Today, I’m happy to introduce Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk to us about her novel, A Gift of Wings…
Half-Seraph and skilled fighter, Aidan Townsend could no longer live with the consequences of being a celebrated member of the Forces of the Fallen—so he walked away from it all. Now, he has created a new life—a human life—as songwriter and lead singer for a successful Chicago band. And he keeps his angelic abilities carefully hidden—even from himself.
Lucky Monroe is just an ordinary girl—or so she thinks. About to turn eighteen and with high school behind her, she’s looking for a job, contemplating the possibility of college, and gradually coming to terms with her beloved grandmother’s descent into early-onset Alzheimer’s. Then her cousin Josh takes her to hear a popular local band, and she sees fiery wings extending from the back of the handsome and charismatic lead singer. Suddenly, Lucky is enmeshed in a world of Fallen angels, demons, and ancient deities—a world that promises knowledge of her newfound powers, as well as a budding romance, but also threatens all she holds dear. For Lucky’s new powers make her and her family potential pawns in the dangerous game of angelic politics. While eluding a supernatural stalker and surviving an attack by sword-bearing rogue angels, Lucky must also figure out who and what she is willing to be, in order to save someone she loves.
Tricia: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Stephanie: I’m a writer, traveler, music-lover, foodie, cat owner. I make a living as a technical writer—and I’ve found it to be a good apprenticeship for writing fiction. (I wrote a guest blog about this once. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.) I love traveling, seeing different parts of the world and different cultures, and I’ve been lucky enough to find a group of friends who make excellent traveling companions. In the last few years, I’ve been to France, Spain, Egypt, and Nepal. My next trip—already planned—is to Italy. I’m so excited! Several friends have already been there, and they keep telling me how wonderful it is.
Tricia: When did you begin writing?
Stephanie: I’ve written on and off all my life. Some stories and initial chapters to never-finished novels in elementary school, poetry (much of it bad) in high school, stories and poetry in college, creative non-fiction and more initial chapters to never-finished novels in grad school. After grad school, my personal writing focused mostly on creative non-fiction, vignettes, autobiographical narrative-essays. Somewhere along the way, I had convinced myself I wasn’t cut out to write fiction—even though that’s what I really wanted to write. When I finally gave myself permission to write a novel, A Gift of Wings was the result.
Tricia: How did you get the idea for the book?
Stephanie: I had been voraciously reading urban fantasy/paranormal books, both adult and YA, and loving the alternate worlds. I started to ask myself what kind of world I might want to create if I were going to write a novel. I’ve been fascinated with winged beings—particularly angels—for a long time, and I have a degree in Religion and Literature, so a world peopled with angelic beings seemed like a good place to start. Then, flipping through a book in a bookstore, I read something about Cherubim having four faces, those of a man, an eagle, a bull, and a lion. I got this image in my head of a long-haired, four-faced man, and thought, “What a great idea for a character!” A little research led me to the link between Cherubim and the ancient Assyrian lamassu, huge winged bulls with human heads. I’d seen a statue at the Oriental Institute in Chicago a few times and had found it powerful and compelling. The OI’s statue merged with my long-haired, four-faced man, and I had my Zeke. Then the rest of the story took shape around him. Characters and bits of dialogue started showing up during my walks. Eventually, Lucky (then still unnamed) appeared, and I had a main character.
Tricia: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
Stephanie: Honestly, overcoming my own fear. It sounds crazy, but my heart was pounding as I typed the first words into the computer, and I was thinking, “Can I really do this?” But I did it and I kept doing it, and then I edited until I was ready to show the draft to some friends to read and give me comments. My heartbeat kicked up again when I gave my friends the draft. I thought, “They’re going to read this and think, ‘Oh my god, that’s what’s in her head? She’s even weirder than I thought.’” I’ve been both scared and exhilarated by pretty much every step in the process.
Tricia: What projects are you currently working on?
Stephanie: I’m currently working on the second volume of the Light-Bringer Series, A Gift of Shadows. It begins as Lucky learns the answer to one of the unanswered questions in A Gift of Wings and shows how she reacts to that revelation, as well as to the manifestation of her own unique Gift. Some new characters and relationships are introduced, and familiar ones get further developed. I love these characters, and I’m having fun spending more time with them.
I’ve also been working on a short story to submit to a mystery and horror anthology, a rather different genre for me. That has been fun too—trying something new, a new kind of story, a new voice.
Tricia: What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Stephanie: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Hone your craft. Follow your dreams—even if they scare you.
Lucky and Mo both gasped a little as Aidan Townsend, the lead singer, stepped up to the microphone. The young man really was stunningly handsome. His golden hair curled just below his ears, and even from this distance Lucky could see that his eyes were the intense blue of a glacial lake. Everything about him shone as if he were lit from within.
When he started to sing, Lucky gasped again. She felt as if the husky baritone struck a chord in her chest and left it humming inside her. Listening to Aidan sing was unlike listening to anyone else she’d ever heard. She didn’t just hear the music; it was as if she became the music, or the music became her. She couldn’t take her eyes off him as his voice rolled over and through her. The lyrics were about love and loss, pain and joy. Lucky couldn’t quite capture the words, but she felt every nuance of emotion conveyed in them. Aidan’s voice was the echo of her own heartbeat, her heart the speaker through which his voice was conducted.
As the song ended, Lucky felt as if she were waking from a dream or coming out from under a spell. She shook her head to clear it, a frown wrinkling her brow as she continued to stare at the singer. Only then did she notice that he was looking at her with an equal intensity, his eyes narrowed, his gaze curious and probing. Lucky held his eyes for a few moments before turning away.
