Jennifer Stevenson is better known for sexy books than for life-sucking dealers of death. Trash Sex Magic was twice nominated for the Nebula Award and was short-listed for the LOCUS Award for First Fantasy Novel. Her series set in Hinky Chicago begins with The Brass Bed, The Velvet Chair, and The Bearskin Rug, featuring a curvacious fraud cop and her hot, messy relationships with her ex-fraudster partner and her sex demon/roommate. This week she released Ear Candy, a collection of three sexy, all-dialogue short stories.
Today she talks about her November vampire romance, A Taste Of You, which falls in between The Bearskin Rug and forthcoming Hinky Chicago novel The Genie Lamp. Here she talks about turning her first vampire novel into being all about sex, instead of all about the suck.
As soon as I started work on A Taste Of You, Helen Nagazy, vegan derby girl vampire, took over the book, without me doing any of those writerly things with the Legos and collages and the Big Book O’Personality Types.
At first I didn’t know much about Hel. I had a vague idea that her life stunk. So I got her drunk and had her write a series of letters to her mom, since it’s impossible to talk to her mom in a normal way, and all this stuff started pouring out. From that moment, Hel took control. I just ran after her, taking notes.
The more I worked with Hel, the more I realized that her problem is about power. She becomes a vampire so that she can be powerful. When the magic wish coin comes along, Hel has just spent thirty-six hours watching Svengooli’s “Fangs for the Memories” vampire film festival. Now those are powerful women!
At seventeen, Hel’s idea of a vampire is eccentric. She’s not having any of that no-sunlight, no-religious-symbols, coffin-napping stuff. And because she’s vegan, she refuses to do the blood thing, but she can suck chi–prana–life force–i.e., energy. Yeah. And she can fly, and turn into an invisible mist, yeah, yeah, and she’s superstrong, and she has super hearing and sight and smell and stuff! Cool!
In the first week, she says Yes to her boyfriend on his couch while his folks are out of town…and she sucks him dry. In a bad way. Poof, he’s a pile of gray dust.
Then there are other issues. She can live on other people’s energy, but that means tasting the mood they’re in–and it’s not easy finding people in a good mood. She doesn’t age, which is fun when you’re twenty, but when you’re fifty and you need a raise because your flaky mom’s in the hospital, not so much. The geeky, lonely teenager becomes a reclusive, truly bizarre adult.
Secret federal anti-magic Agent Nick Jones has serious hots for Hel. Is it because of her beautiful soul? Or because Nick has his own secret–magic turns him on, and she’s a powerhouse of magic.
Much as he lusts for her, Nick won’t make a move, because Hel looks like jail bait, and he’s not that kind of guy. But oh, she wishes he was. Nick is the only person she’s ever met who seems immune to her power.
I suppose every vampire romance is about turning blood-lust into a healthier kind of lust. I don’t know if Hel’s version is as satisfying to women who love a more conventional vampire love story. You’ll have to let me know.
Oh, and two more things before I forget: One, A Taste of You is a book in the Hinky Chicago universe that began with The Brass Bed. If you’ve read those, you’ll recognize some old friends. Two, Hel has learned that roller derby generates extra chi-energy, so she joins the local team. Below, you can read a drinkin’-with-the-derby-girls scene…and then Nick shows up.
Excerpt from A Taste Of You
I find a message on my cell after the derby bout. Agent Nick. “Call me.” I ignore it. For the first time since I-don’t-know-when, I go to the after-party with the girls.
Tenneby’s has been a bar for almost a hundred years: fancy pressed-tin walls, a suspended milk-glass ceiling, oak bar three inches thick, Tiffany lamps. We sit around the tall tables on the tall stools, laughing and throwing back car bombs, and I feel good. I’m not paranoid or angry or depressed.
I’m out with the girls, a little dizzy with the enormity of it. I’ve wanted this for so long.
Golden Triangle is full of the most amazing stories. She has a hot English boyfriend who shows up to derby bouts. She tells extravagant lies about what they do in bed. Everyone laughs incredulously except Sacker Tart, who looks thoughtful and a little wistful. Sacker Tart is a porn star in her day job. She’s by far the most glamorous of us all. Like me, many derby girls are schoolteachers.
Except for Tri, the big blonde anti-magic cop. I stay aware of her without seeming to watch. Her boyfriend shows up and murmurs into her ear. Paranoid, I stretch my super-hearing to pick up what he’s saying.
“I sensed magic on the track tonight. Something powerful,” he warns her.
Tri frowns. My blood runs cold. “Well, keep your eyes and ears open, partner,” she whispers back.
Holy crap, he’s her partner, and another anti-magic cop. And he’s a hinky detector!
