|Susan Sizemore: Multiple Mythos|
It never occurred to Susan Sizemore that she couldn't write anything she wanted to -- romance, fantasy, space opera, mystery. But she confesses a special fondness for vampires. Sizemore's many fans feel the same about her two very different vampire series, the Laws of the Blood (fantasy) and the Primes (paranormal romance).
Sizemore relishes the challenge of exploring the varied facets of the vampire myth in two simultaneous series. But vampires represent only a small fraction of Sizemore's fictional universes. Recently, she talked to Crescent Blues about those other worlds -- from galaxies far, far away to ancient Egypt to basketball.
Crescent Blues: What first inspired you to write about vampires?
Susan Sizemore: I've always been a big fan of vampire novels -- and all other vampire media. I read Dracula for the first time when I was 13, but I didn't like it then. I had to rediscover it as an adult. It was Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain books that really got me into vampires. Then Anne Rice came along. I've read just about every vampire book out there, and what I haven't read yet is on my tbr [to be read] pile.
I love the current crop of vampire romances, but I'm also very influenced by dark fantasy vampires, such as the books of Tanya Huff and P.N. Elrod. Vampires are wonderful metaphors for what we fear and desire and shouldn't want, but do.
I think I always wanted to give vampires a try, but the first chance I had professionally was getting a contract to write a media tie-in novel based on one of my favorite television series. Forever Knight: A Stirring of Dust is based on the characters and setting of the Forever Knight syndicated vampire detective series. I went into that project because I was such a fan of the show. It was like writing fan fiction, but getting paid (very little) for it. After writing that book I knew I wanted to develop my own original vampire ideas.
Crescent Blues: What prompted you to start a second vampire series?
Susan Sizemore: With the Laws of the Blood series I explore modern fantasy themes. These books have romantic elements, but are essentially about an underground culture. With the Primes series I concentrate on the romance element. The Primes books are romance books that happen to have vampires.
Crescent Blues: How does the vampire universe depicted in the Laws of the Blood series differ from the universe of the Primes?
Susan Sizemore: In many, many ways. They are two separate and distinct universes. In the Laws of the Blood universe I never, ever want the reader to forget that the protagonists are monsters. The vampires and enforcers might be the good guys of the stories, but these vampires enslave their companions, and every few years they must kill and consume a mortal. They can put it off, they can kill only bad mortals, but they are still killers. The enforcers kill and consume the vampires, which is also taking sentient life.
The vampires exist by performing dark magic. The Laws vampires were created by a curse, and pass this curse on to the vampires they create. Now, one of the ways I plan on developing this universe is by finding a way for them (at least the enforcers) to be freed from this curse. Also, the Laws books are dark fantasy stories with romantic elements, and very much about the need for drastic changes in this culture.
The Primes books are fun. They are about romance and love and lust, and heroism. This is not to say that an equal amount of worldbuilding doesn't go into developing the Prime cultures.
The romance is the primary purpose for a Primes book, with the fantasy element less emphasized. These books are about finding True Love, about the hunt for a soul mate.
There are three vampire cultures in the Primes books, the Clans, Families and Tribes. The Primes are biologically vampires -- they're born that way. The Clans abide by an ancient chivalric code and protect their mortal cousins. The Families tend to be more neutral. And the Tribes are the nasty bloodsucking fiends out of legend. In the Primes book, these biological vampires interact with, and find mates, among humans.
Crescent Blues: How did the different social structures evolve in your brain? Were they a response to the different needs of fantasy (Laws of the Blood) and romance (the Primes) genres?
Susan Sizemore: I always enjoy worldbuilding. And face it, you can take the basic vampire ingredients -- night-dwelling, blood-drinking, and long-lived -- and take them in any direction that you want. Not only are they creatures that appear in many mythos, they are also (I hope) creatures of fiction.
Fiction is a very pliable thing. I have at least a half dozen versions of vampire cultures/origins/worlds in my head, and could probably come up with more at the drop of a hint. And, yes, the social structures of both universes did evolve in response to the type of vampire stories they are. The fantasy concentrates on the culture of the vampires. The romance concentrates on the people who are vampires.
Crescent Blues: What's the best part about writing in two different, long-running (we hope) vampire universes?
Crescent Blues: The biggest challenge?
Susan Sizemore: Remembering not to get too violent in the romances, and not to get too gunky in the fantasies, but having the right amount in each universe.
Crescent Blues: How often do you draw the physical characteristics of your heroes from actors and other celebrities?
Susan Sizemore: All the time. Heroes and heroines both, and generally most of the minor characters as well. Having a physical image of the characters helps me to concentrate on developing the personalities somehow.
But I find that each reader comes up with their own image of the characters as they go along. We all do that when we read, don't we? While I might write someone that looks like, say Keanu Reeves (come to think of it I haven't done him yet) in my head, each reader will draw a picture of that hero from a combination of my physical descriptions and her imagination.
Who do you see when I describe: "he had a long face with narrow black eyes and an ageless, serious expression. His body was so long and lean that you didn't notice the width of his shoulders at first?" Now, I see a character that looks like Keanu in that description (and I must remember to use that description in something), but a reader certainly isn't expected to.
Crescent Blues: What prompted you to "cast" Vin Diesel and Alexander Siddig -- or any of your physical models -- in their novel roles?
