Q&A With Seal Of Excellence Winner Delilah S. Dawson

This month Delilah S. Dawson's fun paranormal romance Wicked As She Wants stole our hears, and the win for our May Seal of Excellence Award! Set in an alternate world where Bludmen — a vampire-like species that feeds off of blood — rule the land of Freesia, a lost Blud princess and a disheveled human musician meet in London and must travel to reclaim the princess' rightful throne. Today we asked the author about her story, her Blud series and what upcoming stories she has in store for readers. 

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Your Blud series focuses on a special vampire-like breed of creatures living in an alternate world. Reinventing a classic paranormal monster is no easy task. What specific aspects of vampire lore influenced your creation of Bludmen?

It all started with a dream about Criminy Stain from Blud book 1, Wicked as They Come. I knew he was attractive, long-lived, hard to kill, and a blood drinker — and that he talked like Spike from Buffy. But I didn't want to follow the traditional vampire tropes and have him be undead or restricted by sunlight. Once I'd decided that he was a new species/mutation, the logical conclusion was that other animals in his world might also live on blood. With the bludbunnies, bludrats, and bludmares came a need for clockwork and steampunk technology. I also wanted to flip the idea of vampires as the wealthy and powerful elite, which is why the Bludmen are often ghettoized or restricted in much of the world, especially the alternate version of England. In Wicked as She Wants, I wanted to turn *that* around again, hence Ahna's country of Freesia, where the Bludmen rule and humans are serfs and snacks. So... it was a combination of logic and rebellion!

Your heroine, Ahna, is a lost princess looking to reclaim her throne. And like any good member of royalty, she's a little stuck up, but also can be incredibly ruthless. Yet despite these detractors, overall, Ahna is a compelling, interesting character. How did you manage to create such a likeable brat?

Thank you! Ahna started out very fierce, exactly as I wanted her. But in my first round of edits, I realized that she was unlikeable for too long and might alienate readers. I began to use Keen and Casper as comic relief, allowing Casper's drunken recklessness and Keen's snarky teen angst to make Ahna seem more like a spoiled child than the predator she truly is. I'm painfully aware that an assertive and self-confident man is considered attractive, while a woman showing the same traits might be called a bitch or worse, and I wanted Ahna to balance a royal's unapologetic power with a woman's heart, humor, loyalty, and ability to evolve. Plus, you can only threaten to put peoples' heads on spikes for so long until it becomes a joke.

Speaking of brats, Casper's sidekick Keen — a curious human child prone to mischief — is a riot. We know you have some children of your own. Did any of their characteristics work their way into Keen's character?

Nope! My kids are 4 and 6, and although they're hilarious, Keen was actually informed by an animated series we enjoy watching together. Avatar: The Last Airbender has some of the best storytelling I've ever seen, and Keen was inspired by Toff, a teen tomboy who's blind but amazingly powerful. Just like Toff, Keen is confident, stubborn, snarky, and quick to challenge anyone who claims to be superior or hold any power over her. But also like Toff, she's separated from her family and hiding her loneliness and a soft heart under a tough facade. Her pet turtle was inspired by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though, as my son swears he's a turtle.

Hero Casper is a human dependent on the addictive qualities of Bludwine (a combination of Blud and booze) with a big decision to make regarding a possible transition into a Bludman. Turning into a powerful Bludman doesn't seem all that bad. What's Casper's biggest hesitation about making the change?

In the first book, Casper believes he's fated to be with Tish, that she's his happily ever after, and her rejection begins his downward spiral. He's the sort of guy who's always longing for what he can't have, and he's definitely trying to fill a hole in his soul, first with Tish, then with booze, then with poetry, then with harder booze. At the root of it, I think it all stems from the fact that while he's one of the best pianists on Earth or Sang, he's not a creative artist, and he feels like a failure because of it. He can only copy, not create, and he secretly harbors a deep fear of failure. Although I personally wouldn't resist becoming a Bludman, it seems like the sort of transition that Casper would avoid and defy, that he would consider it yet another failure. He wants to hold on to his humanity, to deny that he's dug himself into a hole and lost everything he thought he wanted. Silly boy.

