Wednesday, June 20

Review of The Trust and Q&A with author Shira Anthony
I recently had the pleasure of reading The Trust, by Shira Anthony and Venona Keyes (Dreamspinner Press, June, 2012).

 Defying genre categorization, The Trust, is one part science fiction novel, one part political/espionage mystery, and one part romance. The Trust is a government agency (working under the auspices of the CIA) whose primary mission is to keep tabs on foreign governments and private companies who use (and abuse) biotechnology. When somebody crosses the line between use and abuse, Trust agents move in and “handle the situation”.

 The biotechnology in The Trust is what producers/writers for one my favorite television shows (“La Femme Nikita”) described as “ten minutes into the future”—i.e. we don’t have this technology yet, but it’s easy to believe that given a few years, we could. (Heck, it’s not so hard to believe that some of it might already exist, we just don’t know about it yet!) Of course, the only reason that works is that the writing and research are both credible. 

No single plot element (mystery/thriller, romance, science fiction) would work without the other two, as all three elements weave together to form a fast paced novel with a tight, well-rounded plot. I was drawn in immediately, wanting to know more. More about the Trust, more about the traitors, and much, much more about not only the main characters, Jake Anders and Trace Michelson, but also the cast of supporting characters (a host of agents and double agents whose loyalties could never quite be trusted).

 I loved both Jake Anders (stubborn, loyal almost to a fault, and smart), and Trace Michelson (intelligent, funny and, unfortunately for Jake, also dead. Yes. Dead.) 

And yes, it was very strange reading a romance novel that starts out with one of the main characters dead (and we’re not talking zombies, ghosts, or vampires, but genuinely, humanly deceased)—however, fans of Happily Ever After shouldn’t let that dissuade them. Far from it, in fact. I won’t tell you how Ms. Anthony and Ms. Keyes manage to pull it off, other than to say “skillfully”. Anthony and Keyes take readers half way around the world, from familiar places, like Raleigh North Carolina, to a tiny village in Tibet, as Jake follows in Trace’s footsteps to unravel the mystery of the Sim chip—a microchip that is far more than simple artificial intelligence, for it contains all of Trace Michelson ’s knowledge and memories.

 There were enough twists and turns to keep me guessing, and in places on the edge of my seat, madly reading as fast as I could to find out what happened next. I wanted to know who Jake could trust and who was going to stab him in the back (literally)—and of course, I needed to know how Jake was going to get his happy ending.

About the only technical “problem” I had was that in places the dialog seemed a little stiff. But seriously, if that’s the only thing someone can knock about a book…?

On a personal note, I don’t usually like getting into the heads of the antagonists (I skim read whole chapters of a several of books, because I just didn’t care what the bad guy did in his spare time), but that said, where Anthony and Keyes do take readers out of the protagonists’ heads and into the thoughts of the antagonists, it’s handled well, brief, and genuinely adds to the story.    
In addition to reading The Trust, I had the pleasure of being able to ask Shira Anthony a few questions about the novel:   

 Q & A with Shira Anthony

The main plot of The Trust revolves around industrial and political espionage, and features a lot of really cool technology (although it isn’t what I would consider “hard” science fiction, readers don’t need a bioengineering degree to follow the story.)  There’s also a metaphysical/spiritual element. All of that has me curious about what your inspiration for The Trust was.

The original idea for the story was Venona’s – a microchip implanted in the MC’s head that thinks/acts like a real person.  Artificial intelligence (“AI” for short).  Venona comes up with some really cool ideas – most of the gadgets in the story are her creation, although we tried to ground them in some real science. 

The story starts off with Jake being shot and using meditation to control his heart rate and slow the bleeding.  These healing techniques are really practiced by some Tibetan Buddhist monks.  From there, it just seemed natural for us to explore the more metaphysical concepts about what life really is, since we had this virtual person inhabiting Jake’s mind and Jake’s mentor, Trace, taught him these Buddhist techniques.  Jake’s spiritual growth becomes a parallel story to the quest to learn the truth about what happened to Trace.  That quest ultimately takes Jake to Tibet, and what Jake finds there really changes his perspective.

 The Trust is based on a “Bleach” fanfiction story. Lately, it seems as if there’s been a lot bad press about fanfic being turned into original fiction. Some readers feel like it’s “cheating”, because it’s taking something you’ve already written “and just changing a few names”, then selling it to a publisher—and ultimately to readers. Most writers I know would disagree, but it might help readers understand if they knew what really went into re-writing your fanfiction in order to make it a publishable, original story, The Trust.

When I hear that people think “converting” a fan fiction to a “publishable” story is as easy as a global search and replace, I cringe!  In some sense, converting a fan fic is far more work that simply creating an original story with original characters.  At least, if you’re going to do it right, it is!

The Trust, in fan fiction form, was written over three years ago and was just about over half as long as the novel Dreamspinner Press has published.  It was written as AU (alternate universe) fan fiction.  For those of you who don’t know what that is – it’s where a writer takes established characters from a book, movie, anime, or other story form and literally takes them out of the original setting and puts them into an alternate universe.  This means that nothing in “The Trust” had anything to do with the manga/anime “Bleach” with the exception of the characters themselves.  An entirely original story set in a different place, in a different time, but using two Bleach characters:  Byakuya Kuchki and Renji Abarai.

Two years ago, I decided it would be fun to rework the story without the “Bleach” connection.  I hadn’t even been thinking about publishing it, but I wanted to flesh out the characters and clean up the plot so that it made more sense, then share it with readers on an original fiction website I had found.  Since fan fiction depends upon readers knowing the characters, that meant adding in descriptions of the characters (literally, what they look like, how they move, what they wear) and adding in back story (what made the character what s/he is today – his/her life experiences, family, friends, etc.).  The story “grew.”  The characters did, too. I shared The Trust with readers who didn’t know “Bleach” at all, and got some great feedback and encouragement.

In the meantime, I’d just published my first book with Dreamspinner, “The Dream of a Thousand Nights,” and had contracted my second, “Blue Notes.”  Both of those books were entirely original creations and not fan fiction.  But “The Trust” was a great story – I was convinced of it, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I asked Venona what she’d think if we reworked it again, this time with an eye to submitting it for publication.  She said “yes,” and I spent the next two months rewriting sections, sending the manuscript to beta readers for input, and rewriting things again.  By the time we submitted the story to Dreamspinner, it was over 60K words long and had been rewritten a least a dozen times.  Last, and definitely not least, the story once again got a thorough working over by the fabulous editors at Dreamspinner.  We injected more character development, added some background to help the reader connect the dots of the story, and ended up at over 200 pages! 

Would someone who read the original fan fic recognize the story?  Yes.  The “bones” are the same.  But the story has far more depth, both in the level of plot detail, and in the characterization.  It’s a three-dimensional book which stands firmly on its own two feet and of which Venona and I are very proud.  Diamond in the rough to engagement ring!

When and why did you start writing fanfiction? What made you decide to start writing original stories?

I found fan fiction because I wanted to know what happened in the original Bleach story.  There’s a hint of romance that swirls around the two main characters, Rukia and Ichigo, but which is never explored by the original author, Tite Kubo.  I wanted MORE!  I hunted around and found a great fan fiction story (one of the best I’ve read for Bleach) that pairs these two.  And I started to imagine a story of my own, starting where the manga left off at that point.  I wrote it and, surprise, surprise, readers really liked it!  I was hooked.

I progressed from “canon” stories (stories that follow the original plot, setting, etc.) to AU stories, including a set of vampire stories, a paranormal pirate story, and a sci fi/suspense/mystery story.  Then I added in an original character or two.  Another surprise – readers really liked them!  So I wrote a original novella with entirely original characters, which I ended up self-publishing: “From the Depths.”  And yet another surprise – the thing sold really well!  By that time, though, I’d discovered yaoi (male/male romance) fan fiction.  I wrote two stories with Venona, and then decided to try an original gay romance.  That was “Dream of a Thousand Nights.”  After that, I never wrote another het story.  I’ve been writing original gay romances ever since.  

Back to The Trust, personally, if I were writing it (which is always a loaded way to start any statement), I would have made more changes to the characters’ physical appearances—not that I don’t love long red hair! Why did you decide to keep the “original” appearances of your Trace and Jake?

*laughs*  Honestly, I don’t think either of us could get the two original characters out of our minds.  We changed some of their features (the original Jake is covered in tattoos!), but the long red hair was just too hot not to write!  Neither Jake nor Trace are Japanese in our story, either, but their body shapes are similar to the original characters.  Jake is tall, broad-shouldered.  Trace is a bit smaller, leaner, but incredibly strong.  Also, Jake is a bit of a rebel, and the long hair is his way of telling the universe he doesn’t give a crap about what people think of him.  At one point, by the way, the Trace Sim chip teases him about this!

There’s one other reason I think we kept some of their original physical attributes – as a tribute, really, for the inspiration those two characters gave us to take a chance with our writing.  I fell in love with gay romance because of these two characters, and I think Venona would probably say the same.  They really opened my mind to the possibilities. 

In your opinion, what makes m/m and yaoi so darned hot?

Easy one!  Men are just so damned sexy - I love men!  What’s better than writing about one man?  Writing about two.  Not a “female” in a male’s body, but two men who act like men and love like men. 

Do you think we’ll ever get to a point where we’ll be able to walk into a Barnes & Noble in Anytown, USA and find LGBTQ romance on the shelves right along with het romance?

I think so.  In time.  I hope so, for all the gay men I love and wish happy endings for!

Lastly, any words of advice for aspiring writers?

Keep writing and get honest, constructive feedback from people you admire and trust.  Then take that advice and use it to become a better writer!  Don’t be afraid to ask for criticism, even if it hurts.

Visit Shira Anthony's blog ( for more on The Trust, updates, free fiction, and other cool goodies!

 The subject of "fanfiction to published fiction" and fanfiction writers (like myself as well as Ms. Anthony and Ms. Keyes) has become a hot topic lately, so much so that even the Wall Street Journal has something to say about it:

And of course, it IS Wednesday...which makes it Hunk Day:

I wanted to do something with sexy men in suits today, in honor of The Trust (not that everybody runs around in suits, but it's what *I* think of when I think CIA)

(I do lament the fact that this first one isn't in color... )

a sexy redhead... 

and if you've made it this far... it's been blistery hot here in SE Michigan so I'm thinking something cool and easy for summer. And it just so happens that my favorite recipe is "no bake". Okay, it does require a little cooking, but only a little.


6 egg yolks
1/4 cup white sugar
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/3 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound mascarpone cheese
2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfinger cookies

1/4 cup strong brewed coffee, room temperature
Optional: orange or raspberry liquor or flavoring (or get creative. Rum, Kahlua, even Irish Cream make for great variations) 
Optional 2: Fresh fruit to garnish
1 half a cup of shaved dark chocolate (best method: take your favorite chocolate bar and grate it into shreds)

1.In a medium saucepan on low heat, warm milk and melt in white chocolate chips. While constantly stirring, drizzle in beaten egg yolks. Stir in sugar, and blend. Nudge up the heat until mixture comes to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Cover tightly and  chill in refrigerator 1 hour.
2.In a mixer, beat cream with vanilla until stiff peaks form. Whisk in mascarpone into yolk mixture until smooth.
3.In a small bowl, combine coffee liquor/flavoring. Split ladyfingers in half lengthwise and drizzle with coffee mixture.
4.Arrange half of soaked ladyfingers in bottom of a 7x11 inch dish. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers, then half of whipped cream over that. Repeat layers and sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 6 hours, until set.


Tali Spencer said...

Great interview! I loved "Dream of a Thousand Nights." It's one of the reasons I submitted my own novels to Dreamspinner. I'm reading The Trust right now, and it's a great book. Thanks for the extra insight into its writing and origins. :D Literary forensics is fun stuff!

Anonymous said...

Great interview. Love the sound of the book and thanks, Shira, for the insight into the writing process, especially the conversion from fanfic to original :)