Hi friends! Did you hear about the Kraken Collective Anniversary Sale? We’ve got 19 books on sale featuring awesome queer heroes, and each of them are only $.99! Not sure where to start with all these stories? Take the #KrakenFriends18 quiz, and see which queer hero you get!
It is my distinct honor to feature two of the participating authors on my blog–Amy McNulty and Lauren Jankowski. Today, I’ve got Lauren Jankowski on deck talking about her book, SERE FROM THE GREEN, which I have already picked up because queer shape shifters!! Keep reading for an excerpt of her book and an interview with her!
About the Book
Title: Sere From The Green
Release Date: March 17, 2013
Publisher: Snowy Wings Publishing
There is a race that lives among humans, unbeknownst to them, called shape shifters, those that can shift from human to animal at will. Many protect the innocent on Earth and act as the eyes and ears of the guardians, divine beings similar to gods in ancient myths.
Isis is a woman who lives a normal life until the day she photographs a murder scene for her job. When the body disappears from her photographs, Isis is determined to solve the mystery. Her investigation uncovers answers about her own past and sets her on a journey that will change her life forever.
Hi Lauren! Tell us about yourself as an author. What kind of stories do you tell? And why?
Well thank you for having me. I’m a feminist fantasy author who specializes mainly in urban and contemporary fantasy. I tell stories with strong, kickass queer women, many of whom have a healthy amount of snark.
I blend a lot of mythology into my stories because I’m a massive myth nerd (in college, I was fascinated by the way gender was performed in various myths). I’m making up for the characters I could never find in the books I loved to read, characters that are still ridiculously hard to find.
I also really enjoy telling stories about characters who struggle against various kinds of adversity and how they overcome such adversities. My characters are survivors: they get knocked down, but they always get back up. As cheesy at it sounds, I like the idea that there is always hope. Too many stories are grim and depressing. My motto is, “If it leaves me completely miserable, then it’s not a very good story.”
Isis is the featured character in SERE FROM THE GREEN. Can you talk a little bit about her and what makes her tick?
Oh Isis. I hope I don’t sound terrible when I say that I like this character. Isis is a photojournalist and an adoptee who knows next to nothing about her past. She has always been kind of an outsider: in her family, throughout school and college, in the world in general, as an asexual woman (she’s Gray-A). This has led to her developing just walls and walls around herself. When the story opens, I think Isis has maybe two friends.
Isis also has this … really strong need to fight against people who step on the little guy. She cannot stand authority figures, especially those who abuse their power. Unfortunately, this has led to her losing quite a few jobs as a photojournalist. Isis is also a character who doesn’t play politics and her friends would probably say that she doesn’t know when to shut up. Isis is the sort who won’t back down from a fight. If she sees a bully, she’s going to get right in their face (doesn’t matter if the person could mop the floor with her, Isis would still throw punches to defend the little guy). It’s this sort of fearlessness that results in her sometimes getting in over her head.
What’s hilarious is this scrappy woman who no one really expects much from winds up being incredibly unique: she’s one of only two shape shifter/guardian hybrids. I’ll explain more about the guardians in the next question, but for all intents and purposes, Isis is basically even more badass than one would expect.
SERE FROM THE GREEN is the first installment of the Shape Shifter Chronicles. Can you talk about the series and what draws you to writing shape shifters?
The Shape Shifter Chronicles is a series that I’ve been working on for well over ten years. It basically started as a bunch of characters in my head that I would play around with when I was bored and then I just started out mapping out stories, which gradually evolved into outlining novels.
The series is currently about the world of the shape shifters (and in particular, the protectors, who are sworn to protect innocents) and guardians (who are similar to deities from various myths, but they are NOT gods). There has been this cloud hanging over these groups in the form of a prophecy that references some coming evil or bad thing, but of course it isn’t specific. The prophecy also speaks of four shape shifter women who will be able to defeat it. So when the series opens, the leaders of the protectors, Jet and Lilly are trying to find these four women.
