October 10, 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Rachel Robins

Meet Ava, the protagonist of Rachel Robin's
military urban fantasy, Ex Nihilo.


Ava Raine

As some of you are aware, I'm an adjunct professor, so seeing various career reps and military recruiters on campus is pretty much the norm since ideally, students are in college to prepare for their future careers.

After the latest job fair, I heard this rumor about a new division in the Army, and then the word "monster" thrown around...I had try and figure out what was up with this. I don't really have answers for you, but I have Ava.

Ava has just too great of a personality to pass up for an interview, and although I couldn't get her to really talk about the "monster division" she's been drafted into, she was game for a good old-fashioned Proust questionnaire.


What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Whatever the problem may be—having no way out. That trapped feeling, where there’s no hope for a better outcome and no way to fix whatever’s broken.

Where would you like to live?
If I were allowed, I think it'd be nice to be back in Phoenix. In a neighborhood not too far from my mom and my siblings. Maybe one of the nicer areas of Glendale or—if I’m dreaming big here—Verado.

What is your idea of earthly happiness?
A thick slice of moist chocolate cake.

The quality you most admire in a man?
Sassy banter.

The quality you most admire in a woman?

Your favorite virtue?
Prudence. But I wish I was braver.

Your favorite occupation?
I remember a time when I used to dance...

Your most marked characteristic?
My scars. Or maybe my walk. It’s hard to say. Either way, you could easily pick me out in a crowd of 50, no problem.

What do you most value in your friends?
I don’t have many. In the few I do have, however, their kindness and consideration. Their willingness to help when I’m in need, like it’s a matter of course. Nothing big.

What is your principle defect?
In body, my right hip. In mind...I'm a coward.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Having your arms and legs hacked off, then being trapped alone in a black abyss and what untouched skin you have is plagued by the sensation of spiders crawling. Where time and space is meaningless, your stomach never gets hungry, and there’s no need to breathe. Where the occasional whisper hovers just beyond the edge of comprehension. Where it’s impossible to sleep, no matter how much you want to. Where there’s no end, no beginning, and no way out. Where you go mad from the silence of it all.

Granted, shit like this doesn't happen often. But you never know. It could. And it would really suck.

What would you like to be?

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mom is. It takes guts to finish raising your best friend’s children, but to have one of those kids end up like one of the freaks? And to still love it anyway—when keeping it means heavy taxation, threatened job security, and the hatred of all your friends and neighbors? I’ve never met a woman more selfless. I hope to be as strong as she is one day.

Who are your favorite heroines?
I dislike the implied sexism in this and the above question.

What is it you most dislike?

Dislike? Not hate? Or Fear? Well, I most dislike sweaty feet. There’s just a whole world of grossness associated with them.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
It embarrasses me to say it, but...I wish I were prettier. Life would just be easier if I were.

How would you like to die?
I should think that we all hope for a quick, painless death. I’m no different.

What is your present state of mind?
Spent—it’s been a rough couple of months.

What is your motto?
Mottoes are hard.


About the Book: When Ava Raine, a handicapped girl, is drafted to join the monster division in the US Army, she decides can’t handle it. But when her denial of her burgeoning abilities and her lack of control are responsible for almost killing two people the way she did to her boyfriend five years earlier, she now must accept the idea that she might not be entirely human and train alongside the monsters around her. Between honing her newfound abilities and Ava’s loosening grip on reality as the result of them, not to mention the sudden appearance of an unintentional victim from her past who wants her dead, she may not make it out alive.

Image (c) Rachel Robins
About the Author: 
Rachel Robins is a crafty one. She writes. She reads. She often meditates upon the many practical applications of unicorn byproducts in her daily life and diet. After all, they are an excellent source of sparkles. Rachel often uses her frequent crafting sessions as fodder for her writing, which comes in a variety of flavors such as urban fantasy, noir, horror, steampunk, dieselpunk, and of course, comedy. Robin Rachels is her sworn nemesis.

You Should Be Reading: Jennifer Loring

Available now from DarkFuse
and Amazon
During my time at Seton Hill University, I met a writer who would significantly shape not only my experiences at grad school, but my own writing: Jennifer Loring.

I met Jenn during my second residency at SHU when we were assigned to be critique partners for each other's thesis novels. It was one of those experiences where right at our initial meeting I felt like something special was happening.

We bonded over fairy tales.

Except Jenn and I bonded over the original stories--the twisted versions that included things like murder, torture, rape, and cannibalism, all combined with elements of the ethereal, magical, and otherworldly.

From my second term until our graduation from SHU, Jenn and I remained crit partners, friends, and confidantes. She's helped me out with my novel The Name and the Key and beyond that, she's been kind enough to blurb me on my freelancing site and has kept her eyes open for any opportunities that may come my way. I hope to someday be able to return the level of kindness and support she's given me. This post is one of many attempts to do so and if Jenn finds her way over here I hope my fangasms don't come across as too creepy.


I am not speaking from a place of friendship. I'm speaking as someone who is very critical and as someone who hates to waste time on crappy writing. I will drop a book at any point in the reading if it doesn't work for me and I have no qualms with purging sellling books to get them off my shelves to keep my personal library a haven of quality.

I have a Jennifer Loring shrine in my iPad, and although I want Conduits to be the first tangible book in my physical library, I am saving that honor for Those of My Kind, Jenn's thesis novel from SHU, which is part of an upcoming four-book deal from Permuted Press (!!!).

Jenn's the type of writer who skillfully uses language that promotes cognitive dissonance, which I personally believe is one of the key definers, if not the actual purpose, of the horror genre. She can describe something as visceral and violent as being impaled, and as gruesome and detailed as she can be with it, she somehow makes it beautiful at the same time. Just when such a scene is on the verge of being unbearable, her prose elevates it and guides you to the next piece in the story.

Jenn also has such a deep awareness of mythic themes and symbols that no matter what's happening on the surface of her writing, her words are actually weaving together a deeper meaning. It feels like the hum of an electric current--it's been there and working all along, but you don't catch it until everything else is quiet.

This is exactly what's at work in her newest book, Conduits:
Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend's sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward. 
Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister's death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit. (Publisher's Description)
I am signal-boosting the crap out of Conduits. Yes, I'd like you to read Jenn's work in Mental Ward, Grimm and Grimmer, and her novella Beautiful Things, but there's something magical going on with Conduits:

  • She’s got a style and a strong authorial pen that makes reading this novella crackle. Whether she’s describing rain falling down a windowpane or the much darker act of deliberately cutting oneself in an effort to control the psychological pain through the physical act of bleeding, there’s a consistent beauty and elegance to her words that really appealed to me. Coupled with that is a wickedly strong story.
--Author Michael Patrick Harris in his review
  • “Conduits” is a book that is sure to keep the reader on edge throughout the story. Loring uses a lot of imagery in the book to express the confusion and fear that Mara is feeling and this also serves to keep the reader from settling into a comfort zone while reading the story. Instead, the reader always has a sense that there is something lurking around the corner, or on the next page in this case, but not knowing what that something might be other than the fact that it is sure to be something terrible. [...] While “Conduits” is a short novella, it is still a powerful story that packs a punch that will leave the reader reeling and thinking about the story days after the last page is read. 
--Josef Hernandez's review for the Minneapolis Books Examiner

I hope one day when I'm not overwhelmed with all things adjunct-related, that I may add my own detailed review of the book to the list. In the meantime, help out the author by reading the book and sharing your own review!