Needless to say, I was delighted when Riley agreed to do an interview with me.
At the end of 2001, my husband took a job in Papua New Guinea. All of a sudden I’d gone from a busy mother of three to a pampered expat wife with 2 full time maids and lots of free time on my hands. I started to question what I wanted to do with my life and had always had an avid interest in writing. I decided to bite the bullet and enroll in a journalism course. Within months of starting it, I got a job at the Australian Embassy, as Personal Assistant to the Ambassador. He heard that I was studying journalism and introduced me to the Editor in Chief of the Post Courier newspaper who told me to pitch him a couple of article ideas. I did – he published them and very soon I had my own weekly column.
When I wasn’t writing articles or working, I began dabbling in fiction – having loved writing stories during high school, but I did not really start writing full time until we changed countries and moved to Saudi Arabia. In Saudi, it was a lot harder, as a woman, to get work unless you were a teacher or a nurse – and I was neither!
I completed a couple of novels but didn’t really know what else to do from there. In 2008, I finished The Ichorous Project. I tried to get a traditional publisher for it and was told that no publisher would touch a vampire book – no matter how good it was. I knew I had a good story to tell but had no real idea how I was going to tell it if traditional publishers weren’t interested. That’s when my husband, who works in IT, told me to try Apple, who had just started publishing ebooks. I knew NOTHING about publishing at the time, outside of my knowledge of the media industry – and they are two very different markets.
In the end, I decided to give it a go – the worst that could happen is that my book wouldn’t sell. I was all set to go ahead with it when, as a family, we made the decision to move back home to Australia. Needless to say that for the next few months, my time was taken up with sorting out an international move, finding housing back home and getting our animals shipped back home. Once the dust had settled on our move, I again began to think about publishing. I spoke to Ray Bull, a friend of mine who has done graphic art work for Lucas Arts, Qantas, Porsche and many other global brands. He came up with a cover for The Ichorous Project while I researched self-publishing options. I settled on Smashwords in the end.
As soon as it was published, I pulled out some of my earlier finished manuscripts and dusted them off. One of the ones I had completed had the working title Tycoon. I edited it, polished it up – rewrote a few scenes and changed the title to The William S Club. Ray Bull again came up with a brilliant cover for me. I was working full time again and did not have any spare time to shop the manuscript around to publishers so I decided to go the self-publishing route again. This time I expanded to Amazon and print.
Do you write in one genre or mix it up a bit and write in a few?
I definitely mix things up. The William S Club is an erotic thriller with elements of romance and mystery. I like to think it’s what you’d get if Jackie Collins had of written Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Vampire Origins is a paranormal saga aimed at the Young Adult market.
I have a few short stories out – The Gate is a dark thriller about a woman who returns to find her front gate open and her children missing.
I’m also working on a chick lit series called Expat Wives. Book one is Dirty Little Secrets and follows seven women living in Dubai.
I know it’s not popular to mix it up in genres but I tend to write where the ideas happen, and they can be all over the place.
Tell us about your current book and what makes it special.
My current book is actually my first book reworked. I had always intended The Ichorous Project to be part of a series but at the time, the series was as yet unnamed. Building on what was already in the book, I decided to call it Vampire Origins – and weave historical fact with vampire fiction. I came up with five different vampire tribes – Strigoi, Cambion, Strix, Bretonnian and Nosferatu.
Cambion – Descended from royalty, the Cambions are a proud and arrogant race of born vampires. Having never experienced the restrictions of human emotion, the Cambions take what they want and kill with cruel abandon. They have just one rule – never turn a human.
Bretonnian – Forget murder and violent conversions. Forget Freemasonry and Scientology. The Bretonnians are the hippest club among the creative elite. They’re all for free love, free choice and free spirit and count among their members some of the biggest names in world history.
Strix – A fierce tribe of warrior vampires, the Strix work alongside humans as mercenaries, bodyguards and highly paid assassins. They take down dictators and corrupt men. But the Strix have one weakness – their hunger for blood often drives them to become the very thing they hunt.
Nosferatu – A shadowy race led by a fallen priest, the Nosferatu are slaves to their religious beliefs, unable to move beyond the superstitions that keep them hidden in the dark.
The Ichorous Project is now Book 1 of the Strigoi series, which traces the origins of Vladamir Strigoi – aka Vlad the Impaler and Dracula.
I really love this story. Unlike The William S Club, which is entirely my baby, Vampire Origins is a partnership with my family. I may have written it but, together, we spent many days coming up with the different vampire tribes, working out the plot line for the whole series – even working on character traits for everyone. We basically mapped out the entire Strigoi series from start to finish.
I’ve taken liberty with a number of historical figures, creating alternate vampire histories for them. Take Alexei and Anastasia Romanov for instance. History says they died in Russia alongside their family when they were murdered by Bolshevik rebels. But there has been so much mystery and intrigue surrounding them that I had no problems creating an alternate reality for Alexei and Anastasia.
Tell us how you settled on the title.
Well Vampire Origins came about when I took the story one step further and thought about tracing the origins of five different vampire tribes. Without giving too much away about the subtitle, The Ichorous Project it comes from the root word, ichor, which is the bloodlike substance of the gods.
Tell us your favorite scene in the book.
It’s kind of hard to narrow it down to just one, so I’ll give you my top four.
The first scene is at the start of the book when Alexei and Anastasia are still human. I love this scene because, apart from the two of them becoming vampires, it is historically accurate – right down to the speech the Bolshevik leader gave right before he murdered their family. It is quite a chilling account as a young boy watches through a tiny hole in the wall as his family is executed. I think it’s a great opener to the book and sets the scene for what comes next.
Another scene I love is when Caleb goes to Uganda with Gabriel and Ryder (two werewolves) and Bern (a shapeshifting polar bear). They’ve been sent to track down a pack of gorillas, to convince one of them to join their team. The gorilla turns down the offer, which results in a fight. This scene really showcases Caleb’s unique skills – unlike other shapeshifters, Caleb can take the form of anything he kills – which makes things particularly tricky when Caleb kills one of the gorillas! Every time I read that scene, I imagine what it would be like on the big screen.
One of the other scenes that I love is probably one of the most controversial in the book. Angeline is the daughter of Vlad (the leader of the Strigoi vampires) and Veronika (a Cambion princess). As a born vampire, Angeline has no residual human emotions or feelings, making her particularly ruthless. Unlike bitten vampires, who cease to grow older after they are bitten, Cambions do age. They just do it very slowly. So while Angeline has the body of a pre-schooler, she is actually over three hundred years old. When she befriends Scarlett’s little sister, Ruby, you know things are not going to end well. And not just because Angeline is a terrible influence. What Angeline does to Ruby sets the rest of the series in motion.
The other scene I just couldn’t leave off is where Nataschia falls off the wagon. Tash is a new vampire who hates the thought of drinking human blood. She’s fine to drink it from a glass but she steadfastly refuses to bite a human herself. But that was before she met Nate Fraser. The closer Tash gets to Nate, the more she craves his blood. And when Tash gives in to her thirst… Well, you’re just going to have to read the book if you want to know what happens.
Who is your favorite character?
Anyone who has read any of my books will know I generally have a lot of characters. To me, books are like life, and how boring would your life be if you only knew one or two people. Vampire Origins is no different, and there is a huge cast of characters, which makes choosing one favorite a whole lot harder. Just like the scenes, I can narrow it down but I can’t choose an ultimate fave. So my top three are:
Caleb – he’s the underdog in more ways than one. His family considers him an abomination but that’s because Caleb is the result of an affair between a Cambion prince and a werewolf. In some ways, Caleb is the true hero of the story but like all good heroes, he’s going to have to fight hard if he wants to win.
Lachlan – if Caleb is the underdog, Lachlan is the total opposite. He’s arrogant, conceited and rude – the anti-hero, if you will. But he’s so sexy and masculine that you can’t help be a little bit attracted to him. He’s the bad boy every girl wants to change and he was the most fun to write.
Scarlett – she’s a little bit annoying to begin with but she has good reason. And, of all the characters, Scarlett will have the biggest growth arc. She, quite literally, becomes the girl with the weight of the world on her shoulders. As the only remaining Strigoi human, Scarlett is the only one left who can kill Vlad and save her family. You only get a glimpse of her true potential in book one but by the beginning of book two, Scarlett must embrace her destiny.
If your book is made into a movie, who do you want to play the main characters?
