Feb 23, 2009

Interview with Marta Acosta

Today meet Marta Acosta author of the hilarious Casa Dracula series. The books thus far: Happy Hour at Casa Dracula, Midnight Brunch (Casa Dracula Series, Book 2), and The Bride of Casa Dracula (Casa Dracula, Book 3). This is a terrific series. I highly recommend it.

At the end of this interview check for contest information. One lucky reader will win a copy of Happy Hour at Casa Dracula.

Welcome Marta!

PVN: Please discuss Milagro De Los Santos, the heroine of your Casa Dracula series. And how much of you is in Milagro?

Marta: I adore Milagro! I created her by thinking about all my favorite characters and the traits I loved. She’s bright, funny, intrepid, witty, wears her heart on her sleeve, and is impetuous. She’s gullible, not because she’s stupid, but because she’s young and optimistic about people.

I wish I had Milagro’s good-nature and optimism. I’m quite cynical. She’s isolated in the world, and I’m very much connected to my family. We do share our love of books, love of fun, sarcastic sense of humor, and culture. I was also rather aimless after college, more interested in going out with friends than a career, and wanting a real relationship. But I think this is common to many people, which is why they identify with Milagro.

She writes eccentric stories, and no one takes her seriously. So make of that what you will!

PVN: There are some wonderful, wacky characters in your books - Edna, who doesn't take kindly at first to Mil; the sexy brother/sister duo Cornelia and Ian; Mil's rich friend Nancy, and so many other. Discuss some of them, please. Do you have favorites? Are any based on real people? Did any of them "pop up" on their own while you were writing?

Marta: Thanks for the kind words about my secondary characters! Edna came to me whole. I could imagine how she looked and spoke, and I find it very easy to write her parts. I think she’s the result of all those fabulous older women I’ve known – smart, sharp, sexy and attractive. You want to be them.

I’ve always liked the sophisticated and troublesome brother and sister in The Europeans by Henry James and the mischievous, morally-compromised brother and sister in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. These siblings were my inspiration for Ian and Cornelia Ducharme. I wanted characters who would blow in, wreck havoc, and sail away. Of course, they get more than they bargained for with Milagro.

Nancy reminds me of one of my good friends in college. She was delightfully silly, blonde, and cute and she had lots of rules about the proper way to iron clothes, wear perfume, and eat soup.

One of my favorite characters is the tabloid writer and high school English teacher, Bernie Vines. He tells Milagro, “Everyone knows writing isn’t work,” and scams her, but also is there to help her out when she needs help.
Despite the titles of your books the vampires are certainly not the traditional Dracula type. In fact they don't even like the term. Tell us about your vampire creations.

Marta: I’ve never been fond of the vampire as romantic hero. Because they’re dead and cold and scary old. So I came up with vampires who have an attitude and a genetic “condition.” After all, there are people with strange food cravings, those who are allergic to sunlight, and those with heightened immune systems. Many vampires in fiction are also wealthy, stunning, and worldly; it follows naturally that they’d be terrible snobs and look down on an aimless, broke, snarky young woman.

PVN: Humor is an essential part of the Casa Dracula series. Why do you use humor to communicate?

Marta: I use humor to amuse myself. But it’s also a way to convey messages without boring or turning off your audience. There are real messages in my books – about exclusion, isolation, greed, bigotry – but I don’t want to preach to the choir. I want people who might not ordinarily consider my ideas to be so entertained by the humor that they see things from a different perspective. Humor is all about perspective.

PVN: Would you discuss your own background. Education? Writing struggles? Being bilingual? Or anything else you would like to mention.

Marta: I’m the second child of Mexican parents. I think my love of reading is partially because I was an only daughter and because I really didn’t fit in. Books not only entertained me, they taught me about the world I lived in. I always wrote, just because it seemed natural. I was a good student and studied literature, theater, and writing at Stanford. But I didn’t know how to go about getting a writing job after that, and I didn’t have the sort of connections that get young people in the door. I needed to pay rent, so I’d take whatever jobs came my way.

One of my biggest struggles is that I don’t write what people expect. If you write what’s expected, you’re rewarded. People expect Latinos to write magical realism, but I’m not interested in writing magical realism. My natural writing voice is dark and cynical, but editors ---and most readers – want sympathetic characters. I’ve always loved writing humor, too, but most people assume that humorous writing takes no real skill.

Right now I’m struggling with publicizing my books. Because I have a paranormal element, people assume my books are paranormal romance. Real fans of paranormal romance are disappointed if they buy my books wanting romance conventions. People who don’t like romance won’t pick up my books because of the covers. My books are shelved in general fiction, but even bookstore clerks don’t know they’re there. I wish there was a section of the bookstore for hilarious books by women.

I’m not bilingual, though I wish I were.

PVN: What response, if any, has there been from Latino readers?

Marta: The response from Latino readers has been really positive. Many of them write to tell me how much they identify with Milagro, who often feels like an outsider, but just as often wants people to know that she’s a regular human chica.

One of the most gratifying things to me has been the positive response from teenage readers of all types. I think they connect with Milagro’s sense of alienation, her snarky humor, and her hopefulness.

PVN: What writers have most influenced you? Why?

Marta: I’ve been influenced by Mark Twain in my use of a first-person, colloquial voice for humor. I’ve learned many lessons from Jane Austen, and like her heroines, Milagro deals with issues of social class, manipulative secondary characters, and misunderstandings. But I’ve been influenced by many writers, from Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books to writers of absurdest humor.

I’ve always liked television shows and movies which combine humor with paranormal elements, too. “The X-Files,” “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” “Dead Like Me,” “The Frighteners,” and “Supernatural” all have characters who use humor to cope with the insanity of their lives.

PVN: Describe your writing environment.

Marta: I have a little alcove off my bedroom with a window out to my back garden. There are piles of paper all over the long table I use as a desk, and piles of paper and books on the floor. My dogs, Betty and Bosco, frequently keep me company while I work. I listen to music, look outside to see the hummingbirds, butterflies, and squirrels, and work away. I feel pretty damn lucky.

PVN: What are your current projects?

Marta: I’m working on a romantic comedy tentatively titled Nancy’s Theory of Style. It features Milagro’s wealthy, style-obsessed friend, Nancy, and her effort to start an event planning business. It goes without saying that mayhem ensues. My editor is not sold on the title, but I like it.

I’m also working on Casa Dracula Book Four. No title, yet, and I’m not going to give away the plot, but Milagro matures a little, faces danger, and finally comes to terms with her heart. Both Nancy and CD Book Four will come out next year.

Patricia, thanks so much for having me here! I subscribe to your newsletter and tell fans of vampire fiction that they should, too!

Thank you, Marta, I'm blushing! It was great having you here, and I'm really looking forward to reading Milagro's and Nancy's new adventures.

Visit Marta at her home page on her blog site or at Vampire Wire

Now for the contest information:

One lucky commenter will win a copy of Happy Hour at Casa Dracula

For a chance to win do one (or more) of the following:

*Comment on any subject from the interview. Each comment on a different subject counts as an entry.

*Ask Marta a question. Each question counts as an entry.

*Link to Patricia's Vampire Notes and send me the URL. Each link counts as an entry.

Be sure to include your email information so that I will be able to contact you.

This contest ends at 11:59 pm February 25, 2009.


Erotic Horizon said...

Hey Patricia

Great Interview.

I have had the pleasure of reading the first two books and the Comment "If you are expecting Romance" is so apt.

These books were more than romance, funnier, darker, and a richer read from the onslaught of run of the mill Paranormal vampi's.

Thanks for this interview.

Lovely to find out the story behind the stories.


Chris said...

I have to say, I'm quite intrigued by your take on the standard vampire novel, Marta! Off to further expand my TBR list...

Indigo said...

Wonderful interview Patricia!

I've heard it said over and over the best writing is written about what you know. Would you say these books have some first hand knowledge in them personality, income, background wise? Or would you look at them in terms of broading your knowledgablity?

Thanks for taking the time to let us in your world.(Hugs)Indigo


Marta said...

Hello, everyone!

Thanks, Erotic Horizon, for the kind words. Humor was driving the stories, but I also included themes and tried to be fairly complex in the plotting.

Hope you enjoy my books, Chris!

Indigo, like Milagro, I was one of those young people living in a city with crappy jobs and no money. My friends were like her crowd, involved in art, film, music... Most of us were scraping by, but some were living off trust funds.

Many scenes in my book are based on locations that I'm familiar with. I really do spend a lot of time at a wine country ranch (not mine!). But my visit to a small seaside town can be developed into a broader scene, or a friend's description of a lavish spa can be the basis of a setting.

My characters are really fictional, and I try to make them individual with the sort of quirks that real people have. Thanks for your question!

Mo from Unmainstream Mom Reads said...

No need to enter me in the contest - I am the proud owner of all three books :)

I just wanted to say that Marta Acosta is a wonderful writer, and the Casa Dracula books are great - smart, funny & interesting. I highly recommend them!

Vampy Nurse said...

two questions come to mind after reading your interview.
You mentioned that you studied at Stanford... literature, and all that good stuff, so it makes sense that you would be a successful, published writer.

Do you think that in order to be a successful writer, you need to have all this "fancy" long education?

and two, why didn't you ever learn Spanish?!?!

bridget3420 said...

I haven't had the pleasure of reading your books but I'm definitely going to have to after reading this interview. The fact the main character wears her heart on her sleeve makes it a must read for me.

bridget3420 said...

I love people who "use humor to cope with the insanity of their live". My husband and I are pro's at this!!

bridget3420 said...

Forgot to leave my email.


Jo said...

I've read the first 2 and really enjoyed them. I agree that Milagro is a great character.

I've always kinda wondered why I don't see more of fiction's wealthy, stunning, and worldly vampires being real snobs. From what I've read, if they are snobbish it's because they think they are better than humans. I like your twist on things - it makes more sense.


AriesRain said...

What, the 4th book won’t be out until next year?! Just kidding. Even though it is torture, I can wait patiently.

My question is:

I know you receive tons of emails from fans with their opinions on how Milagro’s happily ever after should go and whom she should have it with. Can you tell us who your fan base seems to favor more; Oswald, Ian, or someone else we have barely or not yet met yet?

Marta said...

Hi, Mo, nice to have to stop by!

Vampy Nurse, I don't think you have to attend a Fancy University in order to be a good writer, or even go to college at all. (Some of the smartest and most talented people I know have no formal education.)

But I do think that reading, thinking about, and discussing literature with smart thoughtful people helps improve one's craft.

And I do think that writing is a craft as well as an art. Innate talent is all good and well, but you've got to work on technique, too.

You can join a book club, talk to bookstore staff, attend free readings and lectures, take classes at the local city college, join an online group, or just share books with your best friend.

Hi, Bridget, hope you enjoy the books, and I think you might if you use humor to cope.

Hello, Jo, yes, being a blue-collar girl, I have a chip on my shoulder about class, so I always assumed wealthy vamps would be total snobs. This worked perfectly with writing a romantic comedy, many of which have class and social conflicts.

Hi, AriesRain. Oh, you are trying to cheat and find out what I'm doing! Fans seem to favor Ian over Oswald, but my editor loves Oswald. Milagro does meet another guy in the next book, someone who's her age, likes to party, but also has a more serious side. Oh, and he surfs. That's all I'm telling you for now!

AriesRain said...

Heehee... I confess was trying to cheat, but just a little. Thanks for indulging me though! I am full of grins after reading your answer.

Vickie said...


I have as yet wanted to pick up CASA DRACULA, as I always (mistakenly) thought of it as paranormal romance and I don't really enjoy that genre. I DO, however, enjoy humorous paranormal, so will remedy and pick up (or win...) a copy.

Marta: You and I like a lot of similar shows. Do you have any favorite authors of the paranormal genre. My favorites are MaryJanice Davidson, Jeaniene Frost, Jeanne C Stein, Mario Acevedo, Kat Richardson, Barb and J C Hendee, Vicki Pettersson, among others....

Fab interview, Patricia!


kimmyl said...

I've read the first two and I love them. Will you be writing other books besides vampire romance novels.

Marta said...

Hi, Vickie, you know I don't read much paranormal fiction, especially since I'm writing it. I don't want to be influenced by someone else. That said, one of my faves is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It's a very funny story about an angel and a demon -- friends after all their years working together -- and the end of the world. My favorite paranormal story right now is on TV, "Supernatural."

Kimmie, my next book is a romantic comedy, no vamps. I have written a teen gothic with a vamp theme. It's out with editors now and I hope someone will buy it. It's very different in tone from my Casa Dracula novels, serious and dark and mysterious. I love the story and think others will like it, too.

Vampy Nurse, I never learned Spanish because English was spoken in my home. I've studied Spanish and other languages, and I can't do much more than order coffee and ask for directions to the metro.

mindy said...

it is amazing how you can weave humor into a book of this nature i have never read any of your books but most definitely will after reading the interview

Vampy Nurse said...

Hey Marta,
well if Spanish was not spoken in your home, then that explains it!
I learned it because both my parents only spoke Spanish to us.

i have to say, beeing bilingual, it is challenging to speak Spanish to my children now. It's so much easier to speak English. Especially since my husband and i have always spoken English to each other before they came along.
We both have to really make a councious effort to speak Spanish to our kids. It's usualy a mix of Spanglish... but they understand it well and i'm trying to get them to speak it better.

OH, and thanks for the tips and your insight on writing, I really appreciate it. :)

Marta said...

Mindy, humor comes naturally to me. The tough part is being serious when I have to be. (I haven't found a situation yet when I have to be, but it may come up.)

Vampy, you're welcome. As for language, I think some of us are wired to pick up languages easier than others. I wish I spoke several languages, but learning them is another issue altogether.

Debdesk said...

I love your interview and The Bride of Casa Dracule looks like a great read. I would love to be included in your drawing.

Valorie said...

I guess Dracula and then Lestat really set the bar high on the expectation that vampire's should be elegant and high class. This does come off as snobbish, or at least sets them even more apart from normal humans. The snobbishness just makes them even more enchanting and sophisticated. They exist in a world their own.


Ladytink_534 said...

I love her blogs but I still haven't gotten around to reading her books. Shame on me!!! She has great taste in movies and books :)


Catherine Karp (Suburban Vampire) said...

Great interview, Patricia. I already own her wonderful first book, so no need to enter me in the contest.

Marta: I agree with you entirely about adding a humorous women's fiction section to bookstores. Heck, they can even have a humorous male fiction section--I'd browse both! I feel terrible for authors given misleading covers and buried in the vast sea of general fiction.

liane66 said...

She is the only child of Mexican parents, but is not bilingual.
Thanks for the giveaway.

Marta said...

Hi, everyone!

Yes, Ladytink, you should be reading my books!

Catherine, if there ever is a humorous section, I hope to find novels of your shelved there too.

Valorie, I don't think I agree that snobbiness makes one enchanting. I think snarkiness can make one good company, though.

Lianne, I'm not the only child. I'm the only daughter. I have a pack of brothers, but yearned for a sister. It was important to my parents that we speak English well, so they spoke English to us.

Anonymous said...

I found this interview to be so interesting. Do you think these book would be appropriate for my 16 year old granddaughter? Her mother (my daughter-in-law) is hispanic, and it seems that Milagro would be a fun roll model.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading about the books and the inspirations behind them. Thanks for the interview. I've heard of this series, but have never read any of them. They sound really good though. So please enter me in the giveaway. Thanks!


Kat Bryan said...

I find it interesting that bookstores don't know how to classify your books. The covers do look like romance novels but from the interview, I'm not sure what you would call them besides novels.

Chris said...

I linked to your contest today.

Anonymous said...

It's great to see more Vampire stories told in a humorous vein (pun intended). I'm so sick of the melodrama (a la Bela Lugosi type) and the eroticism. Getting bitten in the neck by sharp fangs doesn't get me hot. But I always enjoy a good comedy, no matter what it is about.


Marta said...

Hi, all!

Beulah, a lot of teens read my books and they are even bought by school libraries and high school teachers for classroom libraries.

Kat, bookstores go by covers, but cover designers don't read the books. I write contemporary fiction and these books are primarily romantic comedies. I wish I had more control over the cover art and the titles, because they signal to readers and booksellers what type of story a book is.

The cover of the third book, The Bride of Casa Dracula, is my favorite since it shows someone laughing, has a chic design, and also shows the paranormal element. The initial cover for this one was a somber couple with their faces hidden in shadows and didn't reflect the humor or style of the book.

Anonymous said...

Created a link in my blog:
under Blog Roll.

Patricia Altner said...

My thanks to everyone who participated in the contest and to those who took time to read the interview.

Special thanks to Marta for her candor and generosity.

Love you guys!

Tanya said...

Please don't submit me, I have the entire collection and I cherish these books.

I've been wanting to leave a comment, but haven't had a chance until now.
Great interview...I really enjoyed reading the Q & A from the fans and Marta; very insiteful..