Sam Stone – Interview

The third instalment of Sam Stone’s Vampire Gene trilogy has recently been published by The House Of Murky Depths. An original and compelling addition to the vampire oeuvre with which any fan of Horror or Fantasy should make themselves acquainted. Each book adds something new to the genre and the three books as a whole provide the reader with a thrilling adventure concluding with a genuinely shocking and surprising denouement.

Sam kindly agreed to an interview where she has shared her views on the three books and writing in general.

Kai Savage – The trilogy, as it stands (although I believe there may be another on the way), has a superbly convoluted plot. Characters and timelines twist in and out of each other to create an dazzling read. Despite this it never once become confusing. Elements must have been meticulously planned and yet at times it has the feel that you the author is on as much a journey as the characters. How much planning did you put into the trilogy as a whole and how much evolved naturally through the writing?

Sam Stone – The first book Killing Kiss was originally written for my MA dissertation in 2006. It started life as a class exercise where my tutor, Literary Author Janette Jenkins, gave us the task of ‘describing a fairground’. In that first orignal description Gabriele was born. Although I didn’t have a name for him at that time. What I realised, as I read my extract aloud to the class, was that I had a voice and a character that was really very interesting. By the next week I’d written another 30 pages and I knew this story was the one I wanted for my final piece. I was over half-way through the book when it occurred to me that I would be writing more in the series and at that time the Vampire Gene was born. I had plans from then on to write the second and third book, but they weren’t set, because as you know, these things often go in an interesting direction that you didn’t first plan.

After Killing Kiss won the silver award in America for Best Horror Novel, I signed the 3 book deal with The House of Murky Depths. Then I knew I HAD to write the other 2 books. In someways Lucrezia’s journey in Futile Flame was a personal journey. Deep down I found that whole ‘second book’ thing really scary. There’s this self-doubt that you can’t write it, that the first one was a fluke. But with all of that I did have this plan in my head and I knew the story had to be written. One of the beautiful things about knowing you’re writing a trilogy is that you have an overall story in your head from the start. So, as I wrote Futile Flame I was deliberately planting seeds in there that I knew I’d explain in Demon Dance. In this way there was a lot of thought and planning.

When I started writing Demon Dance the narrative and story just flowed because by then I was very sure what I was doing and where the story was going. In many ways Demon Dance, despite having to bring the whole story together, was the easiest of the three to write. I spent a lot of time planning it before I sat down and wrote the story – by that I mean mentally thinking around all of the problems and issues I had to solve. Thinking time is the best sort of planning and even if I’m not writing, I’m working on the next think anyway. Demon Dance is the longest book of the three, and I wrote 70,000 words of it in one month because it was so clear in my head. I also started to use triplets in my planning. For example I think of Demon Dance as Queen of the Damned meets Quantum Leap with a dash of Hellraiser.

The three books are a trilogy, definitely. But there will be more Vampire Gene books in the future as the characters are just too fascinating to leave alone.

KS – It is interesting to hear how the idea of Gabriele was born and that he was a character who really interested you. He features far less in the second book and then hardly at all in the third. Geoff Nelder writes on the back of Demon Dance that he wonders if you really are Lilly. Did other characters become more interesting to you in time and you found yourself exploring them, or had you always planned to tell the story from different viewpoints?

SS – I always planned to do the story from different viewpoints; it was necessary in order to reveal the origins of The Vampire Gene.  Plus – I felt at the time that I’d done all I wanted to with Gabriele for a while and I wanted to know more what made Lucrezia tick. Now that Lilly has asserted her dominance I think the fourth book will still be told from her perspective. It will, however, include Caesare and Gabriele much more as I want to explore the menage a trois that’s developing at the end of Demon Dance – I just have to look at that, right? I just can’t imagine how Gabriele will cope with having to share Lilly. Lol.

KS – You have mentioned prior to this interview that each book could almost belong to a different genre. Again was this genre-hopping a conscious decision from the start?

SS – I think I had a desire to get rapidly away from any semblance to paranormal romance when a rash of it hit the shelves. Some of this was good lit, but the whole genre had a stigma to it in the horror industry. Writers, particularly female ones, were being categorised as ‘romance writers’ if their works contained anything paranormal and the hint of romance. A book is what the author sets it out to be. To me, ‘Killing Kiss’ was a ‘horror novel’ – it just happened to have a little romance – but said romance wasn’t what the story was about, which is not the case in paranormal romance when the whole focus of the plot and story centres around it. After assumptions were made about what type of novels I wrote, I deliberately went into the realms of fantasy with ‘Futile Flame’ – it’s also far more brutal and there isn’t any romance in it at all. With ‘Demon Dance’ I wanted to explore it further and the time-travel element made it sway a little towards sci-fi. Although, to be fair, I see DD as more of a ‘Portal Fantasy’. So in a way, the idea of blurring the genres came during the writing of the second book and I liked the fact that it is probably the only trilogy that does this. Despite being deliberately different, I think they still hang together well as a complete story.

KS – Often authors who don’t stick to a defined genre, mention difficulties in marketing themselves, I would imagine being a continuing series and having the Vampire theme uniting everything somewhat mitigates these problems, is this true?

SS – Publishers like to categorise novels and writers to make marketing them easier. Hence assumptions of ALL vampire stories being called Romance. I noticed in Waterstones recently that they now have two sections. ‘Dark Fantasy’ has sprung up alongside ‘Paranormal Romance’ – I feel quite okay about being put in ‘Dark Fantasy’. There is something sinister about the name after all … lol… Strangely enough a lot of people have been referring to the series as ‘Urban Fantasy’ and I can see that too. To publishers and booksellers it just depends what the latest fad is as to what slot they want to fit you in. Oriiginally there were very definite categories i.e Horror/Thriller/Fantasy/Supernatural/Romance/Crime/Science Fiction/historical/Drama for example, and they did cross over frequently. In the last few years the sub-genres have become more confused and new terms are being applied to books that would have previously just been inserted into one of the above. It’s partly why I find it so hard to actually categorise myself. All of my books could fit into to so many genres. That’s why I just call myself a horror/fantasy writer. I know I often mix the two genres to suit the needs of the piece I’m writing and have dabbled in Crime, Thrillers and Science Fiction in the new collection, but I still think that overall what I do falls best into this category.

KS – You write about places with a fondness and familiarity. Manchester and Wales are clearly places you know well. What about Italy? It is probably the most featured location in the three books do you have a particular affinity with the country?

SS – I love Italy – but have barely been to the place unfortunately. I went to Venice to research for ‘Killing Kiss’ though. It was the most dreadful holiday. We went over for Christmas and New Year of 2004. Then the Tsunami hit on Boxing Day and Venice also got all of these awful storms. I also ended up with Labrynthitus for the first time and had all these dizzy spells. Later in 2005, I went to Sicily – again, holiday from hell (but that’s another story). So really I should hate the place!! I do have an emotional attachment to Florence because of the historical significance to music. It’s somewhere I must go one day! I’d love to see the Arno for real.

I was born in Manchester and its always good to write about what you know, that way you have a clear picture of your environment. Plus I didn’t think anyone else had put Vampires in Manchester University, so it seemed a good idea. Wales is my spiritual home though, and I love writing about it as it has the most beautiful landscape I’ve ever seen. It’s very inspiring. It also appeals to my fascination with Celtic and Pagan religions. Living here has enhanced my creativity for sure. I’ll definitely be writing more about Wales in the future. I’d love Rhuddlan Castle to become a mecca for Vampire fans too. Wouldn’t that be cool?

KS – I’m glad you’ve mentioned music. The Vampire Gene trilogy is littered with references to films and music. How much does art, film and music influence you and how do you respond to these other mediums within your writing?

SS – When I wrote ‘Killing Kiss’ I was currently studying as a classical soprano. Later I went on to teach singing and I used to have a drama school with my friend singer/songwriter Risa Hall (who is also an Ex-broadway and West End star). We loved teaching and put on many shows for charity. My love of music and opera is where the original influences for Gabriele’s uncle – Guilio Caccini – came from. He was the man who invented opera after all! Of course there wasn’t orignally a ‘Gabriele’ related to Guilio. That is totally fictional.

I also love old movies and those cultural references just seem come out of me at the right moments. I think we all draw on things around us as we write, particularly the influences of our younger years. Typical references that went in the first book were from the 80’s. I loved the music and the movies of the era. One of my favorites was ‘Love at First Bite’ and I remember the club scene where Dracula (George Hamilton) dances with Cindy Suntime (Susan James) to ‘I Love the Night Life’ by Alicia Bridges. I made a reference to it playing in the Lucrezia’s club deliberately as a little salute to the film. That is just one example – but I have got a tendency to do that a lot. I do it because at that moment I’m touching on something within the stories that reminds me of the past I suppose. Sometimes it’s where the best humour comes in as well. But I expect all writers do that.

KS – You have mentioned your fascination with Celtic and Pagan religions (Just a few months back Britain officially recognised Druidism as a religion). Is your interest purely historical or is there a modern-day practical side to your interest?

