1. Do you write in different genres?
My writing tends to be genre-fluid. I don't do formulas or stay within the correct genre lines. I like to mess around and mix it up. I wrote a novel that hinted at supernatural events -- but nothing was very overt. I've written a couple of novellas that might be classified as speculative fiction, and have one unpublished ghost story that got short-listed for a prize and is in my "too be expanded" file. Blood Diva is my first vampire book. While it falls into "urban fantasy" and there's a strong romantic element that acts as a catalyst for a lot of the plot, it doesn't fit the standard "paranormal romance" arc.
2.How did you come up with the title for your latest book?
The main character is based a real person, Marie Duplessis, a woman associated with the world of opera and music. She was involved with the composer and pianist, Franz Liszt.
There is a well-known painting of her attending the opera. La Traviata, an opera still performed today, is based on her life. The word "diva" is connected to opera. Before pop stars were known as divas, the term was used to describe lead opera singers. Although she's not a professional singer, she is "diva" like. She demands and gets the best, and is often the center of attention. It made sense to add "blood" to "diva" as she's a vampire. Once I began to think of that as the title, I realized the vampires themselves would think of themselves as "divos" which means "gods." They would imagine themselves above mere mortals who existed for their pleasure and sustenance. I looked on Amazon to make sure there wasn't already an identical book title and was relieved there wasn't. Months later, when I googled it, I realized there was a contraption called the "diva cup" that captures menstrual blood, and there was a character called Diva in a Japanese anime vampire saga called Blood+. My title would always be linked with these in a search! But by then I didn't want to change it.
3.Is the book, characters, or any scenes based on a true life experience, someone you know, or events in your own life?
This is a fantasy, but because the heroine is based on a real historical figure, I took snippets of her known story. Along the way, I read a recently published biography, The Girl Who Loved Camellias by Julie Kavanagh. There's another book called Grandes Horizontals by Virginia Rounding with a section devoted to Marie Duplessis. Sometimes the reality didn't fit exactly with the story I was trying to tell, so I imagined what we didn't know. For instance, we know that Alexandre Dumas fils wrote a novel based on his relationship with her, but in real life they broke up and they both seemed to move on. In my book, I wanted it to have meant something more to Marie. There's no historical evidence that it did, but there's none that it didn't. She didn't keep a diary or even write a lot of letters. We can't really know what was in her heart. What if she carried a torch for him? What if that was her secret?
4.What book are you reading now?
On my kindle, I'm reading Dan Holloways' Company of Fellows, which has been on my TBR list for sometime. Holloway is a legend within some elements of the indie-community. Most of his stuff is more literary, but this is a thriller. In print I'm reading, The Golden West, by Daniel Fuchs. He was a novelist in the 1930s who became a Hollywood screenwriter. I'd never heard of him, but came across his stuff in a bookstore -- the brick and mortar kind. This is a collection and it's very "insider" old Hollywood.
5. What books are in your to read pile?
James MacBride -- The Good Lord Bird. It's a historical, comic, adventure, and literary! I'm looking forward to it. His memoir, The Color of Water, was superb. There are other books too, but chances are that's the one I'm getting to next.
6. Do you have to travel much to do research for your books?
I wish my books gave me enough income to travel! I have written fiction about places I've visited, but most of what I write takes place in places I know well. In Blood Diva there's a historical flashback set in Paris in the 1840s. I don't know Paris and I'm no history expert. I read and reread The Lady of the Camellias to help me imagine what the character's apartment would look like. I love that I can ask a question like "How did men hold up their pants in 1840s, in France?" And I can find an answer by googling.
There's a chapter that takes place on a French-speaking Caribbean island. It's obviously a bit like Haiti, but I didn't want to call it Haiti and get things wrong. By making it a fictional place, I could give myself some leeway. Frankly, I wish more writers would do that. I've seen books that are supposed to be set in New York that seem to be very outdated and stereotypical to the point of offensiveness. I can't imagine setting a novel in a real place I didn't know pretty intimately.
7. Who designed the cover of your latest book?
The concept was my own and I was thrilled when it got 24 thumbs-up votes on NetGalley. Initially, I wanted the silhouette of a woman on a pedestal. I was looking for images and came across Georges Barbier's La Fountaine de Coquillages. It shows a woman in front of a fountain with a statue in the background. It's from 1914 -- almost sixty years after the "death" of my heroine, but it seemed perfect -- the combination of flirtation and innocence, the doll-like face. It's the opposite of the usual Goth-vampire look. I could see immediately that if blood rather than water was flowing, it would be perfect. A friend did the technical alterations, and gave me some font choices. For the print edition, we took the image of the woman on the front and turned it into a silhouette on the back-cover, so I got to use my original concept as well.
8.Do you have any advice for other writers?
That's a tough one. The landscape of publishing and self-publishing is always changing. Competition is enormous. One thing I would absolutely advise -- research before you spend any of your own money on services or publicity, and don't sign away your rights to a publisher until you have thoroughly checked them out. I have seen so many people get burned and ripped off by the unscrupulous. There are a lot of scams out there. Before you pay anyone to do anything for you, make sure they can deliver.
9. Do you have a song or playlist (book soundtrack) that you think represents this book?
I do, but it's not contemporary! I find it difficult to write if anything with lyrics is playing. I start listening to the words and get distracted. However, a lot of the time when I was writing Blood Diva, I was listening to opera, mostly La Traviata, which was based on The Lady of the Camellias, which was based on the life of Marie Duplessis. Occasionally, what I was listening to would spill over directly into the prose. There's a chapter where two characters are on skype. There's opera playing in the background. He starts asking her about it. She describes what's going on. One thing leads to another and things start to heat up. I don't think you need to have seen any operas to enjoy the book, but if you are familiar with La Traviata, there are some direct references to the songs and the plot that you would get.
If you aren't familiar with it, and you enjoy the book, I would totally recommend you watch the version with Anna Netrebko and Rollando Villazón. It's available on Netflix. They have amazing chemistry.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Number of pages: approx 450.
Word Count: 120,000
The 19th century's most infamous party-girl is undead and on the loose in the Big Apple.
When 23 year-old Parisian courtesan, Marie Duplessis succumbed to consumption in 1847, Charles Dickens showed up for the funeral and reported the city mourned as though Joan of Arc had fallen. Marie was not only a celebrity in in her own right, but her list of lovers included Franz Liszt – the first international music superstar, and Alexandre Dumas fils, son of the creator of The Three Musketeers. Dumas fils wrote the novel The Lady of the Camellias based on their time together. The book became a play, and the play became the opera La Traviata. Later came the film versions, and the legend never died.
But what if when offered the chance for eternal life and youth, Marie grabbed it, even when the price was the regular death of mortals at her lovely hand?
In 2014, Marie wonders if perhaps nearly two centuries of murder, mayhem, and debauchery is enough, especially when she falls hard for a rising star she believes may be the reincarnation of the only man she ever truly loved. But is it too late for her to change? Can a soul be redeemed like a diamond necklace in hock? And even if it can, have men evolved since the 1800′s? Or does a girl’s past still mark her?
Blood Diva is a sometimes humorous, often dark and erotic look at sex, celebrity, love, death, destiny, and the arts of both self-invention and seduction. It’s a story that asks a simple question – Can a one hundred ninety year-old demimondaine find happiness in 21st century Brooklyn without regular infusions of fresh blood?
Excerpt I - Heat Level -- VERY HOT/ADULT
From Chapter 2
The horrible buzzing resembled no natural sound. Alphonsine reached out, hitting the alarm clock with enough force to send plastic flying like shrapnel.
“Merde,” she said, lifting the lilac-scented sleep mask to survey the damage.
The thick black curtains were closed and the room was dark, but she could feel the sun had not quite set. Next time stick to champagne, she reminded herself. The copious amount of whiskey had left her head pounding. The fruit of the vine was mother’s milk to her, but she’d never had much of a tolerance for grain alcohol, and while the effects were not seen on her face, they might be felt, especially when she awoke before it was time.
But she’d promised Pierre she wouldn’t be late. It wasn’t that she wished to please him. She simply couldn’t stand how smug he’d become about her habits. She hated being predictable.
Her headache would be gone if she waited a few more minutes till sunset, but she didn’t have the patience. She reached into her night table, grabbing a small glassine envelope, placed a bit of powder on her finger, and snorted just enough to numb the pain.
She stood up and went to the curtained wall. Despite the stories, her kind did not implode if out before sundown. It was one of many myths designed to keep them safe, not much more truthful than stories about not being able to cross water, needing an invitation to enter a residence, or having an especially strong aversion to garlic.
