Sunday, 23 February 2014


Title: Afterlife Lessons
Authors: Laila Blake & L.C. Spoering
Publisher: Lilt Literary
Release Date: 8th April 2014

BLURB from Goodreads
Hulking shadows emerge out of the chaotic flurries of the blizzard. Something is dying, and so they come, like vultures.

After months of struggling south to escape the zombie-infested remains of New York, a snowstorm traps 23-year old artist, Emily, and her son in an abandoned gas station. Starving and desperate, they encounter Aaron, an Army medic on a mission of his own, who offers them a ride to ease the journey.

The road is a long and dangerous place to travel, and every day brings a new threat. But fear and adrenaline also drive the two closer together; they find laughter and a budding attraction that starts to thaw at their numb and deadened feelings. And that’s when the pain really starts to hit, when places long thought lost prickle back to life. Eventually, they will have to fight not just for survival, but for a future together, or their broken world will swallow them whole.

What genre would you place your After Life Lessons into?
Lorrie: At the base, I’d say sci-fi - I mean, zombies, right? I suck at genres. Romantic sci-fi? Sci-fi romance? ~~~~~~>
Laila: I think most closely it’s Post-apocalyptic romance, possibly with a dash of dystopian. The truth is that both us very much believe in crossing genre as much as we can, so when we wrote it, it felt like contemporary fiction - which happened to feature zombies and a central love story.

How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
Laila: As you might have guessed this depends on a lot of things. My last release Driftwood Deeds comes from a little story I wrote when I was 18, so it would have been 10 years   in the making. The actual writing took about a month and a half, and then there are always several rounds of editing. In general, for a full-length book, I’d say between 2 and 4 months for the first draft and then however many drafts it takes.
Lorrie: Alone, anywhere between one month and six months for a first draft. Up to a year for editing and rewrites to my satisfaction. Together, we’ve written a full-length first draft in as little as 2 weeks. After Life Lessons took about three months for the first draft, another several for rewrites and edits. A full year to publication!

How does the writing process work with two authors?
Lorrie: I don’t think we can speak for all author duos, but ours is pretty loose, and really easy. We open up a Google document and go back and forth. There’s a lot of IM’s that go on for hours with just “You” written over and over. 
Laila: It’s fun seeing each other type and finding ourselves in the kind of creative synergy that emerges when we are both fully emerged in the story at the same time. But I think our author partnership is also somewhat special in that we honestly are best friends and we love spending time together like this - if we divided it by chapters or something like that, it wouldn’t feel so good or so much like a product of our friendship. ~~~~~~~~~>

Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
Laila: We both have different processes when we write alone - for our own books, we don’t. I don’t think either of us has ever worked with a character sheet or something like that. For me, that makes it too rigid. It’s actually a common occurrence, that I started out with a certain idea for a character, but in writing, they turned out differently, wanted to go a different way and I went back to edit the beginning. I like writing as an organic process.
However, when we write together, we do have to make sure our ideas for the characters line up.
Lorrie: Given that we don’t share a brain (though there are people who believe we do), we tend to need some basic information set out so characterization stays consistent. We will jot down stats like age, height, what have you, and a brief history so both of us are, as my father hates to hear me say, on the same page. We don’t go too rigid, still, because we like to feel as though the character comes out on paper between us in a way that is believable, and not adhering to some kind of blueprint we both keep consulting.

Do you ever disagree on the direction of a character or the plot and how do you solve it?
Lorrie: Of course we disagree from time to time. We’ve never spent much time in debate, though, because we’re pretty good at compromising, and figuring out what works for both of us without one person caving to the vision of the other.
Laila: I think with most disagreements, there’s always one person who is more passionate about that particular issue, and while we might go for a compromise, it’s never been painful or complicated, really. We trust each other’s instincts, and in writing, it actually helpful not to use the first idea that springs to your head but to keep digging for something more original. So disagreements actually often help coming to an even better solution.

Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books?
Laila: I think both of us would agree that the idea of morals in books makes us uncomfortable. We don’t want to teach our readers a lesson or manipulate them into our way of seeing the world.
But on the other hand, of course there are certain themes and topics we hold dear that find their way onto the page. In After Life Lessons, it was especially the idea of strength in female characters.
We find it a bit problematic that female leads are now always stuck with that one word: strong. It’s so strange and limiting and not something you’d ever ask of a male character (there it’s kind of assumed). So we took a lot of care to make Emily very nuanced. Of course she’s strong, but she’s also weak sometimes, she’s selfish, and creative, and loving, dirty and a little hipster, and it was very important to us to give her a very full picture of being a woman in a difficult situation.
Lorrie: I wouldn’t want to take away the sheer enjoyment of reading a book by beating someone over the head with a concept. We wanted a good read, but, besides that, we wanted a good story, with good people.
Aaron was maybe easier for me, at least, than working to ensure Emily embodied a lot of what we both believe. Aaron is an honestly good person, and we let him have his emotions without claiming them as flaws. He has those, of course, too - we approached some of the damaging ideas of masculinity and bravery through him, and we plan to explore more of that in the second installment of the story.

Do you enjoy writing with another author more than writing alone?
Lorrie: I like both, but for different reasons. Alone, it’s somewhat easier to go winging off into whatever strikes my fancy (I’m very much a “write whatever comes to me” kind of person), and, obviously, alone I don’t have to make another person understand what’s in my head before it goes onto the page.
Working with Laila, though, is possibly more fun. Not only do we get to hang out and call it work, but we both get ideas from each other, and one spark tends to beget another until we’ve created something really fantastic neither of us would likely be able to on our own.
Laila: It’s funny, for me what I like about writing alone is actually the opposite of Lorrie’s. When I write by myself, I go with a lot more structure, actually plan more than when we write together. I like being in my own head and developing something that’s all mine - but like Lorrie said, writing together is more enjoyable. It doesn’t delay gratification, the way writing alone does. Spending time together, seeing the other type, squeeing over sweet scenes is gratification all in itself, and I usually end up loving the books we write together more than the ones I write alone.

How do you find your perfect author partner to write with?
Laila: I never thought I could write with someone else. I actually said this several times. I don’t work well in teams. But I met Lorrie, and for years we just supported each other’s writing, played around with it and had some writing related hobbies together. It wasn’t until years later that we decided to just try it -- and as an experiment at first.
The truth is, I don’t think I could find another author to write with. I found Lorrie - my best friend. I got to know her, I trust her implicitly, we share sentiments and writing sensibilities, and it’s pretty much a perfect situation. I have no idea how I lucked into this!
Lorrie: Laila sent me a message on a forum because she saw a photo of me nursing my son in a breastfeeding debate. So, I suppose the moral of this story is: always message the girl who shows her boobs?
In a slightly more serious vein, I don’t think you can just go out seeking a person to write with. We were friends first, and worked together in other capacities before trying to write together. We knew each other’s peculiarities and methods before we went in, and so it was an easy adjustment.
Laila: And even with all that, it took a lot of time to find our process and the way we can make this work. The first book we wrote together might not actually be publishable and After Life Lessons needed a lot more edits than our own stories tend to. I believe that we are now at a place - after 4 completed manuscripts together, where we are truly in our groove, but it’s not something that just happens.

Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
Lorrie: Soap box time! I don’t believe in writer’s block. Either you write, or you don’t. Yes, sometimes it’s painful, or  you don’t want to do it, or you feel uninspired, but you write. Nothing is preventing you from writing (you know, in most realities).
Laila: I think essentially we are of one mind here. After a long year of thinking and some therapy, I have a deeper appreciation of the necessity to be kind to myself than I had before, but essentially, I still believe that the only way to write is write. And if something blocks me, I have to find out what it is or why it is and I can only do that if I keep writing. Making it sound like a condition gives “Writer’s Block” a kind of power over us that it doesn’t deserve.
We also talked at length about this on our podcast, actually, so if you’re interested, you can check it out here.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Lorrie: After Life Lessons comes out on April 8th (sign up for our release newsletter for a quick reminder that week). We’ll be putting out an “Interlude” collection of stories from the same group of characters before releasing the second book early next year.
Laila: Together, we’re also working on an Small Town Fantasy/Paranormal Romance series together. The first two books are already written and we are currently discussing which publishing options to pursue. Mona Ceol is a sweet, intense series about a chubby young fae and a single father who turns shapeshifter, the adventures they have and the mysteries they solve.
Lorrie: Sometime this summer, I’ll be releasing my magical realism YA novel about a teenage runaway and the mermaid he falls in love with through our Lilt Literary imprint. I’m also appearing in anthologies from Cleis and Seal Presses over the next few months.
Laila: And where I’m concerned, I’ll be re-releasing the first installment of my Lakeside Series - By the Light of the Moon - with Lilt Literary in May or early June. It’s a medieval paranormal fantasy with a sweet forbidden love story at the center. Sometime this year, A Hotter State will also publish the second and third installments of my bdsm romance Breaking in Waves.

