Staked by JF Lewis – Interview & Contest
Please note that this contest is over – just moving it over from my old blog – thanks! I hope you all enjoy the interview if you have’t read it yet. 🙂
Sidhe Vicious welcomes Urban Fantasy novelist J.F. Lewis! We’re looking forward to getting to know you, and all about your novel Staked.
SV: Your debut Urban Fantasy novel, Staked, was released in March 2008 by Pocket Books, can you tell us about it and the main characters Eric, Tabitha & Rachel?
JFL: Thanks for having me; I’d be glad to!
Eric is very much a “guy’s guy” turned vampire. I like to think that he’s very different from your typical lead vampire in urban fantasy. He’s physically older than many… in his late thirties. He’s only been a vampire since 1965, so his past is not so far behind him that it no longer counts. He lived through World War II and Korea, which makes him an undead representative of the greatest generation. He’s a good guy deep down and he’s coping with the fact that he’s become a monster. He isn’t going to revel in it, but he’s not one to whine about the situation either. When he was a boy, you took the hardships life handed you and made do… so that’s what he’s doing. The love of his life is still around, but since she wouldn’t let him turn her, she is in her eighties. He’s always trying to move on, but he’s not very good at it. He’d dump any of his younger girlfriends for Marilyn in an instant, age notwithstanding.
Tabitha is Eric’s current girlfriend. She’s in love both with Eric and the idea of vampiric immortality. She’s young, attractive, and smarter than she acts… essentially, she has tons of potential, but she’s not living up to it. At the beginning of the novel, she convinces Eric to turn her into a vampire and roughly a third of the novel is from her point of view. When it comes to his own feelings, Eric is an unreliable narrator, so I put Tabitha in, both to provide a more interesting way to show readers the process of becoming a vampire, and to let us see Eric through her eyes.
Rachel… where to begin with Rachel? Um… Rachel is evil? Before the beginning of Staked, Tabitha’s little sister Rachel died. Yet she’s alive and willing when Eric runs into her in Staked. Is she really Tabitha’s dead sister? (You’ll find out in the sequel, tentatively titled ReVamped.) Of the three, she’s the most mysterious. People who have read the book tend to either love her or hate her… or both.
SV: What about vampires and werewolves inspired you to write about them?
JFL: This may sound odd, but I when I decided to write about Eric, he was already a vampire, so there wasn’t really a decision to make. The werewolves came in because it just seemed natural that werewolves and vampires should be at odds with one another. The whole Werewolves versus Vampires schtick was something that had been done to death though, and that’s why I decided to spice things up by having the werewolves be religious and… not necessarily the bad guys. I mean: William’s son is dead. He wants revenge. What father wouldn’t? Werewolves tend to stick together in packs and when the pack is attacked, the whole pack responds. Why wouldn’t they?
I decided to write Eric’s story when I did because I wanted to write a very different take on something that was out there. Plus, I’d been rereading a very well written vampire series, one that I’d enjoyed before. I’d loved the main character the first time through, but on the second pass, he struck me as whiny and unpalatably consumed by his own ennui. I’ve said it before, but I could no longer stomach the idea of vampirism being the ultimate coolness aid. Want to be cool? Want to know how to dress? How to dance? Want to be tragically hip and bi-sexual in an instant? Just get bitten and join the rest of us in our eternal gloom/party! I don’t think so. I pretty much tossed the book across the room and started writing my own.
SV: Will we be seeing more of Eric, Tabitha & Rachel in the future?
JFL: I certainly hope so. I’ve submitted the manuscript for my proposed second book in the series. I hope to get the yea or nay in the next week or so. In the meantime, I’m working on book three and a few other projects. Book two’s tentative title is ReVamped. It focuses on a soul-stealing demon that has something Eric wants. It also features Eric’s first meeting with the infamous Lord Phillip from Staked.
SV: How did you get your start in writing? What, if anything, lit the “spark” to get you started and keep you motivated?
JFL: Getting sent to the counselor’s office by a supposed creative writing teacher was a good start. I wrote a short story during free write in which I personified all of the furniture in the class room. The funny thing was… there wasn’t anything objectionable in the story. It was thoroughly G-rated. The desks were tired of people sitting in them, except for the ones that didn’t have anyone sitting in them. The chalkboard wanted everyone to stop looking at it until they did. It’s not hard to figure out where a kid would get such emotions, but the teacher suggested therapy.
In a college creative writing course, I ran into another closed-minded individual. It was an award winning published author who told me, “Genre fiction is a masturbatory effort. It’s sad to see you wasting your time with it.” I’ve been determined to get some “genre fiction” published ever since.
Masturbatory effort. That still gets me. Let me go write some more… I have got to outsell that guy.
SV: What was the path to publication on this, your first urban fantasy novel, like? Highlights? Pitfalls?
