I recently interviewed fellow author M.T. Murphy and had the pleasure of learning more about the man behind the creative genius of Lucifera’s Pet, his debut novel.
SDA: So do tell, how did this story come to you?
MTM: I enjoyed reading the Anita Blake books with all the vampire and werewolf story lines, but I never liked the main character. I read a few more "urban fantasy" books back before the genre had a name, but nothing captured my interest. I always wanted to read a story from a werewolf's point of view. I think I may have watched "Teen Wolf" a few too many times as a kid.
I also have always been partial to the villains and anti-heroes. Darth Vader, the Joker, and Angelus from the Buffy series are some of my favorites. I greatly enjoy any stories that give a glimpse into their side of the story.
I was also intrigued by the idea of a Romeo and Juliette type pairing of a werewolf and vampire. Instead of escaping or committing suicide when faced with being torn apart, this pair would proceed to kill anybody who got in their way. That is the story I wanted to capture. You know, a sweet little tale. ;)
SDA: HAHA! Do you find that to be a problem for you when reading what is now considered mainstream fiction? Meaning I know I have a lot of problems reading books nowadays because I get pissed at the writer for things they do to the story or the character.
MTM: I don't get to read nearly as much as I would like to these days. When I do sit down to read, I have usually gone through reviews and either read a sample of a book electronically or in a book store or am reading based on a recommendation from a friend. If I am not enjoying a book, I will give it a few chapters to see if it captures my interest. If it doesn't, I drop it like a bad habit.
It is usually apparent how an author is going to treat their characters from the beginning. To answer your question, I guess I have become a bit of a snob when it comes to my reading. I think my biggest pet peeve is when an author sees a popular book/genre and shapes a character specifically to cater to what's hot at the moment. It shows through in the writing and usually makes for a tedious reading experience.
SDA: Something that I get teased about is the types of things I write. As a horror writer has any of your friends or family expressed fear or apprehension over your mental state?
MTM: Ha! No more or less than before I started writing. Everyone has something they consider taboo. Few people admit that they actually find those taboo subjects to be fascinating. I dream up and write about disturbing things so those people can read about them in private. If they point and whisper about me afterward, I'm okay with that as long as they actually read it.
SDA: That’s a good thing to talk about! Why do you supposed vampires and werewolves are considered so taboo? I mean I know why it is in my world because of how I was raised, but in society especially one that is so politically correct about everything you would think it wouldn’t still be that big of an issue.
MTM: Sex has always been a taboo subject to a degree, and vampires are sex. They taste other beings, penetrate them with their fangs, and derive great pleasure from doing so.
We in the US and UK live in a primarily Judeo-Christian society. The belief in a benevolent higher power and a malevolent adversary is widespread. Vampires and werewolves as bringers of death and destruction are commonly associated with that malevolent side of the coin. If there is one thing society as a whole can get behind, it's hating the bad guys.
SDA: Well okay then, in writing characters that are ultimately villains in most aspects, how hard was it to give them redeeming qualities to make a reader actually care for them?
MTM: It was actually easier than you might think. The key is to remember that there are no absolutes. It's like Yin and Yang: even the most heinous villain must have at least some good and the most virtuous hero must have a little darkness. Once you establish a character as a villain, they are often a single heroic act away from gaining the reader's sympathy. Sure we hate the bad guy, but we want to believe that he or she can change. If you give someone even a hint of good in an evil character, their need to see the best in people kicks in and a connection is made.
I have mentioned it before, but the book title "Save the Cat" pretty much sums it up. When the villain goes out on that limb to save Mr. Fluffykins, readers find themselves rooting for a character they could have hated two pages earlier.
By the way, "Save the Cat" is a screenwriting book by the late Blake Snyder in which he addresses this issue and many others. It is a fantastic guide, not just for screenwriting, but storytelling in general.
SDA: Yea the love/hate relationships in your book I loved which brings me to something else I was wondering. Do you think all of your characters have traits that are yours or are they all figments of your imagination?
MTM: It's a little bit of both. My characters are an amalgamation of my thoughts on certain character types and various people I have known or known of. First I design a character, giving it a physical description, personality profile, and a rough history. I also try to add at least two or three quirks that will make them memorable. Once all that is in place I put myself into their head and try to react to the story as realistically as possible from their point of view.
It's very similar to putting on a Frankenstein's Monster mask and acting the part: walking stiff-legged, groaning and growling, etc. I set the character up rationally, then throw rational thought out the window and see where it goes.
But, whenever you see one of my characters being a total smartass, that's me.
SDA: I recently did an interview with someone who told me their biggest goal in the book they just wrote was to make the reader cry. Did you have any goals like that?
MTM: My biggest goal in everything I write is to entertain. I want the reader to experience what my characters are going through and feel like their time was well spent. By the end of my novel, I want the reader to care about the protagonists but still be at least a little apprehensive. Hopefully they will have an uneasy sense of "like" peppered with some fear over what they will do next.
