Vampires and werewolves aren’t the typical fare for readers of Christian fiction but novelist Sue Dent continues to break down established conventions with the upcoming release of Forever Richard,which will be released on January 5th, 2009.
Sue Dent’s intended audience for Forever Richard and its predecessor Never Ceese was the general market but because of her beliefs, naturally it was written from a worldview respectful of Christian values. And, Christian readers have overwhelmingly embraced it.
I (Jake Chism) recently caught up with the author and she was gracious enough to answer some of my questions. Her responses are very thought provoking and even potentially controversial.
TCM: First, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions.
Sue Dent: You’re welcome Jake and thank you for asking. It’s always nice to be recognized on sites specifically designed for Christian readers especially since Christian readers have shown so much support for my work so far.
TCM: Fans of your debut novel, Never Ceese, have anxiously been awaiting the upcoming sequel, Forever Richard. How would you describe these novels to those who may not be familiar with your work?
SD: What? You mean there are those who aren’t familiar with my work? Oh my!
Well, my debut novel Never Ceese and its sequel Forever Richard contain horror elements, vampires and werewolves, therefore it can be classified and viewed as horror.
Both have received resounding reviews from the British Fantasy Society so they can both be classified as fantasy as well.
Some have gone a step further and have applied the label Christian fiction to my stories, obviously because of the redemption theme throughout, a nice little bonus since I “are” one.
Both Richard the vampire and Ceese the werewolf struggle with what they’ve become and what they believe they want to be once more. They join forces, though rather reluctantly, to try to find a way to escape their cursed existence. I absolutely love the observation award-winning horror writer W. D. Gagliani, author of Wolf’s Trap, made in his review,
“. . .Can a persnickety vampire and an uncouth werewolf share an English castle without driving each other crazy?” (Cue pipe organ version of The Odd Couple theme.)”
This does point to the humorous elements in the story but there is clearly enough horror to keep lovers of this genre interested. After all, Never Ceese was short-listed for a Bram Stoker Award in 2007 for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.
Forever Richard continues the saga and a bit more “horrific” if you will. I’ve got such a varied audience reading now. It will be interesting to see what they think of book two. So far so good. Maryann Boo of The British Fantasy Society found Forever Richard “Insightful and thought provoking. Well worth the wait!”
TCM: Where did the idea for this series come from? Have you always been a fan of the werewolf and vampire mythology?
SD: Well I have always loved stories concerning vampire and werewolf lore and while all the stories I’d toyed with in the past were speculative, none dealt with either of these two horror elements. I remembered sitting in front of my computer the day I decided on the story—I cast all my other writing ventures aside and started something new and fresh. To me, that’s the most exciting part of writing, preparing to add someone to your family, getting to know them, getting to shape them.
I was very nervous writing about such things though. I was raised Southern Baptist (my granddaddy was a preacher, and now my brother has followed in his footsteps) and remember the “look” I’d get when I was young and would talk about vampires and werewolves. I never thought I was doing anything evil but I’d no desire to disappoint my elders whose expressions seemed to infer otherwise.
So, instead of talking about them, I secretly wrote about my two favorite horror icons and hid those writings in a small space beneath the built-in record player of our console television. There was a hole underneath the turntable.
Search local junkyards here in Mississippi, you may find my writings!
TCM: Forever Richard hits stores on January 5th and the first printing is almost sold out from pre-orders alone. What has the advanced reaction from fans and critics been like overall?
SD: It seems that the advanced reaction is that everyone is ready for the next book. Reactions I’ve seen in response to the official release date include comments like, “yes, finally!” and “I can’t wait to sink my teeth into Forever Richard.” Overall response has been overwhelmingly positive.
TCM: I know your road to publication has certainly not been an easy one. What kind of resistance, if any, did you face from CBA publishers when you were trying to get Never Ceese published? What has it been like to work with The Writers’ Café Press?
SD: After hearing horror stories from other writers, I’d have to say my road was blessed. I knew I wanted a traditional publisher so I investigated the best way to secure one. I finished my MS, searched for and later hired a professional editor; l then began submitting.
