Interview with Red Tash
The next stop on having great authors on my blog belongs to Red Tash, the author of the excellent Troll Or Derby and The Wizard Takes a Fitness Class.
Here’s the blurb for Troll Or Derby:
In Troll Or Derby, fifteen-year-old Roller Deb is singled out by town bullies for both her skates, and her sexual orientation. When her popular homecoming queen of a sister is kidnapped by a scuzzy drug dealer, Deb must flee the trailer park in which she’s grown up, and rescue her. Along the way, Deb becomes enmeshed in the magical realm of trolls and fairies, and the blood-thirsty version of roller derby at which these beings excel. But spending too much time among the fairies comes with a price. Will Deb choose to save her sister, with the aid of a mysterious troll? Or will she be lost to the lures of roller derby, and the blonde temptress April, forever?
I’m sure you’ll all agree, that is an excellent cover. And now for a short excerpt:
Burning Down the House
Meth fires are blue, the hottest kind of flame. I’d heard it before, probably from Derek, but now I was seeing it firsthand. Lucky me.
A sickly smell hung on the air. The remains of chemicals, plastic, and pharmaceutical ingredients brutalized my lungs, but I couldn’t back away. I wouldn’t—no matter what.
The trailer crackled with flame, and Gennifer was inside. Tall, eerie tongues of fire licked the outer walls–ten feet high, at least. I had no idea flames could reach that size.
Plasticine, sticky smoke—brown and thick—engulfed me as I neared the trailer. I didn’t know where to look for my sister, but I was sure she was inside. A moan, then a scream—I could hear her through the thin aluminum walls.
The trailer was melting into sludge and toxic smoke, and it cracked and popped on a warping metal frame. I didn’t know if I should try and run through the fire at the kitchen end of the mess, where a gaping hole belched sickening fire. Maybe I could try to get Gennifer to open or break a window and climb out from the other side. I wondered if she’d have it in her to bleed a little, to save her own life.
The window was way too high for me to reach.
“Open the window, Gennifer! Climb out!”
She was never right when she was doing the drugs Dave gave her—could she even understand what I was saying? Could she hear me?
I thought maybe I could pitch something hard enough into the glass to break her out. I ran to the woods, looking for a log or branch I could ram through the window. Everything was too rotten to be of any use—sticks and limbs crumbled in my shaking hands. Gennifer’s screams were getting louder, higher pitched. Was she on fire? Why wouldn’t she help herself?
If only I had a crowbar.
Then I saw them—tools. The trailer was up on blocks, with no underpinning. Of course Dave would be too cheap to finish out his rustic rural meth lab. I crawled beneath, the leaky septic line christening me as I stooped, groping for the abandoned tools. I hoped the mobile home wouldn’t collapse on top of me before I could crawl back out, but it wasn’t sounding so good.
Dave and his gang of junkie slaves had been working beneath the trailer, and sure enough, they’d been too distracted, dumb, or high to put away a set of screwdrivers, some ratchets, and a really, really heavy wrench.
It’s no crowbar, but it’ll have to do.
Liquid shit dripped on me, but I didn’t have time to care. My sister was screaming her head off in a burning trailer and I was reasonably certain she was out of her mind on drugs.
I flung the wrench at the window, but it didn’t break. I tried again, and again, but only managed to crack the damned glass, and Gennifer still hadn’t appeared at the window to save herself.
There was only one thing to do. I grabbed the wrench and ran to the kitchen end of the trailer. I took a deep breath of fresh air, then I hurled myself through the cloud of fumes. The fire and smoke obscured everything, and I shut my eyes against the sting of chemicals. For a moment, I thought I saw the shapes of blue and orange dancers in the flames.
I braced myself for the heat, but I didn’t feel it. Pops and hisses all around me sounded like whispers or cackles. The fire was eating through the trailer, and I felt the floor giving out with every step. I wouldn’t let it take Gennifer—I wouldn’t let it consume me, either.
The hallway was short, and the door Gennifer was locked behind very thin. Her screams were so loud, there was no point trying to yell to her that I was coming in, especially if it meant inhaling more smoke.
I swung at the handle, holding the wrench like a baseball bat. The brass knob fell to the floor, a chunk of splintered wood still clinging to it. I kicked the bedroom door in, and Gennifer stopped screaming long enough to pass out.
Lovely. Now I’ll have to carry her.
She wore a black bra and jeans, and her skin was burning with fever. I put my hands under her armpits and lugged her over my shoulder. She had at least 75 pounds on me, so I should have crumpled under her, I suppose. Instead, I stumbled into the door frame as I carried her across the spongy floor of the burning trailer.
The heat touched my hair—I could hear it sizzle, could smell it burning, even—but I felt nothing but determination as I carried my sister out of that meth lab.
With Gennifer still on my back, I jumped. She fell hard on top of me, and I was just pushing her off, struggling for breath, when the trailer collapsed onto the ground. The sound of sirens in the distance was no surprise—the smoke was so black and thick that farmers in the vicinity surely could tell this was no typical trash fire. I pulled my sister as far away from the flames as I could and watched for the EMTs to roll up.
Gennifer groaned, and her eyes flickered open for a sec. She met my gaze and frowned. She closed her eyes again and drew a deep breath.
“I’m going to kill that son of a bitch,” I said.
“Dave didn’t do it,” she said. Her words were slurred. She reached up to rub her eyes, lazily, as if waking up from a nap.
“Yeah, right, Gennifer. He’s such a saint, locking you in a burning trailer and all.”
I didn’t see the point of arguing with her, though. I let it drop.
Something sticky and hot dripped too close to my eyes, and I reached to wipe it off. Please don’t let it be crap from the sewer line. I pulled my hand away, and it was covered in blood. Even better. I won’t think of that now—nope, not at all.
The fire truck roared up the gravel driveway. Guys in black rubber suits jumped off the truck–someone put a face mask on Gennifer and asked me if there was anyone still inside.
I shook my head no, and then I fell through trees, air, sky, into the black. I felt my head hitting the hard ground near where my backpack lay, could hear the EMTs shouting, and then—nothing.
I’d Love to Change the World
I want you to understand something. I didn’t rise up out of the ground fully grown, I wasn’t the bastard child of an angry god, and I didn’t become this way because I was cursed. My skin’s not green and I won’t turn to stone in the sunlight.
When I was young, I had a mother, and she was a troll. I had a mother and a father who were both trolls, in fact–and we were a family. Yes, I had a family. Just like you.
Almost everything I know about humans, I’ve learned from their trash. Redbook and Woman’s Day show up at my doorstep more than any other source, I reckon. It may not be a perfect picture of what your life is like, but I’m betting I’ve got a more accurate view of your lifestyle than you have of mine, at least for the time being.
For starters, there’s a shopping mall full of differences between troll family life, and how human families live. Trolls, for instance, do not typically invest a lot of emotion into their own young–often don’t even raise them. They especially don’t socialize with their relatives for special occasions. You won’t see us breaking out the patio umbrellas and the ice chests full of soda for a family barbecue. A special occasion in troll culture is when the villagers rise up and try to corral one of us in a cave, or something like that. At least, that’s how it used to be. That’s what my mom told me. I remember that.
I remember a lot more now than I did, when this adventure started—but I’ll get to that.
Best I can tell, my nuclear family was more like a human family than a troll one. The extended family, as you English would call it, was a mess. A big, illegal, drug-running, slaving mess. But I’ll get to that. This is my part of the story and I want to begin in the beginning. I’m not a storyteller. It’s not my profession. Bear with me while I sort this out, okay?
Sure, you’re going to think what you want about trolls. I mean, you’ve seen movies, you’ve read Rowling and Tolkien. I’m telling you that the real-live working-class trolls of the Midwest are nothing like you’ve been told. We’re capable of great violence, sure, and I’ll concede that our proclivity is largely toward evil, but let’s face it—a lot of that comes down to breeding and culture.
In our world, might most definitely makes right. That’s the fundamental law of troll culture, although most trolls would forego the flowery wording and just express it with a grunt and blow to the head.
Trolls as a species, though, are capable of great love. I know, because I’ve experienced it. You don’t live with something like that and ever forget. If you do, you’re a fool, anyway.
My parents weren’t totally solitary like so many other trolls are. They even had a very close friendship with a fairy family called the Wheelers. If we’d celebrated holidays, the Wheelers were the ones we’d have invited over for a Fourth of July cookout. We didn’t do that a lot, that I can recall. We did raid sinkholes filled with garbage on a few occasions, though. Good times.
The Wheelers were not just fairies, they were Protectors. Fleet of foot and quick of mind, their instincts were so well-tuned as to be mistaken for psychic powers, by most. According to my mother, in the old days humans and fairies alike worshiped or feared the breed of fairy the Wheelers were. Their massive black wings shimmering in air above a crowd of would-be foes were beautiful and awesome—I remember that, too. Sometimes. The memories come and go, unless I’m looking at Deb. Then I can’t forget.
Anyway, these two particular Wheelers, Marnie and Mannox, were so powerful and strong, everyone lived in fear of them. Everyone but my folks, and me, I guess. The Wheelers were my fairy godparents. I don’t remember much about them, but I remember that.
Trying to remember is a full-time job. I’ve visited the library in Bloomington, and even picked through the local bookstore in Bedrock, curious about what the old days used to be like. Maybe there’d be a book there, or something. I read in a muddy copy of Psychology Today once that some therapists use fairy tales to trigger vital memories in their patients—and I used to get these blank spots, this fogginess.
Anyway, my point is, among the children’s stories and the romantic teen fiction, and even in a lot of the comic books, there’s some truth. Mostly fiction, but if you look hard enough, you can see through the tall tales, and find the common thread within. I’ve always been good at that sort of thing. Figuring stuff out.
The one thing I wish I’d figured out sooner was what to do about my uncle Jag.
