Please welcome Michelle Belanger
to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge
Interviews. Conspiracy of Angels
, the first novel in the Shadowside series, is published today by Titan Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Michelle a Happy Publication Day.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Michelle: I started writing because there was no other choice. Words and stories clamored in my head and they all wanted out. I made my first professional sale at seventeen and I haven't looked back since. Although my initial aspirations were in fiction, I found a very comfortable place for myself writing non-fiction for many years. My Dictionary of Demons, released through Llewellyn Worldwide in 2010, remains one of my most popular works. It's in its seventh or eighth printing now. I love the detective-work of intensely research-based non-fiction, but the urge to tell stories never went away. When the Shadowside series began taking shape, I got so invested in the characters and their world that I knew it was time to make a change.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Michelle: I'd love to be a straight-up plotter -- it always seems like it would be easier. Certainly, I start out that way, mapping out my stories in broad strokes, usually scene by scene. But in the end, the characters demand hybridization. Just when things get intense, they veer off in a direction I didn't foresee, and it's too exciting not to follow where they lead. As a writer, it's really delightful for me when the characters become so real that they can catch me off guard. I think allowing for some wiggle room for those kinds of twists enlivens the story.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Michelle: With fiction writing, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the possibilities. When I write non-fiction, sense and structure are so straight-forward. Facts are facts, and there's a clear and certain way in which to arrange them. But with fiction, every story could be a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. There are so many roads not taken, what-ifs, and might-have-beens. Each and every character faces choices that can change them and thus change the direction of the story. Even when I start with a map of the action, all those possibilities sing out and it can be hard to resist the temptation to explore. I'll admit -- every once in a while, I indulge my curiosity and write an alternate scene just to see how those might-have-beens play out.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Michelle: Like so many who grow up to be writers, I started out as an early and voracious reader. For as long as I can remember, I've had a penchant for the weird and macabre, so one of my early favorites was the short story collection October Country by Ray Bradbury. His tales really spoke to me, maybe because he shared my Midwestern roots, but also for his subtle juxtapositions of the familiar and the strange. Bradbury is directly responsible for my love of Urban Fantasy. As a teen, I discovered Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Saint Germain series, and I was hooked. Current favorites include (but are in no way limited to!) Jim Butcher, Robin Hobb, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Seanan McGuire. Max Gladstone also blew me away with his Dracula short, "A Kiss with Teeth."
TQ: Describe Conspiracy of Angels in 140 characters or less.
Michelle: No memory. Sixty bucks to his name - and a tribe of warring angels out to do worse than kill him. Zachary Westland's having a hell of a day.
TQ: Tell us something about Conspiracy of Angels that is not found in the book description.
Michelle: Cleveland, Ohio is awesome. Seriously. It's an urban fantasist's dreamland. We've had Rockefeller, Langston Hughes, Thomas Edison, and Elliot Ness all living and working here. Saudi sheiks travel halfway across the world to get treated at our hospitals. There are salt mines 1800 feet under the city, epic disasters that inspired headlines like "They Died Crawling," a tangled mafia history, world-renown museums with collections that should make you green with envy -- and that's to say nothing about the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. Half my trouble is deciding which delicious nuggets of local color to weave into the world and which to save for later.
TQ: What inspired you to write Conspiracy of Angels, your first fiction novel?
Michelle: I was sitting outside this haunted house, waiting for a local shaman to finish a ceremony to clear the ghosts -- like you do when your day job involves chasing spirits on international television -- and I started thinking about how my life had come to resemble another person's idea of fiction. And I indulged in a little game of what-if. What if this part of my life were a novel? Who would the characters be? What kinds of adventures might they have if clearing hauntings and hunting ghosts were as cool and showy as viewers wanted them to be on reality TV? Zack came out of that, and Sal and Remy soon followed. Before I knew it, I was writing furiously, and the Shadowside was born.
TQ: What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy?
