Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Interview: Diana Rowland

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Diana Rowland is the author of Mark of the Demon.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what made you decide to try your hand at writing?

I’ve been writing since I was old enough to write, and I’ve always loved making up stories and writing scenes and adventures. The big step for me wasn’t so much deciding to write, but rather deciding that I wanted to try my hand at being a writer--as in trying to get people to pay money for my stories. And even with that, I don’t remember making a conscious decision to go for it. I think it was simply a steady progression from writing scenes and story fragments to writing complete stories and allowing other people to read them. Once I broke through that barrier of letting others read what I’d written it seemed only natural to do it some more!

Before writing Mark of the Demon, were you familiar with the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre? What made you decide to foray into that field?

I’ve loved the whole concept of urban fantasy ever since reading Children of the Night by Mercedes Lackey almost twenty years ago. I went on to devour Tanya Huff, Neil Gaiman, and eventually Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and many many others. I have very eclectic reading tastes, but the core idea behind urban fantasy--that the story is based in something resembling the “real” world--has always appealed to me as an ideal form of escapism. And, since I enjoy reading the genre so much, it seemed only natural to write in it.

What was the road to publishing your first novel like? What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Mark of the Demon wasn’t the first novel I wrote, though it’s the first one that made it to publication. (And the first one that deserved to make it to publication as well!) I wrote my first novel about fifteen years ago, and even though in retrospect I can see that it was terribly weak (imagine a novel filled with every possible epic fantasy trope you can think of) it was still a terrific book simply because it showed me that I could write a novel. I attended Clarion West in 1998 and upon my return to the real world I did what “everyone” said you were supposed to do: write and sell a bunch of short stories to improve your craft and make a name for yourself. Unfortunately, it really wasn’t the best advice for me--I don’t enjoy writing short fiction, and even though I managed to do well with a few stories, I lost some of my love for writing and ended up taking a several-year hiatus from the writing scene. I stopped trying to sell anything, and though I continued to write snippets and scenes when they came to me, I didn’t try to make anything resembling a “story.” Eventually I woke up and realized that I needed to get my head out of my ass, stop obsessing about short fiction and the market and “making a name”, and just go ahead and write another damn novel and have fun with it. By that time I had several years of law enforcement experience under my belt and urban fantasy was beginning to seriously take off as a genre. I started writing a book about cops and demons, and a few months later I had Mark of the Demon. At that point my time in the trenches with short fiction paid off, because I had a solid understanding of how the market and the publishing industry worked. I researched the market, queried agents, revised my pitch and queried some more, and eventually found terrific representation. Six months later, Mark of the Demon sold to Bantam!

How has your experience as a cop/detective/morgue assistant shaped the book?

How has it not shaped the book? Mark of the Demon is a police procedural/crime thriller at its heart, with the twists that there are arcane powers involved and that some of the characters aren’t human. But the procedures, routines, and interactions are taken from experiences I had in law enforcement and death investigation.

There's a couple of geek references in the novel. What made you decide to include them?

I’m a geek! Seriously. I am. I made a model of the Enterprise when I was in grade school. I wore a hat and scarf a la Doctor Who in high school. I played D&D until the wee hours in college. It felt somehow wrong not to include at least a passing nod to my geek heritage.

What promotional/marketing plans did you have for the launch of Mark of the Demon?

Pretty much all of my promotion and marketing was of the online variety. I’ve been a follower of several book review blogs for a couple of years now, and I figured that the most effective use of my time and energy would be to tap into that network. I sent emails to several bloggers whose sites I followed and enjoyed, asking if they’d be willing to review my book. Once those reviews started appearing, then I was thrilled to see that other bloggers began to show interest, and before I knew it I had a strong word-of-mouth buzz going on for the book. As I mentioned earlier, I have eclectic reading habits, so I knew that urban fantasy had an appeal that reached beyond the Science Fiction and Fantasy community--especially in Romance. And, since most of the bloggers I initially approached reviewed romance as well as urban fantasy, I think that helped considerably with reaching a broad swath of potential readers.

When you wrote the book, did you intend it to be a long series?

I guess that depends on how you define “long.” I certainly don’t want it to be an endless series that goes on for decades. There’s a definite ending to the overall story arc, and I know exactly what happens at that end. (I even know the title of the last book!) I’m not sure how many books it will take to get there, but I don’t intend to string readers along for dozens of books to find out.

What's in store for readers in Blood of the Demon?

Blood of the Demon picks up a couple of months after the end of Mark of the Demon. Kara is trying to cope with the aftermath of the Symbol Man investigation, she’s trying to figure out how she feels about FBI Agent Ryan Kristoff, her aunt is in an inexplicable coma, and a certain demonic lord wants to strike a dangerous deal with her. But something or someone is eating people’s souls and it’s up to Kara to find out if it can be stopped.

How is writing/editing your second novel different from the first one?

Blood of the Demon ended up being much harder to write than the first book. It didn’t help that I was about halfway through writing BotD when I decided to set it aside and work on something else. (This was when MotD was still on submission to publishers. It had been several months and I wasn’t sure if it was going to sell, and I was getting nervous about spending time working on the sequel to an unsold book.) So, when I came back to BotD I realized that the plot had some serious issues, and I ended up ripping out almost a third of it. I nearly missed my deadline (made it by hours!) and I learned some hard lessons about time management, and also learned what writing process works best for me.

How did you end up as a contributor for Magic District?

Actually, I somehow ended up being one of the creators! There are a number of terrific group blogs out there, and I was interested in doing something like that with other urban fantasy and/or up-and-coming authors. I contacted Greg van Eekhout--since he and I both had books coming out from Bantam--and asked him if he’d be interested in something like that. He supplied the name, I set up the website, and we both convinced a handful of other suckers, er, writers, to join in.

How did you end up covering the San Diego Comic Con for Suvudu? What was the experience like?

Purely by chance! It was my first time at Comic Con, and so I often took refuge at the Random House booth to get a break from the press of the crowds. The Suvudu gang was there, and when they saw me and Jackie Kessler standing around apparently doing nothing, they shoved a camera into our hands and thrust us back out to brave the crowds. But Jackie and I had an absolute blast doing it, and we hope to do it again next year!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid to take a break from writing. I hear all sorts of advice about how you should always write every single day, keep the butt in the chair, etc... And yes, that’s excellent advice for staying on track, but I think that if you start to dread opening up that file, or if you find ways to put off working on a story or project, you need to step back and ask yourself if you need a break or if you need to make a change. Sometimes you have to take the pressure off and let your mental muscles recover.

Anything else you want to plug?

I definitely want to encourage people to stop by The Magic District. Come by and see what everyone’s talking about! (Okay, maybe not everyone... but there are a couple of people talking about it. Probably. Possibly. Okay, most likely nobody’s actually talking about it, but you should still stop by the site and see what we’re up to.)

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