Sarah Wendell: Hello there. Welcome to episode number 581 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, and let me tell you how this episode came to be: several years ago Amanda had coffee with Maria Vale at a conference, and Maria mentioned the book that she was sort of thinking about that sounded really cool. Fast forward about five or six years, and Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death is available to read! So Amanda and Maria and I got together to talk about the book, what it’s like to write something that feels so risky and different and comes with warnings about HEA expectations. This becomes a conversation in a large part that is about the Happy Ever After, how it works, and how it’s interpreted by different readers, so I am very curious to hear your thoughts on this episode.
I, of course, will have links to all of the books that we talk about in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast.
And hello to our Patreon community. I have a compliment this week! I love this.
To Michelle: You know how when it’s a little cloudy and in the shade it’s chilly, but then the sun comes out from behind a cloud and it’s pretty and it’s bright and it warms you instantly? That is how you make your friends feel every day.
If you would like a compliment of your own or if you would like to support this here podcast, please have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Every pledge helps me make sure that every episode has a transcript from garlicknitter – hey, garlicknitter! [Hey, Sarah! – gk] – and you keep me going week after week. It means a lot that you support the show, so thank you. And hello to Brittni, who is one of the newest members of our Patreon community.
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All right, we’re going to talk about death, candy corn, and witches with Amanda and Maria Vale. On with the podcast.
Maria Vale: Well, my name is Maria Vale. I write about, you know, weird things: wolves, waitresses, death? I’m working on a new trilogy, and I’m just really excited to be here!
Sarah: I am very excited to have you here. Hey, Amanda, who are you?
Amanda: [Laughs] Hi, everyone! I’m Amanda. I have been on the site for a decade? I think eleven years this September?
Amanda: I know, right? [Laughs] I feel like I don’t need to do this anymore, do I?
Sarah: No, people know who you are. I’m just, I’m just playing with you. Okay.
Amanda: I’m the person who puts the sales together –
Amanda: – and that’s really all you need to know!
Sarah: And low key!
Maria: And I’m the person who buys from those sales, by the way. [Laughs] Thank you very much!
Sarah: Listen, I –
Amanda: No problem!
Sarah: I am just as susceptible, and it’s my own damn website. [Laughs] Buying books all the frigging time. I also will tell you, Amanda, I was doing some stat analysis earlier today, and this most, like most popular sections of the site are the main page, the Book Finder and the Book Finder results, every single book on sale for the last week, Whatcha Reading?, and Hide Your Wallet. Like, you have, you have, you have taken over like the top ten most popular pages? They are all Amanda work.
Amanda: We’re just throwing books at you –
Amanda: – that’s really all it is. Like –
Sarah: Well –
Amanda: – and there’s this one and this one!
Sarah: I –
Maria: And everybody’s there to catch them, so, you know –
Amanda: Everyone –
Sarah: And how many of them are there in the last twenty minutes?
Amanda: [Laughs] There’s going to be a lot.
Sarah: All right. So this podcast has come to be because Amanda, you had coffee with Maria, who has told me this was at RT, not RWA, several years ago, and you learned about a book.
Amanda: I think it was when RT became BookCon. It was in New Orleans.
Maria: Right, right.
Amanda: Yeah, it was –
Maria: I still thought of it as RT at the time, but you’re right.
Amanda: Same beast. Yeah! This was the first BookCon, in New Orleans, and I can’t remember how many wolf books had been out by then. I know it –
Maria: I think only two. I think there were only two.
Maria: I think A Wolf Apart had come out, and know they take so long to publish.
Maria: You write them and then, well, you forget about them, and two years later they come out. [Laugh]
Amanda: And I remember I really loved the, those books, and I really loved A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet, and both Maria and Amanda are, are Sourcebooks authors, and so I remember getting coffee with Amanda, and I think she was leaving the Starbucks as Maria was coming in so we could have coffee, and I remember just talking to Maria and having a really great conversation, and Maria mentioned that she had this idea for a book, and it was about Death and this waitress, and she wasn’t sure how it would go in terms of, you know, like, having it get picked up, ‘cause it’s such a deviation from the wolves, and I thought it sounded really cool, and so you can imagine my surprise when, like, years later, probably like six, seven years later?
