This week’s featured author, Julie Frost, grew up an Army brat, traveling the globe. She thought she might settle down after she finished school, but then she married a pilot and moved six times in seven years. She’s finally put down roots in Utah with her family—six guinea pigs, three humans, a tripod calico cat, and a “kitten” who thinks she’s a warrior princess—and a collection of anteaters and Oaxacan carvings, some of which intersect. She enjoys birding and nature photography, which also intersect. She utilizes her degree in biology to write werewolf fiction while completely ignoring the physics of a protagonist who triples in mass. She writes other types of fiction, too, on occasion, from hard science fiction to space opera to secondary-world fantasy to urban fantasy to horror. Sometimes she mixes them. Her short stories have appeared in too many venues to count, including Writers of the Future 32, Monster Hunter Files, Enter the Aftermath, Stupefying Stories, Planetary Anthologies, StoryHack, and Astounding Frontiers. Her novel series, “Pack Dynamics”, is published by WordFire Press. In her words, she “whines about writing, a lot, at http://agilebrit.livejournal.com/, and you can visit her Amazon page here: https://www.amazon.com/Julie-Frost/e/B00WAK2UQU/”
I asked her about her urban fantasy, Pack Dynamics: A Price to Pay, published by WordFire Press in August, 2018. Julie described its unusual premise as follows:
Six months after a case gone bad infected him with lycanthropy, private eye Ben Lockwood hasn’t just come to terms with his new condition—he’s embraced it. The animal inside lets him just be instead of dwelling on past horrors, and he frequently sleeps better as a wolf. Ben thinks he’s fine… until a couple of supernatural law-enforcement agents inform him that if he wolfs too much, he’ll forget his humanity, and that will leave them with a mess to clean up.
Then one of those past horrors comes roaring back into Ben’s life. Rutger Ostheim, enraged by the death of his family, breaks out of prison to seek vengeance. He’s aided by a ruthless businessman with slippery ethics and a separate grudge, who has taken the werewolf nanotech to new and awful heights, determined to sell it to the highest bidder… no matter what they want to use Berserker Virus Murder-Wolf tech for.
However, when Ben is given the opportunity for some payback of his own, he may find his inner demons to be a far graver threat than a tech-enhanced werewolf nearly twice his size.
What do you want readers to know about your book?
It’s a fun, action-oriented tale about vengeance and what happens when you let it consume you.
Aside from the plot, is there a story behind it?
I am not a natural novelist, and Book One (Pack Dynamics) basically wrote itself. People were screaming for a sequel, but it took me a long time before I figured out that I’d seeded the next story in the first book by mentioning a brother of the bad guy, and by basically handing the lycanthrope nanotech to Alex’s business rivals. After noodling how those two elements could come together, I had my plot.
Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?
Urban fantasy is fairly dominated by female protagonists and first-person narrative. While I have no objection to lady protags, I’m a weirdo who prefers the guys. This probably dates back to my early reading habits–I loved the Hardy Boys, but Nancy Drew left me cold. Most of the books I devoured in my youth were boy-and-his-dog and boy-and-his-horse stories, and I’m thinking that kind of stuck. Most of my fiction features male main characters.
I also (in general) prefer to read and write in first person, but the Pack Dynamics novels just… don’t lend themselves to that. Third person allows me to delve more deeply into the other characters’ motivations and emotional states, along with all the action that my putative main character doesn’t know about.
What was your path to publication?
So there I was at Salt Lake ComicCon, shooting the breeze with Peter Wacks and Ramón Terrel after dinner. Peter was the acquisitions editor at WordFire, and he was talking about his urban fantasy, and Ramón was talking about hisurban fantasy, and I was thinking “this is right in my wheelhouse.” So I took a breath and said “So, Peter, this is where I ask you about your acquisitions process.” He said, “Pitch me your book.”
Well, I had an elevator pitch for the thing, but I hadn’t hauled it out in awhile. I took a couple of seconds to drag it to the forefront of my brain, put on my best radio-announcer voice, and said, “A private eye with PTSD—” and he said, “Stop. Send me a chapter.” Turns out he was a private eye for a year or so, and also works with a PTSD charity, so I hit two of his buttons in five words.
