Guest Post: Urban Fantasy Author, Melissa F. Olson





She’s one of the rising stars of urban fantasy, a fellow 47North author who shares my love of Joss Whedon, and a writer with the most inventive take on vampires since Bela Lugosi. Melissa Olson — author of Dead Spots and Trail of the Dead — graciously took time out of her hectic schedule to let me interview her. We talked about her books, her path to publication, and her Road Warrior days in LA (among other things). Please read the interview and visit her website, melissafolson.com for more about this Amazon Bestselling Author.


RC: Can you tell us a little about your books and your main character, Scarlett Bernard?
MFO: Sure! My protagonist, Scarlett Bernard, is a young woman in Los Angeles with a very specialized ability: she’s one of the rare humans who nullifies supernatural forces. So within about ten feet of her, vampires, werewolves, and witches all become human again.

RC: Like me, you have written books in genres that some people consider overdone (Me: zombies, You: vampires, etc). How do you defend yourself from this sort of accusation?
: I get comments or complaints about the oversaturation of the genre all the time, always from people who HAVEN’T read the books yet. Everyone assumes I’m either raking in the dough because “that’s big right now,” or I just chew up and spit out clichés to earn a buck. Or both. But I just tell them the truth: I always said I wasn’t going to write an urban fantasy unless I thought of something I hadn’t seen done before. When I came up with the idea of the null, I finally felt like I had something original to say. This is my favorite genre to read, and the amazing thing about it is that people keep coming up with fresh approaches.

RC: How long did it take to get published? How did it feel?
MFO: It took about a year of shopping Dead Spots around before my agent sold it to 47North. I found out a few days before Christmas, 2011, and nobody could top that present. (I think my second-best gift was a Kindle.) It felt very vindicating. Deciding to be a writer is like slowly edging out farther and farther out into a fog. There’s no guaranty you’ll get anywhere. I felt like the years of struggling to grab as much time as I could for writing were finally worth it.

RC: When someone is driving slow in the passing lane and you’re in a hurry, how do you react?
It takes a lot for me to get really upset by someone’s bad driving. If the slow lane is clear, I just shrug and go around. I can’t even say I did things differently when I lived in LA, because during my first week at USC, they told us that one third of LA drivers keep a gun in the car. I still don’t know if that was true, but it sure makes you think twice about using that horn.

RC: Are there any particular themes that you like to explore in your books?
A writer named Daryl Gregory once said at a conference that he always thinks he’s being so creative and original, and then he realizes he’s bringing many of the same themes and histories to each new work. That happens to me, too. Dead Spots was the second novel that I completed, and by the time I started Trail of Dead it occurred to me that my heroines always think they know exactly where their lives are going, and then their paths take a sudden sharp turn. Just like me – I got a degree in film, and was planning to be a TV showrunner in LA. Then, suddenly sharp turn. So I like to look at what people become when they can’t be who they planned.

RC: What authors have influenced you most?
MFO: Jim Butcher and Joss Whedon come to mind first. Laurel K. Hamilton when I was young, before the Anita Blake books got so…er…explicit. I read the first five or so Anita books at a formative age, and they blew my mind.

RC: Coffee or Coke?
DIET Coke. I have a problem. It’s been confirmed by medical professionals. I drink tea in the morning, too (coffee makes me yak), but it’s just so I can pretend I don’t have a problem. I’m not fooling anyone.

RC: You’re a Wisconsin girl who went to LA. Can you tell us a little about that and talk about the differences between the two?
What difference? I don’t know what you’re talking about. No, I moved from a small town (13,000 people) in northern Wisconsin to LA for school when I was 18. It really defined the whole concept of “culture shock.” My upbringing was very sheltered and safe, which was great in one sense, but then LA kind of knocked me for a loop. I ended up loving it while I was there, but I’m not sure I could go back now that I have kids. Madison, Wisconsin is a happy medium because it’s a small city where I can see indie movies, get decent sushi, and afford a house with a backyard. I visit both my hometown and Los Angeles whenever I can, though.  I’m always happy to go, and always happy to come back.