Maria: It was, you know, I was writing all the other books in be-, in between, so this was one of those things that whenever I found – like my editor was editing a book that I had turned in, and you have these two weeks where you really, you should be getting started on the next one, but you’re sort of like, ugh! Okay, let me have a break, and so you’d sit there and write something else, and this was the something else. And I never really thought of it as, as you said, I never really thought of it as being pick-up-able, because in a way it is a love story, but it’s not a romance, and, and Death as he’s often portrayed in sort of more romantic stories is handsome and strong and all-powerful and swaggering, and my Death was not! My Death was a sort of slim, featureless guy who didn’t fit in among the angels of heaven and didn’t fit in on Earth, and so, you know, he, he lacked some of the alpha male qualities that one expects of the Grim Reaper.
Sarah: I, I always like the idea of Death as someone who’s keeping you company as you go somewhere?
Sarah: They’re not there to take your soul; they’re not there to, you know, rip your soul out of your body or do anything like that; they’re just going to take a walk with you. Or maybe you get to ride in a boat, depending on what legend you’re in.
Maria: Yeah, I, I actually did a series of, about the, my five favorite personifications of Death, and they’re all that. And I think it’s partly because I, my, my education was in medieval studies, which, you know, means that I had –
Sarah: Oh, little obsessed with death.
Maria: – no job. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, little obsessed with death there, too
Maria: Right! Well, and in the 14th century especially, or the, you had, you had everything: you had the Black Death; you had all sorts of things going on; you know, Europe lost half of its population. And so you start to get these personifications of Death in art. You had those that were sort of paired with demons –
Maria: – and were simply evil. Then you had those that were sort of dancers. They were the ones who took your hand and danced you out of life –
Maria: – and they took you out whether you were a king or a pope or a serf. They took your hand and danced that last few lines with you. And I loved that, and I loved – just like I like Death of the Endless from Sandman – I don’t know if you’ve watched Sandman or if you read the comics, but Death of the Endless is a wonderful character, and she’s like that.
Sarah: Wow. So you started talking about this book five years ago with Amanda at a coffee shop, and now it’s here, but it sounds like this was an idea that was not going to let go of you. Like, it sounds like this had been sort of kicking around in what I call the Crockpot in the back of your brain, where you toss an idea back there and then like five years later a whole book comes out? Or like a whole blog! Sometimes that happens – ask me how I know. But, like, it just, you know, you toss things back there, they percolate for a while, and then boom! Here’s a fully formed idea! You should write it down in a hurry. This usually happens when you’re in the shower or driving. Was that the case? Was this an idea that would not let go?
Maria: Yeah! And I wasn’t sure where it was going. I, all I was sure of was two things: one was that Death was this sort of character, and second was that this was about empathy –
Maria: – and about learning empathy, and about the everyday and how glorious the everyday is. You know, often we write about sort of big things; we write about big events and great moral quandaries, and this was about the, the beauty of the everyday, and to me that was really important as, to have that as a part of it. Now, I mean, that makes for slightly weird arc, narrative arc, because you’re not, you’re not really having this huge fight, this huge battle. There is a bit of a battle at the end, but really it’s about teaching a love and respect for the everyday, and so it was, you know, again, odd little book.
Sarah: Was the writing process different for this than your prior books, or was this a very similar process? I’m always fascinated by ideas that are just like, Look, I, I will be born. You have no choice.
Maria: [Laughs] Well, yeah! I, it’s completely different you have, you don’t have deadlines.
Sarah: Ahhh, I like those!
Maria: What is a book that you don’t have deadlines? And that makes all the difference in the world. So I had a deadline with Sourcebooks for the wolf books, and I also agreed to be in various anthologies, or a couple of anthologies, three.
Sarah: That’s a lot of anthologies.
Maria: Right, so you have to write those stories, and that’s a very different kind of story, because you’re having to write something that has a completeness to it in a length that you’re not used to.
Maria: Right, exactly, and so those I had to write, and then I got around to sort of doing bits and pieces of this whenever I could. So it was always, I would have to read it from the beginning again and, and go on from there. So I think it is a very different process when you do not have anybody expecting anything, except possibly Amanda.
Sarah: [Laughs] Yeah, and you know Amanda was going to be like, Where’s the book? I want to see it!