The next day, I was hanging out at the WordFire booth shooting the breeze with Larry Correia—we’ve been friends since right after his first Monster Hunter novel was published. He asked me if I knew Kevin J. Anderson, and I said I didn’t, and so he waved Kevin over and said “Hey, Kevin, this is Julie Frost, she’s awesome.” And Kevin said something about Peter telling him about me, and Larry said, “When her book hits your slush pile, move it to the top.” Kevin asked him if he’d blurb it, and Larry said, “Of course.” “Book bomb?” “You bet.” I nearly fell through the floor.
And then at LTUE (a Utah writing symposium) the next February, I was offered a contract. WordFire has been very, very good to me.
What are you working on now?
Oh, gosh, so many things. I’m expanding a novella called “Joy Shall Be in Heaven,” about a Guardian Angel to serial killers, into a novel. It’s Nachi’s job to be the conscience of killers and try to talk them out of doing terrible things, but he can’t mess with Free Will, and he’s never had a success with any of these guys in thousands of years. It’s wearing on him, justa little.
I wrote a short story called “Cry Havoc” about a werewolf alpha who loses his pack to hunters. He’s supposed to be their moral compass, but now that he’s lost them, he doesn’t have anyone left to be a moral compass for, so he goes off the rails a bit and starts slaughtering his own way through the hunters. And then he finds out who the actual architect of his loss is, and we close on him and the last hunter standing deciding to go after that puppet master together. Those two guys tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You know this is a novel, right?” So I’ve got that one outlined and am scribbling madly on it.
I’m also putting together a collection of Pack Dynamics short stories. Short fiction picked me, not the other way around, and so the characters in the novel keep running off and having smaller-sized adventures. I’m hoping to release that in mid-February at LTUE.
And then there’s the short I’m staring at for the Baen Adventure Fantasy contest, too, about a sorceress who creates orcish werewolf soldiers for the orc king. A rival sorcerer is unhappy about being ousted, and wackiness, as they say, ensues. I’ve barely started that one.
I’m also in the noodling stages of the third Pack Dynamics novel.
What else have you written?
I’ve had over forty short stories published in various places. The latest was a Pack Dynamics short in the Crazy Town anthology, and the one before that is a first-contact story in Fantasy for the Throne where the aliens come and accidentally abduct a werewolf. I wrote a riff on the song “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean (1961—I’m amazed at how many people have never even heard of this classic) where John is a werewolf in an asteroid mine, published in To Be Men. And one where the God of War and the Prince of Peace conspire to thwart the Father of Lies in Planetary: Mars. Yes, I used Jesus as a character, and I don’t even think I’m going to Hell for it!
Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?
“Cry Havoc,” mentioned above, won 3rd Place in the Writers of the Future contest in 2015. And my story “Give Up the Ghost,” about a spaceship crew hired to take a graveyard to the edge of the system and space it, won second place in the DragonComet contest last year. The dead are not as quiet as my crew would like.
Do you create an outline before you write?
I used to be an inveterate discovery writer. Then I decided to do my own January (because November is a stupid month for it, for me) version of NaNoWriMo with short stories rather than a novel, and I knew that if I didn’t outline them, I’d crash and burn. So I sat down with the seven-point plot structure and outlined seven stories. I ended up writing five of them across 53,000 words, and deemed that experiment a success. I still don’t always outline a short (sometimes they really do write themselves), but most of the time I do.
I’ve found that the seven-point structure is just a little inadequate for a novel if I just do it for one arc, so I modified it a bit for Pack Dynamics 2—I outlined Ben’s arc, and the villain’s arc, and the contagonist’s arc, and then did character arcs for all of them too. It made the actual writing process so much easier.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
If I get stuck, it’s usually because something is wrong with the story. So I have to sit down and figure out exactly what that is and how to fix it. Sometimes it’s because a story takes me in an unexpected direction and I’m fighting it instead of just letting it be what it wants to be. My secondary-world fantasy, for example, tends to go “funny” for some reason, and I didn’t want the story I’m writing for the Baen contest to be funny. However, I’ve recently decided that the story is what it is, and if Baen doesn’t want it, someone else will.
But, not always. Sometimes (like now, in my Guardian Angel novel) it’s just a matter of not wanting to spend a lot of time in a serial killer’s head, with a protagonist helpless to do anything but sit there and watch him be a terrible person. Oh, ha, see, writing this out has just made me figure out what my actual issue with it is…
Sometimes, all I have to do is write a blog post about how stuck I am, and it magically un-sticks me. And sometimes it’s just a matter of sitting down and forcing it, fifty or a hundred words at a time. And when I go back and look at the words I grind out versus the words that flow, I can’t tell the difference.
At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?
Figuring out exactly where I want to publish. The publishing world is in a weird sort of flux right now. Back when I started, self-publishing was the Kiss of Death; now you have people making a six-figure income from it. The pace of Big Five publishing is positively glacial, and I don’t have the patience for that kind of thing, I don’t think—especially at the slow pace I write novels. That being said, I probably would not say no to someone who threw a giant advance at my head. I love WordFire and the fact that they get me great editors and covers and I don’t have to worry about those things. Going fully indy would be a little terrifying, I think, but I’m open to the possibility. I’m also open to the possibility of going traditional all the time. I’ll probably stay this weird sort of hybrid, though, where I go small press for the novels and indy for the short story collections.
Tell us about your thoughts on collaboration.
Collaboration is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. I think the absolutely essential element for a successful collaboration is for both people to be on the same page as to what the story needs. I used to do a lot of online text-based roleplay (and most of it is still up, and you can read it if you know where to look), and it was basically online improvisational collaborative storytelling. My main partner, Aspen Hougen, and I played out a ton of scenarios that went really really well—so well that she and I eventually wrote a post-Armageddon short story together starring a couple of demons we created, called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse,” which was published in the Enter the Aftermath anthology.
I also collaborated with Bryan Thomas Schmidt in a story for the Monster Hunter Files anthology called “Huffman Strikes Back.” He asked me to write the fight scene in that story, and the first iteration was “Too Easy, Drill Sergeant,” and the next one was too over-the-top difficult. Bryan helped me to find the balance between the two-—and that’s what the best collaborations do. You push each other to be better.
But I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had a fiction collaboration go wrong (some of the roleplay ones did, and gah, the drama). I’ve heard some horror stories, so I think it’s really important that both authors know what they want out of the thing right up front so there are no misunderstandings later.
Do you have any pet projects?
“Joy Shall Be in Heaven” is a kind of pet project. My faith is a big part of my inner life, and while I don’t want to bludgeon people over the head with it, I think I can tell stories that incorporate it without being preachy.
The non-writing pet project for 2019 involves birds. Last year, I had a goal of photographing 200 Utah bird species. I ended up with 231 (which is exactly half of the birds on the Utah list, which incorporates a bunch of species that only show up in the state occasionally). This year, I’m taking that project nationwide, with the goal of 500 species in the US and Canada. At the time of this writing, I’m already at 122 across two states (Utah and Texas). But January generally starts with a bang (I got 91 Utah species in January last year), and then the rest of the year tapers off because you’ve already gotten the easy ones.
If you could do anything differently, what would it be?
I’d be more organized in general. Some things, I’m very organized about (you should see my bird spreadsheets; they are a thing of beauty), but the rest of my life… not so much. I have a lot of clutter I should do something about, but then I stare at it and get paralyzed by the scope of the thing instead of breaking it down into small bites and just doing it.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I joke that I want to be Jim Butcher when I grow up, but I’m not really sure how much of a joke that is. His stories are amazingly brilliant, and he’s so gracious and funny and such a great teacher. I really do want to be more like him. I love Larry Correia’s books and the fact that he’s turned this monster hunting thing (which is silly on paper) into such a huge franchise, and that he’s branched out into other things that are just as good if not better. The way Rob Thurman writes the relationships between brothers and best friends is beautiful. Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty” universe is one of the best things ever; it’s so nuanced and intricate. And there are so many others (we could be here all day), but I’ll also mention Patricia Briggs, Gail Carriger, Faith Hunter, and Anton Strout.
I have to say, Julie, this is one of the more enjoyable interviews I’ve ever conducted. (And as I approach my 120th interview over the course of six years, that’s saying a lot!) Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Before I present an excerpt from Pack Dynamics: A Price to Pay, followed by links where visitors can purchase it and follow you online, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:
My best friend would tell you I’m a: goofball.
The one thing I cannot do without is: my family.
The one thing I would change about my life: be more organized.
My biggest peeve is: Hollywood writers who do not do basic research.
The thing I’m most satisfied with is: my last novel.
Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?
The choices you make determine the life you lead. Never give up, never surrender.
He considered his lycanthropy to be a feature, not a bug. In his line of work, being hard to kill was an asset. The case of PTSD he’d brought home from Afghanistan was easier to wrestle when he could lose himself in the animal and just be for a while. It slowed the wheel hamster, and he was still himself as a wolf, just … simpler.
This scene was a nasty reminder that not all werewolves dealt with their condition as well as he did.
Not that he could say that to Spence. As far as Ben knew, he was unaware of the wilder side of Los Angeles and would probably rather keep it that way. Someone handed Ben a pair of blue disposable gloves, and he pulled them on before crouching beside the body, not touching anything just yet.
A set of four somethings—Ben was betting claws because his own were two inches long and sharper than they had a right to be—had ripped down diagonally from left shoulder to right hip, tearing through the shirt and into the flesh beneath, exposing organs.
“This is a hell of a mess,” Spence said. “Witness heard screams and called 911, but by the time we got here, this was all that was left. No ID on him. What kind of weapon does that?”
“The kind I wouldn’t want to encounter in a dark alley,” Ben answered, which wasn’t a lie. Whatever wolf had done this was bigger than him, which wasn’t difficult, if he was being honest, and had slaughtered this man with ruthless efficiency. But hadn’t eaten—
Ben staggered a little when he realized what his nose had been telling him without consulting his brain. Their killer wolf was a female.
He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead. “So that’s awesome,” he muttered.
“Ben?” Spence said. “You all right?”
Ben took a breath. “As all right as I ever am. Sometimes it hits me wrong. You know.”
Spence nodded. Ben had once had a spectacular meltdown at a house where a guy had cut his girlfriend’s throat. Nobody had warned him, and that one pushed his Bad Buttons. “You need to sit down somewhere?” Spence asked.
“No, not this time.” Ben straightened and settled himself. “Those are some nasty wounds. I’d be interested to hear what your ME has to say.”
“What I have to say is that scruffy little PIs have no business at my crime scene,” the perpetually grouchy medical examiner said, pushing past him.
“Happy to see you too, as always, Schmidt.” Ben stepped out of his way. He knew what had killed the man and didn’t need a doctor to tell him.
“It looks like an animal attack,” Dr. Schmidt said. “See the punctures on his hands? He probably tried to fend it off and got bitten for his trouble. That being said, no dog can do that much damage, not even a pit bull. I’ll know more when I get him back to the lab.”
“What do you think, Ben?” Spence said.
“I think you were right to let me in on this one, is what I think.” Ben’s mouth pulled to one side as he pushed his hair up out of his face with the back of his wrist. He wondered how much he could or should say. “Might want to check and see if anyone reported an escaped bear tonight.” He held up a hand. “It’s not the way I’d bet, just covering bases.” Frowning down at the body, he said, “I’ve seen some spiked brass knuckles do damage sort of like that. There’s knuckle armor, with claws at the ends. Or maybe Freddy Krueger is in town and this guy pissed him off somehow.”
Ben needed to find the perp before the cops did. It would be way less awkward all around. He hoped like hell she’d had a good reason for this. “Keep me read in, if you don’t mind, Spence. Thanks.”
If you would like to purchase Pack Dynamics: A Price to Pay, you can do so here:
You can follow Julie here: