Monday, December 22, 2008

Interrogate the Author: Starring Jocelynn Drake

Tonight we have the pleasure to bathe in the moonlight presence of Jocelynn Drake, a new priestess of vampire fiction. I was excited to take the opportunity to dissect the secrets of yet another author. As it turned out Jocelynn was willing to thrust the scalpel in my hand and guide me along the path of all her confessions. There is pretty much nothing she doesn't discuss with flare and great detail and this is exactly how we like our authors... chatty, not dissected. So let's give a warm welcome to Jocelynn, without whom I wouldn't have been able to interrogate yet another person.

Harry: I thank you whole heartedly for taking a seat in my virtual chair this evening and will be answering some of my questions. Shall we cut to chase and begin immediately? As we all know “Nightwalker” has been released several months ago. First how does it feel to be the newest in the new generation of UF writers and does the experience amount to your expectations?

Jocelynn: How does it feel? Thrilling, exciting, overwhelming and more than a little intimidating. To be included in such a fun genre is both thrilling and exciting – like being invited to an exclusive party. Yet, at the same time, I’m following in the footsteps of some amazing writers, forcing me to live up to some extremely high standards if I want to please my readers. So far, the experience has surpassed my expectations. Nightwalker received a very warm welcome from both readers and reviewers. I hope that I am able to maintain this kind of excitement through the rest of the books in the series.

H: So let’s dig a bit in your writing career and start at the very beginning. What motivated you to pursue writing as a career and what was your first encounter with the art form? Also how did your family and friends receive the news of your decision that you wrote and planed to make money off it?

J: I started writing when I was about 12 years old. I spent one summer rewriting the story of Robin Hood so that it now included a strong female lead to match Robin Hood. That officially got me hooked. From there, I have been constantly writing, jumping from one genre to the next, following whatever caught my attention at that moment.

In college, I reluctantly changed my major from engineering to English when my parents had a talk with me about pursuing what would make me most happy in life. To me, engineering insured that I had a solid financial future, while writing did not. However, after a single miserable semester of calculus, I decided it was time to pursue my dream of writing. I was terrified that I would spend the rest of my life as a starving artist since I was already aware of exactly how hard it was to get published.

But the novelist part of my life came several years after college. For the past 8 years, I have been a stock market analyst and financial writer, which has allowed me to write every day about the craziness of the stock market. If I can’t spent my day with my vampires, I have no problem spending it with Wall Street, as long as I get to write.

H: Was “Nightwalker” your first manuscript and if not can you describe what you have been writing before that? Did you take any courses or classes in creative writing during your days before getting published?

J: In college, I graduated with a degree in English with a minor in journalism, with a focus on creative writing. I’ve also attended the University of Iowa summer creative writing program (which I highly recommend). I’ve also toyed with the idea of going back to school to get my MFA in creative writing. Even after getting published, there still more things that I could stand to learn.

Nightwalker is not my first full manuscript, but it is the first one I ever tried to get published. Prior to publication, I wrote whatever occurred to me. In high school, it was silly romantic tales of high school love. By my senior year, I had moved on to traditional fantasy, which I am hoping to return to some day. By college, I was onto poetry and short stories in the Raymond Carver vein along with some more contemporary literature. The vampires didn’t really start to show up until about 5-6 years ago, and they appeared in all forms – short stories, poetry, and finally novels. Happily, I think the vampires are here to stay for a while.

H: As we trod into the matters at hand, can you share why did you choose vampires as the leading species in the Dark Days series? What was the quality for you that set them apart from all the rest for you? Hopefully that won’t involve Anne Rice or sexy aura.

J: Ha! I read Anne Rice. I read Laurell K. Hamilton, and Kim Harrison, along with Charlaine Harris, Christine Feehan, and dozens others. Naturally, I also read Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I liked the darker vampires the most, those where their humanity was just a veneer. For me, the fun part of the vampire is taking something that was once human with human memories, but giving them super-human powers and the instincts of a deadly predator. You end up with a creature in constant turmoil as it struggles to reconcile the two sides. Is it still human? Is it more animal? Is it something else above what is human? It’s something that Mira struggles with, particularly when she is around others of her own kind.

H: Your Mira is quite the contradiction. How did it occur to you to add her fire powers and does it stand as a symbol for you hidden from the reader? Also doesn’t there exist the threat she can get herself burned by the fire she manipulates?

For some reason, Mira was always the Fire Starter in my mind. It was how she was born in my brain. I’m not exactly sure of the “how” beyond that. I know the “why,” though. It is linked to her lineage, which will come up in more detail in later books.

Can she get burned? Not while she’s conscious. Unconscious? I’m honestly not sure.

H: To what degree did research get involved in constructing you vampire society, its ties between one another and the hierarchy and what was fiction? Due to the Triad I think it was hinted that vampires have some sort of other magical skills, perhaps even their own vault of spells based on their peculiar nature. Can we expect some spell casting power from vampires?

J: I didn’t do any specific research for my vampire society. I just tried to imagine how they would act according to the destruction of their human morals, and the general need for control within the chaos. You will meet more of the vampire hierarchy and its working in Dayhunter. The Coven, which rules the nightwalker world, is a dark, manipulative group.

My vampires will never be major spell casters. There will be the occasional spell and some are very specific to their race. Others are just powers they gain with age. Jabari, my oldest nightwalker, can disappear and reappear over vast distances. Sadira can use telekinesis and fly.
H: Speaking of making up things your new races naturi and bori are the hot topic among reviewers. What are your plans for them and will we be able to witness more of their power, magical and their history? How did you decide to involve these races, are there any guidelines you are following or reinventing the whole archetype and how did their names come to be?

