Laura's probably going to want to reach out and touch me for this, but we have known each other for well over twenty years now, and we've never met. We became friends pre-internet days via the wonderful world of pen pals. She is one of the most talented people I know, and her letters should have been published they were sometimes so funny and entertaining! I know I never wrote back anything that was as wonderful to her as her much-loved letters to me always were. But, she still talks to me anyway!! It is my distinct pleasure to have her here as my guest today, so you can all get to know her and her writing better. She's good, and I don't say that lightly. So, welcome Laura!!
Has writing been something you always did, or was it a discovered talent that came to you at a later point?
I think I’ve always been interested in writing. I’ve always been a bit of day dreamer and making up stories. I remember my grade school had a science fair when I was about 10. The project I did was on the planets but turned into my explanation of how life could be on the planets; what kind of life it would need to be considering the conditions on the planets. I think I passed, barely. I was around that age when I wrote my first book. It was about a woman who finds a lost collie on the beach. I wrote it on small notebook paper and bound it with staples. I think I even designed a cover. I guess you could say I self-published.
Do you remember how it felt when you were offered that first contract? What emotions stand out in your memory?
I was both elated and terrified. The first contract was for Chicago’s Most Wanted. I had a friend who, after hearing me whine about how hard it was to find a publisher for my fiction, suggested that I work on a book in the signature series that he was writing books for. Potomac Publisher’s Most Wanted series. And he gave me his editor’s contact information which is a big deal. I figured that if I did this it could perhaps be a notch in my CV for later proposals on my fiction. The editor liked the idea of Chicago as the topic and sent me my first book contract complete with all the legalese. I was thrilled but at the time uncertain if I would be able to fulfill the contract. Nonfiction was a new experience for me. It would take a great deal of research.
Yet, I took the plunge and it was a fantastic experience.
And it’s funny when I consider that all three books I’ve published so far have been unexpected projects in some way. I explained Chicago’s Most Wanted. Well, to Touch the Sun was a novel that came out of the blue because while I enjoyed reading vampire novels, I never had a desire to write one. I didn’t have a character or concept in mind. At the time I’d been trying to an interest an agent that I had been in pleasant communication with in my work. He wasn’t interested in what I’d sent him up to that point, but he encouraged me to keep trying. So, checking the website, I discovered that the agency represented a vampire series. And knowing how popular vampires were at that point, I decided to try my hand at the genre. Unlike other novels I’ve written where I went in with clear ideas of plot and characters, I had nothing but a two word idea: Vampire chef. And even that idea seemed a bit ridiculous. But the more I fiddled with it (and it changed in a number of ways as I worked on it) the more concrete the characters and plot became, the more I fell in love with it. And when I verbally presented the idea to the agent after meeting him at a convention, he was enthusiastic about it. He told me to send him a proposal when it was finished.
Unfortunately, by the time it was finished he had mysteriously left the business completely and the other members of the agency weren’t interested in it. That was a heartbreaker. I was on a hunt for an agent or publisher for a novel that I started on a whim that I fell in love with more so than anything I’d written before.
Around this time, Potomac Publishers contacted me asking if I wanted to do another Most Wanted book. I gave it some thought and came up with vampires as the topic. Not only was the variety of the subject perfect for such a book, I was hoping mention of it might look good in proposals I sent out for To Touch the Sun. Like with Chicago’s Most Wanted, writing Vampires’ Most Wanted was a great experience but nerve wracking at times though at least at this point I’d been through it before. It didn’t lead me to a publisher, but as with the other two books it was a project that came about unexpectedly and was a lot of fun to do.
Is this a first book, part of a series, or the latest in a long line of many?
The first of many. It’s kind of funny too. I refer to myself as the woman who wasn’t interested in writing vampire novels who now can’t stop telling the stories. While hunting for a publisher, I wrote three more novels in the series and a spin off novel featuring two paranormal investigators that are found in the third novel. And I have ideas for more. Like I said I just really fell in love with the characters. I think the second novel is my favourite because it sort of crystalized what I was doing with the universe I’d created. I also especially like the fourth novel because it features a character that comes up in the second novel and best addresses one of the themes that runs through the series. Basically, while vampirism can give you certain powers, it can also be inconvenient (my vampires can’t go out during the day, for example). I think it’s important to have such inconveniences for the sake of the drama. But what if you’ve become a vampire and you don’t have a castle in Transylvania to flee to when the sun comes up? What if you aren’t rich? The fortunes of this character rise and fall in his long life and when the novel opens they have definitely fallen. It’s a bit of a prequel. He’s struggling with what he’s become, having to deal with it on his own, and how he must live now without the resources to make it all easier.
Narain in To Touch the Sun had that problem right after his conversion. But he lucked upon people who could help him. In fact when To Touch the Sun opens one of the problem he’s facing is that he’s lost his beloved Sophie who was not only his wife, but his food source. Her sacrifice through the years enabled him to lead as normal a life as possible considering his condition. He was able to realize his dream of becoming a well-respected chef. They have a good life in Chicago. There are certain restrictions (like the sunlight issue) but nothing that they can’t work around. But his having to feed, even though he doesn’t have to kill the host, has always been a problem for him and Sophie made it all that much easier. Now he has to bring himself to go back to something that he finds morally offensive. But if he doesn’t, he runs the risk of turning into something dangerous which could destroy everything he’s worked for. So, that’s where he finds himself when his world suddenly starts blowing up around him with other problems: Trying to retain that sense of normalcy.
What is the oddest thing that’s happened to you since you chose to become a professional writer? Will it ever make it into a book, or is that a secret?
I’ve actually not had anything really odd happen. I did have one time right after Vampires’ Most Wanted was published in which the producer of the Nick Digilio Show, a Chicago radio show, was trying to track me down but couldn’t. I have a tendency to stay up very late when I’m not working the next day. One Saturday I think I got to bed at 6 a.m. So I must have turned off the phone ringer and slept right through this producer trying to call me because the show had a cancellation and needed a guest for later that night. Apparently when he didn’t get a hold of me, he called the Park Ridge Library where I work and my coworker Lisa found my friend Diane’s name as my emergency notification. That afternoon I was awoken to a pounding on my apartment door. My friend Diane drove in from Palatine, about 45 minutes away, to wake my butt out of bed so I could call this producer and be on the show. Now that’s friendship.
The interview that night went really well and even led me to be on the show to promote To Touch the Sun recently. This time the show was on at 2 a.m. so I had to stay up from 7 a.m. the day before. Then I took a taxi downtown to the Tribune Tower. Now 2 a.m. is an ideal time to be driving downtown, but I just thought it might be easy to just take a taxi. I didn’t count on the mid-March snowstorm that hit around the time the taxi picked me up. It was an interesting ride down, but conditions weren’t too bad at that point. The interview went really well and it was a thrill to be in the studio at the Tribune Tower (a great building with a lot of history to it). It was on the way back that things got dicey. The producer helped me track down a cab to take me home but I bet the cabbie didn’t expect the kind of drive we had on the expressway 15 miles back to Park Ridge. Visibility, practically nil, not helped by the sheets of snow falling off the tops of the semis that sped past us and slamming into the windshield. At one point he asked me to keep an eye out for the exit, which would be an accomplishment since I’m pretty nearsighted even in good visibility. We made it home though. I gave him a lot of credit (well both financially and respect-wise) and a really good tip.
I seem to have issues with radio interviews. When Chicago’s Most Wanted came out, I went downtown to be on the Mike North Show. It was 7 a.m. in the morning, a beautiful drive. The show went well. I came back to the parking garage and couldn’t get out of it for about an hour. I couldn’t find the kiosk to pay for the parking. The garage for the studio was connected to a hotel and that just confused the issue leading me to go on a walking tour of a good portion of real estate just to figure out how to pay for this parking ticket. By the time I did get out, downtown Chicago was packed with people and cars. But again, it leads to a story to tell.
Do you have your next book underway, or other titles in the planning stages?
I have a few projects I really need to get to. Part of the issue now is marketing To Touch the Sun, which can be a full time job in itself. A lot of people think it’s “write the novel” and you leave the rest to the publisher, but an author has to do a lot of hustling on her own. And with my publisher being in Nottingham, England, I’ve been trying to do what I can for the local market and the American market. So I’ve been working on all that. I would love to get the sequel to To Touch the Sun tweaked. All the finished novels in the series are in one form of draft or another. In a few months I’ll probably run it past the publisher and see if he’s interested in continuing the series. I also have an Asian dragon novel that I want to start shopping around again. I was doing that last year when I finally found Dagda Publishers for To Touch the Sun. I sort of put that on the back burner. I have some other urban fantasy I’d like to finish too. Novels I started but put aside when To Touch the Sun got a hold of me.
One thing I have to do is get back to a book project that I’m working on with a man whose father was falsely accused of being a loans hark in 1960s Chicago. It’s a really compelling story about how this prosecution of his father dramatically and negatively altered the family’s lives and he wants to get the information out there after all these years. I think it has some legs. But it’s going to take a lot of work. We started it last October with some interviews with him. But I had to put it aside while I concentrated on getting To Touch the Sun out. Now I want to get back to that.
Do you have a favourite genre and why? Is it one you write in, read in, or both?
Of the novels I’ve written most seem to be science fiction or fantasy based. So that’s probably the favourite. But I’ll try anything. And often I’ll mix genres. I self-published on Kindle a novel called Trouble that is humorous science fiction with a western flair. The publisher for To Touch the Sun is touting it as a horror novel but it’s not pure horror. It’s not your typical vampire novel either. And there’s a lot of action, humour, pathos in it. I have a little history in it. For me, it depends on the story for which genre or genres I use.
I think in my reading I tend to lean toward the sci fi and fantasy. It’s been unfortunate for a while now that I haven’t had a chance to sit down and read anything that isn’t research for something I’m working on. But I’ll often listen to books on CD in the car. Right now I’m listening to Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris, which I’m not sure what it’s classified genre-wise. It’s good. It’s a sequel to Chocolat. I think she’s a fantastic writer. I’m also very much into the historical novels that Ken Follett writes. The reader for that is exceptional. But I’d like to get back to more paranormal, fantasy etc. And some hard core science fiction. I was looking at some Nancy Kress books in the library the other day. It’s been a while. I have to finish the third book in The Strain series. An excellent series. The last “fantasy” type book I read for an online book club I was moderating for Pioneer Press was Anne Rice’s The Wolf Gift.
The less said about that, the better.
What, to you, is the most exciting part of the writing process? Does it change from book to book or remain the same?
I think for me To Touch the Sun offered the most exciting part of the process in as far as I had no clue what I was doing with it. It was a total surprise. And it went in directions I didn’t expect it to go. I think that’s one of the coolest things. When you’re writing along and maybe you hit a road block and an idea sparks that makes it all work. It’s fantastic. But with To Touch the Sun, it being something I wasn’t really sure I could do effectively, seeing it take shape was really exciting. The other thing I noticed with this series in general, because I was so very much bitten by a bug for it at this point, I kept having these ideas for scenes and such at all times of the day. That’s what I mean about day dreaming in the earlier question. I can be working at the library, I can be standing in line at the checkout or driving and I start day dreaming scenes and dialogue. So frequently I would write out a scene that might appear later in the book that I had to figure out how to patch onto another scene. It became almost like a puzzle. Sometimes I had to figure out how to logically go from point A to point B. And sometimes I’d come up with ideas for other characters or future books simply by trying to figure that out. In the second novel, the character of Max Edison was simply there to find a body in a cemetery. I had no plans to make him anything more than that. But as I neared the end I suddenly realized that he could be valuable in the third novel, so I took him made up his friend Lazlo and brought them into the third novel as paranormal investigators. All that I find a great deal of fun. It really stimulates the mind.