SDA: I feel I have known the characters in your book, at least Lucy and Mickey, for some time now but what was the most important thing about them for you to convey to the readers and why?
MTM: We should mention that we were part of an amazing writing group started by you and another upcoming author. If the others who wrote with us haven't already written novels of their own by now, they should get their asses into gear. That is where S.D. and I were each introduced to the other's characters. (SDA: Nice shout out MTM to the wonderful writers we know!)
In Lucifera's Pet, the characters are seemingly at the end of their character arcs at the beginning of the book. We find them in modern day Los Angeles as a ruthless vampire and savage killer werewolf. They both started out their lives as normal people with good hearts and the best intentions. I wanted to show their transformation and leave the reader with the sense that, even though they became monsters, they managed to hang on to a little bit of their humanity in each other.
SDA: Were there any subtleties you threw into the story that was more for your benefit that may have gone over a reader’s head?
MTM: I purposefully left in dozens of "Easter eggs" that will come into play in later stories. I also left two big story threads open. One of them, the fate of newly-turned werewolf Lily, is addressed in the Werewolf Gunslinger short stories and my upcoming novella. The other is a central theme in the follow-up novel to Lucifera's Pet. There are tons more, but I will be more fun to let them come out as I publish more in the future. Plus it will give people a reason to go back and look through Lucifera's Pet again.
SDA: What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
MTM: Time management and motivation. Telling the story was the easy part. I researched as much as I could about novel structure before I started and found that a typical 300 page novel weighed in at around 90,000 words. That's a pretty daunting number when you think about it. I set a monthly goal of 10,000 words and broke it down to 500 per day.
For the first two months, I didn't come close to meeting my goal. Then, my dad passed away two weeks before Christmas in 2008. Needless to say, the book was no longer a priority. I didn't even think about it for a month while we took care of things and spent the holidays with mom. Dad had been an avid reader. He got me into reading when I was a kid and definitely played a part in my decision to start writing. I was really disappointed that I didn't even tell him I had started a book.
Sometime in late January, I decided to start back and finish it. I took two days and wrote out a detailed outline for every chapter I had planned. Then, everything clicked. I started blowing past my 500 word daily goals. Some weeks I would put out 10,000 to 12,000 words. If you are a full-time writer, this is par for the course. If, however, you write from 11:00PM to 1:00AM while working 45-50 hours at a non-writing job and trying to be a good parent in the few hours in between, that is a decent chunk of words.
Having that outline hanging over my head and the idea that I could dedicate the book to dad were the two things that gave me the drive to get the book done.
SDA: How did you find the time to write a full novel while balancing family and a full time job?
MTM: Well, I average about 4.5 hours of sleep a night. Does that answer your question? ;)
Honestly, I write whenever I can. Usually it is after the kids are in bed. The trick is to set a realistic goal and stick to it. I tried to write at least 500 words a day when I was writing Lucifera's Pet. Some days I wrote 25 words. Other days I wrote 3,000.
My perfect situation was me, my laptop, and a dark, quiet room--which is why I was able to write a good bit in the wee hours each night. I scrawled on post-it notes and shoved them in my pocket when I was at the office and an idea hit. I still keep a half dozen notebooks in my car and strewn throughout the house to capture stray bits of scenes that pop into my head. When you have limited time to write, you learn to improvise. I would describe my technique as "guerrilla writing," because ideas often ambushed me and I had to be able to take them down with whatever I had handy.
SDA: Geurrilla writing? HAHA! Care to explain that or do you have a writing process you have to follow, or a particular way that makes it easier?
MTM: I usually brainstorm to come up with the general theme for a story. Then I plan out the opening scene and a rough idea for the ending. Once that is in place, I create a very basic outline. I never have to wonder where to go after a scene because I already have it mapped. Sometimes the story changes, but I just alter the outline and pick right back up. I do not have time for so-called "writer's block," so this is one of my ways to avoid it.
SDA: HAHA! Nice to see someone else refers to writer’s block as “so-called”, I take it you’ve never experienced problems with it, but have you ever had anything come close, if so, how did you overcome?
MTM: I kept hearing friends and other writers talk about "burn out" and "writer's block." I never understood how they could suddenly wake up and not be able to put words on paper. Then one day I woke up with that feeling. After scouring the internet for resources on overcoming these things, the advice on how to "cure" them was always the same: start writing again. It sounds silly, but writing just one random sentence will often trigger another, and another, and POW: no more writer's block.
I don't think there is some invisible force that blocks ideas nor do I believe in some ethereal creature that whispers ideas into the ears of artists. In my case, the reality was that I just didn't want to write at that time. Once I rediscovered the desire, the words came.
Now, I picture writing apathy as a grungy leprechaun sitting on my shoulder burning me with his cigar. When he comes around and I'm trying to write, I kick him in his gnarly leprechaun coin purse and write while he rolls on the floor.
I hate leprechauns.
SDA: So I take it Lucky Charms isn’t your favorite cereal hehehe. If you had to pick a theme song for your book what would it be and why?
