Harsh Gods and its predecessor, Conspiracy of Angels, are both billed as Urban Fantasy, but they both contain elements of mystery, noir, and horror. That blend of genres is one of the primary reasons I chose Urban Fantasy. It's an incredibly versatile genre, and it allows authors to tell tales that range from action/adventure to steamy romance. My Shadowside series falls firmly into the action/adventure slot. I love the pace and excitement of a good fight scene, and swift, heated conflict really ups the stakes of any venture. Cleveland, OH is my other reason for choosing to write Urban Fantasy. The rust belt city -- called "The Mistake on the Lake" by its detractors -- has such a rich history. To my knowledge, no Urban Fantasy series has taken advantage of it and I wanted to change that. Of course, I'm biased. I've called NE Ohio home my entire life. But there are unplumbed depths in our lake called Erie and specters that lurk in the shadow of the Terminal Tower.
What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you deal with it?
Writing dialogue in the shower. Seriously, I can't be the only person this happens to -- sound asleep, exhausted from writing late the night before, but then I wake up, and the characters start yammering before I can even get out of bed. There's a notepad beside my bed for just such an occasion but even if I get the first few lines down, it doesn't stop there. The whole shower, pages of conversation spill through my head. Zack and Lil are especially bad for this, because once those two get going, they don't stop. I can't count the number of times I've stood there washing my hair, mentally rehearsing a particularly pithy bit of dialogue so I can remember it long enough to get it onto the page.
When and where do you do your writing?
When the characters aren't ganging up on me in the shower, I have an office on the first floor of my home. There's a good sound system for music and a comfy chair -- I don't like writing at a desk -- plus plenty of places for my two feline writing companions to snooze away from the laptop.
When that writing space gets stale or I'm feeling stuck on something, I grab the iPad and change up my environment. Sometimes that means I spend a few hours at the local Starbucks tapping away on the screen. Late nights in the summer and fall, I sometimes end up in the town square. My picturesque home town is all Victorian-style buildings around this lovely park with a gazebo. There's free WiFi right there, and I can just stretch out under the trees and stars until inspiration strikes...
What have you learned about promoting your books?
My cat is more popular than me -- at least, pictures of my cats get a lot more engagement on social media than much of anything else. What this has taught me is that success on social media isn't about selling your work, it's about sharing yourself. People don't follow accounts that exist expressly to promote a product or a service. Why would they? As a culture, we are up to our eyeballs in ads no matter what direction we turn -- ads in the subways, ads in your taxicab, ads inserted at the beginning of your YouTube videos. I hate that crap and I can only imagine that everyone else does, too. So, when it comes to promoting my books through social media, I prefer to make posts about my life, my cats, and the fun things I do in between writing. When I talk about my books, I try to talk more about content, inspiration, and process, rather than sounding like an infomercial. Being genuine works.
What are you most proud of as a writer?
Jim Butcher blurbed HARSH GODS. Not only that. He took the time out of a dizzying schedule to write me a lovely letter with all kinds of encouraging praise about the story. I won't lie. As an Urban Fantasy writer, I'm still giddy about that blurb. I haven't given in to the urge to get it framed, but it's been a close thing. I can only hope that my readers feel the book lives up to such high praise.
If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Enkheduanna. Not many people will recognize her, but Enkheduanna is the earliest author in Western Civilization that we know by name. The daughter of Sargon of Akkad, she was a poet, a priestess, and a powerful political figure, and she lived between 2285 and 2250 BCE in Mesopotamia. That "land between two rivers," the so-called Cradle of Civilization, figures heavily in my worldbuilding for the Shadowside, and I've immersed myself so completely in the myth & history of Sumer, Babylon, and Akkad, I feel like I already know Enkheduanna and her world.
The scope of my worldbuilding research may seem surprising, but angels and demons are older than Islam, older than Christianity, older even than Judaism. Their roots stretch all the way back to the very beginning of civilization in the Middle East. There, the being eventually known as Shamsiel was once worshipped as Shamash, the god. Enkheduanna may be the only person I could ask, "Where is the true point of origin? Who first passed these stories along?"
Michelle Belanger is an author, occult expert, singer, and psychic seen regularly on the television series Paranormal State. She's been featured on programs on HBO, the History Channel, Destination America, and CNN Headline News. Michelle's work has taken her around the globe, but she resides near Cleveland, Ohio with two cats, a few friendly spirits, and a library of more than five thousand books.
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