Your story takes place across a variety of locations, from London to a floating brothel to a royal castle in a fictitious land. What was your favorite location to write?

I thought it would be the airship brothel, but honestly, things got darker than I anticipated! My favorite place was probably Mr. Sweeting's shop in London. Ever since reading Stephen King's Needful Things, I've loved the ideas of cluttered shops filled with treasures and horrors and hidden magic. And I liked the Moravian district, too.

While your book isn't exactly straight up steampunk, it does have some steampunk elements. What motivated you to blend aspects of paranormal romance and steampunk, rather than dedicating yourself to one type of story? And do you have any tips for genre blending?

It all started with creating a world to accommodate Criminy Stain. When I wrote the first book, I wasn't thinking about genre or flap cover or audience; I just wanted to tell a fun adventure story that included lots of my favorite things. Since I already had an agent, I never had to write a query letter, which would have been challenging. I always say to follow your heart and tell the story that wants to be told, the story that excites and obsesses you. If the storytelling and characters are masterly, it doesn't so much matter which shelf the book sits on in the bookstore. It might be harder to blend genres, but all my favorite books are hard to categorize. The Night Circus, the Lady Julia Grey series, Outlander, Heroes Die, Clockwork Princess: they're misfits, but they're beautiful ones. The secret with genre blending is the same as the secret for any writing challenge: write the best book you can and edit the everloving tar out of it.

We know you have your first YA novel releasing in Spring 2014. Can you tell us a little bit about what motivated you to want to write for a younger audience?

I read a lot of YA, mainly because I love a fast-paced adventure that gives me an escape from my every day life. Part of the appeal of YA for me is the lack of real world consequences; in YA, there are no bills to pay, no children to watch, no husband to worry about, and when bad things happen, the story is about fighting them or fixing them instead of succumbing to them.

Servants of the Storm was inspired by pictures of Six Flags NOLA after Hurricane Katrina, and I knew I wanted to tell a story that was creepy, dark, action-packed, and carried a distinctly Southern flair. Dovey is the victim of a tragedy, walking around with a smile but numb inside, which is how I felt at that age. At her age, I looked like a success on the outside but was a total mess inside, and I went through some serious misfortunes, including abuse, rape, and a suicide attempt. I hope that in being outspoken about what I've been through, I might reach some teens who, like me, didn't know what to do with their lives and who need to know that successful, happy people have lived through secret tragedies and come out stronger.

Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect in your third Blud novel?

It's basically Sangish Moulin Rouge! Here's the current description: 

Life as a contortionist in Criminy's Clockwork Caravan should be the height of exotic adventure, but for Demi Ward, it's total Dullsville — especially when it comes to guys. Ever since a night of hard college partying six years ago ended with her naked and bludded in Sang, Criminy has been like a father to her, and now she's ready to explore the world on her own terms. But when her best friend Cherie is stolen by slavers outside of Paris, their Sangish road trip turns to tragedy — one Demi's determined to make right.

Vale Hildebrand is a sarcastic and rakish brigand who finds Demi hiding near her burning carriage, calling her the prettiest bludbunny he's ever seen. On the run from his own past, the sexy gypsy with the simmering stare pledges to help her navigate the glittering cabarets of Paris to find Cherie, and Demi quickly becomes a star. Much to Vale's frustration, Demi soon attracts a host of wealthy admirers, including debonair painter August Lenoir, who lures her into his studio for a portrait — and a sip of addicting, blood-tinged absinthe. It would be all too easy to accept Cherie's disappearance, and those of a string of daimon cabaret dancers, as inevitable, but with Vale's ferocious will and Demi's drive to find her friend, they soon have a lead on an underground club with a taste for the obscene. Can Demi unwind herself from Vale and wind her way through the seedy underbelly of Paris in time to save her best friend before she, too, is lost? 

You can pick up a copy of Wicked As She Wants, available in stores and online now. For more otherworldly adventures, visit our Everything Paranormal & Urban Fantasy Page!

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