QSFer Anna Butler has a new MM Steampunk book coming out on 10/30, “The Jackal’s House”, and we’re happy to share the great cover and chat with Anna a bit about this book and its predecessor, “The Gilded Scarab”:
Queer Sci Fi: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Anna Butler: I’ve been writing since I was a child. When I hit my teens and for years after, I wrote fanfic—that was before the internet and before I even knew such a thing as fanfiction existed. Looking back on them, they were dreadful Mary Sues. Dreadful! As for being good at it… I’m not sure I am. I don’t think I’m terrible, mind! But I do know I learn something with every single chapter I write, and I suspect I’ll always be learning.
QSF: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
AB: I write speculative fiction—genre science fiction with LGBT characters in the Taking Shield series, and steampunk m/m romance for Lancaster’s Luck.
My writing style? That’s a hard one. One member of my crit group described it as ‘literary’. I think she meant pretentious and verbose! I don’t do concise. I do flowery.
QSF: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
“The cover, btw, is known in our house as ‘the exploding nipple of doom’.”
AB: I self-published FlashWired in 2013 (gosh! That long ago…). It’s a novella of just over 20k words, set in the future when Earth is out actively looking for new colonies in other star systems. The heroes run into a new civilization, with devastating consequences. It most definitely isn’t a romance! Here’s the blurb:
Cal Paxton and Jeeze Madrid are the top scouting team on the Pathfinder-class starship, the Carson, on the very outer edge of Earth’s expansion across the galaxy. A Pathfinder’s job is to evaluate planets for colonization. Cal’s and Jeeze’s job is to find the planets for the Carson’s scientists to analyze.
Cal and Jeeze are wingmen, best friends… and lovers. Cal wants more than a casual relationship but Jeeze, recently divorced, is wary of commitment. When Jeeze is shot down over a planet inhabited by a race Earth has never before encountered, what will Cal find when the Carson can finally mount a rescue mission? Will he ever succeed in persuading Jeeze to take up his offer of hand and heart?
The cover, btw, is known in our house as “the exploding nipple of doom”.
QSF: What’s your writing process?
AB: I’m a semi-plotter. I don’t outline to excess, but I usually have a good idea of what will happen in a book, where I want to end up and what the big plot points will be en route. I use a whiteboard either to plan minutely five chapters at a time or, occasionally, to brainstorm one chapter or scene. The whiteboard currently harbours what I think of as a squashed spider diagram – a mind-map of my next chapter.
I write in Scrivener, because it has none of the distracting bells and whistles of Word, and I can move things around so easily on their virtual corkboards, as well as pin in research and images to keep me focused. I transfer to Word for the final edit, and I’ve been known to run each chapter through editminion and grammerly before I send the text off to be professionally edited. I send my editor a text as clean as I can get it.
QSF: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
AB: I wavered between being a doctor or being a lawyer, but I ended up working as a communications specialist in the UK civil service. Don’t quite know how that happened!
I still wonder about my younger self wanting to do medicine, because, quite honestly, I was only average at science. I rocked English and History, mind you, and if I’d had any sense I’d have stuck with doing something with those. Given my later, adult interests, being an Egyptologist would have been right up my street, but by the time I realised that, I was locked into grown up things like a mortgage and financial commitments. I’ve had to remain an Egyptologist manqué.
QSF: If I were a Hollywood producer about to put your book on the big screen, who would you want me to cast as the leads? Why? And can we have pictures to drool over?
“And as an aside, haven’t many of the Harry Potter actors grown up gorgeous? Have you *seen* Neville Longbottom recently?!”
AB: Ooooh… now then. This one’s fun!
For The Jackal’s House, I always saw Rafe Lancaster, the narrator, as looking like Rupert Friend (Albert in The Young Victoria and a dashing Mr Wickham in that otherwise bloodless Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice). He has the right amount of good looks and a certain raffish quality. Of course, he should have darker hair and be wearing late (rather than early!) Victorian clothes, but this is pretty much my Rafe, and has been pinned on my inspiration board since I started writing the first Lancaster’s Luck book, The Gilded Scarab, back in 2014. Reese Dante managed to make the cover Rafe rather like Rupert, which was nice.
Ned has been harder to pin down. He has Scandinavian genes (his maternal grandmother was Swedish), and that conferred blond hair and hazel eyes on him. Rafe always describes him as ‘beautiful’, so I have to take that into account as well as his being rather an innocent, in some ways. In the end, I thought this picture of a wistful Tom Felton sums Ned up perfectly.
And as an aside, haven’t many of the Harry Potter actors grown up gorgeous? Have you *seen* Neville Longbottom recently?!
QSF: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
AB: I’ve ridden in a circus.
I was about five, I think, and a small circus came to a town near our country village. My parents took my sister (then three-ish) to see it. I don’t remember an awful lot, except that the clowns brought in a Shetland pony and issued an invitation along the lines of “Would one boy or girl like to ride Pickles here?” and I was down in the ring before they’d finished speaking. The Ringmaster, who wore a splendid scarlet uniform and a black top hat, lifted me up and I got my ride around the ring.
And no, I’ve never been afraid of clowns. Why do you ask?
QSF: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
AB: Not to begin with. I don’t remember not being able to read, but apparently when I started school, I was rather slow to pick it up. Then my teacher had the good sense to let me choose my own book from the bookshelf, and that did the trick. I was off the starting line.
I loved books so much that my best Christmas and birthday presents were always a pile of books so high I could barely see over them. Any toys I got were pushed to one side and ignored until I’d read the books. From me being about six, books were my best companions.
QSF: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
“Procrastination, thy name is Anna.”
AB: To put off, to delay, to loiter, to dillydally, to lollygag, to shilly-shally, to dawdle, to put on the back burner at the same time as to put on ice, and to put both ice and back burner on the shelf…
You get the idea. Procrastination, thy name is Anna.
QSF: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
AB: The final Taking Shield book, Day of Wrath. I’d hoped to publish it before Christmas, but that’s looking more and more unlikely. Early next year, for definite. After that, I’ll be looking at a third Lancaster’s Luck book and compiling the entire Shield series into a single ebook ‘set’. And after that… I dunno. I’m waiting for inspiration.
Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy…
Rafe Lancaster’s relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe’s House encourages him to join Ned’s next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe’s included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol—just in case.
Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they’re facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog—the jackal-headed god Anubis, ruler of death—casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned’s son is on the line?
Lancaster’s Luck Book Two
About the Series:
Lancaster’s Luck is set in a steampunk world where, at the turn of the 20th century, the eight powerful Convocation Houses are the de facto rulers of the Britannic Imperium. In this world of politics and assassins, a world powered by luminiferous aether and phlogiston and where aeroships fill the skies, Captain Rafe Lancaster, late of Her Majesty’s Imperial Aero Corps, buys a coffee house in one of the little streets near the Britannic Museum in Bloomsbury.
So begins the romantic steampunk adventures which have Rafe, a member of Minor House Stravaigor, scrambling over Londinium’s rooftops on a sultry summer night or facing dire peril in the pitch dark of an Aegyptian night. And all the while, sharing the danger is the man he loves: Ned Winter, First Heir of Convocation House Gallowglass, the most powerful House in the entire Imperium.
Pre-order The Jackal’s House and send a copy of the email confirmation (or a screengrab of it) to [email protected] and
(i) Anna will send you the first chapter and some deleted scenes by email. The deleted scenes will be exclusive until the end of the year; and
(ii) Your name will be entered in a draw for
1st prize—a signed paperback of the first Lancaster’s Luck book, the Gilded Scarab.
2nd prize— a Gilded Scarab travel coffee mug.
3rd prize— an Anubis pendant.
Winners will be announced on publication day.
(i) If you’re one of the first 15 people to respond, you’ll also get a little bag of Jackal loot, a cool Anubis temporary tattoo and a matching Anubis brooch;
(ii) One of the next 30? You’ll get a bag of loot and a tattoo.
The only times I’d seen him this relaxed and at peace back home had been while he lay against me, skin against skin, sated after a night of lovemaking. Well, with luck I could provide that too, although perhaps not quite skin to skin. The sand got in everywhere if you tried that.
I slipped my hand into his. We were going to one of our favorite spots half a mile or so from the expedition house, a place where a small sandy depression in the land formed a perfect bowl before the ground started rising to the hills edging the Western Desert. Behind us, sparks from the village’s fires danced upward to meet the star-diamonds, and out on the canal a fisherman leaned out of his boat to grasp his nets, illuminated by a moon that had leached all the color out of the world, leaving it gray and black with shadow.
Far in the distance came a sharp yapping.
A jackal, likely, rather than one of the village dogs. The desert teemed with them, those ancient psychopomps to the souls of the dead. Another picked up the call, like an echo. Behind us, from the reedbeds of the canal, came the low ugh-ugh-ugh of a bittern and the higher-pitched whoop of the ibis.
Ned’s quiet breathing as he walked beside me became deeper, relaxed, and easy. His eyes gleamed in the starlight. “I love this.” His grip on my hand tightened. “Listen to that! Can you imagine what it must have been like all those thousands of years ago? So little in this old land has changed. Fishermen in Seti’s time went out on the canal in boats very like that one, and the bitterns kept up the same commentary as they watched. Seti heard the jackals too, and worshipped them.”
“I draw the line at worshipping dogs.”
The jackals started up again, farther off, the sound harder and angrier. Two dogs trading insults and gearing up for a little manly jostling perhaps, or a dog posturing for a reluctant female. After a little while, the barks and growls became a screaming yelp, and then there was silence.
“I wonder if she was interested anyway.” Ned sounded amused, showing he’d followed the same line of thought I had. He shook out the soft bedthrow and settled it over the sands.
“One of them lost, and I’d be surprised if it was the lady.” I settled onto the blanket.
Ned lay on his side, facing me, propping himself up on one elbow and using his free hand to trace a fingertip down the side of my face. “Do you really want to talk about the mating habits of jackals?”
“I would far rather talk about ours. Or to be precise, I don’t want to talk but to act.”
“Good.” Ned leaned over me. “Because I shall follow Benedick’s example and stop your mouth.”
With a kiss. With lots of kisses.
Well, blow me down hard. If there was one thing Shakespeare got right, it was the efficacy of a kiss to stop a man talking himself to death and to focus his mind on the essentials. For the next few minutes… years… centuries… Ned and I indulged in deep, increasingly urgent kisses, hands exploring bodies that were familiar now but which always needed to be mapped out anew. Just so I could be sure, you understand, that nothing had changed. Some kisses were so deep, I would swear Ned was using his tongue to check out my lungs from the inside—an exercise that left me breathless. His hands slid inside my shirt, hot and possessive. No doubt Ned too was reacquainting himself with familiar territory.
“Do love me tonight, Rafe. Dear Rafe.”
Well, I didn’t need to be asked twice.
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service.
These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.