There’s also a very strict law (one of the Sacred Laws of the guardians) that forbids romantic relationships between shape shifters and guardians. However, Isis’ biological mother is a guardian by the name of Passion and she is infamous for breaking rules. Passion broke that Sacred Law and it resulted in Isis and her identical twin sister, Electra. So there’s a really interesting backstory there that really delves into guardian culture and how its rigidity and adherence to outdated laws and customs is detrimental not just to the guardians but also to the protectors and even other cultures. Guardians tend to be a rather bureaucratic nightmare. As a reader once observed, “They’re not gods, but they sure act like they are.”
What do you have coming up next? How can fans and readers stay up to date with your work?
I’m currently working on two different things. When I’m experiencing writer’s block, I work on this expansive history of shape shifters and the Meadows (home of the guardians). I recently started working on what might be a novella that fits into this massive history: the story of Jet and Lilly (the leaders of the protectors), as well as Passion. I always say those three are unofficially married.
Aside from that, I’m working on the sixth book of my current series. It’s the continuation of the war against Grenich. I’m currently in the midst of doing a lot of marketing so I haven’t been able to give that project the attention it deserves unfortunately (I fear I’m still a bit burned out after last year’s four-book reboot).
I’m also working with a filmmaker, Britty Lea, to create more book trailers, which I am ridiculously excited about. Her trailer for Sere from the Green was absolutely amazing and I could not be happier to be working with her again.
If you’re interested in staying up to date on my work, you can find me all over social media:
I’m also a dedicated activist who seeks to raise awareness of the contributions of ace-identifying people to the arts. I believe all ace artists are important, including those who frequently go ignored or unheard. If people were interested in supporting asexual artists, they could find a database of them at the following links:
Thank you for having me.
Isis sat in the back seat of Jade’s Mustang, which was currently doing eighty by her estimate. Isis clutched her seat every time Jade took a sharp turn, which felt like every other minute. In the front seat were Jade and Isis’ twin sister, Electra. Isis had only known her sister less than an hour and had already managed to royally piss her off. Her uncanny ability to get on people’s bad sides was still going strong. Though Isis knew she wouldn’t have enjoyed getting kicked in the diaphragm.
“Ow! Quit elbowing me,” Electra snapped at Jade, shifting in her seat so she was a little further away from the driver.
“Say something to her,” Jade said under her breath.
“Like what?” Electra asked, not even attempting to be quiet.
“Um, I can hear you,” Isis said from the back, wondering if they had forgotten about her. She wasn’t sure she should draw attention to herself, but there was an uncomfortable tension in the car and she was still incredibly nervous. Raising a hand to massage her aching throat, Isis grimaced a little at the sting.
“Look, it’s not her fault that the High Council thought it best to lie to both of you,” Jade replied, ignoring her passenger in the backseat. Electra sat back in a huff and it became uncomfortably silent once again. Isis leaned forward, resting her arms on the backs of their seats.
“Are you with the FBI?” she asked.
“No,” Jade replied.
“No,” Electra responded, staring out the window.
“No,” Electra and Jade responded simultaneously in obvious exasperation. Isis frowned, thinking of other organizations that employed covert agents. Deciding that was a fruitless line of questioning for the moment, Isis turned her attention to Jade.
“So, can I turn into a snow leopard? Or is it some sort of virus, like transferred through a bite or sex or something?” she asked. Electra let out a huff that sounded like a laugh and shook her head, massaging her brow.
“It’s hereditary and you’ll be able to shift once you’re trained,” Jade answered.
“How much longer before we get to wherever we’re going?” Isis asked, glancing out the window when a car shot by with its brights on. The buildings became sparser as they traveled further from the town.
“It’ll be a while yet,” Jade replied, glancing over at Electra when she shifted her weight. The young guardian glanced over at her sister before turning her eyes to the clean windshield.
“Great. Then you two will have no problem explaining to me just what the hell is going on,” Isis stated as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Because last time I checked, wereleopards didn’t exist.”
Electra snorted while Jade screeched to a halt at a red light. The sleek car jerked a little at the sudden stop.
“I’m not a wereleopard,” Jade protested, sounding offended. “Electra, please explain to your sister just who and what we are.”
