One of the most delightful series around is a compilation of short stories called Petit Morts, which have now totalled ten books so far, and I believe the intent is for fifteen of these gems to be published by the time the series ends. Translated from the French, La petite morte, “the little death”, is a metaphor for orgasm or the spiritual release that comes with orgasm. I wonder if that was what Jordan Castillo Price had in mind when she named this series? 🙂 Or maybe it was something a little more pedestrian like petit fours, given the relationship of chocolates to the characters in the books. Regardless what Jordan intended, the Petit Morts books are unique and some of them are downright weird and scary.
Books 1 – 5 were written by Jordan and Josh Lanyon and were released last February. The newest batch is here now and can be found today at JCPbooks, and Josh and Jordan have been joined by another of my favourite authors, Sean Kennedy. How lucky can a reader get to have three such talented writers in the same series? The first five stories ranged from a wedding planner who was hired by the fiancée of his ex to plan their wedding, but the groom-to-be still wants the pleasures of sex on the side with men. Another delightful story was about a flim flam man who cruises into a small town and discovers there’s no Internet access or Craigslist but that there were lots of lonely people looking for a hook-up. He offers them what they need, for a price. What I loved best was that each story in the series was fresh and vibrant and the characters were incredibly complex with many human frailties. This new batch promises to be even better!
This series has one thread running through each story, the enigmatic and mysterious Chance, owner of a candy store appropriately called Sweets to the Sweet. If you remember your Shakespeare, when Hamlet’s mother talked about “sweets to the sweet,” she was not delivering candy but rather funeral bouquets to the grave of Ophelia, Hamlet’s former lover. Chance is the glue that holds the plots together and helps the protagonists along a path they might not have chosen otherwise. The stories are weird and wonderful and each one is different; you will be enchanted and maybe even a little scared every time you open a new book.
There is another aspect of this series that made me drool. As many of you know, it’s my opinion that covers are a strategic marketing tool that help to sell books. Many books have had an early demise because of incredibly tacky or tasteless covers. However, there’s no need for Josh or Sean to worry that this series will suffer the same fate, since the covers for this series were designed by Jordan. Not only are they evocative of both romance and stuff that goes bump in the night, but they are so gorgeous they can be framed and hung.
I asked Jordan, Josh and Sean a few questions about the series and here’s what they said, starting with Jordan:
Jordan: “Hi Wave, thanks so much for inviting me to talk about Petit Morts!
Writing at the level at which I do it is fairly solitary. In the 80’s I was in love with the Thieves’ World books, which are a collaborative fantasy storyverse. I always thought it would be the coolest thing in the whole world to be involved in a project like that. I also really enjoyed working with Josh on the Art of Dying, so I wrote up a proposal for the Petit Morts idea and ran it by Josh. I presented it to him as a collaborative series that would read like an episodic TV show, kind of an m/m Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. I remember being very anxious that he might say, “Why on earth would I take a chance writing for your tiny little fledgling business?” (Not that Josh talks to people like that, ha ha) but luckily he thought the idea had some potential!
Josh: “When the Partners in Crime series came to an end, Jordan and I kicked around a couple of ideas for working together again. She came up with the idea for the Petit Morts series, and I loved it immediately even though I wasn’t sure how my own readers would react to this particular concept — short spec fiction romance with a little bit of a bite. But our readers were accepting of the premise, and it turned out to be a lot of fun writing the stories.
I think my favorite is Sort of Stranger Than Fiction. It’s just very nutty. The little desert town of Peabody was immediately real to me, and I was touched by the idea of Ethan, a young man who’s spent most of his life dreaming of adventure and romance — who suddenly, unexpectedly, gets that very thing dropped into his own backyard. The hardest story to write was Slings & Arrows. It was the very first one. I hadn’t done anything like it previously, and I was uncertain as to whether it would be what Jordan was hoping for. In the end they were all a lot of fun and I think readers enjoy them as much as we do.”
Sean: “You have no idea how excited I was when I was approached by Jordan to contribute to the Petit Morts series. And then I think I threw up a little from fear. I even made Jordan promise not to announce it until she had the MS in hand and liked it, so I wouldn’t have the embarrassment of telling the world that I’d been fired if it was crap.
What really interested me was playing in somebody else’s sandpit – I knew I had to take the ongoing character of Chance and be true to him, while also giving him a little something of my own spin. Thankfully, that could be done by letting Chance travel overseas and set up shop in a suburb of Melbourne – in fact, the very suburb I was born in (as was Dame Edna Everage – disturbing, yes?). It was fun having Chance blend into his new surroundings, right down to having an Aussie accent and making his own versions of our favourite choccies such as Caramello Koalas. More and more clues are starting to slip through about him, with each successive novella in the series, so I can’t wait to see what Jordan wants us to incorporate into the next batch of Petit Morts!”
Of course I asked Jordan about the cover art, because I wanted to know what her creative process was for these books and how the covers tied the series together:
“In this genre I think we see a lot of the same, and I was hoping to try something different. I started with the cover art being very different from what we usually see in m/m these days. Cover art is important to a book; it can really make or break a title, and it sets up a reader expectation. I wanted the reader to not really have a preconceived framework to fit the story into before they read it for this project. I think having cover art that is unlike the rest of the art in the genre does this.
I was a unsure about the artwork initially because I couldn’t find any illustrations that looked the way I wanted them, so I had to draw them myself. I found plenty of art in that style, but the subject matter was always female. I’m more accustomed to sticking out my neck in writing rather than in drawing, so I almost pulled the covers from the first five ebooks at the last minute. But Josh told me to go with them, and I’m glad I did. They were a big hit. I devoted additional resources (time and labor) to the cover art for the second set and I’m very pleased with the results.”
Now that Jordan is a full fledged publisher with all the responsibilities that entails she talked about how she managed this project, from conception to giving it wings:
Producing five books is more work than I would have imagined, maybe because I wear so many hats myself on the project including cover artist and typesetter…plus the whole business end of getting the stuff out to third party vendors, creating the paperback, etc. As I was starting to work on the second batch of Petit Morts, I looked at this whole mass of “work” ahead of me and thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew. But I was reading I Fell in Love With a Zombie at the time and I thought, “I wonder if Sean would write one of the stories for me?” Thankfully he said yes! His sensibility really fit perfectly into the series. He was also so excited to join the project that his enthusiasm was contagious.
ME: “J, why did you choose the novelette format which is not quite what most readers are accustomed to?”
“When I was developing ideas for my “episodes” of the story, I tried to generate lots of story ideas, way more than I could ever use, so I could pick and choose the best ideas from the bunch. I think I don’t even know what some of the ideas mean, to go back and read my notes now, but I’ve read that not judging your idea-generation process is key to tapping into your creativity. Because of the novelette story length, I can go places that I might not be willing to take a reader for the duration of an entire novel, and I think a reader is more willing to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the ride, weird or not, for the course of 15,000 words than they might be for 90,000.
While each story is self-contained, Chance, the shared character who appears in every story, is developing a character arc of his own. I have plans for Chance’s story to culminate in Petit Morts #15. I don’t have any definite plans yet of when we’ll be putting out the final batch. Once the dust settles from this current release I’ll see what Josh and Sean have on their writer-plates for the upcoming year and go from there.”
I will be reviewing books 6 – 10 this week and next, and if you’re looking for stories that are like nothing you have read before, check out the newest titles in this series. With Halloween around the corner these books are a ‘can’t miss’ treat, and the price for each one is less than the cost of a latte. If you haven’t read the first five, what are you waiting for? Here are my reviews:
Hue, Tint and Shade by Jordan Castillo Price
Slings and Arrows by Josh Lanyon
Moolah and Moonshine by Jordan Castillo Price
Other People’s Weddings by Josh Lanyon
Spanish Fly Guy by Jordan Castillo Price
Jordan will be giving away copies of the newest books in the order that they are reviewed, starting today.