Interview: April 18, 2008
April 18, 2008
International bestselling author Heather Graham has written over 100 books in genres that range from romance and horror to mysteries and thrillers. In this interview with Bookreporter.com's Joe Hartlaub, Graham discusses her latest novel THE DEATH DEALER --- a sequel to 2007's THE DEAD ROOM --- which was inspired by her fascination with the life and work of Edgar Allan Poe. She also shares some of the real-life incidences that she has incorporated into her books, mentions the authors and films that have influenced her writing and offers advice to aspiring writers.
Bookreporter.com: Edgar Allan Poe --- the man and his work --- plays a featured role in your new novel, THE DEATH DEALER. What you have is a killer who is murdering Poe aficionados, including a member of The New York Poe Society, known as a “raven.” The method of the homicides, which involves imitating murders performed in Poe’s best known works, is fascinating. How did your interest in Poe’s life and work inspire you to incorporate them into a novel?
Heather Graham: I have to admit, I first fell in love with Poe through Hammer films and Vincent Price. After seeing the films --- such as The Raven, Conqueror Worm and others --- I started reading Poe. I love his language, and his mind, and started reading about him as a person, as well. He has always fascinated me, the sadness of his life, his personality --- even his destructive ego --- and the way he longed for the recognition that was his during his lifetime, though not as strongly as it is now, when he’s acknowledged as one of our classic American writers. There's also a tremendous mystery surrounding his death --- he had disappeared for several days before being found in a delirious condition. Some say it had to do with voting and elections, but others have theorized that he was involved in a murder himself during those lost days. I also love the fact that “The Mystery of Marie Roget” arose from a real case --- that of Mary Rogers --- in New York City.
BRC: In THE DEATH DEALER I particularly enjoyed how the investigation into the Poe murders lead to a tour of Poe’s haunts, if you will, in New York and elsewhere. One of the most interesting vignettes regarding this is the guided tour in New York that your characters took. Does that tour actually exist?
HG: You can take wonderful tours in New York City --- Poe tours, history tours, haunted tours and more. Yes, you can go to the area of the old Five Points, stroll the Village and Soho, although I don’t think there’s a specific tour like the one in the book. New York is a great city, and because of its contemporary vibrance, we often forget just how important the history of the city is to us all.
BRC: Does The New York Poe Society featured in THE DEATH DEALER actually exist? If so, are you a raven? And did you model any of the characters after members of the club with whom you are acquainted?
HG: If there are real "Ravens" in New York, I don't know about them. I do know that there are Poe societies all over the country and beyond.
BRC: I was very happy to find that THE DEATH DEALER is a sequel to THE DEAD ROOM, and in many ways is even better than its predecessor. Do you have plans for a Hastings House series, if you will, in the future?
HG: Most of my ghost books have been connected by the Harrison Investigations angle, and I have a lot of fun with that. Adam Harrison, the head of the agency, is a man who doesn't really have extrasensory powers of his own, but he had a son who passed away when he was young; Adam has since collected people who find they have the ability to communicate with the dead --- some who are comfortable with it, and some who are not. Next up, however, are three paranormal books that are connected only with each other. They are DEADLY NIGHT, DEADLY HARVEST and DEADLY GIFT; they coincide with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and are the stories of three brothers who inherit a haunted plantation in New Orleans, then wind up in different situations in Salem, Massachusetts, and Newport, Rhode Island. Next April, however, Adam Harrison will make another appearance in a book called NIGHTWALKER. It takes place in Las Vegas, with a ghost I really wish I knew! (So far, Adam Harrison is associated with HAUNTED, THE PRESENCE, GHOST WALK, THE VISION, THE SÉANCE, THE DEAD ROOM and THE DEATH DEALER.)
BRC: You are arguably best known for your ability to credibly weave elements of suspense and the supernatural --- and romance --- throughout your novels, so that your work, including THE DEATH DEALER, appeals to fans of several different genres. Who are your favorite genre authors? Which authors most influenced you at the beginning of your career?
HG: I read everything --- I belong to RWA (Romance Writers of America), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), HWA (Horror Writers of America) and International Thriller Writers. It's wonderful, because I know people who write absolutely everything from hardcore thrillers to cozy romances. I grew up on Dickens, Poe, Defoe, and pirate movies, horror movies --- and Gone With the Wind. So I imagine I've been very eclectically influenced by many people. I am voracious when it comes to reading, and don't know how anyone manages a plane ride, waiting at the airport, in a doctor's office, the school line, anything, without a book. I love graphic novels, and fantasy and sci-fi, like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, ALIEN --- a great book, written after the movie, I believe. I marvel at the Dexter series. I said it would never work for me, I just wouldn't fall in love with a serial killer; but, my son had the books and assured me I would love them, and I did. Dexter manages to get rid of those horrible people who really shouldn't be in society but somehow slipped right through the legal cracks. Brilliant.
