With Xen Sanders’ newest release, readers are introduced to a new world where superpowers don’t necessarily mean superheroes. The first in a series, it’s a bit dark, a lot sexy, and full of action and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat.
As soon as I learned about From the Ashes, I could already tell that it was going to be a new favorite. Villains with powers, a journey to discover how to love, and a healthy dose of family drama? Yes please!
I’m thrilled to have Xen joining us on the blog today to answer a few of my questions about From the Ashes, the geeky things he’s into right now, and what projects he has coming up soon! Plus, drop a comment on this post for your chance to win an eBook copy of From the Ashes!
From the Ashes, by Xen Sanders
Series: Fires of Redemption, Book One
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Release Date: January 2, 2017
Hi Xen, thank you so much for joining us today!
Thanks for having me! Y’all know I adore you, so I appreciate you letting me stop by today.
You’ve never shied away from darker topics in your books, but From the Ashes is a romance novel about a man who is borderline sociopathic, and who doesn’t possess the ability to love. Was this challenging to approach, or did you know going in exactly how Tobias and Sean’s relationship was going to play out?
I honestly had no idea. I usually don’t, because it’s kind of like introducing two cats to each other; you take it slow, exposing them to each other a bit at a time, letting them get familiar, but sooner or later you’ve just got to pitch them into a room together and hope there’s no blood or screaming. Well…er, I’ll just leave that and not say anything else about blood. Or screaming. Or biting.
I think because I grew up with comic books, manga, etc…it wasn’t that difficult to approach the idea of finding love and redemption for this sociopath and mass murderer. Comics are filled with very bad people who are half sold on their sex appeal to the reader, and probably 65% of fanfic wouldn’t exist if not for people wanting to see the bad boys/bad girls get their own or wanting to be the one who gets under the skin of this ruthless killer. Comic book and superhero universes kind of operate by a different morality, a different scale, in which everyone is constantly destroying everything and even if you’re horrified by what someone else has done, it’s very likely that you’ve done something similar, or have the capacity to. So I kind of went into the story thinking of it in the framework of a graphic novel, with these different rules that you’ll find in a world populated by supervillains. Sean still has a very sickened reaction to finding out that Tobias is Spark and has brought about the destruction of millions, but his frame of reference is completely different from ours and affects how he handles that knowledge.
Tobias is from Thailand, and his heritage really plays into his character and how he sees the world. Did you draw on your own travels and experiences for this aspect of Tobias’ character?
A little from travel, mostly from my own experiences. I’m a lapsed Buddhist myself, so some of his memories are my memories when it comes to those little moments and certain perspectives on life. Others are from familiarity and exposure; I’m part Asian, and while I’m not Thai it’s often easier to reach across this panorama of diverse Asian cultures to know and tap into each other’s experiences with an understanding you might not find outside those cultures. I didn’t want to misrepresent, either, though—so I tried to be careful, delicate, and subtle about how I worked Tobias’s heritage in.
You are a self-proclaimed huge dork, so what geeky things are you currently excited about? Shows, books, amazing cat videos on the internet?
Right now, I’m most excited about my hardcover collected editions of Junji Ito’s works: Gyo, Uzumaki, and Tomie. They’re manga, but a bit different in that they’re this extensive horror narrative with a very unique storytelling style from what most people expect to see in manga. They just landed on my doorstep the other day. And these books are fucking bricks. Enormous, enormously satisfying to hold. I’m almost afraid to open them, because I don’t want to mess up the spines, but I’m also aching to read them. Also excited for Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which just came out a week ago. This weekend I’m just planning to bury myself in books, and apparently I’m in the mood for horror.
Oh. And Star Trek: Discovery. GIMME. NOW. RIGHT NOW.
How does your writing process generally go with a project like From the Ashes? Are you a plotter, a pantser, or none of the above?
I’m a get-dragged-through-the-dirt-by-the-voices-in-my-head-er. That’s a word now. I decree it so.
It’s mostly pantsing, I guess. I get a kernel of an idea, “omg I want a story about X, it doesn’t exist, I’M GONNA WRITE IT” or “what if there were a character who felt X way about Y thing?” It all gets tangled up with these weird philosophical discussions I get into with my friends and this messy habit I have of getting way too deep into psychosocial analysis, and all these “what if” questions start coming out. As I answer them I get the loose framework of a story and setting and character voice, and that’s as far as I go with serious advance plotting before I find the right opening line (that’s the crucial part for me) and dive in. After that I go where the story leads and where the characters dictate, and let it evolve on its own like iterations and iterations of fractals. I can’t say I never plot as I go, because my brain is usually tumbling through similar permutations of fractals (and won’t ever shut up, Christ, let me sleep some time), mentally exploring possibility and probability and potential outcomes until I feel that pull that tells me a certain direction is just right.
Sorry I can’t come up with a simpler answer. It’s a messy and complicated process that’s constantly hyperthreading on levels both conscious, subconscious, and intuitive, and I honestly don’t really understand it half the time myself. I just trust my instincts and go, and worry about more structured, organized things in edits…but I can’t escape structure entirely because I’m a hyper-logical weirdo who half the time processes things like Data from TNG.
What is one thing that you hope your readers will take away from From the Ashes?
Mostly a new perspective on looking at things through the eyes of people who aren’t like you. So often people’s concerns, pain, lives are dismissed just because the person listening doesn’t even bother to try to understand life through the eyes of someone so different from them. They just dismiss “different” as wrong. Yet these same people can watch Dexter and empathize with a serial killer, because the story gives him pathos and wit, makes him real from within his own perspective. I wanted to write a story that would make someone so extremely different from your average good-guy hero real from within his own perspective. And I won’t lie, some of that is tied into the current political, social, and cultural landscape. There are direct parallels in the story to everything that’s so fucked up with the culture wars we’re embroiled with at the moment. And in a way the story is a quiet plea:
If you can understand why Tobias would kill millions to try to earn his father’s love…why is it so hard to understand the ache he feels at being separated from his culture, his roots?
It might be strange to see a story about a villain as a plea for empathy…but in the end, that’s what it boils down to. I want you to feel what he feels, his confusion, his torment, his struggles, his losses, his desires. I want you to see someone you’d never think was anything like you, and yet still find common ground.
I’ve seen people say they thought they wouldn’t be able to empathize with a Thai hero’s perspective. Not the fact that he’s a killer. The fact that he’s just a different color and from a different country.
So I want people to ask themselves why they thought that. Why they thought his ethnicity made his story less interesting to them.
And then, maybe, to change their minds.
Can you give us some hints about what you have coming up next?
Well, as I write this I’m taking a break from all the feels I’m getting working on Autumn, a little ancillary novella in my Crow City series that follows Willow’s father and uncle after the events of The Found. It’s the first M/M story I’ve written in Crow City, and it’s bizarrely sweet for such a dark, angsty series, but I’m loving it. Like, writing it is making me giddy, and Joseph and Wally are such dorks together. (Wally is only related to Joseph by marriage, by the way, so get your minds out of the weird incest gutter.) After I finish that, I’ll be starting another main-line Crow City book, The Rich. Also M/M, with Willow’s half-brother Devon and adopted brother, Roan—a former convict come home to roost, and possibly take a few things out on Devon’s hide.
There’s also The Girl with the Stars on Her Skin, which is a weird experiment I’m working on with a seven-part novella serial told from seven perspectives; it’s got F/F, M/F, and M/M woven throughout, and is this massive undertaking that I’m giving myself until spring to finish.
And lastly, a super-secret contemporary M/M project that I’m calling by the code name The Cross and the Swan, for the moment. It’s another darker project, though it’s less about trauma and triggers and more about darker sensuality than the Crow City series; it’s a story of forbidden love, two people who ache to be together but would destroy each other and everything around them. It’s actually set in another fictional city in the same universe as Crow City; if anything it’s the Metropolis to Crow City’s Gotham. Right now I’m getting characters sorted and feinting with a few things, but I’m really excited about it and will likely be focusing all my attention there once Crow City wraps up.
Sociopath. Killer. Deviant.
Monster, devoid of morals, incapable of human emotion. The villain known as Spark has been called this and more, and as a super-powered aberrant has masterminded countless crimes to build his father’s inhuman empire. Yet to professor Sean Archer, this fearsome creature is only Tobias Rutherford—antisocial graduate researcher, quiet underachiever, and a fascinating puzzle Sean is determined to solve.
But one kiss leads to an entanglement that challenges everything Tobias knows about himself, aberrants, and his own capacity to love. When his father orders him to assassinate a senator, one misstep unravels a knot of political intrigue that places the fate of humans and aberrants alike in Tobias’s hands. As danger mounts and bodies pile higher, will Tobias succumb to his dark nature and sacrifice Sean—or will he defy his father and rise from the ashes to become a hero in a world of villains?
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Xen Sanders is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently residing somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of the American Midwest. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant and business writer, and his nights writing genre-bending science fiction and fantasy tinged with a touch of horror and flavored by the influences of his multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual background—when he’s not being tackled by two hyperactive cats. He wavers between calling himself bisexual and calling himself queer, but no matter what word he uses, he’s a staunch advocate of LGBTQIA representation and visibility in genre fiction.
He also writes contemporary romance and erotica as Cole McCade. And while he spends more time than is healthy hiding in his writing cave instead of hanging around social media, you can generally find him in these usual haunts:
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Twitter: @thisblackmagic
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/xen.cole
• Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/ColeMcCadeBooks
• Website & Blog: http://www.blackmagicblues.com
Interested in checking out From the Ashes for yourself? Simply drop a comment on this post letting us know your favorite superhero (or supervillain!), and I’ll pick one lucky winner to receive an eBook copy of From the Ashes! Open worldwide, contest ends January 25 at 11:59pm EST.