Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Interview: P.N. Elrod

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

P.N. "Pat" Elrod is the author of 23 print-published novels and more than 20 short stories.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to the interview. You've made a name for yourself writing about vampires. What's the appeal of vampires for you?

I liked the old movies and Dark Shadows, and stories where the vampire wasn’t some insane killing machine. Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas Collins was the best. He showed us a vampire with a conscience, changing the genre for me.

How about mysteries and detectives?

It’s just how my taste runs. I like a good mystery with an interesting PI and intelligent writing. Doyle, Christie, Hammett, Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block—it doesn’t get better!

Who are some of your favorite vampires?

Dracula, Barnabas Collins, Nick Knight, LaCroix, Spike from Buffy all have their appeal.

Did you always know you'd be writing about vampires?

No, it just turned out that way.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in order to become a professional author?

Learning to write.


It takes time to get to the point where your words are worth buying. Too many neos think that all you have to do is finish a book and then you’re ready to go into print. Finishing a book is a huge milestone, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready to sell.

I loved the first draft of my first novel. I thought it couldn’t possibly be improved. Two years of rejections resulting in a number of rewrites smartened me up.

The worst thing you can do to yourself as a writer is be impatient with the publishing process. It is SLOW. If your book got rejected, it was for a reason. You figure out what the problem is and fix it, then try again.

If you get impatient, there are any number of vanity, POD, and reverse vanity printer scams that will happily clean out your wallet.

Memorize Yog's Law: MONEY FLOWS TOWARD THE WRITER. Anything else is a scam.

Never pay to get published or to have an agent read your stuff. Avoid reverse vanity operations like "Publish America." They're set up to only sell books to their own writers. Try googling their name with "scam" or "ripoff" in the search line. You'll have hours of educational entertainment with all the cautionary tales.

What are some of the challenges you're currently facing as an author?

Finishing something for my agent to shop around. I’m terribly slow!

Did you ever feel you're "typecasted" as the vampire writer?

They once asked Boris Karloff if he ever felt typecast as Frankenstein’s monster. He said no. He was grateful to the monster because that job led him to hundreds of other jobs that might never have come his way.

I took that as a good lesson in life. I’m no more typecast than Karloff; I’m just better known for one facet of my work over others. I’m grateful!

You've written tons of novels and short stories. Is there a particular format that you prefer or more comfortable with?

I wouldn’t call that smidge of work “tons.” Twenty-odd stories are okay, but other writers have hundreds of short stories, which I think is really cool. I wish I was more prolific!

Short story writing requires a different set of skills than novel writing. I can do both, so preference doesn’t come into it. Whatever job comes my way, I’ll tackle it.

What do you think is your biggest asset as a writer?

Being able to think in three dimensions. Sometimes four. And keeping track of them all.

You edited a couple of anthologies recently. How did you end up as editor of such books? (i.e. the publisher approached you, you pitched an anthology to them, etc.)

The first anthologies I worked with TeknoBooks and Marty Greenberg, who is a book packager. He puts deals together. If I pitch a theme he likes and can sell, then I line up writers, and a publisher backs us. I usually picked all the writers myself.

The last few I’ve done came about because my wonderful agent, Lucienne Diver, did all the hard work. We brainstormed some ideas, she pitched them to publishers, and St. Martin’s Press bought the deals. In those cases most of the writers were chosen by the publisher, though I can sometimes get in some names I want.

Was it difficult for you switching between your writer hat and your editor hat?

Not really. I edit the writers the way I like to be edited: point out a problem and let me fix it

What do you look for in a story as an editor?

A good hook, an interesting middle, and a satisfying ending that includes interesting characters I can believe in, and playing fair with the reader. The characters solve their problems and deal with the consequences.

In your opinion, what are important skills that an editor needs to nurture?

If you’re dealing with a fussy prima donna, patience. If you’re dealing with a clueless newbie: patience. Respect doesn’t hurt, either. Have a friend you can vent to should the writer turn out to be batshit insane in spite of all that patience and respect.

Of course, this also works in reverse when you’re a writer dealing with an editor!

Can you tell us more about the projects you're currently working on?

I’m working on another Quincey Morris, Vampire novel for Baen Books, finishing a small project of my own (it’ll be in my blog soon enough), and scriptwriting. I’ve a new series idea to plan out, and I want to do more Vampire Files.

Any advice for aspiring editors?

Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and those Copyediting for Dummies/Idiots books are very useful. Read a lot.

Advice for aspiring writers?

Get the above books and read them. Go to your local library and read it. Seriously, the whole danged library. Read books you think you’ll hate. Maybe you will hate ‘em, but you’re learning from them. A good writer reads ten times more than he or she writes, and reads OUTSIDE of the genre they write in. If they don’t, then their books are going to be the same as all the other books in the genre, which is literary incest. That’s a bore.

Write every day. No exceptions.

Anything else you want to plug?

Well, it would be really cool if everyone read my Vampire Files. They were urban fantasy long before anyone invented the term! Ditto for the Lord Richard, Vampire series Nigel Bennett (LaCroix on Forever Knight) and I did for Baen, and my Jonathan Barrett, Gentleman Vampire series with BenBella Books.

I recommend the forums of AbsoluteWrite.com. It's free to join and run by publishing professionals. No flame wars, no spam, no trolls, just writers coming together to learn and help each other out. They've got a large Bewares and Background checks thread that keeps writers from being ripped off by the sharks in the publishing pool. Check it out!

And my blog. It’s a fun blog, there’s a link to it from my website, vampwriter.com.

I don’t post just to post something, I try to entertain, and have drawings for free stuff when I catch a spare moment or three. I’m very, VERY grateful to my readers and love that we can have some interaction through such a nifty venue. There's some amazingly fun people out there and I love meeting them!

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