Lisa: We’re so pleased to have author Josh Aterovis joining us today to celebrate the release of his latest novel, A Change of Worlds, book five in the Killian Kendall mystery series from MLR Press. Welcome, Josh! Let’s start by having you tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
Josh: Aterovis is a Latin pseudonym meaning “black sheep.”
Lisa: What’s your favorite scene in A Change of Worlds, and what makes it a fave?
Josh: I love the prologue. It introduces Fletcher Snyder, one of the new characters introduced in A Change of Worlds and sets up the central mystery for the book and includes the quote that the title of the book comes from. Incidentally, I have a book of short stories coming out in August called Never Alone and Other Stories. One of the stories, the titular “Never Alone,” is actually the backstory for Fletcher and his grandson Jacy. All the stories are connected to the world of Killian Kendall.
Lisa: Would you care to share an excerpt from the scene with us?
The Excerpt: The spirits were restless.
And that meant so was he. He shifted uncomfortably in his bed and wished for the first time in his life that he wasn’t quite so sensitive. Ever since the excavation began, he’d had trouble sleeping.
Finally, as he had every other night for the past several weeks, he gave up with a beleaguered sigh and turned on the light next to his bed. He stuffed the extra pillows behind his back to prop himself up and reached blindly into the stack of books on his nightstand. Drawing one out, he smiled at his seemingly random choice.
He firmly believed that very little happened by chance. He was certain there was a reason he’d chosen an old favorite: a worn, faded, out-of-print copy of Touch the Earth. It was a simple collection of speeches, letters, and quotes from Native Americans — some famous, some anonymous. He was pretty sure he knew why he’d picked it, since it harbored a very appropriate speech within its covers. He flipped to the correct page with a familiarity that spoke of many repeated readings. After a moment’s thought, he began to read aloud the words attributed to Si’ahl, known to Americans as Chief Seattle:
“To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred, and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit, and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.
“Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant-lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely-hearted living and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.
“And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth, there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.
“Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
He closed the book and set it aside thoughtfully. He realized there was controversy about what Chief Seattle actually said in his speech given in 1854 in the Salish language. He didn’t care. His heart told him that Chief Seattle was guiding the various later embellishments made by poets and writers. It was still one of his favorite passages in the book. He usually found great comfort in its words.
Not that night, however.
He looked over at the stack of books by the bed and thought about selecting another one, but he knew it was no use. He was much too distracted. The spirits were even more restless than usual. He could almost feel them pulling at him, tugging at the sleeve of his pajama shirt.
Heaving another sigh, he climbed stiffly out of bed. He wouldn’t be able to rest until he’d checked on the excavation site. He pulled on a pair of jeans over his pajama bottoms and opened his bedroom door.
As he passed his grandson’s bedroom, he stopped to peek in. The boy slept peacefully, just as the old man had expected. While the youngster had many strong gifts, empathy perhaps being one of his strongest, he had little sensitivity to the spirits. His grandfather often wondered if things would have been different had the boy been raised within his culture, showing more respect towards his ancestors. There was no point speculating, however. What’s done is done, and everything happens for a reason, he reminded himself.
He moved away from the bedroom and let himself out of the house, grabbing a flashlight as he went. There was a new moon that night, and he thought he might need the light.
As he stepped outside and took a deep breath of the summer night air, he decided a nice walk wasn’t such a bad idea. A little exercise might be just what he needed to drop off to sleep. He smiled as a warm breeze played its fingers through his long hair, which he had released from its usual braid before bed. The stubborn winter finally seemed to be admitting defeat, and the unpredictable Maryland weather was settling directly into summer. Spring had been largely skipped, as so often seemed to happen in those parts.
He set off into the forest in the direction of the dig site. Fortunately, the night was a fair one, because the only way to reach the site was on foot. If it had been raining, the task would have been much less pleasant. Walking briskly, he could have gotten there in roughly fifteen minutes. It took him nearly twice as long because he didn’t hurry anymore. Hurrying was for young people, and he most certainly was no longer young. He chuckled to himself. They didn’t call him a tribal elder for nothing.
His smile faded as he neared the site. The spirits were definitely agitated. He could feel it ever more strongly the closer he got. He slowed, suddenly wary. He couldn’t imagine what could be stirring them up so.
As he stepped into the small clearing the archaeologists had created, he stopped in his tracks. Something was wrong. The white tarp they used to cover the pits at night was flapping in the breeze. He knew the students were very careful when they left for the weekend. Someone had been there, someone who had no business being there in the middle of the night. A vandal? No wonder his ancestors were troubled.
He took another step into the site when suddenly he sensed alarm, a faint warning from the spirits. Before he had time to understand, he heard the slight sound of a footstep behind him. He started to turn, but it was too late. Something hard struck him in the side of the head, causing his vision to explode in a burst of agony. He fell heavily to the ground, the flashlight bouncing away. He tried to raise himself enough to get a look at his assailant, but a sudden pain in his chest forced him back to the ground. He heard his unseen attacker pounding away in retreat. When the pain began radiating down his left arm, he knew what was happening, though he was powerless to stop it. He’d had a heart attack before.
So this is where I die, he thought sadly as the spirits drew close to him. I have so much more I want to do. I’m not ready to change worlds.
Lisa: There was quite a gap between The Truth of Yesterday, the fourth book in your Killian Kendall series, and A Change of World. What happened? Was it just writer’s block or…?
Josh: It’s actually an even longer gap than you would even think! The Truth of Yesterday came out in 2011 and A Change of Worlds was supposed to follow, but the publisher went under unexpectedly. But that publisher was actually my second publisher in a row who went out of business, so all of these books were finished and were scheduled to published years before that. And then the next publisher went out of business before they could even republish any of my existing books. Three publishers in a row!
So, at that point, I was feeling a little burned out and discouraged, so I took a few years off to focus on other artistic pursuits — I’m also a visual artist and I work with a fantastic small theater company making award-winning immersive productions. Through it all, my friends and fans kept urging me to get my books back in print, so, eventually, I was able to find that inner spark again, do some rewrites and updates, and find another publisher. Part of me still didn’t believe that A Change of Worlds would get published until I saw it on Amazon though!
Lisa: If you could spend some real-life time with one of the characters in the book, who would you choose and why?
Josh: It would have to be my main character Killian, but Fletcher would be a close second. Killian just because I’ve spent so much time with him in my head. It would be really cool to meet him. Plus, I just like him. But Fletcher is a really interesting person who I based on several people I’ve knew growing up.
Lisa: On the flipside, which character would you probably least get along with? Why?
Josh: There’s a character named Gordon Wallace who is just the worst. He’s narrow-minded, rude and mean. I wouldn’t get along with him at all.
Lisa: Have you ever created a character so despicable that even you hated them and can’t believe you made them up? If so, who was it and what made them so awful?
Josh: A lot of the murderers in my books are pretty flawed, damaged people, so even though they’re awful, horrible people, there’s a part of me that feels sorry for them. I think the worst “villain” I’ve ever wrote is Killian’s biological father. He’s really only in the first book, Bleeding Hearts, but he’s a truly heartless, despicable person. He abuses his wife and son and literally turns his back on his son when he comes out. To me, that’s pretty much the worst someone can do. On a side note, it’s a sad commentary that I wrote that book 20 years ago and yet it still feels unfortunately relevant.
Lisa: Let’s take off your author cap and put on your reader cap for a moment: what do you look for in a book, what sort of protagonists do you love, and do you have a favorite genre/sub-genre?
Josh: I love a protagonist you can root for. I’m not much for antiheroes. I need to be able to understand and like them. I used to read a LOT of mystery and fantasy novels, but these days I read more nonfiction and autobiography, often as research for projects.
Lisa: What are your least and most favorite things about being an author?
Josh: My favorite thing is world building. Even if you write realistic fiction, you’re still building a world that you get to live in with your characters. My least favorite thing would have to be the isolation. I always say that for me, writing a book is a very solitary endeavor. I very much lose myself in the world I’ve built, and I can’t write without complete silence so I tend to withdraw a bit when I’m writing a novel.
Lisa: Have you ever written a line, paragraph, or passage, and thought, “Darn, that’s pretty amazing, even if I do say so myself”?
Josh: Ha. Sometimes when I’m writing, I hit this groove where it’s almost like going into a trance. And then when I finish and go back and read over it, I’m like, “Where did that come from? Who wrote that? That’s actually pretty good!”
Lisa: What’s the one genre/sub-genre you haven’t written yet, but would love to? What’s kept you from it so far?
Josh: I’d love to write a full-on fantasy novel. I was working on an idea for a while, but I’ve just never taken the time to do it. The world building is a lot more involved for something like that.
Lisa: What’s your favorite part about writing a story that either alters our contemporary world or creates a world entirely from scratch?
Josh: I’ve always been drawn to the supernatural, spooky world — maybe because I was born on Halloween. As a kid, I used to spend hours reading about ghosts, unexplained mysteries, or psychic phenomenon. I’ve even had a few creepy experiences of my own. I love incorporating that into the more traditional detective setting without letting it become a crutch. Even though Killian has some gifts, I try to make sure he always uses his brain to solve the mystery.
Lisa: Let’s talk tropes: do you have a few favorites that you enjoy both writing and reading? If so, what are they and what makes them your faves?
Josh: Ah, you can’t write a mystery series without a few tropes. I wouldn’t say my books are hardboiled or noir, but there are certain tropes that I’ve incorporated — the uncanny ability to attract danger, the brushes with death, and, of course, the frosted glass office door. A trope I don’t write much, but I have a fondness for is the amateur sleuth who constantly stumbles across dead bodies — i.e. Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher. Let’s just say that, if they were real, they would not be on my invitee list for parties…
Lisa: What book are you reading right now?
Josh: I just finished The Life of Benjamin Banneker, a biography by Silvio Bedini. It was research for a theater project I’m working.
Lisa: Describe your ideal fantasy writing environment—the beach in Monaco, a sidewalk café in Paris, a thatched cottage in the English countryside—wherever you can dream of.
Josh: A deprivation tank. Like I said earlier, I need complete isolation when I’m writing creatively, especially the first draft. No music, no TV, no conversation, preferably no noise at all. I’m very easily distracted! I suppose a remote island with no Internet access would be perfect. Or a cabin in the mountains of Nepal… Maybe a stilt house in Cambodia…
Lisa: If you could choose one of your books to be adapted for film or television, which would you choose? Why do you think it would translate well to film?
Josh: I’ve always thought that my series would translate really well to film or television. I could see a TV series like Veronica Mars only with a teenaged gay boy. Bleeding Hearts has actually been adapted as a screenplay — and it’s really good! I co-wrote it with an amazingly talented friend who is also a filmmaker, and I liked some of the changes we made for the screenplay that I incorporated them into the rewrite when the book was republished last year. Unfortunately, the person who was going to make the movie started a doctoral program so the screenplay just hasn’t been filmed yet. Maybe someday! In the meantime, Netflix, if you’re looking for the next Veronica Mars….
Lisa: If I were to interview Killian, what would he say about you?
Josh: Probably that I’ve been very neglectful in recent years. He hasn’t started a new adventure for a while now.
Lisa: What books and authors would you say influenced you to become a writer yourself?
Josh: I fell in love with the mystery genre when I discovered the Agatha Christie books in my middle school library. That discovery led me to the Nancy Drew mysteries, and the rest is history. I’d say the two most influential authors on my individual style of writing are Marcia Muller and Mercedes Lackey.
Lisa: How long did it take to write your book, and what was the most difficult part of the writing process (i.e., dialogue, plot or character development, pacing, etc.)?
Josh: It took several years to write this book, and at least a solid year of that was research. The research was definitely the hardest part. A Change of Worlds was the first book I’ve written that really delved into two things that I really didn’t know much about — archaeology and small local American Indian tribes. I wanted the details about the archaeological dig to feel authentic, but more importantly, I really wanted to be respectful of indigenous culture. I did a lot of interviews when I was writing it, and regularly sent chapters to a medicine woman from the Accohannock Tribe of Virginia. Sadly, she died shortly after I finished the first draft.
Lisa: What would you say was the most intimidating thing about publishing your first novel?
Josh: My first book was published when I was really young. I did a lot of research before I queried, and was extremely fortunate that I was accepted on my first try. So I guess the most intimidating thing was just handing your book over to a complete stranger and trusting them to do right by it.
Lisa: What’s the best piece of writing/author advice you’ve received that you’d pass on to someone else just getting started in the business?
Josh: Don’t resent editorial feedback. It’s not personal and they just your book to be the best it can be. Constructive criticism is a good thing.
Lisa: Was there a particular part of the process—from writing to editing to cover design to publishing—that was easier or harder than you thought it would be? What was it?
Josh: Personally, I love the editing process. I love getting feedback and improving my writing.
Lisa: Who designed your cover art? What was the process like, from beginning to end, coming up with the design?
Josh: All of my cover art for these newest editions was done by my good friend Aaron Barlow. He’s an insanely talented artist and costume designer (and a phenomenally gorgeous drag queen — just look up Betty O’Hellno on Instagram). We talked about my concept of using a talisman on each cover and he ran with it and came up with the plume of smoke with each object in it, a different color for each book. As soon as he sent me the first design for Bleeding Hearts, I was blown away. I think All Lost Things and A Change of Worlds are my favorites, but they’re all beautiful.
Lisa: If you won the lottery, what’s the first completely self-indulgent thing you’d do?
Josh: I’d buy a rowhouse here in Baltimore. The city is famous for its rowhouses and I really hope to own one someday.
Lisa: If you could sit down to dinner with any author, past or present, who would you choose, and why? What are some things you’d want to chat about?
Josh: Edgar Allan Poe. I’m slightly obsessed with him. He’s buried here in Baltimore and I visit his grave at least once a year. I’d love to just listen to him talk about his writing. He was so imaginative and brilliant.
Lisa: If you could travel back in time, with all your years of experience and wisdom intact, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
Josh: Love yourself. You’re not a sinner and there’s nothing wrong with you. Also, come out sooner and don’t marry your first real boyfriend.
Lisa: If you were to sit down and write your autobiography today, what would the title be?
Josh: Mistakes I’ve Made and Other Stories.
Lisa: Star Trek, Star Wars, both or neither? Explain.
Josh: I like both Star Wars and Star Trek, but I’m definitely a bigger fan of Star Wars. I just prefer the big sprawling, mythological, space opera hero journey over the more philosophical themes of Star Trek.
Lisa: If you could be any fictional character in the history of literature, who would you like to be and why?
Josh: Honestly, very few of my favorite characters have happy endings or easy lives, so…none of them?
Lisa: It’s the zombie apocalypse. It’s up to you and five other uninfected humans to save what’s left of humanity. Which fictional characters would you want on your team, and why?
Josh: Doctor Who. No one else needed. She’ll not only stop the apocalypse, but, in the worst case scenario, she can just whisk me away in the TARDIS. I’d be perfectly happy being her companion.
About the Book
A routine archaeological excavation of an ancient Native American site goes horribly wrong when a tribal elder is assaulted. The attack uncovers tampering and thefts from the dig, escalating the growing mistrust between the tribe and the archaeologists.
When the tribe hires private investigator Killian Kendall to look into the thefts, they’re hoping to settle the matter quickly and peacefully. All hopes for a simple resolution are dashed when the lead archaeologist is found murdered…and a tribe member is the chief suspect. Suddenly, Killian’s investigation is a matter of life and death.
To complicate matters, the spirits of those who once dwelled on the land are furious at being disturbed, and they have very real ways of manifesting their anger. Killian isn’t just facing danger from the living, but also the dead.
“The dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.”
About the Author
Josh Aterovis fell in love with mystery novels in the fourth grade when he discovered the Nancy Drew series in his school library. He soon moved on to Agatha Christie, which led to a lifelong love affair with whodunits, culminating in his award-winning Killian Kendall mystery series.
His first book, Bleeding Hearts, introduced gay teen sleuth Killian Kendall, and won several awards, including the Whodunit Award from the StoneWall Society. All Lost Things was a 2010 Lambda Literary Award finalist for Gay Mystery.
Aterovis grew up on the bucolic Eastern Shore of Maryland, which, coincidentally, just happens to be the setting for the Killian Kendall books. He now lives in the quirkiest city in America — Baltimore, Maryland — where, besides writing, he is also an artist and, sometimes, an actor.