Sunday, October 17, 2010

Interview with MIA CHERISH

You’ve been writing, professionally, since you were quite young. Tell us what prompted you to begin writing as a child.

My grandfather taught me to read and write when I was very young. I don't have conscious memories of not thinking up stories and writing them down. The fun thing about it growing up was that it was never a big deal to my folks because I have a few ancestors and relatives who also write. So my family took it in stride as something very ordinary. "Oh, she's a writer, like Cousin So-and-So." Instead of crayons and coloring books, my mother bought me notebooks and packages of pens. And my family was very encouraging, but I wasn't treated as though my writing was an oddity.

It actually caused problems for me at school. In third or fourth grade, my English class was studying various forms of poetry. We students were required to write poems adhering to a particular form and read them aloud to the class. When I read mine, the instructor and several students accused me of plagiarism not because any of them recognized my poem as another author's work, but because the instructor decided my style was "too good" for an elementary level student. This didn't sit well with my folks who promptly phoned the school principal and demanded the instructor prove the plagiarism, which of course couldn't be done since I hadn't plagiarized. I remember feeling very embarrassed and confused; it seemed to me I'd completed the assignment and done a good job, but instead of being rewarded for it, all this drama ensued.

A lifelong resident of New Orleans, you personally lived through Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. How did the real-life trauma affect your writing?

Most Important Evacuation Tip: ALWAYS pack more underwear than you think you'll need, at least a full week's worth. Wearing the same shirt or jeans an extra day or two isn't so bad, but you want clean undies.

My Katrina experiences were tougher than some and easier than some. I spent a week trapped in a relative's house without electricity or running water. Unpleasant, but I was grateful to be with family, and with some improvisation we were relatively comfortable given the circumstances.

A more serious personal challenge: I was on anticoagulation therapy at the time and had about one week's supply of medication when Katrina made landfall. No clinics, hospitals, or pharmacies were available to monitor my anticoagulation or to refill my prescription. Ultimately, I temporarily relocated to Texas where I could receive regular monitoring and care. I can't thank Texas and its residents enough for how they reached out to displaced New Orleans residents. I will never forget the outpouring of hospitality and goodwill I received from Texans, most of them perfect strangers to me.

As to my writing ... I was born and raised in New Orleans, and I love the city in a very tangible, personal way. It is so beautiful, so rich in history, culture, and tradition. I love the food, the music, the architecture, the decadence alongside the piety, and the city's incredible multicultural identity. No single nation can claim sole credit for what New Orleans is. Everything about the region, good and bad, nurtures artistic inspiration.

I've traveled enough to identify New Orleans culture is completely unique, but I took loving my home town for granted. After the Katrina/Rita disaster, I mourned New Orleans, even when I was finally able to return. New Orleans has always been slow to change, and the Katrina disaster imposed drastic, dramatic change. Some of it's been for the best, some not so much.

One comfort for me during that time was my commute to work via St. Charles Avenue. The Garden District weathered the crisis better than most areas. The view of all these gorgeous, palatial, nineteenth-century homes assuaged my inner turmoil. Boosted my confidence. They seemed to be a promise of good days to come and reassured me in a way. Leonor Griffin's house in The Garden House is based on an enormous white mansion on the 5900 block of St. Charles Avenue I admired daily on my work commute.

For several months, serious writing was simply beyond me, too normal a thing for me to do while I tried to process all the changes I had to make in my own life. I co-authored The Garden House with Jacqueline Quaid, not a local but a definite kindred spirit who'd fallen prey to New Orleans' charms before I was born and grieved for it as much as I. We came up with the idea when both of us felt more upbeat and optimistic for the city's future.

The Garden House is a beautiful f/f erotic paranormal romance. That in itself is unique since neither I nor Jackie have written or published other f/f romance. In analysis, the romantic pairing isn't an accident. I feel this story reflected how much Jackie and I both were in love with New Orleans, a very feminine city, very much a lady. New Orleans is also remarkably present throughout the narrative.

If The Garden House is a fantasy/escape into "how things were," Fixation represents acceptance of "how things are now." Also set in New Orleans, this paranormal romance, a love story between a newborn vampire and a ballet instructor descended of Hindu divinity, describes some of the changes in particular buildings and areas. It also expresses hope for the future repair and reopening of the Orpheum theatre. It's much darker in tone. Despite its paranormal elements, it is less idyllic and contains more "harsh reality" than its predecessor.

Neither book could have been written with our respective Hurricane Katrina/Rita experiences.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

Three Devils in Bath is best described as an erotic historical urban fantasy. It's set in Bath during the Regency era's twilight years. Seti Edgard and his vampire companions, Troyes and Dane, maintain a fashionable townhouse and enjoy interaction with local society, both human and Extranatural. Seti, assisted by Dane, also serves as an official in the Extranatural justice system. Although mainly content with his male lovers, Seti bribes Mariotte Sabrier to accept his carte blanche, hoping an attractive young woman in the house will distract Troyes from his faltering love affair with a widowed noblewoman. Seti's own attraction to Mariotte grows in between bouts of deciding cases and investigating a supernatural murder. Eventually, Mariotte must cope with the realization that sincere, passionate love isn't always destined for a couple alone and decide if she can accept everything these men want to offer her.

I've always been fascinated with Bath and attacked my research with gusto. Three Devils in Bath is also my first novel portraying menage relationships. Menage relationships make for very complex storytelling. I've gotten very varied feedback on the novel, which is interesting. It seems like everyone who read the book took something different out of it.

Trace Edward Zaber constructed gorgeous cover art for this novel, my favorite cover art of all my published work. The beautiful, pale golden background reflects Bath's gilded opulence and luxury.

You have co-authored novels and written solo. Share with us your thoughts about the pros and cons of each type of venture.

Co-authored stories have such an interesting reputation. Some readers indicate dissatisfaction with co-authored books due to changes in tone and style As a reader, I admit to being fascinated by competently co-authored works. Vocal variation breaks up monotony and if the contributing authors harmonize well they can construct a very positive reading experience. I'm crazy about the writing duo Jamie Craig. Their westerns delight me.

As a writer, I've enjoyed collaboration; it enhances the creative process, and, of course, it's possible to produce work product faster. In my opinion, the variance in author voice and perspective also has a very positive effect on character dialog; in situations where each author role plays one character to write dialog, each character's words and language become more distinct. This technique can also add dimension and depth to scenes involving action, combat, love scenes, and so on. Like any other team effort, two brains work better than one. One writer's artistic strengths can compensate for the other's limitations. And of course, two proofreaders of final copy can catch extra mistakes. Finally, the "fun factor" related to collaboration can't be overlooked. Writing's a solitary pursuit; collaboration can be socially and intellectually stimulating as well as educational. Each participant brings something to the table an individual author couldn't have produced.

The down side to collaboration is risk of breakdown in the writing partnership and subsequent abandonment or killing of the project. It is extremely frustrating to invest time and creativity into a project one feels passionate about only to have one's parter bail on them. Sometimes it's inevitable; if one partner is more invested in the work, the story may belong to them a little more, and the other partner may not relate to its direction and feel able to do it justice. In other cases life gets in the way; people lose jobs, suffer losses, health problems, family issues ... All kinds of things can impact someone's priorities and involvement.

I've had wonderful, positive collaborative experiences that produced beautiful work product of which I'm very proud. I've also had some extremely dissatisfying experiences and witnessed other writers go through drama related to collaborations gone bad. The worst case scenarios can be pretty horrible.

The best advice I can give anyone considering collaboration on a project: negotiate a written agreement. Never collaborate with a writer unwilling to back his/her promises in writing. If you're unwilling to back your promises in writing, don't collaborate. At the very least, work out an agreement that, should one partner abandon the work, full copyright reverts to the author willing to complete and submit it if s/he wants to do so.

If you abandon a collaborated project, do so in an adult, professional manner. Be upfront and civil. Accept responsibility for your decision. Don't blame your coauthor to justify your behavior, even if you honestly feel your coauthor is to blame. Be respectful, apologize for the inconvenience you are causing, and thank your coauthor for his/her time and effort. Honor whatever agreements you've made concerning work already done. If your coauthor is still interested in completing the work, offer full copyright to the coauthor.

Professional manners and kind words go a long way. Your goal should be to retire gracefully and to leave your coauthor feeling s/he was treated as fairly as possible. This should be a no-brainer, but it's surprising how frequently it doesn't happen. Friendships are saved this way. So are professional opportunities.

If your co-author abandons your joint project, accept it as graciously as you can. The abandoning party is doing you a favor -- if s/he isn't "into" the work, you wouldn't get a good quality final product, anyway. Collaborators who walk away from a collaboration are basically admitting the work is beyond them, either intellectually or due to other challenges limiting their ability to contribute.productively to the work. Accept the work is beyond the author and complete it yourself if you remain interested in the work. If you're not, perhaps you should mutually agree to "kill" the work.

Whether you're abandoning work or are dealing with a coauthor abandoning work, avoid public ranting and e-drama at all costs. It's worth saying again; avoid public ranting and e-drama at all costs. Vent as much as you like. Privately. To trusted friends and relatives not associated with the publishing industry.

You’ve combined elements of Regency romance and vampires—how…and why?

In my perspective, Regency England is an ideal vampire environment. The Enlightenment has reached it peak. The Gothic and the Romantic literary movements are in full swing at this time. Beneath the veneer of respectability, the middle class and the upper class are embracing much of the decadence and hedonistic attitudes characteristic of the literary vampire who gained popularity later in the century.

Human behavior itself was very predatory at that time. Despite the Enlightenment, many people still observed concepts of class and the idea that some people are superior to others and that abusing social inferiors was acceptable (or, at least, it was not punished.) People preyed on one another for resources and for gratification. It's probably not an accident that vampirism began taking hold in fiction and poetry in this period. There were plenty of humans living up to the vampire stereotype, essentially seducing and devouring others sexually, socially, emotionally, or financially.

In Three Devils in Bath, Seti is clearly not a stereotypical Regency male -- he's much older -- and though he's adapted to the decadence to the point he'd proposition an unknown woman essentially unavailable to him, there's a sense his habits and behaviors are far less predatory, cruel, and hypocritical compared to the respectable, well-heeled humanity surrounding him. That fun sort of irony makes Seti a fun character to work with since the traits readers often associate with vampirism should have made him a great "fit" for Regency society.

Additional fantasy characters in the story, including Amazon warriors and lycanthropes, exhibit a certain degree of innocence. Their tribal alliances and isolation from human society make them really stand out as mismatches. In theory they're the "monsters," and yet their customs and behavior don't revolve around using or abusing others to accumulate gain or for entertainment. They don't relate to human values systems such as consumerism. A werewolf craftsman will spend a century building furniture, art, or musical instruments simply beyond the scope of human planning due to time limitations.

Setting a vampire tale in Regency England provides the reader a better view of who the real vampires are, where the real vampiric behavior originated and often still does originate.

Do you have any plans to write in a different genre?

I'm crazy about short stories. I'm always incredulous when a talented author communicates a theme through short fiction. I've made several efforts to write short fiction and usually end up with a novella. I can't quite pull myself away from adding details. It doesn't stop me from trying, though.

I have lots of ideas and fragments related to writing horror, or a horror romance. Like many horror aficionados Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has held me in thrall for years as much as for what it doesn't reveal as what it does. I'd love to tackle a good, creepy, old-fashioned ghost story someday.

What are the addresses your website, blog, and other online presences?

I maintain a website,

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