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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marta Acosta interview + international giveaway

I recently read (devoured/inhaled) Marta Acosta's 'Casa Dracula' series and completely feel in lust with this author's unique brand of humour, à la Moliere's comedy-of-manners.

Luckily for me, Ms. Acosta doesn't mind having rabid fan-girls beg her for interviews...

So, without further ado, I present to you the luminous laugh-out-loud brilliance of Marta Acosta!

Q: How did you get published, agent or slush pile?


I had an agent. Of course, I went through a lot of rejections when I first queried agents. This was before the Twilight-inspired craze when no one had even heard of the term “urban fantasy.” Now everyone and her cousin has written a book with vampires or werewolves.

Q: Favourite book of all time?

I’ll give you a few: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Persuasion by Jane Austen, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and anything by P.G. Wodehouse.

Q: Favourite author?

Any of the above on any given day, but you’d have to toss Henry James and Mark Twain into the mix.
Q: Can I assume that you have a soft spot for my fair country, Australia? In ‘Midnight Brunch’ Milagro meets some boisterous Aussie blokes at a wine tasting. In ‘Bride of Casa Dracula’ the wacko Don Pedro (Mr. Nascimento) claims to have "taken a walkabout” in the Australian outback. Milagro likewise believes that “everyone loves a good platypus story.” Have you ever visited Australia, and if so what did you think of our sunburnt land? (and if not. . . can you please come and visit? Puh-lease?!?)

I haven’t visited Australia, but I have partied with Australians and Australians party hard. My ex-pat brother hangs out with a lot of Aussies and visits Australia, and he speaks a lot of Aussie slang. I think I wrote the Aussie scene after a conversation with him. Don Pedro’s story came because I was thinking of Nicholas Roeg’s classic film, Walkabout. Yes, I draw from art to make jokes. Also, who doesn’t love a good platypus story? I’d love to visit sometime if only to see the platypus in its natural habitat.

Q: You mention some really wonderful multicultural monsters throughout the ‘Casa Dracula’ series. From La Llorona to Chupas. What made you settle on vampirism for your protagonist?

With humor, you often throw two disparate ideas together. I’d just watched a sci-fi movie where everyone was running around in gray lycra jumpsuits, and I started ranting about clichés in film and books. This led me to thinking about clichés about vampires as wealthy, accomplished, and gorgeous. Wouldn’t they be dreadful snobs?

I thought that using a comedy-of-manners structure about social class would work if I spoofed those clichés. How would those vamps react if they had to deal with a quirky, outspoken, broke, and rather aimless young woman? Now don’t you regret asking?

Q: Let me borrow a quote from Moliere to frame the next question: “Reason is not what decides love.” In ‘Haunted Honeymoon’ Milagro has made her choice between bad-boy Ian and sweetheart Oswald. Did you know from book #1 who Milagro would end up with?

In my first version of book #1, Milagro walks out on Oswald and her college beau, by saying, “If either of you decide to grow up, give me a call.” My agent then said that she couldn’t sell the book without a happy ending. I rewrote the ending so that Milagro stays with Oswald, but we sense her ambiguity. She keeps and hides the gifts that Ian sends her.

I always wanted that first ending, though, where Milagro stands on her own two feet, because I felt that’s an important stage in a young woman’s life, when she can be independent. I was able to do that in The Bride of Casa Dracula. When Milagro finally makes her decision to marry in Haunted Honeymoon, it’s motivated by love, not a desperate need for companionship.

Yes, I always knew who I wanted her to choose. I think my affection for the character comes through in the scenes and dialogue that I gave him.

Q: You released a book under the name Grace Coopersmith entitled ‘Nancy’s Theory of Style’. The book is a spin-off of sorts, about one of the character’s who appears in the Casa Dracula world. Why the pseudonym? And did writing under a different guise affect your ‘voice’?

The whole story is long and complicated and we’d have to drink a six of Fosters while I explained it. A short version is that we thought the sales would be better with a pseudonym since my sales hadn’t been great for The Bride of Casa Dracula (book 3), since no one knew about Midnight Brunch (book 2) because it looked more like a cookbook than anything else. There were a lot of missteps with the placement and covers of my books. People still can’t find them in bookstores. (They’re in General Fiction.)

Q: Don Pedro ironically hates “phoniness and pretense”. What are some of your pet-peeves?

Where to start? Don Pedro has hired Milagro to write his memoir, which she calls a fauxoir, since she made up the whole thing. One of my pet peeves is how the literary world will praise an obviously bullshit memoir. When the hoax is discovered, they’ll condemn the author. James Fray, JT Leroy, Carlos Castaneda anyone? You Aussies have Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Message from Down Under. I love the hoaxers, and I hate it when an author’s former admirers act like affronted virgins.

Q: Milagro gets burned repeatedly by the literati and publishing world throughout the ‘Casa Dracula’ series. Don Pedro refuses to acknowledge that she ghost-wrote his ‘fauxoir’, and her ex boyfriend, Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon, gains unjust notoriety for a pretentious novel. Is the world of publishing/writing really so awful? And were any of Milagro’s experiences a case of art imitating life?

What I say about publishing is that it’s a business run by people who wanted to read books in college. Make of that what you will.

Milagro’s writing is fiction imitating fiction. More specifically, I was a little inspired by Kilgore Trout, a character who appears in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. Trout is a dreadful writer, but he has brilliant ideas. I never say if Milagro’s stories are good or not. I think she’s at her best when she lets go of her notions about what good writing should be and she pens the flamboyant fauxoir.

Q: Who would you like to write a fauxoir for?

I would choose someone unknown because then I’d have the freedom to make up anything and everything. I always admire those people who think of money-making religions like L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who expressed a desire to invent a religion. He later founded Scientology. I even have the main theme of my moneymaking religion: “It’s not my fault – they fucked up.” I haven’t decided if it would have an intricate alien-extraterrestrial tier structure. Sadly, I lack Hubbard’s ambition and drive.

Q: Milagro carries a certain Llama (Llorona) story around “like a dead albatross”. Have you had any such seabird-addled stories in your career?

I often make mistakes with my spell-check programs, but nothing like Milagro’s continual humiliation with the llama story. (She intended to write a story about La Llorona, the famous wailing woman of Latin American folklore.) One technique with humor is to commit to a joke, which is why I often drive my friends crazy and why I keep bringing up the llama story.

Q: You make a lot of wry social observations throughout the 'Casa Dracula' series, particularly concerning Latin Americans and US racism. How important is it to you, as a Latina, to use your mighty pen and write about such issues?

It was really important to me to present a protagonist who broke the media stereotypes about Latinas as maids, welfare mothers, and illegal immigrants. I wasn’t interested in the well-intentioned, but equally clueless literary stereotypes either: all noble savages and magical realism. No thanks.

Milagro’s a type of girl who’s not uncommon to real Latinas and to real young women everywhere: she’s bright, funny, sexy, lively, and informed.

What I’m trying to say in my books is: here is our common humanity. We all feel like outsiders sometimes. We all seek love, family, and a home. We all make mistakes, and most of us try to do better. When readers who come from different backgrounds empathize with Milagro, I feel that I have succeeded. When Latinas identify with her, I feel that I have succeeded.

Q: Were publishers wary of a book series with a Latina heroine?

At the time that the book was first sent out, publishers were looking for a “Latina Terry McMillan.” They wanted someone who could write a chick lit book that would sell across color/ethnic markets. The trade paper edition was given a cover that practically had dancing jalepeños on it. Red ruffled dress? Check. Gold hoop earrings? Check. Crazy fiesta party font? Check. I got them to pull back a little, but I never thought the cover reflected the style and content of the story. They’ve never really known what to do with me.

Q: Is ‘Haunted Honeymoon’ really the end of Milagro de Los Santos?

I’m pretty sure it is. This series still doesn’t sell in the numbers that most popular paranormal romance does. A lot of people have never heard of my books or if they have, they just won’t pick them up. I don’t know why because people who actually read them say they love them.

I am having a harder time saying goodbye to Milagro than I thought I would. I wouldn’t mind bringing her back in a different series with her sexy husband, very Nick and Nora Charles of The Thin Man, all clever banter, flirting, parties, and danger.

Q: Word on the blogosphere is that you have a YA book coming out in 2012 called ‘The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove’. Can you tell us a little bit about this new project?

I began this gothic story as homage to Jane Eyre. My own Jane is a foster girl who decides to escape her grim, miserable existence by studying hard. She’s invited to attend the exclusive Birch Grove Academy for Girls on a full scholarship and she can live in the groundskeeper’s cottage.

The school is amazing and the students are smart, interesting young women. The headmistress and her attractive sons take an interest in Jane’s welfare and happiness. It seems too good to be true. It is. Jane discovers that a former scholarship girl left under very mysterious circumstances. She’s got to decide what she’ll risk to stay at Birch Grove.

I went to an all-girls school and my fictional girls were inspired by those real girls who were passionate about physics, or literature, or sports.

Q: I can’t wait to read your YA book! What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to face in writing for a younger audience?

I didn’t know what would be accepted in terms of sexuality and language. I did what I do with my other books, which is to imply rather than specify.
One big challenge for a YA and for any book these days is mentioning gadgets, songs, and movies. There’s about a two-year time lag between turning in a manuscript and having it published, so you can’t bring up anything so trendy that it will date a story. It was easier for plotting when people only had one phone in their houses and it was a landline.

Q: And finally, to end on a Moliere quote. “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” – which one are you up to?

My husband said I had to stop telling people that the best thing about writing is getting paid because they always look at me as if I’m a barbarian. To me, the money proves that what I’m doing has value to other people. Gigi Barton, one of my characters, scoffs when Milagro turns down payment for a garden design and tells her, “It’s like prostitution: unless you get paid, you’re just an enthusiastic amateur.”

Danielle, thanks so much for having me here at Alpha Reader. I was thrilled to discover your reviews of my books, especially since you really seemed to understand what I’m trying to do as a writer. It makes me feel quite appreciated…like receiving a check from my publisher!

International GIVEAWAY!
I have the first and fourth book in the 'Casa Dracula' series to give away to one lucky follower...

To enter:

♥ Become a follower of my blog (if you aren't already)

♥ Leave a comment on this blog post

♥ Include a way to contact you (e-mail addy is fine)

♥ One post per entrant

♥ This is an INTERNATIONAL giveaway!

♥ Contest closes November 20th.