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.
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.