Friday, June 12, 2009

Guest Blogger Rachel Caine

Rachel Caine ( ) is a New York Times bestselling author of action/adventure fantasy with a good dose of Relationship, Love and Romance in the plot. She joins us this week responding to questions asked by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Rowena Cherry on the occasion of the publication of the 6th novel in her Morganville Vampires series, Carpe Corpus.

We told Rachel the following:

The blog is by a group of PNR and SFR writers who often talk to the "audience" as we would if we were on a panel at a convention, bouncing a topic around and around from our various viewpoints. It's not a blog about promoting our books, but about nurturing new writers who want to enter the field, and giving our general readers a glimpse of everything that goes on behind the scenes. Thus, from time to time, we post excerpts, chapters, out-takes, and character analyses of current novels, but mostly we talk about the past, present and future of the entire field, including TV and film.

So please answer these questions (or make up questions of your own) as if you were sitting on a stage with all of us around you talking to an audience that came to find out all about what we write and why we write it. Feel free to skip any of these questions, or amalgamate them into a little essay of your own. Readers of this blog love Vampires, Werewolves, Star Trek, and Buffy all equally.

Then we asked these 10 questions. Here are Rachel's responses. I think you're going to want to check out her novels, so I've added some links to Amazon where you can read what other fans have said about her books.

ROWENA: 1. Which was the first Vampire story that you remember seeing or reading? Why do you think it made a powerful impression on you?

I believe it was probably Dracula, which I might have stumbled on in the Bookmobile (I lived far out in the country, and the only reliable access I had to books for my early teen years was the mobile library, which was very limited). I was intrigued, but not overwhelmed. The second book, which probably made a HUGE impression on me, was an illicit copy of of Stephen King's 'SALEMS LOT, which was a pretty shocking take on vampires at the age of ... 13? I believe? But I *loved* it. Then I began to look for vampire books, and my first encounter with a vampire who wasn't a terrifying monster was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's wonderful St. Germain books. (I am also extremely flattered to be interviewed by you, because I eagerly followed your Sime/Gen books, Jacqueline! Hello! /Fangirl.)

ROWENA: 2. When you are writing a Vampire hero or heroine, what are the top five points you consider vital to characterization.

I'll give it a try! 1) Mystery. Especially in a vampire, I like to have some bit of mystery about their background, their true motivations. 2) Motivation (speaking of). I like to know, very clearly, what it is the vampire really wants -- whether it's redemption, dinner, romance, or just to get through the next day/night. All greatly affect how the character will respond to situations. 3) Friends/allies/enemies. I need to know how my vampire fits in with the other characters ... who he's crossed before, who he secretly loves or loathes, etc. 4) Redeeming qualities. These are, for me, quite important in a vampire character. You're working, after all, with the initial premise that this is a creature who survives on the blood of others, so what about him or her is admirable? How does the reader connect with/root for the vampire? There has to be some common ground. 5) Reliable mythology. Whether it's unique to your own universe or drawn directly from the folklore, it should be consistent or your vampire won't be believable.

Whew. That was harder than I thought!

ROWENA: 3. What is the Vampire lifestyle?

In Morganville, it's complicated. There are social levels, certainly -- the elites, who pretty much control the town and live in luxury (think Mafia dons). The working-class vampires, who are more like Mafia soldiers. And then there are outcasts and rebels, even among the vampires, who may or may not play by the rules, but probably are just as unhappy with the status quo as the various human factions in town.

Added to that, there's the undeniable fact that Morganville itself is a closed society ... the vampires may run the town like the Mafia, collecting blood and services from the human residents, but it's also a kind of protective enclave. An animal preserve, for a dying race. To me, that's what makes my vampires interesting; they're dangerous and unpredictable, but they're also the last of their kind.

ROWENA: 4. What are the rules for your Vampire world-building, and how did you formulate them?

I decided I wouldn't do this project unless I could make it interesting for myself, and different from the type of vampire stories that were already making new headway with teen readers, so I focused on the town itself -- how it worked, who ran it, and how it affected my human inhabitants (including poor Claire, who gets dropped into it). I needed to understand the fundamental secrets of the town before I could decide how it was constructed. It seemed logical to me to find Morganville in a bit of a decline -- fewer and fewer people living there, buildings decaying, unrest among the vampires. I believe I really did, in a literal sense, build the town from the ground up, because some of what happens in the books happens underground, where some of the true secret lay.

ROWENA: 5. What advice would you give to a writer who has not yet completed her first draft of the vampire story in her head?

There's no substitute for sitting down and writing. You can write in your head forever, but it's putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, that creates something real. But there's also a learning curve in this, as in anything that's really worth doing ... you're going to find yourself struggling sometimes to get your ideas on the page, or to make them different, or better. Keep going. It's a process, and if we're very lucky, the process never stops.

JACQUELINE: 6. What do you think your readers are looking for in a relationship between a paranormal such as a Vampire and an ordinary human?

My situation is a little bit unique, because although I do have vampires and humans interacting constantly, the only real vampire/human romantic relationship I have is between Eve and Michael, who became a vampire quite recently. I know that, based on the conversations and feedback from my readers, they really want Eve and Michael to work out ... and that's going to be interesting to me, because Michael's just really starting to discover who he is, and what it is he can do. So I think there's going to be a lot of bumps for that relationship along the way.

In terms of ordinary friendships, I think my readers are enjoying the growing ties between Claire and her somewhat-crazy vampire mentor Myrnin; she's becoming a bit of a caretaker for him, and he's in turn teaching her a lot about Morganville and the unique brand of science he's developed to run it.

JACQUELINE: 7. How do your novels manage to provide the Happily Ever After endings that both Romance and Action readers crave? (we have discussed the Happily Ever After requirement at length on this blog).

I think that as long as the main core relationship of the book -- Claire and Shane -- stays strong and deepens, readers will support all the other twists and turns. And I am determined to have happy endings for all of the Glass House residents, which helps. (Can't guarantee anything beyond that, though ...)

JACQUELINE: 8. How much real romance do you put into your novels? Or do you ever put just a love story into the plot? Or is the relationship always a sub-plot to the action?

I'd have to say that I categorize my stories as action/adventure first, romance second, so it's very much a sub-plot. BUT ... it's also central to why Claire is in Morganville, and why the readers care what happens, so it's extremely important as well. In my Weather Warden novels,

I believe the romantic relationship between Joanne and David is actually the "A" plot, and everything else comes second, no matter how world-destroying. In Morganville, I think it's slightly more of an even balance.

(Carpe Corpus is Rachel's 6th book in the Morganville series)

JACQUELINE: 9. How would you characterize your novels -- are they dark like the TV show SUPERNATURAL? Or mixed like FOREVER KNIGHT or BUFFY? Is there any message of optimism for humankind in your work?

I would say mixed, more like BUFFY than FK (although I love all of those, and SUPERNATURAL too). Dark things definitely happen, but one of the keys to my enjoyment of writing the books is how resilient the characters are, and how funny they can be, even in the darkest of times. (Huge Geek TV fan, here. HUGE. I own one of those "Joss Whedon is my master now" T-shirts.)

JACQUELINE: 10. Give new writers a tip on how to follow in your footsteps.

First of all, don't follow my footsteps, they lead down all kinds of blind alleys, into swamps, sand traps, snake pits ... I've made just about every mistake that can be made. And I'm a bit glad, actually. I've really enjoyed my career, even in the worst times ... but then again, I never quit my day job (for long, anyway). I'd say this: practice, practice, practice. Learn patience and humility, and learn the BUSINESS, which is a strange and wonderful thing.

Many writers think their job ends with turning in a manuscript; I believe that there's a lot before, during, and after that we really should be involved in, including marketing. Learn a variety of skills -- I trained in graphic design, video editing, and public relations, which is all extremely helpful in promotion work for the books.

But most of all: write what you love, not what others tell you is hot. Sooner or later, if you're doing your best work, you will catch a wave. How well you ride it is always the question, but be ready for the opportunity when it comes. Be professional -- treat people well, and respect what they do at every level.

And pay it forward. Mentor others when you can. I was the incredibly lucky recipient of mentoring from a huge variety of great authors, including P.N. Elrod, Patricia Anthony, Nina Romberg/Jane Archer, Joe Lansdale, and so many others. Some of them just offered me handy advice at a time when I needed it. Some shared agents. Some critiqued my work. Some introduced me to editors who later bought my work. There are many, many ways that you can help people, and the simplest thing can sometimes be the most helpful.

Thank you so much for letting me participate today! I truly appreciate it, and once again: I AM A HUGE FANGIRL, LADIES.

Thank you
Rachel Caine

1 comment:

  1. Excellent interview! I've followed the Morganville series with great pleasure and am looking forward to the next installment.