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A warm welcome to Karen Chance author of the popular, and vampire friendly, Cassandra Palmer series. In April book four, Curse the Dawn, made the New York Times bestseller list, and deservedly so.
Many thanks for taking the time for this interview!
PVN: Thousands of books are published each year. What sets the Cassandra Palmer Series apart from those other books?
Karen: A number of things. First it’s structured differently. Most urban fantasies tend to lean either toward the mystery genre, where the lead is a supernatural detective, or to the romance genre, where the story centers around the growing relationship between two otherworldly lovers. The Cassie Palmer series has elements of both mystery and romance, but it’s more of a fantasy thriller than anything else. It also has a somewhat unusual plotline, in which each book has its own plot that’s wrapped up at the end, but there’s also an ongoing meta-plot that continues through all of the books.
And then there’s the lead character. I wanted to do something a little different, and no one had a clairvoyant as their lead, much less one brought up by the vampire mafia! I also wanted to do time-travel in the books, because I’m a historian by profession. Cassie, my lead character, became the pythia. It's the title of the world’s chief clairvoyant (based on the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi), who can not only see the past, but travel into it.
Finally, it must be said that in a sea of kick-butt heroines, Cassie is, uh, different. A recent review characterized her as “a smarter Inspector Clouseau” which made me laugh because it’s so true. A bunch of power was dumped in her lap, but the training to manage it didn’t come as part of the deal and she didn’t exactly take that in stride. I always thought it was a little too convenient when characters in novels or comic books had a life altering event which they just seemed to blow off. If I was suddenly able to fly or punch down buildings--or time travel like Cassie--I don’t think I’d take it so well, and neither did she. Of course, there’s a learning curve happening, and she is slowly becoming more capable. But seeing her flail around like any normal person would has been a lot of fun.
PVN: Which book in the Cassandra Palmer series is your favorite?
Karen: Curse the Dawn, probably. It was not the most fun to write, mind you—I tore my hair out over that book! But it’s the one I most proud of, maybe for that same reason. It also has several scenes I’d wanted to do for some time, but couldn’t because the foundation wasn’t there. So it was nice to finally get to that point in the plotline.
PVN: Who is your favorite character in this series?
Karen: I don’t really have a favorite. I like them all, even the villains! However, Billy Joe (Cassie’s ghost companion), Mircea (her vampire lover) and Pritkin (her war mage bodyguard) are the easiest to write. Cassie can sometimes be more difficult, because I have to constantly keep in mind what she knows and what she can do at this point in the story. The other characters develop emotionally as the story progresses, but she is not only growing up, she’s also growing into her power. I have to pull myself back sometimes and say, no, she wouldn’t be able to do that yet.
PVN: Like many I find the war mage Pritkin especially fascinating. What can you say about him without spoilers, of course?
Karen: John Pritkin is part of the war mage corps, the body charged with maintaining the peace in the supernatural world. Most of the time, the corps acts like a police force, running down those who break magical laws and bringing them for trial. But the recent war in the supernatural community has forced them to also act as an army, and Pritkin is at the forefront of the fight. He has the unenviable task of trying to keep Cassandra Palmer, the chief seer of the supernatural world, alive when the list people who want her dead seems to grow every day.
Protecting Cassie causes Pritkin frequent nightmares, but the most dangerous aspect of their relationship may be the growing attraction between them. Cassie is claimed by a powerful master vampire, Mircea, who can be utterly ruthless when protecting what he views as his. Pritkin also has compelling reasons of his own for avoiding intimacy. Yet temptation can be so hard to resist…
PVN: Would you mind talking about the body switching between Pritkin and Cassie. It was so cleverly written. How was it for you to write it?
Karen: I really enjoyed that one! All books have certain elements that have to be present in order for the plot to come together; the trick is to also make them enjoyable to read. I think in this case, plot exposition also ended up being very funny!
PVN: Please describe Dante's?
Karen: It’s a casino in Las Vegas that features prominently in the books as a sort of base of operations for Cassie. Her vampire protector, Mircea, owns it, so it’s as safe as anywhere for her. A lot of the comedy of the books comes out of Dante’s, which was designed with the idea of concealing any slip ups of the paranormal kind. It’s sort of a demented haunted house, with shops, restaurants and bars themed to almost any kind of supernatural motif imaginable.
PVN: Cassie is a pythia. What is a pythia and why does Cassie have so much trouble doing her job?
Karen: The pythia was the ancient Greek name for a seer, with the most famous of all being the oracle at Delphi. The Cassandra Palmer series is set in a world where the pythia still exists and is an important force in the supernatural hierarchy. As to why Cassie has problems with her job, that’s easy: no one ever taught her how to do it. Her clairvoyance is natural, but the rest of the job (and there is a lot more to it) is not. As she was never considered for the role, she was never given the proper training. She is figuring things out, but it takes time. Maybe more than she has.
PVN: Curse the Dawn debuted at #7 on the April 26, 2009 New York Times Bestseller list! - How did it feel making the NYT bestseller list?
Karen: Embrace the Night, the previous Cassandra Palmer novel, debuted at #6, so this wasn’t the first time the series showed up in the top ten. That being said, it was wonderful to make the list again. It’s great when fans of the series enjoy it enough to rush out and get the book when it is first available, because making the list helps to spread word about the series.
PVN: Dorina Basarab is the dhampir (half-human, half-vampire) heroine in her own series. Would you describe Dory's character and what some of her challenges are?
[Midnight's Daughter (Dorina Basarab, Dhampir, Book 1)]
Karen: Dory is pretty much persona non grata in the supernatural world. She is hated and feared by vampires as a creature who traditionally has preyed on their kind. But she isn’t liked much better by humans, because dhampirs in my world are prone to rage-fueled black outs that are as frightening as they are dangerous. This has left her in limbo for much of her life, with seriously strained family relationships and few friends. That is starting to change, however, as Dory finds a niche for herself in the most unlikely of places: the middle of a war in the supernatural community. Suddenly, her special skills are needed and valued, even if she herself is not.
PVN: Dracula has a role in Dorina's life. How much of Bram Stoker's Dracula is like the vampire you write about?
Karen: They were both based on legends about Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes, a fifteenth century ruler of Wallachia) and they’re both vampires, but that’s about it. My Dracula was a psychopathic killer with a serious grudge against his elder brother, Mircea, who had helped to imprison him.
PVN: What attracts you to the paranormal?
Karen: I like the scope it provides for imagination and inventiveness. There are things you can do in fantasy that you simply can’t get away with in any other genre (except for maybe science fiction) and that presents a chance to do something new.
PVN: Are there particular books or authors that inspired you to be a writer?
Karen: That list would be very, very long!. I have always read eclectically, and have enjoyed works in many genres. I suppose that is why I write books that blend fantasy with mystery, comedy, thrillers and romance—because I’ve enjoyed books in all of those genres. I also read in science fiction, horror, and historical fiction.
PVN: Do you have any favorite paranormal TV programs or movies?
Karen: I like True Blood. Charlaine Harris’s books are always fun, and the producers managed to bring them to life without butchering them (a rare feat). I liked the Dresden Files, too, and was sorry it didn’t stay around longer. And, of course, I liked Buffy. Everyone liked Buffy. It was the single most influential fantasy TV show in recent memory.
PVN: Describe your writing environment and your writing day.
Karen: My writing “day” is usually at night, because I just seem to think better then. As for my environment…
You know, I was asked a while ago to take a photo of my office for a web page. I felt a little intimidated, because most of the other offices they had displayed were well-appointed, uber-organized and sparklingly clean spaces, like something off a film set. Whereas mine…well, I’ll just say that, at the moment, my office/storeroom/exercise room contains mainly chewed up doggie toys, piles of books I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, notes I left myself that I no longer understand, old sneakers and various scattered CDs. There’s a computer wedged in there, too, which I use when I can find it.
PVN: What do you do for relaxation?
Karen: Not a lot these days! I always find it funny when people tell me, “Oh, you’re an author? You must have tons of free time!” Not so much. I actually spend way more time at my job now than I ever did at any nine-to-five occupation. Putting out two books a year, plus novellas and short stories, plus the editing and promotional duties that come with the job, keeps me very busy! When I do get a chance to relax, I like to travel, read, cook, and just hang out with friends.
PVN: How can readers find you on the web?
Karen: My website is www.KarenChance.com. News about the series, contests and sample chapters can be found there.
Cassandra Palmer series:
Touch the Dark (Cassandra Palmer, Book 1)
Claimed by Shadow (Cassandra Palmer, Book 2)
Embrace the Night (Cassandra Palmer Series, Book 3)
Curse the Dawn (Cassandra Palmer, Book 4)
Dorina Basarab series:
Midnight's Daughter (Dorina Basarab, Dhampir, Book 1)
Death's Mistress (Dorina Basarab, Book 2)
[pub date is January 5, 2010]
One lucky commenter will each win signed copies of Embrace the Night (Cassandra Palmer Series, Book 3) and Curse the Dawn (Cassandra Palmer, Book 4).
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Contest ends June 18 at 11:59 PM Pacific Time