Hello all and welcome to our last author interview for 2018. It’s been fascinating and full of learnings for me, so thanks to all who took part.
The first thing you need to know is that A.N. is an amazingly patient individual who graciously sat through three intro takes because I kept botching things.
And there’s still of few goobies in there. It’s me, folks, all me.
I’d like everyone to stand up and give A.N. Mouse a big round of applause for taking part in our exciting adventure.
A.N. is a Canadian indie author living in Milwaukee who primarily writes fantasy work with various side dishes: adventure, romance, dystopia. A.N. is also an academic editor, though that’s less of a love and more of a ‘what pays the bills’. Lastly, A.N. is part of an author coalition called Words After Dark, and we have a lot of fun putting out books and connecting with readers.
A.N. and I talked about his recent marriage, his work with Words After Dark as editor, publisher and author, co-authoring with his husband, Ace Layton, falling in love over the internet, Milwaukee, the Niagara region of Canada, being an academic editor, being a content editor, working with other authors to improve their work, the differences between academic and fiction editing, different ways of being accomplished, the benefits of networking with other authors, looking at one’s writing critically, getting characters onto the page, conventions, hosting panels, going all out celebrating the release of one’s first novel, bad things happening because that’s how one makes plot, cosplay and more.
You can find links to A.N. Mouse ‘s books on the right or at the bottom of this post (depending on your device). You’ll also find links to A.N. Mouse’s sites underneath the video.
An excerpt from A.N. Mouse’s The Cliff’s Edge
The weather was unseasonably cold. The storm had moved in as Blake had hit town. Rain, cold as ice, fell down in great waves over the land. The rain was expected. The plunging temperatures were not.
Blake could not find it within themself to care.
Though it was mid-day, the sky was night dark and heavy. Thick rain meant that there were no torches lit along the street. They did not need the light to navigate, though the streets were foreign to them. Booted feet found their way down cobblestone roads without erring or falling.
Not that it would have mattered. Seconds out of cover already meant that they were soaked through. The pack they wore was heavy, the straps digging into their shoulders, but they did not slow. Soon road gave way to flooded dirt path, which gave way to nothing. Whatever shelter the jungle might have provided was negated by how long it had been raining. The wind meant that great swaths of water would roll off of the wide leaves over their head. The same wind was cold and biting and numbness sank into their body.
It was kind of a relief, actually.
But still, one foot in front of the other. There was no path here, but they didn’t need one. The way had been described to them, over and over until they could recite it back. Anywhere else, they could have hired a guide. But no one would take them where they wanted to go,
So, Blake went alone.
The mountain loomed in the dark. A crack of lightning drew its stark outline against the black sky. Blake did not need to climb the mountain. What they wanted was not at its peak.
At the base of the mountain there was the entrance to wide cave. Inside was even darker than the storm. At its entrance there were offerings. No one would admit to coming to the cave, but people still did. Whether to ask for blessings or curses, Blake didn’t know, and wasn’t interested in learning. People looked for help wherever they could find it. They were not interested in judging their actions.
One step into the cave and the quiet was shocking. Though the storm raged on their heels, it was no longer in their ears. Nothing but their own shivering breaths and heavy pulse.
What they had sought was in this very darkness.
It wasn’t what Blake had crossed the ocean for. Blake had come to this country looking for solace. For relief. Of course, there was none of that to be found anywhere in the world. But this…
This might solve their problem anyway.
They took a deep breath, and started walking into the cave.
Soon, they could see nothing. Not their hands in front of their face, not the storm behind them. They heard lightning crack again, but they saw no sign of its light. There was nothing but the sound of their steps in the dark.
And still, they kept going.
Eventually, something flickered in the thick shadows. Blake assumed it was a hallucination. A trick of their own mind. It was silly to think that they would be tricked by the dark. They were as comfortable in shadow as in light, but their mind was not what it once was.
It was not a trick. There was a flash of crystalline brightness. And then another. Soon, they were not separated. They coalesced into a flame of cold, blue light. Demon fire.
So, Blake reasoned, the rumours were true.
They stopped, still some distance from the fire.
The sound of their own voice echoed back to them. How big was the area they were in? How low was the ceiling? How wide were the walls? They could not tell. It hardly mattered.
The light was not strong enough to do anything but reveal more darkness. Blake did not need it to do any more than that.
“All alone?” A voice asked.
Blake closed their eyes. They were useless here, and there were other ways to see.
The voice was low and feminine, sweet and quiet. In short, it was anything that someone would want to hear after walking for hours in the storm.
“Yes.” Blake answered. Nothing else.
“You look so cold…” They couldn’t see her move through the dark, but they heard the shift with her voice. Subtle. She hadn’t moved far. Nothing more than a few steps to the right as she spoke.
“I can hear the storm. It sounds so scary… and yet, you are here.”
“I came to find you.”
Blake spoke without hesitation. They were fluent in lies, could lie as well as they could breathe, but there was no point here. They had no need to hide this.
And it earned them a laugh. “To find me?” She asked. “What is it that you seek?”
“Nothing.” Saying the word felt like a weight off of their shoulders. “I want nothing from you.”
They expected another laugh. Surely it was a laughable notion. Who sought out an imprisoned demon for nothing? But she did not laugh. Warm fingers brushed Blake’s cold cheek. They could barely feel them.
“Who are you?”. Those same fingers, over their wet skin dipping, under their soaked collar, brushing against their neck. Blake didn’t step back, didn’t pull away from her touches or show discomfort at her motions.
They stood, quiet and unmoving, and answered her question. “My name is Blake.”
“Well, Blake… what’s a young man like you doing out in a storm like this?”
Her voice made them want to answer. Even if they had meant to stay silent, even if they had wanted to fight, there was something soothing and compelling in her voice that would have wrung the words out of them anyways. But, Blake did not come here to be silent.
“I’m not a man.” Blake said.
And it was true. The short hair and squared shoulders did not a man make.
“Truly, then… you are a very handsome woman.” And there was no insult in her voice, only warmth and the hint of a smile.
Blake couldn’t feel their lips, they were long frozen and numb. Still, they managed a hint of a smile themselves.
“I am not a woman.”
It was a syllable almost more felt than heard. No disbelief in it. Affection, if anything, and surprise. Her hands were on their shoulders, fingers tightening in the soaked fabric.
“What are you, then?”
And Blake had heard that question before, asked with very different intonation. Not all of them had been bad. Truthfully, there were stranger things in this world than Blake. The demon’s tone was curious, and Blake could feel how close she was.
“I’m an assassin.” They answered. The same way they always answered.
She laughed again.
“Well, my dear assassin…. What brings you here to find me?”
“Grief. Unspeakable grief.” And with those words, Blake felt the raw feeling in their throat, as though they had been crying. They had cried so hard and so long, and that feeling never seemed to leave. No sooner did Blake start feeling any of themselves than it was back, immediately present and impossible to ignore.
“This is no place for a broken heart.”
“Are you not in search of them?” Blake asked. “Is that not how the story goes? You will have your freedom when you possess the heart of a human.”
“So you bring me a broken one.” She laughed. She moved, standing next to Blake, leaning against their shoulder. “Open your eyes, sweet assassin, and see all the hearts that I have.”
Blake did. The fire had grown, and her words were both very true and very literal. Out of the very rock of the mountain, the demon had cut herself shelves, rows and rows of them. On each shelf, a row of hearts. There were more than Blake could count.
“I possess so many, and yet my freedom eludes me.”
There was enough light that they could see her now. The blue of the fire discoloured things a little, but it did nothing to rob her of her stunning loveliness. It was as all the warnings said. She was incredibly beautiful, enough that, for a moment, Blake was without words.
So, they decided to do something other than speak.
They moved, sliding their back from their shoulders. It was waterproof, though their clothes were not. Inside were things they had packed especially for this journey… Though, they hadn’t brought much in the way of food. They hadn’t thought they would need it.
But there was wood. And a blanket. And yes, a little bit of food. Blake set the blanket aside, and set up the wood on the stone floor. Without looking up at the demon, they started to ready a fire.
She bent down to watch them. “What are you doing?”.“It is cold. Do you not feel it?” Blake asked.
She hesitated, but then she answered. “I feel it.”
“This will help with the chill.”
The fire started small, nothing more than a few sparks, but it began to catch. It would build from there. Blake pulled most of their clothes off, thinking nothing of self consciousness. The demon wore no clothes, why would they be concerned? They hung them over the rough rock where they could, letting them drip to dry.
Then, they unfolded the blanket, pulling a corner of it over their shoulder. This whole time, the demon watched them with her head tilted. Curious and interested, with no real idea as to what they were doing.
They held out the other side of the blanket to her. “Here.”
“Here?” She asked.
“For you.” They said, gesturing with it. “Come. It won’t hurt you.”
Not that she had been afraid of that. They were powerless against her, and neither of them laboured under any delusions about the disparity between them.
She did as they did, pulling the blanket around herself, sitting next to where they were, facing the fire.
“Can you eat human food?” Blake asked.
She nodded. “I can.”
It was not what she normally ate. They did not have to ask. They had heard the stories.
But they split the food they had, offering her half. She took it.
“This is not how most adventurers behave.” She said with amusement.
“I am not here to search for adventure.” Blake said.
Adventure had no draw to them. Not anymore. The excitement was gone. The thrill of it had faded into nothing more than tedium. Nothing was exciting. And nothing was terrifying. The colour of the world was gone. The very beauty of it had slipped through their fingers into nothing.
“What kind of grief sends an assassin into the home of a demon, only to offer them warmth and comfort?” She asked.
“The kind that cannot be expressed.” The rain that fell outside was fresh water, cold and clean, but Blake could smell the saltwater of their own tears. A fog around themselves, whenever they breathed. Never far away.
She ate quietly, and eventually leaned against their shoulder. For a while, silence wrapped around them.
“What’s your name?” Blake asked.