SS – I’m a Reiki Master (Usui & Celtic) so obviously I do believe in a spiritual universe. The philosophy behind it is that we’re all made of this energy – universal lifeforce energy. When you get sick either, mentally, physically or spiritually Reiki practitioners believe it is because your aura is compromised. When you give Reiki you raise the vibrations in a person’s aura, removing any negative vibes. It might sound a bit flaky if you don’t believe in this sort of thing but actually it’s very practical. Reiki works on ‘positive’ energy and because of that is a very good thing. Have you ever been around someone who is negative all the time? It brings you down and that’s because you take their negativity into your own aura. I’m a very positive person because of this. If you’re positive you bring good things to yourself. I think of my faith as ‘spiritual’ because I believe in lots of things.

KS – How do you structure your writing day and where do you write?

SS – My usual writing time is first thing in the morning. I wake up anytime from 6am and switch my laptop on straight away. Then I spend about half an hour checking emails and Facebook. After that I go back to whatever I’m working on – usually read through and edit the last few pages and then move forward. My writing space is a bit unusual, because I like to write on my bed with my laptop. I need to be comfortable or I find it to be a total distraction. I also like no noise whatsoever. I don’t like music playing or any chaos at all. Once I’m really comfortable I write for about 4-6 hours solidly. Occasionally stopping to get a drink or breakfast. I also have mini-breaks in which I go to my emails again, or reply to something on facebook because my phone notifies me there’s a message.

Anytime around 12 or 1pm I stop work and go and get lunch. My afternoons are usually spent doing other things. Sometimes it’s editing work for other people or projects, or I go and pack up orders for David’s company, Telos Publishing. There’s always Invoices or Delivery notes to prepare and couriers to organise.

If I’m on a personal deadline though, I just write all day. My record so far was 8,000 words in a day. That was when I was writing ‘Demon Dance’ – I was very obsessed with it and I wrote 70,000 words of it in a month. But my average is usually 3-5,000. I like to get it to 5, but it depends on other commitments.

I try to write something everyday and that dedication and commitment has really paid off; the more I work the easier it gets. If I have time off, getting motivated becomes hard again. I compare it to going to the gym – when you go regularly you enjoy it, but break the habit and it’s really hard to get back into that routine. Writing is the same for me, I’m felxing creative muscles and the more their used the more effortless it becomes.

KS – Recently (at FantasyCon 2010) you were on a panel entitled There Are No Small Presses (Only Small Writers), it’s that section in parenthesis that I want to concentrate on for a moment. We’ve spoken a couple of times now about how important it is for a writer to engage with their readers and to be self-promoting. In the world of modern publishing (especially at the independent Press end of the wedge) what do you think, are the primary tools, a writer needs in order to be successful?

SS – It is a writer’s responsibility to promote their work, especially in Independent Press. I’ve found that it helps if you engage with people. I enjoy social interaction on Facebook, Goodreads and blogging and I suspect that’s why it works for me. It’s not hard for me to be interested in other people on there, because I am interested in what they are doing. I see it as a whole network of ‘friends’, rather than exclusively potential readers. Fortunately a large number of those people are readers and they buy my books as well which is an added bonus. But I know that if the books themselves weren’t any good then they wouldn’t keep coming back for the next one and the next … I do consciously try to respond to every comment that’s left and every message I receive in my inbox as well. It’s about treating people respectfully. I think sometimes I get book sales because the person really likes the chats I have with them or the silly comments I might put on their page. Then when they get the book, they are really surprised at how they ‘can’t put it down’ – which is the thing they invariably say. One thing I love, but also concerns me a bit about Facebook, is that you really start to think you know people personally when you’ve exchanged emails with them, or had a conversation. It’s a good and a bad thing. When I meet someone from facebook, twitter etc I always greet them like an old friend because of this. Oddly – I feel like they are!

Ultimately, though, if you haven’t got a good product to sell then you are wasting your time. No amount of publicity will sell something if it isn’t good enough. That’s why it’s very difficult for new writers to sell that first book. No one has anything to judge it by. I’ve noticed that the publication of the third book has had a huge impact on sales of the first two recently. I have been discussing this with other writer friends and the general concensus is that the more you write the more chance you have of selling. Especially as the reviews appear and the voice of the reader says its good.

Promotion is hard work. I spend about 2 days a week on it and the more writing I have to promote, the more doors have opened for me but it actually makes a little more work as well. Just organising a book signing tour takes up hours of my day. But I realised very early on that if I didn’t do it, no one would.

KS – And lastly; what is next for Sam Stone the author and what long term goals do you have?

SS – My collection is due out in Feb 2011 published by Telos Publishing and currently I’m in the middle of two different projects. I’d obviously love something I’ve written to make it to screen and I’m currently in talks with an American production company but can’t say more at this time. You never know where these things are going to end up after all.

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