By Doug Strassler
Author Karen Greco has just contributed a new entry into the ever-popular field of vampire fiction with Hell’s Belle, about Nina Martinez, a half-human, half-vampire balancing personal relationships and fighting baddies in her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. New York Press spoke with Greco about her inspiration, the importance of creating a new action heroine, and even vampire history.
NYP: Did you always want to be a writer, or was this a new desire of yours?
KG: Yes, and no. I always wrote when I was a kid: short stories, truly awful poetry, that sort of thing. By high school, I was acting in and writing plays. I actually wrote the monologue that got me into college! I came to New York fully intending to be a playwright and pursued writing as a day job as well (beauty, fashion and fitness editorial at the lady mags). I ended up in theater PR, which consumed all of my time, and also created a real unease with the whole system of becoming a produced playwright. Critical accolades matter for careers in a very unhealthy way. I didn’t have the stomach for it.
NYP: How did you decide on this specific genre for your story? Or have you always kind of been into vampire lit – even before it became fashionable?
KG: I can be so naïve, it didn’t even occur to me that there were genres in publishing! I always thought fiction/non-fiction. I have always loved spooky stories – horror movies, haunted houses, Anne Rice, vampire mythology, witchcraft, demons. And after spending so much time in theater and film, my writing got much more visceral. So urban fantasy was kind of the perfect place for me to land, and it was those books and writers that I always gravitated towards.
NYP: How did the protagonist of Nina emerge for you?
KG: That’s a tough question. I don’t really know. She just kind of showed up. Once I had a handle on the story I wanted to tell, she was there!
NYP: What was your writing process? How did the plot and characters reveal themselves to you, and how long did it all take to come together?
KG: I did a fair amount of research and outlining for this book. I wanted to make sure that the supernatural lore had some sort of basis in “reality” as it were, or at least some basis in folklore; I didn’t want movie lore. So I think that helped when figuring out characters and plotting. One of the things the critics have said is that it’s a refreshing take on a vampire story, that it avoids the familiar tropes. And I guess it does, but all the lore is rooted in some historical basis.
NYP: Can you expand on that? What kind of history does Hell’s Belle tap into?
KG: Ha! Oh god, a bunch. When we think vampires, we think Vlad the Impaler, and Romania/Eastern European vampires. But there were vampire stories in every culture, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, yet the Eastern European mythology remains the most prevalent. I suppose it’s the most romantic! So I pulled ideas from all these different myths. Plus I really tried to stay true to the witchcraft elements.
For example, I questioned making the main character half-vampire, half-human, and wondered if this could even be possible. After all, if you are dead, can you procreate? For example, in certain cultures vampires were equated with demons, and they spawned children that were half-human, half-“diabolical.” Then you can then go down the research rabbit hole and look at Fallen Angels who procreated with human women, etc. It’s great fun, and between all the different world cultures and their various beliefs and superstitions, there’s a lot to chose from.
NYP: Who would you consider your ideal audience to be?
KG: My ideal audience is the one who likes the book. To be honest, I am kind of surprised that so many men like it. I really thought it was a book that only women would enjoy. Happily, I was wrong.
NYP: I’m sure that you have plans for Hell’s Belle to become a series and not a standalone novel. How much of the overall saga and mythology have you already mapped out?
KG: I have a general idea of where the full story is going, but I don’t quite have a handle on how many books will get us there. I think four or five, but the saga ends in a way that it could continue if there was enough demand.
NYP: How important was it to you for your main character to be a female? Was that a conscious choice?
KG: Absolutely. It was very much a choice. First, I just didn’t think I’d be able to create a fully realized male character as a protagonist. I don’t know if I am a strong enough writer to make a male protagonist that is not a cliché or stereotype. I think I did okay with the male characters in this book, but they aren’t the main characters. Also, there are so few women in pop culture who are fearless-ass kicking superheroes. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to write one!
NYP: Do you consider yourself a feminist? If so, does that or does that not factor in to your writing?
KG: Yes, I am. Although I think that’s a very unpopular identification these days. Aren’t we supposed to be post-feminist or something? I am sure it factors into my writing, unconsciously at least. But my focus is writing a good, entertaining story. There’s no political or social motivation.
NYP: What do you say to people who might have a snobbery and turn their noses up at vampire literature? Or young adult fare, for that matter?
KG: Different strokes, right? I get it. Not everyone is into vampire or supernatural stories, and that’s okay. Don’t read my book, because you’ll probably not like it. But there’s no reason to slag off on something just because it’s not for you.
When I was a kid, I used to go to the book store down the street from my house and sit in the aisle and read the Sweet Valley High books because my mom refused to buy them for me, or let me check them out of the library. They weren’t Literature with a capital L. So I really hate that sort of reading snobbery. If a genre isn’t your thing, that’s fine. But don’t judge anyone else on their reading preferences. Life’s too short – why be judgey?
Readers can judge for themselves. Hell’s Belle is available for download at http://www.amazon.com/Hells-Belle-ebook/dp/B00DEUDXH0.
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