The Talon & the Blade went through three distinct versions, and the playlist evolved as well. But some songs stuck, even though the original inspiration disappeared. Sweater Weather, by The Neighbourhood, was one of those.
I had such a clear image in my mind of Gregor following Ana reluctantly down a beach in his suit. I tried it out as their first “date” but I just couldn’t make it work. Turned out the restaurant fit better with the goal for the scene. Even though the scene changed, the song stuck and became part of Gregor’s character.
It took me a while to find Ana’s voice. Eventually, the key came in her past loss and relationship with Raymond Nightfeather, her boss. When the book opens, Ana is negotiating the understanding that she and Raymond will never be closer than they are now, trust, friendship is not something he’s able to give. After a century, that isn’t enough, even if she once felt she owed Raymond her life. The contrast between how she relates to Raymond versus how Gregor and Azrael form a stark contrast. She’s not gone yet but she’s leaving, was a perfect theme song for Ana as we meet her.
I feel like every time Gregor walks into the room, the Johnny Cash version of God’s Gonna Cut You Down should play in the background. Something about the gravel in Johnny’s voice just does it. Plus, vengeance and past wrongs play large in the plot and the song alludes perfectly to the inescapability of both. Both Ana and Gregor struggle to reconcile their mortal pasts with the immortality they’ve chosen.
I learned quickly while writing a monster hunt road trip with two immortal killers that finding moments of quiet and reflection would take more work than swordfights, gun battles, and sinking ferries combined. Thank goodness for Florence and the Machine for emotional yet unsentimental songs about companionship.
And when the companionship turns to something more intimate, is there anything hotter than a cover song done by the opposite sex? Eli Leib’s version of Good for You, laid me low the first time I heard it.
Water plays a huge part in the Talon & the Blade, and that was reflected in the playlist: Water by Bishop Briggs conjured the fractured relationship between Ana and Raymond, Jack Garratt’s Water was Gregor’s getting in over his head, literally. Plus, Sea Song by Apocalyptica, Ocean by Martin Garix…lol. Kind of a theme, eh?
I listen to instrumental/semi-instrumental music, and a few favorites kept me company frequently while revising the Talon & the Blade: Zoë Keating Possible, All of the Lights (as arranged by the Portland Cello Project) and the Assassin’s Creed Liberation soundtrack.
As I was finishing what would be the final version of the ending, I was listening to a lot of Twenty One Pilots. ‘My Blood’ perfectly defined the depth and commitment of Gregor’s loyalty. Once given, there was no going back.
And that concludes our little trip through the Talon & the Blade playlist. As always, the full list is available on Spotify:
And I’ll leave you with the lyrics to the song that, if I had to choose just one, suited The Talon & the Blade.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Gregor was originally going to be a Very Bad Man. In the original outline of Death’s Dancer, after seducing Isela, Azrael’s trusted enforcer was going to betray them both. The trouble was, he kept being droll and aggravating but unceasingly loyal. He also refused to do anything but give Isela a hard time, making it increasingly challenging for her to do her job, or to fall for him.
At last, I uncovered the true Big Bad in Death’s Dancer (no spoilers!), and I wound up disregarding the idea that Gregor would be anything other than Azrael’s dedicated, pain-in-the-ass, second in command. And I sorta got attached to him. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. After Isela and her family he was the single most commented on the character in the whole book (Sorry, Az).
There will be 2-3 spin-off stories related to Isela and Azrael’s overarching battle with the Alliegance. I have fond memories of the “monster hunt” episodes of X-Files, and these will explore the post godswar world outside Azrael’s territory and give Azrael’s Aegis, the warriors he’d collected from around the world throughout time to serve as his guard and advisors, center stage. (I’m also working on a three-book prequel staring Isela’s brothers, but that’s for another day)
First up: Gregor Schwarz.
As a reader, I love a tortured hero with a closet full of demons. As a writer, the challenge is to invent demons wild enough to have chased Gregor almost 300 years into his immortality and make him a taciturn, world-weary soldier but not a total heartless bastard. Paranormal romance and urban fantasy are stuffed to bursting with Alpha-holes, so I also knew early on that Gregor would check my another of my favorite romance hero boxes, one author friend Eva Moore and I refer to as alpha in the streets/beta in the sheets. Gregor has the cajones to put down a horde of undead and stand up to a necromancer and still possesses more emotional intelligence than a fruit fly.
