I was able to snag the lovely Laura Enright for an interview after she was kind enough to interview me on her own website.
Laura is the author of To Touch The Sun, a vampire novel with a twist that was released Feb 2014 by Dagda Publishing which I reviewed last year.
It was great to get a chance to interview a fellow fan of vampire fiction with a twist, and Enright really has some great insights into the process of writing and publishing, as well as the fluid ideas od genre and catagorisation.
Author Interview: Laura Enright
Would it be fair to call To Touch The Sun paranormal fantasy?
Actually it’s kind of funny. I created a scientific cause of vampirism in the series so it’s not really paranormal. But as the series goes on, I do bring in paranormal elements (beginning in the third one which features a set of paranormal investigators that become involved in the story) not connected with the vampirism element. So there will definitely paranormal aspects coming along later in the series. I think you’d probably describe To Touch the Sun and its sequel (soon to be released) Ujaali more urban fantasy.
So how long have you been writing?
I think I fell in love with telling stories somewhere in second grade. I wrote a novel about a woman who finds a dog on the beach (which I think is the fantasy of so many little girls) when I was 12 on notebook paper, that I bound with staples and drew a cover for (a foray into self-publishing I guess before it was popular). I started a number of novels in high school (written in the notebooks when I should have been paying attention to the lessons) but I never had a lot of confidence when I was young so very often I would put down the project when an idea for a new novel came into my mind. That was one of the things I really had to work to change. I had to learn how to stick with a project, because writing can take a lot of work between writing the story, editing the story, putting down a number of drafts until you feel you have it right. I really had to learn some discipline (and to believe in the story). I wrote a lot of “Roald Dahl: Tales of the Unexpected” type stories (we had just gotten the series over in the U.S. after I graduated high school). The Twilight Zone sort with a surprise at the end. Those were fun. But then life took a hold of me and shook me around a bit so I didn’t put the dedication that I needed to into actually getting published. But I never stopped writing or telling the stories in my head.
Tell us a little more about To Touch The Sun
Narain Khan is 25 years old when he leaves his native India to fight in the trenches of the Western Front during WWI. It was his hope that he could stay on after the war to learn the art of European cooking because his dream is to become a chef. Wounded during a push across No Man’s Land, he and his fellow soldiers fall victim to a pack of feral vampires who roam the countryside. Not everyone becomes a vampire if attacked, but those who do usually become one of two types of vampires. Ferals, like the ones who attacked him, basically lose who they were before vampirism. They become wild and violent, their only interest being the acquisition of blood. Often they hibernate in the ground until something like a war attracts them. Sentients, on the other hand, retain their sense of self and, with some restrictions, can move about in society without their condition being detected. Narain becomes a sentient, but he’s troubled by what he’s become and what he must do to survive. As the years go by, he meets a Sophie and they fall in love. It’s discovered that he can feed off her without her turning into a vampire, so she becomes his food source, which makes his life easier. The novel opens in present day Chicago, a year after Sophie has died and the reserves she stocked for this inevitable occurrence are gone. Narain has reached a crossroads. He must return to hunting again, but the convenience of having Sophie as his food source for all these years has made him complacent and even though he doesn’t have to kill to feed, he finds it difficult to go back to something he always found so immoral. He has no choice, however, because if a vampire starves himself, even a sentient one, at some point the feral nature will take over and he could become extremely violent. Something neither he, a well-respected chef and owner of a popular restaurant in town, nor his normal business partner Dom Amato need. Adding to his stresses, is his growing attraction to Cassie Lambert, a scientist with an unexpected link to his past, as well as the re-emergence of Reginald Jameson, his old captain in WWI. Jameson was a sadistic bully while he served in the trenches; as a sentient vampire, his cruelty is backed by the power of his condition. There’s also a new, terrifying breed of vampire; Boris, a monster who destroys everything in his path. All these events conspire to drag Narain into a climactic struggle against himself, against Boris and against Jameson, who will stop at nothing to discover the secret Cassie has learned about the nature of Vampirism.
Have you always liked this sort of genre? And what were your influences?
The irony of this project is that while I enjoyed the vampire genre: watching the movies, reading the books (Anne Rice is a particular favorite), I never really had a desire to write a vampire novel. Years ago I was courting an agent. He didn’t go with the novels I sent him but encouraged me to keep sending him work. The last proposal I sent him was for an Asian dragon novel which he felt was close, but didn’t think the market was right for that at the time. But still he encouraged me to keep in touch. So I looked at their website to see what else they represented and noticed that they represented a vampire series. Now in 2005 my book Chicago’s Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Murderous Mobsters, Midway Monsters and Windy City Oddities was published because I finally decided that sometimes you have to zig zag to reach a goal (in my case, publishing). So while I always wanted to be a novelist, I took the chance and wrote a nonfiction book (which at the time I had no interest in doing but felt I should try because my friend had given me a connection to the publisher and it would get my foot in the door publishing-wise. And it did lead to another book in the series Vampires’ Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Bloodthirsty Biters, Stake-wielding Slayers and Other Undead Oddities). And I ended up really liking it.
So I figured I’d try writing a vampire novel and see if the agency would be interested in that. And when I met with the agent at a Sci Fi convention he liked the story I pitched. He told me to send him a proposal when the novel was finished, which I did. Unfortunately, as I discovered months later, he had left the business and the other agent wasn’t interested in it. Talk about a heart breaker.
As far as influences, I really liked the Anne Rice books so I probably was influenced by her attempts to humanize the vampires. One of the things that I found interesting in legends about vampirism were those tales in which some poor guy was walking along, was attacked, and suddenly his life changed because he became a vampire. In my stories a person doesn’t gain or lose a moral compass when they become a vampire. If you’re someone who is more psychopathic, then the hunting down of prey (whether you kill them or just steal the life essence) won’t bother you. But if you’re someone who, like Narain, was just some guy trying to get to another goal when this happened, someone who had a particular set of morals that are now challenged by what he needs to do to survive, it will be incredibly difficult. Even though he doesn’t have to kill to gain the substance he needs to survive, he still looks upon it as pickpocketing. I wanted to examine that aspect of the story: In a way it’s like a chronic disease you have to learn to live with. How do you live the long life you have to live without losing who you are? That idea really got me juiced.
Another influence might have been the scientific approach Richard Matheson takes in the novel I Am Legend in which vampirism is a disease. Making it physical as opposed to metaphysical helped me wrap my head around it.
Aside from humanizing the vampires a la Anne Rice I don’t think I had a lot of influences in the story itself (aside from using the ideas in old legends). I did have one idea that I gained from the true story of Albert Grau, the producer of “Nosferatu: Symphony of Horror”. According to a story I read about him he served in WWI (which was the time period when Narain in my story was turned into a vampire). According to this story, Grau spoke about being stationed, I believe it was in Bosnia, and hearing the legends of vampires that that culture had. But in my mind, for some reason, later the notion was turned around and the notion that stuck was that Grau would hear vampire legends from fellow Bosnian soldiers as they sat looking out into No Man’s Land. I started thinking about how creepy it would be to look out into this vast field of nothing and night and to see shadows moving around. In my mind they became the shadows of feral vampires who attacked the dead and dying in No Man’s Land so I thought that would be both a cool image for the book, but it would also give me a vampire—the ferals—who could be truly evil and crazy.
It’s funny what your mind thinks of when you’re focused on things.
The other curious influence for Narain and one of the things that helped push the story along was, of all things, a Bollywood film called “Main Hoon Na” starring Shah Rukh Khan. He’s one of my favorite actors and I really love this movie. Around the time I was trying to build this vampire character and this story, I saw this movie in which he plays a character that has to hide who he is and go to great length to protect those he loves. I suddenly realized that that’s dilemma that Narain faces. That was the sort of energy I wanted to bring to his life. It’s a dance he has to perform all the time. That’s another reason he was hit so hard by the death of Sophie: Because she helped him live a very normal life and her death threatens the normalcy they both created for him. In the sequel, Ujaali, his dilemma becomes even more personal as a mistake he made decades before comes back to haunt him. I think that’s why I chose the name Khan for his last name. A little nod to both the actor and the director of “Main Hoon Na.”
What do you plan to do next?
I have a few irons in the fire. I’m working with Dagda Publishers to get the sequel to TTTS out. The sequel is named Ujaali and I can’t say too much about it without giving some surprises away, but it takes Narain into an even darker place. While I envision the Chicago Vampire Series as a true series (and have two more stories waiting in the wings and am plotting out more), the first three novels could be considered a trilogy as we see Narain go through an emotional evolution. He’s tested by the death of Sophie in TTTS, and while he comes through that story, he still has lingering issues that cause his psyche to be especially tested by the events of Ujaali which are much more personal. I liken what Narain goes through in TTTS as basically a breakdown. Often times when people have breakdowns they and those around them think, okay the break has occurred, now it’s all a matter of getting better form here. But usually what happens in these cases is that while the person is getting better, sometimes they slip backward. That’s kind of how it is with Narian in Ujaali. Something very personal happens to cause him to have to fight extra hard to retain that part of himself that makes him Narain. I think it’s the personal aspect that makes this my favorite novel in the series. By the time the third novel comes around, he is whole again, comfortable in his life, but something outside of that threatens not only his existence but the existence of those he loves.
The fourth novel features a character that first makes an appearance in the second novel and addresses the issue: What if vampirism happens to you and you don’t have a castle in Transylvania to flee to? The fortunes of that character ebb and flow and in this story they start out very low. He is a vagabond and must figure out how to exist in the world with a very strange, sometimes inconvenient disease.
So building the Chicago Vampire Series is a big iron in the fire at the moment.
Recently I received a contract I have to review for my Asian dragon novel (at last). Called Court of the Five Tribes, it was inspired by the Asian notion of there being five elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood. Each element has a dragon tribe. But the Water Dragons find washed ashore on their beach a golden egg. Once the egg hatches it reveals a dragon that possesses characteristics of all five tribes. This is the story of this dragon, Ki Lau, who must learn what her purpose is to life. Along with that, on the mainland, a young emperor must save his kingdom from a warlord. In the meantime, a young wizard comes upon the influence of a dark god who wishes to destroy the world. It was pretty exciting to get the contract for this novel. This was one of the novels that I really wanted to see published.
Besides that, at the moment, I’m working on a nonfiction book with a man whose dad was falsely accused of being a loan shark in 1960s Chicago. It’s a compelling story about how the prosecution of the case ruined his father’s business and devastated the family. But it involves a lot of research not only of the case but of the Chicago Outfit, Italians in Chicago, etc. I really do believe an injustice was done here and want to help this man at least get his father’s story out there.
After that I have about a billion other ideas in my mind to get moving on. I don’t have a fire big enough for all the irons I have in the fire.
How did you find the process of writing To Touch the Sun and getting it published?
I’ve written a number of novels before this, but in a lot of ways this is my favorite I think because it came out of nowhere. As I mentioned, I wrote it as an experiment in the hopes of getting an agent but I really fell in love with it and the experience of writing it. All I had was a little idea, “vampire chef” and I expanded on it, never really knowing what I was doing with it in the beginning because like I said, I never had a story to tell. But as time went on and I understood the character better and got a better handle on his backstory, a story for the novel came about. It was actually really sort of exciting. In other novels I at least had an idea of the story from beginning to end. This I had no idea. I was seeing it take shape as I wrote it (and there were a couple of parts where the direction surprised me). What I ended up with was something very different than what I started with. And now I have four finished novels, ideas for more in the series and a spinoff novel featuring the paranormal investigators featured in the third vampire novel. I joke that the woman who never had a desire to write a vampire novel now can’t stop telling the stories.
Getting it published was a bit tougher. After the heart break with the literary agency (for which I in many respects wrote it), I shopped it around to other agents and a few publishers, but getting fiction published can be tough (I think it’s much easier to find a publisher for nonfiction). Publishing houses more and more aren’t willing to take a chance on a new author. Many people turn to self-publishing but I prefer to work with someone. Indie publishers are a nice answer to that. You have someone who can help you get the book out there. But you do have to take an active role in the marketing as well. I ran the novel past Re Davey at Dagda when they were opening up to fiction and he agreed to take it on. And it was exciting when I first saw it in book format.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
They can check out my website at http://www.laura-enright.com. I have links to the books on Amazon, links to my blogs, news and interviews.
They can follow me on twitter @laura_enright
And they can check out my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/lauralenright