Fangtastic…Sunday! Interview with Joey W. Hill
Please welcome Joey W. Hill, national bestselling and award-winning author of the sexy Vampire Queen Series, The Daughters of Arianne Series, and the Nature of Desire Series, just to name a few. As an author who charges her erotic romance with deep emotion and psychological exploration, she’s been a multiple Top Pick review choice for Romantic Times and other review sites, taken home two consecutive year EPPIEs for her FemDomme erotic romances, and been nominated or finaled in CAPA, PEARL and Prism Awards. She’s won the Dream Realm Award for Fantasy, and her most recent release, Beloved Vampire, is an alternate selection for the Double Day, Book of the Month and Rhapsody Bookclubs.
ETS – I know you dread this question, but I have to ask…can you tell us a little about yourself?
No matter what you’ve heard, I only sacrifice whiny, spoiled children for full moon rituals. KIDDING. Ahem. I’m a “good” witch (though quite reasonably bitchy). I was writing stories and books by the time I was in sixth grade, and wrote all through junior high and high school, winning creative writing awards. A story I wrote for American History class was serialized for our city paper, and illustrated by a Pulitzer Prize illustrator, which was very cool. Then, typical of being young, I entered college and changed my focus for the next ten years, working in animal welfare and animal rights, getting a B.S. in non-profit management. However, a decade later, something in me switched, and I knew it was time to go back to writing again. In hindsight, it was a good decision, not just because helping animals and promoting their rights is a very worthwhile cause that still means a great deal to me today, but because the life experience and insight into human nature I gained during that time enriched my writing considerably.
Now, my life and a guppy’s have a lot in common. We pretty much circle the same castle all day long. I get up, take care of our furry brood, see my husband off to work, write, work on email, do promo, write some more, take care of animals, have dinner with my husband, do promo or write some more in the evenings. Lather, rinse, repeat. It may sound a bit monotone, but I’m working as a fulltime author, a goal it took eight years for me to reach. Getting to do what you love as your profession is always a wonderful experience, and I’m going to appreciate it as long as it lasts (yes, in this business, nothing is guaranteed). I worked as an administrator/office manager while building that career, and will go back to it if that happens, so I do have a fallback position. Which underscores a very important piece of advice – if you want to be a writer, learn also to be something like a plumber, electrician, engineer, office manager, etc. In short, have a marketable skill. You will sleep much easier at night, in terms of paying your bills, while pursuing your writing dreams.
ETS – Okay, I’m going to jump right into the hot stuff. <BG> Your heroines in the Vampire Queen Series are unique and amazing. What compelled you to write their stories?
I’ve been blessed with some amazingly complex, strong women in my life. I’ve seen how their strengths are in such excess that often their vulnerabilities are overlooked by those who love them most. Very strong women often handle difficult situations in seemingly ruthless ways, because they know a less palatable choice is still the only acceptable one. On the other hand, they are subject to control issues, and fear of losing control can drive them down the wrong path.
On rare occasions, this type of woman will find a lover who sees her as a whole person and loves her fully – strengths and weaknesses, the good and bad, together.
I think those observations formed the basis of my two vampire heroines, and the concept for the love stories as well – Lyssa, in Vampire Queen’s Servant and Mark of the Vampire Queen, and Danny, in Vampire’s Claim. I’ve read plenty of romances where the heroines are set up as “kick ass”, but in reality, they come off as whiny, angsty adolescents who really aren’t all that ruthless. I don’t really have an ulterior mission or motive when I write a character a particular way, but I suspect at some subconscious level, I wanted to give my readers the heroine who would be admirable but not always likeable, who would take some effort to understand – like most worthwhile people in our lives.
Lyssa and Danny must be merciless in their world to survive. Vampire politics and hierarchy respect power and cunning, and that’s it. There’s not a lot of room for self-pity parties, but on top of that, these two women both recognize their advantages. There’s none of the “oh woe is me, I’m a beautiful immortal vampire who drinks blood to live and therefore my life sucks.” They don’t regret being vampires any more than a person wakes up in the morning and thinks, “gosh, I hate being human”. They are what they are. They like being strong and taking charge of their immediate situations and long term plans. The dark side of that is they are very control-oriented and it takes a very strong male to hold their own with them.
The irony of the vampire-servant relationship is that the servant is about the only one who has the opportunity to completely know and understand the vampire he/she serves; and yet the servant is considered inferior and property. When Jacob chooses to become Lyssa’s servant, and Dev is accidentally railroaded into it (grin), both are given the opportunity to prove that they can help and serve their chosen lady, be her equal in certain, private situations, and become the one she trusts the most, in every aspect of her life. Whereas a male vampire would always be viewed with suspicion, because he has the same instinctual drive to dominate that the female vampires have, a male human has the advantage of seeing the vampire with her guard down, and therefore becoming more to her than any other.
ETS – Now for the heroes. Very alpha, yet the heroines can – and do – dominate them in the Vampire Queen Series. This is my favorite aspect of your writing, and I’m in awe of how you accomplish that. Did you ever think the premise would be a hard sell?
Thank you! As noted above, the vampire-servant relationship has evolved into the core of what makes this a unique vampire series, and I think launching it with the female vampire-male servant dynamic has worked out well and been intriguing to readers, though they also seem to like the latest book where the tables were turned – Beloved Vampire features Mason as my hero, a male vampire who acquires a damaged female servant named Jessica.
I digress, though (just had to get that plug in for Mason and Jess – laughter). As far as whether I thought the premise would be a hard sell, the answer is no. I heard through the grapevine a few years back that FemDomme wouldn’t sell in contemporary erotic romance, after I’d had success with two of them, both of which became award winners and still do well today (Holding the Cards and Natural Law). Natural Law is even used in a university summer reading course as an example of erotic romance writing. When you start reading about writing (see the last question, about Knowing Your Craft and Knowing the Business), you see certain things repeated over and over by established authors and editors. “A good story will sell” is one of them. There will always be trends, markets, etc., and countless rejections, but if the story is good, if the characters really live and breathe, you’ve written what the muse wanted you to write. The Never Give Up part of that last question comes in handy here. You have to believe in your work even if everything you read says that you went down the wrong path. It isn’t really that conscious though, until you start submitting. When I write, I listen to what my heart and muse tell me will make a good story, and that’s the only thing I follow.
And to be more specific, it depends a lot on how FemDomme is written. The way I write it is geared toward a women’s romance audience, where there is a craving for the strong protective male hero. I don’t find that at all incongruous with a male willing to sexually submit to a woman, because the D/s psychology is far more complex than that. In Natural Law, Mac Nighthorse is a homicide cop, and would never let Violet come to harm, even if he needs her Dominant hand in the bedroom to release his demons and embrace love and life fully.
Dev is very much a “man’s man”, as a WWII veteran and a bushman in the Outback, but he recognizes that, in order to cover Danny’s flank, he has to be able to adapt to the unique demands of a vampire world which requires human servants to submit to sexual dominance by their Mistresses and Masters. How he figures out to do that, and continue to be true to himself, is part of the challenge and pleasure of writing the female vampire – male servant stories.
ETS – Pizza Hut or Little Caesar’s?
Little Caesar’s, though there are very few of them in our area anymore. I loved their breadsticks – very doughy and not overwhelmed with garlic! Just had one of the Domino’s lava cakes last night for the first time, though – big mistake! Now I want one every day (grin).
ETS – What is your writing process like?
Depending on the stage, like a waterslide through Nirvana, or a root canal done without novocaine. But you were probably asking about the structure, not my feelings toward it (laughter). If I’m not feeling a close enough connection to the characters, or just want time away from a computer screen, I hand write the first draft in notebooks. I tend to like to write my contemporaries that way. My paranormals I’m more likely to write the first draft on the screen, because the plotline is usually more layered and so there’s more cutting and pasting and rearranging the parts during that first phase.
Up until a couple years ago, I always wrote the first draft by hand, and I still struggle with computer composition – trying to feel the connection to the muse during the first draft is harder on the computer than through the pen. But I keep working on it, because my deadline schedule means I have to write faster, and keep the quality up at once. After the first draft is complete, the second draft is about rearranging all those pieces, correcting weak points. That’s usually the “This book is terrible and I need to go work at Wal-mart” edit, because there’s so much rework I do. But then comes the lovely third edit, when I can see the story, and can tell (hopefully) it has come together. I do some tweaking in this phase, and then I load the draft onto my e-book reader so I can “read it like a book” for my fourth and final edit, to do any last minute polishing. Then it goes to my editor and critique partners so they can cut it up all over again (laughter).
ETS – (This one is going to be hard) Choose one character from your Vampire Queen Series who intrigued you the most, and explain why.
This is a difficult one, because while I’m writing them, that’s always the set of characters that intrigue me the most. Otherwise, the story wouldn’t hold my attention (smile).
Let me choose one couple, because I tend to think of my characters in pairs. What I mentioned above, about strong women, really applies to Lyssa, from Vampire Queen’s Servant. She was a compendium of those observations. A thousand-year-old vampire queen who has had to be many different things in her life. She formed the Vampire Council, fought a territory war, lost a husband to madness, buried a stillborn child, and has never been able to keep for herself the one thing that her deepest soul wanted – someone who loved the woman, not the vampire queen, but could support both.