Now this is my first series that I’ve written so I never had that sort of experience with previous novels. But certainly I had the times when I needed that spark to knock down a block in the narrative and something would pop in. I wouldn’t mind doing a series for the characters in Trouble. I like those characters and could see them moving on into future novels.
If you could co-author a book with anyone, who would you choose and why? What kind of book do you think would come from the collaboration?
Why…Denyse Bridger* of course! And I think the collaboration would be FAHBULOUS! But since she’s far too good for me, and this may sound like a corny choice, but I think J.K. Rowling. I’ve really liked the last two non-Harry Potter books she wrote. Honestly, I’m not sure what would come from the collaboration. It would be interesting to try though. (*Clearly she's lost her marbles on that first option, but I love her, so she's forgiven.)
Where can readers find you on the web?
To Touch The Sun
Available at: AMAZON
1916: France, World War I
Narain Khan was 25 when he left his native India to fight in the trenches of the Western Front during WWI. It was his hope that he could stay on after the war to pursue his dream of studying the culinary arts and becoming a world class chef. Instead, he fell to shrapnel amidst the carnage of that bitter war. Carnage which, when darkness fell, attracted something terrifying: A roaming pack of feral vampires–mindless feeders–who fell upon the soldiers left wounded and dying in No Man’s Land. Attacked by the ferals, Narain was transformed into the other type of vampire: A sentient capable of moving about in society with only a few restrictions and able to feed without killing the host. While in the fugue state of his conversion, he was found by Alphonse Reno, a man who had lost his own son to feral vampirism and who is sure the condition is biological, not metaphysical. Working to find a cure in hopes of bringing back his son, Alphonse convinces Narain that, unlike ferals, he could lead a relatively normal life.
Present Day: Chicago, U.S.
Narain has reached a crossroads. Helping him adjust to his condition through the decades was his beloved Sophie who was not only his wife, but his food source once they realized she wasn’t susceptible to the condition. Her sacrifice enabled him to lead as normal a life as possible, making hunting for food unnecessary. Cancer had taken Sophie the previous year and after the stock of blood she had saved up has been depleted, Narain is faced with again having to hunt for his food, something he is both morally opposed to, but also causes him to fear passing on the condition to unwitting, perhaps dangerous hosts. If left too long, however, hunger can bring out the deadly feral nature even in a sentient vampire. As a well-respected chef and owner of a successful Chicago restaurant, Narain has worked hard to promote a veneer of normality. The last thing he and his business partner and friend Dom Amato needs is for Narain’s hunger to get the better of him.
Events conspire, however, to drag Narain away from the safe life he has cultivated back into one of madness and danger: The attraction he feels for microbiologist Cassie Lambert, who has a link to his past Narain is unaware of, and the re-emergence of a ghost from the Great War. Captain Reginald Jameson was a sadistic predator when Narain had challenged him during their service in the trenches of France. The vampire Jameson of 90 years later is infinitely more dangerous, his sadism backed by the bizarre abilities of their condition. The discovery that Cassie Lambert has made about the cause of vampirism is one that Jameson is willing to kill to obtain.
Jameson has brought back another ghost from their shared history in his search to find immunity to sunlight. The experiments of his researchers, however, have resulted in the creation of a third, more terrifying breed of vampire: Boris, a psychopathic monster who will stop at nothing to destroy all in his path.
In trying to protect Cassie from Jameson and Boris, Narain will have to rely on skills that he’s allowed to atrophy over the decades. In a climatic struggle, Narain will have to learn that to defeat the real monsters, he has to embrace what he is and awaken the beast within. And to touch the sun, he will have to risk being burned up in its fury.
Available at: AMAZON
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