Susan Sizemore: Because I like them. Fortunately I don't happen to like only one physical type, so I can use all sorts of folks for character templates.
Crescent Blues: Very unusual choices for vampires, by the way. Was that deliberate?
Susan Sizemore: I don't see them as unusual at all. If someone is "made" into a vampire then they should come in all shapes, sizes and ethnicities. If someone is born a vampire I'd expect a range of body types in the gene pool.
Crescent Blues: Which comes first for you -- the physical description of the characters or their emotional landscape?
Susan Sizemore: The physical characteristics. I tend to get to know the characters as I write them. After all, stories come out of people having problems. I learn about the characters emotional landscapes as I figure out how they deal with their problems.
Crescent Blues: Does this vary from genre to genre?
Susan Sizemore: Nope. People are people. Genres are just the emphasis that's put on a plot. The same plot can take place in any genre -- what makes a story belong in any one genre is what elements the author concentrates on in the plot. There aren't that many plots, but there are infinite ways of telling stories about people, and infinite settings for those people to dwell in while living their stories. You can set Hamlet in a medieval castle, a corporate board room, or in an alien space empire, but the dude's still got to deal with the same stuff.
Crescent Blues: How hard is it to move from writing historical romance to fantasy to futuristic romance in a compressed time frame?
Susan Sizemore: It can be difficult, but I enjoy the challenge. It's the challenge that keeps me fresh. The real challenge of writing a lot is both mental and physical. After finishing a book I need to fill up on words, and rest my wrists and shoulders. It's always good to read a few books and stay away from the keyboard for a week or so between writing projects.
Crescent Blues: Can your readers look forward to any new science fiction or historical romance titles in the near future?
Susan Sizemore: Well, I just finished an historical romance, Scandalous Miranda, for Avon. I don't know when it will be published. Sometime next year, I suppose.
I do plan on writing more SF set in the same universe as Gates of Hell, but the book I start next is an epic fantasy for Tor. The working title is Blue Death and it takes place on a fantasy world reminiscent of the ancient Silk Road cultures. It has romance, adventure, lots of magic -- it's going to be a big book, one of them Robert Jordanesque-can-use-as-a-doorstop tomes.
And there's other stuff in the works, including a futuristic-set vampire story that takes place in a POW planet. I'm currently working on this for fun. It might end up in an anthology, it might end up posted on my website as a freebie. Right now I'm just having fun working on it.
Crescent Blues: To what do you attribute your wide-ranging writing interests?
Susan Sizemore: My wide-ranging reading interests. And it never occurred to me that I couldn't write anything I wanted to. There are some things I don't want to write, and some things I don't think I'd do well (hard techno science fiction, for example, or books for children). But I believe in writing what I want to read. One of the reasons I love writing short stories is that I can experiment with concepts and styles within a short framework. In short stories I've tried my hand at writing mystery, comedy, first person, I've told a story completely in dialogue. I need to keep challenging myself, and working in multiple genres helps with that.
Crescent Blues: Any genres or sub-genres you'd like to explore?
Susan Sizemore: I've done epic fantasy in collaboration, but now I'm working on one on my own. The working title is Blue Death and it takes place on a world that has a Central Asian influence. I want to write a lot more space opera. I always shied away from trying anything Arthurian, but after visiting the ruins of a Roman villa at Chedworth on a trip to England last year I've gotten the ghost of an idea for a King Arthur story. I want to write a novel set in ancient Egypt. It would be about the pharaoh Horemheb. I'd like to write more urban fantasy. I'd like to try my hand at mystery/suspense, both modern and futuristic. While not all of these books would be romances, there would be romance in all of them.
Crescent Blues: How did you become involved with Stepping Through the Stargate?
Susan Sizemore: An email from my friend Jody Lynn Nye (read her stuff, she's great!) asking me if I was interested in writing an essay for the Stargate book that she'd been asked to write an essay for. I said SURE! Then the editors of the book contacted me. Then I had to pick something about the show I wanted to discuss.
I decided to point out what I think is the reasoning behind the show's frequent use of pop culture references. I'd only discovered Stargate a few months before the invite and was eager to write about it. I'm so hooked on that show! And find the new one, Stargate: Atlantis equally engaging.
Crescent Blues: How hard is it to play in someone else's playground? Does the nature of the collaboration play a role? Does it make a difference if the subject is a themed fictional anthology or a critical analysis of a television, for example?
Susan Sizemore: It's actually almost too easy to "play in someone else's playground," especially when it comes to writing fiction. The worldbuilding is done for you, the characters already exist. All a writer has to do is come up with a plot.
I started out writing fan fiction, and played in the worlds of Star Trek, Dr. Who, Star Wars and other universes for the fun of it for ten years before I got the itch to write original fiction. Writing fan fiction is a great hobby and an excellent way to learn writing. It's not a place where I want to go back to (though writing stories based on the Riddick universe and Stargate is mighty tempting…but who has the time?), unless I'm getting paid for writing media tie-in material (which my agent strongly discourages when I whine that I wanna, 'cause the pay is terrible, the royalties non-existent, and I do write for a living).
But writing an essay on an aspect of a television series is very different than writing fiction based in that universe. The essay is an analysis of some aspect of the show. It involves doing research and stating opinions. Writing the Stargate essay made me think about why I love the show, and that was a lot of thoughtful fun.
Crescent Blues: How did your collaboration with Marguerite Krause, Children of the Rock, come about?