The key to Gregor’s origin story came in Death’s Dancer.
Bringing Gregor back to the US seemed like the best way to both confront his past as well as explore what the North American territory would be like under the rule of the necromancer known as Raymond Nightfeather.
In Dancer’s Flame, Raymond helps Azrael by giving him information of an impending attack from two other members of the Alliegance.
Raymond has long kept his origins shrouded in mystery. But when a threat from his past surfaces and threatens his control of the North American territory, Ray calls in his chit.
In the Talon & the Blade, Azrael sends Gregor to oblige the debt, and assess the potential for a real alliance between himself and Raymond. Discharging the debt means working with his counterpart in the necromancer’s court–The Nightfeather’s Talons.
Ana came about not so much as “what kind of woman would Gregor go gaga over,” as “who on earth could knock my favorite trigger happy enforcer on his ass?”
A century later, as the head of Raymond’s Aegis, Ana makes no apologies for doing what needs to be done to keep herself, and Raymond on top. Ana interested me not as a Strong Female Character, but a Complex one. She is what her circumstances have impressed on her, building walls she’s needed to survive in a court far more ruthless than Azrael’s. But even before Gregor arrives, she’s begun to question her place in Raymond’s retinue–and tire of being just the judge, jury and executioner of the Nightfeather. As the world evolves around them, her search for a deeper connection –to be trusted as an ally or even a friend– leaves her up empty-handed. Her journey finds her seeing her own value.
Gregor’s arrival puts a pin in her brewing dissatisfaction. She also doesn’t need any help hunting a grace blooded monster thank-you-very-much.
Her resentment at having been partnered with Gregor ticks another one of my ‘favorite’ trope boxes: forced proximity. And what better way to amp up the tension between two cranky immortals than putting them in a small metal box traveling at insanely high speeds. Road trip!
Both Ana and Gregor have to face the events of their pasts that drove them to bargain with necromancers. Neither are happy moments. And spending an eternity stewing in one’s own guilt and recrimination seems a miserable way to be an immortal. No wonder they’re so cranky.
Gregor and Ana’s origins aside, I’m no historian and this is no historical fiction. But it’s no accident that the two primary characters are immigrants and the third Native. It seemed disingenuous to write about North America without acknowledging the part that Indigenous people and immigrants have had in its origin story.
And because it’s a Grace Bloods book, supernatural creatures abound, expect the usual suspects– shifters and demons–but a few newbies you haven’t seen before. But in the end, this North American territory has more than a few things in common with our own world. As Ana explains after their first “date”–
I hope you’ll come along with Ana and Gregor on this marvelous road trip monster hunt adventure. If you do, please remember to leave a review at your favorite online source for book recommendations or purchases. You’re doing me a big favor, but more importantly, you’re helping out other readers searching for a new book to enjoy!
Pinterest is one of my favorite places to spend time when I’m percolating a novel. I love pulling together boards that help me visualize characters, places, and even the atmosphere or mood of a story. I’m reluctant to reveal my visual character inspiration because I want them to live in your brains as you (the readers) imagine them. If you are the kind of reader who likes to make up visuals for the characters in your head, feel free to skip this post altogether!
Just a note that these images don’t belong to me and all are used solely for visual reference.
I knew Isela would have to be a match for Azrael, if not literally in terms of power, in terms of competence in her own sphere. Professional dancers are incredible athletes as well as artists, and so when I went looking for the physical inspiration for Isela, I started there. Ballerina Misty Copeland was the first of many dancers of color that inspired Isela’s physical, including Tai Jiminez, Alicia J. Graf, and Aesha Ash. That said, when I saw the mockups for the Dancer’s Flame cover, the image of the woman made me gasp aloud. Unfortunately, it’s a stock photograph that I’ve since seen all over the place, but I have to say it really got her right.
Dream Casting: Gugu Mbatha Raw (Beyond the Lights, Belle)
Azrael was one of the hardest to find visual inspiration for–I mean the guy is two thousand years old. I had such a strong image of him in my head, no single real person would do. More than any of the others, he’s an amalgam–Atesh Salih’s eyes, Mads Mikkelson’s refined otherworldiness and the ability to throw big green balls of power at demons. See what I mean.
Dream Casting: Oscar Isaacs (Ex-Machina, Star Wars)
Visually, it’s a toss-up between Tom Hiddleston and Michael Fassbender. Just go with me for a minute. There’s something about the way Hiddleston moves as well as his ability to be sardonic (especially as Loki in that black suit) that just feels like Gregor for me. He’s very tall and lean, but graceful. I feel like Hiddleston is the guy that never trips over his own feet, and knows where his body is in space at all times. That said, Michael Fassbender as Magneto is not only the best part of the X-Men reboots, it’s also a great Gregor audition. 😉
Dream Casting: Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Centurion)
The Queen of Diamonds (aka: Evil Elsa) was so much fun to write, though very little of those sections made it onto the page. I often think of Charlize Theron and also Portia De Rossi (Ally McBeal and Scandal) also has great sarcasm and levity–her characters always seem to enjoy a level of calculated ruthlessness. If Cate Blanchett’s Hella was around when I was writing, I would have pinned her to the board as well.
Dream Casting: Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman)
The inspiration for godsdancing started with my background in dance and yoga. From there, I tumbled down a rabbit hole of research after googling ‘dance as communication.’ Traditions all over the world recognize dance and movement as a form of language, from storytelling to celebration, often including a spiritual element. Like language, dance is an expression of culture, and it evolves, changing and growing with the people that use it.
That’s all for now (I have to save a little something for Dancer’s Flame and The Talon & the Blade, you know) Next time I’ll take on Rory and Dory, Lysippe, and (some of) the Vogels.
I recently did a takeover at the Romanced by the Book Instagram account and I shared some of my inspiration images for the Grace Bloods series, particularly Death’s Dancer.
I’m a super visual person, which is why I love Pinterest and Instagram so much. Getting visuals on a place, story and characters help when I sit down to write. Here are some images that made it to my inspiration boards. None of the images belong to me (unless noted) and were found on the internet and I’ve done my best to find and credit creators whenever possible.
These images visualized the moody and atmospheric nature of Prague I wanted to create. And that illustration was the best visual for Azrael’s fire!
I love the Municipal House–I’ve toured it twice, have seen concerts and art exhibits there, so I knew it was going to be part of Isela’s world. The barrette Azrael gives her is loosely inspired by this Franta Anyz pendant that was on display as part of the Art Nouveau exhibit when I visited. Fun fact, I actually tried to license the RJ Muna dancer photo for the cover, but alas, couldn’t get in touch with the right people in time, so I went with another dance photographer, Richard Calmes to find the iconic image of an Alvin Ailey dancer that became the cover!
Outside of the architecture, Prague’s transportation and gorgeous city parks all appear in both Death’s Dancer and Dancer’s Flame. The villain in Death’s Dancer was originally going to be a cemetery headstone (like the one in this photo) that had been animated, like a golem (another bit of mythology Prague made famous) in the end, I liked the idea of the real antagonist so much, I bumped the golem mention to Dancer’s Flame.
Where do come up with my images? Aside from Google searches, here are some of my favorite image specific sites:
Pinterest: for inspiration, I use Pinterest primarily because it’s easily searchable, but it bothers me that a lot of the credits are either removed or not present.
Unsplash – free stock photography site where I get most of the images I use in promotions
Deposit Photos – another stock photography site (paid) where I find images for promotions and marketing.
Deviant Art – Sometimes only an illustration will do and this site is an oldie but goodie!
Are you a book blogger or reviewer posting regularly to online retailers, social media, and/or review sites (or your own blog!) A librarian, bookseller or industry professional? For a limited time, complimentary review copies of Death’s Dancer are available by request at NetGalley. Click here (you must be logged in to NetGalley to submit a request)
Death’s Dancer will be available until the end of February, so don’t wait. The sequel, Dancer’s Flame will be available in March, and then ARCs go out for The Talon & the Blade in early April, so you have plenty of time to catch up!
If you are just interested in joining the ARC team for The Talon & the Blade (NetGalley membership not required), please fill out the form below and we’ll be in touch!