MTM: A Long Way Back From Hell by Danzig. It is bluesy, gritty, and full of dark imagery, much like the book. I'll see if I can get Hollywood to play that over the ending credits when they wise up and turn it into a big budget blockbuster film.
SDA: Who has been your biggest creative inspiration?
MTM: There are many writers who have specific traits I admire: The creativity of Neil Gaiman. The humor of Douglas Adams. Anne Rice's ability to tell a compelling story in first person. Laurell K. Hamilton's world-building. Stephanie Meyer's ability to connect with her audience. (Yes, I just said something nice about Twilight. Let's not dwell on it.)
Recently I have fallen in love with Martin Millar's Lonely Werewolf Girl. He shows that good storytelling does not have to follow the rules.
SDA: Very good choices but you do realize you’ve complimented Twilight for the world to see right? On the flip side of the last question, who has been your worst critic?
MTM: I am both my own biggest fan and my own worst critic. I write the stories I have always wanted to read but I can never read my work without finding something that could have been expressed a better way.
SDA: Well with inspiration and critics let’s talk about support groups. I find as a writer, my support group is more of an online following than people in my everyday life. Do you have a support group that you call on and what is it about them that helps you?
MTM: Well, you have definitely been a huge help to me from the beginning. I have several writers and friends online who have helped me immensely as well. My offline friends and coworkers are aware of my writing, but few have read any of my work. That's okay with me. Most of them are not fans of the horror/urban fantasy genre anyway.
Even if you have a hundred people who are supportive and offer great advice, in the end, a writer must be his or her own support group.
It's kind of like being Spiderman, only with a pen instead of webs.
And no super powers.
And no groupies unless you're Ray Bradbury.
Okay, maybe it's nothing like being Spiderman but I always wanted to make that comparison.
SDA: Should have known you’d throw comics into it somewhere! HAHAHA! I hear a lot of people complain about an issue of their favorite serial or whatever and get appalled at the writer for something. What do you feel is the cardinal sin for authors, one they should never commit?
MTM: I believe the worst thing an author can do is bore the reader. We have to remember that, just because we care about every minuscule detail of our character's lives, that doesn't mean we need to put every sigh, smile, and nod of the head to paper. I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to this. That's why I could never even consider publishing anything without a good editor.
SDA: Speaking of publishing, why did you choose to self-publish?
MTM: I purposefully broke many rules of traditional books: villains as main characters, first person POV, multiple POV's, extended flashbacks, etc. Unless someone was willing to totally go against the grain, my chances of jumping out of the "slush pile" (a term I loathe) were less than slim. I started researching traditional publishing and learned, much to my naive dismay, that most authors control very little about their finished product, including the timing of a book's release and the overall appearance and formatting. That was a bitter pill for a control freak like myself.
Once I realized that self publishing via a print-on-demand company was a viable alternative cost-wise, I decided to go that route. It thrilled me to be able to work with an artist to design an unorthodox cover that I loved and find my own editor who helped me tell the story I wanted to tell. For the record, any formatting or typographical errors in the book were due to my hasty last-minute self-edits and failure to let my editor give it a final pass. Lesson learned.
At its core, self-publishing means taking all the credit for yourself when you succeed and accepting the blame if you fail.
SDA: So if a big time NY publisher came to you with a deal, what would it have to include for you to agree?
MTM: I would want a fairly high level of control over the finished product as well as ownership of the electronic rights. I would also want to be able to publish a book as quickly as possible after it is finished rather than waiting for a certain time of year or trying to time the release to compete with some other new book.
SDA: You have also published a short story/novella series, tell me about that?
MTM: My dad was a big L'ouis L'amour western fan. He owned all 100+ of L'amour's books and read them dozens of times. Without giving too much away, I introduced a character in Lucifera's Pet who became a werewolf in the 1700s but purposefully left off what became of the character after that. Just for fun, I decided to follow that character's adventures in the late 1800s American West. Thus, the Werewolf Gunslinger short stories were born. I have published two stories in the series so far and released them for free via Smashwords.
I am currently working on a novella set in the same time period. It started as a third Werewolf Gunslinger story, but has grown much bigger. I am dropping "Werewolf Gunslinger" from the title and calling it "All Hallows."
As a nod to one of my favorite books, A Night in the Lonesome October, the novella will have some Lovecraftian themes as well as an original drawing of one of the memorable scenes for each chapter. The cast of characters will be massive for a novella: zombie gunfighters, werewolves, vampires, angels, demons, sorcerers, seers, and even a certain lumbering man-made monster introduced in the second Werewolf Gunslinger story. I have had a ton of fun working on the novella and I can't wait for readers to see it.
SDA:I would like to thank M.T. Murphy for taking the time to spend with me and do this interview process. I recently told another author that if I wasn’t going to write I would probably go into reporting just to interview people.
If you would like to learn more about Mr. Murphy or his book Lucifera’s Pet, please check out the awesome clicky links below:
Smashwords (Free eBooks):http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/mtmurphy
You can also purchase your copy of Lucifera’s Pet at Amazon: