Elena Hearty is a first-time Samhain novelist–heck, first time novelist in general–whose personal story regarding the start of her writing career is as fascinating as her first book, Donor. If you read my review yesterday (check it out here) you know I loved the book. Well, I hope I at least got that across. I rambled on a bit too much about vampire tropes and the state of bloodsucker lit and probably not enough about Hearty’s book, Donor, but the short version is it’s a helluva lot of fun to read. In fact, I feel so strongly about the quality of this book that if you leave a comment in the comment’s section below, I’ll pick one lucky reader for a Donor giveaway.
Hearty is the type of author that doesn’t restrict her craft with deadlines. She writes purely for the enjoyment of it and also because she’s got to get those damned voices out of her head!
She let me steal away some of her time to talk about Donor, her writing process, the road to Samhain, and all that good authory type stuff.
DREADFUL TALES: Thanks again for taking the time to talk to Dreadful Tales. We are having a bit of a Samhain celebration this week and are excited to
learn more about one of its first time novelists.
You mention on your website that creating stories was in part a result of your bouts with insomnia as a preteen. How were you finally able to get the stories out of your head and put pen to paper? Can you tell us about how that process has worked for you?
ELENA HEARTY: Inventing stories began as a way to combat insomnia, but had spread to nearly all aspects of my life by early adulthood. Stuck in traffic? Story time. Bored in a meeting? Story time. Attending a lecture vital to the understanding of computational complexity theory? Unfortunately, story time.
To justify this arguably self destructive habit, I told myself I was “working on a novel.” I told myself that for over a decade. And my daydreams eventually followed suit, organizing themselves into neat little chapters. One day I realized my longest standing novel (Donor) was complete, but it wasn’t until years later that I actually worked up the courage to write it all down. At that point, the process felt more like typing than writing – but that’s not to say my characters didn’t still manage to surprise me in several places.
DT: When you brought DONOR to life on the page how did the story and characters change? What stayed the same?
EH: The story line remained largely the same, but my characters developed minds of their own. For example, Lenore – the main character – is addicted to Xanax. She was originally supposed to kick the habit by the end of the book, but I realized it wouldn’t be in character for her to do so. Actually, I hate the phrase ‘in character’ because people act out of character all the time. Let me put it a different way: Lenore doesn’t kick the habit because she doesn’t *want* to kick the habit. As the author, I have to respect her decision.
Another example of character development gone wild is Richard, Lenore’s captor. He was initially slated for only a minor role, but I just couldn’t get him to stop talking. Once I decided to give his character a little more freedom, he drove the one scene in Donor that wasn’t in my original outline: Dinner Theater. It turned out to be a great addition to the narrative.
DT: I think that is a very interesting way to put it – “I have to respect her decision.” That attitude certainly made the characters all feel very true to life. Vampire or mortal human, their actions developed in a realistic way which amped up the suspense. For better or worse, I cared about these people and what was happening to them. Even Charles at times. Speaking of Charles, Dinner Theater was a great scene! Richard had a real sick sense of humor, but was a bit full of himself as well. Lenore’s disconnectedness and aloofness to Richard made for some humorous moments.
So back to your progression from dreamer to novelist, before writing DONOR did you warm up with short stories or just jump right into your first novel? How did Don D’Auria find you and how did you become part of the Samhain family?
EH: Glad you enjoyed dinner theater. And Richard has a sick sense of humor because he has mysense of humor. I wouldn’t know how to write him any other way. 🙂
Believe it or not, I didjump right into novel writing, but that’s because I had no intention of getting published. I just thought it would be fun to finally get a story out of my head. Once I started writing, however, I realized how much I cared about the quality of my project. I mean, I’d been living with these characters for such a long time — I didn’t want to let them down. Man, that even sounds nuts when I read it back to myself, but it’s true.
I decided to become a good writer so that I wouldn’t let my imaginary friends down.
But how would I know if I was any good? The answer seemed simple: publication. So I took a break from novel writing to work on short stories for a while. A few months later, I’d sold a story to a semi-pro market. This small success was such a thrill that it inspired me to seek publication for my novel, which I finished shortly thereafter.
Finding a publisher is a bit like applying to college: there are “reach” schools and there are “safety” schools. For Donor, Samhain was my “reach”, and I never expected them to give me the time of day. I’m still floored that Don D’Auria contacted me. I still can’t believe he read my book. I still can’t believe he wanted it for Samhain’s horror line. Don’s been great to work with, as has everyone on the Samhain team.
DT: I’m just fascinated by the fact that you took the story in your head and made it into a novel so (seemingly) easy. I’m interviewing Jonathan Janz as well, a fellow Samhain novelist, and the process for him has been much different, but I found both of your first efforts absolutely impressive.
Are you personally a fan of horror? Who are some of your literary influences in the genre and outside the genre?
EH: Maybe writing Donor seemed easy to me because it was so much fun. 🙂
To answer your question: YES, I’m a fan of horror. I read ‘Interview with the Vampire’ when I was in third grade and have been hooked ever since. I wouldn’t say that any of the authors in that genre have really influenced me, however, even though I’ve read a ton of Clive Barker and Stephen King. They write a lot of material with nebulous evil whereas I like my bad guys to be people you’d be able to have a conversation with. In that sense my biggest influences have probably been great character authors like Elmore Leonard or John Kennedy Toole.
DT: It’s fun to read as well!
Funny you should mention INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE because I was reminded of that story, in particular the approach of making vampires realistic and showing readers a world where they actually exist.
Which brings me to my next question. I love vampire stories and it is a genre trope I never tire of, so I don’t believe that a phenomenon like TWILIGHT can ruin vampires. With successful novels John Linqvist’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s vampire apocalypse trilogy THE STRAIN, it’s obvious there is still plenty of blood for thirsty fans. Still, these days when you say “vampire” you often get a roll of the eyes. Considering the current discontentedness with paranormal romance, were you at all concerned about whether or not a vampire novel would capture the interest of horror fiction fans?
Donor is definitely NOT a romantic tale and it can’t be categorized as paranormal romance, but do you think there is an inclination to tag vampire stories as romance these days with the wild success of books like Twilight and shows like The Vampire Diaries?
EH: I’m thrilled that you mentioned Twilight because I think the success of that series signifies something very important: In this age of instant gratification – with youtube playing on every cell phone – people are still reading. That’s huge. And I’m grateful to Stephanie Meyer for inspiring so many young people to turn off their televisions and pick up a book instead.
Has the whole phenomenon left people sick to death of vampires? Maybe. But I didn’t write Donor for anyone but myself; finding other readers was the last thing on my mind. When I decided to seek publication, however, the trend became more of a concern; I’m not a fan of paranormal romance (or romance in general) and certainly didn’t want Donor labelled as such. Thankfully, Samhain has taken great care to market it appropriately.
DT: I’d have to agree with your take on TWILIGHT; it is getting teens to read and for some it will be their gateway into horror. For some reason genre fans want to hold it solely responsible for ruining vampires or making them soft, but don’t want to give it credit for the positive.
In Donor you made an interesting juxtaposition between Lenore’s addiction to Xanax and Richard / Paul’s need for blood to survive. Lenore even criticizes them stating, “You either kill people or you don’t. That’s not one of those subjects where there’s a ton of gray area.” But it turns out, and Lenore finds out personally, that there is actually a lot of gray area.
You’ve mentioned the characters as having minds of their own. Is the commentary in DONOR about addiction and the complicated nature of killing a product of the character’s themselves or was that intentional?
EH: Lenore’s life revolves around her need for Xanax much in the same way that Richard and Paul’s lives revolve around their need for blood. That juxtaposition was intentional. What wasn’t intentional was the extent to which the characters would recognize how much they have in common. In the end, both Paul and Richard sympathize with Lenore’s addiction and even strive to provide her with meds. Likewise, Lenore comes to accept Paul and Richard’s habits without passing judgement.
DT: DONOR is a fun read, but it is also thought-provoking. Readers will be entertained but have something to chew on as well. Was it important to you for DONOR to be a fun, fast-paced read, but still have some meat on the bones? Or, again, was this a product of the characters’ motivation?
EH: I’m glad you found Donor thought provoking. A great deal of things that keep me up at night worked their way into the manuscript, such as quantum immortality, acceptance of death, and what it really means to be a monster. Those topics are in Donor because I wrote the book I wanted to read, and I like books that touch on larger themes.
DT: Now that DONOR has been published, you’re hard at work on another novel, FIX. Can you tell us about the next book? Any additional tidbits you can share that aren’t revealed on your website?
EH: Fix takes place in the same universe, but features zombies instead. It’s my take on zombies, though, meaning that they’re real people. The main characters constantly inject themselves with serum to prevent from rotting. And when the sole provider of serum goes missing, they set out to discover what happened to him – and they don’t have much time.
DT: I’m a big fan of DONOR so I’m looking forward to your next book. It may be a bit early to ask, but do you have a tentative date for the release of FIX??
EH: I refuse to commit to any deadlines! I write for fun and deadlines would definitely take the fun out of writing. I’m also working on a sequel to Donor and at this point I don’t know which book will be finished first.
DT: I know at least one of your fellow Samhain novelists that is hitting the horror con circuit, any book signings, conventions, or readings you will attend that fans need to know about?
EH: The horror con circuit probably isn’t for me. Honestly, that type of thing sounds like my worst nightmare. I love writing, but I don’t have any designs on being an ‘author’ if that makes any sense.
DT: Do you still suffer from insomnia?
EH: I had a particularly bad bout with insomnia earlier this week, as a matter of fact, and I was up until five in the morning. Thankfully, I had lots of friends in my head to keep me company 😉
DT: And last one. Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and he wants you to pick the other 4 guests. Who do you choose and why?
EH: I love the House on Haunted Hill question! I’m going to use this as an opportunity to list my four favorite horror movie characters of all time…and probably means I wouldn’t make it out alive.
1) Warwick Davis as the Leprechan. Seriously, watch Leprechaun in the Hood. The rap at the end is priceless.
2) Ash from The Evil Dead series. He is the fucking man.
3) Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige in the original Fright Night. I absolutely loved this movie growing up and thought the vampire next door seemed to have a great sense of humor.
4) Gizmo from Gremlins. If I’m stuck in the House on Haunted Hill, I’m pouring water all over Gizmo and feeding him after dark.
Who would survive? It’s anyone’s call, but my money’s on Ash.