J: The naturi and the bori will remain major plot topics for quite some time within the series, even though there are a few other things that I would like to tackle. We will be able to see more of their history and their abilities with each book that is released, but I’m reluctant to give away all my secrets here. Dayhunter will give you a closer look at Rowe and his abilities along with his past with Mira. Meanwhile, Book 3 will give a closer look at the naturi hierarchy.

I created them because I needed a powerful villain for the nightwalkers and I didn’t want their natural enemy to be the shapeshifters, so I essentially had to come up with my own race. Furthermore, I believe in keeping things in balance. The naturi were created first, but they needed a polar opposite to keep them in balance, so I also created the bori. The naturi name was created because I needed a creature linked to nature. The bori name was taken from some old mythology out of Africa.

H: Danaus is one of a kind man and has captivated me with his unusual scent as Mira has described it, his mysterious part, origins and power. Quite frankly I have been using boiling blood in a project of mine, so I am very interested to know what intentions lurked in your head to give him such an ability and whether there are other like him as type of being?

J: And I thought I was the first to use boiling blood! Just teasing. I needed a creature that could stand up to Mira and put a little fear in her. Why not a creature just as deadly from a distance as her? I can say with complete confidence that there are no other creatures like Danaus. I promise you find out about his unique heritage in Dayhunter.

H: As you know great minds think alike, so boiling blood shouldn't be an issue. *grin* “Nightwalker” left the two mortal enemies, Mira and Danaus, closer as allies. I can feel the budding seed of something more than an alliance. Could you confirm any actual romance in the following novels or is it just going to become a strong friendship?

J: Ha! You do want all my secrets! I am building the book so that it can actually go in either direction. The characters have a lot of respect for each other’s sense of honor and sense of duty, which I think is important for any kind of relationship. However, there are still some pretty massive barriers standing between them. IF they do end up more than friends, it is undoubtedly going to be a rocky road for them.

H: From your blog stats I see that you are working intensely on new titles in the Dark Days series. How far do you think the series will reach, how many books is your contract for and how many do you think you can keep writing for the coolness of the world? Do you have any other ideas for series?

J: I recently was offered a second contract for another 3 books by HarperCollins, so the series is looking at least 6 books, but I would like to go much farther than that. It’s hard to say how many books, but it will be a while before I tire of Mira and Danaus.

I do have an idea for a shorter series that would run parallel to the Dark Days series. It would involve the same world, but completely different characters – though there would be the possibility for Dark Days character to make cameo appearances. However, it may be a few years before I can get about to working on that series. I have a few other books in other genres that I would like to finish first.

H: Your day job involves close work with the stock market. With the recent crisis over at Wall Street how are things developing to handling the crisis and do you have any involvement in saving the financial world as we know it? I can already hear the puns “Financial Woman is here to raise your economic benefit”.

J: LOL. No, I’m not currently in a position to save the financial market, but at least I can also say that I am not the cause of our problems either. I am just an observer of the market. I write my observations for a website and I am pleased to say that that is the extent of the damage I can cause.

H: Now around the Black Wednesday that the publishing industry is suffering, how much in danger are new authors such as yourself? It is true that you had a really strong debut, a debut that turned in an instant bestseller at position 117 from 150 spots is quite an achievement, but do you have to fear anything regarding your books.

J: I am pleased to report that I appeared on both the New York Times and USA Today Bestseller list, and stayed there for 4 weeks, positively stunning my publisher. I think that helped to win me a second contract. But even with that second contract in hand, there is always that fear that you will be next on the chopping block. I think most writers have that fear right now as book sales slow. It just forces you to make sure that your next book is better than the last. It demands that you are more aggressive in your self-promotion. For me, the greatest fear is being forgotten between books. Luckily, 2009 will be a busy year with the release of Dayhunter, the anthology short story, and then Book 3 in the fall. In the end, you just keep plugging along, being the best writer that you can be.

H: So let’s cut with the more serious questions. How does one writing day pass for Jocelynn Drake with maintain both a professional and personal life?

J: Typically, I’m in the office before 7:30 in the morning, reviewing the market news and beginning to prep my stories for the day. I work straight through until about 5. I’m home again by around 6:30 in the evening. I try to give myself about an hour to eat dinner and relax a bit. Then for the next few hours, it’s catching up on email, blogging, and a little light writing until bed. My heaviest writing days tend to be on the weekend, where I work all day with little to distract me.

H: Who would you like to have Mira or any other character from your book fight in a death match, if you could choose from all popularized characters from all mediums, meaning games, comic books and etcetera?

J: Wow! That’s a good question and a hard one. For fear of showing my geekiness, I would love to see Mira in an all out death match with Sephiroth from SquareEnix’s Final Fantasy 7 video game. He probably one of the best villains – and best conflicted villains—ever created. He also has some mad skills. I would love to give Mira the opportunity to just get into a fight and totally get dirty and violent, which is what Sephiroth would offer.

H: Oh, I did watch AdventChildren so I know that one. He would be an interesting one to fight and be killed by Mira. Can you tip young writers all around the world with some writing advice that has been accumulated through your own experience? Reading and writing and then some are all very fine and dandy, but there is a lot more to the craft to expect in the advice department.

J: For me, the devil is in the details. And I mean that mostly when it comes to characters. Know your characters inside and out. Their motivations, their hopes, their fears, their dreams, and their naughty, naughty thoughts. You have to know things that will probably never hit the written page. That kind of depth makes your characters so real and so alive to the reader. Give them faults that you know all too well. Make them fallible and broken. It’s something every reader will be able to understand.


Literary Feline said...

What a great interview! I am looking forward to reading more of this series and seeing what direction Joycelynn takes her characters.

Harry Markov said...

I am looking for the same really. It seems like a promising beginning. ;) Thanks for liking and commenting.

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