• Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I'm a middle aged woman living in the Midwest. I've been publishing fiction in a variety of genres for about fifteen years. I live with my husband, our two dogs, and our cat. I'm an outdoors enthusiast. I enjoy walking, bicycling, kayaking, and swimming. A lifelong geek, I've been playing rpgs (role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons) since high school. I love food and reading and getting up to no good.
• Do you use a pseudonym and if so, why?
Jessica Freely is a pseudonym. My real name is Anne Harris. I also write YA science fiction under another name. I use pseudonyms for branding purposes, so readers know which genre they're getting when they pick up one of my books.
• What genre do you write in? Why did you pick that genre?
More and more these days, I write m/m erotic romance. I love writing and reading about men being emotionally vulnerable with one another. It's intoxicating. I can't get enough of it!
• What inspires you to write the type of stories that you write?
I'm passionate by nature and my creativity thrives on powerful emotion. I like to write stories where there is a lot at stake for the characters. The closer I can get them to the edge of their capacities, physically and emotionally, the more fun I'm having. My rule of thumb is: the more dire the challenges my heroes face, the bigger and more bountiful the HEA they win in the end.
• How would you describe your writing style? Plotter or pantser? Why?
A story usually begins with an idea for an emotional conflict, or sometimes a line of dialogue. I obsess over it for a while and the idea attracts friends. Eventually the little story knot burns a hole in my hindbrain and I write a sketchy first draft. Then I wonder what in the world I was thinking. I slink off in embarrassment and work on something else for a while. Then I remember something I loved about the story, and I pick it back up and beat it into shape.
• What is your favorite genre to READ?
I don't really have a favorite genre, just favorite authors. Some of them are: Lois McMaster Bujold, Georgette Heyer, Lee Rowan, Alexandre Dumas, William Gibson, Tiranog, Patrick O'Brien, Jan Irving, and Charlie Cochrane.
• Do you have a specific place where you like to write? When, during the day, is your most creative time?
I have an office in my home. It's painted yellow and has a big corkboard with lots of pictures pinned to it. Also my bookshelves are in that room. When I need to get out I go to my local coffeehouse and work there. I'm sharpest at midmorning.
• What’s your typical writing day?
I start writing at 11 am and depending on what else is going on and whether the project is running hot or cold, I work anywhere from two to eight hours.
• Do you have critique partners or beta readers? Why?
Yes! Because I'm a lousy judge of my own work, liable to enshrine the ridiculous and cut the indispensable. I'm too close to the work to be able to judge it dispassionately, so I rely on my beta readers and my editors to bring the perspective I lack.
• Who give you the most support along in your writing?
Oh, I can't name just one person. I'm very fortunate that the people in my life are wonderfully supportive, in general. My family, my husband, my friends and colleagues all offer encouragement on a regular basis, and I'm grateful to them.
• Do you have another job (besides writing)? If so, what do you do?
I mentor graduate students in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction MFA program. I started doing this in 2007 and I find it very rewarding. Our program is rare in that it focuses specifically on genre fiction: romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, young adult, and children's. The student's thesis is a market ready novel manuscript. We offer a very hands-on, practical approach to writing commercial fiction and that's something quite unique in the academic world.
• What’s your take on the future of ebooks and epublishing?
Oh, don't get me started! Ask anyone who knows me -- this is my favorite topic of conversation. I love the epublishing business model as practiced by Loose Id and other erotic romance ebook publishers. As an author who works in both epub and print, I see significant advantages to the ebook way of doing business, both for authors and readers.
To me the most crucial aspect of publishing is price. In order to remain a vibrant, active form of art and entertainment, books have to be cheap enough for readers to buy on a whim. Twenty-five dollar hard covers can't offer that. Even $8 paperbacks give one pause. The way to bring books to readers at price points in the $5 range and make a profit is digitally. I don't see any escaping that. I don't think print will go away, but I think it will continue its current trend toward what Tor publisher Tom Doherty calls "a carriage trade" -- a specialty business. I think the future of mass-market publishing is digital first, print-on-demand later.
• What’s your favorite food?
• Tell me about your latest or upcoming release?
Amaranth & Ash is just out from Loose Id today! It's an erotic fantasy romance set in a rigidly stratified society on another world. Amaranth is a vasai, born with both male and female characteristics and forbidden from sexual relations with any but the ruling class. Ash is a chel, a member of the underclass. Their unlawful passion ignites a rebellion and transforms their world.
• Do you have any releases scheduled for 2010?
My next release is Hero, a reprint of my first three m/m erotic romance stories, Hero, Stay, and Scars, all starring David and Seth. It's a prequel to last fall's Loose Id release, Rust Belt. They take place in my hometown, Detroit.
Hero comes out from Loose Id on July 20, 2010. I'm excited that these stories will be available to readers again.
• What’s your next project?
I'm currently reading for an historical m/m set in vaudeville during the Great Depression.
• Where can readers find you on the web?
Newsletter Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/jessicafreely/?yguid=325478449
I want to mention that newsletter group members receive exclusive access to free fiction not available anywhere else. Currently those who join can read and download Amaranth & Grail, a short story about Amaranth's school days.
In a world where everyone has their place, Amaranth & Ash belong together.
Amaranth is a vasai, born with both male and female characteristics, and a soul that can reach out and touch the souls of others in order to heal them. But a vasai’s services are only for the Elai, and they demand sexual satisfaction as well as healing from their beautiful servants. Frustrated with these constraints, Amaranth wants to use his talent to help those who really need it.
Ash is a chel. Considered devoid of souls, chel are the lowest of the low. Not content with his lot, Ash steals from the middle class pel. One night he’s caught and brutally punished.
