There are many milestones on the road to publishing your first novel: first completed manuscript, contest win, finding an agent, selling your book to your dream publisher. But few thrills compare to seeing the jacket art for the first time.
I've had to keep a lid on this beauty for nearly two months now, but now that Overseas is officially available for pre-order on Amazon, it's time to set my cover free! Behold! (And let me know what you think!)
Monday, November 7, 2011
Okay, so I had it coming. I'd been lying low for years, while my first three children passed through kindergarten and into the upper grades, hoping I could fly under the radar by volunteering as a room parent and donating stuff when stuff was called for. But last spring, the phone rang in the early afternoon, well before school release, and like an idiot I answered the call.
It was the outgoing PTA president. For reasons still unclear, I'd been nominated for a position on the Nominating Committee. What's the Nominating Committee, you ask? (I did.) The Nominating Committee, my friends, is the committee that nominates people to serve on committees. It's the smoke-filled room of PTA politics, except the smoke has been replaced by the scent of baking cookies in well-appointed kitchens, and the single-malt Scotch by a Dunkin Donuts Box o'Joe (because we are all about keeping things real around here, oh yeah).
So there we are, zapping unsuspecting mommies to chair the thirty-odd PTA committees, like some kind of elite suburban sniper unit, when we came to the Fall Book Fair committee. I'm wiping cookie crumbs from my mouth, wondering if anyone will notice if I snatch a third, when I realize everyone is looking at me. She writes BOOKS, they're thinking. SHE can help organize the book fair. It's PERFECT.
Never mind that I have trouble organizing my own refrigerator. Never mind that, by the same logic, I should organize the Election Day Bake Sale because I happen to make the best goddamned chocolate cupcakes you've ever tasted. It was a done deal. I couldn't even protest.
So I showed up obediently at the school media center (what, you're still calling it a library?) at seven-twenty on a crisp October morning, donned my red Scholastic apron, and started selling books.
One thing became clear right away, as I cruised through the rolling metal shelves and stacked tables: letting a book lover run the book fair is like letting an alcoholic man the liquor store. With a few innocent swipes of my credit card, I became the fair's best customer. In the morning before school, my kids and I would start our stack, and by the time I rang myself out in the afternoon, I could practically hear the entire publishing industry give a distant cheer up the East River and across Long Island Sound.
Another truth: kids love books. Every time another class came in, a high-pitched squealing would fill the air, as if the students expected Justin Bieber himself to be hanging around among the stacks, and not just his autobiography (which he totally wrote himself, haterz!). Sure, many of the girls would head straight for the Pink Table, where we sequestered most of the Barbie and Disney Princess books, and many of the boys bolted for the Pokemon guides. But they were books, real live books with paper pages, and the kids were nuts for them. So, hey.
Third (and this is a big one): if you write books, you should go RIGHT NOW to your nearest bookseller and give him or her a big smacking kiss on the buttocks. I personally sold us out of War Horse and Library Mouse, just because I love the pants off those guys and made sure everyone knew it. It's a big old complicated bookshelf out there, and people want a recommendation. I don't know if it was the red apron or what, but they pretty much bought whatever I told them to buy.
So the week wasn't a loss after all, except for the ten thousand or so words I could have written instead, and it turns out we increased sales 8% over last year, both volume and dollar. (Take that, end-of-the-printed-book chest-beaters!)
The bad news? It looks like I'll be re-nominated to the Fall Book Fair committee next year.
Oh, and I'll see you at at the Election Day Bake Sale table, bright and early.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
When the shock of selling my first novel finally wore off into acceptance, I was intrigued to learn I had a full writer sibling. The previous year, my agent had sold another novel, by debut author Christopher Farnsworth, to my new editor at Putnam. Same agent, same editor: our books must be like twins, right?
But while a taut, pulse-racing vampire thriller like Blood Oath might seem worlds apart from a sweeping love story like Overseas, Chris and I soon figured out we had a lot more in common than our shared publishing connections and an aggressive appetite for bacon. Both of our protagonists are historical misfits, operating in the modern world by paranormal means; both of us find much of our inspiration from examining the past and asking the imaginative what if?. In Chris's case, the answer is Nathaniel Cade, a vampire sworn to protect the President of the United States from supernatural threats, and seriously, what could be more awesome than that?