BRC: You have written over 100 books, under a number of pen names. Our readership includes any number of aspiring novelists who might wonder: how does one write over 100 books? The short answer is of course “word by word,” but, to focus on but one element of that process, how do you manage to keep yourself generating fresh and new ideas?
HG: As far as ideas, I think the most important thing, or what has worked for me, is to let the little oddities of life grow into something else. In THE DEATH DEALER, Joe is in an accident. One of the victims speaks to him, begging him to get a child out of the car. He does so, and when he asks about the driver, he is told that the man couldn't have spoken to him --- his neck had been broken and he'd died instantly upon impact. This really happened to a friend, a Metro-Dade cop down here. Years ago, I used the case of a man found just lying in the middle of I-95 in his BVDs. Despite the number of law enforcement officers I know down here, none of them ever found out exactly what had happened, whether he was dead or alive when he ended up in the middle of the highway, a murder victim tossed from a car, or a drug addict hoping to beat the traffic. I made up my own story and solution to go with the incident. Also, I grew up with a massive Irish influence --- my mother was from Dublin. The stories I heard growing up were amazing.
BRC: On a related note, could you walk us through the process by which you write a novel? Do you write at a certain time each day? Do you outline each of your works? And do you work on more than one book at a time, or do you finish one novel before beginning another?
HG: As far as a schedule goes, I'm a morning person. Five children --- always someone up at the crack of dawn to go to school. You know when I'm on deadline, though, because I just work on through, knowing I have to get to the end.
BRC: What are you working on now?
HG: I just turned in the last book in the Deadly trilogy, DEADLY GIFT, and I'm switching over to Las Vegas and back toward the Harrison Investigations crowd. And I just responded to my editor’s notes on a pirate book, THE PIRATE BRIDE, coming out under my Shannon Drake persona. I'm about to take off for the Romantic Times convention, and I’m still putting little changes into our script for the vampire ball this year --- “Blood and Steel, a Pittsburgh Monster Mash” --- with a cast of thousands. Not really, but I think there are 16 of us involved this year, and I've been trying to write it so that people can rehearse around their speaking commitments. I work with friends, and we have a great time, but it's still quite a juggling act. We're also doing a structured improv out at the children's hospital and bringing books for them --- hopefully creating future readers!
BRC: You have been very generous in giving of your time to aspiring writers by participating in workshops. What is the one error that you see most new writers making most frequently?
HG: Most writers are wonderful, incredibly giving of their time, and I think it's because we love to read and just love books. And we all remember what it was like, trying to write, and trying to publish, and how difficult it can be, figuring out where you belong. So, I'd say my suggestions, in a nutshell, are: Write what you truly love to read, and always be excited about you're writing. It's a huge mistake to try to write what is selling if you don't like that particular type of book yourself. Secondly, be smart, learn format, learn who is buying what, and where to send what you're writing. Critique groups can be wonderful, but always remember that reading is subjective. Only an acquiring editor can buy your work, so if a friend tells you they don't like a character that you believe in, remember that a different friend might love him as much as you do, and even then, it's the editor's opinion that counts if you're trying to sell a book. Study Writer's Digest and their annual Writer's Market to know where to send what you're writing. Believe in yourself, and do it. A page a day, if time is an issue. And, then, of course, it will never sell itself, sitting in a drawer. Get it out there, or you’ll never be published.
BRC: Where did you learn to write? And who encouraged your love of reading?
HG: My mom and dad were readers, and they had so many books. I'll talk most about my mom, and Dad would forgive me, I know. She was brilliant, but grew up in an Irish household at a time when they were all just working to stay in the country. She was allowed to go to junior college because she had a full scholarship, but then she had to go to work to help the family keep up the house. She dreamed of being an archeologist. She loved books, crossword puzzles, and anything that was old, unique or mysterious. I hope that --- in that lovely green place in the sky --- she knows now just how much I appreciate all the books and all the help she gave me. She was great --- she was the secretary for our Florida writers chapter when we had first started. I didn't major in English or writing, though. I was a theater major, worked dinner theater and started writing when I could no longer afford to go to work with three kids. (Odd, but true.) But I don't believe that anything is worthless, and those working toward publication might like to hear that I thought at one time that I had majored in theater and film just to get accustomed to "don't call us, we'll call you," and rejection in general. Persevere, and be tenacious. Don't ever give up on yourself. As they say, destiny can be self-fulfilling, and fate is often what we make it.