That’s what Jacob is. An alpha male with a poetic knight’s soul, he’s drifted through a variety of roles himself before coming to her. Vampire hunter, Renaissance Faire player, circus performer. His ultimate goal is a woman to love and protect, to dedicate his life to her like one of the legendary knights of the Round Table. He sees all of Lyssa’s strengths. He even experiences first hand her cruelty, her ruthless side, but he also connects to the woman, and after that, the rest doesn’t matter. When he becomes her full servant, having to do things he never imagined to fit into her world where humans are property and sexual pawns, he manages to maintain the core of who he is. Through his love and devotion, he unconsciously strengthens her moral compass, and she gives him the sense of purpose he’s always lacked. They improve each other, and become more together than they were apart, the ultimate goal of a love story.
I guess they intrigued me so much because I like the challenge of understanding difficult, complex people, finding the value in them, and seeing that value without feeling the need to change or break them into something simpler. I’ve never really liked the books where the brooding hero or irascible heroine is all sweet and simple by the end. You don’t have to have perfect, healed people to have a happily ever after. You just have to help them find the person that will help them be the best people they can be, who will love them for themselves.
ETS – Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
I just finished the next book in the Vampire Queen Series, Vampire Mistress. This is Gideon’s story (Jacob’s bitter, angry vampire hunting brother, who made a memorable appearance in Mark of the Vampire Queen). It’s my first true ménage a trois, where the three characters have equal investment in the relationship. Gideon has a one-night intense encounter with Anwyn, a Mistress of a BDSM club. She’s subsequently attacked and forcibly turned by a pack of rogue vampires. That’s when Gideon finds out she has a silent partner, a mysterious vampire named Daegan Rei. The two of them have to work together to help her through a painful, unusual transition process. As the story progresses, Gideon finds himself facing the unlikely prospect of serving two vampires, a species he’s dedicated his life to destroying.
I ended up spending a lot more time developing the relationship between these three people, so my editor has already said we’ll likely break the story into two books, and release them four months apart. So, I guess I should have said I just finished “the next two books” in the series (laughter). I’m actually pleased that decision has been made, because I can now do some rework to flesh out certain things and tighten up other points that I couldn’t when I was polishing it up and thinking, “oh crap, this turned out really long, oh crap.” (grin)
While I’m waiting to begin the rework (I want my editor and critique partners to give me their thoughts on the manuscript before I start tearing into it myself), I’m finishing up another book in the Nature of Desire series I’ve been fiddling with off and on for over a year between contracts. Tentatively titled Branded Sanctuary (or Gentle Mistress, haven’t yet decided – grin), it features Brendan and Chloe, who were two secondary characters in Ice Queen / Mirror of My Soul. Chloe is having emotional difficulty recovering from a brutal attack that occurred in Mirror of My Soul. Brendan is a sexual submissive, but she is not a sexual Dominant, nor does she have a natural D/s orientation. However, he has a unique set of talents to help her find her way back to herself, so the question becomes is he a “Mr. Right Now” or “Mr. Right”? These two are a sweeter, gentler pair than many of my hero/heroine pairings, and it’s been a unique experience to work with them. They’re also younger, both being in their twenties, but it’s been fun to revisit that different perspective on things, versus when you’re in your thirties and forties. For those fond of Marguerite and Tyler, the heroine/hero of Ice Queen / Mirror of My Soul, they are of course prominent players in this book.
So these three books will take me through December, then my agent will negotiate my next contract with Berkley for more vampires or mermaids (Mermaid’s Ransom comes out December 2009, the third book in my Daughters of Arianne series). I’ll set my 2010 schedule according to that. I hope to fit in one or two Knights of the Board Room series stories next year, only as full length works, versus novellas, like the previous three. The remaining two heroes in the series, Ben and Jon, have longer stories to tell (smile). For those not familiar with it, that series has focused on five high-powered male executives. When each finds his chosen woman, he uses the talents of all five male Dominants to persuade her to surrender to his love and devotion for her (grin).
ETS – Who are your auto-buys?
Because I do so much writing and editing, it’s hard for me to find a book that can pull me out of editing mode and really immerse me in the writing enough to stop seeing the nuts and bolts anymore. That’s not to say there aren’t some wonderful authors out there – the problem is mine, not theirs. I can talk about recent specific books that have pulled me out of that mode, however, with their strong characters, intense emotional and oftenerotic interaction, and pull me along with them on the journey. I’ve been reading Jacquelyn Frank’s new Shadowdweller series, and loved Ecstasy. Like the Worthington Group series by Violet Summers.
Older books that I come back to for inspiration – Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, the first 3-4 of that series. JD Robb’s (Nora Roberts) “In Death” series is great escapism when I’m in vacation mode. Love Denise Rossetti’s Phoenix Rising series. A lot of Nora Roberts’ other earlier work like Midnight Bayou, Chesapeake Bay series, Hidden Riches… Once in a Blue Moon by Penelope Williamson remains my favorite all time book, even after all these years. Love Laura Kinsale’s earlier work as well. For My Lady’s Heart makes me absolutely sure if I ever meet her I will fall down before her in reverent awe (laughter). Also awe inspiring are Audrey Niffenegger’s Time Traveler’s Wife and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. I recently started maintaining a shelf on Shelfari and have been trying to highlight the books I really like as I go forward.
ETS – Paper or plastic?
It depends – I get the plastic to re-use as dog waste bags and for other household needs (figure that helps with the reduce, reuse, recycle maxim, since I rarely buy plastic bags), but prefer the paper for holding my recyclables in the kitchen before I dump them in the outside can for pickup.
ETS – What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I always say the same three things, but I’ve recently added a fourth, at the bottom –
1) Know your craft – learn everything you can about writing, through reading how-to books and articles; reading books by successful authors in a variety of genres; analyzing your favorite books as to why you like them, etc; joining writer’s groups locally or online, and having your work critiqued.
2) Know the business – same theory as above, only subscribe to and read industry mags like Writer’s Digest, Romance Writer’s Report, online Internet articles; attend conferences if possible and attend workshops on the business conducted by credible sources like editors, agents and established published authors.
3) Never give up – you must write and submit to be published. So get a good foundation in #1 and #2 above, set yourself writing goals and keep them, submit, submit, submit, and never let yourself get discouraged. If you’re meant to succeed in this business, it will happen to you eventually, but the above two lay the foundation blocks. You have to apply yourself to them with dedication, continue to improve your writing, and keep at it. The vast bulk of authors are what I call “working authors” – published in the midlist ranks, slowly gaining a fan base and making incremental improvements in their career standing year by year, with occasional breakthroughs to take them to the next level. You have to love writing first and foremost, because if it’s all about “having written a book” rather than “writing a book”, to paraphrase James Michener, you won’t stick with it.
4) Honor your craft – this can be a tough one. The talk about trends, and market forces, deadline pressure, these are all things that can make you sacrifice quality to getting something on the bookstore shelf. The shelves are full of trend-trash; formulaic, no heart, just words strung together by authors talented enough to write good books, but who have succumbed to these insidious forces. When I feel the desire to cave to that, I go back through my fan mail to keep myself on track. I imagine my book on someone’s personal bookshelf, and them picking it up two decades from now to say to a friend, “Yeah, I still love this book!”
There was a great 1987 movie by Robert Townsend called the Hollywood Shuffle. It’s about a black actor limited to stereotypical, demeaning roles, rather than the lasting, high quality performances he desires. Along the way, as he’s taking the more demeaning jobs, one of the characters (I think it’s his grandmother), tells him, “There’s always work at the post office.” In short, if you have a talent, use it the way it was meant to be used; if there’s no market to appreciate it, then “work at the post office” until the time is right for it (smile). Even if it never is, you were true to your craft. (Cautionary note – But be wise enough to know the difference between being true to your craft and being stubborn about every little change your editor wants or critique partners suggest!)
ETS – Great advice. Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with us!
It was my pleasure. Thanks for letting me be here. Happy writing and joyous reads to all!
ETS – You can learn more about Joey and her books by visiting her website.
There are a variety of ways readers can interact with me and/or find out more about my work. Visit my website anytime, www.storywitch.com to read free excerpts, blurbs and reviews on all my available works and see what’s coming up. Through my home page you can also:
Subscribe to my newsletter – I have a contest to win a free book or other lovely prize in every monthly issue. I also provide information about upcoming online and conference appearances. Plus, you’ll get occasional exclusive early peek excerpts at upcoming works!
Visit my blog – I’ll keep you up to date on last minute occurrences on the blog, but in addition to that, I serialize vignettes there, featuring characters from my full length works and series. I’m about to wrap up one about Tyler and Marguerite from the Nature of Desire series. The next one will be from the Vampire Queen series, focusing on a pre-Jacob story about Lyssa and her earlier servant Thomas.
Join my yahoo fan group – The vignettes are simultaneously posted on my fan group, so they come right to your mailbox. I occasionally come onto the group for a scheduled “Bookclub Night” to discuss a recent release, or to hold an informal chat, but I also pop in and out at various times to answer questions or comments. Beyond that, it’s a great group of fans who chat among themselves about my work and become friends with each other at the same time!
Facebook – I do have a Facebook page you can find by searching Joey W. Hill or Joey Woody Hill. Come friend me!
Email – you can “Contact Me” through my site, and I always welcome your feedback, good or bad, about my work. It all helps!