I am delighted to have Janine Ashbless back here on my blog. The first time was for Cover Him with Darkness, a dark erotic romance novel about angels (you can read that interview again or indeed for the first time). I enjoyed Cover Him With Darkness so much that when the opportunity to read the next in the series and grill Janine about writing it I leapt at it (though I worry I got too enthusiastic and probing in my questions, but Janine has been a most gracious interviewee – thank you!)
1.You’ve had other projects between writing In Bonds of Earth and Cover Him with Darkness. How was it getting back into the ‘headspace’ for these characters and this world?
I was surprisingly easy, I think—like meeting up with old friends. I’d written quite a bit of straightforward erotica between Cover Him and In Bonds, so it was a thrill to immerse myself in their boiling emotional currents and complex character interactions once more. I was ready for some serious loved-up angst! What I did have to do was pull apart the text of Cover Him With Darkness to re-familiarise myself with all the little details like speech patterns, eye colours, and personal tics.
2.How long did it take you to write/research/prepare etc.? What was your process?
I research as I write. My novel-writing is a constant process of going back to previous chapters and adding detail and refining dialogue. I insert whole scenes. I don’t plan ahead in any structured way, but I work and rework what is already on the page. So my wordcount for a day might be quite low (I’m pleased if I hit 1000 words) but there’s a lot of online poking around going on within that total!
3.There were a lot of interesting locations in the book. How did you choose them (I ask about a significant one in the next question)?
It’s a mix of places I’ve been (Athens, Bologna, Ethiopia) and places I can research relatively thoroughly on the internet, or by asking people who’ve been there (Chicago, Minnesota, that location in Rio … yes there is Youtube footage of that interior up there). Accuracy matters to me. Google Earth is my best friend!
4.You’ve clearly done your research for the novel – and I understand you went to Ethiopia too! Could you tell us a bit about your trip and how it influenced the novel?
I went on a twenty-day tour of Ethiopia specifically to find a location for the angel Penemuel’s prison. Ethiopia is the most extraordinary country, and nothing like the mental picture we have of it in the West. It has deep deep layers of civilisation, archaeology and Christian Orthodox mythology. I did get food poisoning at one point, which was a bit gruelling, but it was well worth it. I think the thing I wanted to get across in the book is how unfamiliar and eerie Christianity can be, in a different setting to one we’ve grown up in, and how much it varies across denominations.
5.Milja and Azazel’s relationship is deeply intense and highly sexually charged, at times unsettlingly so because of Azazel’s powerful nature. How do you keep the scales in balance between the two of them?
The fact that the scales aren’t balanced is one of the things I address repeatedly in this trilogy. It’s an real problem for Milja, who is smart enough to know that this is NOT a “healthy” relationship, but can’t bring herself to want out of it. From the author’s perspective, I have to make sure Milja isn’t just passive. She can certainly outsmart the angels she meets. She is developing abilities that Azazel doesn’t have (like the power to communicate with imprisoned angels in her dreams), and she knows more about human nature than he does. He’s a bit of an innocent/bull-in-a-china-shop so he does try to listen to her advice on relationship matters. And when Azazel gets into trouble, it’s Milja who has to save him.
6.Your angels (we get to see more of them – yay!) are all rather striking characters. How did you go about making them so distinct from each other?
I was determined that my angels shouldn’t all be white guys—because why should they? They’ve adapted to human form depending on where they spent most of their time, and in fact my four archangels (Gabriel, Michael, Uriel, Raphael) have individual responsibility for the four “quarters” of the world in traditional style, and their appearance reflects that. Azazel looks Middle Eastern, while Penemuel looks Ethiopian. As for their personalities, without dropping a spoiler for Book 3… something pivotal happened some centuries after Azazel’s imprisonment and it’s how the different loyal angels responded to that event that really defines them as individuals.
7.Roshana is a new and most interesting character. Without giving away spoilers, what were your inspirations for her?
That’s a slightly awkward question … she’s somewhat based on someone I know, but turned up to 11 and given magical powers. As I was writing Cover Him I realised that she really ought to turn up in a later book, so I made space for that to happen, and then just extrapolated what she would have to be like. She’s a horrifically ruthless character in many ways (but so is Azazel, remember, and so is Egan on a more human scale), yet I hope I’ve made it clear that all the bad stuff makes sense, given her history. She is just trying to protect herself from a world that’s been incredibly cruel to her. Every one of my characters is damaged in some way—that’s why I’m interested in them.
8.Biblical and other forms of mythology permeate the book. How much of it is based on what others have written down and what have you invented yourself?
I’ve tried to use real mythology and quote it for my own ends. The stuff about the Sons of God having sex with human women is right there in Genesis 6. Lots more detail about fallen angels comes from The Book of Enoch, which is a real, apocryphal text. The stuff about Serbian dragons I happened across by accident! Yay research!
9.What next for Milja and Azazel? Do you have a plan for the next book in the series?
In 15,000 words I’ll have finished it! It’ll be called The Prison of the Angels and will wrap up the trilogy. We’ll get to meet Samyaza, leader of the Fallen, and all the archangels. And see a second War in Heaven kick off…
10.What is your next project?
Finish The Prison of the Angels; republish my Lovers’ Wheel quartet, then—I hope—edit an anthology in the autumn. That’s enough to keep me busy 🙂
Excerpt from In Bonds of the Earth
Wrapping the cheap cotton throw from the foot of the bed around my bare body, I padded through to the doorway. The Archangel Michael stood in the middle of my small apartment, looking about him at the book shelves and the pictures. A paperback copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo slipped from his hand back onto the low table.
“Hello, Milja. Nice place. Has he moved his toothbrush in yet?”
It was like waking to find a giant bird of prey in my tiny living room; he looked wildly unsuited to a domestic setting and way too big for it, even with wings furled. In fact, with that Roman nose and those unblinking amber eyes, there was something distinctly golden eagle-like about him. If he stretched out he could knock over walls, I thought.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked. “This is my home. You can’t just come barging in!”
“You’re right,” he said, looking startled. “I have to have your permission. No, hold on, wait…that’s vampires. Shame.”
I pursed my lips. “Well, God certainly did not hold back on the sarcasm when he made you guys.”
He smirked. If you’re that good-looking, even a less-than-warm smile can be a weapon of devastating charm. Turning to the couch, he sat down with arms draped over the back and knees spread. It was not so much an invitation as a claiming of territory.
“What do you want?” I kept my voice hard, even as I thought of the icon of Saint Michael that had stood guard over the key in my father’s church. That holy painting had always made me feel nervous as a child, and he was no less intimidating in the flesh. His piercing gaze rested lightly upon me, with all the gentleness of a sword-point.
His rigger boots were caked in dried mud, I noticed, and flaking on my rug. I wished he would blink. It still creeped me out, even though Azazel should have inured me to it.
“Angels aren’t supposed to lie. What are you doing here?”
“So, what…you’re sitting guard over me until Azazel comes back? Is that your plan?”
“He’s too much of a coward to face me. Runs every time.”
“If that’s the way you want to call it.”
He looked at the kitchen door. “I see you have a kettle. You got any tea? I like that Earl Grey stuff. Tastes like flowers.”
“I know the rules, you know. You can’t actually do anything to me.”
“True enough. And I’m not stopping you leaving, if that’s worrying you.”
“I can move out. Get a new place.”
“That’s fine, I’ll find you. This apartment’s a bit small for the two of us, to be honest.”
I clenched my jaw, weighing my options. “Okay,” I said, and dropped my wrap to reveal my naked body, in all its post-coital salty glow.
That wiped the smile off his lips. “Don’t play those games,” he growled, sitting up and looking away from me.
Love is Azazel’s weak spot. Shame is theirs. They’re terrified of their own human flesh.
“What? Does this make you uncomfortable? That’s a pity, seeing as how it’s my house and I like to walk around it naked.”
“You are shameless.” His gaze was sliding all over the place, not daring to settle on me.
“I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.” I hefted my breasts and jiggled them. “They’re my tits. In my apartment. If you don’t want to see, clear out.”
“Put your robe back on,” he rasped.
“Oops,” I said. “Did I drop it?” Turning my back to him, I spread my feet and, straight-legged, bent over to pick the fabric up again. Nice and slow…
He moved so fast he’d launched me across the room and onto my bed before I even realized he was out of his seat. The abused mattress twanged in alarm. It knocked the wind out of me—and more than that, shocked me half to death. I wasn’t in the least bit hurt, not even bruised, but I hadn’t expected him to touch me at all, under the rules. Maybe the Boatman sailed closer to the wind than I’d bargained for.
“Don’t do that, whore!” he barked, leaning into my face. He looked furious. I knew why. It takes a human decades to learn how to deal with all the things that come with an adult body—all those hormones and instincts—without losing control. Angels never had the advantage of a gradual introduction.
I had two choices: surrender or fight. I bared my teeth and snarled right back at him, matching his rage and contempt. “Or what? You’re going to rape me? ’Cause I think that might just count as a fall from Grace, don’t you? And then you’d be royally fucked, Mister Michael.”
He recoiled, drawing himself up in undisguised horror. I took advantage of the gap between us to roll over and pull the drawer of my bedside cabinet open, pulling out the silicon rabbit sex toy I’d been given at my graduation party. I hadn’t used it in months, I couldn’t even remember if there were any batteries in it, and I certainly wasn’t feeling horny, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
“Wanna watch?” I asked, spreading my legs wide. “Because that’s what us girls do when we’re home alone these modern days. You can go into the other room if it squicks you out to see. Then you’ll only have to listen to the noises I make.”
He turned on his heel and stomped away, slamming his hands into the doorframe hard enough to crack the wood. But he didn’t leave altogether. He was just that bit too stubborn.
“I will free them all.”
When Milja Petak released the fallen angel Azazel from five thousand years of imprisonment, she did it out of love and pity. She found herself in a passionate sexual relationship beyond her imagining and control – the beloved plaything of a dark and furious demon who takes what he wants, when he wants, and submits to no restraint. But what she hasn’t bargained on is being drawn into his plan to free all his incarcerated brothers and wage a war against the Powers of Heaven.
As Azazel drags Milja across the globe in search of his fellow rebel angels, Milja fights to hold her own in a situation where every decision has dire consequences. Pursued by the loyal Archangels, she is forced to make alliances with those she cannot trust: the mysterious Roshana Veisi, who has designs of her own upon Azazel; and Egan Kansky, special forces agent of the Vatican – the man who once saved then betrayed her, who loves her, and who will do anything he can to imprison Azazel for all eternity.
Torn every way by love, by conflicting loyalties and by her own passions, Milja finds that she too is changing – and that she must do things she could not previously have dreamt of in order to save those who matter to her.
In Bonds of the Earth is the second in the Book of the Watchers trilogy and the sequel to Cover Him With Darkness.
Janine Ashbless is a writer of fantasy erotica and steamy romantic adventure. She likes to write about magic and myth and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human.
Buyer beware! If you like dark romance and a hard-won Happily Ever After, try “Cover Him with Darkness,” “Heart of Flame,” or “The King’s Viper.” If you prefer challenging erotica, go for “Red Grow the Roses” or “Named and Shamed” instead. All her other books lie somewhere on the spectrum between.
Janine has been seeing her books in print ever since 2000. She’s also had numerous short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology ‘Geek Love’.
Born in Wales, Janine now lives in the North of England with her husband and two rescued greyhounds. She has worked as a cleaner, library assistant, computer programmer, local government tree officer, and – for five years of muddy feet and shouting – as a full-time costumed Viking. Janine loves goatee beards, ancient ruins, minotaurs, trees, mummies, having her cake and eating it, and holidaying in countries with really bad public sewerage.
Her work has been described as:
“Hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “Vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa).
Author picture credit to David Woolfall.
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