Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the West Texas novel The Paragraph Ranch.
Rachel Caine is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of more than forty novels, including Prince of Shadows, the Morganville Vampires series, the Weather Warden series, the Outcast Season series, and the Revivalist series.
Praise for Rachel Caine's work
"Caine's world where books and libraries dominate is not for the faint of heart.... What's not to love? Imagine Harry Potter where the real magic is found within the pages of ancient texts. This book proves the adage that knowledge is power." —RT Book Reviews (4-1/2 stars, Top Pick)
'We suggest dumping Stephenie Meyer's Twilight books and replacing them with the Morganvilles.” —SFX Magazine
“(Weather Warden). . .it's a rollicking good ride. Caine's prose crackles with energy, as does her fierce and lovable heroine.”
“The Weather Warden series is fun reading.” —Booklist
"Narrator Angela Dawe imparts just the right amount of emotion and urgency to the tale. Verdict . . . is a must-listen for fans of the series and will be enjoyed by those who like their vampire stories on the lighter side." —Library Journal Audio Review
The prolific Rachel Caine may be Texas’s version of Stephen King on account of her incredible title output. She has been known to write several books a year—for decades—and was at the forefront of the urban fantasy movement in literature.
Caine is the New York Times bestselling author of more than forty-five novels to date, and many short stories, including fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, young adult fiction, mystery, thriller, and horror. Her notable series include The Morganville Vampires, Weather Warden, Revivalist, Red Letter Days, and Outcast Season novels. She graduated from Socorro High School in El Paso and earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Texas Tech University. Her first short story was published in 1990 and her first novel in 1991.
After a long career in business (including working as an office manager, payroll manager, insurance investigator, web designer, graphic designer, and corporate communications executive) she began writing full time in 2009.
She and her husband live and work in Fort Worth.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: What inspired you to become a writer?
RACHEL CAINE: When I was about fourteen years old, a teacher gave my class an assignment: write a short story using a “prompt sentence. I still remember the sentence: it was “The clock struck twelve, and everything changed.” I was entranced with this assignment. I wrote and wrote, and ended up with about a fifteen-page story about two wizards dueling it out for control of an old Western town at high noon ... well before Harry Potter. My teacher was so excited she encouraged me to keep writing, and I have. So I owe it, in large part, to her inspiration.
Was there a key turning point where you thought “I can make a living doing this”? And what decisions did you make when you had that epiphany?
I was very reluctant to make that leap. I like paychecks. Paychecks are nice. They have things like insurance, and medical, and dental attached to them. But at a certain point — in 2009, as it happens — I realized that I was running myself into the ground mentally, emotionally and physically, trying to do five books a year while working a stressful seventy-hour-a-week job. The money was awesome. The blood pressure, not so much. I was finally at a point in my career (after only eighteen years, at that point) that I could make the leap into full-time writing, and so I did. Reluctantly.
But it’s been great, honestly. The problem is that it’s always drought or flood, famine or feast, so learning to keep a constant flow of creative projects is really important.
Who gave you your first real break, and how did that occur? It seemed like the pen name Rachel Caine was a talisman that jump-started your success. How did that come about?
My first break came from a guy named Ed Andrews, who hired me based on an unfinished partial to write a media tie-in novel for a role-playing game. Based on that, I sold original novels (four of them) to Kensington ... and then ran into the age-old problem: my books weren't selling very well. So I’d gotten married, and changed my name, and changed my focus a bit from writing horror/mystery to mystery/romance. Those (with Signet) also didn’t do so well. The third try was the charm, when we pitched the Weather Warden series ... but because of the sales of prior books, it was important to make a clean break and have a new name. Hence, Rachel Caine got to start fresh, and this time, it was the right material in the right place at the right time to get traction with readers. Since then, I’ve experimented with a couple of other pen names, but mainly, I write under Rachel Caine these days.
I’ve read that you write several novels a year. How do you achieve such productivity? What is your creative process like?
I treat it as a job. A creative job, but no different for me than when I was working as, say, a graphic designer: I could be as creative as I wanted, but I had timelines I had to meet, and I had to order my workflow to fit. We sometimes like to mythologize writing as something very different from other creative endeavors, but in essence, it’s doing X amount of work X amount of days, and you end up with something you can edit into shape.
I’m not saying I don’t screw up: I do! (And have this very month, by managing to train-wreck three deadlines together.) But if you understand that you need measurable, achievable targets, and don’t externalize your problems into things like “writer's block” — which neatly puts your problems beyond your control! — then you can work doggedly through the slow parts and get to where you need to be.
