Continuing a tradition of encountering really interesting people at conventions, I met author Chloe Neill this summer at OSFest, the Omaha Science Fiction Education Society’s annual sci-fi convention. Although she’s not a katana-wielding vampire badass like the main character in her Chicagoland Vampire series, she perhaps could be with some training. Neill grew up in Arkansas (maintains a touch of the accent) and now makes her home in Nebraska, where she recently launched her pro writing career with her first novel Some Girls Bite, out this year from Penguin. She managed to wrangle us some interview time in the midst of a heavy writing and travel schedule.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
CN: Sure. I started writing in 2005, finished a manuscript that I ultimately put in a drawer, and then began writing SOME GIRLS BITE. I spent a few months editing it and after researching publishers of urban fantasy, sent the first three chapters to Penguin (per their online submission guidelines) in June 2007. In September 2007, my (now-)editor asked to see the full manuscript, which I submitted. In January 2008, I got an offer from Penguin for the first two Chicagoland Vampires novels, and the rest is history!
TH: What is The Story of Chloe? Is it a novel? A short story? An urban fantasy of some sort?
CN: Just like The Story of Everyone else, it’s a novel with lots of ups and downs, times of dullness and times of drama, and hopefully a very satisfying ending.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
CN: Not until I actually started writing in 2005. I never considered myself a writer; although I did a lot of writing professionally, I hated the doing of it. Writing made me very nervous. It seemed like a very difficult thing to do. That stayed true until I was ready to write a story of my own, and then it didn’t seem so frightening anymore, maybe because it was something I was doing for the fun of it, and there was absolutely no pressure.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
CN: Excellent question. First bestseller, definitely. I have very specific bestseller list-related goals which, because I’m superstitious, I’ll keep to myself. 🙂
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skill to publishable?
CN: The first paranormal romance manuscript that I mentioned above. It’s the first novel in a series of seven, but I don’t especially want to work on it now. In retrospect, it seems silly. 🙂
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
CN: My dialogue is very inspired by the turns-of-phrases that I hear randomly during the day. I write those kind of things down. Visually, I do a lot of Web surfing, especially among design and architecture sites, as the photography on those kind of sites is usually very emotive. Even a simple photograph can have an evocative theme, which I collect for later inspiration.
TH: What is it about architecture that strikes a chord in your creative process?
CN: I think because it holds so much potential. A sleek building may house an evil empire or a fashion house. A dilapidated home could house a working class family or a hidden witness. Architecture is a really evocative art form, and it appeals to multiple senses–sound, sight, smell. It can work as the setting of a story, or be the story itself.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
CN: Brainstorming can be fabulous, unless the ideas aren’t coming. Finishing a novel (i.e., the last 5,000 words) is one of my least favorite parts, as by the time I’ve completed 95,000 words, I just want to be *done*. By far the best part of the process is that rare moment when the scene is flowing naturally, and the word count is steadily increasing.
TH: Can you predict or guide yourself to those magical moments when the scene is flowing naturally?
CN: Not even slightly, although they tend to happen in the middle portion of the book (40,000 or so) when I’m finally getting into the flow of things. At the beginning, I’m still roughing out the plot, and by the end, I’m becoming mentally and emotionally fatigued. Although it does seem that the better rested and relaxed I am, the faster the words flow.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
CN: Guest blogging and just “getting out there” into the Interwebs has been very successful for me thus far. I seek out opportunities to do both, and I try to respond to requests whenever possible. I also try to make any booksigning or convention I’m invited to attend. I’d love to be able to use traditional media like billboards and magazine ads, although they’re pricey and in this day and age, I’m not sure how successful they’d be.
TH: Is it easy or difficult for you to know when to wear the artist hat and when to wear the business hat? Do you have any advice on how to do this for beginning writers?
CN: Actually, no–I don’t think it’s difficult. I think in the modern publishing industry, the two things meld pretty well.
Editors are focused not only on preparing the best book possible, but on creating the most marketable book possible.
If the art I create isn’t good and marketable, it won’t sell, and they won’t let me write any of it. Besides–marketing to readers really boils down to engaging them in the story you want to tell them. I think that’s a perfect melding of art and business.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
CN: I definitely don’t think I’ve made it, so I’m still waiting for that moment. 🙂
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
CN: Absolutely. I try to make my various online presences have a similar, thematic professional appeal. I also try to market whenever I have the opportunity, even if that means selling one book at a time. Writing definitely takes time, but a successful marketing campaign can take just as many hours–time spent speaking with fans, updating social sites, updating my web site, making appearances at libraries and bookstores, preparing marketing materials and swag, etc., etc.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
CN: I’ve just finished writing TWICE BITTEN, the third Chicagoland Vampires book. I’m about to start writing the second book in my new young adult series (as of yet untitled). The first book in that series, FIRESPELL, will be released in January, so I’m about to get a crash course in marketing to a teen audience. 🙂
TH: Aside from the Chicagoland Vampire series and your new YA series, what other projects might be floating through your brain?
CN: Does baking count? I actually have two additional urban fantasy series in the early planning stages, both a little darker than the Chicagoland Vampires series. If only I had the time to write them. . .
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?