Why? Well, for starters, my uncle killed my parents, and my fairy godparents. It was immediately after the bonding ceremony between their baby daughter and me. The Wheelers had pledged to protect my parents, and by extension, me. My parents were to protect Deb, and I was, by extension . . .
Well, I jump ahead of myself. I told you I’m not good with stories.
I should start with an introduction, shouldn’t I?
My name is Harlow Saarkenner. I am an American Troll living in rural Indiana, and this is the story of how I met a kick-ass rollergirl, rejoined a rock band, and lived happily ever after.
In a landfill. Did I mention that?
But there’s more. Stay tuned. I’m just going to tell it like it happened, best I can. Deb will fill in the rest.
And now on with the Interview:
1. Can you tell us a bit more about your book? Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write?
Troll Or Derby is about a weird kid who gets thrown into precarious circumstances and skates like hell to get out of them with herself and an increasing number of “dependents” intact.
I used to play roller derby, so the idea to have the characters involved in derby came from that aspect of my life. The derby I played was nowhere near as brutal as Jag’s, though. I’m not positive any of the girls I skated with were trolls, either, although there was one who was kind of Oompa Loompa-shaped.
Actually, come to think of it, there was a lady who I was very intimidated to meet. I did not skate against her because she was way out of my league. She had served time for murder, and she was one of the best roller derby players in my region. I named one of my characters for her—it’s not her exact name, because that’s generally frowned upon in Derby, but it’s a tribute. The lady’s a legend. Really nice, too. (Turned out the guy deserved it.)
But, yeah. Lots of derby names in my book. One of my minor male characters is named after a real life friend’s skate name: Mace Frehley.
The rest of it? The fairies, trolls, meth labs, rock & roll? All that’s based on true events. 😉
I started writing Troll Or Derby in single-subject notebooks on my lap while sitting in line at the school to pick up my kids. 5 min. here, 10 min. there. I took long chunks of time off from writing because roller derby became all-consuming. I also had a few years of personal-life free fall (not uncommon when derby happens!) Two or three years later when I picked myself & Troll Or Derby back up to finish, it was about 75% done.
I finished, worked on other projects, sent it to some betas, worked on other projects, had it edited, got the cover, did my final, and got it onto shelves in about…maybe 6 months? This was my second book, and it was an easy book to write, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it, what tone to strike, all that. I called it my “rebound” book because I wanted to write a fun book that had no deeper meaning, no world-changing agenda. It helped tremendously that I had some experience tinkering around with epublishing by then, as well.
2. Who’s your favourite character in the book?
It’s not nice to play favorites, is it? I haven’t had to answer this question yet. Hrm…
Deb is such a vivid person in my mind. She’s tough, takes no shit off anyone, is somewhat innocent and somewhat jaded like any teenager, and let’s face it—she’s not cool. Okay, maybe once she becomes a fairy she’s a bit cooler, but not before her transformation. Then there’s Harlow, the rockin’ troll, the older guy who has Deb’s back, even though he can’t remember why he’s compelled to care. He’s so far removed from society of every kind, he lives in the county dump–but he does the right thing according to his gut and he’s probably the most honorable character in the book. I pity those two, but I also love them.
Of the bad guys, I think April, the evil jammer fairy princess from hell (horns and all) and her daddy, scrawny, smoky, sleazy McJagger are guilty pleasures to write. I just like writing bad guys. I love it as much or more than I like chocolate.
3.What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
That I was not special or talented enough to make a success of my career writing fiction. However, the person who said that to me has yet to publish a book, so I don’t know why I bothered letting it upset me at the time. You gotta consider the source.
4.What has been the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Well, someone called Troll Or Derby “literature,” which honored me and completely took my breath away. More than one person said it was the best book they’d read all year. I couldn’t have asked for that kind of praise—I was simply shooting for “fun.” I’ve been offered a couple of publishing contracts in the past month, so that’s a pretty good sign, too.
I particularly like it when readers tell me I’m responsible for their lack of sleep and a tough time at work the following day, because they couldn’t put one of my books down and get to sleep until they found out what happened.
5.Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
So many! Sequels to Troll Or Derby and This Brilliant Darkness, a madcap collaborative adventure novel with Axel Howerton, a Christmas anthology, comics, a memoir, poetry…really, it’s been a very creative year!
6.Someone wrongs you. Do you get revenge or allow Karma to do it for you?
I’m not sure I believe in karma. I’m not sure I believe in revenge, either; however, I will say I am tremendously talented with the latter. Don’t know if I should be proud of that, though, right? Hrm. How’s that for a Ravenclaw answer to your Slytherin question?
7.You could live out the story from any one book. What book would it be?
After that last question, I’ll give you one guess. But, honestly, I love my life. I think I’d miss my family if they couldn’t come to Hogwarts with me.
And that’s it for the interview, thanks to Red Tash for agreeing to take part. I hope you enjoyed it.
If you want to read more about Red Tash’s excellent books, you can click on the links below: