Darkstars Fantasy News

1. April 2011

Interview with Diana Rowland

Category: Interviews – Darkstar – 06:59

Diana RowlandStanding out from the crowd of paranormal mysteries and police procedurals is not an easy thing to do. Diana Rowland manages just fine. The former detective and computer forensic knows exactly what’s realistic and what’s TV show inspired ridiculousness. Better yet, her knowledge translates wonderfully into her stories, making them feel authentic and exciting at the same time.

Vom Dämon gezeichnet (Mark of the Demon) has been out since July and the second instalment comes out in February. To celebrate the occasion, I’ve invited Diana Rowland to do an interview with Darkstar’s Fantasy News and she graciously agreed.

Interview with Diana Rowland

by hwm

Welcome to our site, Ms. Rowland! For those, who haven’t read Vom Dämon gezeichnet yet, please introduce us to Kara Gilian and the world you’ve created.

Vom Dämon gezeichnetKara Gillian is a homicide detective in south Louisiana (USA) with the ability to summon supernatural creatures known as Demons. When Kara finds traces of arcane power on a murder victim, she quickly realizes that the serial killer known as the Symbol Man is back, and that he too is well-versed in demonic lore.

However, when she attempts to summon a minor demon to help her with the case, something goes wrong and the Demonic Lord Rhyzkahl is brought through instead. And then things get really complicated!

With the aid of an FBI agent who may be more than he seems, Kara must stop the Symbol Man, while at the same time defying the Demonic Lord’s demands that she summon him again-an action that could make the phrase “Hell on Earth” seem tame.

I enjoyed Kara’s personality. She has her flaws, but she is also very likeable. How did you go about creating her character?

First off, I really didn’t want to write about a “kick-ass” character who could fight as well as a 12th-degree ninja, was staggeringly beautiful, and whose only flaw was being “too stubborn.”  On the other hand, I also didn’t want to write about a character who was driven by some sort of horrible and dark past. I wanted to write about someone who I hoped anyone could relate to and perhaps even get to like-someone with good intentions and a desire to make the world a better place, who had normal body issues and insecurities, who sometimes screwed up but was still willing to try again, and who had the same hopes, dreams and fears that most of us have. Kara wants to be good at her job, she wants to be respected by her peers, she wants to fall in love someday, and she wants to be special-which for her is by being a skilled summoner of the supernatural creatures known as Demons. Lots of times these goals and desires don’t fit together very well in her life, and she has to figure things out the best she can, just like we all do in the real world.

Were you worried that, because of the many PIs and detectives in paranormal fantasy, the market would be too saturated?

There’s always a worry that your book will get lost in the crowd, especially in any kind of popular genre. However, I figured that my big advantage was the fact that I had first-hand experience in law enforcement and death investigation, and could therefore add an extra layer of credibility to that aspect of the story. Also, when Mark of the Demon came out, a hefty portion of the paranormal books on the market were centered around vampires. Since my supernatural creatures were completely different, I had hopes that this would also help set my books apart from the rest of the pack. I’m pleased to say that-so far-I haven’t been lost in the crowd!

What are the three most common mistakes when writing mysteries or police procedurals? 

Mark of the DemonI confess, I’m a tough audience for any sort of police procedural, whether it’s a book, TV series, or movie. And, to be honest, I can only think of one mistake I see writers make, but unfortunately it covers a pretty big area: A simple lack of proper research. Too often writers will assume that if they see something done over and over in other books or TV shows then it must be based in fact, when far too often it’s a stereotype or cliché that has been repeated simply because it’s more dramatic. (For example: testing drugs by dipping your pinkie in the powder and tasting it. This is NEVER done in real life. Ever. It’s a darn good way to poison yourself!)

If you’re going to write a police procedural, then you need to learn police procedures. No, you don’t have to actually work as a cop, but you need to know how rank works, what the protocols on a crime scene are, what the various job descriptions/duties are, what tests are normally conducted at a crime scene AND how long it take to get results back, how police officers interact with each other and the public…

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I tell writers all the time to go to the source, call up your local agency and talk to real police officers and detectives, and go through a citizen’s academy if possible. I worked in law enforcement and death investigation for almost ten years combined, and I still pick up the phone and ask former co-workers questions all the time. Most cops and detectives are more than willing to help out with research. (Trust me, they all hate inaccurate depictions of police procedures as much as I do!)

Another aspect I enjoyed about Mark of the Demon was your restrictive, almost scientific use of paranormal critter. Why did you choose this approach and will we see anything besides demons and beings “related” to them?

This is going to be a tough one to answer without giving away some things that are going to be revealed in future books! I will say that I carefully planned out everything about the demons, their world, and the demonic lords because the overarching story arc of the series is very closely tied to the origin of the lords and the demons.

It’s highly doubtful that you’ll see any of the “traditional” supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves, simply because it wouldn’t fit into the worldbuilding and the science–so to speak–of how the arcane and the mundane aspects of the world fit together. There will definitely be a variety in the nature of the antagonists that Kara goes up against, but I’ve been careful not to simply throw random creatures into the mix. (I have a math and science background, so I think I have an underlying need for things to make sense!)

As much as I enjoyed Mark of the Demon, I liked Blood of the Demon (Vom Dämon versucht) even more. Compared to writing the first novel in the series, what was different writing the second one?

Vom Dämon versuchtMuch harder and much easier, in many different ways! First off, with my first novel I had all the time in the world to write it, revise it, and make it as perfect as I thought it could be. There was no pressure other than my own desire to get published. When it came time to write the second, suddenly I had a deadline, and even though I had nearly a year to write it (and I’d written the first in about six months) for some reason I felt almost paralyzed by the fact that I HAD to write a book.

Obviously, I managed to overcome it, but it was more than a little unnerving. Plus, I knew that the second book had to contain enough clues and hints about the events in the first one so that a new reader wouldn’t be completely lost-but not so much that it gave away the entire story. It was a delicate balancing act at times.

However, the fact that I already knew my characters and my world made that aspect of writing much easier. I didn’t have to start from scratch. Plus, I was gifted with a remarkable editor who took a great deal of time with Mark of the Demon, and helped me learn a great deal about pacing, tension, and depth of character. So by the time I wrote Blood of the Demon, I felt that I had a slightly better handle on some of the finer details of the craft. I also can’t discount the fact that, now that I’m a published author, it’s easier for me to get quality feedback and critique. A writer who’s just starting out often has to hope for the best when it comes to getting honest feedback.

Now that I’m fairly well-established, I have any number of peers with whom I can swap critiques. Because, trust me, criticism (the constructive kind) is absolutely vital to a writer. It’s nearly impossible to be a competent judge of your own work. I know what story I want to tell, but it can be tough to know if that story actually made it to the page in a way that’s interesting, compelling, and coherent. My current critque partner is Nicole Peeler (author of the Jane True-series – see interview on Darkstars Fantasy News with her here) and I’m eternally grateful for her insight and advice, and her occasional comment along the lines of “What the hell is going on here?” ;-)

The last two years were hard on the industry. Publishers laid off staff, advances got smaller, lists were cut and acquisitions stopped.  You didn’t escape unscathed. How did you overcome the obstacle that would have killed another’s writing career and what have you learned from it?

No, I didn’t escape unscathed, though I ended up in a very good place as a result. For those who don’t know, my first two books were with Bantam, a Random House imprint. I was quite happy with Bantam-I had a fantastic editor, they promoted my books nicely, I had wonderful covers, and my sales were quite strong, especially considering I was a debut author in a crowded field. I (and my agent) felt fairly confident that selling more books in the series would be no trouble at all.

Blood of the DemonTherefore, when we received the news that Bantam wasn’t offering a new contract, we were absolutely stunned. I have no problem admitting that I cried. A lot! I’d been certain that my career as an author was on a steady climb, and suddenly I was back at square one (or so it felt.) Moreover, I was crushed to think that I wouldn’t get the chance to finish writing the Kara Gillian series. I pride myself on keeping up-to-date on the publishing world and how the system works, and I knew that the chances of my agent being able to sell an existing series to a new publisher were somewhere between slim and none.

So in the next few weeks I had to do some very hard thinking. I found out that I wasn’t the only author who’d been dropped, and in fact there were probably dozens in the same boat, all cut for reasons that had nothing to do with our sales numbers or the quality of our books. In many ways that made me feel better. At least I knew that I hadn’t been dropped because I wasn’t any good at this writing gig!  I also realized that, yes, I still wanted to be a writer. I still loved crafting stories. And since I also pride myself on being a professional, I reluctantly accepted that I would most likely have to set aside my hopes of finishing the Kara Gillian series and try and sell a different series with another publisher. My hope was that I could get a footing and prove myself with new books, and then perhaps I’d have the chance later on down the road to write more Kara Gillian books.

I came up with an idea for a YA (young adult) alternate world/urban fantasy/steampunk novel, wrote up a few sample chapters, roughed out a synopsis, and sent it all to my agent in the hopes that he would fall in love with it and rush off to sell it to the highest bidder. A few days later he wrote me back to tell me that he didn’t love it and that I needed to try something else. As much as I hated having the work of the previous weeks rejected, I knew he was right. I’d been hoping to jump onto the then-popular steampunk trend while going after a different audience, and my agent had clearly seen that my heart wasn’t into it. Therefore I threw caution to the wind and decided to revisit an idea I’d had back when I was working for the Coroner’s Office-about a zombie who works in a morgue for easy access to brains. This time I was having fun, and the story practically told itself. In no time flat I had sample chapters and synopsis to send to my agent. This time he wrote me back to tell me that he loved it and that it had knocked his socks off. (Whew!)

However, while I was working on the zombie story, my agent had approached an editor at DAW who’d been interested in buying Mark of the Demon when it was first being shopped around. She hadn’t been able to buy it at the time, but she’d liked the book and was willing to consider the series again. My agent went ahead and sent the zombie chapters and synopsis over to her, and a few days later she contacted him and asked him to please not show it to anyone else just yet. Needless to say I was (cautiously!) thrilled, and I figured my best-case scenario would be for this editor to buy this new zombie series, and then maybe once I’d proven myself with a decent sales record, she’d be willing to pick up the Kara Gillian series.

Well, as you’ve probably figured out by now, about a week later I received an email from my agent telling me that not only did DAW want to buy three books in the zombie series, but they also wanted to buy three more books in the Kara Gillian series. In the span of about two months, I’d gone from seeing my career in tatters, to a six book deal.

I think that the lesson here (for me and for others) is that being a professional-in a sense of the word that has nothing to do with money–is going to be your best course of action. It was tough as hell for me to give up-even temporarily-on my first series, but part of being a professional is doing work that needs to be done, and for me that was writing proposals for new books until I found one that would sell. I won’t deny that I was lucky as all hell to sell both series, but if I hadn’t done the work to get the attention of my editor at DAW, I’d likely still be crying about the death of my career.

As much as I liked the covers by Bantam (Mark of the Demon, Blood of the Demon), I love the new style for Secrets of the Demon.  What do you think about it?

ISecrets of the Demon love it!

Admittedly, I loved the covers of the first two books too, and there’s a part of me that wishes the covers for the entire series all matched, but I think it’s utterly impossible to dislike anything that Dan Dos Santos paints. J Also, I completely respected the reasoning behind the change in cover style. My DAW editor held firmly to the belief that this is an urban fantasy series (which I agree with) and that the cover should reflect that.

Like those by Bantam, the German covers and titles convey a Paranormal Romance vibe. Do you consider yourself to be a Paranormal Romance or an Urban Fantasy author?

As I stated in the last answer, I consider myself an Urban Fantasy author. That being said, there’s SO much crossover and grey area between the two genres I think that making distinctions can be counterproductive. The biggest reason I don’t like to identify my books as romance is because romance readers usually have an unbending rule that if it’s a romance, there has to be a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happily For Now.) In other words, it’s expected that the two love interests will get together by the end of the book, and that any romantic tensions will be resolved. I have absolutely nothing against romance, and read quite a bit of it myself, but I don’t want my books to be labeled romance and then have a reader be disappointed. While the mysteries in my books get solved and the plot comes to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion, there is little resolution of the various romantice subplots. (Yet!)

How many books do you have in mind for this series and do you have any other projects planned?

Right now I think it’s going to take eight (maybe nine) books to tell the whole story. I do know exactly what’s going to happen and how the series ends, but I can’t be positive of how long it will take to tell it.

My life as a white trash zombieI’m currently also working on the aforementioned zombie series, the first of which, My Life as a White Trash Zombie, will be available in English in July 2011. I have tentative plans for a spinoff series featuring a character who recently made his first appearance in Secrets of the Demon, and I’m also doing some preliminary research for a novel set in a near-future New Orleans. With any luck I’ll be very busy for quite some time!

Thank you, Ms. Rowland, for patiently answering my questions. It was a pleasure to do the interview. Good luck for your writing career and other endeavours. Do you have any final words?

I just want to thank you for giving me the chance to reach out to my German readers! I think the only thing more thrilling for a writer than seeing your book in print for the first time is seeing it translated into another language. I truly feel honored that there are so many people interested in my stories. Thank you all!

Make sure to visit Diana Rowlands website!

Darkstar likes to thank hwm, who did this interview with the autor!


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