I'm pleased to welcome the writing team of Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall to Book of Secrets. They are the authors of The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Darkly Romantic Mystery. Hello, Clark and Kathleen!
Please tell us a little about your background.
Kathleen was raised in Washington, DC, and her experiences there, from protests and riots to hanging out in the corridors of the Supreme Court and wandering around the Capitol, filled her sense of place with history and granite. A geologist by training, she excelled in scientific writing, translating complex research papers into engaging articles. Those skills are now focused on paranormal fiction.
Clark was born in Texas, grew up in Scotland and then Montana where he was raised on a working ranch and did all the expected cowboy things — riding, roping, hunting, branding cattle and communing with the spirit of nature. The openness of the landscape and the solitude (the nearest neighbor was five miles away, the nearest town – 2,500 people – was 30 miles away) provided a constant source of inspiration, very little distractions and a chance to really be alone with his thoughts. In this solitude, he found his calling — writing — early.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Clark: I started writing creatively in fourth grade. I still remember putting together stories with ridiculously long strings of adjectives that made my classmates laugh. I was hooked. I must have received some great support from my family and teachers because I developed an unshakable faith in my writing. I’m sure they were greatly challenged by the poetry phase that came next. At Montana State, I took some poetry and writing classes from talented people and continued to write creatively, without stop. I currently work as a Communications strategist for a national financial services company but I prefer fiction and poetry to earnings releases and company newsletters.
Kathleen: I fell into the writing life without any real intent – my early career was spent working as a petroleum geologist until I discovered that writing about science and energy was more fun than fieldwork and petrographic analysis. I freelanced for more than a decade, was a staff writer for McGraw-Hill and a regional stringer for Financial Times/Energy. Now I work for a major university where I still get to write about science along with health and policy. But it was about 10 years ago, when Clark and I wrote this book, that I decided to commit the remainder of my life and energy to serious long-form writing and to make creative writing the focus of an artistic life.
Please tell us a little about your latest release.
"The Cowboy and the Vampire" brings together two enduring archetypes in a fast-paced, action adventure that’s equal parts six-shooters and bloodcurdling Gothic horror. There’s also true (and passionate) love, a double-helping of comedy, a smart new twist on the Vampire myth, an overly-sensitive cow dog named Rex … and some doomed alpacas.
Tucker, a laconic, down-on-his-luck cowboy with duct-taped boots, is the proud owner of a few acres of dusty Wyoming grassland, a trailer, a modest herd of cattle, two horses and has $24 in his checking account. He falls for Lizzie, an ambitious New York City reporter with her eye on a Pulitzer … and a brownstone in Manhattan. Turns out, the cultural differences in their unlikely romance are the least of their worries.
Unbeknownst to Lizzie, an ancient power runs through her veins and whomever controls it will win a centuries-old Vampire war. Only Tucker and Rex stand between Lizzie and the hordes of Vampires bent on her destruction and a world of perpetual darkness.
Who will be left when the sun rises? You’ll have to read it to find out.
What was your source of inspiration behind this book?
The book was inspired by our own romantic entanglement and served as a test for our subsequent marriage. We’d come close to making our relationship work but then took a painful break for two years. When we crashed back together, we decided if we could work together well on a creative project, it was likely we could stay together romantically. We picked cowboys and Vampires because Clark grew up on a ranch in Montana and was enchanted the landscape and myths of West. Kathleen, while no one can prove she is a Vampire, grew up in Washington, DC, and is fascinated by the neurology of religious beliefs, something that fed into our take on Vampires.
About 11 years ago, we sat in a truck stop in Madras, Oregon, drinking bad coffee in the smoking section trying to rekindle our relationship and sketching the plot out on the back of a paper placemat in crayon. So we decided to come up with a compelling topic that brought together our interests. We put together these two popular archetypes so we could move through the landscapes we both love, develop characters that resonated with our experiences, explore some big concepts — like good and evil — all wrapped up in a narrative that mirrored our own “opposites attract” relationship.
Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in your book/series? Were there challenges or obstacles you had to overcome?
Creating a new Vampire world that didn’t seem too stuffy or expected or boring was a challenge, but a fun challenge. We spent months researching the many interpretations of Vampires and then creating a whole new world that brings together religious fervor with biological imperatives.
Our Vampires don’t have fangs, but they are stronger than humans and much harder to kill. At dawn, they die, completely, and are reborn every night when the sun goes down. That opens up some interesting areas to consider including near death experiences and the possibility of a shared, external consciousness.
There are two distinct Vampire lines: the Messianic line, a caste of nobles dating back to the earliest days of Christianity, and the less refined Reptilian line. The Messianic Vampire bloodline is genetically dormant so that humans who carry it must be “turned” by Vampires with a unique power. The Messianic Vampires are guided by a biblical coda ostensibly requiring them to feed only on evil humans — thus helping contain and eliminate evil in the world. The Reptilians, on the other hand, reproduce the old fashioned way and have no biblical moral constraints. Originating with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, they feed on whomever they wish, whenever they wish, and live in a glorious world of immediately-satiated desires.
In "Blood and Whiskey," we explore the political side of this shadow empire that has existed for thousands of years.
How many books do you have planned for the series?
