At the beginning of this week I reviewed the wonderful discovery of Sarah Zettel’s A Taste of the Nightlife. Award winning author, Zettel, has written 18 novels and quite a few shorter peices of fiction. A Taste of Nightlife is the first in her new “vampire chef” mystery novel series. She was kind enough to sit down with me to talk about writing, vampires, dating, characterization, and more!
1)Now the story goes that publisher and editor Martin H. Greenberg was actually the person to come up with the “vampire chef” idea. He passed the idea onto your colleague Esther Friesner, who then passed it onto you (and you scooped it up and loved that baby as your own). How did you actually get from vampire chef to vampire chef mystery, especially since the mystery genre is not really where your focus has traditionally been.
That is the story, and it is correct. I had written it initially as a romance with mystery overtones. It was the folks at Penguin who bought the proposal who decided it was actually a mystery with romance overtones. I am a fan of mysteries, so I took a deep breath and sort of jumped off that cliff.
2) Prior to being inspired to write “vampire chef” novel, had you much interest in the vampire sub-genre that has exploded within the scifi/fantasy/horror scene?
Not much at all. I mean, I’m a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, of course, and love the Bela Lagosi Dracula movie, but never got that much into the newer subgenre books. When it became definite I was going to write this, I had a lot of catch up reading to do.
Well, Charlaine Harris, of course, and Mary Janice Davidson, Kelly Armstrong (one of the pioneers of the subgenre), and I did have to at least give TWILIGHT a go.
haha. I won’t force your to comment on that last one
I plead The Fifth.
3) You did a LOT of research for this novel. You really got to understand what it was like to be in the kitchen from a first-hand point of view. Could you tell us a little about that experience as well as how you took that experience and translated it into the experience of Charlotte?
I had some small background in professional kitchens. I’d worked in a couple in high school and college. I’m also lucky that we’re living in an era of great kitchen and restaurant memoirs, so I was able to read writing by a variety of chefs, and even waiters. I was also able to inverview Vanessa Sly, who had been a chef in Chicago and Vegas. Very helpful. The most helpful event though, was that Chef Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse let me come in and observe Friday night dinner rush.
4) Most of your other novels take place in fantasy realms or time periods much different than our modern day America. Therefore Charlotte is a bit of a different kind of heroine than what you’ve primarily done before. She is relate-able, quippy with her modern wit and current-day references, and still she is a strong, independent woman. How was she, therefore, different in how you approached writing her character.
For one thing, I had a lot more space to focus on character. When you’re writing SF/F you have to devote much of the space to world-building because you’re introducing the reader to an entirely new place/time. When you’re writing in a contemporary setting, you can take much of that space and devote it instead to character building, so while I usually have detailed backgrounds for my characters in all my novels, this time a lot more of that background actually made it into the finished book.
5) Ah, I had never thought about that. Interesting! Sort of on a similar note, by the acceptance of the undead community into society, you’ve created a different kind of dynamic in your book from that of most vampire novels. Can you speak to this and how you created a new modern culture by assimilating these types of mythical beings (vampires, werewolves, wizards, etc.)
As I had made up my mind to set the story in New York City, it seemed natural to treat the vampires/werewolves/warlocks etc. as new immigrants and look at them from that angle. After all, one of the first things new immigrant groups to America do is open restaurants, or at least, that’s one of the ways they come to the attention of the larger community. But then I could have them facing a lot of the same problems immigrants and minority groups have always faced, plus, of course, a few of their own as other immigrant groups do not tend to dine on the natives of the host country.
6) You have two very interesting, downright intriguing men vying for Charlotte’s affections. Anatole is mysterious and seductive and Brendan is just a downright good, sturdy man – the kind that a girl doesn’t find often, especially particularly hunky downright good, sturdy men. If these two men were just two regular guys out on the street in the real world (and you weren’t married) which one do you think you’d choose? (and I do mean you, not Charlotte necessarily)
Ahhh…decisions, decisions. Well, I can’t speak for Charlotte of course as she is still making up her mind (and doesn’t know what’s coming), but I’d go for Brendan. Tall, dark and hunky has always been a personal favorite. Plus, while mysterious has its appeal, give me someone who knows when to bring take out and sympathy any day.
7) So you kind of alluded to my next question: the book ends pretty openly concerning Charlotte’s relationships with these two men. Tell me that we going to be able to see more of this tension drawn out and played upon in your next novel, Let Them Eat Stake.
Oooooo yes. There’s a lot left to happen between these three.
Well, the mss. is turned in, and it’s got a fantastic cover, which you can see if you go to www.sarahzettel.com (Sarah has allowed us to post it here on Lytherus as well, but please do check out her website for further information!)
8 ) I would love to hear from you, as a writer who has really paid her dues, what your advice is to those out here who have the dream, this budding ambition, of becoming a writer. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and what was your process of getting from there to where you are today?
I got the bug early. I was working on a 7 book series in 8th grade (never finished of course). Even with all the changes going on right now, my advice for the beginner remains the same; write constantly and read widely. This will hone your craft and develop your “ear.” Then, no matter what medium stories take in the future, you’ll have the fundamentals.
9) Describe your perfect writing day. Where are you sitting? What are you eating? Drinking? What are you wearing? Is anyone writing with you?…
I’m full time, which used to mean I spent the majority of every day at home. Now, I go out to a co-working space, and my productivity has gone up enormously and I’ve got a very set routine. So, here’s my day: Drop son off at school, drive to commuter lot and park, walk the 1.2 miles to co-working office. Get coffee and water, plug in the laptop, dismiss the email and down to work. Break for lunch around 11 (I eat early), run any errands that need doing, back to the literary salt mines until around 4, walk back to car.
10 ) I have a theory that if you love an author, there’s a pretty good chance that you will also love the kinds of books that he or she loves. Would you mind giving us here at Lytherus some recommendations of books or authors that you particularly love?
Well, as you probably know an authors list of favorites changes by the day. For romance I’m a huge fan of Georgette Heyer. For mystery, you can’t beat the classics such as Christie, Doyle, and Sayers. For SF, also the classics: LeGuin, Bradbury, Tolkein, plus, Terry Prachett for humor, Neil Gaiman for all sorts of writing. I’m completely in love with a new YA I just read by Erin Bow called Plain Kate. Fabulous fairy tale style writing. How’s that for starters?
Oh, and for comics, ASTRO CITY, Girl Genius and PS 238.
Nice! Thanks for throwing the comics in there for me! I’ll check those out.
I particularly recommend Girl Genius, especially if you’re into steampunk.
I certainly will! Thanks again. Again, everyone check out www.sarahzettel.com for updates on her upcoming book in this vampire chef series: Let Them Eat Stake.