Message From The Author

Author's Message

Acting the Part


By F. Paul Wilson

With all that she has going on this fall (and, honestly, when is she ever not busy!), we wanted to catch up with author Heather Graham and get the scoop on her new books and projects. So we tapped suspense author F. Paul Wilson, who made a huge splash at his first RT convention earlier this year, to do the honors. Here's their exchange.

Seems like we've known each other forever, Heather, but it's been only two years since we met on the Authors at Sea cruise. We've attended at least a dozen conventions together since then, but I've never had a chance to sit you down for some very basic questions. Two years! You're right, feels much longer -- and in the best way. It's super cool to be interviewed by you. I was an avid reader -- long before I ever conceived of the concept of writing for a living -- when I read two early F. Paul Wilson books over and over again, and actually demanded that they be returned when borrowed, after telling people they must read them. My family and I were like little kids whispering in awe when my name came up next to yours at an autographing table. Since then, it's been amazing not just to me, but to so many people, that you are so amazingly down to earth, approachable and fun -- not to mention that each new book is another great read.

I could crack wise about how your comments demonstrate vast intelligence and impeccable taste, but I'll just say thanks. You're too kind. But I want to hear about you. So let me start out with a question as basic as they come: How did you get started? I got started out of desperation, and because of a habit I've found in almost everyone I know who writes for a living -- the one factor we seem to share no matter what our backgrounds -- I loved to read. Everything. My mother had fantastic fantasies and histories she'd brought over from Ireland, and my dad (a Navy man) was into anything that had to do with ships, including pirates, Vikings and other Navy men throughout history. They encouraged reading. They didn't care if we had Nancy Drew, comic books, Reader's Digest, Time or the National Enquirer -- reading was reading. A tool that could help with anything else in the world.

So you went off to school and majored in English lit. I majored in musical theater. I worked in dinner theater, did some commercials and made most my actual livable income by acting for corporation training tapes; I was the girl with the pointer teaching GTE operators how to use new systems in their training tapes. I was back doing dinner theater, bartending and being paid $10 an hour doing back-up tapes for the entertainers I worked for when my third child was born. I was pretty much too exhausted to move after working so many hours to pay for the sitter and make anything above that (even with our moms and families helping out). So, the decision was made, I would stay home.

Usually, people who stay home can do something with a house. I still can't. I can try to clean all day, and it's still a disaster. I tried to fix a hem once in [my son] Derek's jeans, and he thanked me very much, ripped it out and did it himself. So, I was pretty desperate. I loved to read and loved to write, so I bought Writer's Digest Writer's Market and began sending in short horror stories and trying romances, which had just made a change, making them more adaptable to my way of thinking. (Once, the usual romance plot was that a young woman, 20, went to France as a governess, met the rich winery owner, and they fell in love. He was 40. At that time, 20 falling in love with 40 was pretty ugh -- I mean, the guy must have been decrepit!) But the new wave was coming in, women were actually working. They might be the same age and have had actual lives.

How did you make that first sale? Connections? Or are you one of those slush-pile success stories? I knew no one, had no idea of what I was doing, but kept sending out manuscripts -- it was a better effort for me than trying to make drapes. I made my first few sales on stories, but then Dell bought my first book, When Next We Love. Category was in full swing, so they wanted more and more. I think that's why many of us who started out in category are very prolific; it was a great way to make an income, but you had to work hard and turn in a lot of books to earn a decent income.

Your dinner theater background has prompted you to put on mini-musical productions here and there. I've played in your back-up bands, but at this year's RT convention I became a player in the production and was astounded at the extraordinary amount of work and planning that goes into it. Why do you do it? We do put in an extraordinary amount of work to do the productions at RT and the Writers for New Orleans [Workshop], but I happen to be surrounded by a wonderful group of people who put the effort in with me -- a labor of love. Connie Perry is fabulous with costumes, staging and organization. I met Lance Taubold, and then Rich Devin, years and years ago, and they've both written, stage-managed, performed in Vegas, New York, etc., and more. I make good use of my own kids -- nothing like making the little darlings pay after all these years. I know and love amazing people like Beth Ciotta, Mary Stella, Mark Johnson and so many more folks because we've done things together for years. The love of the doing draws us together, I think, and now, and I can't imagine doing things anymore without Alex Sokoloff, Harley Jane Kozak, and you and Dave Simms.

We have a wonderful time, and we're all willing to accept whatever happens. Throwing something together [for a live crowd] in a matter of days isn't easy, and we're all willing to wing it. If it isn't fun anymore, that's the time to stop, but I know that each year and each event I look forward to us all being together for the effort more and more. Last year, Helen Rosburg came in on the RT [performance], and she's willing to take a few chances too. I think it's because writing can be very hard, and totally solitary, and when we get together we look at the possibilities.

Maybe it's because I've never given up on my Kevin Kline-esque Soapdish theater career. He had retired folks -- I had folks who were heavily doused with Jack Daniel's, etc.

What's with you and "death" lately? The Death Dealer, The Dead Room, Picture Me Dead, Dead on the Dance Floor and now your new back-to-back trilogy, starting with Deadly Night. I know you have a twisted sense of humor, but you don't strike me as morbid. Thanks, I don't think I'm morbid, either. "Dead" and "Deadly" just seem to work in titles. Actually, I could probably do a game with that, just how many titles have D-E-A-D in them. I've come up with some titles I love myself, and sometimes the house sways or actually comes up with titles. You know all those ads about everyone listening when a stockbroker speaks? We all listen when the sales force speaks. Those are the men and women out there in the trenches, and the best book in the world will never be read if people can't find it or don't know it's there.

You're also Shannon Drake. What's she up to? Shannon Drake, my alter ego, is out there too. Once, I was doing vampires and historicals under the Shannon Drake name, but now, anything contemporary or mainly contemporary is under the Heather Graham name, and Shannon is writing historicals. It's a great way to get invited to two dinners, HQN for Shannon Drake, and Mira for Heather Graham. Shannon Drake also has a book out in November, The Pirate Bride. Swashbucklers. OK, they were probably disgusting and stinky, but once you've seen Errol Flynn be a pirate, the fantasy is born.

You've got a pirate thing going at this year's New Orleans Workshop too. Right. This year, our Saturday night theme in New Orleans is pirates. "A fractured history of the Lafitte brothers and New Orleans." Dave [Simms] is concerned about frilly shirts, but you guys look great in them. And it gives everyone a chance to dress up and have lots of fun. I still love vampire tales too -- OK, look at Nosferatu and you wonder why, but then again, there have been the most imaginative vampire stories out there too, including more gigs on the silver screen such as Fright Night, The Hunger and The Lost Boys.

Can we expect any vampires from you soon? Yes. I have a series of books that starts next summer and goes through 2012 and involves vampires and ancient prophecies. In my mind, ghosts and vampires and other such recreated creatures might well carry on their traits from one form of life to the undead or the next. Decent folk remain decent folk, and evil folk are very, very evil, given what they thrive on -- more and more power.

Thank you for taking time out from your hectic schedule, Heather. I'm looking forward to the trilogy and those vampire novels. Thanks, Paul! It's an honor and privilege to have you interview me!

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