Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Rachel Caine

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Iโ€™m pleased to be interviewing NY Times bestselling author Rachel Caine. Rachel has the Morganville Vampires series, Weather Warden series, and the Outcast Season series, as well as writing paranormal romantic action/adventure and many other genres. Rachel will be the Guest of Honor at Ravencon next weekend (April 9 – 11, 2010) where I am a mere minor guest! Her web page is here.

Rachel, what is it that makes a novel a “young adult” novel?

RACHEL CAINE: The way I look at it, it’s purely a matter of the age of the central characters. My four main characters are ages 17, 18 and 19 now, and as with all characters, their ages and life experience shape the events of the book. So it’s not that I deliberately target the audience … it’s that I think in order to be faithful to the characters and the story, it should naturally appeal to a young adult audience. (Although I have plenty of adult readers of this series as well.)

VENTRELLA: It seems like you have a new book out every month! How do you manage to be so prolific?

CAINE: Ha, I don’t think it’s *every* month. But definitely 3 or 4 a year, that’s true. Most of that’s driven by the YA series (Morganville Vampires) because the schedule for that is we’re publishing one every six months vs. a year for the adult novels (Weather Warden and Outcast Season). But when you add it all together, three series going at the same time does tend to add up fast.

I think I’m lucky that I really enjoy writing to tight deadlines (generally) — it’s been a really great balance against my sometimes stressful day job.

VENTRELLA: There is an ironic balance that has to be met when writing about the supernatural, in that it has to be rooted in reality to be believable. How have you made decisions about integrating the real with fantasy?

CAINE: I’m going to shamelessly quote Jim Butcher, who once said that in order to have urban fantasy that feels realistic you need to have about as much “real” as you do “fantasy.” I believe that’s true … If you look at the success of the movie “Hellboy”, I think that first film achieved a wonderful balance in that area. Sure, you’ve got a big red devil guy running around fighting monsters, but there’s so much real world complication that it makes it all that much funnier and more outrageous. I thought that in the second film, good as it was, they forgot that balance, and slid it to about 75% fantasy, 25% real world … and I think it wasn’t as strong as the first.

So I try to balance my fantastic elements with the fact that everybody, even supernaturally gifted people, have to worry about bills and dry cleaning and child care. ๐Ÿ™‚

VENTRELLA: What is it about vampires that attracts such attention these days? Do you think this is just a trend? (I hope not, since my third novel will be a vampire book …)

CAINE: Well, I’ve actually been in the vampire field when it was cool before (in the early 90s) and when it wasn’t (in the late 90s), and now it’s cool again, which is kind of great. Vampires never really go out of style — we’ve been afraid of them for thousands of years, and writing about them in fiction for more than 100 years. The fascinating thing is that in the beginning, vampires were soulless monsters … reflecting that hidden terror that those you know and love can suddenly become monsters. And then they took on personalities and became more sympathetic, and eventually (by the mid-70s) became actual misunderstood romantic anti-heroes. By the mid-1980s, vampires had become heroic, appearing as police officers, detectives, doctors, all kinds of professions that had always been seen as admirable. Now, it seems that they’re back to the dark, romantic Heathcliff-type heroes (at least in the romance circles), but then there’s graphic novels like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT that harken back to the terrifying soulless monster vampires prototypes. So there’s lots of room to do anything you’d like in vampires, which I think is fantastic fun.

VENTRELLA: For those unfamiliar with your work, can you give a quick description of your main series?

CAINE: The Morganville Vampires series (Young Adult) follows the adventures of Claire Danvers and her fellow housemates Eve, Shane and Michael in the town of Morganville … just your average Texas college town, except that it’s controlled by vampires, and the city taxes get collected by Bloodmobiles. Once you’re in on the secret, you’ll never make it out of town alive. Not all the vampires are bad, but they’re all unpredictable, and Claire and her friends often find themselves caught in the middle of the ultimate haves-and-have-not struggle.

The Weather Warden series (Urban fantasy) features Joanne Baldwin, a sexy, sassy woman with a secret … she can control the weather, and she’s part of a secret organization that battles the forces of nature on a regular basis. Mother Nature really doesn’t like us, and only Joanne and the Wardens stand between us and total extinction … when they’re not battling among themselves. Oh, and there are Djinn (genies) who sometimes serve the Wardens, and quite often turn on them with fatal results. Trust Joanne to engage in the most dangerous kind of romance … with one of the most powerful Djinn in existence.

The Outcast Season series (Urban fantasy) is a spin off of the Warden universe, and concerns Cassiel, a former Djinn who’s been cut off from her supernatural kin and now must survive in a human world she doesn’t understand or like, with the aid of Wardens she’s never respected. But in her struggle to survive, she finds herself drawn more and more to the humans she cares for, in particular Warden Luis Rocha — which makes things more difficult when she realizes that she may have a destiny after all: to destroy the human race.

