Category Archives: Neil Gaiman

“Why Do You Write About Vampires” and Other Questions People Ask About My Writing

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When people find out I’m a writer, I get a wide range of reactions. A lot of their questions are the same ones other people have asked before, so I thought it might be interesting to share some of those frequently asked questions.


Why do you write about vampires?

This is the most common question I get when people first discover The Blood Royal Saga. I’ve always been fascinated with folklore and mythology, and vampires are just one branch of that subject area. Writing about vampires is also partly historical fiction as well as horror, mystery, suspense, and even romance. It also lets me explore aspects of character I think are fascinating. What is it that makes us human? How do we define ourselves? I can also explore issues of ethics, existentialism, and individualism through the characters I write. I like characters who are complex and flawed, and I enjoy making them work through difficult situations that challenge their sense of self and force them to decide on their own code of morals.

Where do you get your ideas?

Usually, my story ideas begin with a “what if”.

  • What if vampires lived in St. Louis?
  • What if Marie Antoinette was a vampire?
  • What if vampirism wasn’t something supernatural but was a disease instead?

Those sorts of questions lead to a series of “If….then…” statements.

  • If vampires lived in St. Louis, then they’d need a place to hunt where they wouldn’t be as likely to be seen.
  • If Marie Antoinette was a vampire, she would have people who want to chop off her head.
  • If vampirism wasn’t something supernatural but was a disease instead, then there must be a potential cure.

From there, I get another cluster of questions, and I keep pursuing them until the story idea is fleshed out in my mind. Question –> Answer –> More Questions –> More Answers

All my ideas stem from curiosity.

How long does it take to write a book?

I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but the truth is it depends. I was writing the first book for five years. The manuscript underwent massive rewrites, and whole sections were either cut or moved to later books. When I first started writing the book that would become In The Blood, I didn’t know it was going to be a series. I just started with a premise I thought was interesting. But the more I wrote, the more certain I was that this story was much bigger than one book could contain.

Part of the reason that first book took so long was because I was inexperienced, and the learning curve toward publishing it was steep. I was also working full time, so writing was something I couldn’t do every day.

With the sequel, Out For Blood, I had a clearer vision for what I wanted to achieve. I had made a lot of decisions for the plot, including the number of books it would take to finish this first main story arch. I also had already established most of the main characters and the story world, so I didn’t have to spend as much time making those sorts of decisions. As a result, that book went much faster. I wrote the manuscript over about three months, then spent a couple of months doing massive revisions to the text.

This third installment, Trial By Blood, is going much faster, despite having to start over on the first draft in order to accommodate changes I made to Book Two.

My expectation going into the future is that for full length novels, I’ll spend about three months writing, and then two to three months getting it ready to publish. That means I should be able to write a book or two a year. I know there are other writers who work faster and some who work much slower, but that’s a pace I feel I can maintain and still attend book events throughout the year.

But what’s your real job?

You’re looking at it. Writing is a real job for me. I know a lot of other writers hold down part time or full time gigs doing something else, but I don’t. I spent over twenty five years teaching and writing/editing for other people, but my desire to write fiction never left me. I decided after working so long serving others, it was time I started working for myself for a change. I have wanted to write books since I was five years old, and that desire never wavered. I wrote in secret. I wrote as a hobby. I wrote for the sheer joy of it. I couldn’t not write. It’s in my nature to tell stories. Now I do it to share that inner fire with others.

How much research do you do?

I am always looking up new information. I will spend months or even years learning about a place or a person or some historical event. I collect books on the subjects I’m interested in. I have traveled to many of the places I write about. I’m a stickler for detail, and those facts inform every aspect of the stories I tell, even if I don’t include every piece of what I learned in what I write. I may percolate over a story idea for years until I think I’ve learned enough to write it well.

That being said, I’m also not writing biographies or histories. My books are fiction, first and foremost, so the main ways I use that research is in helping me flesh out my characters’ backstories (much of which may not necessarily appear on the page, but which help me understand their motivations and personalities better) or to describe locations in greater detail (though I try not to over describe things to the point that people begin skimming to find the story).

What else are you writing?

I’ve submitted some short stories to a few anthologies which I’m waiting to hear back on, and I’m gathering research for the next big project I want to work on. I have a couple of young adult novels I want to write (both of which fall under paranormal or supernatural realism) as well as an adult fiction that’s sci-fi/fantasy/horror.

Are you going to continue the series after the third book in The Blood Royal Saga is done?

I have outlines written out for at least three more books in the series, though I’ve got ideas for ten or twelve more, if there is sufficient interest to justify continuing.

Who’s your favorite author?

This is the most difficult question to answer. I have so many I love. If I’m forced to choose, however, I’m going to cheat and give two names as inspiration/role models. There are plenty of other writers I love and enjoy, but these two stand out as models for my dream career path.

Anne Rice, of course, is one. I have loved all of her books and have read her work since I was in high school. I also admire her way of managing fan interaction in person and online, and the way she incorporates historical detail in her novels. She clearly does a ton of research for every book, and I appreciate that dedication to her subjects. And her characters are compelling. I admire the fact she’s been writing the Vampire Chronicles for so long and still has the passion to continue with stories that are compelling and exciting to her readers.

Neil Gaiman is a role model for me as well. I love that he hasn’t allowed himself to be pigeon-holed into one genre or medium. He writes for all ages, in a wide variety of venues, telling stories that are weird and yet deeply personal and familiar despite the strangeness of the settings or characters. I love the way he combines sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and even fairy tale to tell stories. He has an unflinching way of describing the darkest of characters. Most of his heroes’ biggest adversary is an internal flaw, and in conquering it, they’re able to overcome the external conflict as a consequence. His dialogue is fresh and snappy, and he’s a master of accents. His description is specific and yet sparse enough to give the reader room for imagination.

What’s your secret to finishing a book?

Stubbornness, I suppose. There’s not really a secret. Just keep going once you’ve started something. Sit down and write it until it’s done.

What kind of music do you listen to when you’re writing?

Anything instrumental. I can’t listen to music with words while I’m writing. I end up writing the song lyrics rather than what I meant to say or getting distracted by the song and losing my train of thought. I use noise canceling headphones to block out other ambient sounds, and then I turn the music down low enough that I barely hear it. It’s just a current in the background rather than something I focus on.

What advice would you give to a young writer who’s just starting out?

Do a lot of research and learn as much as you can from people who are doing what you want to be doing. Go to conferences. Join some professional organizations and get to know some people who are writing things you admire. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t take criticism personally, but approach it as a chance to learn and grow. When we make mistakes, we learn. And don’t get so bogged down in social media that you don’t finish writing your projects. Social media is a great tool, but it can also be a horrible distraction and a sideshow that can keep you from accomplishing your goals. Ignore the trolls and people who want to discourage you.

What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading about Christopher Marlowe, some books on Celtic myths and fairy tales, and I’m reading And I Darken by Kiersten White. I’m also reading some books about writing and publishing, some business books, and I’m working my way through The Big Book of Ghost Stories.


Got other questions for me? Ask in the comments! I’ll be happy to answer.

Want to be interviewed on this blog? Let me know!

 

 

I’m traveling a lot this year. To find out where you can come meetme in person, check out my events schedule.

In The Blood and Out for Blood, the first two books in The Blood Royal Saga, are in stores now. Book Three, Trial By Blood, is due out this summer.

 

Spring Break Boogie

For the university students at the college where I work, Spring Break begins today. While I don’t have the entire week off from work, I do have two three-day weekends in a row, which is almost as  fantastic. This weekend, I’m working on book revisions, learning to podcast, and spending some time with my family.

Family

DadMy father’s 82nd birthday was last week, but due to the bad weather and my laryngitis, we held off celebrating for a week.

The photo to the right shows him six years ago, working on the front porch of my house on a beautiful day in October. My father, an optometrist by day, acted as contractor for nearly every part of the work that was done on my house, from demolition, rough construction, plumbing, wiring, drywall, paint, finish carpentry…you name it, my dad did it. He did the work in his spare time, giving up days off to help me with the job that would otherwise have been impossible and overwhelming. There is not a room in this house that doesn’t have his stamp on it. Words cannot express the gratitude I have or the impact he’s had on my life.

Though he isn’t able to do as much as he used to, at age 82, I think he’s earned the right to relax. Still, he is always looking toward the next project, and that is an approach to life that I aspire to.

Social Media

Back in January, I started working with my intern assistant, Miranda Herod. To introduce her, she and I did an interview together. Miranda is a business major, concentrating in marketing and advertising, and she’s minoring in communications. Throughout the spring semester, she is working with me on my internet presence, helping to analyze and improve my social media use.

As part of the internship, Miranda and I are working on creating a plan for a regular podcast I’ll host, and I’m looking forward to making that happen.

Author Fangirling

Neil Gaiman PosterToday, I got such a wonderful surprise! I discovered that I won a contest for this Neil Gaiman signed poster! Eee!! I opened the mail and almost screamed, but then I realized I was on my front porch still in pajamas and there were people leaving the building across the street. Once I scurried inside though, totally shameless fangirling happened.

Now I just have to find the perfect frame so I can hang it in a place of honor in my office.

I’m not at all an autograph hound, but I have loved Neil Gaiman’s work for the last 25 years, and this poster is definitely going to be motivational for me. His work inspires me every day.

The only other autograph I’ve ever sought out is Anne Rice’s.

To the best of my memory, it was 1995. I was 24 years old and was in the process of writing my first book (which was dreadful, though I didn’t realize it at the time). I hadn’t yet made up my mind about grad school, but I knew that my dream was to work as an author one day. In addition to my academic reading, I absolutely devoured horror novels, especially Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

A friend of mine from college who shared my interests called to let me know that Anne Rice was on a book tour to promote her latest novel. As a gift to me, she got both of us tickets to the signing event at a bookstore near her house. I remember driving two hours and then waiting with my friend for four more hours in line. The demand for the tickets had been much greater than the bookstore had anticipated, and hundreds of people had come from miles around for the event.

Anne Rice AutographImpatient and excited, I clutched my ticket and my brand new copy of Memnock the Devil until my group was called. As long as my day was, when I thought about how long she had been scrawling her name over and over inside book after book, still smiling and saying “thank you,” it made me even more grateful. She must have been there ten hours that day, and she was just as polite and thoughtful to those of us at the end of the line as she had been to the people lucky enough to get there first.

I was so excited about the autograph that I immediately went to buy a second copy of the novel in order to keep the signed one unopened and pristine. I still have it on the shelf next to my computer, and every day as I’m working in my office I see the book out of the corner of my eye and smile.

My Writing

My brain is full of more ideas than I can contain right now. It’s a good problem, but I can’t write fast enough.

Keeping focused on my top priority, I’m making a few more revisions to Book 1 before I send it off for another round of edits and then shop it.

As for Book 2, I’m about 30 pages in. I’ve put it on hold until my revisions are through, but I intend to be back to work on it in about a month.

In addition, I’m working on a couple of short stories which I hope to complete sometime before the end of the summer. One is a ghost story inspired by a dream I had, and I hope that what scares me will scare others. The other is a detective story with a horror twist.

Finally, I’ve had yet another idea for a YA book, also inspired by a dream, this one a dystopian zombiesque story. I have another YA book about werewolves already begun. I’ve made notes on both books and set them aside for the time being so I can concentrate on one thing at a time.

I love being so inspired. I only wish there were more hours in the day.

Layla

LaylaHave I mentioned that I have the best dog ever? Well, I do. She’s a wonderful writing companion-quiet, relaxed, and patient. Layla also makes sure I don’t forget to eat and stretch once in a while. She doesn’t do any tricks except “sit,” and even then you have to give her a treat for doing it, but I don’t need a dog who entertains me. Layla knows how to love, and that is the best.

Dogs don’t ask for much. They cheerfully eat the same thing every day. They love unconditionally.

Things Layla has taught me:

  • Give the people in your life all of your attention.
  • If you love someone, show it.
  • Ask for hugs when you need them.
  • Be excited to meet new people.
  • Show gratitude immediately.
  • Expect the best, always.
  • Appreciate the little things-warm breezes, soft blankets, belly rubs, tasty treats.
  • Slow down to notice the wonder of the world around you.
  • Take walks.
  • Set boundaries and make sure others know them.
  • Try harder.
  • Live in the now.
  • Share your enthusiasm with others.
  • Naps are good.
  • There is comfort in routine.
  • Be willing to follow someone else’s lead.
  • Never give up on something that matters to you.

And on that note, I’m off to work.

Where I’ve been (Among other things)

Writery Things
During the month of November, I was quiet here, but my writing life has been extremely busy.

In October, I had a conversation with an agent, and she recommended to me that I increase the length of the novel in order to make it more marketable to mainstream publishers. Thus, I spent the three weeks leading up to Thanksgiving completing a 30,000 word addition to the text. The manuscript draft is now in the hands of my editor. After taking a week to catch my breath, I’ve begun planning the sequel while I wait for the annotations to come back. I’m also taking time to do some research, and I can’t wait to use what I learn in the next book. Once my editor is finished looking through the text, I’ll make corrections and then send it off with hopes of finding representation.

I’m also very excited to announce that I’ll be attending The Stanley Hotel Writer’s Retreat in October of 2014! It’s a week-long retreat at the hotel that was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. The event has been written up on FEARNet and on FANGORIA®, and I absolutely cannot wait. I haven’t been to Estes Park in years, and to spend the time doing something I love with great people in such an inspiring location is a dream come true.

Readery Things 

The book club I lead has been reading classic horror this year, and we just completed Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We’ve been comparing the book to various onscreen interpretations, including the new NBC television series. Everyone agrees that while the show departs significantly from the text of the novel, we love what the writers are doing and find Jonathan Rhys Meyers depiction compelling and exciting. If you haven’t had a chance to catch this great show, I highly recommend it.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself a challenge to read 50 books, which works out to approximately a book a week, and I’m seven books away from reaching that goal. Many of the books I read were part of a series. Last year, I read all of the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, and this year it was Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series that dominated my reading list. This year also saw the end of Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, an ending that was bittersweet for me. I kept up with Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series by reading her newest and thoroughly entertaining installment, Iced (I’m very much looking forward to reading Burned once it’s released). I also read Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series and the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Several standalone novels were part of my reading list, including most memorably Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane which was stunningly lyrical and heartbreaking.

Doggy Things (Because Layla is annoyed at not being the center of attention)
I’m just going to leave this here. Her face speaks for itself.

 
Your Turn…

Tell me stuff!

  • What are you reading/writing?
  • What’s the best thing that’s happened with you this year so far?
  • What are you looking forward to next year?
  • What is your pet doing right now?

Things You Should See, Read, Do!

With two jobs in addition to my writing (not including being Layla’s dogmom, which she informs me should be a full-time career), I don’t have a ton of free time to watch TV or movies or for recreational reading or shopping or whatever. Therefore, I’m pretty selective when it comes to how I spend that time. These are a few things I am glad I spend time on, and I think you will be too.

The new FOX television series Sleepy Hollow
If you’re not watching this show, you’re making a huge mistake. Fans of Supernatural, you should be tuning in. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills is a strong, smart, capable woman, and we need more of those. Also, she’s beautiful and sexy without having to be sexualized, and that is refreshing as well.

Tom Mison as Ichobod Crane has great chemistry with his leading lady, and his flashes of wit and humor are the perfect balance to the weighty “save-the-world-from-the-apocalypse” drama. Plus, ladies, just look at him. Seriously, go Google and take a look. I’ll wait. …………………. Mmm hmm. Like I said.

The plot is intriguing, surprising, suspenseful, and not just a little bit scary. I’m hoping this show is around a long time.

Australian Musician Matt Corby
His soulful sound is nothing short of inspiring. If you give him a listen, I think not only will you agree, but you’ll go right out to buy every song just like I did. Here’s a sample.

Warning, he could become addictive.

John Dies at the End

The book is so bizarre and hilarious, I was pretty sure there was no way a movie adaptation could do it justice. Then I saw it was made by the same folks who did Bubba Ho Tep (one of my very favorite Bruce Campbell films), and I knew all bets were off. I ignored the reviews which were done by people who don’t appreciate B cult movies, and man, am I glad I did. Did they include everything in the novel? Heck no. That would be impossible. However, they did stay true to the spirit of the book, and I loved every wacky thing that happened.

The BBC Radio Dramatization Broadcast of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere
I have loved Neverwhere for years. I don’t know how many. Just trust me, it’s lots. I’ve been a fan of Neil Gaiman since 1989 and have read nearly everything he’s ever written. I say “nearly” simply because he’s written SO MUCH, it is of course possible that I’ve missed something, but I never did so on purpose. But this dramatization is truly fabulous.

With readers like Christopher Lee, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head, the tale comes alive and will remain in your thoughts long after you’ve finished listening.

Note: Unless you like having creepy nightmares, you might want to listen in a well-lit area in daylight since Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of the Angel Islington is chilling. Then again, if you enjoy that kind of thing, well, then by all means go right on and ignore my warning. Just don’t say I didn’t tell you.