(Note: there are legit reasons for being unable to write ... illness, emotional problems, depression, all kinds of crises of that sort truly beyond your control. But a lot of people use “writer's block” to explain procrastination, frustration, inability to focus. Those things can be vanquished.)
Then, if you’re like me, you take a few days off, and start again. That’s my process.
Your Morganville Vampires YA series was so popular with fans that they created a Kickstarter campaign to turn it into an online show. What was that like?
Actually, we had major film/TV options on Morganville for years that never quite came together, and the fans were really, really eager to see something happen ... so I partnered with producer and director Blake Calhoun to set up the Kickstarter, and it worked! We had more than 800 fans put up real cash money to help us make it! Then we were so lucky to get matching funds from Felicia Day and her Geek & Sundry network, which allowed us to do a really lovely production, DVDs, and streaming video. We’re hoping for a Season 2!
My readers are so passionate, wonderful, and amazing. They have been brilliantly supportive the whole way. It’s so inspirational!
Why do you think the vampire phenomenon continues to intrigue readers?
There's a bit of a cycle to it, but vampires have always been popular since the first stories began appearing in the mid-1800s ... there’s always been a vampire lurking at the shadows of the literary world, and from time to time they take center stage.
The interesting thing is that each time they emerge, they have another interpretation. In Dracula, it’s pretty clear the subtext is about Victorian attitudes about sex and the changing role of women in society; in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, it was still about sex, but also about blood-borne diseases, like AIDS, and the costs of living forever.
Then there were the good-at-heart vampire detective books, like P. N. Elrod's Vampire Files novels and Lee Killough's Garreth Mikalean novels, which reflected in TV shows like Forever Knight. Vampires migrated over as sexy bad boys into urban fantasy and romance. By the time vampires reignited in huge popularity in the mid-2000s in the form of Twilight, they were involved in a class struggle — the vampires who wanted to live without killing, and those who saw it as a birthright.
Every one of those is an interesting take on a legend that began life as a scary story in the candlelight, and I don't think we’re done with them yet. Vampires still have the power to reflect our own fears and desires right back at us in ways other supernatural creatures can’t. They'll be back!
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
The landscape of the writing world is so different today that it’s almost too easy to be published ... self-published, at least. Without the built-in structure and struggle of having to constantly hone and improve, it can be easy to get too confident too quickly, put your work out, and get crushed by the vast, uncaring world of reviews ... so be sure you’re ready. A book is not a solo work ... it’s a dialogue between you and a reader, and you don’t get to have the only say once it’s released to the world. So do multiple drafts. Engage beta readers to be sure they get from it what you intended. If you’re self-publishing, hire a professional editor to take you through the steps. If you’re not, submit to small press and larger publishers using the established methods.
But most of all, write. Write as much as you can. You are developing a skill, and that takes time and energy, just like practicing a sport or music or dance ... the more you do it, the better your teachers, the better you’ll be.
And don’t forget to READ. Reading is integral to understanding the rhythms of how to tell stories. Learn what’s being done in the genre you want to write; learn what’s being done in other genres. Read widely and often.
Last, have patience. This is a long, long game. (See my earlier explanation about all my multiple identities!)
Which writers inspired you when you were growing up?
I mainly read science fiction and fantasy, but I also loved adventure stories, so Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were critical to me, and so was Baroness Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel series. I obsessively read Anne McCaffrey, Ursula LeGuin, Tanith Lee, Roger Zelazny ... so many others, I can’t begin to name them all. I think every book I read inspired me in some way — simply by being there, to be read, it made it clear that it was a thing I might someday be able to do.
You were at the forefront of the urban fantasy genre in the early nineties. Which Texas urban fantasy writers do you enjoy reading?
We have a really rich group of writers here! I mentioned P. N. Elrod earlier; she was one of my first contacts in the business world, and I still love her books. Rosemary Clement-Moore is also an amazing author (and underrated, I think), as are Jaye Wells, Krissi Dallas, C. C. Hunter/Christie Craig ... and Texas also boasts giant talents like Joe Lansdale, Martha Wells, Charlaine Harris, Vicki Petterssen ... honestly, there are so many I know I’m leaving important names out already. And I love all of them, personally and professionally.
What I’m also thrilled to see is a new, very diverse bunch of voices beginning to come out of Texas now as well! Can't wait to see the exciting new directions they take our imaginations.
Last, and not least: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
I want the ability to manipulate TIME. Because then I’d never miss a deadline!
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