So I loved Blood Oath when it came out last year, and when Chris was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the sequel, The President's Vampire (due out April 28), my squee set off car alarms for blocks around. Once I finished hyperventilating, I begged Chris to let me interview him in my usual hard-hitting Diane Sawyer fashion, and he was gracious enough to indulge me.
Give us a little background on Nathaniel Cade. Where did you get the idea for a presidential vampire, and why doesn't he sparkle in sunlight?
The idea came from a semi-true episode out of American history. According to news reports, in 1867, a sailor was tried and convicted for killing two of his crewmates and drinking their blood. And for some reason, the president at the time, Andrew Johnson, chose to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. The idea stuck with me. I kept thinking, "There's got to be a story behind that. What would the President of the United States do with a vampire?" That's how Cade was born.
Ah, yes, the sparkly question. Cade doesn't sparkle because vampires don't sparkle. Vampires, in my mind, have always been predators. They're meant to eat teenagers, not date them. I'm eternally grateful to Stephenie Meyer for resurrecting the undead once again -- I seriously doubt my book would have been published without the success of Twilight -- but I just don't see vamps as romantic. I stick with the classic Stoker model -- smarter, tougher and meaner than any human.
THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE and its prequel, BLOOD OATH, take all our favorite conspiracy theories and up the ante. Are you a conspiracy believer or a skeptic? Somewhere in between? And what's the nuttiest (or scariest) thing you've uncovered in your research?
I've become more and more of a skeptic. I was a reporter for a long time, and everything I learned about people in that job convinced me that there's no such thing as a successful conspiracy. I once covered a three-person County Commission -- just three people, and they couldn't keep anything secret. If they couldn't stop bickering over low-stakes stuff like zoning ordinances, then it doesn't seem possible to me that the New World Order and the Illuminati would be able to hide the murder of JFK and the presence of aliens on Earth.
That said, I do have a higher tolerance for weirdness than most people. I like to think I'm still open to the possibilities of all the strangeness out there. Lately I've been doing a lot of reading about the idea of a Satanic cabal that is supposed to be the organizing force behind the Manson murders, the Son of Sam, the Zodiac, and a small army of serial killers. There are times when that scares the crap out of me.
But as much as I love delving into all these twisted secret histories, I take them primarily as entertainment.
Of course, I could be in on the cover-up, which would explain why I'd say that.
The confrontation between Cade and Osama bin Laden blew my mind. Any qualms about rewriting history? No fatwa worries?
A friend of mine seriously warned me about including bin Laden in the book. And I'll admit, in light of the whackjobs who threaten people over cartoons of Mohammed, I wondered if maybe I was asking for trouble. Religious zealots seem to have no sense of humor whatsoever.
Then I remembered I write about a vampire who's also a secret agent, and I kept the story the way it was. If a copy reaches Osama in his cave, I may have to reconsider.
In all seriousness, I wrote that chapter before I wrote any other parts of the book simply because it had been festering in me for a long time. I love those old comic-book covers from World War II where you could see Captain America or Superman punching Hitler. Having Cade fight Osama was basically just my attempt to do the same thing.
The relationship between vampire Cade and handler Zach Barrows develops all kinds of layers between BLOOD OATH and THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE. Where do you see the bromance headed? Is it really possible for a vampire to be friends with a human?
That's a good question. I think the answer is uncertain, at least for Zach and Cade. I like to say that Cade, as a vampire, no longer has genuine feelings but instead runs something like a human emulation program. He tries to act like he believes people should act. Again, vampires are predators -- developing feelings for their prey would get in the way of eating. But Cade can still find certain human traits genuinely admirable. He prizes duty and self-sacrifice above almost all else; those times when Zach is tempted to act like a hero -- stupid as it can be -- are the times when Cade sees the qualities he lost when he gave into his need for blood. Zach challenges Cade -- and reminds him what it means to be human.
Dialogue is such a strength in both books -- realistic, witty, plot-advancing -- which must have something to do with your background as a screenwriter. Did you find the transition from scripts to novels challenging? How do you think your screenwriting experience affects your approach to story creation?
I was actually writing books -- unpublished, thank God -- long before I ever wrote a script. I was a frustrated novelist out to make a living, so the actual transition from writing scripts full-time to writing novels full-time has been a joy. Scripts end up being a group activity; everyone has a say in the final product. When I wrote BLOOD OATH, I simply put everything I liked on the page without worrying too much if some studio reader was going to get the jokes.
That said, I learned a lot by writing scripts. A screenplay requires you to cut any line of dialogue that's not carrying its weight, if for no other reason than producers and development execs often refuse to read any block of text longer than a paragraph. I read a lot of David Mamet trying to get that same economy and impact. I tend to block things out in terms of scenes now, and I'm always trying to end each scene on a powerful image, or at least a good exit line.
Vampire bodyguard: pros and cons?
Pros: Works nights. Never wants time off for Christmas. Doesn't demand health insurance. Can travel in baggage compartment.
Cons: Might eat you.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
A friend of mine lamented her addiction to Gossip Girl on Twitter the other day. "It's not so trashy it's good," she wrote. "It's really not. And yet." I advised her to try Downton Abbey instead: so good, I told her, you don't even realize how trashy it is.
Not since Colin Firth stepped out of a lake and into immortality has a British costume drama inspired such stateside obsession as Season One of Downton. So delicious were its plot twists, so iconic were its characters (the Plot-Hatching Footman, the Noble-Hearted Nobleman, the Dashing Eldest Daughter, the Upstart Heir, the Fire-Breathing Dowager), even my husband didn't so much as murmur when I flipped the channel from the NFL playoffs to PBS for an entire January of Sundays. (For the record, we only have one television in the house.)
So why did Downton blow the typical Masterpiece Classic ratings out of the water like a dreadnought at target practice? And did the series really belong in the rarefied air of PBS at all? Take away all those exquisite period details and pretty costumes (and oh! were they ever pretty!) and you've got pure, unashamed potboiler material, complete with dead lovers in the virginal bed and plot-device pregnancies. The show even had the chutzpah to leave its loyal viewers dangling on the brink of Armageddon last Sunday, with the cheerful reassurance that--not to worry--Season Two was now "in production."
But there's more to the Downton obsession than juicy storytelling. After all, if we're only looking for scandal and cleavage, Gossip Girl would do just fine. Downton succeeds not just because it plumbs the depths of the soap-opera well with a long line: it recreates a period that tugs at our historical imaginations with relentless strength. For the Great Britain depicted in Downton and for European civilization in general, there exists--in popular memory, at least--a world before the Great War, and a world after it: an age of innocence followed by an age of cynicism.
Of course, the reality isn't quite so simple. The years before the war roiled with scientific innovation and social turmoil; the crucible of 1914-1918 only forged that raw material into the 20th century we recognize today. But the Downton era beckons us because, until August of 1914, the dead millions and the great country houses still had a chance. It was still high summer, and the garden party was in full swing, and the earl was a good chap, and the housemaid was going to leave domestic service and become a secretary.
Now devotees will have to wait until 2012 to learn the fates of the Crawley family and its dependents. My prediction: at least one war wedding and at least one war baby. And not necessarily in that order.
After all, good trash is hard to find.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
I've never been much of a gym-goer. The first time I worked up the nerve to visit the campus fitness center at college, I spotted the guy I was dating engaged in floor exercises with some sweatless tramp in sleek Spandex hotpants and tumbling blond curls. By tragic coincidence, I had the second act of Madama Butterfly on my Walkman, and as I cycled back through the eucalyptus-scented evening to my dorm, eyes blurred with tears, I longed only for a ceremonial sword on which to impale myself.
After that, I stuck to running.
Sure, it's hard work. The weather rarely cooperates, and I've learned to take gritty joy in pushing myself through heat, drizzle, bitter cold or blowing snow. My schedule is often tight, and I've had to discipline my body to a drumbeat pace, through woods and over hills, to return home in time for preschool dropoffs and birthday cupcake bakeathons.
But when fellow writers ask me how I manage to raise four kids and write novels and keep up my running, I answer that I couldn't do the first two without the third. That time on the pavement is my battery recharger, my idea factory, the forty-five minutes in which my creative blocks fall away and every plot conundrum finds its perfect resolution. I run alone, without a companion or an iPod: it's just me and my brain, getting to know each other again. By the time I've showered and dressed, I've made a crucial new insight into a character's motivation, or mapped out a story arc, or written the next scene in my head.
Which, all things considered, is much more productive than impaling myself on a ceremonial sword.