Where can readers follow you?

Lilt Literary links: Lilt Literary | Facebook | Twitter | Podcast
L.C.’s Links: Twitter | Facebook Goodreads Pinterest | Instagram Tumblr

Laila’s Links: Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram | Tumblr


Something was dying in the flurries of snow. The wind had piled it into drifts, threw it into icy funnels that danced between the trees.
Emily couldn’t see five feet of road in front of them, but the desperate howl pierced the wind.  A dog maybe, or something altogether wilder. One hand firmly wrapped around Song’s wrist, she dragged the boy along. He grew heavier, slower with each step. Piece by piece, they had let go of their possessions, offered them like sacrifices to the cold, to earth’s gravity and fatigue. Song had long stopped complaining; he’d even stopped coughing, just hung on to her, placing a shaking foot in front of the other.
The dog howled again, and Emily forced her legs to quicken the pace. Song whined, and then his hand slipped out of hers, and he sunk onto a pile of snow. She was aware they were going to die; that was as clear as the icicles that hung from the hard guitar-case she still carried strapped to her backpack. She could barely walk on her own skinny legs and they wouldn’t get far, but she pulled him up anyway, hefted him onto her hip. His frozen cheek came to rest against hers. He coughed, tried to lock his ankles around her waist, but his boots were too slippery, and he soon lost the strength to try again.
Emily was not far behind. With each step along the icy road, her knees shook, and even in the split second in which she slipped, she found herself utterly unsurprised, almost unmoved.
They were going to die.
Blinding pain blasted through her wrist, up along her arm when she landed—hard on her left side, protecting Song from the brunt of it—and, still, she was left impassive. The pain drove tears to her eyes, and the wind froze them on her cheek, but she hardly noticed. She struggled back to her feet, sucked in stinging breath after stinging breath, and pressed forward.
There had to be something out there, something other than the snow, the trees that formed an aisle on either side of them. Hope felt foolish—but this was logic. They were not out in the wilderness; there had to be something.
“Song please, please…” she begged, when he slipped down her thigh again, clinging to her neck like a monkey. She hefted him back up, swallowed the pain that shot through her arm, and tried to squint through the snow. Another howl filled the stillness, closer this time.
In her head, in her legs, it felt like she was running. The truth came closer to padding along on heavy feet, but it was the idea that mattered, the breath that burned in her lungs. She envisioned herself bursting through the trees to some large, well-appointed house, with food and a bathtub big enough to float in, to make it all worth it.
What she found—in the end—was a decrepit gas station, but she reminded herself, sing-song voice in her head and all, beggars can’t be choosers.
They made an inelegant entrance, crashing through the door that hung on its hinges, into a convenience store that had been ransacked long before, the toppled shelves mostly emptied, covered in dust and a fine layer of ice. Emily hauled the both of them through the tangle of wood and wire, past the cash register that lay, gaping open like a wound, on the floor by the counter. The wind whistled through the broken windows, and had it not been for the storeroom just behind the cigarette display, there would have been no point to the gas station at all, not for them.
The storeroom had only one small window and a rotting desk—no food in sight. It was cold, still, but temperature was relative—they were out of the snow, out of the wind, and she could finally set her boy on the floor, and collapse herself.

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