She looked up at them with eyes that were beautiful and dark.
“Are you warmer now, Amaya?” They asked.
“Warmer than I have been in so, so long…” She said quietly. “And the food… the food tastes different than I remember.”
“I am sorry that there is not more.” Blake said. “I did not expect to eat it.”
Though they both knew the reason, neither of them said it aloud.
“Your clothes are different from the men who come here to hunt me.” Amaya noted with a sigh. “Has it really been so long that clothes have become so different? And you do not look or sound like they once did.”
“I am not them.” Blake said. “We do not hail from the same home, nor am I here to hunt you.”
“They do not do it out of malice. It isn’t as though I haven’t wronged them.”
“I am not here to pass judgement, not on their traditions and not on you.”
She snuggled close to them. They did not stop her. She was soft and warm and smelled like earth.
“Where are you from?”
“A kingdom across the sea.”
“Is it beautiful?”.The words stuck in their throat. They swallowed and tried again. “Incredibly.”
“Tell me about it.”
So they did. Blake let her lay her head in their lap, her long, dark hair pooling around their legs. Her skin was beautifully tanned, warm in colour though it surely hadn’t seen the sun in centuries.
She closed her eyes, and Blake idly played with her hair. It was as silken as it looked. All the while, they told her about Highwyn, the kingdom across the sea. About the capital city and the empress and the vast rivers, about its port towns and little villages and forests, about the mountains and the people.
Until Blake’s voice started to slow, and their eyes started to slip closed. Amaya sat up, and this time when she touched their face, they could feel the warmth of her touch.
“Lie with me.” She said, wrapping her arms around them and pulling them down into the blanket.
Exhausted, Blake was asleep immediately.
They weren’t sure how long they had rested. Once upon a time, they would know the time of day as soon as they opened their eyes. Their sense of it had been impeccable, born from years of practice.
But grief was a flood that made their senses swim, and so they had no idea what time it was when they roused themself.
When they opened their eyes, the cave was shadowed. Not as dark as the night before. Sunlight came in through some high crack, and filtered dimly down on them. The blanket around them was thick and heavy, and the body under them was soft. Amaya was warm and breathing, comforting in a way that Blake could not articulate or admit.
Amaya moved when they woke, and looked up at Blake with serene curiosity.
“You are still here.”
“You thought I would run.”
“I thought you might.”
“I am not interested in easy ways out.”
“But you are interested in chasing your death.” Amaya sat up, looking at Blake with her head tilted. “That is why you came here. And why you packed so little food. You heard the stories.”
Blake did not look at her then, focusing on extricating themself from the blanket. That done, they went to check their clothes. Dried. And their shoes were resting near the ashes of the fire, dried from its heat.
Still, checking them was superfluous if they never needed them again. Laying them out had been more habit than any kind of intentional planning.
“Are you going to leave, now that I have failed you?” Amaya asked.
Only then did Blake freeze.
“I said I was not here to judge you. That includes any idea of failure.”
“Perhaps I should not eat you. There’s no more harm I could hope to inflict than that which you already carry.”
“Why do you think I came?”
“Because it is easier to die than to live.” Amaya said simply. “No one knows that better than someone who is forbidden from doing either.”
Blake stood before her, clad in the barest of clothes, and eventually they kneeled down to look her in the eye once more.
“Knowing the stories of what you have done. Knowing what you are capable of. Were that my broken heart were enough to free you, I would, for the comfort you have given me.” They said.
She kissed them. It was awkward at first, their positions hardly accommodating the action, but as they moved it became easier. She pulled them back down into the blanket, and kissed them.
For the first time since she had breathed the air of this world, or the first time her feet had touched its soil, this was the first real kiss she had ever given, the first one she had meant. They kissed her back, equal parts passion and bitter, awful grief.
At first they felt so much of each other that they barely felt the magic. It reached its fingers into her untouched heart, wrapped its touch around the ache in Blake’s chest, pulled them closer, made their kiss deeper.
When they stopped to breathe, the change was immediately noticeable.
They both could breathe.
The vice grip in Blake’s chest had eased, if only barely. And the locks, the chains that restricted Amaya were shattered.
“Maybe my broken heart is good for something after all.” Blake breathed, their lips brushing Amaya’s, their words turning into air that she breathed into newly freed lungs.
The curse forbid her freedom until she had a human heart. It said nothing to its condition. If she had won Blake’s, no matter how damaged, she had won her life back.
But, not the same life she once had.
Her own pulse was echoed by one that was so close as to almost be the same, but it was not. Blake, too, suffered the same phenomenon. One heart, but two heartbeats.
Blake kissed her, pulling her as close as their bodies could manage. Two separate lives, but it was no longer that simple. Like having a shadow, something of them had become inexorable.
There seemed to be little in the way of words between them, but that feeling, solid and true and real but at the same time, impossible to describe, remained.
“I’m free.” She didn’t need to test it to know. She felt it to be true. She said it again and again and again, between the kisses that they shared.
And, braced on their arms, Blake looked into her eyes.