Monday, October 17, 2011

Meet Michelle Scott, Author of Straight to Hell



Michelle Scott, Urban Fantasy Author

On her virtual book tour, Michelle Scott stopped by and was gracious enough to let us delve into her life as an Urban Fantasy author. Indeed Michelle, who lives in Detroit, is a creative writer who has penned several books. We had the opportunity to chat about her writings, characters, and her advice to future authors.

Thank you, Michelle, for allowing us to interview you and letting us host your virtual book tour.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you have learned from writing? Patience! This is a lesson that I must learn over and over again. I have to be patient with the writing process because the muse moves according to her own schedule and not mine. I must also be patient and take the time to revive my material over and over again, and then patiently wait as the editor makes her comments. In many ways, writing is a waiting game.

What type of characters do you enjoy creating? I love placing ordinary characters in extraordinary circumstances. Like having an elementary school teacher discover that she is contractually obligated to serve the devil. Or putting a demon in the path of a teenage girl who’s biggest concern is that her parents won’t get her a car for her sixteenth birthday. It’s these kinds of situations where people find out what they’re really made of.

Which authors have influenced you the most? I always jokingly say that Stephen King taught me how to write. When I was in high school and college, I’d read and re-read his novels, trying to figure out how he made them so riveting. I also love Margaret Atwood who is able to make anything sound creepy.

Who or what inspired you to become an author? Like Lady Gaga says, I was born this way.

From where do you get your story ideas? Like I said, I live in Detroit, and the city inspires me quite a bit. Detroit isn’t half as violent or frightening as people seem to think it is, but it has some very gritty areas. When I worked downtown, I saw rats that were as big as cats. (No, I’m not making that up.) There’s something about all those abandoned buildings and weedy lots that gets my mental wheels turning.

Are your stories based on true current or past events? Not the stories themselves, so much, but there are references to events that really happened. I love the history of Michigan. In “Blood Sisters”, for example, one of my characters talks about The Purple Gang, which really was a violent group of bootleggers back in the 1920’s.

Are you planning to write any more books in the near future? I’m nearly finished with a sequel to Straight to Hell which is called Straight Shot. Also, I’m wrapping up a dystopian YA novel.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about writing a book? Do it! Don’t wait! Seriously. Right this second. Go grab a pencil and get to work. Chop, chop!!

~*~

Following is an introduction and an excerpt from Straight to Hell:




The moment Lilith Straight dies, the Devil appears to claim her soul and cash in on a longtime family curse. Now, Lilith has no choice but to work for him as a succubus. The job is bad, the boss is worse, and she can’t imagine how she’ll explain her new reincarnation to her eight-year-old daughter. But then an arrogant, yet oh so yummy, incubus shows up…and hell heats up just a little more.


Chapter One

   A year ago I, Lilith Straight, was the woman you always wanted to be.
   I was married to someone better looking than your husband, and his salary climbed into figures so high that you’d have to be married to six men before their incomes equaled his. We lived in the house that you always wanted but never could have afforded, and drove cars that would have made you ashamed of yours. My husband and I went to those exclusive parties you read about in the newspapers – yes, those parties – and we rubbed elbows and other body parts with actors and politicians and professional athletes – yes, those athletes, the ones you also read about in newspapers. My daughter attended a small, very exclusive, private school where your child would not have been allowed even if you could have afforded the tuition.
   But within the span of twelve months, all of that changed. My marriage dissolved, my house burned down, and the only job I could find, substitute teaching, hardly paid for a week’s worth of bills. On top of that, I’d suddenly gained custody of my antisocial, eleven-year-old niece, Ariel, when her mother dropped her off at my doorstep and drove off with hardly a backward glance. And a week later, my bent-for-hell stepsister Jasmine moved in after her mother kicked her out of the house.
   So when I was hit by a car and died for the first time, I thought that my life had already gotten as bad as it could get.
   Boy, was I wrong.


   The day I died was a Monday. Specifically, the Monday after a two-week Christmas school break, and all of us – even Drinking Tea, our cat – had slept through the alarm. Had I still been married, this never would have happened since Dr. Theodore Dempsey, my ex, woke me up every morning at five by groping me under the covers. But my recent divorce gave me certain privileges, such as being able to sleep in without having someone squeeze my breasts like they were testing mangoes for ripeness.
   So when I finally did wake up and realize what time it was (7:15), I leapt out of bed and began shouting orders to my daughter and my niece. “Grace, get up! Ariel, move it!”
   I used to live in a house that had more square-footage than the city library, but after Ariel had accidentally set the place on fire, the four of us had been forced to relocate to a seedy townhouse the size of a walk-in closet. My voice carried through the paper-thin walls without a problem, but at the same time, those thin walls also allowed me to hear my daughter’s whine, “Do I have to go to school?”. Followed by my niece’s muttered, “F.U.”.
   Luckily, I didn’t have to be to work that morning. As a substitute teacher, I got to pick my own hours, and I’d given myself the day off. It was almost like I knew that this was going to happen. I spared a moment to throw on my robe, then ran downstairs, so intent on getting into the kitchen that I almost didn’t notice the strange, young man sprawled on my couch. He wore nothing but a pair of boxers, and the most interesting thing about him – aside from the snarling dragon tattoo encircling his bellybutton, and the line of metal rivets punctuating his forehead – was the fact that he was the most hairless creature I’d ever seen. Not only was he bald, but his legs were so smooth that I was a little jealous. His chest was as pink and clean as a newborn’s. He had no eyebrows. Nor, for that matter, armpit hair – a fact I realized when he groaned and raised his arms over his head to stretch. I eyed his boxers, wondering just how far the hairless area extended
   For an instant, I considered chasing him out of the house before Grace noticed him, but she was already pounding down the stairs. So instead, to hide the hairless spectacle from her, I tossed a blanket over him. He muttered a ‘thanks’ and immediately went back to sleep.
   “Mom! Mom!” Grace skidded to a halt. “Hey, who’s that guy?”
   “A friend of Jas’s, I’m sure,” I said. I was going for the coffee, but halfway across the tiny kitchen, I stepped into a puddle of water and soaked my slippered feet. The entire floor was underwater.
   “Ah, shit!,” I said. I grabbed an armload of dishtowels from the drawer and began mopping up the mess, tracing the puddle to the washing machine which sat innocently by the back door.
   I wanted to cry. A broken appliance was the last thing I needed right then. I’d spent the last of my savings to make my car insurance payment, and had nothing left over to buy a new washer. In fact, I didn’t even have the ten quarters it would have taken to go to the Laundromat. “Goddamn, shit!!”
   “You broke rule number one. Now you need to put two quarters in the swear jar.” Grace stood in the doorway, looking solemnly at the mess. She’d dressed herself in the same t-shirt and jeans she’d worn the day before. And the day before that. She was brushing the top layer of her brown hair smooth over a bottom layer of wicked snarls.
   For a moment, I flashed back to a year ago. Back to the days of private school when my daughter, wearing a plaid skirt and navy blazer, would have been eating an egg white omelet in the breakfast nook while I braided her hair. The scene, once ordinary, was now so surreal that I might have dreamed it up.
   “I know, Darling. I know,” I agreed. I dropped the soaking wet rags into the sink and put down another layer of towels.
   “You also broke rule number nine.” Standing behind Grace was a very triumphant-looking Ariel. She loved catching me in the middle of bad behavior.
   The rules the girls were referring to were known as the “Ten Commandments of the Straight Household.” I’d posted a list of them on the refrigerator. And on the mirror above the bathroom sink. And next to the computer, on the doors of all the bedrooms, and on the dashboard of the car.
   I’m nothing if not thorough.
   Rule number nine had been written specifically for my stepsister. It said, “Thou shalt not let strange boys sleep overnight (either on the couch or in your bed).”
   “You’re right. I did break the rule,” I told Ari, thinking of the man on the couch.
   “And eight, too,” she added.
   For a moment, I couldn’t even remember rule number eight. And when it finally came to me, I was shocked. Eight was: “Thou shalt not leave prophylactics (either used or unused) lying about the house.” Again, this rule was for my sister because I hadn’t needed prophylactics since long before my divorce. Jasmine, however, had a very active love life.
   “I never broke that rule,” I argued.
   “Really?” Ariel held up several square, foil packages.
   “Give those here,” I said, furious. “Where did you get them?”
   “They were on the end table next to the couch. They probably belong to that bald guy.” Ariel’s eyes were alight with evil mischief. “But you should have thrown them away, so you just broke number eight.”
   I snapped my fingers at her to make her hand the condoms over. She looked smug, but surrendered them. It never occurred to me to ask how she knew what those things were. Ariel’s mother had given her the flipside education to the ‘no boys, no drugs’ message most kids get at home. Grace, however, looked on with heartbreaking innocence. “What are those things, Mom?”
   “Nothing.” I shoved the condoms into the pocket of my robe. “Just grab your coat and get going before you miss the bus.”
   “But I need to change my clothes!”
   I’d gotten careless with my laundry duties over vacation, and now dirty clothes piled on the floor like the slopes of Kilimanjaro. The previous night, I had tried to do a load before I went to bed. But now, seeing the condition of the washing machine, I knew nothing had gotten clean. There goes rule number two, I thought. (Rule number two: Thou shalt not pick dirty underwear out of the hamper and re-wear it.) “I guess we’ll all be wearing dirty clothes,” I said.
   If there was any silver lining to this disastrous situation, it came from the fact that no one from my old neighborhood or Grace’s old school was there to witness it. Because if they had been, every woman in the subdivision would have been roasting me alongside their coffee beans.
   “What about breakfast?” Grace whined.
   I grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter and shoved it at her. “Here, take this.”
   “That’s not breakfast!” Then Grace started to cry, and Ariel rolled her eyes and told her to grow up. And then Jasmine shouted up from the basement for all of us to, “Shut the hell up already. Some of us are trying to sleep!”
   So that’s the way my morning started off. Compared to other Monday mornings, it wasn’t all that bad, really.