I’d love Michael Fassbender to play Vlad, Chace Crawford to play Alex, Jaime King to play Anastasia, Nicole Kidman to play Veronika, Alex Pettyfer to play Lachlan, Dean Geyer to play Caleb, Jessica Chastain to play Rose and Lucy Hale to play Renee.
I’m not greedy, am I?
Where do you draw inspiration? Is anything based on real life experiences?
For the vampire side of things, I drew inspiration from some of the classics. It’s less Twilight and more Dracula. My inspiration for Angeline actually came from Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia in Interview with a Vampire. I wanted to capture the contradiction of an evil monster presiding in the body of a sweet child.
As for the Fraser’s expatriate background, well a lot of that comes from my own history of living and working overseas. My children grew up in four different countries. They know all about starting again, making new friends – and about the longest lasting relationships they will develop being those in their own family.
What are your thoughts on book trailers, and do you have one for your books?
I have seen some excellent book trailers that are more like movie trailers. Mine, unfortunately, is not quite that upscale but I do love the music, which I think really sets the scene for a vampire novel set in Romania. It does need to be updated to reflect some of the changes (I made this back when the book first went on sale) but for the most part, I like it. Click here to watch it.
Who designs the covers of your books?
I have a pure genius who designs my covers for me. Ray Bull of Bull Art Media has done work for Lucas Arts, Porsche, Hewlett Packard and some of the biggest names in Australian business (including Qantas). I love that I can give him the synopsis of my book and he comes back with something truly magical. I love my covers and cannot recommend him highly enough. The worst thing an author can ever do is attempt to their own covers. Scrimp on other things but do NOT scrimp on your covers. Despite what the proverb says, people WILL judge your book by it, and an amateur cover will scream amateur book and hurt your sales.
Would love to have an agent – my biggest issue is having the time to actually look for one. I work two jobs as well as write whenever I get a spare moment. One day, I will find the time to sit down and send out some query letters but in the meantime, I hold out hope that one day an agent (or a publisher) will stumble across my books are love them so much, they come looking for me… A girl can dream, can’t she?
If you had fifteen seconds of an agents and/or publishers time, what would you tell them about your book?
If I were pitching Vampire Origins to them, I’d say it has television series written all over it. It’s an epic saga with over twenty books in total planned. The first series follows Scarlett Fraser who, to save her sister, must kill Vladamir Strigoi – the most powerful vampire in the world. But to kill him, she must discover the location of a stone that has been missing for over a thousand years. The books are packed with action and adventure – think Indiana Jones meets Dracula with a much sexier cast.
What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have a day job, and if so, what is it?
Actually, I have two day jobs. I write corporate communications for one and am an executive assistant for a board of directors in the other. On top of that, I’m a wife and the mother of three teenage kids.
How important is planning to you? Do you plan the whole book or just start writing?
A little bit of both – usually when an idea comes to me, I sit down and write the first couple of chapters as they come to me. When the inspiration slows down, I take a break and move on to planning. With Vampire Origins I have planned far more than I’ve ever planned with anything else, but I think, due to the nature and scope of the series, it needed a lot more planning.
What project are you working on now?
I have started writing book two of Vampire Origins, as well as working on Dirty Little Secrets.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author and what did you learn from that criticism?
The harshest criticism came from my mother, who hated my first book – she even told me she was ashamed of me for writing it! Too much sex in it for her! Hmm, what did I learn from that? That you cannot write for other people – you have to believe in your product yourself. Criticism can come from anywhere – from a stranger on the end of a computer or from within your own family. You have to have a tough skin in this business. Not everyone is going to like your work. You cannot please all of the people all of the time, so don’t even try.
What has been the best compliment?
A reviewer compared my writing to a precision Swiss-made watch – where all the pieces work together just as they should. I was pretty chuffed at that.
If a genie granted you three wishes, what would you ask for?
I could be all noble and wish for world peace and health for my family but lets have a bit of fun.
I’d want Hermione’s Time Turner from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban (I really could use a few extra hours in my day), an agent to offer me a seven-figure book deal for Vampire Origins, and my own time machine (because I’d love to travel back through time and witness history first hand).
Visit Riley here and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
Thank you Riley Banks, Hurry up with Dirty Little Secrets, the suspense is killing me!