So, first of all, how did you come up with the idea for the story?
Melanie: A few things came together to bring ALMOST HUMAN to life. I’ve always been interested in bats. Vampire bats have a anticoagulant in their saliva called “draculin” (named after Count Dracula!) that keeps blood from clotting. I had the idea that such a thing would be useful for vampires as well. It would also be useful if they had something to keep the victim calm, like a drug.
I always wondered about a vampire’s ability to put victims in thrall. In old movies, vampires are always able to hypnotize people, and it’s never really explained. People are just ‘under their power’. I always wondered – why? How does it work? I put those questions together with the anticoagulant/drug idea, and took it further. What if vampires could inject their victims with venom – like a snake? Only the venom would not be deadly poison, but a combination of drugs that kept blood from clotting, kept the victim calm and even willing, and also could mark territory for the vampire – leaving a mark that other vampires could see. The vampire could then use the existence of this ‘drug’ in their victim’s system, to put them in thrall as well.
The idea of venomous vampires seemed so logical to me, that I assumed for sure that someone else had done it already. I began searching my library for a book like that, so I could read it! This was probably in the early 90’s and there weren’t very many vampire books around at that time. I never found what I was looking for, and I filed the idea away. It never occurred to me to write it myself, LOL.
In the late 80’s, I had discovered Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles and absolutely loved them. That was the first time I read something from the vampire’s point of view. The way that she captured emotions and described surroundings was mesmerizing to me, and I really connected with her story. I’m also a huge fan of the T.V. series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Joss Whedon is a genius! That said - towards the end of the show, I started disliking some decisions the writers made. I understood their vision, but I also saw missed opportunities. I would have done things differently.
That started me thinking of my own storylines and my own characters, incorporating my venomous vampire idea. None of this was written down, just daydreamed during housework. Then one day I realized that a lot of the ideas I had were really good, and it depressed me to think that it would all just be forgotten. So, I sat down one night at the computer, to write out a few things so I wouldn’t forget, and could look back at them one day. The scenes just came pouring out and before I knew it, I’d been up writing almost the whole night! That’s when I realized that I had a real story to tell, and wanted to write it all out from beginning to end. That is how my ALMOST HUMAN vampires were born.
Cain (one of the main characters in the story) is very cool and yet has a very sweet and vulnerable side at time. Was it difficult to step into his head and write from a guy's point of view?
Do you have a favorite character to write? Maybe one that you have things in common with?
Melanie: I think I’ll answer those two questions together. Honestly, I really am all of the characters in this book! It may sound strange because my characters are pretty diverse, but it’s true. Each of these characters has been taken from the seed of something within myself. I have been lucky enough in my life never to have been sexually abused or addicted to drugs - but everything that goes into making up the personalities for my characters, how they feel and react to things, has come from some little grain of dealing with something in my own life - magnified. At some point in my life I have totally identified with and "been" these people. Even if it didn't outwardly show - this is how I felt and wanted to react.
I wondered a little at first, whether I would be able to write a believable ‘guy’, but when you come down to it, we are all just people. I take care to really examine his motives throughout each scene, and to try and observe and notice things the way I think a man would. It’s actually rather fun writing for my guys Cain and Ben, and stepping into the male perspective.
Outwardly I’m sure my friends and family would say I am most like Felicity. Physically, I have modeled her after myself; intellectually and emotionally she is very much the girl that I was at that age. I was usually pretty quiet and shy, constantly reading my fantasies rather than trying to live them out. Because of that, I identify very closely with Felicity, but I have to admit that it’s often more fun to write for my other ladies, Allie and Sindy. Allie is much more sassy and daring than I have ever been in life, and Sindy… well let’s just say it; She can be an evil bitch – and who wouldn’t think that was fun to write?
Vampires are very “In” at the moment, do you think the market is soon going to saturate? And what do you think is different about your vampires compared to other books like the classic Bram Stocker's Dracula, or more modern takes on the genre like “Vampire Academy” by Richelle Mead?
Melanie: When I first began shopping my series around to publishers in 2004, vampires had not yet made the resurgence in popular culture that they are enjoying now. I could not get a single publisher or agent to read my manuscript, and I actually received a rejection postcard from a publisher that said:
“Sorry, vampires are not for us. Nobody wants to read about them anymore – Anne Rice has already done them to death!”
I write about vampires because I feel an affiliation with them, not because I thought they would be a good market. My favorite aspect of paranormal literature, is the ability to combine characters that people can relate to, with paranormal circumstances. If a character resonates with readers, it allows them to empathize with the situation, no matter how fantastic. Creating well-rounded, realistic and evolving characters is the driving force behind my writing. I find vampires to be an especially wonderful metaphor for exploring topics such as faith, prejudice, abuse, ethics and addiction, among other things. These aspects of their persona allow readers to relate to them in a subconscious way, even though they seem very different from ourselves.
I haven’t read any modern vampire books, because I don’t want to influence my own writing, but I have read and enjoyed Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From what I know of Vampire Academy, I think my books are probably a very even blending of the two. ALMOST HUMAN has much of the same literary, intellectual and philosophical elements as in Dracula (which is a book that to me seems designed to haunt your thoughts and really make you ponder the ideas it presents), but ALMOST HUMAN also includes the modern emotional, practical and dramatic elements that I would assume books like Vampire Academy would have.
The reputation of the vampire has evolved throughout the history of media to take many different paths. Some are frightening, horrific bringers of death; disgusting dwellers of our nightmares that want only to steal our blood, taking our lives from us. Others are romantic, aesthetically pleasing supernatural creatures of immortality; inhabiting our fantasies and wanting more existential things such as understanding and redemption.
Regardless of whether they drink human blood, or have learned to abstain; whether or not they can see their reflections, require invitation to a dwelling, or can be held at bay using crosses or garlic, I believe the one thing that all vampires have in common, is the fact that they embody the persona of anyone who has ever felt outcast, alone and unable, unwilling, or undeserving to find love. I think that is a basic element of why so many of us connect with them on some level. There will always be a place for the vampire in literature.
Did you always want to become a writer? What inspires you to write?
Melanie: Believe it or not, I never did want to become a writer, LOL. I have always been an avid reader of sci/fi, fantasy & horror, but although I did very well writing papers for school, I had never used writing as a creative outlet before I began this series. I loved to pretend as a child and make up stories, but I wanted to live the stories, not write them! I was always involved in drama throughout school, and in singing solos while acting in the Christmas Cantata for my church. I didn’t have aspirations of being a published author with a book in the book store when I began this series – that wasn’t my initial goal. I began writing only because I wanted to tell this story. At this point, I am so incredibly emotionally invested in this story, that I have a great need to follow through transcribing it for readers until it is at the point where I feel it’s done, (I currently have 13 books planned in all). The characters are a part of me, and I can’t imagine ever abandoning them! Writing has become my favorite passionate obsession!
Do you ever write with a soundtrack? Songs that make it easier to write a certain character or a certain scene?
Melanie: I need to have quiet when I’m writing – and it helps if no one is home or the family is sleeping, LOL. This is mostly because I speak aloud every single bit of dialogue, having the conversations over and over. I ‘act out’ the scenes first, then write the speaking parts. Then I go back and add in every part of inner thought and surrounding action that influences that conversation. While there are a lot of passages that are inner musings of characters, to explain motivations and plot for readers, most of my story is very dialogue driven.
I don’t listen to music while actually writing, but I’m always thinking about the story. There are songs which bring certain characters to mind, or give me ideas about a specific scene. My main characters are Cain & Felicity, but I do feel the story’s supporting cast are just as important and emotionally involved in the series. The strongest correlation to a song, is between my character Sindy and the song “How Does It Feel?” by Avril Lavigne. That song is lonely, and heartbreaking. It seems to voice everything that Sindy feels inside and will not show others. Soon after hearing it for the first time, I was writing Sindy’s scenes for the beginning of ALMOST HUMAN Volume 3: Evolving Ecstasy (Chapter 4, Honesty – when she is with Cain), when I realized how apropos the song was to her situation. Most people might not infuse so much emotion into that song, but now every time I hear it, I think of how Sindy must feel and it can make me cry.
A list of songs I connect with my series (it’s a bit eclectic, but so are my characters):
How Does It Feel? – Avril Lavigne
New – No Doubt
This Is How I Disappear – My Chemical Romance
Uninvited – Alanis Morissette
Light In Your Eyes – Sheryl Crow
I’m Not Dead – P!NK
Broken Hearts Parade – Good Charlotte
(Don’t Fear) the Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
All That I’m Living For - Evanescence
Lifetimes – Sheryl Crow
If you could sell your story to our Bookaholics, what would you tell them that would inspire them to go out and get your fantastic books?
Melanie: I’m really not into “marketing” and “promotion”, so I don’t have some pre-set blurb in mind for something like this, LOL. I write my story because I have such love for it, but it’s hard for me to describe to others. All I can say, is that if you want a story that is different from all the other vampire books out there, with characters who resonate with emotion and a story that keeps you thinking, even after you’ve read the last page, then you may enjoy my ALMOST HUMAN series. You can read free chapters on my website at: www.MelanieNowak.com. I hope you’ll check it out!
Name one cool thing about being an author, and one bad thing.
Melanie: By far the coolest thing about being an author (other than the awesome feeling of actually bringing the characters to life) is being able to talk to readers. I hear from readers all over the world. It is so rewarding to hear that my words have touched someone so deeply that they felt they had to tell me about it. I get to talk to people who connected with what I had to say, and we can discuss the different variables and emotional motivations that drove the story in different directions. I love a good book talk!
One bad thing; well, here’s another song. I love this line, because I can so completely identify with it:
“I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd, ‘cause these words are my diary screamin’ out loud, and I know that you’ll use them however you want to.” – Anna Nalick – Breathe
When I write, it is like pouring raw emotion onto the page. It is my soul, bared for better or worse. Everything has been taken from my own experiences, and secret thoughts in my mind that I’ve never shared. It can be embarrassing, and scary, to know that after reading my books, people might look at me differently.
I have no problem accepting constructive criticism for my writing, but when people get very vocal about disapproving of decisions characters have made in the story, it can be difficult. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but it is hard for me not to jump in and want to defend the characters. Not everything my characters do is “right”, I’m very into painting stories in shades of gray, but I hope readers can understand the motives, even if they disagree with the actions. The worst part is worrying that they won’t ‘get it’.
What was the first book you ever read?
Melanie: I honestly don’t remember. I have been reading forever, LOL. Here are some samples of childhood favorites that stand out to me in ‘age’ order:
Otherwise Known As Shiela The Great by Judy Blume
A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope
WitchDame by Kathleen Sky
Ariel by Steven R. Boyett
What book would you recommend to our Bookaholics?
Melanie: I cannot choose one book to recommend, as reading has always felt like an intimate and personal thing to me, and each reader needs to find what speaks to them. Books have been such an inspiration to me throughout my life. I re-read favorites over and over - a good book is like an old friend!
I will share with you my favorite quote:
"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." Charles W. Eliot (1834 - 1926)
And finally, are you a Bookaholic?
Melanie: I am most definitely a Bookaholic!!!