a young teenager and she’s coping with all of the things that happened in high school, being a bit of an outcast, having all the different tumultuous things that happened during that time period, and I thought, “How can I make her life even more difficult?”
Spirit Guide Book 1 (2010) Yuki smells the dead. And her psychic powers are complicating her already problematic teenage life.
I can make her smell dead people. And it was a bit fun, a bit tongue in cheek initially, but I had a lot of fun with that series. It’s a five-book series, and I actually really miss those characters quite a lot, but her abilities were an interesting… They awakened at a time when it’s such a difficult time for young people, they’re dealing with so much. And she was dealing with this, but it also helped her build some really wonderful friendships during and really relied on those friendships to get her through those books.
JMW: Well, friendship does seem to be a theme in what I’ve read of the Ivy Granger series, as well as Yuki’s Scooby theme [SP] with you.
E.J. Stevens: Right. Yes, I actually…I’ve always loved supporting characters, and especially with the Ivy Granger series, those characters really grew on me. They have such heart and are such wonderfully deep characters it really would be such a different series without them.
JMW: Does the smelling of ghosts, is it basically just that sense of fragrance or stench or how does Yuki interact with ghosts through smell?
E.J. Stevens: There are actually often a clue. In one of the stories, in fact, she’s smelling the scent of vinegar, and that is actually a clue as to who it is who’s trying to communicate with her, and her abilities are really just awakening. Smell is the first step. So she will eventually get more abilities, but it seemed like a fun way to introduce her to her abilities and a new way to explore the supernatural world.
JMW: Very different use of senses. Ivy Granger’s power, psychometry, seems almost mundane by comparison, but we were talking about supporting cast a minute ago. Hers include such unusual creatures for urban fantasy as THEwill-o’-the-wisp and Celtic kelpies. What prompted you to go in those directions?
E.J. Stevens: Well, my mom actually is from Wales, and when she moved here and my grandmother moved here they brought with them some very interesting folklore and dark fairy tales that I really grew up on. So I kept finding myself going back to those stories, things to do with the kelpies and the grindylow, the things that lurk in the rivers. They were often cautionary tales to keep children away from the river’s edge or away from the ocean, and I wanted to bring some of those characters into a new world. So I created this fictional city within the United States and populated it with a lot more of the traditional Fae creatures from the oral tradition folklore from places like Wales and Ireland, and that was a lot of fun. It was nice just to diverge a little bit from the other werewolves and the sparkly vampires that were so popular at the time that I was writing them.
JMW: Yes. Well, I want to get back to your vampires in a minute, but since you brought up the fictional landscape, how much does Harbormouth which is the setting for both the Ivy Granger and the the Hunters’ Guild, or at least part of the Hunters’ Guild Series, how much does that reflect your home state of Maine?
Ivy Granger Book 1 (2012) Ivy Granger runs a private investigation agency in a city where demons and fae wonder about unseen by humans – except by Ivy. She uses this power, along with psychometry in her work as a private eye. When she takes a demon lawyer as a client, she needs to rush for clues to save the entire city.
E.J. Stevens: If you ever have the opportunity to visit Portland, Maine, there’s actually quite a lot of the geography of Portland, Maine. It’s a port city just as Harborsmouth is and there’s places, like our monument square is very similar to the square that’s right in the center of Harborsmouth. We also have an old port with its cobbled and brick line street. A lot. So there are some similarities, but there’s also similarities to other places I visited and lived. I lived in Dublin for a year, and there are elements of Dublin that I wove into the city as well.
JMW: Oh, cool, cool. And you have a slightly different take on vampires, where did that come from?
E.J. Stevens: I’ve always loved horror so I wanted my vampires to be much darker, much more vicious, and it also gave me another way to illuminate Ivy’s other talent, which is second sight. She can see through glamour and she can see the Fae and the vampires that walk the streets in plain sight. Most people don’t realize that these monsters walk amongst her. And it really is a challenge because in many times she has to not react, to act as though everything is normal, and then act upon it after she’s managed to get off the street because she doesn’t want to alarm the general populace of Harborsmouth.
JMW: Yes, she can’t afford a riot in certain situations.
E.J. Stevens: Exactly.
JMW: Now, reading up on your biography, you stated that you started to write as a result of a serious injury. What impact did that have on your decision to write urban fantasy, or as I seem to recall from our remarks a few minutes ago, did you always like the dark?
E.J. Stevens: I’ve always loved the dark. I really grew up on a lot of very dark tales. I loved Edgar Allan Poe. I was completely obsessed as a child, very young child, with all of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I also loved all of the Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes stories. So I was very attracted to dark mysteries, some horror, a lot of the gas-light tales, Victorian tales.
JMW: So it’s a lifetime thing?
Hunter’s Guild Book 1 (2014) Jenna Lehane is sent by the Hunter’s Guild to investigate and defeat whatever is causing the murders of tourists in a medieval Belgish city. Her pursuit of answers leads her to uncover the city’s ancient history of evil.
E.J. Stevens: Yes, it’s a lifetime thing. The thing that the…the big impact of my injury was that I suddenly was not working, I had a lot of time on my hands and I was really trapped in my own head. So in some ways writing was an escape for me, escape from pain, escape from the isolationism of being trapped in one place. At the time I was told I probably would never walk again, which I’m okay fully, I’m doing quite well, but 10 years ago it was very different and the future was very unknown. And so I think I play a lot with struggling with the future and the unknown with making my protagonist go through that as well.
JMW: Well, you know, conflict and uncertainty drive home fiction.
E.J. Stevens: Exactly.
JMW: So you knew it firsthand.
E.J. Stevens: Exactly.
JMW: Okay. What are you working on now?
E.J. Stevens: I’m very excited to announce here at Dragon Con that I have a new series coming out. It’s a Victorian Dreadpunk series. It’s the Whitechapel Paranormal Society series. There will be a prequel short story in an anthology, which I’m not allowed to speak too much about, but the short story is Eeper Weeper, and the first novel is One for Sorrow.
JMW: What is Dreadpunk?
E.J. Stevens: Dreadpunk is actually really bringing back to the roots of ghastly fiction, often with supernatural elements. So something like The Hound of the Baskervilles is really teetering right on the edge of Dreadpunk because you have the fog, the mist, the howling on the Morris, and the spectral hound, and you have murder and mystery. The one thing in that as we know at the end of that Sherlock manages to prove.
JMW: That it’s entirely rational.
E.J. Stevens: Yeah, very rational. There’s phosphorus on the hound that gives it this Eldrich glow, but it’s very similar in feeling to Hound of the Baskervilles.
JMW: And WhiteChapel draws up images of Jack the Ripper?
E.J. Stevens: Exactly, exactly. And it does have that darkness. The series has been described as a Victorian Blenchley Circle with demons and angry spirit.
JMW: Oh, that’s wonderful, I can’t wait. We’re almost at the end of our time here today. Is there anything you’d like to add?
E.J. Stevens: Well, first of all I’d like to thank you all for tuning in. It’s been really wonderful and I’m very happy to be at Dragon Con. I hope to return in the future.
JMW: Well, great. Thank you, E.J., and thank you for BuzzyMag.com.
Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.