A soul in agony calls out to Amaranth from across the city. When he discovers that it belongs to a chel, it only confirms his worst suspicions about the lies of the Elai. Amaranth takes Ash home and heals him, an act of rebellion that could cost both their lives.
Amaranth's compassion for Ash soon turns to passion. Ash treats him like a person, not an instrument of sexual gratification. Neither of them have much experience with mutual pleasure but together they embark on an exploration of intimacy and desire that carries them to the heights of passion and love -- and shakes the very foundation of their world.
At first, Amaranth’s soul was inundated by the collective weariness and boredom of thousands upon thousands of pel souls. He felt like he was suffocating as they crowded in upon him, and he couldn’t even tell one from another. But then someone’s extreme distress flared through the teeming confusion like a pillar of fire. Daily contact with the petty ailments and self-inflicted miseries of the Elai had not prepared Amaranth for anything like this.
The individual was in great pain. It washed over Amaranth like a red wave. This was someone in real trouble. He staggered with the force of it, and reflex made him pull his soul back in to protect himself. But what had he come here for, if not to help? And whomever this was needed help. Amaranth loosed his soul again, sending it out to find the source of this incandescent pain.
Amaranth followed the beacon of distress to a waste culvert deep in Pelon, nearly to the border of Chelon. By necessity, he drew his soul in tighter the closer he got, so that he was not overwhelmed. Now he stood beside the river at the base of a concrete ramp. It sloped upward between stone walls cut into the high riverbank.
Amaranth had heard about these culverts, but he’d never actually seen one. The ramp ascended until flush with the surface of the riverbank. The pel threw their refuse down the ramp so the chel could collect it without the decent, hard-working pel having to lay eyes on them. He supposed it wasn’t so different in Elaion. There, pel workers took the trash down to the footpaths along the river and deposited it in grottoes for the chel to gather.
But not everything in this culvert was refuse. Huddled behind a wooden pallet halfway up the ramp was the battered consciousness that had called out to him across half of Harken’s Landing. Amaranth stepped forward, his foot scraping on the damp concrete.
* * * * *
The sound of a footstep awakened Ash instantly. Adrenaline pumped through his system, sharpening his senses. No. He couldn’t let himself be taken again. It would kill him -- if he wasn’t dying already. Panicky, he searched about for a weapon of some kind, anything. His gaze fell on a discarded pair of scissors. He didn’t even know if he’d have the strength to wield them, but he was going to try. What the fuck did he have to lose? Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d die fighting.
* * * * *
Amaranth felt the soul of the person huddling behind the pallet flare to wakefulness. He -- and it was definitely a he -- was ablaze with pain and rage now. Instinct made Amaranth draw his own soul in to protect him from the agony. But it didn’t do any good. There was just too much of it.
Bracing himself against the emotional onslaught, Amaranth sidled into the culvert along the opposite wall, giving the individual lots of room. In the light of the setting moon, eyes -- and something else -- glittered from between the slats of the pallet. Panic spiked out at Amaranth. What little information he could glean through the general cloud of pain, hunger, and distress made him flinch inwardly. Whoever this was, whatever had been done to him, he was well past the point of being able to distinguish friend from foe. This was going to be tricky.
Amaranth crouched down, his hands extended outward, palms up. In his most soothing voice, he said, “It’s okay. I won’t hurt you.”
The pallet went flying and a scrawny young man launched himself at Amaranth, wielding a pair of rusty scissors.
The thrust was well aimed and would have cost him a scar or even an eye if the body propelling it had been capable of more speed. Amaranth ducked under the scissors. He tucked his face in the young man’s armpit for protection and grabbed his assailant firmly around the waist. The young man let out a scream that raised hair on Amaranth’s body he hadn’t even known he had. Something sharp sliced into his shoulder.
Shit! The scissors!
Amaranth let go of the struggling body with one hand and reached behind him, groping for the scissors. The boy wrenched free and stood. He turned to run. Even with his soul locked down tight, Amaranth had a good idea just how low the brief struggle had left the young man’s limited store of energy. He staggered. Amaranth barely managed to catch him as he fell.
The body was light in his arms, underweight but lithe and sinewy. He was strong for his size, but now all the wire and snap were out of him, and he lay limp and motionless. He was in his twenties, if Amaranth could judge. Rough-textured dark red hair gleamed softly in the dim light. The face was angular -- high cheekbones and a pointed chin covered in rough red stubble. Freckles stood out in sharp contrast to the boy’s pallor.
The physical differences between the castes were obvious: Vasai were tall, slender, with hair ranging from silver to ebony and every shade between, and they possessed both male and female characteristics; Elai were tall as well, though thicker of build and dark haired; pel were of medium height, stocky, and dark haired; and chel were short and thin, with sharp faces and red or auburn hair. With a shock, Amaranth realized that the being in his arms was a chel.
A chel with a soul. Amaranth had felt it. There was no mistaking it. That meant either this was a very special chel, or that much of their world was founded on a lie. He decided to leave thinking on that for another time.
Whoever, whatever this young man was, he needed help. But for a forlorn pair of stained canvas shoes, he was naked, shivering even in unconsciousness. Kneeling on the damp concrete, balancing the limp form in one arm, Amaranth swept off his cloak and wrapped the too-thin body in it. He got one arm under the knees and the other behind the shoulders and lifted him up, cradling the chel against his chest for extra warmth as he strode out of the culvert and up the path along the riverbank, back toward Elaion. What, precisely, Amaranth thought he was doing bringing a chel into his home, he didn’t give himself time to wonder about.