Alayna Williams – Rogue Oracle

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

My newest release is Rogue Oracle from Pocket Books.

Tara Sheridan is the best criminal profiler around – and the most unconventional. Trained as a forensic psychologist, Tara also specializes in Tarot card reading. But she doesn’t need her divination skills to realize that the new assignment from her friend and sometime lover, Agent Harry Li, is a dangerous proposition in every way.

Former Cold War operatives, all linked to a top-secret operation tracking the disposal of nuclear weapons in Russia, are disappearing. There are no bodies, and no clues to their whereabouts. Harry suspects a conspiracy to sell arms to the highest bidder. The cards – and Tara’s increasingly ominous dreams – suggest something darker. Even as Tara sorts through her feelings for Harry and her fractured relationships with the mysterious order known as Delphi’s Daughters, a killer is growing more ruthless by the day. And a nightmare that began decades ago in Chernobyl will reach a terrifying endgame that not even Tara could have foreseen.

Tell us something about yourself.

I’m from the Midwest, where I live with my husband and four mostly-reformed feral cats. I’ve worked in and around criminal justice, libraries, and information technology. I’m an amateur astronomer and an even more amateur belly dancer.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a hidden supernatural world existing beneath our own. Urban Fantasy allows me to explore the “what if’s”: What if a criminal profiler turned to Tarot card divination? What if the Oracle of Delphi survived into the modern day…and what would they have been up to? What if the future could be told through the use of magic…and how would we try to change what we saw?

I was most inspired by the Tarot for this book. The Tarot makes for wonderful story prompts, and I pulled some cards at random to help guide the story. Tara, my heroine, is the Queen of Swords – she’s independent, analytical, and a force to be reckoned with. Harry, her partner, is a skeptic, and I used the Knight of Pentacles to symbolize the power of his rationality and grounding in the material world.

The situation for this book is the Tower card – which is the perfect symbol for the Chernobyl disaster. I wanted to revisit that place in this story and imagine what some of the aftermath is, decades later.

How did you choose the title?

ROGUE ORACLE is the second book in the series. DARK ORACLE was the first. I chose “ROGUE ORACLE” because it spoke to the antagonist…he’s a survivor of Chernobyl who’s gone rogue selling nuclear secrets.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

The hardest thing about getting a book published in urban fantasy right now is coming up with a concept that is out of the box enough to attract an editor’s attention, but contains enough conventions to please the reader, who has expectations of the genre. It’s a balancing act.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

I’ve always been writing, ever since I was old enough to hold a crayon. It’s only recently that others are reading my material, which is a dream come true.

Do you have any writing rituals?

Not many. But I can’t write with other people around. And I can’t write with the television on…too distracting.

As I mentioned before, I do use Tarot cards as story prompts. If I get stuck on a character profile or plot point, I pull a card and random and see where that takes me.

But I usually seem to have a cat on my lap when I sit down to write. As far as rituals go, that’s one of the most comforting ones.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

I tend to choose names that have a symbolic tie to the story. “Tara,” for instance, means “star”…and the Star is a card in the Tarot deck. Her last name, “Sheridan,” means “searcher.” I thought that would be a perfect name for a criminal profiler.

Her romantic interest, Harry, has a name that means “leader of an army.” And his last name, “Li,” is roughly equivalent to “reason” or “logic.” Harry is a skeptic, and he makes a good foil to Tara’s intuitive powers.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

It’s a tough business. Much tougher than I expected. But I learned to write to a schedule, to outline carefully, and feed my imagination in the process.

If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

I think I might not have used the Alayna Williams pseudonym for this series and written it under my usual name, Laura Bickle. I write urban fantasy under both names, and I think that there’s a good deal of overlap between the audiences.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?

I’m a huge fan of Ann Aguirre’s HELLFIRE series and Stacia Kane’s DOWNSIDE GHOSTS. I’m also reading Philippa Ballantine’s GEIST, Thomas Sniegoski’s Remy Chandler books, and Ekaterina Sedia’s THE SECRET HISTORY OF MOSCOW. One of my all-time favorites is Jeri Smith-Ready’s SHADE. All great stuff that challenges the boundaries and conventions of the genre. As a reader, I want to see something I haven’t seen before.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

I have a bunch of new ideas stewing, and am scribbling furiously. I’m not sure which rabbit hole I’m going to jump down next, but I’m pretty sure it will be contemporary fantasy.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Keep it sacred. It’s hard to keep writing sacred in all the hustle and bustle of marketing and promo and reviews. Make the time for writing and keep at it, every day.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

The perfect reader for ROGUE ORACLE is someone who likes a mystery, who is curious about mixing science and magic. To that end, fans of Fringe and the X-Files get really excited about the story.