So, today DSP Publications author Andrea Speed has come to chat with us on Genre Talk here at The Novel Approach Reviews, and she’s generously brought us not only an excerpt from her spanking-new Paranormal release, Infected: Throwaways, but a giveaway as well. We’ll get to that later, because she also had such an interesting, timely, and important topic in mind that it seemed prudent for us to just step back and let her at it. So here’s us stepping back.
At its core, the INFECTED series is all about grief.
Yes, it is my stealth superhero novel, in that Roan is a superhero but doesn’t recognize that for the longest time, but at its heart is this long story about survivor’s guilt, and learning to live when it feels like the rug has been ripped out from under you. Again. I don’t go into too many specifics about Roan’s background, mainly because Roan wouldn’t – this is something he would hide as best he could from everyone else. But it’s fair to say he’s faced abuse and disappointment and loss in his life, to the point that it almost became a running theme. Still, Roan’s core strength is he absolutely refuses to give up. He preservers, no matter what, sometimes even when he’d rather not. He’d be happy to credit the lion for that, but come on—Roan is stubborn enough to give mules a run for their money. He wouldn’t have survived as long as he has without a will of iron.
Which brings us to Holden. His story was always going to be different, because his life was entirely different. Holden very much resembles the saying “there’s no sinner like an old saint,” except Holden would admit he was never a saint. He was a conformist, doing whatever his very religious family wanted to keep them happy, and not thinking much for himself. Which worked for him until he figured out he was gay. He tried to continue on as always, closeted, but ended up outed, and what happened to him happens to a shocking number of LGBTQA teens in real life—he was kicked out.
Homeless and without any support from his family, Holden had to reinvent himself, and oh boy, did he ever. Holden’s story does not come from a well of grief, but a well of rage. Sure, he’s mad about the injustice done to him, but his anger is vast, and extends to all forms of injustice, from how society at large treats LGBTQA people, to how society treats the poor and the homeless. I don’t want to go within fifty feet of the “white savior” cliché, but to be fair, Holden’s intent has never been to save people. He honestly has little interest in that, and leaves it to the Roans of the world. The only thing he’s interested in is vengeance, as hard and bloody as possible. I’ll admit I love calling him a hooker vigilante, but I think people get stuck on the former, and don’t realize the emphasis I’m putting on the latter. He isn’t interested in apologies or promises—he is here for a pound of flesh, minimum. If you want something solved or saved, you go to Roan. If you want a judge, jury, and executioner, you go to Holden.
And in today’s political climate, where everyone who’s not straight, white, and rich are pretty much out of luck, Holden is angrier than ever. The Pacific Northwest is known for its wonderfully liberal cities, but we’re having the same problem as all big cities in the US, and that is homelessness. Have you noticed it’s been on the rise lately? It has. Seattle is too expensive for most people to live in, and that has spread downward, and is now making Tacoma too expensive to live in. I’m not just talking about people who don’t have jobs. I’m talking working people, some with more than one job, unable to find a roof over their head that won’t bankrupt them. It’s ridiculous and outrageous, and a system like this is simply unsustainable.
With wages low and stagnating and housing prices continuing to spike ever upwards, the end result would be a single class able to afford a roof over their heads without pooling money with others. And I’m not just talking homes—apartments as well. We can’t, as a nation, have a sizable segment of the population living in cars or tent cities, or sub-par housing rife with potentially lethal problems simply because it’s all they can afford. Beyond its unsustainability, it’s simply wrong. Economically, morally, from just about every metric you can think of.
Why am I bringing this up? The Jungle is a real life homeless encampment in Seattle, slightly notorious, that often gets shut down, and then, as you may have guessed from the word “often,” is reopened again. The upcoming book in the INFECTED series involves The Jungle, although, because this is a parallel universe to ours, not quite the same. Or at least I hope what happens in this book doesn’t happen there. Holden really feels this, because he was homeless himself for many years, and Roan flirted with it, because he spent his childhood being passed around the foster care system. Sometimes you don’t realize how close you are to homelessness until you’ve been there, or been within spitting distance of it. Which is a shame, because empathy shouldn’t be based on proximity.
I’ve veered into a rant, haven’t I? I’m sorry. Let me put it this way: this book is as angry as I am about the current state of things. And while Holden is the star of this book, Roan comes back in it too. Because while Holden is a good choice for vengeance, it’s really hard to beat a pissed off lion in the revenge department.
Excerpt, Infected: Throwaways
As far as Holden knew, Burn had no family, here or anywhere. He was a man without a country, a home, a basic understanding of dental hygiene. All that was generally known about him was that his appetite for drugs was bottomless, and if you needed something questionable fast—untraceable gun, pharmaceuticals, car of dubious provenance—he was the guy to see. He’d been around since Holden had started his life on the streets. Burn could be found at the dirtiest bar in town, swilling cut-rate hooch at a back booth, dealing drugs in the filthy men’s room. He was the man your parents warned you about, no matter who your parents were. He was a tragedy and a warning at the same time.
That was about all Holden really knew about him. He knew Burn’d done time, but he didn’t know what for. He knew he’d taken to meth recently, but only because of the chemical smell he gave off and the sad state of his teeth. Holden knew he went missing for days, sometimes weeks or even months, but he always popped back up, and nothing was ever said about it. Except for this time. This time, his disappearance was a prelude to his death.