Sarah: So in, in a moment of great awesomeness – I did not plan this – we haven’t actually said the name of the book yet? So we’ve been, we’ve been recording for –
Sarah: – you know, about ten minutes now – I’m sure the finished audio will be shorter – but we haven’t mentioned the book yet, and everyone’s probably like, What’s the book?! Oh my God, just tell me what the book is!
Maria: Okay, the, the book is Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death –
Maria: – and at one point it was going to be called Molly Molloy and the Ragpicker, but Ragpicker is what the angels call him, because his –
Maria: – what he does is not a high status job. So, but I, I, that turned out to be too confusing. I had a couple of people who said that was just too confusing, so I changed it around.
Sarah: All right. So tell me, what will readers find inside Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death?
Maria: Molly is a young woman who’s had way too much experience of death. She’s had, her parents died, her grandparents died, the first love of her life died, and she is sort of tough and wonderful and very resourceful. She ends up in New York and gets a job that pays reasonably well and has flexible hours while she studies to be an EMT, and that job is being a waitress at a restaurant on 34th Street.
Sarah: “Breastaurant,” by the way.
Maria: Breastaurant. Get that B in there!
Sarah: Buh-restaurant. Buh-restaurant.
Sarah: It’s a restaurant –
Sarah: – of titties is what we’re trying to say here.
Maria: That’s exactly – and the first thing her boss tells her is to get a push-up bra because it will pay for itself in tips. So, you know, she’s, she’s physical; she is a very physical being; and then Death comes along and makes a mistake. He wasn’t paying attention, and he takes her grandmother, who is in the hospital. This is not, I’m not giving away anything; it happens –
Sarah: It’s –
Maria: – in the first three pages.
Sarah: This is all, like, earl- – yeah, this is all very early.
Sarah: This is like first chapter stuff.
Maria: So her grandmother’s a shriveled, spiteful, old being in a, in a hospital bed, and he takes her by mistake, and pats Molly on the back because she’s choking on a chicken wing, and in so doing he saves her and she becomes able to see him, to talk to him, and she has no time for him.
Sarah: So much to ask. But I want to start with, with what happens before chapter one.
Amanda: Oh, there was a, there’s a, like a, a warning of some sort of, like –
Maria: Oh yes! [Laughs]
Amanda: – this is, this is not a romance –
Amanda: – so temper your expectations. But you mentioned before, it’s like a love story, so was it kind of tricky given your history of writing conventional paranormal romances that have, you know, the HEA, the courtship, to something that’s a little bit more nebulous?
Maria: Well, actually, the reason I was very particular about this is I got a fair amount of blowback from one of my books, which I considered to have an HEA.
Amanda: I, I know what book you’re talking about.
Maria: Well, I don’t know! Did you, was that an HEA?
Amanda: So, I think every time I talk about this book I’m – was it book three? I can never, I’m so bad with the names.
Maria: Forever Wolf.
Amanda: Forever Wolf. Every time I talk about this book and I have to give it a caveat of like, it is an HEA. It is not the HEA you want as the reader, but it is the HEA that character wants.
Amanda: The definition of a Happily Ever After for that character is exactly what she gets. It might not be what we envision in our own minds or what we would want for ourself or what we typically see, but in terms of living your life happily, what happens in the book is the definition of how the character would want to live out the rest of her life. So it is –
Amanda: – a bit of a, it’s a bit of a mindfuck, for sure, but, like, I can see it from the reader’s perspective, but if you look at it like, this, there was no other way this character would have been happy.
Maria: Yeah. I mean, she may have been content; she may have pulled it off; I don’t know; but, but no, I – and it was set up that way. And, but I did get a lot of blowback from that. So I had people saying, you know, I’ll never read another thing you’ve read and et cetera, et cetera. So I really wanted to be careful. I don’t mean to mislead anybody. But, you know, you’ve got a character who’s immortal and a character who’s not. If you look at it in the long term, it’s not going to end Ever After. And I, you know, I’ve been in conversations about Katrina Jackson’s Back in the Day, which I absolutely, I love that book, and I think absolutely is a romance.
Sarah: Can you give a brief recap for anyone who hasn’t read that book?
Maria: It’s really, because it’s a story that’s being told by a father to his children of the way that the now-deceased mother and he met, and it is gorgeous! The writing is beautiful. It’s not that long – it’s actually, you know, less than two hundred pages, I think – but it’s, it’s very real, and you feel this love. This is the love that lasts; it lasts past a lifetime, and it is then transmitted to the children of that love; and to me that was just, you know, really beautiful. But I have been in, in arguments with people about how this is not an HEA, and I’m thinking, well, okay, so what constitutes an HEA? You all live together to be ninety-five and you die at exactly the same minute?
Sarah: Or you don’t die at all.
Maria: Or you don’t die at all, yep. Right, you both become vampires and it’s all, it’s all good.
Sarah: Or in the, in the, in the mind of the reader, and this is a half-baked thought, so I haven’t really cogitated on this one – I’ll call you at three in the morning when I’ve finished this whole brain idea, but –
Sarah: – once these, once this synaptic pathway is complete – I think for some readers, an HEA comes with the idea that it doesn’t end. That these characters won’t die, and that, because you can go back and reread the book they’re still there, and even if you see them in later books and it’s a romance series, you know they’re fine. Like, even in, like, for example, the, the J. R. Ward series, there’s a regular occurrence of all the wives coming out of the woodwork and all the other dudes coming out, and they have a big, I don’t know, they have a ball or something. I don’t know –
Sarah: – just, they all show up. There are books in the Stephanie Laurens series where the prior characters are all at a house party together, so you see them, and they’re older, but they’re fine. The HEA for, I think, for a lot of readers has no death.
There’s a Kate Noble book, and I will have to look up which one it is, but it’s bookended, front, front and back matter, by, like, the story’s in the middle and it’s bookended by a diary entry from one of the characters, and you realize at the end that this, this diary entry is being written after the partner has died, and so you finish the story, so the story ends, and then it jumps ahead to finish that diary entry. Now, this is perfectly logical, because the last time I checked humans were mortal, and they do die! Like, that is a thing!
Sarah: It does happen; there’s no escaping it. I remember reading that, being like, How dare you break my heart like this? They’re not supposed to be dead; they’re supposed to be Happily Ever After! It’s in the name! There’s no death!
So I think that’s part of it? Even though it is rational and logical because we are not immortal, unless, unless the characters are. Humans are not, so if you’re writing about humans, the Ever and the After is a significant amount of time here is what I’m saying.
Maria: Well, and that’s why we…now have HFN –
Maria: – but that does not seem to include mortality in the –
Maria: – in, in the construct.
Sarah: Love is forever; it’s Ever After! It’s in the name! Yeah.
Sarah: So you’ve decided, all right, you’re going to write a book about Death!
Sarah: I can see why the warning was needed.
Maria: I wanted to, as I said, I wanted it to be about empathy? About he learns empathy because all he’s ever seen of life is that moment when he plucks the soul out of the omphalos, the belly button, and sticks it in a pocket and goes about his business, mostly sort of stealing stuff, eating snacks. You know, this is what he does. But then he’s finally confronted with what life is, and it’s this one particular life, and for him it is an utter miracle, even though she is a kind of extremely mundane character. And he learns empathy, and in the end that has a huge impact on the way – I’ll go ahead and just say that the angels essentially purify souls when they gather them, and in the purifying, everything is erased. It’s meant to make the world better –
Maria: – but in fact it’s a kind of institutional amnesia.
Maria: Is that a good thing, institutional amnesia, or do we need to learn from our mistakes and from what we’ve done and from the things that have been good in our lives and the things that have been bad? And so that’s sort of where this – [laughs] – messing around ends up!
Sarah: I, I think that makes a lot of sense, though, especially because of the idea of how many things we repeat. How many, how many human experiences we keep doing this over and over. Like, how many people drew, for example, a comparison between COVID and the Spanish flu?
Sarah: Right? Like, we, to quote Carl Sagan, “We have traveled this way before. And there is much to be learned.”
Maria: Right. [Laughs]
Amanda: So you’re thinking on like a, a grave scale, and it just reminds me of, like, the repeating of bad decisions of Lewis Black, the comedian, had this routine about candy corn? And every Halloween he forgets how much he hates candy corn.
Amanda: And he’s like, Ooh, candy corn! I’ll try it, sure! And he, like, eats it; it’s like, Ugh, yuck! No! And then like clockwork, every October, Oh, candy corn! Maybe I should give it a try! And without fail he thinks it’s the most disgusting candy, but eats it every single year. I, for one, love candy corn, so not the…
Maria: I have a, I have a story about candy corn because I hate candy corn. So –
Maria: – you can have all of mine.
