Today on the Paws 4 Thought we welcome fantasy and horror writer, Jen Ponce. Jen is the author of several novels including Blood Curse, The Bazaar and Bug Queen. She has a story in the Dragon’s Rocketship fantasy anthology, The Scribes Journal and in Sins of the Past. Welcome Jen. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My mom taught me the most important thing I’ve ever learned: to love books. For me, loving books also means writing them, so that I can share my passion with others. Books mean escape, emotion, adventure, learning, and open-minds to me.
In addition to reading and writing, I work as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I am a feminist who is learning more about what that means every day. I have three amazing boys who teach me a lot about love and life and laughter, and I have a great extended family. I’m also very lucky to have great writer friends who I’ve learned so much from.
When did you start writing?
I started writing in sixth grade with my friends Kathy and Becky. Kathy and I wrote an eclectic mix of sci-fi and absurdity: My Science Teacher is an Alien was one. Becky and I wrote romances, often featuring rakish pirates and heroines who seemed an awful lot like their authors. The coolest thing is I’ve taken some of those early characters and rewritten them into current projects. Patrick, aka Patch, was my pirate character and you can find him in my vampire novel Blood Curse (along with his brothers.) Sam, the hardboiled detective I wrote with Kathy, has his own small place as a reporter in an unfinished novel of mine. Remembering those past stories helps honor who I was as a writer. (Plus it’s fun.)
Who are your favorite authors?
That’s a hard one because I read in so many genres. What one author does well in horror, another does equally well in fantasy. Stephen King is always a favorite because his stories talk to my soul. Faith Hunter is another fave because her Jane Yellowrock series is so engrossing and features a kick ass woman main character. My fellow authors in the Scriptorium are also favorites of mine because they are each brilliant in their own way.
What attracts you to horror and fantasy?
Horror and fantasy both hold terrors, but they are the manageable kind. I can control those experiences. It’s the real world that is truly scary, in that it is utterly mundane and full of insanity all at the same time. In horror, there’s meaning behind the violence—if it’s good horror. In real life, there’s often no meaning at all, or none that can be easily extrapolated. In fantasy, there’s always hope, even in the darkest stories: hope for a savior, hope for a magical solution, hope for redemption. In real life, there are no guarantees for a happy ending. There are no magical fixes. I’m drawn to horror and fantasy because it gives me a place to scream, to cry, to be scared, to be joyful, in the safety of the story.
What is your favorite of your books?
This is so hard. They each have taught me a lot about being a writer. If I pick one, will the characters from my other books rebel? If they rebel, what happens to my brain? If I die of an aneurysm, I am totally coming back to haunt you. Just saying.
With that caveat, I’m going to say my favorite book is the one I haven’t written yet. The ones I’ve written sit on spotlighted podiums in a vast display area in my head. They have been formed and shaped and are now real. I love them but now that they have “The End” written in them, they are finite. The books I haven’t yet written expand like the universe in my head. They are potential and possibility. They are what-may-be. Grabbing the ideas out of the ether, pinning them, squirming, to the page. Shaping their glistening bodies, paring off a bit of flesh here and sewing on an appendage there, that’s what I love. Once they are done, someone else can adore them or hate them as they wish.
Tell us a bit about your story in The Scribe’s Journal?
You’re So Vein is a silly little confection about a narcissist named Jack who is in a relationship with a vampire named Molly. She wants him because he’s pretty and he wants her because she thinks he’s pretty. It’s a match made in heaven, eh? At least until Molly confesses her vampirism and gives Jack a demonstration that changes him forever.
What do you like to do to relax?
I read or crochet. Sometimes I take long baths because they help me tease free story ideas and help me mend plot holes.
Tell us about your story in Sins of the Past?
The Beast of Alkali Lake centers around a woman named Honoria who married without her father’s permission. She and her husband fled West and settled in the Panhandle of Nebraska. The Beast of Alkali Lake is based on the legend of the monster that allegedly dwells in what’s now called Walgren Lake near Hay Springs, (the town I grew up in.) The story was going to be a psychological piece about a woman being driven mad by the wind—a distinct possibility in Western Nebraska, let me tell you. Then her husband opened his mouth and began talking, and I heard the reckless disdain in his voice, and the Beast raised its hoary head and wanted a piece of the action. Since I like oogy monsters, I obliged.
So what’s next? What are you currently working on?
I’m almost finished with book three of my urban fantasy series. I’m editing another urban fantasy that I plan to release in four parts, a light romance, and a steampunk sexy-adventure-time novel that’s going to be part of a mixed-author boxed set. Finally, I’m writing a series of spidery short stories full of horror and silliness and fantasy that I will publish as a collection later on this year/early next year.
How can readers connect with you?
People can find me in lots of different places. The easiest thing to do would be to visit my website at: www.JenniferPonce.com. You can find links for Facebook and Twitter there, as well as find updates about the books I’m working on or those I have available for purchase.
Want to read a little of The Beast of Alkali Lake? Sure you do!
The lake’s surface rippled, water choppy from the push of the ever-present wind. Honoria held her palms flat against her skirts as she stood near her husband and wondered, not for the first time, why she had followed him into the wilderness west of the Mississippi.
“See, Honoria, darling? There is a place for us to swim here.” Donovan looped his arm around her shoulder and smiled down at her, memories in his eyes of their illicit meetings at the lake back east. Warm summer nights and clear water. His hands on her in ways that made her blush to think on it.
“It’s not the same.”
“Nothing is the same, my sweet. That’s why it’s all so wonderful.” He nuzzled at her neck, obviously wanting her to forget the tiny dwelling made of dirt that they would be living in for the next five years and the work it would take to ready the land for planting. Wanting to forget her father’s threats to kill him.
“The smell is atrocious,” she said, wrinkling her nose at the rotting vegetal smell. “I wouldn’t put a toe in that dirty water.” Besides the smell of decay, there was something about the place that made Honoria shiver. Which was ridiculous. The lake was banded by cottonwood trees and, beyond, the rolling grasslands of the plains. Nothing sinister, nothing shadowed or hidden. Just water, sand, and trees. Still. She didn’t like being near the water and knew she would never get in it and said so.
“You might change your mind in the heat of the summer.”
A gust of wind tossed her skirts, nearly knocking her sideways and tearing her hair from under her bonnet. The bonnet itself fluttered and flapped, its pretty laces and bows already fraying from the blasted breeze. “I won’t change my mind,” she said, realizing it was the same thing she’d said when she first told Donovan she wouldn’t leave everything behind to stake a claim in the middle of nowhere and look where she was now. “I mean it,” she added, as if that would make all the difference.
“We’re free, here.” He tapped her chin with his knuckle. “Eh?”
She hated when he treated her like a child and she jerked her chin away. A brief flash of temper between his eyebrows, quickly gone.
A sharp smile. “Fine,” he said and stripped off his shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“Showing you there’s nothing to fear.”
Shoes next, then pants, until he stood naked as the day he was born. Her cheeks heated as she watched him stride to the water and hesitate at the edge. “You’ll catch your death.”
He tossed her a grin over his shoulder then into the water he went, gasping at the chill. “It feels like a thousand hands are grasping at my legs.”
Her stomach twisted. “Donovan, this has gone far enough.”
He didn’t listen. Of course he didn’t. When did her impetuous, beautiful husband ever listen to reason? When he was up to his waist in the murk, he dove under. Honoria’s heart leaped into her throat and stayed there, pounding, choking her as time passed and he did not surface. He was playing a trick. She knew that much. Knew he could hold his breath for a long period.
A bird called off to her right, singing to its absent mate. Honoria didn’t know how birds made nests here. Why their mud and wattle homes weren’t tossed out of the trees and dashed to the ground, broken.
It had been too long. She strode to the water, careful not to let it lap over her toes, and stared hard at the place he’d gone under. “Donovan!”
A thrash of water to her left. Then Donovan broke free, blowing water from his mouth, coughing. She stood trembling in fear and anger as he waded to shore. Lake weed clung to him, wrapped around his neck, his arms. One piece tangled about his ankle. She kept herself from going to him, wanting him to explain himself, wanting him to struggle free himself and admit his wrong to her.
He stood shivering on the bank. She asked, “What happened?”
“Tangled. Damn lake bottom is a forest of growth.” He coughed and then spit, a brown, phlegmy wad that made Honoria sick to look at. “Sorry, wife. I guess you were right. I almost did catch my death, though not in the way you meant.”
They went home, Donovan still shivering despite having his dry clothes back on his body and that night she nursed his fever that burned bright and hot through him. Later, as she wrung out cool water from the bucket she’d drawn from their well earlier that day, drawn by hand using muscles she’d never used that way before, she heard a sound that chilled her blood. She’d left him to go outside the tiny sod structure they called home and saw that the stars were gone. A low rumble of thunder hailed an early spring storm and wind tugged incessantly at her hair. To the east, in the direction of the damnable lake, rose a thick, dense fog. It steamed into the air like a living thing and from its depths, she heard a roar. Seconds later, the ground shook, knocking her off her feet to tumble against the rough sod bricks.
A louder crack of thunder and then it began to rain. The wet chased her inside, cold, afraid, and grateful for the thick walls of the soddy.
She prayed that whatever it was roaring from the lake stayed there and she vowed to make sure Donovan never visited again.
Want to read more? Pick up a copy of Sins of the Past.