Michelle: Urban Fantasy holds up a darkened mirror so we can explore our current world and all of its foibles. The settings in UF revolve around cities you can find on a map right here and now, and most authors in the genre do the research to make those cities as real as possible. That unflinching verisimilitude opens the door for so many subplots relevant to the very human experiences that help to make characters vital and relatable. Juxtaposed against the supernatural elements integral to the genre, those human experiences can really shine.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Conspiracy of Angels?
Michelle: The short answer is a lot, but then, coming from non-fiction, research is sort of my thing. I've written about vampires, demons, ghosts, and psychic phenomenon, and in the Shadowside all these things converge where I can have fun with them. I very freely mine my previous research, building the supernatural elements of Zack's world on the bones of real occult practices and beliefs. As mentioned earlier, the verisimilitude inherent in Urban Fantasy really appeals to me. When a character uses a gun, readers expect that experience to reflect how a person would use the same gun in the real world. Get the little details wrong, and for many readers, that breaks the immersion. In a similar vein, drawing upon established elements of the paranormal and occult helps to build immersion so, when I veer into the realm of the truly fantastic, it has much more impact.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Michelle: Hands-down, the easiest character to write is Lil. Known as the Lady of Beasts, she's what you'd get if you crossed Jessica Rabbit with Deadpool - only without his penchant for breaking the fourth wall. Brash and outspoken, she delights in weaponizing the expectations of people around her -- and she's already got a pretty deadly arsenal. Everything moves more swiftly when she's on the scene. The fact that my main character Zack never knows which way to jump when she's around is just a bonus.
The character who presents the biggest challenge is Terael. He's a disembodied spirit tied to a statue at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He is completely inhuman, thousands of years old, and a little unhinged as a result. His dialogue reflects this, and I go for a lilting kind of sing-song pattern when he speaks -- almost, but not quite, blank verse. Getting the right mix of informative and inscrutable can take a few tries.
TQ: Which question about Conspiracy of Angels do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Michelle: On the back of the book, Saliriel is described as transsexual. How much does that play into the story?
Honestly, about as much as the fact that Sal has blond hair. Sal's been running around in the same body since the court of the Medicis. She is old, she is powerful, and she has finally found herself in an age where the technology exists to make her outside match how she perceives herself within. As can be expected, everyone who encounters her has different opinions on her choice, just like in the real world. But, also as it is in the real world, that choice is merely one facet of who she is.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Conspiracy of Angels.
Michelle: For lyricism, this line from the beginning of Chapter Six remains one of my favorites: "Once in a while I passed houses, but they were an acre back or more, their lights shaping dim constellations in an otherwise starless night."
For sheer Zack-ness, I'd have to pick this, from Chapter Thirty-Two: "He was stronger than me, which only figured. As a vampire, he had an automatic edge -- faster, stronger, more fashionably inclined."
TQ: What's next?
Michelle: Right now, I'm focusing on the Shadowside series. The second book, Harsh Gods, is already done, and I'm currently working on book three, The Resurrection Game. I can't get enough of Zack's world.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Michelle: Thank you for the opportunity to dish a little about the Shadowside!
Conspiracy of Angels
Titan Books, October 27, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 368 pages
When Zachary Westland regains consciousness on the winter shores of Lake Erie, his memories are gone. All he has are chaotic visions of violence and death… and a business card for Club Heaven. There Zack finds the six-foot-six transexual decimus known as Saliriel, and begins to learn what has happened.
Alarming details emerge, of angelic tribes trapped on Earth and struggling in the wake of the Blood Wars. Anakim, Nephilim, Gibburim, and Rephaim—there has been an uneasy peace for centuries, but the truce is at an end.
With the help of his “sibling” Remiel and Lilianna, the lady of beasts, Zack must stem the bloodshed before it cannot be stopped. Yet if he dies again, it may be for the final time.
Michelle Belanger is a nonfiction author, a member of the vampire community, and a psychic seen regularly on the television series Paranormal State
. She’s been featured on programs on HBO, the History Channel, and CNN Headline News, and teaches classes around the country on dreamwalking, energy exchange, and spirit communication.Website
@sethanikeem ~ Pinterest