Amanda: It’s an acquired taste.
Maria: Because it’s basically just sugared wax, right?
Amanda: Yes. Love it.
Maria: A hundred percent.
Maria: So if I poured sugar in a candle and, you know, put it into a funny shape and handed it to you, you’d be fine.
Amanda: Mail it to me.
Sarah: Ah-nom-nom-nom. Oh yeah.
Maria: But I had a friend who liked it, and he said, Ah, there’s nothing like fresh candy corn. I said, Fresh! What is fresh candy corn?
Amanda: Organic –
Maria: There’s nothing about candy corn –
Amanda: – candy corn.
Maria: – that requires fresh…
Sarah: From Whole Foods, yeah.
Maria: And he said, he said, Yes, there is; there’s a difference! So I took some candy corn that came in on my kid’s bucket that nobody was going to eat, I put it in a little Mentos tin and left it there for a year, and the next Halloween, I’d totally forgotten about it until next Halloween shows up. Again, we get candy corn, and I said, Oh, wait! Where’s that Mentos tin? And search around for it, and I get it, and they are shriveled little beans. There is a difference! There is fresh candy corn!
Amanda: So if, but if someone had told me that the world’s supply of candy corn was made in like 1910 –
Amanda: – and we just, you know, we have all we need, I would have believed that as well, just because it is sugar and wax. Like, we, we made all we needed in the early 1900s –
Amanda: – and we just, you know, shovel it out every year.
Maria: All I can tell you is that is a lie! It was not 1910, because one year in a Mentos tin is all it takes to turn that stuff into rock.
Amanda: The More You Know.
Sarah: Okay, just, just so a little behind the scenes: I can’t laugh directly into my mic; it creates too big of a sound; and just now I was bent over on my desk, practically off camera, cry-laughing. [Sniffs] Okay, so now –
Sarah: I really am tempted to call this Death and Candy Corn; that might be the name of this episode.
Amanda: Death and Candy Corn! [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, Death and Candy Corn. [Laughs]
Maria: We can talk about witches too and make it a Halloween.
Sarah: Heck yeah!
Amanda: Halloween episode!
Sarah: I mean, if you want to talk about witches, I am totally down! This is a great topic!
Maria: I, I, I, I’ve been reading a lot of witch stuff. I think, you know, I think it has to do with abortion rights, to be honest.
Sarah: Absolutely, no question; I agree with you.
Maria: And, you know, I read the Alix Harrow The Once and Future Witches. I’m reading the, well, I’m listening to The Year of the Witching as well.
Amanda: So good! I love –
Maria: It’s so good.
Amanda: – Alexis Henderson. So good.
Maria: I’m also reading, ‘cause I, I listen and read, so I listen when I’m, you know, my hands are occupied. And then I’m reading something called The Heretic’s Daughter by a woman named Kathleen Kent, who is actually the umpteenth descendant of Martha Carrier, who was the first witch burned in Salem – or executed in Salem.
Maria: And it is actually pretty terrifying, because you get this, it’s this incredibly claustrophobic sense of community.
Maria: And where any, any misstep can make you end up dead! [Laughs] And so I’ve, I’ve been – and then also for nonfiction, I think I may have mentioned it, Mona Chollet’s In Defense of Witches. Only the introduction is really about witches, but everything else is about how women do not fit, women who do not fit in with a sense sort of of utility –
Maria: – are considered witchy or out of the, out of the norm. So if you’re not fertile enough, if you’re too old, if you’re, if you are not, if you’re not acquiescent, if you’re not – there are all sorts of ways in which you are not useful enough, and then you become suspect. It’s really good.
Sarah: Wow, my brain is like, I need to go and read that now.
Sarah: Which is really interesting, ‘cause I think there’s a couple of major strains of witch fiction right now? There was just an article on Tor.com about the very white supremacist narrative inside a lot of the small-town witch romances?
Sarah: You okay over there? Got a lot of jumping cats over here.
Sarah: That there’s a, there’s a large amount of white supremacist messaging; there’s a lack of diversity in a lot of the towns; and there’s also the whole idea that if you are, if part of the conflict is that you can’t marry somebody who doesn’t have magic blood, okay, that’s miscegenation?
Maria: I, yeah.
Sarah: Yeah, like, ooh, okay! Yikes! So there’s a, there’s a couple of different strains of witch romances, and – witch books especially, witch fiction – and then there’s the kinds that will just absolutely scare the pants off of you.
Maria: Right. And I’m, I’m here for those. I’m here for those, though even, I have to say, sometimes, like this one, this The Heretic’s Daughter is, is making me a little panicky.
Sarah: Yeah. Very anxiety-inducing, but also it’s very anxiety-inducing to currently be a human with a uterus in some states. You know, like, that anxiety is real, and writing that into horror make, and, and into fiction makes a lot of sense.
I do have one question about your book, to go back to it just a little bit. Did you, did you watch Pushing Daisies?
Maria: No, I didn’t.
Sarah: Okay. So Pushing Daisies was a show that was a casualty of the last writers’ strike, speaking of things that we haven’t learned yet, and that we keep doing over again?
Sarah: The last writers’ strike, Pushing Daisies was a casualty of that strike. I don’t think it ever came back, I don’t know if it was ever finished, but the, but the premise of the, of the series – and it’s got Lee Pace, and it’s like Technicolor; Kristin Chenoweth is in it? If you can find it, it is some amazing, visually stunning television. Like, it’s a shame that it didn’t get to finish. But anyway, the premise is that Lee Pace’s character can touch someone and bring them back from the dead, but if he touches them again they will die.
Sarah: And he rescues from death someone that he has a massive crush on, that he has sort of strong feelings for. He brings her back to life, but this means he can never touch her again or she will die.
Maria: Oh, wow!
Sarah: And he also has a, there’s like a pie bakery going on. Like, there are so many elements that you see in that show that you can see spreading into different directions. It’s a very influential show that when you see it you’re like, Hold the phone! That’s where that came from? So there’s a lot of similarity there, I think, because Death is like, Oh! Well, shit, you’re my biggest fuckup and the thing that makes me feel happy. Well, crap.
Maria: Right, and so he has to fight for her!
Maria: He has to, he has to stand up for her. I mean, he has an ally.
Maria: He has one single friend, one single ally, which is Bea, or Miriam, and she, luckily, is a very powerful ally. So she can sort of stand up for him and help him fight against all the forces that are trying to make him off Molly –
Maria: – and fix his mistake. These, he’s got that. But yes, no, there’s this, there’s this constant pressure to fix it.
Sarah: Yeah, because she is a mistake, even though for him she is not a mistake.
Maria: Right. For him she’s a miracle. So, you know, this is – and, and a miracle is a mistake. You know, a miracle is something you’re not expecting.
Maria: Right? So to me a miracle often is a mistake.
Sarah: Was there any particular movies or TV shows or, or media that inspired or influenced Molly Molloy? Other than your history as a medievalist, where death is real, real common.
Maria: Trying to think. I mean, I read a lot of these kinds of books where you have this kind of gentle psychopomp Death. The Book Thief.
Maria: Again, Neil Gaiman. And, oh, and of course Terry Pratchett is just sort of the king of imagination, and his Death is wonderful, is just wonderful, and if you have not read Terry Pratchett then – I envy –
Maria: – anybody who’s not read Terry Pratchett.
Amanda: That’s definitely an author I feel like we’ve seen a lot of, of, like, what’s the one person you wish you could read again for the very first time?
Maria: For the first time, absolutely. But I read him again over and over, and not just sort of the, the big ones? I’ve read all of the Mort ones quite a few – the Mort/Death/Grim Reaper quite a few times, or Reaper Man, rather. But I’ve also read, like, all the, the ones about the young witches who, which are funny! And oh, now I’ve forgotten her name.
Sarah: Tiffany Aching?
Maria: Yes, thank you!
Sarah: Amanda, I would like mad praise for remembering a name very quickly from my memory? Like, that never happens. Amanda is the memory bank –
Amanda: I’m –
Sarah: – not me.
Maria: So good! So good. Yeah, no, Tiffany Aching: I love those books. She, her grandmother, the whole setup –
Maria: – is wonderful.
Sarah: So Amanda, what are your questions?
Amanda: Yeah, I want to, I want to know what’s next! Maria mentioned a trilogy, and I’m –
Maria: So –
Amanda: What,, what can you say?
Maria: Well, what I can say is I haven’t done an elevator pitch, so bad on me, but…
Amanda: I mean, you just have your name and a trilogy, and that’s the pitch. Like –
Amanda: – that’s it for me!
Maria: But the premise is basically that we’ve always rooted for the wrong people in, in Twilight of the Gods. In Ragnarok, the gods are the worst. Because, let’s face it, you have a pantheon which is based on violence. You have four gods of war, a god of songs about the valorous dead. You have a hall that’s devoted to the valorous dead. You actually have two halls devoted to the valorous dead, because Frigg has her own hall of valorous dead, and then you have a field for the valorous dead. So it’s all about war and bloodshed and violence, and to me, the other side is much more intriguing and much more interesting, and I sort of imagine Yggdrasil as a dryad almost who has been tormented by the gods, and she is sick and tired of it. Anyway, it will become clearer when I have an elevator pitch! [Laughs] Gore and greed and gold. It’s not a good basis for any kind of religion.
Sarah: And yet!
Sarah: And yet – speaking of things we have not learned from. Yeah! And if your religion isn’t based on gore and greed and gold, you get blamed for being, being motivated by those things, even though that’s not actually part of the theological underpinnings.
Maria: [Laughs] Yes, exactly!
Sarah: So what, you’re going to get hit with the gore and the gold and the greed; it’s all there. Sorry. Forget it.
What is the next thing that comes out for you? Is it one of the anthologies? Is it a book? What’s next on your publishing schedule?
Maria: I think – well, right now I have a book for an anthology with Jeffe Kennedy and Grace Draven.
Maria: But Grace has been having some health problems, so – it’s, it’s not a secret. It’s not a secret.
Sarah: No, no!
Amanda: There’s a GoFundMe, I think, for…
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Maria: Yeah, there was a GoFundMe and, and – so I think that’s on hold –
Maria: – for right now. I’ve pretty much written it, but I think that should be the next thing that comes out, depending on, on how Grace is doing.
Sarah: So tell us, please, what books are you reading that you would like other people to know about?
Sarah: We’ve mentioned a lot, so if you’re, you’re fresh out of the names of books, that’s okay? I understand.
Maria: No! I, I actually, can I, since I’ve talked about what I’m reading now already –
Maria: – can I just mention a couple of the books that I’m looking forward to? That maybe you guys have already read! And I –
Sarah: I’m sorry –
Maria: – I want to –
Sarah: – we’re not allowed to do that on this show – yes, please!
Maria: I’m really looking forward, Kingfisher, T. Kingfisher’s Thornhedge. I love her books.
Sarah: Ohhh! Yes.
Maria: I really want to read this.
Amanda: So plumped for that one.
Maria: Yeah, so pumped. The Witch King? By Martha Wells?
Maria: Which I have – again, I’ve read none of these, so I’m, it’s not, these are not my recs, but these are things that I’m just sort of thinking, Okay, I may actually pay full price.
Sarah: The Witch King I thought was – so, you know, I’m, I have read Murderbot like many, many times; like, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read –
Sarah: – that series, and so I went in knowing this is not Murderbot, this is not science fiction, this is very much fantasy. I’ve also read the Raksura books, which are –
Sarah: – whoa! fantasies. Have you ever read those?
Sarah: Matriarchal, polyamorous, winged, scaled, dragon creatures.
Maria: Oh my gosh!
Sarah: Who live in trees. Like, it’s a whole thing.
Maria: Okay, full price!
Sarah: It is, it is, it is a whole thing, and I’m like, Yeah, okay! Yep! I, you’ve got me with these winged patriarchal, or matriarchal, polyamorous dragon people. Like, yeah! Let’s do it! Like, I get it. And there’s, there’s one particular, you’re, in, in the Raksura world, you can shift, but most of the time you’re born into a certain type of Raksura, and that is, that will inform the job that you have in the community, and there are some that – basically, it’s a, it’s a lost princess story, and –
Sarah: – the, the characters who are the same as the lead character, they are that type, they will continue to grow and grow and grow until they are frigging mammoth. So there is this one character who is just THUNK! Stomping everywhere, and it, it is wild!