“Fine,” Electra said and twisted in her seat so that she was facing the back and looking at Isis. It was weird to suddenly have a sibling, especially one who happened to be her identical twin. I’m even weirder than most people assume, Isis thought, waiting for the woman to speak.
“You and I are hybrids, the only two in existence,” she began, a hint of bitterness in her voice. “Part shape shifter and part guardian. I’ll start with the guardians, because I know more about them. I was raised as a guardian and didn’t know I was only half until a few hours ago.”
Jade cleared her throat loudly as she pressed on the gas pedal again, the interior of the car illuminated by green light. Electra glared at her with the most impressive side-eye Isis had ever seen before turning back to the conversation.
“Guardians are similar to the deities you’ve undoubtedly read about in assorted mythologies, only less omnipotent and powerful. We’re…they’re not gods. They watch over things on Earth and keep it running as smoothly as possible.”
Jade snorted. “Nobody is infallible. That concept was created by humans, best we can tell.”
“Jade’s right,” Electra put in. “There is no omnipotent creator, as far as we know.”
“Why don’t people worship you?” Isis asked, leaning forward, intrigued.
“Because they don’t know about us and again, guardians aren’t gods,” Electra replied. “Guardians can only guide. All life forms have free will. The guardians gave them a nudge when it came to sciences and the arts. Humans created religions, charities, and different sorts of government.”
“Mortality is a powerful motivator, makes people come up with all kinds of things, whether for good or ill,” Jade added, a hint of weariness in her voice. Isis looked between them, feeling more and more confused by the minute. Electra glanced at Jade, who kept her eyes on the road.
“Anyway, there are not only elemental guardians but emotion guardians as well,” she continued. “Like the elements, there’s a guardian for every emotion.”
Isis frowned. “Why?”
“Well, if one emotion got out of control, it would be disastrous. For bigger things like water and plants there are many guardians, but almost every emotion only has one guardian. Keeping the Earth running smoothly is as dangerous as it is complicated. There are many who would love to get control of the Meadows and all her inhabitants because to do so would mean complete control of all the worlds out there. Good protects good, that’s the way it has always been. There are shape shifters whose job it is to protect the guardians, as well as the innocent on Earth.”
“And that’s what,” Isis had to rack her brain to remember the woman’s name, “Jade is?”
“Yes,” Electra replied. “Shape shifters are beings that are mostly human. The only thing different is that they can change into any animal at will.”
“Like in the legends of the Sioux?”
Jade twisted her hand a couple times and scrunched up her nose. “Not really.”
Electra smiled and shook her head. “Shape shifters are found in many cultures and mythologies — every story is a little different, but shape shifters such as Jade are their own people and culture. They are not the beings found in myths.”
Isis looked between the two of them, frowning. She was still having trouble believing what they were telling her despite having seen it firsthand. Glancing out the window, she wished Steve was with her. Really wish I had my fucking phone, she thought as she flopped back.
“The shape shifters known as protectors do an amazing job,” Electra continued, glancing once more at Jade before turning her attention to Isis again. “They protect the guardians as well as innocents here on Earth at any cost. They have fought in many wars alongside humans, without humans even knowing, and some still do to this day. They put their lives on the line without a second thought every day, practically every moment they live.”
“And how does this pertain to my supposedly being able to do this…shape shifting?” Isis asked, the words sounding strange in her mouth. She tried to figure out exactly when her life had become one giant conspiracy theory. The world was almost certainly fucking with her at this point.
“I’m getting there,” Electra responded, arching an eyebrow. “Has anyone ever told you you’re extremely impatient?”
“Call it a character flaw,” Isis replied. Jade chuckled as she braked smoothly at a stop sign and then made a right turn onto a quiet unlit street. Isis straightened up, not recognizing the area anymore. In the distance, she could see hills and it seemed like that was where Jade was heading. Hills are a perfect place to hide a body. Great, Isis thought.
“The guardians have a book called The Book of Oracle,” Electra continued, frowning. “Jade, this isn’t the right—”
“I’m taking a scenic route. Go on, continue your story,” Jade said as she leaned back in her seat. “The Book of Oracle.”
“Oh-kay,” Electra said, her tone suggesting she was a little unsure about the new route. After a moment she turned her eyes back to Isis. “Anyway, the Book of Oracle contains prophecies, mostly things that may happen in the future. Several months after we were born, a prophecy appeared telling of what protectors refer to as the Four. Four shape shifter women who will save the Meadows, home of the guardians, and all the other worlds out there from a threat we don’t yet have a name for. Basically they’re going to change the future, hopefully for the better. We found three of the four and according to the leaders of the protectors, you’re the fourth.”
“Protectors are one faction of shape shifters,” Jade put in. “The others you’ll learn about later.”
Isis was silent for a moment, considering all that she had just heard.
“Did Steve or Shae put you two up to this?” she asked, certain her friends were pranking her. Though that wouldn’t explain the near-death experience she’d had.
“Who?” Electra asked, looking over at Jade. Isis ran her hands over her face. This is absolute lunacy. I’ve just entered the goddamn Twilight Zone, she thought.
“I’ve never turned into an animal before,” she insisted.
“Neither has your sister,” Jade countered. “You haven’t been trained properly. I’m sure you’ve seen signs though. Animals relax around you. Sometimes it almost feels like you know what they’re thinking. A longing to run free. One hell of a libido. Am I getting warm?”
“Wrong on the libido thing. I’m on the ace spectrum, been Gray-A my whole life,” Isis stated, crossing her arms over her chest. “Very, very low libido. Pretty much non-existent.”
“No shit?” Jade looked up at the rearview mirror, interest and amusement reflecting in her eyes. “You’re just all kinds of unique.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Isis asked, feeling more than a little defensive.
“Asexuality is almost unheard of in shape shifters. It’s even rarer than it is among humans,” Jade explained, snickering as though she were remembering a joke. “Two members of the Four are ace spectrum, how very odd. It’s certainly going to raise a few eyebrows at the very least.”
“Great,” Isis grumbled as she turned her gaze out the window, trying to see through the shadows. The road was starting to become curvy and she couldn’t see any houses or other buildings that would give an indication of where they were.
“Jade said shape shifting is hereditary?” Isis mentioned, not directing the question to anyone in particular.
“It is,” Electra responded. “Our father was a shape shifter. Our mother is part of the royal line and she’s the guardian of passion.”
“Hence her name: Passion,” Jade added with a half-smile.
“Where exactly are the guardians?” Isis asked, glancing around, half-expecting to see one flying next to the car.
“As I mentioned earlier, they live in the Meadows,” Electra answered, leaning sideways against her seat. “You can only get there by Appearing.”
“Appearing?” Isis was more skeptical than ever. Getting in this car was definitely not the wisest decision I’ve ever made, she thought as she toyed with the lock on the door.
“It’s similar to what humans call teleporting,” Jade explained, shrugging when Electra looked at her. Judging from her mannerisms, Isis wondered whether her twin spent very much time on Earth.
“You mentioned our father. Is he in the Meadows?” Isis asked, a little uneasy when the two women exchanged a look that was not at all reassuring.
“No. Shape shifters don’t live in the Meadows and it’s against our Sacred Laws for them to court guardians or enter into any sort of romantic relationship,” Electra answered. Isis raised an eyebrow at the vague response.
“So what, Passion and…?” she paused, waiting for a name. Electra looked to Jade again.
“Roan,” Jade answered, squinting at the inky night just outside the windshield. After a moment, she turned the steering wheel and rather than running off the road, Isis was surprised to find the road continued on. Glancing out the window, she noticed she couldn’t see a road ahead or behind her at all.
“Are they like Romeo and Juliet only alive or something like that?” Isis asked.
“No,” Electra responded darkly, but Jade started chuckling, obviously finding the question rather funny.
“I really like her,” Jade told Electra, smiling at Isis in the rearview mirror. Isis looked between the two women, picking up on the returning tension
“Okay, what is the deal with this guy?”
“He’s a murdering bastard,” Electra snapped, and Jade ran a hand over her face. Isis’ eyes widened again and she looked between the two, waiting for one of them to expand upon the statement.
“It’s not quite so simple. Remember those factions of shape shifters I mentioned earlier? Roan came from a family called the Deverells, one of the most decorated and respected protector lineages. But every family has its black sheep and Roan didn’t follow in his family’s footsteps. He was an assassin, the worst that we’ve ever known, perhaps the worst there ever has been. He murdered at least fifteen people and disappeared before the two of you were born. Jet and Lilly — they’re the leaders of the protectors — are still trying to find him but it is doubtful anyone will ever see him again. Your mother had no idea that he was a killer when they met,” Jade explained.
“How did she find out? Did he try to kill her?” Isis asked in complete disbelief. Aside from getting on people’s bad sides, Isis was convinced that she was flypaper for dysfunction.
“No, she saw him kill a mark,” Jade responded, her tone calm and collected. Isis went quiet again, shocked by the answer and the casual manner in which it had been delivered. After a moment, she swallowed and leaned forward.
“If all you’re saying is true, why the hell was I never aware of any of this?” she asked after a moment. Jade glanced over at Electra, who was now leaning her elbow against the door and running her long fingers through her hair.
“The guardians are run by a High Council. It is comprised of all the leaders of the major lands: nature, fire, light, day, water, night, and the royal line. Your mother, Passion, broke one of the most important Sacred Laws. It was decided that part of her punishment would be that she would have to give up one of her daughters to be raised as human. Since you were born second, you were the one to be given up.”
Isis closed her eyes. “So, who left me at the door of the agency?”
Electra glanced over at Jade, appearing to be curious about the question herself. Jade kept her eyes forward.
“Jet,” she answered.
“I assume that’s who we’re going to see now,” Isis said. Jade nodded once in response and Electra turned her gaze back out the window, mesmerized by the night. She rested her forehead against the window and closed her eyes.
“Do shape shifter bodies vanish into thin air often?” Isis asked, noticing Jade stiffened and gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. Electra opened her eyes and turned her head, looking over to Jade.
“Not often,” Jade responded. “But it does happen and it has happened for quite some time — throughout history in fact. Jet and Lilly hope the Four can figure out that mystery. Personally, I don’t see how it’s possible seeing as how it has been happening almost as long as we’ve existed. Even the guardians have no clue what happens to them.”
Jade turned onto the side street that Isis hadn’t even seen, steering the car up a winding path. Isis looked out the window but couldn’t see anything in the night; no indication of where they were.
“We’re currently traveling through the hills,” Jade explained when she noticed the questioning look on Isis’ face. “There’s a road hidden by guardian magic, one only protector eyes can see. The guardians created a special haven for the Monroe family, the protectors most loyal to them. Humans can’t find it, neither can most other shape shifters. Only the Monroes can teach shape shifters how to see it and even then, it takes a bit of time. Ah, there’s home.”
Isis glanced out the window and did a double take, her jaw dropping as she stared at the sight that greeted her. An enormous mansion — more like a castle — could be seen in the distance. The architecture resembled some sort of Renaissance style and it was the biggest structure Isis had ever seen. It was surrounded by trees, bushes, and all sorts of plant life. There was a vast amount of land stretching out as far as the eye could see in every direction. There were more windows than she could count and a couple towers could be seen. Several lights illuminated the exterior of the building.
“You live here?” Isis asked, her voice squeaky. She was still marveling at how large and beautiful the enormous home was. It was like something out of a history book or fairy tale. I don’t have my camera either! Shit, she thought.
“Where did you think we lived? A den?” Jade replied, a hint of teasing in her tone. She pulled up to a pair of elegant black gates, rolled down her window and flipped open the top of a nearby box, revealing a dark blue button and a handprint scanner. Jade pushed the button and pressed her palm against the scanner when it lit up. After a moment, there was a beep and then the gates swung open. Jade pulled the car in, checking the rearview mirror once again. Isis turned around, watching as the gates swung shut. No turning back now, she thought.