RC: Twizzlers or Chocolate?
Chocolate. I hate being the stereotypical woman who loves chocolate, but what are you gonna do. I also don’t know anything about cars and I have a history of bursting into tears when yelled at by an authority figure (which is why I no longer recognize any authority figures). But hey, spending too much time worrying about not being a stereotype is just letting the people who care about such things win.

RC: What advice do you have for writers trying to publish their first book?
Never sit down at a table that you can’t walk away from. First-time authors have choices now. At the same time, no matter where you are in the industry, be prepared to market the hell out of yourself. For me, writing is necessary – I feel itchy if I go too long without doing it. But marketing is a job. That I sometimes enjoy.

RC: Paper or plastic?
Paper. I’ve come to reluctantly accept that my four-year-old likes crafts.

RC: How do you find time to write with children and a full-time job?
Well, now that I’m on book three, I can get a babysitter to come a couple of afternoons a week. I also have a loving, gracious spouse who wants to read the books faster than I can write them. Excellent babysitter and book-loving spouse, those are the keys to any success I have.

RC: When the zombies rise up, what is your plan of action?
Surrender? I would not survive the zombpocalypse; I have too many health problems. I am literally incapable of running, for example. So I’d probably just do whatever I could to make sure my kids were safe, and that someone was helping my husband raise them. I have two girls, so he’s definitely going to need some advice in the teenage years. Maybe I could quick set him up with a track star before my inevitable demise. Sarah Polly did that in My Life Without Me AND she starred in Dawn of the Dead, so there you go.

Melissa Olson was born and raised in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and studied film and literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. After graduation, and a brief stint bouncing around the Hollywood studio system, Melissa proved too broke for LA and moved to Madison, WI, where she eventually acquired a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee, a husband, a mortgage, a teaching gig, two kids, and two comically oversized dogs, not at all in that order. She loves Madison, but still dreams of the food in LA. Literally. There are dreams. Learn more about Melissa, her work, and her dog at www.MelissaFOlson.com.



Nostrum: Episode 7 Released!

***Warning: This post may contain spoilers for episode 7 of Nostrum. If you have not read episode 7, proceed with caution. ***

Toothpaste as plot. Possibly the worst analogy I have ever made.

Episode 7 was released last Tuesday. Seven. How has it gone by so quickly? There is only one episode left, and that episode is a *doozy*. And by doozy, I mean, twice the size of a normal episode. Writing serials is, as I’ve mentioned before, a crazy way to tell a story. It’s great in many ways, but it requires a lot of calculation and pre-planning. There are times when I say to myself, “I have to make sure to wrap that up in the future.” But sometimes there are too many of those, and they get pushed forward like toothpaste in the tube, a bulge of loose ends that sweeps along until I am left with only one episode in which to deal with them. And those loose ends need to be dealt with at their own pace and given freedom to sprawl and affect the rest of the story. If I were writing a standard novel, I could go back and tie up the ends a little earlier. But in serials, there is no back. There is only ever onward. So, in Nostrum’s case, I had to basically make a ninth episode and include it in the eighth. Which I don’t think anyone will be too upset about. And, just a side note, I loved episode 8. It’s one of my favorite episodes in the two books.

But this post is not about episode 8, it’s about episode 7, and an awful lot happened in episode 7. I’ll start with something fun first, then get into something a little more serious. And what’s more fun than boats sailing through a meadow? (And no, that’s not a metaphor, you perverts). (Although I suppose that *is* more fun). (Okay, so maybe it was a subliminal metaphor). (But watching actual sails in an actual meadow is pretty fun too). (Yeah, I’m getting old).

Edward was mystified by sails that seemed to cut through farmlands, and I was equally mystified when I saw them. Yes, the phenomena is real. The flat landscape of Norfolk lets you see ship sails in the distance, even though there seems to be no water anywhere. The result? Have a look below:

Crazy, huh? Well, I thought so. And so did Edward. The ships are sailing through channels, like the one in the small image below, but from a distance it’s impossible to tell. They seem to be tunneling through the earth. Quite cool.