The rest of the set did not affect Lucky so intensely. The music was great—from the driving anthems to the subdued ballads—but she didn’t get caught up in it, swept away, as she had when the first notes from Aidan’s lips had struck her ears. This was at least in part because now that she knew he could evoke such a strong reaction in her, she was somewhat on guard. The few times she felt the touch of his haunting voice inside her head and her chest, as if it were attempting to wrap around her and weave its way through her, she made a conscious effort to shield herself from its thrall. It was not that the experience had been unpleasant—quite the opposite—but it had been unnerving, a little frightening, to have lost herself like that, to have somehow merged with his voice so completely that she couldn’t tell where her edges were, where she began or ended. Especially when she came back to herself and realized that no one else seemed to have been affected in the same way.
But that wasn’t all. She had the curious sense that Aidan was singing differently too, that he had also been shaken by what had happened and was holding back, reining in his own voice so it didn’t overcome her. She gave a little shake of her head at the thought. What was wrong with her? She was letting her imagination carry her into crazy territory. As if a human voice could have that kind of power. No, Aidan’s voice was just one of the most beautiful she’d ever heard, and she’d been seriously moved by the song—there was nothing more to it than that. And thinking she’d felt it trying to enfold her? Well, she was just over-emotional right now, vulnerable to the suggestions of her own imagination.
The set ended, and Aidan announced that they’d be back after a brief break. Ben came over to their table with the drummer and the guitarist following behind. Aidan and the keyboard player headed toward the bar. After a few moments they returned armed with drinks for the whole band. Ben introduced Lucky and Mo to the rest of the band members. Lucky smiled but remained silent while Mo, to whom shyness was a completely foreign emotion, without hesitation told them all how much she’d loved the set and how excited she was to meet them. Lucky sat back in her chair and listened as the conversation unfolded around her.
“So, what kind of name is ‘Lucky,’ anyway?” The soft, deep voice came from close to her ear.
She turned in surprise to find Aidan seated next to her, one booted foot propped on the rung of her chair. “What do you mean?”
One side of his mouth crooked upward in a smile. His eyes were like blue flames. “I’ve never met anyone named Lucky before, that’s all. How do you get a name like that?”
“Well, it’s Josh’s fault really. He was five when I was born. When his family first came to visit us, I guess I was wrapped in a blanket that had ‘Lucy’ embroidered on it. My real name is Lucinda, after my grandmother. Anyway, Josh was just starting to read, and he thought the blanket said ‘Lucky.’ So, that’s what he started calling me, and I guess it stuck.”
“It suits you somehow.”Aidan tilted his head to one side, looking at her through narrowed eyes. “You liked the first song a lot, did you?”
Lucky’s cheeks grew hot. “I… It….” She cleared her throat. “Yes, it was very… moving.”
Aidan’s eyes narrowed further. When he spoke, his voice was very soft. “You got lost in it, didn’t you? You couldn’t tell what was you and what was the song.”
She opened her mouth to protest, but at his murmured “Don’t bother denying it,” she pressed her lips together without saying anything.
“How old are you, Lucky?”
“W-what?” Lucky was embarrassed at how inarticulate she was being, but Aidan’s words kept knocking her off balance. Everything he said was so unexpected. She felt like she was trying to tread water while waves kept crashing over her head.
In a patient voice, he repeated, “How old are you?”
“Seventeen. I’ll be eighteen later this month.”
“Hmmm….” Suddenly, all the intensity went out of his expression, and nodding toward her glass, he gave her a carefree, flirtatious smile. “Hence, the club soda?”
“Hence, the club soda.” She gestured toward the beer in his hand. “And you, I take it, are over 21?”
He nodded and took a long drink from the glass before responding. “Barely, but yes.”
He swallowed the rest of the beer and rose to his feet as he set the empty glass on the table. “I better get back up there. See you after the second set.” His eyes catching hers for a moment, he added, “I wonder if you’ll find it equally… moving.”
Before she could respond, he had left her side to make his way back up onto the stage.
Lucky couldn’t just relax and enjoy the music, no matter how much she wanted to. Every time she started to get caught up in a song, she’d begin to feel that voice trying to weave its way into her, so that she had to shore up her defenses. Each time it happened, she found that Aidan’s eyes were focused on her with a look of concentration. Again, she sensed that he was trying to hold something back, trying to lessen the effect his voice was having on her. Crazy as it sounded, there really did seem to be some kind of weird connection between the two of them.
Despite the mental effort it took, she managed to enjoy the show. She knew some of the songs and liked all of them. Listening wasn’t a problem, as long as she kept a part of her mind focused on resisting the mysterious pull of Aidan’s voice.
But during the last song, her shield crumpled. The song was the band’s signature piece, called “Icarus Falling,” and it was one of her favorites. As she recognized the first notes from the guitar, she unconsciously dropped her guard, and she was defenseless when Aidan began to sing. His voice enveloped her, and all her mental and emotional edges blurred. Some small part of her was still Lucky, but she was also Aidan’s voice, and perhaps a little of Aidan himself, and she was Icarus too. She felt the weight of the wings, the freedom of flight, the blazing heat of the sun. She even felt the touch of burning wax on her back—though the part of her that was still her argued that the wax wasn’t even mentioned in the lyrics.
She grabbed on to that protesting thought and concentrated, trying to pull herself free. Focusing her gaze on the stage, she stared in shock. Rising from Aidan’s back and stretching across the stage was a pair of wings, made not of feathers, but of many tongues of flame, flickering red-gold.