Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Paranormal/Historical Rising Star Barbara Monajem

I've been waiting for a while to interview the talented Barbara Monajem. A writer of paranormal and historical novels, her 2005 Daphne Honorable Mention, Love in a Twisted Garden, landed on the desk of Dorchester's Senior Editor Christopher Keeslar, and in November, 2008, Barbara got THE CALL. Naturally as the coordinator of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense I was excited for her. I know readers will be too. Please welcome Barbara Monajem, author of Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil.

D.B.: Barbara, welcome to Five Scribes.

B.M.: Thanks, Donnell. I'm happy to be a guest at your very cool blog.

D.B.: Why, thank you! I'd read an earlier version of Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, so when I read the published version, I noticed a substantial change. You'd substituted a different male protagonist. Not that I'm objecting--Gideon O'Toole is great hero material and his sex appeal leaps off the page. But what happened to your paranormal protagonist in the first version? Will we see him in another book in this series? Then, I'd love it if you'd tell us how Detective Gideon O'Toole came about.

B.M.: I'm not sure which version you read, Donnell (there have been many!), but I think you're referring to Constantine, the Native America rock star who was the protagonist on my first Daphne Entry in 2004. Eventually, he became a major secondary character in Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil. He has dangerous telepathic abilities and is a fascinating character to write. His story will be the third in the Bayou Gavotte series I'm working on now. I decided to create Gideon O'Toole because I felt that Ophelia's story--which involves vandalism, death threats, blackmail and murder--worked better with a sexy, persistent police officer as the hero. This really surprised me, because I'd never considered having a cop hero before, but Gideon was tons of fun to write.

D.B.: I love surprises as well as cop stories, and this particular protagonist works. Gideon is awfully fond of Ophelia Beliveau. But then, lots of men are. Ophelia is a vampire, but she's not one of the typical vamps we normally read about. She has no problem with daylight and she's not a member of the undead. She's human, but her vampire abilities are caused by a genetic mutation. She is everything most women wish they could be. She's likable, has compassion for people, but she has two differentiating traits--she craves blood and she's irresistible to men. I imagine you had a lot of fun creating Ophelia. She has stayed much the same character as in the earlier version in my opinion. What went through your mind when you created her? And how has she grown since your earlier version?

B.M.: I was intrigued by the idea of what it would be like to be irresistible. People may imagine it would be fun, but all I could think of were the difficulties! Being irresistible is the bane of Ophelia's existence, and problems with obsessive and even violent boyfriends make her give up on men altogether. But she really needs sex and blood to stay calm and happy--that's part of her genetic heritage. I don't think Ophelia's character changed much from one version to another.

D.B.: You certainly created conflict for Ophelia -- to resist men is to reject who she is. And she's determined to remain a love-starved vampire until she meets Gideon O'Toole. You create a wonderful setting for your book, a fictional place in Louisiana called Bayou Gavotte. Ophelia is a sympathetic character, a landscaper, who lives in a trailer and worries her niece may inherit the vampire gene. I also love the charming old world names you chose...Ophelia, Artemisia, Gideon, Zelda, Constantine. Of course, there's some quirky character names, too, e.g. Leopard, an underworld mob boss and Ophelia's cat Psyche. Did you search long and hard for these, or how did they come to you?

B.M.: Names usually just jump into my head while I'm writing. (Similarly characters just walk onto the page. :) Sometimes I have to change the names, though. There's a secondary character in the next book in the series, Taste of Love and Evil, which will be out in August. The name that jumped into my head during the first draft was Udo. During revisions, the character changed quite a bit, and that name just didn't fit anymore, so he became Gil.

D.B.: Sounds like you and your muse do a lot of talking. As I mentioned the book is quite different from the version I read. What convinced you to rewrite it and make such a dramatic change in plot when it was already winning awards in contests?

B.M.: I realized that Ophelia and Constantine had different stories and different requirements as characters. They are close friends, but they aren't meant to be lovers. Ophelia got a new hero, and Constantine, the rock star, gets a new heroine in book three.

D.B.: He's already an intriguing secondary character. Can't wait until Constantine gets a book of his own to see who you pair him with. I suspect we're in for a sexy, fun read!

Talk about your relationship with Dorchester. Senior Editor Christopher Keeslar gives you some high praise in your first book, Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, comparing you in originality, Southern atmosphere and interpretation of vampire mythology to Charlaine Harris and her Sookie Stackhouse novels. What an outstanding compliment. Have you read Ms. Harris, and are you a fan?

