I’m delighted to welcome Xenia Melzer to Divine Magazine. This is the first time I’ve done a Q&A with an author on whom I can find very, very little information. So, this should be easy right as I can just ask question after question and she can just blab to her heart’s content? Well, here goes – Xenia, have at it. I hope you have fun!
Roroblu’s Mum: Xenia, welcome to Divine Magazine. You weren’t joking when you told me I wouldn’t find much information about you on the web, were you? Please tell readers about yourself, and how you got into writing. Sorry, but I’m nosy, very nosy and we at DM would like details, lots and lots of details, please. J
Xenia: Well, we’re kind of in the same boat here – this is my very first interview. Until now, I’ve stayed clear of the internet because there was simply no need for me to be there. (I don’t even have a mobile that can tweet, just texts and calls. And no, I’m not old – yet. Just old fashioned sometimes…). I’m a mother of two little daughters and a teacher for English in a Montessori school. I love all kinds of animals and have a red cat called Abby (I love Abby Sciutto from NCIS) and a red mare called Aquamarine who has been with me for the better part of thirteen years now. My husband puts up with the animals in exchange for me putting up with our home being turned into a gigantic computer.
I started writing in school and came up with a few stories that weren’t too bad. Then I went to university, got married and pregnant and writing helped me to release all the mommy-related stress I found myself in. At that point, I didn’t dream of ever publishing anything. Then the two main characters of ‘Casto’, namely Casto and Renaldo, entered my life and their relationship had me on my toes ever since. I just couldn’t stop thinking about them and I wanted to tell their story in a fitting manner. Before I knew it, I had created an entire world complete with a map, a special language and an ever-growing set of characters. The story was too big for one book, then outgrew two books and now I’m already working on book number five. (Books 2 and 3 will be out in December 2016 and June 2017, by the way.) I’m really happy with the way things are right now and still have problems believing that it’s really me who got a contract – even while I’m writing this, I still think I’m talking about somebody I know, not myself.
Roroblu’s Mum: So, your first novel comes out with Dreamspinner Press on 21 June 2016, and it’s called CASTO, and that’s about all I know of it. The cover is stunning, but despite the title and mention of Gods of War, I have no clue as to whether it’s paranormal, historical or fantasy. I even went searching on the DSP website and there’s no information. Would you care to give us a Divine exclusive?
Xenia: When I sent my book out to Dreamspinner, I needed a blurb for the submission. I sweated over it for days since we all know how much the first impression counts. The following is the slightly altered version of the very first blurb I ever wrote in my life. Have fun!
All is fair in love and war. Or is it?
On the world called Ana-Darasa, the gods of war engage in a desperate search for their lost hearts while waging a battle against the Good Mother for supremacy. But theirs is not the only struggle as dominant men, powerful rulers, and demigods clash, fiery passion erupts, and destinies are shaped on the battlefield and in the bedroom. In a war between pride and love, no victory is ever simple.
All is fair in love and war. Renaldo has lived happily by that proverb his entire life. But he has finally met his match, and he’s about to discover how unfair love and war can be.
When demigod and warlord Lord Renaldo takes a beautiful stranger captive during an ambush, he is delighted to have found a distraction that will keep him entertained during the upcoming siege. Little does he know, Casto is keeping more than just one secret from him. Slowly, Renaldo gets sucked into a turbulent roller-coaster relationship with his mysterious prisoner, one that begins with hatred and soon spirals into a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. And when it seems that things can get no worse, an old enemy stirs right in the heart of his home.
Determined to keep Casto by his side, Renaldo has to find a balance between the capricious young man and his own destiny as a ruler and god to his people.
And now, here’s a Divine Magazine-exclusive excerpt:
This is an exclusive excerpt from ‘Casto’. The scene happens after Casto has been captured by Renaldo. For tactical reasons, Casto has feigned ignorance of Renaldo’s language, a cover that is about to blow.
Full of longing, Casto looked up at the star-covered sky. If only the nightmares would stop. Ever since his escape a year ago, they had gotten worse, torturing him with their intensity. It had been right to leave. All that had waited back home was death. Casto listened to the comforting whinny of his brother. Lys could feel his distress and tried to help him as best he could.
“I wish you could understand me. Then I’d tell you that everything is going to be fine.”
Startled, Casto spun around.
Renaldo stood behind him, his gray eyes, not unfriendly, fixed on his slave. “I’d tell you that you can call him, your demon. He won’t be harmed.”
Casto was so angry at this distraction of his thoughts, so furious that the Barbarian had seen right through him, that he snapped back without thinking. “I doubt that, Barbarian.”
Renaldo’s gray eyes widened in astonishment, and at the same time a smile rose on his sinful lips. “So you do speak our language.”
Dismayed and angry that he had given up his cover without thinking, Casto challenged Renaldo further. “Your brutish way of talking isn’t that difficult to master.”
“But you didn’t tell me, for tactical reasons. Not bad, not bad at all.” The Angel of Death seemed rather pleased. “And you can believe me. When I give you my word, you can rely on it.”
“I don’t rely on anything you give me, you brute. You have imprisoned me!” Suddenly, anger sparked in the eyes of the warrior.
“Are you calling me a liar?”
“I don’t know you. Why should I trust you?”
“Because you hardly have a choice in the matter.”
Angrily, they stared at each other, Casto’s blue eyes shooting deadly sparks into the irritated gray gaze of Renaldo. It was a first direct confrontation, a careful weighing of opponents. Suddenly a hot wind awoke, sweeping over them and then vanishing as if it had never existed. When it became obvious that neither of them would give in, Renaldo started talking again.
“I promise you by my honor that your stallion goes unharmed. Nobody will touch or ride him without your permission, and I won’t use him to bring you to heel.”
Casto was torn. Renaldo’s offer was alluring, and having Lys in the camp would make his escape that much easier. On top of that, Casto would no longer be so lonely. But should the Barbarian lie, he would have endangered his brother without reason. He hesitated for a long moment. In the end, his sense of loss won over rationality.
“Well, then, Barbarian, I’ll take you at your word.”
He was just about to call for Lys when he remembered something. “What about the wolves? I don’t want Lys to be harmed.”
Renaldo grinned as if Casto had just passed another test, something that only served to heighten Casto’s irritation.
“But of course.” He made a strange barking sound that was answered by a high-pitched howl, then smiled at Casto. “You’re good to go.”
Roroblu’s Mum: So, Xenia, you’re German, from Bavaria, but you’ve never been to Oktoberfest…and you dare to admit that? Isn’t that heresy?! Even we have Oktoberfest each year in the UK, but then again, we’re Brits and it’s just another excuse to consume copious amounts of alcohol and sausages!! I’m not German, but even I have an old Paulaner Brau beer tankard at home – are you really sure you are German, and not really from Ana-Darasa itself? At least tell me that you do drive a BMW? I mean, you do have Germany’s finest at your fingertips, after all.
Xenia: Nope, I never went to the Oktoberfest! There’s a simple reason for that, although it will probably shock you even more: I don’t drink alcohol. I just don’t like the taste (by the way that is considered heresy here). And if you’ve ever been to the Oktoberfest in the UK, you know that it’s only bearable when you’re drunk. (Gosh, even I think I’m boring…). I used to drive a BMW, which was really cool, but with two kids, we needed a car that had actual trunk space to offer, so now I have a VW. Can’t compare, of course, but I’m dreaming of getting my hands on a BMW 5 once they’ve outgrown elementary school. And sometimes I do wish I was from Ana-Darasa.
Roroblu’s Mum: Have you always written? What/who inspires you, because after reading the blurb, I truly cannot fathom how you came up with it, unless you’re actually from Ana-Darasa or big time into watching/reading fantasy stuff or have a wonderful imagination that goes into creative overdrive in your dreams? Do you LARP, Xenia? I could totally see how your book could translate into LARPing.
Xenia: My head is a scary place to begin with. Other people go drinking, binge eating or clubbing when they’re overstressed, I start imagining different worlds. I am into fantasy, though. I’m a huge fan of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. And my imagination does go into overdrive, not only in my dreams… I don’t LARP myself, but I know a lot of people who do (including Middle Ages Festivals). As for the setup of the book – I just made up a world I would like, one where I made the rules and where things happen the way I want them to. It was real fun to invent all those places and drawing the map was something else!
Roroblu’s Mum: Name the 5 things you would absolutely grab if you had to leave your home in an emergency.
Xenia: Okay, I just assume my family and the cat are already outside… I would grab my laptop because I really need it. Also the copies of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Sleeper and the Spindle’ and Terry Pratchett’s ‘Hogfather’. Emil, my stuffed donkey (I’ve had it since I was little.). A stack of Lindt chocolate (70%), because everything’s easier with chocolate… The furniture I got from my mom who got it from her mom is too heavy, so I just let the books count as two.
Roroblu’s Mum: My hubby’s family is from Iserlohn, so I’ve learned how to cook sauerkraut and sausages, but apparently I murder the German accent (as well as some English dishes!). What’s your German speciality? Do you like English food? If so, what’s your favourite dish?
Xenia: Rest assured, I murder the German accent as well! I can do ‘normal’ German, but I grew up with the Bavarian dialect and a lot of people simply don’t understand me J. My German specialty are Dampfnudeln (that’s dumplings made of yeast dough steamed in milk, served with vanilla sauce) and Apfelstrudel (that’s a very thin dough with a filling of apples and nuts or basically whatever you like, also served with vanilla sauce or ice cream). Sauerkraut is very healthy because of the Vitamin C, but my children don’t like it and I don’t like sausages… I’m also not very good with the traditional dishes like Leber-und Blutwurst (Liver and Blood sausages – about as appealing to an outsider as haggis…). I have to admit I can’t say much about the English cuisine, but I do like the classic fish and chips. Baked beans for breakfast, on the other hand, are not on my list of food I want to see in the morning.
Roroblu’s Mum: I have to ask, how you find the energy to write after a day full of pre-schoolers? Does your hubby do the cooking/cleaning/washing/bathing the kids, etc. whilst you hide away and write? If so, is he after a medal or something?
Xenia: Well, I have to admit, I only work 9 hours a week, so my pupils don’t exhaust me that much. My own children – well, the days are never long enough. My husband does help me a lot, but he’s a freelance engineer, so I’m on my own often. I write whenever I have time and I always enjoy the Sundays when my mom takes the children so I can work more than an hour before getting interrupted.
Roroblu’s Mum: So, you’ve let on that there are 4 books in the series so far, and that you’ve started on the 5th – how long is this series going to be? And, will it end with HEAs for Casto and Renaldo? Are they the leads of the entire series, or will there be more couples/more with each book?
Xenia: At the moment, I think the series will be about seven or eight books, but in the beginning I thought it would be only three books, so who knows. Interesting new characters keep coming up and who am I to send them away unmentioned? I don’t want to spoil anything, but Casto and Renaldo are an item throughout, but there are a couple of interesting pairings going on, one a threesome that is the definition of healthy compared to what Renaldo and Casto have. So there is a growing cast of couples/characters and I’m trying to keep it all balanced. The different relationships and the way the characters are handling them is also one of the thrills of the book because I can show it all in interaction.
Roroblu’s Mum: If this series got optioned for TV, say, for a series like Game of Thrones, who could you see playing the leads? I like Max Riemelt (soooo sexy in Frier Fall – have you seen it? Liked it, but the romantic in me hated the non-ending ending that had me hunting down fanfic. But I digress, sorry) but I don’t think he’d be suited to this. Go on, Xenia, you can tell us. We’re all friends here and we promise not to tell your hubby if he’s not your first choice (if he is, we need pics!).
Xenia: My husband knows my tastes… he usually tells me: ‘They are in there (the TV), and I am out here.’ I tell him the same, we’re very open about this type of thing 🙂
I don’t know Max Riemelt, but I’m definitely going to look for him… For Casto, I could picture Sergei Polunin, the ballet dancer (he’s not an actor, but yum!) and for Renaldo either Alexander Skarsgard with dark hair or Jason Momoa before Game of Thrones (I’m talking Stargate Atlantis here…).
Roroblu’s Mum: Have you been keeping abreast of the stuff happening in the world of MM? I know you’re new and don’t want to scare you off, but there seems to be quite a bit of in-genre bitching instead of using the boom in MM tales to improve awareness of the LGBTQIA community. Does that scare you, or do you have a mentor/mentors? Someone who’s taken you under their wing?
Xenia: I have to admit, I haven’t been aware of in-genre bitching. The authors from DSP are all very supportive of each other regardless the genre and are really trying to improve the awareness for the LGBTQIA community. I do know that there is always some bitching going on everywhere (at university, you are told that there’s ‘high’ and ‘trash’ literature, etc.) and I think it’s really sad. Anybody who writes a book knows how agonizing it can be, how difficult it is to find a pub for it, how much energy and heart and work and love you invest in a story. There are stories out there I wouldn’t read because I don’t like the genre or the topic, but I would never belittle the authors. Any book that is written with love deserves to be respected, as does the author. Who am I to judge what literature is ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Literary history tells us that in twenty, fifty years’ time, things could be entirely different (Edgar A. Poe only got big after he died and the literary world is full of such stories).
I do have someone who has taken me under their wing, Dr Richard Marranca, my teacher from university days, but he has little to do with the LGBTQIA world. He simply egged me on when I wanted to give up and he always offers me support when I need it. He was also the one who suggested I write my book in English.
Roroblu’s Mum: Name 5 amazing things about Bavaria that the rest of the world might not know about.
Xenia: It’s hard to pick since this is the home I really love… Let’s see, Bavaria is full of beautiful little lakes where you can spend perfect lazy summer days. The best foods are not sauerkraut and sausage but the sweets. Dampfnudeln, Apfelstrudel, Kaiserschmarrn. Heavenly. The best Bavarian holiday is Leonhardi. Saint Leonhard protects people from fire and is the patron of horses and cattle. During October and November, there are countless Leonhardi parades where the farmers get out their horses, the finest leather, the best carriages and honor the saint. They are a lot of fun to watch because there are really fine horses in Bavaria! Bavarians are really good horse breeders. The Haflinger horse and the South German Coldblood are quite famous. I also think that the contradictions are quite amazing. The rural areas and the cities seem to be like two different worlds until you enter a bank and are greeted in perfect dialect.
Roroblu’s Mum: What made you decide to write a tale with male leads, Xenia? And why fantasy, instead of the many tropes that are so popular out there (GFY, BDSM, GFP, kink, instagay, instalove, instalust, uniform-gay, etc.), that seem to sell so well? Are you simply telling the tale your characters want you to tell?
Xenia: Originally, my story was about Renaldo’s brother, Canubis, and his mate, Noemi, so a classical heterosexual romance. But along the way, I realized that Casto and Renaldo were a lot more interesting. They wanted me to tell their story and so I did. Since most of my writing isn’t well-planned, very intuitive and chaotic, I didn’t get to choose the genre. A fantasy world was simply the perfect setup for the characters, so I wrote that. Like every author, I do hope my work will sell, but I didn’t think about that when I started writing the story. It’s just the way it has become and I can only hope that people will like it. The main focus is on the way the different couples, and, of course, Renaldo and Casto, interact. The fantasy world is the background that allows me to go places with my characters that would be difficult to visit in a ‘normal’ environment and it also offers a story arch that has no limits. One of the most convenient facts about fantasy!
Roroblu’s Mum: Are you surprised, Xenia, that gay marriage isn’t yet legal in Germany? Can you see it happening any time soon – I mean, there have been several attempts to pass a bill, with the last being opposed in December 2015, and with 70% of Germans being in favour of the same, surely it can’t be long before it is legal?
Xenia: Well, one can but hope. It’s such a shame! I mean, we even had a gay minister of foreign affairs and he was in an official partnership with his husband (not married, though). The main political party which is still putting it on hold, the CDU, is starting to change. They have their own openly gay politicians who are gaining popularity, so I think it’s only a question of time. Still, it makes me wonder how a liberal country with lots of highly educated people can be so repressive.
Roroblu’s Mum: Have you been to London? If not, why not and when are you coming over? Please bring Halloren Kugel and Asbach (self-confessed chocolate fiend here) and we can trade for a guided tour of London?
Xenia: I’ve been to London before, although just for a weekend. A friend of mine did an apprenticeship there and I visited. I thought it was pretty cool albeit expensive. I did the whole tourist thing with London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussaud’s, etc, so if I visit again, I would trade those chocolates (and some even better ones) for a tour of the non-tourist London, if such a place exists.
Roroblu’s Mum: And finally, Xenia, the quick fire round: On a scale of 1-100, how much of a romantic are you? How much of a romantic is your hubby? Max Riemelt or Chris Hemsworth? A day to yourself to write in peace and quiet, or a day’s pampering at a spa? Favourite holiday destination? What makes you happy/angry/sad? Beer, Mezzo Mix (my hubby loves this but the colour is too weird for me!) or Riesling? Has your hubby ever worn lederhosen? Is it still traditional for certain occasions? Cabbage rolls or Bratwurst? What was the last thing your hubby did that annoyed you, and did you tell him? BMW or Aston Martin? Last, but not least, what’s your idea of the perfect day? Thank you Xenia, and good luck with the series
Xenia: I’m a 90. I just love a good, happy ending! My husband is rather practical, so he gets a solid 83. Chris Hemsworth. Or the James Bond Sean Connery. Spa! Spa! Spa! Anywhere as long as there’s a spa. I love sunflowers. I get angry at narrow-minded people. And at myself when I realize I’m acting narrow-minded. The news these days make me sad. Very sad. Apfelschorle (that’s apple juice with water). We do wear Lederhosen and Dirndl occasionally. For example, on my daughter’s first day in school. Sometimes for weddings. I prefer Apfelstrudel. He cooked eggs when we had about seven already cooked in the fridge and, yes, I did tell him! BMW. A perfect day is one where I don’t have to think about anything. No appointments, no work, no household. Just nothing…