So anyway I went in thinking, okay, I’m going to lean more towards wing-y people than, than robots. The Witch King is, is so interesting because it starts off with a character who is in a box and has no body and doesn’t understand what they’re doing there, and then they have to, like – it’s like the world’s most arduous to-do list: All right, now I’ve got to find a body; okay, now I’ve got to keep the body going –
Sarah: – all right, what body is this? Do, is this body – well, I’ve got to go get another body. All right, how did I end up in a box? Who put me in a box? Who harmed my friend? Like, it’s just this, it, the to-do list just goes, and Martha Wells is so good at writing characters who are really just trying very hard to organize all of this annoying chaos, and I think that’s why I like her books so much? [Laughs] There’s got to be a way, if I tick off this one thing, that people will just calm – nope, nope, here’s another person with a sword. Damn it! Yeah.
Sarah: It’s a, it’s really, really good.
Maria: I, well, I can’t wait to read it. I mean, I don’t think it’s out yet, is it? Or is it –
Sarah: The Witch King? No, The Witch King I’m pretty sure is out.
Maria: Okay. All right.
Sarah: There’s a new, there’s a new Murderbot I want to say November?
Maria: Okay. Okay.
Sarah: Yeah, The Witch King, The Witch King is out as of May 30th of 2023.
Sarah: Thank you, Google! First google of the episode; it’s very late for me.
Sarah: Any other books you want to mention?
Maria: Also – yeah, I should have looked that up, but –
Sarah: Please help me – please tell me all of them.
Maria: Then there’s Godkiller by Hannah Kaner, which looks good to me. It’s a fantasy. And then there’s Clytemnestra by – [thinking noises] I want to remember her name.
Amanda: Is it Jennifer…
Maria: Casati is her last name. Casati, C-A-S-A-T-I. And I have always loved, one of my favorite movies as a teenager was Iphigenia by Cacoyannis, and in the end of that there’s an image of Irene Papas: as the wind blows in, her daughter has been sacrificed for the wind. The wind blows in, and all you see is this one black eye as her hair blows across her face, and you know her husband is dead, that Agamemnon is dead –
Maria: – and it’s such a brilliant movie. It’s so beautiful, so a book about Clytemnestra has my name written all over it.
Sarah: That is, as we like to say, your house of wheels.
Sarah: Maria, where can people find you if you wish to be found?
Maria: Okay. Things are in flux right now, aren’t they? So –
Amanda: Yeah, sure are!
Maria: – I, so I’m, I’m still on Instagram. I don’t really do Facebook. Twitter, I am bowing out of. I’m on Bluesky.
Sarah: Ooh, yay!
Maria: And on Threads, to a lesser extent, but on Threads.
Sarah: Thank you so much for doing this interview. It is so cool to hear that you, you guys had coffee like five years ago, and now a book is here.
Maria: Yeah, and I have to say, knowing that Amanda was there and that I had actually spoken these words to somebody helped me keep on task. So thank you, Amanda.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you to Maria Vale for hanging out with us, and thank you to Amanda for remembering the conversation that she had all these years ago. This is not a surprise for Amanda; she remembers everything. I don’t remember things very well at all.
I am really curious, though, about your expectations for an HEA. Do you have the reader expectation that a Happily Ever After is forever, like death has no place in an HEA, or not? I did mention that I would give some SPOILERS about the end of the book, so here is what happens at the end of Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death:
Molly has to die; she’s mortal. But then, at the very end, someone else recognizes Death, and he realizes that he has found her soul. Sort of like A Knight in Shining Armor, right? My soul will find yours? It’s like that.
So I’m curious about your thoughts about the HEA. Please, please tell me. You can find me online; you can find me on the website at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode number 581. I would really love to know what you think, because this is something that I think about a lot, actually: how expectations affect how we write and understand romance.
I will link to all of the books that we talk about in the episode in the show notes; never fear.
Oh my goodness, I almost forgot the joke. I can’t do that! This joke comes from Laura B. in the Discord – hello, Laura!
What do you call a chicken crossing the road?
What do you call a chicken crossing the road?
Poultry in motion.
[Laughs] Thank you, Laura!
On behalf of everyone here, have a great weekend, and have wonderful books to read.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
Seriously, Clay, watch out for the cows.
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