Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Interview with author Kathleen McFall, "The Cowboy and the Vampire" Series

Today, Write1Sub1 interviews author Kathleen McFall, co-author of The Cowboy and the Vampire series.  I've had the pleasure to meet personally with Kathleen over the last few years to talk about our writing, our current works in progress, the publishing/marketing industry, and a shared love of volcanoes.

Her Cowboy Vampire series have received several 5-star reviews and high praise, in which Kirkus has called it 'riveting'.  With a skillful mix of western, adventure, and comedy into a dark and seductive thriller, it is easy to see why her novels are such a great hit.

Please welcome my friend, Kathleen McFall.


W1S1:  What brought you into genre writing?  Did you always know that you would write books/stories one day?

Volcanoes got me writing. And coal, too. That combined with an existential moment in a swimming pool, but most of all it was because of love.

I started out my professional life as a geologist, and that’s where I unexpectedly cut my writing teeth. Turned out I was good at translating scientific jargon into common language. I wrote about coal seams infused with natural gas, oil that dripped from sandstones, and murderously fractured shale.

Eventually, I got bored (a lifelong theme) and parlayed that unexpected talent into a gig as a science journalist. That was fun, but I couldn’t shake my creative urge, which played out in far too many ways. While writing about western gas fields, I dabbled in filmmaking, painting, poetry, short stories, ceramics — you-name-it. I was an accomplished creative dilettante. And then my mom died, sending me veering off into a chasm of grief.

After a few years of sad sleepwalking through life, I abruptly woke up and found myself in a swimming pool, doing the crawl and propelling myself back and forth, again and again, up and down the length of the pool with a directive reverberating inside my head: just make a decision and stick to it, make a decision, make a decision. The next thing I heard myself thinking was: it will be writing, creative writing will be my art, writing it is. And from that moment until now, I have been writing stories.

But it was love that brought me to genre writing specifically.

W1S1:  Your hit The Vampire and the Cowboy thriller series combines multiple genres: horror, romance, mystery, and humor.  Is this the result of co-authoring with your husband, Clark Hays, or do you both have similar interests?

Clark and I, oddly, share few interests — other than writing and an insatiable curiosity about life itself. Hence, our co-authoring definitely results in the need to corral a wide array of interests into our series.

But the opposites-attract reality of our own lives conveniently anchors the characters of the books. Lizzie is an intellectual, a voracious reader and a closet anarchist who geeks out on political theory. The simpler things in life — cold beer, rodeos and watching the sunrise — are enough to satisfy Tucker. The cowboy and the vampire (she doesn’t know her heritage at first) fall in love, tipping their own lives, as well as a centuries-old fragile balance between humans and vampires, into a dizzying new reality, with all the action tightly confined to a slowly dying town in rural Wyoming.

The series is indeed a genre smash-up, so the books probably transcend any particular genre. We call them Gothic westerns, but they are romantic and very funny too.  And each book tackles, as a narrative undercurrent, a bigger human theme.

For example, our vampires are very hard to kill, but they are quite familiar with death. They die themselves, every dawn, like clockwork. That means their long undead lives are characterized by an endless cycle of near-death-experiences.

We wondered how conscious beings, even those motivated by such dark impulses, could survive death — the biologic shut down of the brain and all body functions — and then resurrect mere hours later with memories intact.

We came up with the concept of the Meta— a giant energy field that surrounds, contains and sustains all life. It's the opposite of the individual embodied consciousness. When vampires die, their sense of self rushes off down the tunnel of light and exists in the Meta until nightfall. Human consciousness exists there too, but only when we die with more finality. As Kirkus Reviews observed, the Meta “has all sorts of ramifications for human spirituality.”

W1S1:  What is your writing process like?  Do you have scheduled times during the day?  Do you belong to a writer’s group?  What, if any, tips do you have for inspiration or writer’s block?

Years of deadline writing as a journalist bred into me a fierce discipline. Deadlines don’t allow for writer’s block or waiting for inspiration. What I have learned to do is will myself into the “writing zone” and then I sit down and bang it out. Always by computer — I am not even able to write in long hand anymore (yes, I know, that’s sad and pathetic).

Even when I’m in the zone, sometimes what comes out sucks and I flail myself mercilessly, insisting I’ll never write another word. But then the next day, the words flow and it’s a breathtaking miracle of perfection. I spend the rest of that day superbly pleased with myself, imagining a story in which I am the main actor accepting a Pulitzer (or chatting with a film producer whose adapting our work). In either scenario, always, it’s exhausting and ends with a Martini or something similar.

I write pretty much every day, not always at the same time, and not always creative work (I still write other types of pieces for needed cash). And I admit, my discipline breaks down sometimes, and occasionally, on days when I know that getting into the zone would be harder than climbing Mt. Rainer, I give myself a break to recharge; that happens maybe one day out of every two months or so.

For me, I stick with three writing principles. First: Tenacity wins the day. In other words, stick with it. Most writers fail because they give up. Writing is very hard work. Second: Don’t fall in love with your own words. Be ruthless when you edit your work. If you doubt the words, cut them out like a cancer. Last: Read other authors often, voraciously and diversely, but don’t waste your time reading bad writers.

W1S1:  What kind of research goes into your writing and do you have any particular favorite websites?

A lot of research. Research is more fun, or at least easier, than writing. But beyond that, if the details of your scene or your theme are wrong or even “iffy,” you run the risk of abruptly jettisoning a reader out of your lovely made-up world into reality. That’s mean.

Before embarking on the first book in The Cowboy and Vampire Thriller Series, we spent more than a year immersing ourselves in the lore and history of the vampire to understand the role of this enduring gothic metaphor in capturing the fears of an era — fear of the plague in the dark ages, fear of lust in the Victorian era, and fear of mindless capitalism in our era. Source materials were varied and ranged from dusty out-of-print books about ancient magic to hundreds of vampire websites.

Tourism is another frequently used research technique. We generally always visit the places where scenes in the books are set (except we’ve not made it to Russia yet). We also rely on maps, phone books and friends to be sure we’ve got the street names and stores right. But the western part of the series we already have pretty much down — no research needed. Clark was raised on a 5,000-acre ranch in a tiny town in Montana. His “kinfolk” are still cowboys, now riding rough in Wyoming and thereabouts. LonePine, where much of the book is set, is based on a real town from Clark’s childhood.

For the development of the Meta (see question above), I spent countless hours reading about near-death-experiences and their neurological implications. I bought coffee for people who had these experiences and they told me their stories, I visited websites, went to a support group for near-death-experiencers and took a college class on the philosophy of mind from a crazy Finnish professor. The descriptions of Lizzie and others inside the Meta are rooted in this research.

We also each try to become temporary experts in some aspect of our characters. For example, in Blood and Whiskey (the second book), we introduced a bad-ass character straight out of the pages of the real old west, a sheriff named Henry Plummer, and spent a considerable amount of time understanding his history – along with the specific way he tied his kerchief. He had a quite a reputation in Montana, Idaho and California. Depending on whom you ask, he was either a murderous bandit who ran a vicious gang of cutthroats, or he was an honorable lawman who was unfairly executed for crimes he didn’t commit. We blended all that material and recast it into a credible backstory for how Plummer came to be vampire.

W1S1:  Are you currently working on any other projects that you can share with us?

Yes! We are almost finished with the third book in the series, tentatively titled Rough Trails and Shallow Graves. This book will be published soon. We are very pleased with this book (I think it’s the best in the series so far but Clark thinks they are all great — he treats all our literary children equally). We look forward to reader feedback on this newest book.


Learn more about the books and authors at www.cowboyandvampire.com. There's a blog written in the first person voice of a predator vampire, an ask-a-cowboy advice column (real questions!) and much more. 

W1S1:  Thank you so much Kathleen.  As a reader and fan, I'm grateful for your creative decision and endless passion, and definitely look forward to the next installment of The Vampire and the Cowboy series.

2 comments:

  1. Cowboys and vampires sound an unusual mix of genres.

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  2. Yes, it is! I look forward to your feedback about how the mash up works, if you have the time to read the books. Best to you. -Kathleen

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