I’m sunk. I order another drink.
So of course we end up sharing a pizza in the bar. That is, Golden Triangle is eating pizza and I’m nibbling the olives off the top. They don’t make me sick or anything. It’s just not…the food I need.
“Don’t you eat?” she says to me, raising her eyebrows. I can smell suspicion coming off her, in her energy.
“Sometimes,” I say, trying not to look scared. “Mostly I drink.” This gets me another look.
If she has the smallest clue what I am, I’m screwed for real.
She doesn’t respond.
After two more car bombs, I relax.
Tri warms up, too. She crows to everybody about my speed. “You rock,” she says, thumping my shoulder with a fist. “We’re gonna kill those bitches from Milwaukee next month.”
I lift my car bomb. “Here’s to killing Milwaukee.” We all drink to that.
The energy in this bar right now is so sweet, so good. I wonder, in some rebel corner of my mind, if I’ve been wrong all these years. If I should have just relaxed and had some fun.
The girls all look at me as if in answer to this thought. I feel a sudden surge of good energy, with a little extra tingle in it.
They’re looking behind me.
There’s warmth on my back. I feel my face change before I can control it, and I turn around, and yes, it’s Agent Nick, touching me, smirking at all the female good humor staring at him.
“You didn’t call back,” he says. “I worried.”
“I was busy,” I say. There goes my mood. He just stands there, radiating self-satisfaction and delicious, delicious energy. I take a tiny hit off him before I can control myself. Oh, God. So good. I only meant to bring him down a little, keep his dick from leading him into saying something that will lead me into saying something that will get me in even worse trouble.
He doesn’t seem to mind. He doesn’t even droop. He flushes, looking at me, and his energy output surges. I smell the wood on him as if he is the only warm body in the room.
“Introduce us, Air Handler,” says Sacker Tart, and baby-faced Fist Kist says, “Yeah.”
I raise my eyebrows at Agent Nick.
He obliges, calling himself Nick Jones without the agent in front of it. “That was very impressive, ladies. Your bout.”
“Are you a derby virgin?” Sacker asks innocently. Sacker looks sleek and beautiful even with helmet hair and mouth-guard slobber on her cheek.
“I was,” Nick says in a heartfelt voice, “But I’m not anymore.” He’s smiling as if he doesn’t know how to stop. The horndog.
I’d be jealous, only I know that the wood is for me.
I’m such an idiot. This situation is hugely dangerous. For two cents I could beat myself over the head with my mug. Instead I order another. Agent Nick takes advantage to draw up a stool and join us, ordering beer. The girls scoot over so he can sit next to me.
I feel like the candy store has parked itself in my pocket. Oh-God good. Bad. I don’t know.
Agent Nick drapes his arm across the back of my barstool and murmurs in my ear, under cover of the chatter and the sidelong looks, “How’d it go at the doctor?”
At least one girl nearby sends us a look that says, Doctor?
I roll my eyes at the ceiling. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Your thumb drive isn’t answering,” he added.
So it was a bug, or a tracer or something. “I threw it away,” I say.
He looks shocked. “It was very expensive.”
I shrug and smile, feeling drunk and loving it for the first time in years. “I should have told you. I lose things.”
He leans very close to my ear and murmurs, “It could be a tracer anklet.”
He draws back to see the effect of this.
“No,” I say, looking him in the eye with my Vampire Look, “It couldn’t.” This should reduce him to something I can swat down, but he actually seems to expand a little. Does this guy not understand rejection? I’ve met his type, but most of them are, well, drunker or meaner, or both. Everything I do to him seems to make him hornier.
Now that’s interesting, says a completely ungovernable corner of my brain.
“Later,” I say firmly. “Drink your beer. It’s getting cold.”
And for a miracle he seems to accept this. He takes his arm off the back of my stool where it has been lying so temptingly, and picks up his beer and drinks, looking demurely around at the girls who are talking about everything except what they’re all thinking, which is undoubtedly, Air Handler has a boyfriend?! Sacker Tart in particular is getting runny over him, and I’m not being metaphorical here. I can smell it. Golden Triangle has a semiprofessional cop eye on him that makes me wonder if she has sussed him.
The waitress comes. I drain my car bomb and order another.
But they finally relax, and I relax…a little more…and Nick talks like a normal person to Fist Kist and I tease the bench coach about her new tattoo and it’s fun again. I absolutely refuse to think about what a terrible, terrible idea it is for me to be drunk in public with friends. God, did I just call them friends? They must be friends, or I wouldn’t feel this good. Wake up, Hel, there’s a federal agent at your elbow. Who has the drop on you.
Yeah, and I want the drop on him.
