“WHY DO YOU WRITE ABOUT VAMPIRES” AND OTHER QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASK ABOUT MY WRITING
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”.
Those sorts of questions lead to a series of “If….then…” statements.
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.