VENTRELLA: How have you planned out the Morganville series?

CAINE: I had a six-book story arc planned, and I’m making the second set of six more standalone stories. There is a certain continuity to the storyline, but I’m trying to avoid too many cliffhangers. ๐Ÿ™‚

VENTRELLA: What do you do to create believable characters who learn and grow from their adventures?

CAINE: I don’t know that it’s a conscious process for me … the characters really seem to do that on their own. I have found that less is more in character development … the more tics and traits you give a character, the less natural they seem over time. I find that starting small gives characters plenty of room to grow.

VENTRELLA: How did you break into the publishing business?

CAINE: Not in any way that anyone else should look on as typical! I never intended to … a friend bought me a ticket to a writer’s conference and dropped me at the door. He wanted me to learn about being a writer because I’d been writing on my own (and hiding it) for more than 15 years at that point. So I thought I’d talk to an editor or two, and that would be that.

Only the first editor I talked to hired me to do my first novel. So that worked a little better than I expected, actually. That was in 1990, and I’ve been publishing ever since … with the occasional career hiccup.

VENTRELLA: Some of your earlier works were written under other names. Why did you do that, and would you advise others to do so?

CAINE: And that would be the “occasional career hiccup” referred to above. ๐Ÿ™‚ I wrote as Roxanne Longstreet (my maiden name) when first starting out, but my books didn’t really burn up the shelves in any significant way. When my first publisher told me they wouldn’t be able to buy more from me, I changed my name to my married name (Roxanne Conrad) and tried again, with similar results. Rachel Caine is proof that the third time is the charm, I think!

I did use the name “Julie Fortune” for a media tie-in novel for Stargate, mainly because at that time the “Rachel Caine” identity was still new and fragile, and I didn’t want to risk bad sales on something so far outside of my new areas of expertise. But Julie actually has done pretty well on her own.

VENTRELLA: Of which book are you most proud? What would you like to be remembered for?

CAINE: I don’t think I’d like to be remembered for one book … more for a body of work. I can’t really say that I prefer one book over another; from my perspective they each have different characters, but mostly in the sense of where I was emotionally at the time I did the work. I’m not the best judge of that sort of thing. I’m just happy that it seems to touch people and entertain them.

VENTRELLA: Whatโ€™s your opinion on e-books? Do you think theyโ€™re the wave of the future or a step down from traditional publishing?

CAINE: I don’t think it’s a step down at all, but there are a number of people who simply don’t like to read on the screen, so I think traditional publishing will always have a place. For people who read for the experience of the story, versus collecting books, I think ebooks are perfect — portable, simple, and disposable. For collectors, nothing will replace the experience of a book.

I do think there is a real and growing problem related to ebooks … there’s a basic misunderstanding of copyright as it relates to electronic files. Buying an ebook doesn’t give someone the right to copy it wholesale and sell it on to others … and there’s a constant issue with this happening. Most of those people don’t understand that what they’re doing is setting themselves up as a digital publisher, which is robbing both the author and the publisher. Unless we can collectively get that settled, it’s going to bleed the industry dry over time.

VENTRELLA: You’ve wisely advised authors before not to self-publish. Why is that important?

CAINE: I don’t say never self-publish, but it’s not a good way to launch a career as a writer. If the person wants simply to have a book, and has no expectations of continuing to advance in it as a career, then self-publishing might be okay. But there are a lot of drawbacks to self-publishing … you’re responsible for marketing, getting your books into physical stores, and competing with authors who don’t have to do any of that for themselves. Don’t kid yourself: it takes time away from your writing, and trying to break into bookstores in any kind of volume is difficult, if not almost impossible.

Self-publishing also has a reputation — sometimes undeserved, but often accurate — of not being good quality. Often the covers aren’t very good, and unless you’re extremely good at self-editing, or employ a professional editor who knows their stuff, the product is often easy to detect as amateurish rather than professional. So you have a huge burden to overcome.

The last thing I’ll say is this: very few people have ever made decent money from self-publishing, and those that have, generally jumped to traditional publishers as quickly as possible. Don’t get fooled by companies that promise you they’ll publish your book, but then require you to pay for editorial, marketing, and other services. They make money off of you. Your chances of making money from them is pretty small.

VENTRELLA: Finally, what is it about conventions that you like?

CAINE: I love hanging out with my people. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve always been drawn to conventions — where I can have endlessly fun conversations about things that I’m passionate about, whether it’s geeky obsession over a TV show or deep conversation about life, the universe, and everything (thanks, Douglas Adams!). I’ve met many of my best friends through conventions, and had some of my finest times ever.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you! Looking forward to seeing you at RavenCon!

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