JFL: Now that is a long story. I’ve been chronicling the whole journey on my blog, but here are some of the highlights: I’d describe the road to publishing as this incredibly Quixotic quest. When you think about it, the whole idea requires no small amount of hubris on the part of the writer. You’re setting out with the idea that essentially your stories are so good that you should be paid for them. The highlight is, of course, when people agree with you. In-between those agreements, you have lots of anxiety about whether there will be another kind soul along the path who will also agree. So, in my case, I sent off query letter after query letter, a little over a dozen, I think , and then Shawna McCarthy picked me up along the wayside of my quest and gave me new armor, sharpened my sword, and went out in search of a patron for me. Another highlight was when Jennifer Heddle over at Pocket Books bought the book.
One of the coolest moments for me was seeing the cover art. I’d been walking through the book store, at one point, checking out the book covers of other Urban Fantasy books and I picked up cover after cover with these awesome cityscapes that were all done by Chris McGrath and I thought, “Wow. If I could pick anybody to do the cover, I’d want him.” I didn’t say anything to anyone about it, because I really had no control over the cover. When I got the email with the cover art work, and I was looking at it for the first time… Chris has this feel to a piece that really stands out and I realized “Holy crap! This was done by Chris McGrath!” I checked the email and sure enough, it was Chris. So I promptly printed it out and carried it around with me at Dragon*Con, showing it to everybody who would look. Which lead to another highlight when several authors at the con (most notably in terms of sheer niceness Sherrilyn Kenyon, Maggie Shayne, and L.A. Banks) took the time to congratulate me and talk a few minutes about what I should do next and what I should expect.
After that? Getting my first blurb was cool. Finding out that I was going to get a foil effect on the cover, holding the first real copy of the book in my hands, actually seeing it in on display in a store. All that stuff was just awesome. My Author Debut party, featured in Locus Magazine… awesome.
The pitfalls? I’ve caught a lot of flak on a personal level for some of the content in the book, the language, and some of the things vampires say or do… acquaintances who have never taken the time to really get to know me tend to have a “you wrote what?” reaction.
SV: Who or what was your inspiration for the characters of Eric, Tabitha & Rachel, if any?
JFL: I think that all characters are some aspect of the writer’s own personality even if it’s a tiny sliver that gets warped and twisted all out of proportion. Eric’s rage, for example, is very much the rage of a much younger me. When I was growing up, I had rage blackouts, so I really do know what it’s like to be standing there getting annoyed one moment and then to “wake up” later with people holding you down and having no idea what happened. I never did irreparable damage, thank goodness, and I don’t have that problem anymore. Sooner or later you have to make a decision that you’re never going to allow yourself to become that angry again and then stick to it. It’s been twenty years since I’ve been anywhere close to that angry. Writing helps.
Tabitha was inspired by those girls (and guys for that matter) we’ve all met at some point who are incredibly good looking, have a lot of things going for them, but choose to dwell on the superficial. I like her because she really *is* smart and clever, she just has a lot of growing up to do. She’s extremely confident about herself in some areas and yet, in others not so much.
I can’t put my finger on exactly or where Rachel comes from other than green kryptonite. Yeah, she’s definitely inspired by green kryptonite and if she wasn’t, then she should have been, because she’s certainly Eric’s equivalent. Rachel is one of the characters I have the most fun writing, because it’s not as if she wasn’t born with a moral compass, she just sat it next to really strong electromagnet until it didn’t point North anymore. In book two, we find out much more about why Rachel is the way she is, the full extent of her powers, and whether or not she’s really Tabitha’s sister. I’ll spill the beans on one of those questions right here: She’s really Tabitha’s sister. One day we might meet Tabitha’s mom… that would be fun.
SV: Did you find it harder or easier to write the second novel in this series, because of already having created this world?
JFL: Easier. In the first book you have all of this setup to do, characters to introduce, and while the second novel does need a little recap, it’s more jogging the reader’s memory. I’d also sold Staked at that point, so I had more confidence that I wasn’t wasting my time. I still have these feelings of anxiety about never getting published, never finding an agent… only they’re very silly now because I have and I did. Now I stress over sales numbers.
The only hard part is being consistent. I have a word document called The Rules of Void City, that I use to make sure that my vampire stuff works the same way all of the time and so even if I haven’t revealed it yet, I know how Eric became a vampire, what happens to each kind of vampire when they die, that sort of thing.
SV: Do you have any funny writing quirks/habits that you do when you’re in the “zone” writing?
JFL: I build playlists for characters, places, situations, etc and then listen to them to get me in the mood. Avril Lavigne’s The Best Damn Thing is perfect for writing Rachel. For Eric I tend toward an eclectic mix of Sinatra, Iron Maiden, and Nickleback… Tabitha is powered by Tori Amos and Alanis Morisette. I have a playlist for fight scenes and one for romantic scenes. When I’m stuck on a scene, I get up and pace, which drives my wife crazy because there is a squeaky board in my office and it’s right over our bedroom… remember that I work full-time and write late at night. When I’m on a deadline, I put a sleeping bag in my office and get up frequently though the night to write/edit.
SV: Have you ever met a vampire or werewolf?
JFL: Well, one of my close friends is awfully hairy and he *thinks* he’s a werewolf…
SV: What supernatural power or creature would you most like to have or be?
JFL: Okay, two answers: first, I’m a comic book geek, so I’d want to go with the Power Cosmic. With just that one power, you get virtual immortality, the ability to fly through space unprotected and under your own power, you don’t have to eat or drink anymore, you shoot energy bolts, and you get a funky glowing effect. The only drawback is that you tend to wind up with a skin tight costume or metallic coating. I’d be the only guy with the Power Cosmic wearing jeans and a t-shirt. J
But the dad in me would pick the ability to heal. One day people all over the world would just stop getting sick. Severed limbs would grow back. The blind would see. The deaf would hear. Peanuts would no longer send kids into anaphylactic shock. We’d all still grow old, but it would be gracefully. Best of all, I’d never even know I was the cause. It would just happen one day when my powers turned on and no one would ever know why. That would be cool.
SV: Who is your favorite urban fantasy fictional character and why? (Not counting your own, of course)
JFL: Corwin of Amber. Does he count? Corwin is the protagonist in Roger Zelazney’s Amber series. One of my rules about writing first person comes from reading Nine Princes in Amber, the first book in the series. I feel that first person narrators need to have an excess of personality. They need to be flawed, witty, and opinionated. Corwin is all of those things, but we root for him anyway. He doesn’t always come out on top, but he’s only ever “down” or “out” – never both at the same time.
If the Amber series doesn’t count, then I’d have to go with Hellboy.
SV: Who’s your favorite author? TV show? Movie?
JFL: I’m a huge fan of Roger Zelazney’s Amber series (as if my answer to the previous question didn’t give that away), but I’d have to go with Terry Pratchett as my absolute favorite author. I love his Discworld series, particularly the ones featuring Death or Granny Weatherwax. Athough my favorite Pratchett novel is Maurice and His Amazing Rodents. When I was a teenager, I wrote a serial for a local BBS magazine called BTN. Anyone who has read that stuff can see that I was clearly aping Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams… quite badly, I might add. It’s hard to write funny. One of the hardest scenes to write for Staked was the scene with Eric, Greta, Talbot and the telephone. Since the humor in that scene is somewhat physical, it was very hard to get it right. Still makes my wife laugh out loud, though.
The TV show question is much harder. If we’re talking currently on the air, then I’d have to say either Battlestar Galactica or the new Doctor Who. If we are talking shows that no longer air, both Buffy and Angel come really close, and so does the original Muppet Show… but I’ll have to go with… <drum roll, please>… classic Doctor Who. Tom Baker was my Doctor, the one that I watched on PBS every afternoon when I got home from school. I remember taping all of the episodes as they were replayed time and time again, cut down to one show a week and moved later and later at night. The special effects don’t hold up very well, but I still love them.
Favorite movie gets us back into the easy question realm. It’s a near tie between Casablanca and Singin in the Rain. Casablanca always comes out on top, but Singin in the Rain always finishes a close second. I’m a huge fan of musicals, but I’m a bigger fan of Humphrey Bogart.
SV: Do you have any tips for aspiring speculative fiction writers?
JFL: Well, the obvious advice is to write. Write every day. If you get stuck on something, write something else for a while and come back to it. I also think any aspiring writer should read Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas. I also think that listening to Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast is a good idea… particularly her interview with Neil Gaiman and her interview with Christopher Moore.
SV: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us at Raves & Rants and your readers?
JFL: Really, I’d just like to thank all the folks who’ve gone out and read the book and ask them to keep spreading the word. This is my first time out of the box, so if you like what you read, then make sure folks know it, so we can keep the Void City universe going. Great reviews on websites, blogs, or five star Amazon.com reviews don’t hurt, either. And if you happen to be a Hollywood type that wants to make Staked into a movie, call Kevin Cleary at Content House. <shakes head> Okay, that was shameless. I’m tempted to delete it, but it’s true. Shameless hucksterism at it’s finest…
Also, for those who have emailed about buying WELCOME TO THE VOID T-shirts, we are still working out the kinks but should have them available for sale soon. Check my blog at http://writethefantastic.blogspot.com for details.
Thank you for spending some time with us here at Raves & Rants Jeremy! It was a pleasure. We’re crossing our fingers and looking forward to ReVamped as well as wishing you every success in the future! You can find out more about Jeremy and his writing at http://www.authoratlarge.com/
J.F. Lewis has graciously agreed to allow me to have a contest with not one, but two winners! 1st place winner will receive a much coveted WELCOME TO THE VOID T-Shirt, and I mean you will be among the first to own one of these awesome shirts, and the 2nd winner will receive a signed copy of STAKED.
Apologies to my overseas readers, but only residents in the USA and Canada may enter. To enter the contest, leave a comment by May 15th, it’s that easy. On May 16th I will put all entries into the “hat” and have an unbiased party (probably my 4 year old nephew), pull two names, which will then be posted here. Good luck everybody! And don’t forget to check back on the 16th
NOTE: To view the comments/entries from this contest go HERE There were 23 comments and it would’ve made this post really, really long to include them.
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