B.M.: This is indeed a wonderful compliment, both from Chris and Susan Squires, the New York Times bestselling author who provided a quote comparing my story to Charlaine Harris's novels. I'm very grateful to both of them. I've read several of the Sookie books, and I love them. I've gotten behind on my reading in the last few years, but my daughter just loaned me all the rest of the Sookie books, and I can't wait to dive in. As for my relationship with Dorchester, they've been just great to work with, and very professional. Chris is brilliant and laid-back--the perfect combination in an editor.

D.B.: Tell us about the title Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil. Ophelia is obviously a lover of horticulture. Who chose the title and did you have any say in the matter? Also, your cover is outstanding. Did you have any input, or was that all a marketing decision?

B.M.: Chris Keeslar suggested the title, and of course I agreed to it. I was thrilled to have a title with so much punch! At the time, I hadn't read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but I went ahead and read it right away. What a fascinating story! I have great plans for my next visit to Savannah, all based on reading that book. As for the cover, I had a little input, but really, I don't know the first thing about marketing or what makes a good cover. I was thrilled to get such a gorgeous one.

D.B.: And it is gorgeous. You got "The Call" in 2008, and the book came out in 2010. You recently signed a three-book deal with Dorchester. What kind of deadline stress does that create, and how life has changed from an unpublished author to that of a published one?

B.M.: I'm past deadline now to finish revisions on the second book, which is due out in August. It's definitely stressful, but I try to set the stress aside and enjoy the writing process. Since being published, I've become much busier. Promotion takes an incredible amount of time. I thought I would hate it, but as it turns out I don't mind it as much as I expected, and the blogs and interviews are fun. They're definitely a welcome change of pace from writing novels. And it's a lot of fun to go into bookstores and ask to sign copies of my novel that they have in stock. :)

D.B.: That does sound like fun. You also write historicals. You had a novella come out in January. Last we talked you were working full time. Tell us how you handle your business and your new life as an author?

B.M.: Hmm. Well, I haven't been published long, so maybe I've yet to learn something worth mentioning here. There's a lot of great advice out there, and most of it is valid, but every person's experience is different. So I guess I would just recommend perseverance and a sense of humor.

D.B.: Laughter, good advice. I had such fun reading Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil. I loved the characterization, the weaving in of suspense and naturally the romance. For those who love sexual tension in novels, Barbara Monajem does it well. Here's an excerpt.

Setup: The heroine, Ophelia, is a horny vampire longing for some good red blood. Tony is another vampire and Phelia's friend, the hero. Gideon is a cop who doesn't believe in vampires when the story begins. He's in for a big surprise.

Tony whipped a knife out of nowhere and slashed Gideon’s thumb. Blood welled up, alive and brilliant red, rolling over Gideon’s wrist and down his arm.

Gideon sprang away. “What the hell was that for?”

“Tony, you traitor!” Ophelia leaped for Gideon, grabbed his thumb, and sucked it into her mouth, jamming his arm between the warm, lush curves of her breasts, backing him up to the wall. He sank against it, the sensation of her tongue against his bloody thumb making him so weak he could hardly stand. Her mouth swirled around and over his thumb and down his wrist, lapped up the blood on his arm, then returned to the wound, painting out the pain and offering pure pleasure instead.

Tony retreated laughing to the kitchen. He shut the door softly behind him, and the light on the patio went out.

Ophelia let go of Gideon’s thumb and sagged against him, all soft, pliant curves and hot breath on his chest. She shivered and let out a tiny moan. Her fingers burned across his skin, seethed up his neck and into his hair, and he shuddered in turn as she raised her head and latched her mouth to his. He groaned, yielding to the hunger and intoxication of her lips and tongue, returning the heat with an ardor as needy and demanding. He ran a hand down her spine, licking at her lips, fencing with her tongue, aflame to explore and discover and possess.

She broke the kiss and made as if to withdraw. No! His heart hammering, his loins insistent, Gideon held her hard against him, breast and belly and thighs—No, don’t go!—and bathed his senses in her glory. Stay with me forever.

Ophelia pulled away. She opened the gate to the dark alley beside the restaurant and turned back to Gideon, left breathless and bereft against the cool brick wall. “You won’t need a bandage,” she said.

D.B: Well, readers get the picture ;) Before I let you go I thought I'd ask your opinion about contest for aspiring authors.

B.M.: Enter the Daphne Contest, of course! (Too bad the deadline for this year's contest is already past.) Needles to say, I highly recommend contests. They're good for many, many reasons. If you final, you get your work in front of an agent or editor (and may even end up with a publishing contract). Regardless of whether you final, the feedback is worthwhile. High scores are a great ego booster, low scores can help you develop a thick skin, and medium scores (at least in my experience) are the most useful, because often (especially if many judges say the same thing), they help you tweak your manuscript, hopefully making it appeal to a wider audience. Also contests give you experience in figuring out which advice is useful and which can safely be ignored. Another advantage is that the judging is anonymous, so judges can feel more comfortable about being frank in their opinions. I'd recommend entering a number of contests, if possible, to get feedback from quite a few judges.

D.B.: Thanks for the plug, and I so agree about contests. Thanks also for being here, Barbara. What comes next in life?

B.M.: Once I finish with the revisions of Tastes of Love & Evil (that will be tomorrow at the latest!), I will get on with writing Constantine's story. I'm also finishing a novella in the Bayou Gavotte series, which will form part of an anthology sometime soon.

D.B.: I'm looking forward to all of them. So there you have it, Five Scribe Readers. If you love paranormal themed books, you're in for a great escape. Also, one lucky commenter will win a copy of Barbara Monajem's first book. She's also offering more free books and other prizes during April. See the events page on her website www.BarbaraMonajem.com for more information.

Questions? Comments? We'll keep this interview open Friday April 16th and then do our drawing. Please be sure to leave contact information so we can contact you. Happy Reading & Writing!



Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Barbara,

Just popping over from Petit Fours and Hot Tamales. Great Q&A. I learned a lot more about your writing process and I can't wait to read the series. (I usually collect all and then have a reading marathon until I finish them)

Congrats on the sell!

Sandy Elzie

Anita Clenney said...

I love the concept of this book, and I think the characters sound just fascinating. Loved the excerpt. Can't wait to read the whole story.

Jerrie Alexander said...

What a great and interesting concept. The excerpt was compelling. I certainly want to know more! Congrats and good luck.

To hear you actually remove and replace characters made me feel a little less odd! I've done the same when the spark between hero and heroine didn't ignite.

Donnell, thanks for a great interview.

Jerrie Alexander

Barbara Monajem said...

Hi, Sandy! (Sandy's one of my chapter mates. Yay!)

As for reading series, I'm just the opposite. After a few by the same author, I always take a break, then come back later for more. Whatever works!

Barbara Monajem said...

Hi, Anita! Great to see you again on my tour of the blogs. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the whole book. (And I can't wait to read your warrior stories!)

Donnell said...

Good morning, everybody. Hi, Barbara! I'm with Jerrie on removing characters. They become so real to me, that I have to put them in another book! I know these characters are very real to Barbara ;)

Barbara Monajem said...

Jerrie - One of the funny things about writing is having to keep reminding oneself that nothing is written in stone -- that plots and characters can be changed if they aren't working. It took me a while to get used to that. Once something was written, it felt so *real.*

Mary Marvella said...

Oh, Barbara! I know I'm gonna love all your books. Love your twist on an old concept.

Mary Marvella said...

Oh, Barbara! I know I'm gonna love all your books. Love your twist on an old concept.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Okay - the excerpt hooked me. It's now on my wish list with B&N.

Judy said...

Hi, Barbara! Such fun to read how your story began and evolved. Love the premise of Ophelia's conflicts. Great story idea. Can't wait to read it!

Rowena Cherry said...

Hi, Barbara,

I really enjoyed your excerpt and the story behind the story!

Barbara Monajem said...

Hey, Donnell!! Thanks for having me here, and it's so cool to see you over at the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers today.

Heh. I have so many characters clamoring for their own stories!

Barbara Monajem said...

Mary M - Glad you like the concept. Hope you love the books!

Stacy - Thank you for putting my book on your wish list! I appreciate that so much.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Great interview Donnell and Barabara. And Barbara - I'm going to take your advice about approaching being published. I think I'll need a very large sense of humor to get through it. You have been an inspiration to watch through the process:)

Patrice said...

Great blog, and loved your excerpt! I've never been a paranormal fan, but you may have just made me one! What a fabulous character you've created - bet she was fun to write.

Mary Ricksen said...

I so enjoyed hearing about your writing. And your book is on the top of my to be read pile. I am so amazed by you, and proud of you!
But then we all at the PFS had no doubts that you would be such a complete success!!!

Linsey Lanier said...

Great interview. Thanks for all the insight on being published, Barbara.

Constantine as the love interest? Wow. His book will be even more fun to write - and to read. :)

Barbara Monajem said...

Judy - Funny how some characters' conflicts just work out so well, and others you have to really work to figure out. Ophelia's came naturally!

Barbara Monajem said...

Rowena - Thank you so much for stopping by. (I would like to hear the story behind some of *your* stories one day.)

Barbara Monajem said...

Joelle - You already have a great sense of humor, so no worries. :)

Barbara Monajem said...

Patrice - Ophelia was a ton of fun to write. I hope I have indeed converted you, LOL.

Mary R - You're making me blush again!!!

Linsey - Yeah, writing Constantine is quite a challenge. But a fun one!