Two or three times a year, I discover a new author whose work captivates me. I love finding new books to enjoy, new sequels to await, and never mind what this does to the TBR pile. Much rarer, though is the experience of reading a new author and being totally blown away by the world that author creates. I had this experience last year with author Jessica Andersen's The Nightkeepers, the first in her adventure-packed, hot Novels of the Final Prophecy. Fellow bandita Anna Sugden put us in touch with each other. I'm delighted to have Jessica join us today and celebrate the release of the series' second book, The Dawnkeepers.
Jessica has a Ph.D. in genetics and did research on glaucoma before launching her writing career with Harlequin Intrigue. Her medical-themed books for this line have earned her RITA and Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award nominations. While researching a book, she came across the Mayan prophecies about 2012. Following up on them inspired the Nightkeepers.
Welcome, Jessica! Tell us about the Nightkeepers series so far.
I’m happy to!
The long-count calendar of the ancient Maya ends December 21, 2012, on the day of a potentially dire astrological conjunction. The NOVELS OF THE FINAL PROPHECY tell of the ancient myths that come to life in the years leading up to the end-date, and their opposition by the Nightkeepers, descendants of an ancient race sworn to protect mankind from the apocalypse.
In NIGHTKEEPERS (June 08, Signet), the Nightkeepers’ last king is forced to team up with a sexy female narcotics detective in order to reunite his scattered warriors and fight the demons of the Mayan underworld, Xibalba. Wielding ancestral magic based on bloodletting and sex, the king must choose between duty and his love for the human woman who is the gods' destined sacrifice.
In DAWNKEEPERS (Jan 09, Signet), Nightkeeper Nate Blackhawk isn’t about to let the gods determine his destiny- especially when it comes to his feelings for Alexis Gray, his ex-lover and nemesis. But when they’re forced to work together, racing to recover seven antiquities before the demons get their claws on the vital artifacts, Nate and Alexis will have to face their feelings- and their past- in order to defeat an ancient enemy.
Would you like to share an excerpt from one of the books?
Absolutely!! From DAWNKEEPERS:
As Alexis walked to the throne, she knew she was alone yet not alone. He was here, too - the lover of her dreams, the one who was Nate yet not, the one who loved her like he had, but didn’t break her heart. That was how she had always known it was a dream before. Now, though, she wasn’t sure what to call it. She’d touched the statuette and been transported into a dark, formless corner of the barrier, yet now she was back on earth- she knew it from the taste of the air, and the strong sense of being underground.
When she reached the end of the arcade, the pathway she was on curved and widened, forming a platform in front of the throne. There, in the center of the flat space, she saw shadowy footprints in the dust, those of bare human feet, standing facing the throne.
Almost without conscious volition, acting as she had done in the dream, she toed off her shoes and stepped into the footprints. They fit perfectly, as they had in her fantasies. The certainty that she had been in this chamber before, that she’d done this before, was overwhelming, as was the knowledge that the moment she blooded herself, placed her hands on the altar and said his name, he would be there with her.
The certainty - and the nerves - had her hesitating. Then, knowing she didn’t have a choice, not really, she pulled a ceremonial knife she didn’t recognize from a weapons belt she didn’t remember putting on, and drew the blade sharply across her palm. She hissed against the pain, and blood flowed, dark crimson in the amber torchlight. Then she reversed hands and cut her other palm. Her bloodied fingers slipping on the haft of the knife as she set it aside.
“Gods,” she whispered, hope and fear spiraling up within her. “Help me to be worthy.” More, she prayed for the gods to help her understand what the dreams were telling her- about her mother. About herself, and the man who wore the hawk medallion.
Knowing there was no other way, she closed her eyes and pressed her bloodstained palms to the altar, and said the words that had come to her in a dream, though she was no seer: “Tzakaw muwan.” Summon the hawk.
A detonation rocked the room. Water splashed the walls and the footpath, and the sound of ripples turned to thin screams coming from the carved onlookers, who hadn’t moved, yet somehow seemed to gape in awe.
She turned, knowing what she would see.
He stood opposite her, at the edge where the stone and the water met. His eyes bored into hers, hard and intense and no-nonsense. He wore combat gear, with his black shirt unbuttoned at the top to show a glint of gold. He was Nate, yet not, just as she was Alexis, yet not.
She was the smoke and he was the hawk. And that was all that really mattered as his eyes darkened and he strode toward her, his intent as clear as the need inside her...
How did you become interested in Mayan mythology?
That goes back to when my parents used to take me down to the Yucatan and go ruin ratting. That was just before Cancun really became a tourist destination, so it wasn’t too expensive. It was also back before many of the big ruins were closed to the public, so I got to climb up inside El Castillo at Chichen Itza, dangle my toes over the edge of the sacrificial cenote, and generally immerse myself in the ruins. Those experiences stuck with me for a long time, although my occasional ‘gee, I’d like to be an archaeologist’ thoughts got lost amidst my other interests. Then one day I stumbled on a reference to the Maya long count calendar, and how it would end on 12/21/2012. That totally reawakened my early interest in the Maya, and became a series proposal!
How closely do you adhere to the myths, and how much do you embroider?
Because I needed to be able to deviate from the historical record in places, and because the Maya are a living culture, I conceived the Nightkeepers as the remnants of an older, magic-wielding culture that lived with the ancient Egyptians, then the ancient Maya (accounting for some of the apparent cultural similarities between the two groups). Thus, while the Nightkeepers’ myths aren’t exactly the same as those of the Maya, they’re largely parallel and consistent in feel. Both groups worship their ancestors, use blood sacrifice and sex as channels to reach their gods, and revere sacred foods such as chocolate and maize. However, the Nightkeepers’ religion places far more emphasis on the power of mated pairs- and the magic inherent in lovemaking- than the Maya did.
Our regular visitors know I really love super-heroes, and your Nightkeeper magi seem to be in that tradition. Did you make conscious choices to make them that way, or did they just sort of evolve?
I’d say the answer to that is “yes” and “yes.” LOL! I’m a sucker for a super-hero, too, particularly the ones that start off as everyday people. I wanted to write about people like you and me who got ‘that call’… you know, the one where your (adopted) parent says, “Um, you know those stories I told you when you were a kid? Well, they’re true, you’re one of the people in them, and you’ve got four years to save the world.” So in that way, yes, I set out to write about a group of super-heroes. But in so many other ways, the stories evolved out of the Maya tradition, and the momentum that the characters themselves built as I started writing.
Which heroine and heroine would you say have the darkest romantic conflict?
I’d say that each of the characters and their romantic conflicts have some very dark aspects. Because balance is an important part of the Maya tradition, each of the mated pairs is a complex mix of light and dark that balances out when they come together despite their obstacles. Of the books that are finished so far, SKYKEEPERS (coming August 09) is easily the darkest, due to the nature of the hero’s past, and the sacrifices he’s asked to make. But I know for certain that at least one, maybe two of the future books will take it even further than that as we get closer to 2012 and things start spiraling.
Which character do you think has the hardest road to travel, if you can tell us that without giving anything away?
I’d like to think that each of the characters has, for them, the hardest road to travel. When dealing with a nine-book story arc, with each book focusing on a different hero and heroine, I think it’s important that although the larger stakes need to increase from book to book, the stakes for each hero/heroine pair have to be the absolute highest for them, personally, in their book. And that means giving them the hardest decisions possible for their personal circumstances.
The Final Prophecy series is very different from your other books, Harlequin Intrigues. Tell us about those.
Glad to! My Intrigues are almost always science-based, either medical suspense or forensic procedural, often inspired by my own lab experiences. Because I’m the sort of reader who loves coming away from a book feeling as though I’ve learned something, I generally explore a cool aspect of science in each Intrigue. I try not to lecture - and my editors make sure I don’t! - but I also try to include interesting details that the reader might not have known going into the story.
What are you working on now, and what are your long-range plans?
I’m working on the fourth ‘Keeper book as we speak. Signet just bought books four through six- yay! And assuming sales are good enough for them to continue with the series (fingers crossed), there will be three more after that, bringing us up to the final battle at the end of 2012!
Do you have any upcoming signings where our visitors might meet you?
My upcoming signings are: Feb 7, Farmington, CT; Feb 14, Millbury, MA; and Mar 28, Framingham, MA, as part of a major multi-author signing run in conjunction with the New England RWA conference. More deets on all of the above are on my website: www.JessicaAndersen.com/.
Readers, what’s your favorite kind of epic tale? Do you expect an apocalypse, as so many cultures foretell, or not? If you were going to visit the world of a particular culture’s myths, which culture would you choose?
Jessica's giving a signed copy of Dawnkeepers to a randomly chosen commenter!
Don't forget, the Romance Bandits are blogging on RNTV all week! We've written vignettes and are giving away prizes. After you comment here, pop over and join us.