My guest this week is Red Tash, roller girl turned novelist of dark fantasy for readers of all ages. Monsters, SciFi, wizards, trolls, fairies, and roller derby lightly sautéed in a Southern/Midwestern sauce hand-canned from her mama’s recipes await you in her pantry of readerly delights. <–(stole that from her page on Amazon! Love it!)
And since I couldn’t come up with a better way to introduce you than you did for yourself, how about we get to the interrogation. . . errr. . . I mean, questions
1.) Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m amazing. Is that little enough?
Okay, seriously, I’m pretty crazy and I write A LOT.
2.) How long have you been writing?
Best I can tell, about 30 years. God, that makes me sound ancient, but honestly, my first published poem went into the local metro paper when I was ten.
3.) Do you have a preferred genre that you read? Is it the same as what you write?
I’d like to say “no favorites,” because there are so many fantastic books out there and I really hate genre labels. Having said that, the reality is when I look at what I choose to read, it’s mostly YA fantasy. I grew up reading more horror and SciFi than I do now, and went through a phase where I was very literary with my tastes. I love poetry, too—but what leaps off the shelf at me usually involves children and evil fairies.
My latest is Troll Or Derby, and it’s everywhere fine ebooks are sold, and a few places paperbacks are sold. All those links are at http://RedTash.com/TrollOrDerby
5.) Describe your novel in 15 words or less.
Girl’s quest to save sister leads to showdown troll druglord, she becomes fairy nightmare angel.
6.) Where did the inspiration for your story come from?
Well, I’ve always loved fairies, especially their dark sides. I decided to write a book about trolls because no one else was doing it, and then the fairies found their way into it after I realized it was going to be a roller derby book, too. In roller derby we have blockers and jammers. I felt certain that the best jammers would be fairies and the best blockers trolls, although in the book there are lots of characters who are hybrids of the two species. Also, I live in Southern Indiana where meth labs are a very real danger to children, and kids are hooked on the stuff all the time. I got to thinking about what would happen if trolls were dealing meth cut w/ fairy drugs, and ended up writing those whole “seedy underworld” story that ended up literarlly climaxing in a cave, beneath the surface of the plebian reality that can be life in the Midwest.
7.) How long did it take you to complete this novel from concept to published?
Considering it was interrupted by several months of roller derby when I was so exhausted I didn’t have time or energy to write, followed by a couple of years of scrambling to get back at it between major life changes (divorce, remarriage, baby…) I’m pretty pleased to say it only took me four years. My first book took about seven. Here’s hoping all the sequels come together faster now that my life has settled down!
8.) When you sit down to write, how does that process go? Do you outline or just let it evolve?
For a novel, I do outline. I use Randy Ingermanson’s snowflake method, although I don’t take it to chapter or scene level. Then, when I sit down to write, I use my snowblower and screw that all to hell. I usually find the story goes elsewhere, and then I have to re-evaluate what my next choices are going to be. Things don’t usually end exactly the same way I think they will, so in that way I’m a pantser, for sure. A bit of both, then.
9.) Are there any aspects of writing you struggle with?
Oh, sure. Sometimes when I think I’m supposed to be writing from plot point A to plot point B I don’t actually feel like writing that part, and I struggle with how to make it more exciting, interesting, whatever. That’s happening to me right now with a work-in-progress that’s very important to me, so I’m just putting it aside for awhile. What I usually do is skip past that scene and write what I do want to write, then come back and fill in all the missing stuff in the rewrites. It’s not as satisfying as feeling like I just banged out a prize-winning first draft, but who sees the first draft, anyway?
10.) Are there any aspects that you simply glide through?
Anything violent, sick, or twisted seems to come easily to me. Sad, huh?
11.) What sets your book apart from others in the same genre?
I’m not aware of any other book in the Fairy Roller Derby books, so the closest genre is probably YA fantasy. YA or Teen Fantasy has a lot of fairies, and it’s true that there are now a few trolls, but none of them that I know of play roller derby, are rock stars, or are involved in gritty drug rings. One of my reviewers said this about the book:
“The best part of Troll or Derby is neither the element of fantasy or that of derby: it’s the element of the real. Deb, assumed to be a lesbian, embraces, for a time, a sexual relationship with a beautiful but shallow girl, while “married” to Harlow, a boy she genuinely likes and whose friendship she values. She faces questions of loyalty and love, bonds of attraction and bonds of friendship, and muddles her way through those questions just like most teenagers would. She runs away from an alcoholic mother, instead seeking nurture from other adults, the way many teens piece together a sort of “parent pie” made from adults who look after them. Deb’s sister is addicted to drugs; both the “real” world and the “underworld” of magical creatures are edgy, dangerous, filled with drugs, sex, rock and roll, and blood. (Parents, be aware: if your younger child reads this, he or she will be reading about meth and other serious drugs; sex, both hetero and homosexual, rape, violence, and murder, bloody deeds, runaway teens, trailer parks, and violent rock shows. Thus, he or she will want to read it. You have been forewarned.)” ~Merchant of Vengeance, DerbyLife.com (http://www.derbylife.com/articles/2012/07/book_review_troll_or_derby)
12.) What is the location of your story setting and why did you choose that place/time?
Rural Indiana, present day. I write what I know.
13.) Your main characters, tell me about them. What is their back story? How did they find themselves where they are now?
Deb is a teenager with a slightly older sister who gets herself tangled up with a sleazy older guy. She sets out to save her sis after her mom babbles some confusing abuse at her—she’s already a fringe sort of kid, probably the only obviously gay kid in her high school class.
Then there’s Harlow, a solitary, good-natured troll with a memory problem. Did someone put a spell on him to block his memory. Maybe we’ll find out in the next book, maybe book three, I haven’t decided yet! Regardless, he’s a kind-hearted singer, very talented with both magic as well as music.
14.) I’d like to know more about your book. Tell me all about it.
Well, here’s the blurb:
In TROLL OR DERBY, fifteen year old Roller Deb is singled out by town bullies for both her skates, and for being different. When her popular homecoming queen of a sister is kidnapped by a scuzzy drug dealer, Deb must flee the trailer park in which she’s grown up, and rescue her. Along the way, Deb becomes enmeshed in the magical realm of trolls and fairies, and the blood-thirsty version of roller derby at which these beings excel. But spending too much time among the fairies comes with a price. Will Deb choose to save her sister, with the aid of a mysterious troll? Or will she be lost to the lures of roller derby, and the blonde temptress April, forever?
15.) What do you want readers to take from your writings?
Hopefully it’s pure entertainment, but it gets into their psyches, as well. I put a lot of heart into everything I do. I hope they get a glimpse of that, and that it inspires their own imaginations to take flight.
16.) Are more books to follow or is this a stand alone?
So far I’ve planned two more books to follow Troll Or Derby. Troll Or Park, and Troll Or Trash.
17.) Where can readers find you?
18.) What are 3 random things about yourself that readers might like to know.
I was a journalist, and I wrote a nationally syndicated newspaper column under my real name. I’m addicted to chocolate! I played roller derby at Tyra Durden of Derby City Rollergirls in Louisville, KY.
19.) What do you do in your down time? For fun.
I have four kids, so I have no down time. Down time to me = sleep.
20.) How about letting me have a sneak peak at chapter one?
Burning Down the House
Meth fires are blue, the hottest kind of flame. I’d heard it before, probably from Derek, but now I was seeing it firsthand. Lucky me.
A sickly smell hung on the air. The remains of chemicals, plastic, and pharmaceutical ingredients brutalized my lungs, but I couldn’t back away. I wouldn’t—no matter what.
The trailer crackled with flame, and Gennifer was inside. Tall, eerie tongues of fire licked the outer walls–ten feet high, at least. I had no idea flames could reach that size.
Plasticine, sticky smoke—brown and thick—engulfed me as I neared the trailer. I didn’t know where to look for my sister, but I was sure she was inside. A moan, then a scream—I could hear her through the thin aluminum walls.
The trailer was melting into sludge and toxic smoke, and it cracked and popped on a warping metal frame. I didn’t know if I should try and run through the fire at the kitchen end of the mess, where a gaping hole belched sickening fire. Maybe I could try to get Gennifer to open or break a window and climb out from the other side. I wondered if she’d have it in her to bleed a little, to save her own life.
The window was way too high for me to reach.
“Open the window, Gennifer! Climb out!”
She was never right when she was doing the drugs Dave gave her—could she even understand what I was saying? Could she hear me?
I thought maybe I could pitch something hard enough into the glass to break her out. I ran to the woods, looking for a log or branch I could ram through the window. Everything was too rotten to be of any use—sticks and limbs crumbled in my shaking hands. Gennifer’s screams were getting louder, higher pitched. Was she on fire? Why wouldn’t she help herself?
If only I had a crowbar.
Then I saw them—tools. The trailer was up on blocks, with no underpinning. Of course Dave would be too cheap to finish out his rustic rural meth lab. I crawled beneath, the leaky septic line christening me as I stooped, groping for the abandoned tools. I hoped the mobile home wouldn’t collapse on top of me before I could crawl back out, but it wasn’t sounding so good.
Dave and his gang of junkie slaves had been working beneath the trailer, and sure enough, they’d been too distracted, dumb, or high to put away a set of screwdrivers, some ratchets, and a really, really heavy wrench.
It’s no crowbar, but it’ll have to do.
Liquid shit dripped on me, but I didn’t have time to care. My sister was screaming her head off in a burning trailer and I was reasonably certain she was out of her mind on drugs.
I flung the wrench at the window, but it didn’t break. I tried again, and again, but only managed to crack the damned glass, and Gennifer still hadn’t appeared at the window to save herself.
There was only one thing to do. I grabbed the wrench and ran to the kitchen end of the trailer. I took a deep breath of fresh air, then I hurled myself through the cloud of fumes. The fire and smoke obscured everything, and I shut my eyes against the sting of chemicals. For a moment, I thought I saw the shapes of blue and orange dancers in the flames.
I braced myself for the heat, but I didn’t feel it. Pops and hisses all around me sounded like whispers or cackles. The fire was eating through the trailer, and I felt the floor giving out with every step. I wouldn’t let it take Gennifer—I wouldn’t let it consume me, either.
The hallway was short, and the door Gennifer was locked behind very thin. Her screams were so loud, there was no point trying to yell to her that I was coming in, especially if it meant inhaling more smoke.
I swung at the handle, holding the wrench like a baseball bat. The brass knob fell to the floor, a chunk of splintered wood still clinging to it. I kicked the bedroom door in, and Gennifer stopped screaming long enough to pass out.
Lovely. Now I’ll have to carry her.
She wore a black bra and jeans, and her skin was burning with fever. I put my hands under her armpits and lugged her over my shoulder. She had at least 75 pounds on me, so I should have crumpled under her, I suppose. Instead, I stumbled into the door frame as I carried her across the spongy floor of the burning trailer.
The heat touched my hair—I could hear it sizzle, could smell it burning, even—but I felt nothing but determination as I carried my sister out of that meth lab.
With Gennifer still on my back, I jumped. She fell hard on top of me, and I was just pushing her off, struggling for breath, when the trailer collapsed onto the ground. The sound of sirens in the distance was no surprise—the smoke was so black and thick that farmers in the vicinity surely could tell this was no typical trash fire. I pulled my sister as far away from the flames as I could and watched for the EMTs to roll up.
Gennifer groaned, and her eyes flickered open for a sec. She met my gaze and frowned. She closed her eyes again and drew a deep breath.
“I’m going to kill that son of a bitch,” I said.
“Dave didn’t do it,” she said. Her words were slurred. She reached up to rub her eyes, lazily, as if waking up from a nap.
“Yeah, right, Gennifer. He’s such a saint, locking you in a burning trailer and all.”
I didn’t see the point of arguing with her, though. I let it drop.
Something sticky and hot dripped too close to my eyes, and I reached to wipe it off. Please don’t let it be crap from the sewer line. I pulled my hand away, and it was covered in blood. Even better. I won’t think of that now—nope, not at all.
The fire truck roared up the gravel driveway. Guys in black rubber suits jumped off the truck–someone put a face mask on Gennifer and asked me if there was anyone still inside.
I shook my head no, and then I fell through trees, air, sky, into the black. I felt my head hitting the hard ground near where my backpack lay, could hear the EMTs shouting, and then—nothing.
I’d Love to Change the World
I want you to understand something. I didn’t rise up out of the ground fully grown, I wasn’t the bastard child of an angry god, and I didn’t become this way because I was cursed. My skin’s not green and I won’t turn to stone in the sunlight.
When I was young, I had a mother, and she was a troll. I had a mother and a father who were both trolls, in fact–and we were a family. Yes, I had a family. Just like you.
