Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Life Abroad: The Taker in Hungary

HALHATATLAN (The Taker) published in Hungary yesterday. I was thrilled to make the sale in Hungary but a little nervous, too, as there's a section that's set in medieval Hungary and when you don't speak the language, it's awfully easy to make a mistake with the history. I'm a bit of a fanboy for Hungary, having spent a little time there. I love the people, the culture, the architecture, the art, the music, the melancholy, the black humor, the romanticism. In honor of pub day, here's the English-language version of the interview I did with Hungarian newspaper Metropol:

The Taker is a story about unrequited love written in dark tone with a woeful mood. Why did you find the idea interesting to write it? Nowadays it seems that readers are much more into shiny happy endings.

I can’t say that I consciously avoided a happy ending, which does seem to be expected these days. I wrote the story that came to me: the tale of a woman who lets herself be morally corrupted as she tries to hold on to the man she loves, and is punished for it. Some readers have compared the heroine to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, with Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, too (not that I’m comparing my book to any of those classics!) Perhaps because I’m older than most debut novelists, I feel comfortable writing a book that’s more in line with those tragic stories. Readers tell me that one of the things they like the most about The Taker is that isn’t not like every other book that’s out there.

These days love and romance tend to disappear from these kind of fantasy/paranormal/urban books while erotic or pornographic content is settling in. What is your opinion about it? Has it got any ruining effect on the quality of the books?

There certainly are a lot of paranormal romances published these days. In the US at least, these books are part of the romance genre and many are geared toward readers who like more explicit content. That’s the interesting thing about book publishing: there are books to serve every taste, if the reader is diligent about tracking them down. It goes back to what we were talking about, above: you find the majority of books being published right now fit into the mold of whatever’s popular—like happy endings no matter how plausible—and these are good for the reader who is looking for a comfortable, familiar read. But this kind of story doesn’t have a profound impact on readers. If you’re looking for something different, that will really sweep you away, you have to dare to go beyond the familiar. Hopefully, readers who are looking for something different will give The Taker a try.

The story takes place in the 19th century Puritan era in the US and today’s world. What do you think it is like to live here and now and to live back then? Did love mean a different thing 200 years ago?

I think that in the past, love didn’t hold the same central place in the scheme of things as it does now, at least in societies with which I’m familiar. Individualism was not as important as finding a place for oneself in society because survival was harder outside of a family. These days, the most important thing for many people seems to be self-fulfillment—personal happiness—and love is a big part of that.

That being said, I think through the ages, people have always wanted to have someone special in their lives: to be in love, and to have the satisfaction of being loved. This need will never go away, but the ways open to us to meet that need have changed through time. In The Taker, Lanore dares to want to marry the man she loves even though society tells her this will never happen. Her love is strong enough to overcome all obstacles—except that in going to this extreme, she defies nature, and you can never win against nature. She is punished for defying nature by losing her love and her humanity. She’s no longer like other men and women, and is left wondering what she has become, if she’s a monster like Adair.   

The novel noticeably avoids vampires and any other supernatural creatures (e.g.: werewolves etc.) with the concept of alchemy resulting a more mature atmosphere. Is this on purpose?

Yes! I think readers are so familiar with vampires and werewolves that they don’t pay attention to the story and are distracted as they look for characters to fall into stock roles. Which boy is going to be the vampire? Does he act like a “real” vampire? There’s no room to tell a story that’s different or new. In The Taker, I want readers to be surprised and to lose themselves in the story, which you can’t do if you already know what to expect and how it’s likely to end.

Who were your role models for Adair and where did the concept of immortality come from?

I didn’t have any conscious role models for Adair, but I suppose there’s a little of Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights—and a lot of Mephistopheles—in him. Truly, he is the Alpha male of a thousand stories, the headstrong and domineering man who can only be tamed through love. He is the Beast from Beauty and the Beast.

I felt the characters had to become immortal to heighten the sense of what was at stake. Lanore knows that she’s making a “deal with the devil” to get what she wants, and like most people who make such bargains, she thinks it won’t be so bad or that she’ll be able to get out of it. It’s not until she realizes that her situation is every bit as bad as she feared and that it’s for all of eternity—not even death will free her—that she understands that she is in a terrible mess. The other reason is that immortality is believable to most people because, to us, our lives seem like eternity. We can read about what came before us and we can imagine that it will go on after we’re gone, but while we’re alive it seems like all there is. I imagine that doesn’t change until we’re at the moment of death and we truly realize that life will go on without us.

Into what directions will you take the sequel? We can imagine how the story continues in the second book, and we already know that there is a third book coming next year. What can we expect in that?

In The Taker, we see that Lanore is a woman who sacrifices everything to be wholly and completely loved. Her dilemma is that the man who will give her a love this great and transcendent is not Jonathan, the man she desires, but Adair, a horrible monster. Is it possible to love such a man? What kind of woman falls in love with a monster? Is the power of love strong enough to rehabilitate someone as bad as Adair? The Taker Trilogy is truly an exploration of love, of its glories and depths.

How many books do you plan?

I don’t plan to continue the series past the third book, The Descent, but who knows? I may miss the characters and want to come back to them someday—if readers are still interested. I’m working on a book that’s a spin-off: it has none of the same characters but builds on a little story that comes up in the second book, The Reckoning. It, too, has magic and love, alchemy and immortality, and could become it’s own series.

Do you plan to explore or unfold the in-between years of the main characters? For example the early 20th century or the Victorian era must be interesting.

The Reckoning and The Descent explore some of the other periods in the characters’ lives. We follow Lanore as she runs guns in Afghanistan during The Great Game, and find her and Jonathan being drawn into Lord Byron’s circle in Italy. We get to find out more about Adair’s complex, twisted story, and of his origins. And that’s just in The Reckoning—there are some truly mind-bending things planned for The Descent.

We know from your biography that you worked for the CIA and the NSA before you start writing novels. Do you think these places have had any effect on your work? Like collecting data and researching for the storyline?

I didn’t think that my work in intelligence had any effect on my stories. After all, they’re all about magic and love, and half the time are made purely of imagination. But an editor pointed out that all the characters are manipulative and deceptive, that no one is quite what they seem and she wondered if that had something to do with my former line of work. After thinking about it, I had to say she was right! I’ve spent three decades in a culture of secrecy, with true masters of deception, and I guess it’s seeped into my writing and in my plots.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Resources for Writers: Great Podcasts

Looking for inspiration? Need something awesome on your ipod for the next session at the gym? I love to load up on great writing podcasts to listen to on the treadmill, the commuter bus and on car trips. Here are some of my favorites:

She did a series of podcasts on her writing philosophies, and how she writes about everything from sex scenes to ghosts to historical content. If you listen to all of them, her voice will be tattooed into your brain.

I just found out about these: scifi, fantasy and horror writers and artists Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells talk about the craft of writing, not always from a genre perspective. I cannot wait to dive in.

Rather zany but smart podcast of mostly British bookish types. Usually 3 or 4 speakers at a time discussing topics like piracy, the ebook revolution, and other interesting topics of the day.

Listen to host Cindy Wolfe Boynton as she talks to authors from New England, who write about New England or are passing through New England in this weekly podcast.

Mostly reviews of new releases but the two hosts, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, also have interesting theme episodes and explore the literary zeitgeist. The hosts are sales reps for Random House, which gives them an interesting insider’s view into the publishing business.

Jeff Rutherford’s Reading and Writing Podcast:
Jeff’s podcasts also feature one author, ranging from Jeff Deaver and Lee Child to debut authors such as myself.

I met Dana at the Decatur Book Festival last year, standing between Holly LeCraw and Tom Perrotta. A dazzling way to meet someone, let me tell you. I was even more dazzled (and amazed) when she asked me to be a guest on her podcast. Mostly big name authors, like Sue Grafton and Eloisa James, but you’ll also find some great unknowns.

Monday, October 22, 2012

"I Didn't Expect to Ever Be Published"

My Brazilian publisher, Novo Conceito, was kind enough to run a Q&A with me on their blog. In case you don't speak Portuguese, here's the interview in English:

This is your first novel. What was the inspiration to begin your career as author?
I fell in love with reading at a very early age. I think most readers at some point try their hand at writing, usually out of a desire to recreate the story that gave them the most pleasure. That’s how I started writing. I imagined that I would become a novelist some day, but after college, real life intervened and I ended up going to work in intelligence—that’s right, I went to work for CIA, among other intelligence agencies. I thought I’d only stay a few years and then return to writing fiction, but I ended up enjoying my career and stayed a long time. I stopped writing fiction until a few years ago when I felt the urge to start up again. I hadn’t written fiction for about 15 years at that point, and it was very difficult to write stories again, kind of like deciding one day that I was going to run a marathon after spending a decade lying on the couch eating potato chips.
How was the process of creation?
It took ten years to write Ladrao de Almas. It started with a short story I had written in my twenties. It was a haunting story about a young man who toys with a woman and breaks her heart, and then is cursed to spend eternity making up for his ruining her life. I’d always wondered what happened to the characters—whom readers of Ladrao de Almas will recognize as Jonathan and Lanore—and decided to pick up where the short story left off.

When I went back to writing fiction, I took it very seriously. I went to graduate school and earned a Master’s degree in writing, went to writers’ conferences and, of course, read like a fiend. Even with a full-time job and busy life, I made time to write every day. By then, I had fallen in love with the characters and even though I didn’t expect to ever be published, I wanted to see if I could tell their story, in all its complexity.    

"The Taker" has gothic and supernatural nuances. What else can readers expect from the first book of the trilogy?
It’s the story of a young woman, Lanore, growing up in an isolated village in Maine in the 1800s. She falls in love with a young man, Jonathan. He’s the eldest son of the family that owns the town: he’s wealthy and, more than that, he’s preternaturally, irresistibly beautiful. She knows that if she gives her heart to him, she’s in for nothing but heartache, but she can’t help herself. Lanore becomes pregnant by Jonathan and is sent by her family to Boston to have the baby in secret, but Lanore runs away and ends up being taken in by Adair, a mysterious man with otherworldly powers. He has the power to grant eternal life—but there’s a catch. You can live forever, but you will be bound to the person who has made you immortal, and only that person can break the spell. Only the person who gave you eternal life can take it away from you.

Now bound to Adair, Lanore decides to use this power to keep Jonathan with her forever. It’s not until she’s done this that she realizes she’s made a terrible mistake: they are now both tethered to Adair, who is much more dangerous and ruthless than she imagined, and it’s up to her to save them both from an eternity of torment.

Is there any news about the second book that you could tell to the brazilian fans?
The Reckoning, the second book in the trilogy, picks up where Ladrao de Almas left off, with Lanore trying to make put her past behind her and find true love with a new man, only to have Adair resurface, intent on revenge and as powerful as ever. As desperate as Lanore is to evade Adair, she is a changed woman and realizes she may have to sacrifice her own happiness to safeguard the people she cares about: she now knows the true meaning of love. The second book is full of surprises, too, and many of the characters from Ladrao de Almas return—including one you may not have expected!

Are there plans to visit Brazil?
I have not yet been to Brazil but would love to visit! It seems everyone who goes to Brazil falls in love with the country and the people. I hear Brazilians are best in the world at having fun. Plus, I’m half Portuguese and half Japanese, so I’m imagining that Brazil will be an especially good fit for me. What do readers suggest? What are the most-see places to visit?
What message would you leave for new authors?

The real fun is in the journey, not the destination. If you don’t love what you’re working on and don’t want to spend every spare minute with it, if it doesn’t excite you and challenge you, then chances are you’re not working on the right story. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Life Abroad: The Taker in Brazil

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that The Taker is enjoying a spurt of activity internationally. We've got some new foreign editions coming out, but today I'm going to focus on the Brazilian edition, LADRAO DE ALMAS, or Thief of Souls.

How gorgeous is that cover?

My publisher, Novo Conceito, has done a tremendous job launching the book. It's one of the featured new releases on their website. They may this book trailer, which seems to have the special dark, romantic Brazilian fire to it. They asked me to make a special video inviting Brazilian readers to try the book, which you can see here with Portuguese subtitles. And I did a Q&A on their website (this is in Portuguese only, but trust me, it's brilliant).

The book published in Brazil on September 27, but the response so far has been a-m-a-z-i-n-g. Brazilians love their dark romances. Bloggers have been wonder, getting behind the book. There were over 8,000 entries for one blog's giveaway of a press kit.

It is a pretty nice press kit. A copy of the book comes in its own special box with a bookmark and a cactus. That's right--a tiny cactus in a plastic dome was given away with each press kit. It's so cute.

You don't have to take my word for it. I'm going to give away two press kits soon. Stay tuned for details! Here's what it looks like:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

TAKER Word Cloud

I made this word cloud from a file I have of blurbs and reviews. What do you think?

Friday, October 5, 2012

NY Comic Con

Are you going to NY Comic Con? If so, I'll be there on Sunday, the 14th, signing in the Autograph Area from 11 am - 12 pm. Please stop by, say hello and pick up some swag.

The rest of the time I'll be walking about with my mouth hanging open and comparing it to my time last year at San Diego Comic Con.

If you're looking for something to do once NYCC closes down, you might be interested in The Anachronism Meets The Goblin Market, an evening of steampunk, music, dark magic and fantasy. It looks like an amazing time. (Sadly, I will not be able to attend this event but look forward to future events from The goblin Market people.)