Daylight, however, was still to be avoided. They were by nature nocturnal, and the longing for sleep might weigh obsessively on the mind. One could use potions to stay awake – drugs in sufficient quantity to kill most mortals, but nothing could overcome the weakness and vulnerability. Worst of all, sunlight caused aging, and at an even more rapid rate than for the day-walkers. The occasional morning stroll, the rare afternoon ride, could over a century add a decade or more, and when one survived on one’s looks and charms, any diminishment was perilous. In direct daylight there would be a tingling, a warning mechanism from the body that would become more intense and unpleasant, but when it was essential to be seen, her kind could pass.
She opened the curtain revealing the island across the river, the lights of the city coming on as the orange globe went down. There was something riveting about watching its power wane. Despite her nakedness, she slid open the terrace door and stepped out to take it all in. There it was before her, the shimmering waters of the East River, and beyond it Manhattan, lit up in its glory. She felt the wind on her face and stretched out her arms. She made a sound halfway between a scream and a howl, a welcome to the moon. She could feel her energy returning. It was night, and the night was hers.
Lacking was the music of insects, birds, wildcats with their grumbling mating calls, the howls of wolves – what her people called night-song. But then, from the time she first came to Paris at fourteen, she’d always been a city girl, and cities had their own pleasures.
Her bathroom was en-suite, but could be accessed through a second door from the living room. Rosa, who came in the mornings to clean, routinely filled the bath. There was a timed heater that kept the water warm. Alphonsine slipped into the oversized tub.
She dove under the bubbles. While her kind needed to breathe, they could control respiration and stay under for hours. She enjoyed soaking this way in very hot water, allowing herself to think and dream. Her morning kill had been so unusual, so exciting, she wanted to relive every detail.
She hadn’t been planning to feed that night, though it had been almost four weeks. She could go five, even six in a pinch, but after that long she felt so fatigued it was hard to distinguish day from night. Pierre and she were planning to get out of town to feast together. He often chided her for her recklessness, pointing out it was not like the old days. Trains, planes, and automobiles made it easy to place distance between oneself and one’s prey. No reason to kill where one lived, but sometimes, one couldn’t help oneself.
She had left the party feeling a particular restlessness. At first believing sex alone might be enough to stave off the hunger, her plan had been to head downtown or back to Brooklyn to find some pretty thing to hook up with. Then she caught a scent, felt something unique was waiting. Violent images flooded her mind as she entered the bar. It was coming into focus – a mortal who killed, not in war, but for fun. While her telepathic powers were weak – she was after all still quite young, she could sense emotions, especially strong ones, and he had been a seething caldron of barely suppressed rage.
Under the warm water, she could still taste it on her tongue, his blood, his essence – all of that delicious hate, and yet in the intimacy of the death-grip, she felt more, his humanity, as though they both were spiraling backwards in time to a moment when even he was innocent.
She’d given him peace. It had been a good death for him. True, she had frightened him when she jumped out. They said in the best hunts the prey never suspected, never felt a moment of unease, but allowances had to be made. After all, he believed he had killed her. She couldn’t let him go to his grave thinking that.
Blood was more than nourishment. It was a sacrament. Some said the blood itself contained the very soul. She doubted such a thing existed. She only knew it had something – a power, a magic like nothing else. Strange how easily satisfied beings like her were, hardly the monsters depicted in myth. As pleasurable as it might be to hunt and feast every night, like the noble lion, they only did so when hungry.
No two people tasted the same – not father and son, nor brother and sister, not even twins. This she knew from her own experience. Children’s blood had a sweetness like the candied grapes young men once brought her as tokens between acts at the opera. There was a freshness to young blood, like apples picked in the summer at a perfect moment of ripeness. Teenaged girls tasted of secrets, and boys of lust. Women, pretty ones, whose hearts had been broken had a certain tenderness and resignation, especially if you came to them when their looks were fading, and there wasn’t much hope. There were men who had an edge like a wine with a bitter after taste, while others were warm and smooth. The old, whom she wasn’t fond of, tasted of sadness, disappointment, and defeat, though they would certainly do when convenient. Human blood, like the human voice, had different timbres. Some had the richness and depth of a bass-baritone while others were light but agile like a coloratura soprano.
