I wanted to kick off October with something awesome, and when I found out Elizabeth Donald was touring her latest book, I definitely wanted to be part of the tour. I had a blast doing panels with her at Imaginarium, and she’s a fantastic author with a lot of insightful things to say.
Nocturne Infernum includes the original three chapters in the Nocturnal Urges series, an alternate version of present-day Memphis in which vampires walk among us, but are not treated as our equals. They work the night shift, the jobs no one else wants, and they’re not too happy about it. Meanwhile, humans take advantage of the pleasures vampires can provide, but call them friends? Lovers? The gap between human and vampire stretches wide as death rises in the streets of Memphis.
Nocturnal Urges. It’s the most popular club in the Memphis nightlife. Part legal bordello, part feeding ground for the city’s vampires, Nocturnal Urges offers pleasure and pain in one sweet kiss. It’s the ultimate addiction: both drug and sex at once. For the vampires, it’s the only way to survive in a world where the creatures of the night are a dark underclass, ignored until the humans need another fix.
Into this world comes Isabel Nelson, a young woman seeking only a night’s pleasure. But after Isabel’s lover takes her to try the bite, she cannot stop thinking about Ryan, the dark vampire with whom she shared her lifeblood – and who is now suspected of murder. Isabel falls into a world where passion and love are miles apart, where life and unlike have little meaning… and someone is hunting in the shadows.
A More Perfect Union. Samantha Crews has lived a long time in the shadows of Memphis, working at Nocturnal Urges and hiding from the vampires that darken her past.
Det. Anne Freitas is stuck with a new partner, a young woman with a chip on her shoulder. Now they’re assigned to investigate a series of threats against congressional candidate Robert Carton, for whom Samantha volunteers.
But Samantha is falling for Danny Carton, the candidate’s son – an idealist who wants to make life better for humans and vampires alike. But there’s a lot Danny doesn’t know about Samantha.
He doesn’t know she’s a vampire.
He doesn’t know she works at Nocturnal Urges.
He doesn’t know his own father is one of her clients.
And he doesn’t know what’s stalking her…
Abaddon. The Lady Zorathenne requests the honor of your presence at a celebration. A toast, if you will. Followed by a feast.
Beneath the dark Memphis streets, something is stirring. Filled with ancient fury. Seeking revenge on the ones who live above. A revenge born in fire.
The fires are ranging in Memphis and no one is safe. Ryan and Samantha must descend into darkness beyond their imagining to find answers to the mysteries of the past, as Detectives Freitas and Parker seek the truth about the present.
And the return of an old foe could make the future a dark place indeed… save for the flames of Abaddon.
SJ: Every writer has some sort of process. Give us a glimpse into yours. Do you meticulously outline? Do you write depending on what calls are out there?
ED: There is an anthology for absolutely everything, from climate change speculative fiction to Christian inspirational werewolves. So I will frequently write to a call. Some of the calls are truly creative, and spur an idea. Other short stories are inspired by life, random thoughts or weird dreams after too much wine at dinner.
The novels, on the other hand, are self-generated. I never used to outline, but publishers are remarkably picky about knowing what the book is about before they’ll offer a contract, the twerps. So I started to outline, and found that it sometimes helps keep me on track when I get stuck. However, I have no problem whatsoever with flinging the outline into the nearest fan if I decide the story needs to go in a different direction.
SJ: Bonus question – Do you put on a cape and do a chant before hunkering down to work? Sacrifice anything? Along with your process, what’s your quirkiest writing habit?
ED: My quirkiest writing habit is probably my wrap ceremony. When I have finished a story or novel, I break out my authentic replica White Star Line wineglass and have a drink. I picked it up at a Titanic exhibit shortly before I finished my first real novel. I celebrated that accomplishment by drinking wine from that glass, and since then, I only drink from it when I finish a piece.
SJ: Are you a meticulous planner or do you believe in the muse? Where do your ideas come from? Do they filter in through your dreams? Do they show up at inopportune times and whap you upside the head? Do they result in a shady deal with a dark power?
ED: I see no difference between believing in the muse and being a meticulous planner. I plan my work carefully, and then that wench shows up and throws live snakes into the plan. I used to transcribe conversations with my Muse, who is a chain-smoking, angry woman in a black leather jacket with a knife scar on her arm and lives in the basement of my mind, using a heavy bag whenever she’s not screwing up my stories. It’s really annoying that her occasional swings through the story generally make it much better than my meticulous plan.
Where do my ideas come from?
Schenectady. There’s an idea service there that sends you a six-pack of ideas every week. That smartass answer is to be attributed to Harlan Ellison, who uses that answer every time he’s asked where his ideas come from. As he says, “Aristotle can’t answer that question.” They come from the ether, from Neverland, from the place between awake and asleep. I believe just about everyone gets ideas – random creative thought-balloons that float through their minds. The trick isn’t getting ideas. The trick is grabbing hold of them when they come, winding the ribbons around your hand and letting them carry you off to Neverland. When you learn how to harness ideas and turn them into stories you can share with others, you’ve become a writer.
SJ: What’s the book/story that’s closest to your heart? Is there a piece that you clearly feel is a piece of you? Do you play favorites?
ED: You might as well ask me to pick a favorite child! Certainly I feel as though some of my books and stories are better written than others, and some were more fun to write than others. But I will say that the best book I have ever written has not yet been published, and I am committed to getting that book out someday.
SJ: If you could only write one genre ever again upon pain of being sacrificed to Cthulhu, what would it be and why?
ED: Horror, I suppose. Everything I write has a little bit of horror in it, whether it’s science fiction or fantasy or mystery or even romance. That darkness flows into everything I write.
SJ: What’s your biggest frustration as a writer? What do you consider the downside, or is there one? Is there any cliché that makes you want to wring people’s necks?
ED: My biggest frustration is probably time. I am a newspaper reporter, which is a job I truly love and requires a great deal of time, energy and dedication. I am a wife and a mother. I am also chapter president of a journalism organization, on the vestry of my church and sing in the church choir, serve on a national ethics board, advisory board for a campus newspaper and am a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. That’s in addition to running the author cooperative Literary Underworld, a separate local writers’ group and side work as a nature and art photographer. The downside of being a writer is that all these projects eat up an enormous amount of time and energy, and sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and enough of me to go around. But I suppose everyone feels that way at some point or another. The cliche that writers – especially writers who work at home – do nothing but sit around and eat bonbons all day, that’s probably the one that drives me mad. As Harlan Ellison says, actual foot-pounds of energy are expended in writing, whether that writing is in the form of news, blogs, articles, essays or novels. It is hard work, and should be treated and respected as such.
SJ: If you had to be stuck in one of your own books/stories for the rest of your life, what would it be and why? If you had to stick a loved one in one of your own books, what would it be and why? An enemy?
ED: I wouldn’t mind living in the Blackfire world, if the zombies weren’t rising. It’s not the easiest life, working for a paramilitary organization to fight supernatural beasties and keep the general public safe. But I loved writing that team, and delighted in coming up with new critters for them to face – nearly all drawn from real myths and legends from various cultures, which is a fascination of mine. Things don’t often turn out perfectly for my Blackfire team, but I rather like their adventures. At least until the zombies show up.
My friends are pretty resourceful folks, so I might put them in the Sanctuary stories about Earth after we are occupied by an alien force. The resistance movement needs them. My enemies, if I have any, can go to Dreadmire. The undead cannibal elves will be pleased to make their acquaintance.
SJ: Do you think it’s possible to develop a sure-fire recipe/formula for success as a writer? Would you want to, or does that compromise the art or the fun of it?
ED: If you’ve got that surefire recipe for writing success, please share! For James Patterson, it seems to be hiring a staff of co-writers and giving them outlines so he can put out 20 books a year. That works for him, but I wouldn’t trade writing my own books for… um, most of his money. Sure, you can package yourself and sell the sizzle instead of the steak. And you might make money that way. But then you have to ask yourself, why are you writing? For me, and for most of the writers I know, we’re doing it because we love the written word and we hear music that calls us to dance. The best thing about becoming a runaway financial success would be the time and freedom to write whatever you want, publish it, and still pay the rent. Once you’ve reached that point, why would you stop doing the writing part? Wasn’t that the whole point?
SJ: Everyone has words of wisdom for young writers, so I’m not going to ask you about that. With a few unknown writers becoming success stories, a lot of people seem to think it’s an easy career choice. What would your words of wisdom be to these people?
ED: I’ve said this before: the biggest challenge for beginning writers in this modern era is impatience. The ability to toss a book out onto the internet the instant you type THE END has put a lot of aspiring writers on fast forward, and the temptation to skip all that bothersome editing, submission and working with a publisher is very real. The problem is that most aspiring writers have a lot to learn, and we learn a great deal from the process, including rejection and wrestling with a recalcitrant editor over a comma. Skipping that process is generally the biggest mistake they can make, and so many of them do. Patience, grasshopper. Good writing eventually finds a home, and at the end of the marathon, it’s going to be a book you’ll be proud to call your own and a launch to a writing career.
SJ: It seems like everyone likes to gang up on certain genres as being inferior, less meaningful, or cheap entertainment (especially if it’s speculative in nature). Make a case for the genre you write.
ED: I hardly need to fight for horror; the monsters just eat those who would mock us. There generally seems to be a preconception that people who write horror are bent or twisted in some way, and that’s only partly true. But there’s also a preconception that science fiction writers are nerds, that romance and erotica writers have actually done all the perverted things they describe, that mystery writers are obsessed with murder. None of that is actually true. We write what we love, and clearly there are a lot of people who love it too. If there’s a genre I think doesn’t get enough love, it’s science fiction. It is the genre that forces us to look in a mirror, that uses other worlds and other times to show us things about ourselves that might be hard to face. Those who dismiss it as mindless ships banging into each other in an improbable future are missing the point.
SJ: What do you want people to instantly think of when they hear your name or your work mentioned?
ED: I hope they have come to expect a story that pulls them in through the hole in the paper and puts them in another place or time, with interesting people doing exciting things. I hope they laugh and cry and throw the book (but not the iPad!) and that they forget to stop reading so they can get some sleep before work the next morning. Or that they can’t sleep, because the teddy bear under the bed might get them. What I hear from my readers is that they expect to come to care about my imaginary friends, and then watch them die horribly. For a horror writer, that’s high praise. But it’s that first part that counts: They care. That means I’ve done my job.
SJ: Please tell us about your latest/favorite work or a little bit about what you’re working on right now. It’s plug time, so go for it!
ED: My latest release is Nocturne Infernum, a compendium that collects my three Nocturne vampire novels into one volume for the first time. It’s a trio of mysteries set in an alternate-history Memphis in which vampires walk among us, but they are treated as second-class citizens without the same rights as full humans. It’s a world based on the Jim Crow laws, and the vampires are getting peeved at their treatment. In the first part, a serial killer seems to be knocking off the clients of a vampire-run sex club in the seedy part of Memphis. In the second, someone is threatening members of a Congressional candidate’s staff as the debate rages about whether vampires and humans should be allowed to marry. In the third, someone is killing the human half of vampire-human couples with fire. It’s not easy stuff, not happily-ever-after romances despite the, er, occasional naughty sex scene. It was delightful fun to revisit those stories, and reminded me how many more stories wait to be told in the Nocturne world.
In the meantime, I’m working on a pulp space action-adventure novel, and I’ve recently finished compiling a short-story collection that should come out sometime next year. If only I can find the time…
Elizabeth Donald is a writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturnal Urges vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning newspaper reporter and lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. In her spare time, she… has no spare time. Find out more about her at elizabethdonald.com.