   With the two younger girls out of the house, I finally had a chance to deal with the other member of our tribe: my stepsister.
   The townhouse had three-levels. Ariel and Grace shared one tiny bedroom upstairs, and I occupied the one across the hall from them. Jasmine dominated the basement. Between us, like a kind of demilitarized zone, lay the living room and kitchen. Ignoring the hairless wonder who was still gently snoring on the couch, I went downstairs and pounded on the basement door. “Wake up!”
   “Go ‘way.”
   I opened the door and flipped on the lights. Jasmine pulled the covers over her head, but I yanked them down again. ““It’s Monday, Jas. You promised you’d go find a job today.”
   Jasmine is twenty-three; a college dropout who is convinced that the only thing standing between her and a career as a high-paid fashion designer is a run of bad luck and not a deficiency of talent, drive, and energy.
   But what Jas lacks in skill and knowledge, she makes up for in looks. I don’t mind admitting that I’m good looking – at nearly thirty-five, I have no wrinkles, I can still fit into my high school cheerleading costume, and not a single gray thread mars my auburn hair – but Jasmine is absolutely gorgeous. Hers is a blend of our father’s Asian features – hair like black silk, flawless toffee-colored complexion, dark, exotic eyes – and her mother’s perfect cheekbones, impressive height and natural grace. Needless to say, men fall for her. Hence, the need for those two commandments on my list.
   Jas glared at me and tore the covers out of my hands, pulling them back over her head. “I’ll find a job tomorrow.” Her voice was muffled from under the covers. “Just let me sleep in today.”
   “That’s what you said last week. Which is now last year, in fact. But you also promised to make a New Year’s resolution to get a job. Remember?”
   On New Year’s Eve, Grace, Ariel and I had put on our pajamas and sat on the couch to watch the ball drop in Times Square, but I’d fallen asleep even before Ryan Seacrest had begun the countdown. Jasmine, on the other hand, stayed out all night, not coming in until ten the next morning. She was missing one of the shoes she’d borrowed from me, had put a dent in the front fender of my car, and was still drunk. But she had promised to find a job, and I wasn’t about to let her slip out of it now.
   “Jasmine, you getting up?”
   At the sound of the male voice, I let out an ‘eep’ of surprise and turned around to face the hairless wonder who stood behind me in the narrow hall.
   At least he had done the decent thing and wrapped the blanket around his waist to hide his skivvies. He grinned good-naturedly and held out his hand. “Tommy LaFevre. Nice to meet you.”
   “Lilith Straight.”
   “Jas’s stepsister.” His smile widened. “Yeah, she talks a lot about you.”
   I’ll bet, I thought. “That’s funny because she doesn’t talk about you at all.” I said it in order to make him flinch, but he only smiled serenely.
   “Tommy’s my spiritual advisor,” Jasmine said.
   I snorted, unimpressed. Was she kidding? But, no, I could see by her reverent expression that she was not. Only my step-sister would be willing to take spiritual advice from an unemployed bum with a demon tattoo and more metal in his face than the hardware section of Home Depot.
   “I’m helping Jasmine find her path,” Tommy said and glanced at Jas who was sitting on the end of her bed wearing nothing but a tiny chemise and a thong. Watching him watch her, I wasn’t fooled for a moment. Tommy could call himself a minister, a shaman, a monk, or even a witch doctor, but his eyes were crawling over Jasmine like a greedy bumblebee on the center of a daisy. Spiritual advisor, my ass.
   “Well, maybe you can help her find a path to the employment agency,” I said. I started to walk past him to return upstairs, but he blocked my way.

   “You don’t believe me, do you?” He looked troubled, like a little kid who had drawn a picture of a horse only to have the teacher call it a dinosaur.
   I’m a master in the art of sarcasm. I can draw blood at fifty paces. “Of course I do. And I think it’s wonderful that Jas is interested in religion.”
   “Not religion,” Jas chided. “Spirituality.”
   I narrowed my eyes at her. “Whatever.”
   “Here, let me see your palm,” Tommy said and took my hand. In the narrow confines of the hallway, it was impossible to maneuver out of his reach, so I unwillingly relented, if only to prove to Jasmine how inane all of this was. His touch was surprisingly gentle as he lifted my hand close to his eyes and examined my palm. “H-m-m.”
   I was curious in spite of myself. “H-m-m what?”
   “Your lifeline is very short. It stops here, but picks up again here.” He tapped the center of my palm.
   “Oh, let me see. Let me see!” Jasmine was suddenly crowding against me.
   He studied my face and frowned, looking worried. “And there’s something strange about your aura.”
   I yanked my hand back. “Oh, please.” If there’s anything worse than a cliché, it’s a religious cliché.
   “I’m not kidding,” he said. “Something’s off. Possibly something serious.” He tugged at one of the holes in his ear. “My sister’s aura was bloody red on the day… Well, it was bloody red.”
   “What’s going to happen to her?” Jasmine’s eyes glowed. She looked as excited as Ariel when she catches me breaking a rule.
   “I have to use the bathroom,” I said, shoving myself in-between them.
   “I know you don’t believe me, but do yourself a favor, okay?” Tommy said. “Be careful today. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t give rides to strangers. You know, that kind of thing. Just in case.”
   Jas made a farting noise through her lips. “Are you kidding me? Lilith wouldn’t cross the street without looking five ways. She wouldn’t even dare talk to a stranger, let alone give one a ride. For her, leaving the house without an umbrella is risky. And she’d never…”
   “Okay, Jas, we get the picture,” I said.
   “I’m just saying, you’re a careful person, that’s all.”
   I glared at her and started up the stairs. “I’m leaving in an hour, and Jas – I’ll expect you to be gone by then as well. And before you go, be sure to take out the trash.”
   “That’s not my job,” Jasmine howled. “That’s Ari’s…”
   “That’s not what she meant, Jas,” the hairless wonder said. “She’s talking about me.” This time, I was pleased to see that he did look hurt.


   When I was in elementary school, I was always the fat kid. Not obese, mind you, but chunky. The kind of girl who had to wear vertical stripes to look slimmer and never dared to be seen in a two-piece bathing suit. This was because I had (and still have) the habit of eating whenever I got nervous. And my mother was always making me nervous.
   Now, I can see that my poor Grace is heading down the same path. Nowadays, of course, we’d never say she was fat. We use other terms like ‘unhealthy’ or ‘past her ideal BMI’. But already, I can see she has a little gut overhanging the top of her jeans. Don’t get me wrong – I love her the way she is. But when I recall those days from elementary school when my classmates called me ‘Jiggle Belly’, I know that I have to save poor Grace from all of that.
   Hence rule number three of the Straight Ten Commandments: no junk food.
   But that afternoon, only twenty minutes before coming face-to-grill with the white Volvo, I was standing in line waiting to get my double Bates burger, large fry and a large Coke. A real Coke, that is. Diet is for wimps and diabetics. After I’d paid, and the girl at the cash register placed the greasy, white bag on the counter, I grabbed my food with the enthusiasm of a junkie plunging a needle into her vein. I was in fast food heaven.
   Stopping for the Bates burger also made me late for my appointment, which also meant I’d broken rule number six (thou shalt not be late.) And after I saw the SALE sign hanging in the boutique window across the street, I probably would have broken number seven (thou shalt not spend money frivolously), but I died before I had the chance.
   Breaking these rules isn’t what sent me to hell, of course, but it certainly entered into the equation. Because if I been paying more attention to where I was walking instead of fiddling with my cell phone, I probably would have seen the car before it hit me. In fact, I might have even changed my destiny. Who’s to say? But one thing’s for sure. If I hadn’t been trying to text my sister, I wouldn’t have broken the biggest rule of them all: number ten. Thou shalt not upload or download porn from the Internet.
   But then again, whether or not I actually broke number ten is a matter of opinion. After all, I think everyone agrees that the definition of porn is subjective. What’s pornographic to me, probably isn’t so bad for you. If, for example, you think that using your cell phone to snap a picture of an enormous dildo that is peeking up at you from over the top of a middle-aged woman’s shopping bag and then e-mailing said picture to your stepsister because you want to prove to her that you are not a prude is pornographic, then so be it.
   But it probably says a lot more about you than it does me.
   The truth is, the sight of that ridiculously huge vibrator gave me the giggles. The owner – a fifty-something, bleached-blonde, leather coat wearing woman – had just come out of a store called the Love Nest. The Love Nest was a porn shop, but a classy porn shop. Classy, because everything in that neighborhood, even the Bates Burgers, was upscale. The woman’s paper shopping bag, unbeknownst to her, had a large rip in the side and the dildo was leaning out of it like it was thinking of escaping. It kept wagging up and down in time to her stride as if trying to make up its mind. This struck me as hilarious.
   So, thinking quickly, I took out my cell phone. And the moment I had snapped my picture and sent it to Jas, I looked up in time to see the oncoming car. I caught a glimpse of the vehicle, a white Volvo, and the driver, a man in a white suit, before I felt a terrible jolt as if the hand of God had suddenly jerked me upwards by the back of my collar and hoisted me into the heavens.
   It was only later that I understood I hadn’t gone up at all. In fact, I’d gone in the exact opposite direction. The express elevator, as it were, straight to the very bottom.
   Hell.

~*~

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