Kevin told him where to find the morgue, and Holden didn’t have the heart to tell him that he already knew where it was. He was quite familiar with it. It wouldn’t be his first time visiting the place, and given the circles he ran in, not the last either. Holden was now glad he’d quoted Dahlia such a late time, as this probably wouldn’t be a quick jaunt.
The morgue was an unobtrusive building downtown, so desperately anonymous you knew it was trying to hide something. Some wag had spray-painted on a neighboring building Don’t Open, Dead Inside. They deserved points for general humor, but some had to be deducted for the obvious cultural reference.
Inside, it was air conditioned to death—no pun intended—sterile, and smelled mostly of toner and coffee, like any other office. The hallways were long and bland, purely industrial, clinging to normalcy as a counterbalance to its grim reality. A receptionist along the way pointed him in the right direction, and Holden knew he was in the right place when he saw Kevin Robinson.
Kevin was a chunky cop in his dress blues, with the same hangdog expression he always seemed to wear. Holden was reasonably certain he was born with that expression on his face. He also had the bone-deep weariness that suggested he was halfway done with the world and all its shittiness, which was a state Holden had reached roughly fifteen years ago. You didn’t become the gay Punisher because you thought people and the world were ever going to get better.
Kevin nodded upon seeing him and gave a high sign to a medical technician, who apparently unlocked a door for them before Holden followed Kevin into a room full of body drawers. Holden wondered briefly at the security for an area devoted to corpses, but what was that about people being shitty? Hell, they stole some of Roan’s and Paris’s blood samples from a lab, all to infect new people. For the millionth year in a row, humans proved themselves to be the absolute worst.
Kevin walked over to one of the lower drawers and pulled it open as white fluorescents buzzed overheard and threw stark, unflattering light on everything. “Do I even need to warn you about looking at a dead body?” Kevin wondered.
“I worked with Roan, so no,” Holden replied. There were quiet layers here, ones concerning his gay Punisher status and the fact that Kevin had heard those rumors but had no proof of anything. Holden knew if Kevin found that proof, he’d nail him to the wall with it. No matter that Roan was a mutual friend and that they were both gay men—although Kevin was still closeted. They were essentially cop and hustler, and they’d always be adversaries. They were just more polite than most.
“Speaking of which, heard from him lately?” Kevin was trying to act like it was a casual, spur-of-the-moment thing, but for a police officer, he was a terrible liar.
Luckily, Holden knew he was a great liar. He shrugged a single shoulder. “Got an email from him a couple days ago. Hard at work on his book.”
“That’s good,” Kevin replied. He didn’t sound all that mollified, and Holden didn’t blame him. But what was going on with Roan right now was not his news to tell. If Dylan wanted to share it, he would. Besides, he could see it causing Kevin nothing but pain. Sometimes the fear was better than the knowledge.
“Don’t they identify bodies by fingerprints nowadays?” Holden asked.
“Usually. But his fingerprints are all scarred up. Looks like he tried to obliterate them several times before. Can’t get a clean read.”
Kevin had pulled the drawer all the way out, and inside was a partially zipped body bag. The head and upper chest were exposed, and Holden looked down at a ghastly pale man with bloodless lips, messy, greasy black hair, and a clean gash in his torso right where the heart was. His eyes were closed, but he had the same angular cheekbones and pointed nose of the hood rat Holden knew in passing.
“Yeah, that’s Burn. Holy shit, someone killed him?”
Kevin nodded, zipping up the bag. There was a smell, but considering how Burn usually smelled, it wasn’t that bad. It was probably the cleanest Burn had been in some time. “His body was found just outside the Jungle last night. We don’t know if he was killed there or just dumped there. The residents aren’t exactly being cooperative.”
“What, homeless people being scared and suspicious of cops? Who’d have thunk it?”
Kevin closed the drawer and turned to him with a nasty look, which was semi warranted, but then his expression changed. It lightened as if he’d just realized something. “Do you know if he was living there?”
“In the Jungle?” Holden shrugged. “I have no idea. He could have a condo in Queen Anne. Everything I know about Burn could fill a bottle cap.”
“Do you know people in the Jungle?”
Holden realized what Kevin had just twigged to. “Is this where you ask me to ask around in the Jungle about Burn’s death?”
About the Author
Andrea Speed is a thought collective from beyond time and space, disguised as an ’88 Toyota hatchback hidden in an illegal dump somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. If you find her, she has to grant you three wishes, but they’ll all have terrible twists, like the sandwich you wished for will be made of Silly Putty, or the pot of gold you request will be full of gold paint. Really, it’s not worth bothering. Also there’s a family of possums living in the hatchback, and the mother can be kind of mean.
And now for the GIVEAWAY! Andrea is generously offering one ecopy of Infected: Holden to a randomly drawn recipient. Just click on the Rafflecopter widget and follow the directions. Andrea will contact the lucky winner in one week.
And that will do it for us for this week. Thanks for joining us, everyone, and thanks as always to Lisa and the crew here at TNAR for letting us come play in their sandbox! If you’d like to keep tabs on Genre Talk and never miss a post, hop on over and like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and check out our web page.
We’ll see you next time on Genre Talk when we welcome author Lloyd A. Meeker, who will be by with his Genre Talk quarterly feature column Through My Lens, in which he’ll discuss… okay, we don’t know yet what he’s going to discuss, but c’mon, it’s Lloyd A. Meeker! When has he ever disappointed?
Until then, that’s all for this week. On behalf of me and Co-pilot Extraordinaire Elizabeth Noble, thanks for spending some time with us, and have a great Valentine’s Day!