Almost everything I know about humans, I’ve learned from their trash. Redbook and Woman’s Day show up at my doorstep more than any other source, I reckon. It may not be a perfect picture of what your life is like, but I’m betting I’ve got a more accurate view of your lifestyle than you have of mine, at least for the time being.
For starters, there’s a shopping mall full of differences between troll family life, and how human families live. Trolls, for instance, do not typically invest a lot of emotion into their own young–often don’t even raise them. They especially don’t socialize with their relatives for special occasions. You won’t see us breaking out the patio umbrellas and the ice chests full of soda for a family barbecue. A special occasion in troll culture is when the villagers rise up and try to corral one of us in a cave, or something like that. At least, that’s how it used to be. That’s what my mom told me. I remember that.
I remember a lot more now than I did, when this adventure started—but I’ll get to that.
Best I can tell, my nuclear family was more like a human family than a troll one. The extended family, as you English would call it, was a mess. A big, illegal, drug-running, slaving mess. But I’ll get to that. This is my part of the story and I want to begin in the beginning. I’m not a storyteller. It’s not my profession. Bear with me while I sort this out, okay?
Sure, you’re going to think what you want about trolls. I mean, you’ve seen movies, you’ve read Rowling and Tolkein. I’m telling you that the real-live working-class trolls of the Midwest are nothing like you’ve been told. We’re capable of great violence, sure, and I’ll concede that our proclivity is largely toward evil, but let’s face it—a lot of that comes down to breeding and culture.
In our world, might most definitely makes right. That’s the fundamental law of troll culture, although most trolls would forego the flowery wording and just express it with a grunt and blow to the head.
Trolls as a species, though, are capable of great love. I know, because I’ve experienced it. You don’t live with something like that and ever forget. If you do, you’re a fool, anyway.
My parents weren’t totally solitary like so many other trolls are. They even had a very close friendship with a fairy family called the Wheelers. If we’d celebrated holidays, the Wheelers were the ones we’d have invited over for a Fourth of July cookout. We didn’t do that a lot, that I can recall. We did raid sinkholes filled with garbage on a few occasions, though. Good times.
The Wheelers were not just fairies, they were Protectors. Fleet of foot and quick of mind, their instincts were so well-tuned as to be mistaken for psychic powers, by most. According to my mother, in the old days humans and fairies alike worshiped or feared the breed of fairy the Wheelers were. Their massive black wings shimmering in air above a crowd of would-be foes were beautiful and awesome—I remember that, too. Sometimes. The memories come and go, unless I’m looking at Deb. Then I can’t forget.
Anyway, these two particular Wheelers, Marnie and Mannox, were so powerful and strong, everyone lived in fear of them. Everyone but my folks, and me, I guess. The Wheelers were my fairy godparents. I don’t remember much about them, but I remember that.
Trying to remember is a full-time job. I’ve visited the library in Bloomington, and even picked through the local bookstore in Bedrock, curious about what the old days used to be like. Maybe there’d be a book there, or something. I read in a muddy copy of Psychology Today once that some therapists use fairy tales to trigger vital memories in their patients—and I used to get these blank spots, this fogginess.
Anyway, my point is, among the children’s stories and the romantic teen fiction, and even in a lot of the comic books, there’s some truth. Mostly fiction, but if you look hard enough, you can see through the tall tales, and find the common thread within. I’ve always been good at that sort of thing. Figuring stuff out.
The one thing I wish I’d figured out sooner was what to do about my uncle Jag.
Why? Well, for starters, my uncle killed my parents, and my fairy godparents. It was immediately after the bonding ceremony between their baby daughter and me. The Wheelers had pledged to protect my parents, and by extension, me. My parents were to protect Deb, and I was, by extension . . .
Well, I jump ahead of myself. I told you I’m not good with stories.
I should start with an introduction, shouldn’t I?
My name is Harlow Saarkenner. I am an American Troll living in rural Indiana, and this is the story of how I met a kick-ass rollergirl, rejoined a rock band, and lived happily ever after.
In a landfill. Did I mention that?
But there’s more. Stay tuned. I’m just going to tell it like it happened, best I can. Deb will fill in the rest.
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Find buy links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Smashwords, and all sorts of bookstores that carry the paperback version of Troll Or Derby at http://RedTash.com. Discover the rest of Red’s work there, as well.