Saint Benet’s Abbey isn’t quite as cool. Not anymore. There isn’t much left of it. For some odd reason, a mill was built on top of the gatehouse ruins. I would probably rant about this bastardization of beautiful architecture, but the mill is probably the only reason any of the gatehouse remains at all. Have a look below to see what I mean.

Just a mill. Nothing more. No secret beautiful architecture here.

Okay. Maybe a little bit of secret beautiful architecture.

Yeah, so when I said the mill was built over the gatehouse, it wasn’t another metaphor or anything. Tim Pestell, author of “St. Benet’s Abbey: A Guide and History,” states that the masonry footings of the gatehouse probably gave the mill a much more stable base and allowed the new structure to be built higher than most mills in the area. But it still looks really weird.

From what is left of the gatehouse, you get a real sense of the beauty that if once possessed. There are empty niches where statues once stood and worn carvings on all of the stone work. The image below left shows a lion at the top right corner of the gate.

A carved lion on the arch.

Some of the ruins of St. Benet’s.

Queen Elizabeth’s cross.

The rear arch of the gatehouse.

As I mentioned, there’s not much left of the abbey itself. Just ruins and a cross where the high altar once stood (the cross was a gift from Queen Elizabeth II). Note the sail cutting through meadows in the background of the cross image below.

Okay, so on to the more serious part of this blog post. I want to talk a little about the leper plaguers in the abandoned city of Norwich.

When writing The Scourge books, I have always tried to be as accurate as possible, and to present the fictional additions in as realistic a way as I can. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

I have had countless conversations about the Red Plague of Edward’s England. In fact, I have developed an entire pseudo-science on the plague, mostly with the help of my circle of writer friends. One of my friends is a toxicologist. Another writes for the medical industry. The rest are clever chickens with great imaginations. One day I will record our conversations about zombies and release it as a podcast.

I think I saw one of these growing on a milk glass my son left in his room for a week.

Through these clever friends (and a bit of research) I determined that the Red Plague travels through the body’s lymphatic system. In lepers that are susceptible to this sort of plague, this causes a big problem. Why? Because studies have shown that lepers have inflammatory cells traveling through their lymphatic systems. They’re called lymphocytes and histiocytes and when they encounter the viral cells of the Red Plague, they become active. And active inflammatory cells in the lymph nodes means severe swelling. The result? Conditions like proteus syndrome and neurofibromatosis, both of which can affect bone structure and create horrible tumors and swelling, and both of which are embodied in the term “elephantiasis.”

I looked at many sad, sad images of poor victims of these diseases while writing episode 7. I thought about posting a few here, but the fact is, what I write is fiction; the images I looked at were of real people. I don’t want to hold these people up for display on my blog, even though they are on the Internet. If you want to see the effects of the disease, they are a quick Google search away.

I will say that these poor people have deformities that shock us in modern times, so can you imagine what people of the 14th century would have thought? In the middle ages, religion was the overwhelming force in the world. Most thoughts were usually filtered through the lens of the Church. And if you saw these unfortunate people, you probably would not have pitied them. You would have feared them as demons.

I hope you enjoyed Episode 7, and have enjoyed Nostrum so far. It has been an absolute thrill to write it and to speak with so many wonderful readers. Please feel free to comment below, positive remarks and constructive criticism are always welcome!

Happy reading!




Guest Post: Sci-Fi Author Anne Charnock

Anne Charnock is a fellow 47North author and a wildly interesting person! Her debut novel, A Calculated Life, will be released on September 24. The novel is set in the later 21st century amid a dystopian culture of class-separation and corporate power. Please do yourself a favor and pre-order it as I have. It will be a wonderful addition to 47North’s science fiction catalog. And now, here’s Anne:

If you put Roberto’s novel The Scourge alongside my novel A Calculated Life you’d think they had nothing in common. The Scourge is clearly set in medieval days whereas my story is set in the near future. But there’s a surprise connection between our novels. My main character Jayna works for a mega-corporation that predicts social and economic trends (okay, so far we’ve no common ground). But in an early key scene, Jayna has a meeting with her bosses – Olivia and Benjamin – in the company boardroom, and a large poster draws Jayna’s attention:

 “Jayna’s eyes were flicking between Benjamin and the image on the wall behind him, a large poster of Jesse Recumbent; a rare and monumental, oak sculpture from the medieval age, of immense significance according to Olivia. Jesse lent gravitas to the boardroom, Jayna thought, even though he was lying down. She wondered what he’d make of Mayhew McCline and its world of trend forecasting and economic modelling. Jayna changed the subject. ‘Any news about Tom?’” 

Why did I want to include Jesse Recumbent? Well… I’ve always felt that when we look at very old photos of our hometowns, we usually spot something familiar. Often it’s just the surfaces of things that have changed– rough tracks and cobbled lanes have become asphalt roads, shop signage has been modernized. Likewise, I feel that if we time-travelled to the future we wouldn’t feel totally lost — the past would be visible if we looked closely. In other words, the past and present co-exist. And I wanted to emphasise this point not only in the way I described details of Jayna’s city, but also by showing that people still held a fascination with their very distant histories. Hence… Olivia and her amateur interest in Medievalism.

Recumbent Figure of Jesse, Tate Britain, Image and Idol: Medieval Sculpture, 2001

During my art studies, many moons ago, I researched early Italian painting (and that entailed forays to Italy to see the frescoes in Florence, Siena, Padua — such a hardship!) What really upset me was the knowledge that our own art heritage in England and Wales had been systematically destroyed. This happened between 1540 and 1650 in repeated anti-Catholic assaults on religious artefacts. Only a few paintings and sculptures escaped – Jesse Recumbent being one of the very finest survivors!

In fact, Richard Deacon, who curated an exhibition of medieval art at Tate Britain in 2001, described Recumbent Figure of Jesse (its full title) as “sensational”. This massive oak sculpture normally resides at St Mary’s Priory in Abergavenny in North Wales. (Roberto’s note: There’s another link. Edward, in The Scourge, sees signs of the Virgin Mary everywhere he goes.)  At one time, the sculpture had a bough ‘growing’ from Jesse’s chest with small sculptures of his ancestors. And of course Jesse would have been brightly painted. There are still traces of paint — gold on the angel’s hair, and green on the bough.

The period of greatest destruction fell in Henry VIII’s reign and according to Phillip Lindley in the Tate Britain catalogue, Image and Idol: Medieval Sculpture:

 “By the time of Henry VIII’s death in 1547, the monasteries had been dissolved, the shrines and saints smashed and pilgrimage statues destroyed. Within a few years, almost the entire population of medieval religious sculpture was to be devastated by the evangelical politicians who formed Edward VI’s council. Evidence of a powerful, pent-up desire for change came in outbreaks of unofficial iconoclasm.”

I get a lump in my throat whenever I think of these lost treasures so I guess it’s not too surprising that Jesse Recumbent found its way into my writing.


Anne’s debut novel, A Calculated Life, is a near-future dystopia. It will be published by 47North on 24 September and is available now for pre-order.


Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism; her articles appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, and International Herald Tribune. She was educated at the University of East Anglia, where she studied environmental sciences, and at The Manchester School of Art. She travelled widely as a foreign correspondent and spent a year trekking through Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya.

In her fine art practice she tried to answer the questions, What is it to be human? What is it to be a machine? And ultimately she decided to write fiction as another route to finding answers.

Visit her blog at http://www.annecharnock.com to read her many reports on other writers and their novels.

Norwich Cathedral

Nostrum: Episode 6 Released!

I’m busily hammering at keys, continuing Sir Edward’s journey, but I wanted to take a moment and show you a few images of the things Edward, Tristan and Belisencia might have seen when they traveled to Norwich. Mostly a photo montage here. The interior shots of the castle are not mine.

Thanks again for your continued support! What did you think of episode 6? Feedback is always appreciated, and helps me understand what readers like and what they did not.