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Visual Inspiration for Writing: An Interview with Chloe Neill

Chloe Neill (Website, Blog) is the author of Some Girls Bite, Friday Night Bites the first two books of the Chicagoland Vampires, and the forthcoming Firespell (Feb. 2010), the first book in a new series.

Grasping for the Wind: How did you get into writing? What was the impetus for sitting down to produce your first novel Some Girls Bite?

Chloe Neill: I went through a phase where I read a lot of genre novels, probably a book a day for a few months on end. I loved reading books in series (and I read them almost exclusively), but I got to a point where I felt like I’d “run out” of top-notch things to read. I knew what I liked to read–well-built paranormal world; smart, sassy heroine; slightly brooding hero; lots of surprises–so I thought I’d try my hand at it. Some Girls Bite was born of this impetus, particularly my desire to write a female vampire lead. There aren’t too many of those around.

GFTW: What was the appeal for you in writing in a paranormal fantasy, rather than is some other genre?

CN: I think folks who enjoy reading (or watching) science fiction/fantasy enjoy the “possibility of other”–the chance that there are other forces, beings, paradigms out in the world. That was the big draw for me–adding a paranormal layer atop the normal day-to-day drama that we all experience. You can’t beat the opportunities to be creative when you’re writing paranormals–you get to make the rules.

GFTW: Various reviewers have complimented you on your worldbuilding. How do you juggle describing your world while avoiding being overly descriptive?

CN: There’s definitely a balance. Scenes tend to play out like movies in my head, so a lot of my drafting is “recording” the stuff in my mind’s eye. In terms of the writing, I try to flesh out the scenes just enough to give the reader their own “mental movie” of the book. But I also like to have enough (unwritten) backstory to make the story itself realistic within the context of the world. I want readers to be curious about the Canon of the North American Vampire Houses, for example, and wonder what Chapter Three is all about.

GFTW: Your secondary characters have as much life and verve as your primary protagonists. What do you think should be the role for secondary characters in a first-person novel?

CN: Thanks, John. I appreciate that. I’m a big believer in writing about the heroine-you’d want-to-be. I think readers, especially of first-person novels, want to be able to imagine themselves in the role of the protagonist. I approach my secondary characters in similar fashion–are you interested in the stories of the secondary characters? If you can’t
imagine yourself as Merit (heroine of Some Girls Bite), can you imagine yourself as Mallory (her roommate and best friend)? Do you enjoy the antics of the other characters, as well?

GFTW: The paranormal fantasy subgenre has had a glut of new authors in recent years. What do you think makes your Chicagoland Vampires series unique?

CN: I consider the books in the CV series to be “vampire procedurals.” That is, we learn a lot about the manner in which this formerly underground society of vampires has organized its society, how they react to problems, how they solve those problems and plan for the future. I’ve tried to imagine how these individuals–who’ve worked very hard to assimilate into human society–might actually act in modern-day Chicago. How they’d blend in, what rules would guide their actions, etc. As far as I’m aware, that a unique perspective on vampires. I was also very interested, as I noted above, in creating a female lead who was a vampire–not a female lead who fell under the spell of a vampire. Merit is a power in her own right, and that self-sufficiency was very important to me.

GFTW: Humor plays a role in your writing. What added benefit does the use of humor give to a novel?

CN: Initially, my goals are to (1) be as honest to the characters as I can while (2) entertaining readers. Merit is sarcastic, so hopefully I’m meeting Goal 2 while working on Goal 1.

But there’s definitely a balance for folks writing paranormal fantasy (and its attendant supernatural crises) who want to use sarcasm. I think you run the risk of folks thinking your writing is “light,” but, humans aren’t always dark and downtrodden, even when life throws them (supernatural) curveballs. I’m a pretty sarcastic person who loves to laugh, so the sarcasm in the CV series reflects the way I deal with situations and drama. Thus, I hope the humor adds an element of realism to the novel.

GFTW: Tell us about your soon to be released novel Friday Night Bites.

CN: Friday Night Bites picks up about two weeks after Some Girls Bite leaves off. Merit has decided to move into Cadogan House, and she’s roped into more vampire shenanigans as House Master Ethan Sullivan attempts to stifle some very bad publicity about vampire “raves”–mass feedings that Chicagoans would be none too happy about. To help out, she returns home and joins her father’s fancy society set, but not before discovering that an old friend has become a new enemy.

GFTW: What is the purpose of your blog Write What You See: Visual Inspiration for Writers and Creative Types?

CN: I’m a very visual writer–a photograph, a picture, an interesting scene that I see from the car window can all inspire me to write. Write What You See is my attempt to catalogue interesting Web features and images and ideas for visually inspiring yourself to write. Creating inspiration boards or design profiles, or creating a special writing space for yourself. Hopefully, it will be a fun resource for others!

GFTW: Is there a point at which a paranormal fantasy novel shifts from being a fantasy to being more of a romance? Should the distinction even be made?

CN: One of the main features of a prototypical “romance” is the fact that the hero and heroine (or heroes, heroines, etc.) get a Happy Ever After (“HEA”). Urban fantasies, which are becoming more serialized, don’t tend to feature the HEA as key element of the book. There may be romantic tension, but an HEA, if at all, is typically far off for the hero/heroine. Distinguishing between the two can be difficult, especially as more romance readers become interested in paranormal titles, and urban fantasy series featuring female leads become more popular. I think the only necessary distinction is one to help the reader–including helping them find books that involve an HEA, which is a very important element for a lot of traditional romance readers. That said, the more the merrier is always my philosophy. I’m happy to classify SGB as either, as long as folks read and enjoy it. :)

GFTW: What paranormal fantasy novels would you recommend to readers of your Chicagoland Vampire novels?

CN: I have a ton of favorite series, but I’ll highlight five favorites. Readers looking for a good paranormal romance series should check out J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books. Readers looking for good urban fantasy should check out Kim Harrison, Vicki Peterson, Faith Hunter, and Patricia Briggs.

GFTW: Any parting words for your fans?

CN: I have fans?? That just sounds cool. Thanks to anyone who happens to pick up Some Girls Bite at their local bookseller, and thanks for the chance to talk to your readers!

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