A killer, however, especially one who dispatched his own so remorselessly, this was a rare treat indeed. The essence would hold within it all whom he had taken. For her to act so boldly, to take so many chances to have him, was a risk, but what would be the point of immortality without gambles? And she had always loved games of chance.
When she walked in and saw him, saw those thick arms, the sandy hair, could already feel what it would be like to fuck him, to take him perhaps when he was inside her, she knew she had to go through with it. The combination of lust and hunger made her almost giddy, barely able to contain herself.
Still immersed, Alphonsine began to touch her thighs, working up to her pussy, replaying the night.
As soon as she sat down at the bar it became clear he had picked her, imagined her as his next victim. It was too delicious! A chance for play-acting. Something different and rough.
Alphonsine lifted her head above the water, feeling the urge to breathe. Her breaths became quick as she felt her release, the first taste of his blood a vivid memory. Her kind not only felt everything more strongly than mortals, but could recall in full sensory detail.
It had been everything she hoped. Feeling him draining, feeling his life force leaving his body, merging into hers. That final beat of his cruel heart. A rush of something – all his anger, perhaps? It overwhelmed her for a second and then was gone. And he had looked so tranquil – transformed by death – beyond the desire to hurt and kill, beyond it all, finally at rest – a gift she had bestowed on him.
She had closed his eyes, and kissed him once softly on the lips before beginning the task of clean up.
The act of remembering left her not hungry for more blood, but still unsatisfied.
She went back to bed, and reaching over to the night table brought out a vibrator, thrusting it in and out until she finally felt normal. It was not unusual after a feeding to be as randy as a teenaged boy. It was always better to hunt with a partner, to wake together in each other’s arms, able to satisfy any remaining urges. It didn’t matter whether the bedmate was male or female, or what one usually preferred. Often, she and Pierre comforted each other after feeding, though he was naturally drawn to men, and more like an older sibling. That was another thing mortals missed, how gentle and loving they could be with each other. They were, as Pierre had once put it, the bonobos of the supernatural.
When she was ready, she rose from the bed. While her smashed clock was no help, she was sure she was running late as always. There was an important opening at the gallery – a group show of new artists, and she herself had made arrangements for the gala. There would be a poetry slam and a band, and press of course. She pictured the stern look Pierre would give her when she arrived. He kept an apartment above the gallery, and had probably been up since late afternoon, but then a man could afford to look a bit weathered, to pass for forty rather than twenty-five. She could not.
She decided to wear the red dress that night – the one that looked like the one worn by Violetta in that modern dress version of La Traviata she’d seen with Pierre. He’d get the reference.
She pulled her long hair back and expertly twisted it into a single high braid. After working on her make-up, she stepped out into the main room. It was about five hundred square feet, large only by New York standards. There was an open space separated from the small kitchen area by a black granite counter. Rosa had left the usual items out – the vase with camellias, only three, cut fresh and sent to her every day, courtesy of an old acquaintance. She grabbed a single one and pinned it in her hair. There were newspapers – The New York Times so she could learn what was happening in the world, Le Monde because wherever she wandered for however long, Paris would always be her home, and the New York Post because she loved reading about the exploits of the fashionable on Page Six, where she sometimes got a “shout-out” – or rather her current identity did. To the world she was now Camille St. Valois.
She pressed the button on her espresso machine and waited for the dark liquid to fill the cup, as she checked e-mail on her phone. How wonderful to be living in the twenty-first century, where servants were hardly even necessary, and anyone could have anything in an instant. She had once lived her life at light speed. What else could one do when diagnosed with an inevitably fatal illness while still a teenager? Time had not been an enemy for many years, and yet she still wanted to fill every night with pleasure.
She savored the odor of the Sidamo beans, recalling an Ethiopian prince she’d once known. It had made her sad to kill him, but his suspicions were dangerous and she couldn’t resist his sweet royal blood.
Her kind didn’t need food or drink to survive, but a strong cup of coffee in the dawn of the evening was almost as essential to her as the life giving elixir that flowed from the veins of still-living mortals.
Skimming through the New York papers she saw nothing about her activities the previous evening – neither the gathering she’d attended earlier, nor her feast. Despite having risen early to avoid being late, she decided to enjoy a few more quiet moments before rushing out to work.
About the Author:
VM Gautier is a pseudonym. This is not the author's first book, but it is his or her first book in this genre. You haven't heard of him or her.
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