A monument to Art Nouveau design and Czech pride, the Municipal House had served as a center for Prague’s community, culture, and gathering since the beginning of the twentieth century. Recognized as being state of the art for its day, it had seen countless concerts, balls, and been the backdrop for history-making events—none so important as the necromancer’s claim to Prague as the capital of his territory.
Left in shambles after the wars, the restoration of the Municipal House was his gift to the Praha Dance Academy. Great pains had been taken to preserve the original interiors and decor. These days, only the first floor and front halls, housing a museum and a few of the old ballrooms, were open to the public. The students and faculty of the Academy occupied the rest.
If you recognize the Municipal House (Obecní dům) that might be because you saw it in a movie. XXX, Mission: Impossible, Edith Piaf and I Served the King of England have all featured shots of the interior or exterior. State of the art at the time it was complete, it’s one of my favorite buildings in Prague. (I’ve taken the tour THREE TIMES, and seen a concert in Smetana Hall just to hang out in the building). Today’s video is all about the part the Municipal Hall plays in Death’s Dancer, as the home of the Praha Dance Academy…
Niles met [Isela] outside as she passed through the glass doors. Her eyes went to the elaborate stained-glass canopy that had always been her favorite part of the building’s exterior. Greens and peaches colored the muted light refracting through the glass. Niles unfurled a crimson umbrella edged with gold in anticipation of her leaving the shelter of the building. The colors the Academy shared with its home city bloomed against the rain-sodden day, and a small gasp went up among the passersby as they recognized her.
The Powder Tower was one of thirteen original gateways to the city of Prague. In the fifteenth century, the Bohemian king restyled it as a welcoming entry point to the seat of his power, and for years it served as the gateway through which future royalty passed on their way to being crowned at Saint Vitus Cathedral. As the city expanded, its prominence declined until it earned its modern name by serving as a storage place for kegs of powder used in guns and explosives. Restored with the Municipal House for the Praha Dance Academy, it now served as home of the Academy library—the official and unofficial one.
…on the shadowed roof of the Municipal House, the last of the winged figures alighted, leaning casually on the hilt of his sword. He caught her eye and winked before he went still in a slouch as if he were suffering from a millennium of boredom.
Story goes The American Bar in the basement of the Municipal House is the first bar in Prague where women were allowed to attend without an escort. I do know that it’s a nice cool spot on a very hot day to pause with a good book…
…and a cocktail.
Here are a few more shots of the interiors that are open to the public. Be sure to check out the previous tours of the Prague Castle and Vysehrad.
This week’s tour takes us south of the city to Vysehrad. The old fortress is thought to be the first city site. According to legend, Princess Libuše (“the wisest woman in Czech,” how’s that for a title?) foresaw the city rising to the stars. So it turns out that’s mostly legend (and a stolen one, at that) but it makes a great story. And the statue of Libuše sits in Vysehrad, still looking to the future. These days only the foundations of the original fortress remain and in addition to being an incredible escape from the busier parts of the city, it’s a UNESCO heritage site.
Isela’s family lived in an old neighborhood at the foot of Vysehrad; the ruins of a medieval fortress turned park at the south edge of the city. When they’d come to Prague, property had been cheap. Her father bought not just one flat but an entire building— a shabby, old, art nouveau thing that needed as much repair as it was worth. It had given him something to do in the first few years when work had been inconsistent, and it kept the boys out of trouble.
Death’s Dancer, Jasmine Silvera, p 96
Here’s your video tour of Vysehrad, the Vogel compound, and my favorite church in Prague, the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul.
When she opened her eyes, they were in Vysehrad Park on an autumn day. The leaves were shades of flame and ember, the air so crisp it stung her lungs.
Lukas Vogel laughed. “You’re much better at this than I am.”
Coming up: the Municipal Hall (aka The Praha Dance Academy), the Charles Bridge. Check out the previous post on The Prague Castle!
In May I was able to go back to Prague for a couple of days during our annual trip to Germany. I spent the time doing research for the Vogel Brothers books, visiting friends, and visiting places mentioned in Death’s Dancer and Dancer’s Flame. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting the videos with photo, excerpts from the books and my notes here. Keep in mind: I write fantasy, not historical fiction. Some of the places and locations have been changed in my books, but they were all inspired by real places in the city.
Today I’m starting with the eponymous castle that gives Prague its iconic skyline…enjoy!
The Prague Castle was a complex of buildings framing an increasingly narrowing street leading toward the main grounds. While an architectural student might have admired the enormous range of styles represented by the individual palaces, Isela felt like livestock being funneled down a chute. As they reached the castle proper, the gates rolled open soundlessly. The car continued between the columns topped with statues of battling Titans. Isela was unable to shake the impression that the two muscle-bound demigods peered hungrily into the car as she passed.
Death’s Dancer Jasmine Silvera, p17
They moved through the largest of the three courtyards, awash in shadows cast by the enclosed cathedral and the falling darkness. The imposing exterior of St. Vitus loomed over them in all of its neo-Gothic glory. Isela didn’t realize she had slowed down until her guide paused a few steps ahead. He angled his head toward her. “The cathedral has been closed for some time,” he stated. “Restoration.” “I’ve just… never seen it so close,” she uttered finally, unable to hide her awe. She didn’t assume a necromancer had much interest in a church even if it was the grandest in all of Prague. However, she’d heard stories and seen old pictures of the stained-glass windows by Mucha and Svabinsky. She longed to see the light shining through them.
Death’s Dancer, Jasmine Silver, p 21
The gardens on the south hill of the castle provided her favorite view of the red-roofed Malá Strana district. On a clear day, the long stone walkway of the garden on the ramparts was the perfect place to watch the sparkle of the river winding its way through the center of the city. Today the sky was hazy with the kind of gauzy air that presaged rain. Pools of slate-gray clouds driven on a cold wind blanketed the horizon, dappling the sunlight over the city. The walkway led into the Garden of Eden, once the private retreat of an archduke. The gardens were also close to the buildings, an option she had taken into consideration when she accepted the invitation for a walk.
Dancer’s Flame, Jasmine Silvera, p 305
Overlooking the city of Prague, the castle complex gives the city its iconic skyline. One of my favorite views traveling on the 22 tram across the city is looking out the north windows crossing the bridge to see the castle on the hill. Depending on the time of year, the actual grounds are more or less packed with tourists–it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, after all–but without much effort, you can find a less traveled spot. One of my favorites places to pause and enjoy the grounds are the Royal gardens outside the riding school. Don’t let the name fool you: it’s much more like a city park than a formal garden and ends in the Summer Palace which is now used for art and historical exhibits.
The fountain in front of the summer palace plays a special part in the opening scene of Dancer’s Flame (Grace Bloods #2). If you’ve read Death’s Dancer, you can read the first chapter here. But beware, spoilers ahead!
That’s all for this post. In the next few weeks, we’ll visit the Charles Bridge, Municipal House, and the Vysehrad Fortress! Stay tuned.
Have you been to Prague or read the books? Tell me about your favorite places in the comments below!
I had so much fun talking to Sarah once again at the GSMC Book Review Podcast about Dancer’s Flame. Sarah’s such a warm and welcoming host with a great interview style. We wandered all over Dancer’s Flame, writing and managing life with a threenager.
Join me over on The Romance Reviews for the “Sizzling Summer Reads” in June for a chance to win a $50 gift card ad hundreds of other prizes. With over 100 authors participating in all genres, it’s a great way to stock your summer TBR pile!
To celebrate, Death’s Dancer on sale for just 1.99¢ until June 30th. If you’re looking for a new series to start, now’s the time. Get yours for Kindle–> https://amzn.to/2JbG2xf
About Death’s Dancer:
Dancer Isela Vogel forged a lucrative career bending the power of gods in service of her patrons. Facing an injury that will end it too soon, she agrees to one big job for the payout of a lifetime.
The assignment? Help a necromancer find a killer.
Icy, impenetrable Azrael can make the dead walk, but the spirited dancer’s refusal to bend to his will sparks his interest in more than her choreography.
But what should have been an easy paycheck puts Isela in the crosshairs. Now she must rely on her training and discipline to stay alive… and resist the lure of her captivating new patron. Because behind Azrael’s controlled exterior is a fire, and fire irrevocably transforms what it does not destroy.
Journey to the magical streets of an alternate present-day Prague with the first book in the new Grace Bloods series. It’s a sexy supernatural thriller that will delight fans of romantic fantasy.