I’m excited to welcome paranormal romance author Elisabeth Staab to the blog. Elisabeth is the author of the acclaimed Chronicles of Yavn series. (You’ll love her books if you are a fan of J.R. Ward!) She sat down to talk with us about writing and reading paranormal, vampires, and the secret sauce to creating steamy love scenes.
Nevena: Thanks you so much for joining us, Elisabeth! Why do you write paranormal romance?
Elisabeth: Thanks so much for having me!
I fell in love with vampires way back during hair braiding and Cheetos munching sessions at a slumber party, when I first saw Michael kiss Star inThe Lost Boys. I point to that as my big moment growing up when I realized that these otherworldly creatures could be something more than just horror monsters. In general, the whole “unexplained phenomena” business always rang my bell. I was the one who told ghost stories and pulled out the Ouija board at parties. So many of us thrive on that mystery, I think. The “what if” factor. What if the leather-clad biker gassing up his crotch-rocket across from you at the Shell station is really a vampire on his way out to fight the bad guys who are threatening his turf? You never know.
As an adult, I thought I was not a romance reader until I stumbled upon vampire romance. I re-discovered these creatures I loved so much, along with the grit, passion, and emotion that I could identify with as an adult. It was like coming home.
Nevena: You found your calling. Your Chronicles of Yavn series pits vampires against wizards. How did you come up with this world? Walk us through your creative process.
Elisabeth: I think it’s fun to twist expectations. I knew my vampires would be the heroes in my Chronicles of Yavn world, because the sexy romance hero vampires were the ones who truly inspired me to write. I decided on a vampire race that was struggling to modernize while still possessing ancient supernatural powers. I needed a villain, so I started thinking of various types of mages and wizards. Creatures that also used magical powers. Characters that are typically good guys. Healers. So I flipped the definition. My wizards are soulless, evil, unredeemable murderers. They destroy. All but one, who happened to fall in love with a vampire and betray his kind for her. He’s the hero of my second book, Prince of Power.
Once I started thinking about the possibilities and how they might come together, it was tough to stop. I was rocking my newborn son to sleep one night and saw a confused vampire standing in the middle of a warehouse party. That turned out to be the opening scene in King of Darkness.
Nevena: Wow. The third book in the series, Hunter by Night, comes out in early 2014. How have the characters transformed over the course of the trilogy? What was it like charting their course and developing their stories?
Elisabeth: Thrilling! King of Darkness, my debut novel, was also literally the first novel I ever wrote, so there’s been a learning curve. Putting a series together is something I’m still feeling my way through. I can say, though, that I have absolutely loved getting to know the characters and watching them evolve over time. There’s a vampire in my series, Siddoh, who I’ve fallen in love with. At the beginning he seemed like a real asshole, but I realized as I got to know him that he’s hiding behind a lot of loneliness and insecurity. That’s the kind of stuff I so enjoy. The couple in Hunter by Night is one I’m really excited for because it’s been building over the course of the last couple of books, and it pairs a very old vampire who hates humans with the vampire queen’s human best friend. There’s a lot of anticipation for their story.
Nevena: Yes, Alexia and Lee go way back! So how did you take the classic vampire mythology and make it your own? What would you say to people who think that vampires are now passé?
Elisabeth: In a genre full of ancient vampires and massive alpha males, I started King of Darkness with a vampire king who is young and inexperienced. He’s unsure about how to lead his kind, let alone how to woo the reluctant female who is supposed to be his prophesied mate. He’s honorable and sexy, but he’s very flawed. So creating flawed, almost human vampires with supernatural capabilities and bending some of the traditional genre tropes were a couple of the ways I went about making my series unique.
I think with any widely-written genre, whether it’s vampires or Navy SEALS, it’s about taking what’s commonly accepted and familiar, then finding the tweaks that make it yours. I just finished reading the dystopian young adult novel The Farm by Emily McKay; the writer has taken vampires full-circle. The vampires are horror creatures again in her world, and she’s done it in a way that I found really gripping. I think it’s that kind of diversity in writing vampires that has kept them fresh and will continue to entertain readers.
I wrote King of Darkness largely because I kept trying to scratch an itch, and one day I felt inspired to see if maybe I could write my own. I knew I’d have a challenge in front of me, and as a reminder word “Yavn” in the Chronicles of Yavn is actually an acronym for Yet Another Vampire Novel. People kept saying it wasn’t going to sell, but as a reader I kept looking for more. I knew other readers had to be with me.
Nevena: A romance novel without good love scenes is a bust. What is your ‘secret sauce’ when it comes to writing those?
Elisabeth: I’ve heard a lot of authors say that the key is knowing your characters, and I think that’s really true. Backstory and character POV affects everything from where those two people (or vampires, or werewolves) make love to what position, whether or not they talk dirty, where they touch, and what they notice about each other. I like to split the point of view in my sex scenes so that you can see what’s going on from both characters’ perspective, especially if it’s a very long one that spans several scenes. Since love scenes in romance are an important moment to show your characters bonding, to show a turning point in their relationship, or to show that one has just solidified, I feel like showing how each participant experiences that moment is great. Sometimes I also like to make awkward moments pop up, because these things happen. If every time two romance characters made love it was nothing but choirs singing and the heavens opening up things might get a little ho-hum.
In Prince of Power, for example, my adult hero confesses to his heroine that he’s a virgin right before the first time they make love. It’s incredibly uncomfortable for both of them, and it threatens to cool the mood. I show the foreplay starting from his POV and him dropping the bomb, then I break and cut to the heroine having her “WTF?” response. He has to do a little convincing to get the mood back on track.
Nevena: Wow, thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes-under-the-sheets look at how sex scenes get written. What do you do to keep polishing your craft? Do you have favorite blogs or writing guides?
Elisabeth: Oh, I’m a total nerd! I learn best by doing. So I try to take online workshops whenever possible so I can follow along with the examples. Some faves are Carrie Lofty’s “Deep POV,” “Write Naked with Wendy Lynn Watson,” and Lori Wilde’s high concept workshop. I do also follow blogs—Romance University is one of my favorites, I also follow Chuck Wendig’s blog and Writer Unboxed. I follow Janice Hardy on Twitter; she often shares really great stuff from her own blog as well as others. I own a few books by Donald Maas as well as Lori Wilde’s book on Got High Concept?, Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat, Stephen King’s On Writing, and Wired for Story. Those are all great ones.
Nevena: I hope our members are taking notes! You mentioned a concern that your books wouldn’t sell. As a writer, do you try to follow the trends and fluctuations of the book market? How does that affect your process?
Elisabeth: I do and I don’t. I’m always interested in what’s going on in the marketplace but as “they” say, you can’t follow trends. If I followed trends I would’ve stopped writing about vampires, and I love vampires. Vampires got me published! Sometimes you have a contract and you have to write the book you’re (more or less) told to, but I believe the best book you write is going to be the one that gets you really jazzed-up when you think about sitting down at the keyboard. You’ve got to write for love, not trends.
Nevena: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome to get published?
Elisabeth: Starting out there is a lot to learn in this industry, and you don’t know where to learn it from. I think that’s a hurdle we all have to overcome. I didn’t know how bad my writing was. I didn’t know how to pitch or how to write a synopsis; I didn’t know anything about what to look for in an agent or good versus bad contract terms. Joining RWA helped tremendously, because it helped put me in touch with other more experienced authors; it helped me find workshops and I am still friendly with some of the folks I met in those workshops. It’s a fabulous place to find beta readers and critique partners. And although they can be pricey, going to the occasional conference has helped as well. Meeting other authors and swapping industry advice is invaluable. If you’re shy, start with a small conference, but getting out and getting to know other authors is worth its weight in gold.
Nevena: So there’s always a learning curve! Finally, do you have any advice for upcoming writers?
Elisabeth: Let’s see. The best advice I ever got was to: a) Join RWA—treat writing like your job whether you’re published or not; b) Focus on emotion, not action; and, c) Don’t ever give up. That last one sounds simple, but writers take a lot of knocks from bad reviews to our in-laws wanting to know when we’ll get a real job. Plow ahead, no matter what.
I would add to those, find a good critique partner who’s on your level—again, writing workshops and places like Book Country are awesome for that. Someone you can trust to be harsh with you without being nasty is worth their weight in gold. Treasure them, and always remember their birthday. I’m not kidding. Also, slow down and carefully research before you make your decisions. If you’re not sure about something, find someone who might be, and ask (this is where making friends in online workshops and at conferences comes in handy). I have found that most authors are willing to share their knowledge (and if they don’t have time to answer you, asking them probably won’t make lightning strike where you sit). Like I said, there’s sooo much to learn in this industry. I started writing when my youngest son was born, and he’ll be four this summer. I’ve learned a ton in that time, but in so many ways I’m still a newbie. I also wouldn’t be where I am had I not had help from many other wiser, more experienced folks. Don’t try to make the scary decisions on your own.
Nevena: What a nice way to wrap this up. Thank you SO much for joining us. It’s been inspiring.
Elisabeth Staab still lives with her nose in a book and at least one foot in a fantasy world. She digs cats, coffee, sexy stories, and friendly things that go bump in the night. Find out more at ElisabethStaab.com and follow her on Twitter @ElisabethStaab and Facebook.