By now, you all know that I’m a total wuss. I don’t like jump scares. I can do gore in movies/on television because I desensitized myself through a research binge on practical effects, but there’s no protective layer between the visceral on the page and my imagination. So while I desperately wanted to read Jessica McHugh’s latest novel, Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven, to support my friend and fellow Raw Dog Screaming Press author…I “noped” right out of there at about the 20 percent mark on my Kindle. This book is raw, evocative, and fabulous. You should go read it to make up for my inability to finish it!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Since the rise of The Council, an oligarchy of despots and deviants, the legendary Capesman undertakes daily soul collections from Cartesia’s wasteland cities and battlefields. He also frequents Malay Prison, where a vigilante named Shal plots her escape. Armed with a thirst for vengeance and a sharp Shakespearean tongue, Shal must navigate a maze of trauma to save Cartesia and protect her sister from the brutal machinations of Chancellor Doa.
It will require all of Shal’s strength and cunning to resurrect her former army, battle the betrayals of the past, and avenge her father’s death. Will she survive long enough to see the Council fall, or is the Capesman coming for her next?
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This novel has a long and storied history. I know you’ve probably shared it a million times by now, but do you mind humoring me?
I was twenty when I jotted down my first notes about what would become Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven on the guest checks at a sub shop called Bubba’s. At the time it was called A Mover of Stones but still focused on the character Shal, who ultimately leads a revolution against a corrupt government. As I developed Shal and the world of Cartesia, the book changed into From the Herald’s Wearied Eye and became an ultraviolent tale about trauma and revenge. It was published by Reliquary Press in 2009, and I thought that was where the story would end. But when that contract ran out, I took another look at the story and realized there was a better way to tell it. While it’s still violent, I brought more thoughtfulness and maturity to the rewrite. In the end, out fluttered Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven, and I was so overjoyed that Raw Dog Screaming Press wanted to take it on. The concept of “home” is extremely important in this novel, so the fact that the novel itself has finally found its proper home is a wonderful feeling.
Shal has a penchant for the works of William Shakespeare. What’s your favorite play by him, and why?
Ooh, that’s tough, but I’m going to go with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It feels like this raucous hodge-podge of fantasy, romance, and crude humor that really speaks to me. There’s never a dull moment. Plus it has some of the best Shakespearean insults.
Did you realize when you first wrote this that you’d eventually be living in your very own near-future dystopia? Did that affect your revisions to Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven?
I had no clue. I’d finished revising and submitted the new novel in 2015, so I was still frightfully naive. With the state of America these days, comparing it to NOFR, it feels like Chancellor Doa and the men of the Council could absolutely exist, and it’s chilling. But if that means giant underground worm creatures called Bonecrunchers also exist, that would be neat.
Resisting is important, but so is recharging the batteries. What is your current go-to method of entertainment escapism?
Watching Cheers and Playing Candy Crush Soda Saga. Or just being with my husband. His smile is so healing for me.
What else is upcoming in the future of the McHughniverse?
I’m pretty close to finishing Hares in the Hedgerow, the sequel to my Post Mortem Press novel, Rabbits in the Garden. I wrote it at the end of 2015 but screwed up the third part of the book due to personal tragedy, and it’s taken me a long time to get back to it. I really hope to have that done and submitted by November because I have a few novel projects lined up. One is a suspense/thriller, the other is a bizarro sci-fi heist novel. I just need to see which one gives me the most inspirado.
I also have some short stories coming out soon from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and Nightscape Press, so keep an eye out for the “Lost Films” anthology this month and “Ashes & Entropy” in December.
And finally, share a short excerpt to show why everyone should check out Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven!
The ocean urged her to stop treading. The Capesman sang of glorious surrender. The deadly fathoms seized her, submerged her, and thinned her breath to a distant memory. Still, the woman battled on.
Spent years seemed like fragments of someone else’s life. Time had been a precious thing once, fragile as moonlight on ocean skin. She saw it now and her reflection therein, but it did not shine as it once had. The years had changed everything about her. They’d stolen memory, heart, and hope, and her identity lost further worth as seawater glutted her lungs.
The moon rippled above, in another world, and the deeper she sank, the more that realm of earth and oxygen became a stranger. Impossible black clouds billowed in the water. They surrounded and swallowed her, snuffing the light, stealing her senses, and attempting to steal the fight from her body. She’d come so far and gotten what she needed from the sea floor, but she couldn’t make it back to the surface.
In the terror of surrender, with the opposing collapse and stretch of death striking every organ, calmness flowered in her brain. She’d failed, but at least it was over. She had only to walk the Capesman’s pier, and she’d be free.
Fingers closed around her neck and yanked her out of the glaring darkness, through the watery realm, and back into the world she’d accepted never knowing again. The hand threw her aside like a mildewed towel, and her face struck slick wood with a cheek-splintering crack.
Someone slapped her back, and she jolted forward with sputtering lurches. Boggy vomit drenched her clothes and sloshed across the floor of the boat as oxygen burned through her lungs. Her breath was strained, webbed, and her pulse weak, but she was alive—which meant she had to fight again. She opened her mouth to insult the Malay guard, but his iron grip wanted a part in the argument too. It tightened around her throat, crushing her words to a strangled squeak as he lifted her into the air.
She tensed her neck to fight the strangulation, and her feet kicked weakly for the floor. The hooded man drew her close and exhaled reeking breath. His eyes blazed yellow with glassy black pupils reflecting her haggard face. Jewels of water clung to her shaved blond hair, and her eye patch, askew on her face, revealed the flatland of flesh encasing her gouged left eye.
The guard hocked and spat. A glob of phlegm clung to the tip of her nose, stretching and swaying before succumbing to gravity. He released her neck, and she crashed to the vessel’s floor, her stomach reeling. She threw herself against the port side and curled her body over the edge as acidic sickness surged up her throat again. Once she was empty, belching only bitter air, the guard pulled her backward and pinned her to the floor with his boot.
“What were you thinking?” he growled. “Did you really think you could escape?” His heel ground into her sternum and his toes into her clavicle, but she refused to wince. The corners of her mouth curled upward instead until she wore a face- spanning grin. The guard mimicked her for a few seconds before cocking back his foot and swinging it at her head. His boot nailed her cheek and bounced her skull against the vessel floor. The taste of copper and bone flooded her senses, and the cool breeze delivered her an image of her face slathered in a greasy, crimson mask.
She glared up at him, spat a frothy dart of blood, and hissed. “I’ll speak no more but ‘vengeance rot you all.’”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica McHugh is a novelist and internationally produced playwright running amok in the fields of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and wherever else her peculiar mind leads. She’s had twenty-three books published in ten years, including her bizarro romp, The Green Kangaroos, her Post Mortem Press bestseller, Rabbits in the Garden, and her YA series, The Darla Decker Diaries. More information on her published and forthcoming fiction can be found at JessicaMcHughBooks.com.