My friend, Colleen Gleason, has just published her debut novel, The Rest Falls Away! To celebrate, Colleen was gracious enough to allow me to interview her. Enjoy getting to know her and the concept of the story, but check back tomorrow for our Venator Kill Line Contest!
1. When did you first know you wanted to be an author? Was there any special event that signaled you that this was your path?
I remember writing stories in grade school, and my mother and teachers saying what a great writer I was. It was about that time, too, that I was watching The Waltons and reading the Little House books, and when I made the connection of John-Boy and Laura Ingalls being writers, I thought maybe I could someday too.
But as one grows older, one realizes that having a career in the arts isn't easily attained, and that it's a lot of hard work, rejection, and just not all that likely. I went through college, started a career in sales and marketing, got my MBA and continued on my career, got married and started having babies (I have three children)--but all during that time, I wrote whenever I could and finished nine novels. (Some of which will never see the light of day. Trust me.)
As for one event that told me I was going to be a writer...yes, I must say, I did have a very intensely personal and spiritual experience in which I was told, in a very blunt way, that I would be a "writer."
After that, I kept on doing what I was doing--writing, balancing work and family--believing that some day, it would happen.
And about eight months later, my agent sold my first two books. Five months later, she sold another book that I'd written. And six months after that, she sold three more books for me. So that message was dead-on right. And I couldn't be happier.
2. Are there any female heroines in novels, film, or history which inspired you to create Victoria Gardella?
Well, Buffy is an obvious answer. It really was Buffy the Vampire Slayer that inspired me to write a book about vampires--otherwise I can't imagine that I ever would have. And then there was also a sort of trend in publishing in which some publishers were looking for strong heroines, so I was definitely thinking along those lines.
3. How do you feel authors typically portray females in the genre of paranormal historical fiction? Were you trying to break any stereotypes with the story of Victoria?
Many authors writing paranormal fiction in general portray the female protagonists as strong, willful heroines. It's a fine line, however, to balance a strong and smart heroine without making her bitchy or cold, or without making her "weak" in some ways in order for her male counterpart to to shine heroically.
In historical fiction, it's even harder because people thought and acted differently back in the 19th century, for example. In fact, there aren't all that many paranormal historical novels out there--which is part of the reason my book was picked up and published by Penguin.
It's important to remember that the women at the time The Rest Falls Away takes place didn't act the way we women do now. I mean, they wouldn't dare think of their legs as anything other than a vehicle under their skirts that carried them about--let alone a weapon used to fight vampires. Women didn't kick or run or jump...so these were things I had to think about and be realistic with when writing my paranormal historical heroine. They couldn't talk to a man unless they'd been formally introduced. Nor could they even think about going out and about without a chaperone. All of those difficulties made for a fun juxtaposition of modern-day superheroism with historical reality.
As for breaking stereotypes, I hope I did break a few with Victoria. I'm used to reading women's fiction with strong females in it, but as I mentioned above, often their confidence and words make them come across as unlikeable or unsympathetic because the author doesn't want to show their weakness.
Or, they have to be weak or make "too stupid to live" decisions (ie, going up into the dark, empty attic in the castle alone when she knows someone is trying to kill her) so that the male counterpart or love interest can be the hero and save her.
So I wanted to make my character strong without being rude, and confident without being a know-it-all (she does make mistakes and pays the price for them!) and I didn't want her to make decisions that would have made the reader roll her eyes. I hope Victoria comes across that way to the readers.
4. How many drafts did you write to come to the final version?
One, but it was a constant work in progress.
My writing process goes like this:
I have a very basic idea of what I'm going to write about, and I sit down and start writing.
The next day, when I sit down to write, I reread what I wrote the day before, make tweaks (anywhere from minor word changes, to major scene adjustments, etc.) on what I've already written, and then continue as far as I can with new material.
Once a week, I also have my two readers (who are also writers) read what I've written and give me feedback on things like whether the plot is making sense, whether they think they know what is going to happen (that's bad) or if they're confused (that's also bad), or if they're dying for the next chapter (that's good!).
That's the way I write, so I have one big draft that is constantly being changed and tweaked and evolving. It may not be the most efficient way to write--in fact, if I could get myself to do what my friend Jana DeLeon does and actually write the whole book without going back to make changes, and then doing them all at once, I'd probably be more efficient.
But would I write faster? I don't know. I'd have a lot more editing/tweaking to do with that first draft version than the way I currently write.
And other people I know, like Diana Peterfreund, use charts and sticky notes and synopses to plot out the entire book before they even sit down to write. That, my dear Zeus, is much too right-brained for me. I can't do it that way, but some people can.
5. Do you feel there is a special allure for people concerning the story of the vampire? If so, what do you attribute it to?
Ever since Lord Byron and John Polidori took the basic vampire legend and turned those horrible blood-sucking creatures into the mysterious, romantic characters like Lord Ruthven, I think there has been that fascination with the legend.
Before Byron and Polidori (who were writing about vampires before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula), the legends were of nasty creatures that crawled out of graves in the middle of the night and looked and acted more like we think of zombies than vampires. But now that we have this stereotype of the proper aristocrat with a secret life, it's developed and become more popular over the years and is what most people think of when they think of vampires.
So, yes, I think we crazy humans are attracted to the mysteriousness of it. Plus, there's something very sensual and sexual about the idea of having one's neck bitten. The neck is such an erogenous zone, and then there's the whole idea of a vampire's allure--a sort of hypnosis that the undead use to pull their victims to them.
The fascination started with Polidori and Stoker, et al, and has continued with Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and on and on. I don't see it ever going completely away, although it certainly may wane at some point.
6. Would you want to live forever? Why or why not?
No. Definitely not--it's hard enough to lose someone that you love, but to live for all eternity and to continue to lose loved ones over and over and over...I wouldn't want that. Plus, you'd see them grow old and change, and you would stay the same. No thank you!
7. Could you explain briefly what a Venator actually is?
A Venator is a vampire hunter in my Gardella Vampire Chronicles series. It's a term derived from the Latin for hunter, and it rhymes with "senator."
Most Venators are born--they are from a far-flung family tree that started from the original Venator, who lived in 1st Century Rome and who was named Gardella. His family has grown and spread all over the world, and every so often, a person is born to be a Venator. There's not necessarily one in each family branch, and there are more than one at a time--they just kind of pop up like a recessive gene. However, very very few of them are women, which is what makes Victoria, my protagonist, extra special.
These vampire hunters wear a holy strength amulet that gives them their powers--speed, strength, fast-healing capability. They have innate skills that are part of their family legacy, and they can sense the presence of vampires.
8. If you were a Venator in real life, what special assassin skills would you like to possess and why?
I'd like the speed and strength! It might help me keep my three kids in line (when I wasn't hunting vampires!). And also the fast-healing capability.
9. Do you think felines could somehow aid Venators in their quest to hunt vampires?
What an interesting thought! I'm sure they could. They have night vision, which is one thing the vampires have that the Venators do not have.
I'm not certain if felines can sense the presence of vampires themselves...do you know, Zeus?
Perhaps a smart feline like yourself, Zeus, could be trained to help the Venator by pointing or showing the hunter exactly where the vampire is. Remember, a Venator can sense the presence, but if it's dark, they can't see, and are thus vulnerable.
10. It's my understanding that vampires, when desperate for food, sometimes suck the blood from small animals including mice, birds, or even cats. Is this true? How can felines protect themselves?
This is true. I've seen it happen. It can be terrifying for those small creatures, especially with the way the vampire can mutilate them if they're very hungry. And also, I've heard of felines being turned to vampires as well, although they are very rare.
As for protecting oneself, Zeus, I would suggest the following...first, have your owner buy you a collar with a silver cross on it. In fact, a better one would be a silver collar (if it's not too heavy), or a leather one, with silver crosses all over it. The vampires are frightened of silver and crosses, so anything like that would be a good combination.
If a vampire saw you and tried to grab you, the silver would startle and frighten him--most likely he wouldn't be able to touch you. Although they can get used to the presence of crosses and silver, it's an initial reaction and depending how powerful the vampire is, he or she might be able to grab you again. So run like crazy as soon as you see one.
Other than that, the only other suggestion I could make is to make certain you stay safely inside at night when vampires are about. They cannot enter a building or house uninvited, so as long as your owner doesn't invite any strange man or woman into your house, you should be safe. (I realize that might put a damper on your social life--so just make sure if you do go out at night, you wear that silver cross collar. That will protect you quite a bit.)