My mug slips out of my fingers at this thought and he catches it before it can hit the table.
“Girl, you can’t hold your likker,” says the bench coach in amusement, and I think, How wrong you are.
“Good thing I can hold her likker,” Nick says, and I turn to him to tell him to give me back my drink and he leans in and kisses me.
It’s like having a train come straight at me and touch me warm and soft on the lips. His energy is bigger than the sun. He’s hot and pink in the face. He smells like man. I do not even think of taking a hit off him.
He pulls away, looking surprised, and then kisses me again, harder, and I grab the back of his head and open my mouth to him.
I’m falling into his warm human flesh, the sweet strong pulse in his chest, in his throat. I smell oil from his car keys on his fingers where they touch my cheek. I want to crawl down his shirt-front and sleep on his chest. I want to purr.
I come down to clapping, hoots, and cries of, “Get a room!”
“Busted,” he says breathlessly when our mouths part.
I look straight into his eyes. He’s glazed over with lust. “Yes. You are.”
I’d like to say that I have a hazy idea of getting the drop on him somehow if I can just get him into bed, but honestly all I want is to get him into bed. Now. Soon. Before I sober up and panic, or God forbid start to cry, because there are tears in my future now, for sure. Let me have one quickie with the federal hottie before that happens. Before my life is officially over.
I could stop now, I suppose, but of course that won’t happen.
I look at the table and calculate hazily what my bar bill must be. “I make it about fifty bucks.”
Nick pulls out a roll and tosses a fifty on the table. “C’mon,” he says “let’s get you home.”
I throw a ribald glance around the table, rolling my eyes and smiling foolishly.
They’re all looking at me with something I can’t figure out. The bench coach seems concerned, and Tri passes me a special wink as if from one ridiculously oversexed slut to another, and Sacker just looks envious.
I can’t bear it, I duck my head down and blush and let Nick lead me out of there.
My legs aren’t working as well as they did two hours ago. As I lean on him, I say, “How does a nice guy like you get in with a bunch of jerks at a secret federal agency?” My words are slurring.
He doesn’t answer. He tucks me into his battered Cherokee, then gets in on the driver’s side. I wonder why the whole car doesn’t go up in a cloud of orange and black smoke, because he is hotter in here than he was in the bar. His skin has swollen until he looks tight and red in the face. I can tell from here that if he gets any harder, he’ll mess his pants.
“My place or yours?” I say, trying to seem nondrunk.
He looks at me. I feel his glance spear me clear through. It feels good.
I say, “Mine.” Because I may not ever sleep in that bed again, and it would be nice to spend this last night there.
A shadow passes over his face. What have I said? But he puts the car in gear and we go. I feel the tightness in my body now, too, so that every bump in the road is like a fingernail-flick on a harp string. Nick drives straight to my apartment, as I knew he would, because of course he knows where I live. I feel fate rushing at me like a wall.
He takes the key out of my hand and opens the door, and then I see that the shadow has taken him over. He looks down into my face. I see pure human concern there. Not a speck of cop.
“What?” I say, panicking. You can’t stop now. It’s taken me forty years to get here.
He says, “You’re drunk. I can’t.”
I say, “You can. I’ve been drunk before. And I’ve never done this.” Taken a man to my apartment. My lair. Did I say any of that?
“You’ve never done what?” Oh no, he’s getting a conscience. How can a man do that? I thought they were all ruled by their dicks!
“No. Please,” I say, now desperate.
I think I see myself the way he sees me. Seventeen, drunk, begging for it, practically jail bait. And apparently I’ve just convinced him I’m a virgin, too. No wonder he’s having an attack of conscience. He’d be screwing a virgin teenager when he is already coercing her into working on an undercover op.
I try to summon up my Vampire Look, the one Bela Lugosi uses when he tells Van Helsing, Come…here. But I feel my throat tighten. It’s not going to work.
“Please,” I say. “If you won’t–would you just come in? Keep me company? Hold me?” I shut my eyes. It’s all falling apart. I can’t even self-destruct satisfactorily. “I’m really stressed, I could use some human contact.”
Oh God, that came out wrong. I don’t want to use him. Well, I do. But I’m not even asking him for the last drop of his life force. I just want to touch someone. I want to be warm, skin to skin, for a while.
“No sex if you don’t want,” I add, putting myself out there in a way that scares the frink out of me.
He pulls me into his arms and holds me.
And that’s the end of my resistance. He’s huge and warm and gentle. We stumble into my apartment. He shuts the door and we move to the couch and sit there, side by side, until somehow I am curled up in his lap with my face in the crook of his neck, weeping uncontrollably, and he is petting my head and pouring his warmth into me.