I searched for small publishers that took electronic submissions at writersmarket.com. I solicited general market publishers and Christian publishers. WritersMarket.com has a specific category for Christian publishers, if they choose to list there, and since my story dealt with redemption, I submitted to them as well.
Soon after, I had a response from someone intrigued by my story—a Christian publisher at that. Keep in mind they were not CBA/ ECPA affiliated. Those publishers required agents or at least all the ones I saw on WritersMarket.com did. So while I would’ve liked to have submitted to them because they were Christian, I didn’t.
I knew from the beginning I’d need to start with a small publisher. Big publishers aren’t interested in any author unless they’ve sold enough to make it worth the publisher’s while. That’s just good business.
By the end of the year, the intrigued publisher and I signed a contract for a hardback edition of Never Ceese and rights to its sequel. (The sequel rights is a whole other drama in itself J).
So, I can’t say that I had any real resistance from the CBA/ ECPA group. I had no contact with them, indeed, wasn’t aware of the organizations until I began searching for someone to publish Forever Richard.
I remembered thinking how easy it should be for me to get one interested. Their readers and even some of their established authors encouraged me to submit. I can not tell you how absolutely stunned I was when all the affiliated publishers, who this time volunteered to talk to me without an agent, turned me down flat. “Our market doesn’t want to read about vampires and werewolves,” they said.
One of those who claimed their market wasn’t ready, and that my MS wasn’t a good fit for their house, was Thomas Nelson. That was less than a year ago when, as I understand it now, two vampire-type novels were already in the works.
Understanding the demographic CBA and ECPA serve is one thing. It does seem affiliated publishers could be clearer on what they want (and don’t want) to see from submitting authors.
The Writers Café Press has been wonderful. It’s not often you find a publisher who knows and understands the overall market so well. They produce Biblical and Christian as well as “Christian-friendly” speculative fiction that has vast crossover appeal (yes, TWCP has specific definitions for “Christian fiction”). And they’re a traditional press so everything is in place to get in all brick and mortar bookstores, if the physical bookstores perceive a need for the book—ahem—hint, hint.
TCM: CBA publishers have traditionally distanced themselves from stories involving dark subject matter like werewolves and vampires, it seems like the climate may be changing. Why do you think this is?
SD: And CBA-affiliated publishers will always distance themselves from stories that involve dark subject matter like werewolves and vampires. Why would they not? According to them, their market doesn’t want to read this type story and isn’t ready for it. I’m aware of a couple of books these publishers have put out in recent times, that make the climate look as though it might be changing. But well, put lipstick on a pig and . . . you get the idea.
Neither CBA nor ECPA think my work will fly in their market. I’m hard-pressed to comment on their climate change or lack thereof. It doesn’t seem to bother their readers that I’m not CBA or ECPA affiliated so “I’ve got that going for me.”
TCM: You’ve stated that you never expected the overwhelming response you have received from Christian readers and reviewers. Why has this surprised you so much?
SD: I suppose I should’ve been clearer myself and specified. I meant Christian readers and reviewers who enjoy CBA and ECPA fiction. And yes, I’m very surprised this group enjoys my work. After all, according to their own publishers, they shouldn’t have given Never Ceese a second glance. I’m so glad they did though.
TCM: There are authors who would gladly embrace the label of “Christian Fiction Author”, yet there are those who would rather be known simply as Christians who write fiction. In your mind, what is the difference and which do you consider yourself to be?
SD: The label Christian Fiction can mean so many things to so many people. What is Christian? Who is Christian? Be more specific for Heaven’s sake! I write for the general market but am respectful of Christian values (Christian as I believe Christian to be) but I may never mention those values directly. Therefore, I prefer to say I’m a writer who is a Christian and even that requires explaining. Good grief!
TCM: What other projects do you have in the works? How many books are you contracted for with TWCP?
SD: Well it seems Richard and Ceese will be around for a bit. Their story just keeps growing. I’m eager to get two other books out there though. I may try to work on some simultaneously. All books are speculative in nature and “real” good, of course. LOL
As to how many books I’ve contracted to write with TWCP, the number would be five. I suspect I’ll write way more with them though as I like them. TWCP did state that if anyone wants to buy up said contract for that Rowling multi-digit price tag . . . awwww, I’m just kidding. They have my heart and I’m here to stay. Like I used to say as a kid, “if you don’t believe me, hide and watch.”
TCM: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist? What drives you as a storyteller?
SD: Okay, I’m like this volcano ready to explode. I’ve got all these ideas and storylines and plotlines and they just won’t stop. And this started early on. I don’t remember what age I was but I think during Junior High School or middle-school, as it’s called now.
I’d rush home everyday to watch Bonanza. I’d scour the TV guide every week to find out which episode was on. If it was one where a main character faced a personal trauma, I’d really hoof it (yes, I walked home from school. No, we didn’t live that far away so I’ll spare you the drama.)
Afterwards, I’d go out in my backyard and pace and think up all manner of stories that would place me at the Ponderosa with Lil’ Joe, Hoss and Adam (Adam was my favorite and ironically the only one still alive. No. I’m not suggesting I did anyone in).
I suppose it was all part of the creative process for me, though initially I expressed my creativity through fine arts, drawing, painting, you name it. In college it turned into writing because some professors can be quite boring.
TCM: What other writers have inspired you the most in your own writing? What are you currently reading?
SD: John Grisham is a big inspiration to me. I absolutely hated legal thrillers before I read him and by the way, he’s an author who is a Christian. I couldn’t get enough of Roger Zelazny either, Georgette Heyer, Phillip Jose Farmer. For a while, I read a lot of sci-fi/ fantasy. I never read much horror. It scared me. LOL
TCM: What has been the most challenging part of your journey as a writer? What has been the most rewarding?
SD: My biggest challenge has to be learning something new and different. But since I enjoy learning I suppose even that wasn’t all that much of a challenge. Oh, and I’m still learning.
Something quite rewarding happened to me just the other day. On a mainstream site, designed to be slightly tongue-in-cheek, Never Ceese was mentioned.
How is that rewarding you ask?
As my publishers put it, it’s sort of like being asked to be roasted by Robin Williams; you are excited and honored at the same time as being apprehensive.
My book—my debut novel that I’m still basically selling out of the back of my van somehow warranted enough consideration and attention to be listed with books along the line of Lord of the Rings. Yes, I’m honored (or so my publisher and my publicist say I should be). Go see for yourself. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ItBurns. Now that’s cool!
TCM: Where can people go online to find out more about you and your novels?
Shoutlife.com is also the official book launch site for Forever Richard playing host to over 100,000 members and growing. I spend a lot of time here myself. Their members are absolutely wonderful too. Talented and award winning artist E.J. Mickels II, also found at Shoutlife, volunteered to put together the promotional cover for Forever Richard, helping me get the word out that Never Ceese’s sequel was indeed on its way. Do check out the rest of his work when you visit.
Part-owner Steve McLellan graces the official cover as Richard and does a fine job of it, I must say. Steve, Laurie Froehlingsdorf and her husband Hauns have done an outstanding job creating a family friendly social network.
A reminder is needed here to let all readers now that any copy of Forever Richard ordered through The Writers Café Press will be autographed. If you want to buy online you may also go to Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. This would probably be the best way to do it because, as I am told by TWCP, it looks like the book’s first printing will sell out in preorders—and it may be a longer time before it actually makes it to bookstore shelves; they are watching the numbers closely.
Here is all the information you’ll need to provide to your bookstore, besides the title and author: ISBN 978-1-934284-03-2
Sadly, though many of my readers are from the market CBA and ECPA serve, neither Never Ceese nor Forever Richard will be in affiliated Christian bookstores, not even at affiliated Christian bookstores on-line. If it follows the trend of most non-affiliated books that appeal to this specific market, eventually both will show up but only after sales show that it’s worth considering.
TCM: Any final thoughts?
SD: My final thought would be a special thank-you to all my readers. I couldn’t do it without you and I wouldn’t even try. I love that you love my work.
I would like to make this point: I’m not the first author to write a Christian vampire/ werewolf novel as so many have claimed. Apparently, I’m just the first and only one to date who has written one so close to lore that also appeals to CBA and ECPA market readers. Alas, I’ll never be recognized for this accomplishment at any CBA or ECPA award ceremony because I’m not affiliated.
But you enjoy my books—and that’s all the thanks I need.
And you’re very welcome.