We have a trilogy planned, building on the world and following characters created in TCATV. We are currently in the second edit of "Blood and Whiskey," the first book in the trilogy and it should be available by the first of the year in 2012.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Elita, a sexy, sultry and joyously amoral creature of the night, was perhaps our greatest creation with allegiances that shift on a whim, a cruel streak wider than New York alleyway and insatiable sexual appetites. We probably both envy her lack of boundaries.
What was one of the most interesting things you learned in researching your book?
We were struck the by the fact that the concept of a Vampire existed across cultures and for centuries before Dracula ever hissed his way onto the scene. From the vrykolakas in Greek mythology to the Loogaroo from Caribbean cultures, humans have feared blood sucking creatures of the night.
What is your writing process like?
A nuclear explosion inside a dirty martini.
What is the best part of being a writer? What is the most difficult part?
Falling in love and marrying another writer. Actually, that works for both parts of the question.
How do you deal with writer's block?
We actually don’t believe in writer’s block; or more accurately, we don’t allow it into our lives. We both write professionally and years of deadline writing have taught us to never back down from the challenge of a blank page. It certainly is helpful to write as a team though. On those days when one of us has “writer’s exhaustion,” the other can pick up the slack knowing the favor will be returned soon enough.
If you could travel to another time and place, when and where would it be?
Kathleen: I would like to meet Dostoyevsky, so Russia circa 1870.
Clark: I wouldn’t mind experiencing America before it was settled by Europeans, or short of that, meeting Mark Twain.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for paranormal romance?
The future is wide open. But we think it will be dominated by books featuring cowboys and vampires.
What does romance mean to you?
Clark: Romance to me means always putting the needs of the person you love above your own and reminding yourself to put energy into making them happy on a regular basis.
Kathleen: Electric conversations.
What are your guility pleasures in life?
Clark: Graphic novels. I cannot quit them.
Kathleen: Cigarettes, but I quit them.
Who is your biggest supporter?
Where is your favorite place to read?
Clark: Next to Kathleen, in bed.
Kathleen: Next to Clark, in bed (with my Kindle).
What was the last amazing book you read?
Clark: The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (Vaillant)
Kathleen: Hypothermia: A Thriller (Indridason)
Other than writing, what are some of your passions in life?
We are both voracious readers, enthusiastic but unskilled tennis players and we enjoy the outdoors. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we’re able to slip away to the coast, to temperate rainforests, to volcanic mountains and to the high desert.
What can readers expect next from you?
We are hard at work on the first book in a trilogy that picks up where TCATV left off. Titled Blood and Whiskey, it dives deeper into the relationship between Tucker and Lizzie, and takes the Vampire myth in a new direction. It should be available by early 2012. In the meantime, readers should check out Red Winter, a novella by Clark and edited by Kathleen. It’s available as an ebook on Amazon and from Smashwords.
Can you leave readers with a little teaser of excerpt from your book?
This scene takes place after a VERY romantic interlude high in the mountains just before the Vampires show up and ruin everything. Tucker convinces Lizzie to go skinny dipping and the water is much colder than expected:
She let out a blood-curdling shriek and sprinted buck naked for the house, narrowly missing Dad’s truck as he clattered up over the hill. If she was embarrassed she chose not to show it, just kept on running until she hit the cabin and slammed the door closed behind her.
Dad got out and hitched up his pants. “Bet that water’s cold.”
I pulled on my pants and boots and nodded my head. “Yep. What the hell are you doing up here?”
“Tucker, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your trailer burned down.”
“What? Are you sure?”
“I think I know what a burnt trailer looks like.”
“Everything?” I asked, and he nodded.
We walked to the cabin and found Lizzie inside, fully dressed, wrapped in a blanket and sitting by the fire holding a cup of tea.
She looked at me hard. “You said it wasn’t cold. Jump in, you said. Invigorating, you said.”
“Tucker always did have a strange sense of humor,” Dad said, pouring himself a cup of coffee from the pot as I pulled on a flannel shirt.
“I wonder who I got that from?” I asked.
“Tucker’s trailer burned down,” Dad repeated to Lizzie.
“What?” Lizzie asked.
“Am I that hard to understand? It burned down. Ain’t nothing left. Coffee’s a tad bitter.”
“That’s the only coffee I got. Did Roy come out?” Roy was the fire chief in LonePine. He was also the brand inspector, justice of the peace, and sold vitamins mail order. Dad nodded a confirmation.
“What’d he say?” I asked.
“He said it looked like your trailer burned down.”
Where can readers find you on the web?
Our website -- http://www.cowboyandvampire.com/ -- has a lot of fun content including an Ask a Cowboy advice column, an irreverent Vlog (a Vampire blog) and lots of juicy secrets about what it’s like to write together. We also spend a lot of time at www.facebook.com/cowboyandvampire so please check it out and join in on the fun.
On their book tour, Clark and Kathleen are giving away the following prizes:
1 signed first edition of the original publication from 1999
~ and ~
5 signed copies of the current paperback edition
Open to US Shipping. To enter the contest, please fill out this FORM. Winners will be chosen from all of those who enter via the form. Leave comments at tour stops for bonus entries. You can also enter at each tour stop. Good luck!