JENA @ PURE TEXTUALITY [JENA]: Welcome to the 2014 edition of Indies In Their Undies, a month-long interview series with 31 indie authors! Today we are sitting down with Inanna Arthen!
[JENA] We have readers all over the world and I am always curious to see where our favorite authors are from. Where do you call base camp?
INANNA ARTHEN [INANNA] North central Massachusetts, in the northeastern United States.
[JENA] A common trend as of late is cross-genre authors. It has become relatively uncommon to come across an author who only writes in one specific genre. It seems there are a lot of writers who like to dip their toes in all sorts of pools. Which genre or genres do you write?
[INANNA] My novels are difficult to categorize. I usually call them “magical realism” because they’re written in a literary style, are based in a real-world universe, and don’t follow the conventions of any specific genre. They’re about vampires but they’re not horror, urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I write short fiction in different genres, including horror, fantasy, humor and straight mainstream fiction with no genre elements at all. I’m seriously considering trying my hand at cozy mysteries…but I have a hidden agenda for that one.
[JENA] Writers get inspiration from all over the place. Movies, books, music, people in their life, their own life, etc. Who or what is your most common muse?
[INANNA] My own life, and recent social history, more than anything else. I like to play with the idea that events have entirely unseen causes behind them that we never suspect, or that people living next door might be completely different than they seem to be on the surface. My characters are vampires, psychics, and magic-workers, but even the ordinary humans have secrets. One of my characters financed his Ph.D by dealing drugs to an upper class clientele, without anyone ever catching on. I have a lot of fun questioning obvious assumptions and making my readers think twice about them. I also weave a lot of my own real life experiences into my fiction, because I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences to talk about. I’m genderqueer, a Pagan, an initiated Witch, went to Harvard, started my own business, am now a UU minister, and worked for ten years in a battered women’s shelter…just for starters.
[JENA] Are you 100% independently published or do you have traditional contracts as well? If you are 100% indie, would you ever consider a traditional publishing contract? Why or why not?
[INANNA] My novels are 100% independently published. I market short fiction traditionally, and I have a story under contract to an anthology; it’s taking a long time to get to press, but I’m hoping that it eventually will be released! I chose to publish my own novels because I was so fervent about the integrity of my story. I’ve been a student of vampire fiction, folklore and media since the 1960s, and I had strong opinions about what I wanted to see in a vampire story. I hate most of the standard clichés and a lot of vampire fiction bores me to death. I write the vampire stories that I most want to read. But I knew—having followed the genre for so long—that if I sold the novels to a traditional publisher, as an unknown new author, they’d be edited to put back all the stupid clichés I took out, released with ghastly lurid covers and have a shelf life of about 5.3 seconds. I didn’t even try submitting them. I published independently to maintain control of the content and presentation of my fiction, which is more important to me than getting an advance.
Now I’ve earned around $25,000 net and sold about 5000 copies of my three books altogether, so I have a bit of a track record to give me some leverage. I don’t know if I’d accept a traditional contract at this point. It would depend on a lot of things, and I’d have to consider it very carefully. But I wouldn’t jump at one just for the money, or just because it was a big publisher. I would jump to sell the film rights, though!
[JENA] Writer’s block sucks. What do you do to overcome the blank stare when it hits you with everything it has got?
[INANNA] I reread my own writing. Seriously—it works every time. This is something I need to grapple with a lot, because I’m also a UU minister and I have to write sermons, and monthly columns for the newsletter. Hard deadlines are terrific stimulators, but I almost always start by going back and reading other material I’ve written. It really primes the pump.
[JENA] Let’s gab about your books. What fictiony goodness have you already unleashed on the general populous?
[INANNA] The first book in The Vampires of New England Series, Mortal Touch, was released in July, 2007. It started out as my 2005 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) “winner,” but by the time it was finished, it had doubled in length and almost every word had been rewritten. Mortal Touch introduces the characters of Regan Calloway, a psychic who reads things by touching them, her best friend Veronica Standish, and vampire Jonathan Vaughn. It’s set in a fictitious Massachusetts town, Sheridan, that I shoehorned into southeastern Massachusetts near Fall River and Providence, in 2004. In the story, Regan has been persuaded to help a local psychology professor turned amateur sleuth investigate cases around the area in which people awoke from blackouts with mysterious injuries and no memory. Jonathan had moved into town a couple of months earlier and when he hears about Regan’s abilities and the investigation, he visits her at the store she manages after hours to see if she can identify him. Many complications ensue from this meeting.
The Longer the Fall (2010) is the second book in the series but it’s actually the first one I started writing. I began the story that eventually became this book, after vast and extensive rewriting, in 1995 when I was on a lively egroup of enthusiastic writers called Vampyres List. I got stuck at the midpoint of the story for ten years. Writing Mortal Touch helped me figure out what was obstructing me and how to resolve it. The story begins in 1952 and introduces Diana Chilton, a woman who was raised in a secretive magical order (similar to The Golden Dawn, for example), and Thomas Morgan, the man she figures out is immortal, or at least very long-lived, and tracks down. She’s interested in immortality, not becoming a vampire—he has an entirely different agenda. The book follows their misadventures as they embark on a complex and ambitious magical project together which you know is not going to turn out well.
Diana appears “offstage” in Mortal Touch, because I knew that all these characters were going to know each other and move in and out of each other’s stories even though I didn’t yet know exactly how. I establish in Mortal Touch that the house Jonathan moves into was once a commune, and that he met Diana there. Now I wanted to tell the story of how that happened. That’s part of the plot of Book 3, All the Shadows of the Rainbow (2013), which picks up at the end of The Longer the Fall in 1955 and concludes in 1971. It also is all about magic and getting more power than you were prepared to handle, and it’s also about choices and realizing what things in this world really matter. This is the 60s, so there are a lot of drugs and sex in All the Shadows of the Rainbow. Another character from Mortal Touch appears in All the Shadows of the Rainbow, the psychologist Hiram Clauson, although he’s using a pseudonym. But what happens to him in Book 3 helps suggest why he was so obsessed with finding an explanation to the events taking place in Mortal Touch thirty-five years later.
I like fiction that makes me think, and that’s the kind of book I write. I do a lot of research, right down to looking up newspapers for specific dates to see what kind of “cultural literacy” applies (what current events would be on the mind of anyone living in that time, such that you could hardly leave it out). I look up weather conditions and moon phases—I rewrote an entire scene in Mortal Touch when I realized it was raining that day (and I couldn’t change the date). My books aren’t mental popcorn, but they do have what are called “Easter eggs” hidden in them for alert readers. I love that kind of stuff, myself!
[JENA] What’s next for you and your writing? Any new titles coming out?
[INANNA] I’ve sold a short story, “The Fishman and His Wife” to a Lovecraft/fairy tale mashup anthology entitled Once Upon an Apocalypse (Vol II). That’s been very slow in the pipeline but I’m assured that it will be published. The fourth book in The Vampires of New England Series, as yet untitled, is in progress and I’m aiming to release it this year. That will pick up from the end of Mortal Touch as Regan and Veronica continue to adjust to their new situations and Veronica gets a job. Several characters from the other books will appear.
[JENA] The latest trend with the indie author world is massive book signings and conventions featuring anywhere from 20 authors to 200 authors. What has your experience been at these events? Do you enjoy them? Or do they make you twitch and sweat?
[INANNA] I’m certainly not nervous at such events, if that’s what you mean by twitch and sweat. I resumed attending science fiction conventions in 2007 after a long hiatus. I went to World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs. I had just released my first book, Mortal Touch, a few months before. At World Fantasy, they have a big mass meet-the-authors event. Another indie-publishing friend of mine was there, and we asked about participating. “If you think of yourself as some kind of an author, you can participate,” we were told. So we signed up and were thrilled to be given official name tents with our names printed right on them. We found an open table, in this vast room full of authors including some big names indeed. We didn’t get much attention but we were euphoric.
Since then I’ve attended many conventions and have served on staff for several of them. I started being a regular program participant and doing my own author readings with 3Pi-Con in August 2008. I love doing readings, since I’m a trained actor and professional public speaker and do them very well, and I love sharing stories with an audience. But I hardly ever have an audience, which is frustrating. I don’t bother with book signings. At least with a reading the audience gets some free entertainment for their time.
[JENA] Do you have any appearances coming up? If so, tell us when and where (provide links if you have them).
[INANNA] At this time I don’t have any definite appearances scheduled. I’m the Program Chair for 8Pi-Con (http://www.pi-con-org), which is June 27-29 in Enfield, CT, but I’ll probably be too busy to do anything myself! If I can find a time to do a reading there, I will.
[JENA] Now it’s time for some just-for-fun questions! If you were digitized like Tron and put on the internet what site would you visit first?
[INANNA] If I were digitized like Tron and let loose on the Internet, I’d go zooming around destroying all the sickie animal torture and kiddie porn and terrorist websites, including their archived pages, and plant malware on every spammer’s computer on earth. I might go after the pirate websites next after I’d had a short break for some nice refreshing positive charge somewhere.
[JENA] Have you ever Googled yourself? If so, were you surprised or shocked by any of the results?
[INANNA] I have Googled myself but I can’t say I’ve been shocked. I am, as I like to say, all over the Internet like a cheap suit, and have been since 1994. If I Google either of my names (Vyrdolak is my design/Internet name) I find exactly what I expect to find.
[JENA] What would you do with a million dollars?
[INANNA] Pay the taxes on it, buy a modest house close to my family, and invest the rest of it so I could live off the interest for the rest of my life (or indefinitely, if that immortality thing happened to come up).
[JENA] If you were trapped on a desert island with one CD that you could listen to for the rest of your life what would it be?
[INANNA] I hardly ever listen to music! That’s partly because when music is playing it commands all my attention; I can’t listen to music and do anything else. If I was trapped on a desert island, I’d much rather have a musical instrument so I could create music when I was in the mood.
[JENA] How do you consume – read the book then watch the movie or watch the movie then read the book?
[INANNA] I’ve done both! Generally speaking, I’ll have read the book first by default, because I’m a much more avid reader than I am a filmgoer. But I’ve read books that I would never have read because the film version was so compelling. I read Oliver Twist (unabridged!) when I was 12 and the movie Oliver! was a big hit. I read E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime while I was waiting for the movie to come out, because just the trailer blew me away. I read Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities because I really like the movie. I tend to be skeptical about film versions of books I like, wondering what kind of hash the film will make of the book. But liking a movie adaptation of something I haven’t read makes me eager to read the book. I read The Count of Monte Cristo because I’d seen so many film adaptations and wondered what I was missing (a lot, as it turns out!). Usually I’ll like the book as much as the film, but for entirely different reasons.
[JENA] If you could live forever, would you? Why or why not?
[INANNA] This is assuming, by “live forever,” a certain quality of life—immortality without eternal youth and full health and function isn’t a deal. Assuming that, I’d say yes. There isn’t time enough before the heat death of the Universe for me to learn and do and see everything I’d like to. I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t want to be immortal because they’d get bored. I can’t even imagine that. But then, I’m a creator, with many more talents than I have time to develop and use. I’d love to be immortal.
[JENA] If you were faced with the zombie apocalypse and had to pick five people to be on your survival team, who would you pick?
[INANNA] I guess since we’re talking zombie apocalypse, I don’t have to restrict myself to real people! How about…Hermione Granger, my own characters Diana Chilton and Gregory Fitzhughes, the 21st century Sherlock Holmes (as played by Benedict Cumberbatch), and Peter Bishop from Fringe. The zombies would be doomed. Doomed, I tell you!
[JENA] Imagine the concept of reincarnation is real, who or what would you hope to come back as in your next life?
[INANNA] A film composer—the next Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer. I’d love that.
[JENA] Thank you for participating in Indies In Their Undies!
[INANNA] Thank you so much for the opportunity!