Readers like to
think that the books they enjoy are all works of art first and works
of commerce second. But no book is published unless someone, somewhere
thinks it will sell and sell well enough to make a profit. Writers,
on the other hand find themselves faced with an almost impossible task.
Unless you're one of a handful of writers who dominate the bestseller
lists, making a living by writing alone these days is increasingly
difficult. Unless you’re one of the writing Incredibles, those
writers who adopt secret identities, multiple personalities and work
in a multiplicity of genres. Since the year 2000, Sheila Kelly has
made her living writing, and she's done so by publishing 25 books.
That's an incredible and admirable output. It pays to remember that
one of America's best loved genre authors, Philip K. Dick, also published
an incredible number of novels over a short period of time. Sheila
Kelly is working in a time-honored tradition.
Kelly in a moment not spent writing. A moment.
SK: (Um, I have 26 books in print now. Family
joke: Q: How many
books does Sheila have in print now? A:What time
She's also working on the cutting edge of romantic literature.
It's quite possible to argue that nearly every novel includes romance
as a major or minor component. Sheila Kelly, writing under the
pen names of Jessica Hall and Gena Hale has written 8 novels of
romantic suspense. As S. L. Viehl, she's written seven bestselling
StarDoc novels. Look on the back of those novels, and many of your
other favorites besides. I'm betting that more than one of the
books sitting on our shelf includes an accolade from Romantic Times.
What was once unthinkable is now the norm.
As Lynn Viehl, Sheila is setting off on a new course, helping to
launch a new imprint of horror / paranormal / romance novels. Signet
Eclipse, from NAL, will launch next year, and I'm guessing that
many of my readers have seen advertisements for the initial titles
in the series in the back of any of a number of paperbacks that
they may have recently purchased.
Sheila has taken the leap and decided to launch
the Darkyn Website to support
her forthcoming novels from Signet NAL. Yep, they're
Sheila contracted Metro DMA, the folks behind Stephen
her Darkyn Website. It's a big deal, and I was pleased that
she offered me an exclusive interview to look behind the scenes
of a genre-fiction web event. It's not often you get to peel away
the HTML and see what's behind the building and launch of an expensive
website to support a major new imprint.
RK: Sheila let's get some background first. What drew you to science
fiction and romance novels, and what drew you to combine the two
to the extent that you did in the Star Doc novels?
SK: I’ve been writing romance since 1973, when I was twelve
and first read Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” I
hated the ending, so I re-wrote it. At thirteen I wrote my first
romance novel and actually submitted it to Avon Books. The very
gentle rejection they sent me kept me writing books.
thirteen I wrote my first romance novel and submitted it
to Avon Books." [I ain't afraid of no romance cooties. -- Ed.]
I never intended to write science fiction. When I was a kid I liked
a couple of A.M. Lightner’s books, but all I really knew
about SF was from watching shows like Star Trek and movies like
Star Wars. I never read SF, and when I tried to, it gave me a headache
or put me to sleep.
In 1996, after eight straight years of weekly rejection letters
for my romance novel submissions, I was depressed and about to
give up. That’s when a friend dared me to write a SF story.
For some weird reason the challenge appealed to me, and I wrote
the kind of SF story that I wanted to read, with elements of humor,
adventure and romance. That story turned into the first two StarDoc
novels. Those two were my first professional sale.
RK: Where do the novels start; as romances with a science fiction setting,
or as science fiction novels that incorporate romantic plot points
and character development?
SK: I always start with a character and build out from there. Genre
comes in when I shape the plot and setting, but serves mostly as
boundary lines. I also tend to color outside the lines.
RK: Of course you do have a medical background that plays into the
books as well. That presumably plays into the medical aspect of
the novels, but does it also inform the science in the science
SK: Not according to certain expectations, which I ignore. My medical
background is an element I draw on and shape and work to create
whatever satisfies me, serves the story, and entertains the reader.
RK: You've also published numerous novels of romantic suspense.
SK: Eight of them so far.
of them so far."
RK: Were they originally conceived as suspense novels, as romance,
or simply novels that happened to fill a lucrative niche?
SK: I wrote the romance novels long before I wrote the SF novels. My
romances were not published first, which is why I was originally
labeled as a science fiction writer.
RK: How do you balance the aspects of romance with the elements of
SK: I like plots with a variety of story elements,
so most of my books are a balancing act. If I’m writing a
romance, the focus of the story will be on the relationship. In
SF, the relationship
becomes a subplot while I give more emphasis to the speculative
aspects. I weave in other aspects and threads around those. Flow
and pacing play a big part, too. I try to make everything mesh
naturally and effortlessly.
RK: For the novels of suspense, does the publisher have rules, per
se, as to how far you can go with violence, such as, shooting someone
is OK, but eviscerating them is not OK?
SK: Far as I know, my publishers have no rules like that. I am blessed
with six terrific editors who do tell me when they think I push
too hard or go too far. They leave it up to me whether to let it
stand or tone it down.
RK: As a writer, how do you structure your writing? Do you write science
fiction in the morning and suspense in the afternoon?
SK: My day starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at midnight. I write new material
in the mornings and early afternoons for six to eight hours, and
edit for another four to six hours in the evening. I have no time/genre
day starts at 5:30 AM and ends at midnight."
RK: Do you write more than one book at once?
SK: I usually write three books at the same time.
This month I’m
writing four so I can take off two weeks at Christmas.
RK: Do you outline or write from the hip?
SK: I outline the novel with a fairly detailed synopsis and about forty
or fifty pages of notes that only make sense to me. The book is
completely planned out in my head before I write the first word.
I rarely deviate from the plan, but when I do, I rework the outline
before I continue to write.
RK: Do you have a multi-novel arc for novels like the StarDoc series?
Or do you let them evolve?
SK: Presently I have three plans developed for
the StarDoc series. The shortest is seven books, the longest is
also got a contingency plan that will allow me to write the “final” StarDoc
book at any time.
I try to keep things flexible. I finished a romance trilogy a few
years back, but when the publisher requested more books, I let
the story line evolve into a second crossover trilogy.
RK: Given your interest in romance, suspense and science fiction, it
seems only natural that you'd get round to the world of Dark Fantasy.
SK: It was Dark Fantasy, or ceramics classes and scrapbooking.
RK: Did you approach NAL, or did they approach you?
SK: Earlier this year Tor expressed interest in
a fantasy novel (not Darkyn) I’ve been writing and made a
preliminary offer, which I refused. Someone at NAL probably heard
about it, as a few days
later my editor asked to see everything I was doing in all genres
or interested in doing. I showed them everything, and sold NAL
eight novels in three different genres.
RK: Tell us about the concept behind the Darkyn novels.
SK: The Darkyn books themselves are based on a series of short stories
which I posted for my readers on my first website. The stories
became very popular and so many readers e-mailed asking for more
that I decided to develop them into novels.
| "..what would happen if humans are the
monsters, and vampires are the victims?"
The basic concept is this: what would happen if humans are the
monsters, and vampires are the victims?
Once again, your medical
knowledge seems to come into play.
SK: I have to keep busy. Those ceramics classes
are evil, you know. You start off making ashtrays and Christmas
ornaments. Next thing
you know you’re dragging home a four-foot-tall garden gnome
with cracked marble eyes and a hand-painted sign that says, “The
Kellys Flower Here.”
I can’t discuss scrapbooking. It gives me a facial twitch.
RK: Do you worry that the vampire sub-genre is overworked and under-conceived?
SK: Everything is overworked and under-conceived,
and you can talk yourself out of writing practically anything.
So I don’t
worry. I just write.
RK: There are seemingly hundreds of writers with vampire-based series.
What did you seek to bring to the Darkyn novels to make them different?
SK: The same thing that I did with SF: to write the sort of books that
I want to read.
Throughout our history the only things we humans have excelled
at are killing, consuming and breeding. We like to think great
art and technological advances redeem us, but our basic nature
has never changed. As a species, we’re not Captain Kirk on
the Enterprise. We're the monster from Alien.
I dream about the day when we might evolve into something less
repulsive and destructive, but those hopes don’t permit me
to deny what we are. Those are the elements that I look for in
the fiction that I read, and that I always try to bring to my work.
RK: Who do you see as the readers of the Darkyn novels?
SK: The Darkyn novels will definitely appeal to
my SF and romance readers, because they were the fans who talked
me into the writing the books.
I’m hoping the series will also be of interest to horror
and fantasy readers. If you’re looking for perpetual boink-
or gore-fests, my work is probably not for you.
RK: What are you offering readers with the Darkyn novels?
SK: I avoid genre labels, but I guess dark fantasy seems most appropriate
to me. The series is being marketed by the publisher as paranormal
romance. There are strong elements of horror, suspense, fantasy
and science fiction in the books as well. Take your pick.
avoid genre labels."
RK: What kind of research did you do to bring these novels to life?
SK: Plenty. The bulk of the research involved countries, cultures,
pandemics and religious systems from the Dark Ages; modern methods
of reconstructive surgery; specific sociological development of
three different European cultures; siege warfare tactics, weapons
and machines; and my least favorite, methods of torture, interrogation
and punishment from the Dark Ages to present day.
RK: Now, we've got a new imprint and a well-respected author in the
world of genre fiction and romance. Why launch a website?
SK: I’ve never done much self-promotion, and a great web site
promotes your books 24/7. I’ve never made a major investment
in myself, either. I think a writer should at least once during
I have this philosophy, too: I’d rather buy one good pair
of emerald earrings than spend the same money on a drawer full
of costume jewelry.
How did you come to Metro Media LLC? Did you
put the project out for bid?
SK: No bids. I asked who was the best in the business and hired them.
RK: Could you buy a nice car for the price of doing this website? Or
a nice house? Or a nice dress?
SK: I wouldn’t know. I try to stay away from nice things. I think
it’s from all the years my mom went around wailing, “Can’t
you write something nice?”
RK: How much of the website was under your management as a writer,
and how much is under the management of the publisher? Who decides
the final edit?
website is 100% mine, as are all the decisions. Outside of providing
copies of the artwork and cover copy, the
not involved in it. I did pass around the original proposal to
see if anyone on the publishing side had a problem with the project.
ceramics classes are evil."
RK: The web can be a dangerous place for a writer. A recent response
to negative reviews by noted vampire writer Anne Rice on Amazon.com
suggests that an editor is an essential element of writing, especially
on the web. What kind of editorial process do you have in place
to ensure that you yourself don't accidentally post unfortunate
unedited content to your website?
SK: I’m not a group joiner, so I don’t belong to any writer
associations. I usually don’t read reviews of my books. I
never respond to hate e-mail. I don’t indulge in cronyism.
I have a weblog, but I don’t publicize it and I don’t
allow comments on it. All this keeps me out of 99% of the trouble
you can get into on the internet as an author.
Mainly I try to live by the words, “Can’t expect everyone
to adore me.”
RK: One of the great aspects of the web is that
an author can interact directly with the readers.
SK: It’s one of the great joys of the web.
RK: And that is also a two-edged sword.
SK: Yep. I’ve been harassed, threatened,
cyber-stalked and impersonated on the web.
RK: Your website includes four forums for communication. Tell us about
each, and what they're designed to facilitate.
SK: The chat
room gives readers and visitors to
the site a chance to talk live with each other. I’ll be dropping
in now and then as well, so you might run into me there.
The discussion forum provides a place for readers to post questions,
opinions and discussions about the Darkyn books and other topics.
These forum discussions can be a lot of fun for everyone involved.
You can leave a message for me on the guestbook. My readers made
extensive use of the guestbook at my first web site and it became
a kind of bulletin board over the years.
Finally, you can send an e-mail to me. I don’t know how much
e-mail will be coming in, but I’m going to try to respond
to as many as possible. Do you think that readers who want to read
novels that include elements of both genre fiction and definite
strains of romance are reading or even interested in author web
sites?If the books generate a loyal following, and the web site
has lasting appeal, the readers will become regular visitors. I
saw this happen on a small scale with my first web site, and a
much larger scale on my friend Holly Lisle’s terrific web
RK: What kind of market research
went into the development of this website?
SK: I’ve been online since 1998, and observed various forms of
author web site promotion. I’ve seen what works and what
doesn’t. Less is more. Professional is always better than
home-designed. Go for dignified versus cute or clever.
RK: What kind of ROI does the publisher expect?
SK: None. They have no monetary investment in the site.
RK: What is the minimum level of interest that is required to sustain
SK: I’ve bankrolled the site for two years. To extend it beyond
that, I’ll have to see how well the books are selling. It
can be a wildly popular site, but if no one is buying the books,
I won’t have the budget to maintain it.
figures. It always comes down to the numbers."
RK: What are the criteria for success -- and the measure of failure?
SK: Sales figures. It always comes down to the numbers.
RK: How long do you plan to publicize it?
SK: One year after publication of the first novel,
and then I’ll
look at the numbers and see where we are.
RK: Other than this column, where do you plan to publicize it?
SK: Press releases, weblog and website links, a URL printed on the
acknowledgment page of the first novel, and a limited edition,
signed excerpt chapbook made available to select SF conventions
and romance conferences.
RK: Will you be posting any original fiction?
SK: That would depend on what the readers want, and how much time I
have to write for the site.
RK: Will you be posting fan fiction, based on your characters and scenarios?
SK: No. There are many wonderful sites on the web devoted to fan fiction,
and I always encourage fan writers to check them out.
don't know about better than good chocolate. I mean -- is
anything better than good chocolate? Except beer, of course.
And carnitas, don't forget carnitas.
RK: Could you talk about the other areas of the website?
SK: Under The
Books link, you can see the Darkyn
flash movie and listen to an eight and a half audio excerpt from “If Angels Burn.” I
really recommend the excerpt, as it’s read by a professional
voice actor who did a beautiful job.
Via the Communicate link,
you can sign up to receive the Darkyn newsletter, which will be
the premiere source of updates and information
on the series.
RK: One of the great dangers of the web and especially of systems like
chat rooms, mailing lists, message boards and news groups is that
they can become an incredible time sink. It's much easier to spew
and jabber with your readers on a message board than it might be
to work on three novels in three series simultaneously. How do
you plan to schedule yourself so that you don't burn out too quickly,
or fall behind in novel-based writing tasks?
SK: I always have a tight schedule, and I don’t deviate from
it. The time I have allocated for the Darkyn site will be limited
and very focused. I’m not easily distracted or lured away
from work so I don’t think this will be a problem.
RK: Once the design is set and the website is
launched, what will Metro DMA's part be?
SK: Metro will maintain the website, deal with
the site host and take care of any technical problems. They’ll
also post new content and serve as site administrator.
RK: What kind of staff will you or your publisher have maintaining
SK: Metro and I will handle things in the beginning.
If it takes off, then I’ll need more help and will staff
RK: So, we've got our first Darkyn novel, 'If Angels Burn', in stores
March 2005. Why launch the website so far in advance?
SK: I have an extremely busy spring ahead, and this was the best time
for me to work on the project. I also think an early launch could
build some momentum and help boost pre-orders for the first book.
|" Everything about the Darkyn site revolves around the two things
most important to me: the books and the readers."
RK: This isn't your first website, nor is it the first website to support
a series. Beyond Stephen King's website, what sites did you want
to emulate, or whose success did you hope to share with the Darkyn
SK: Much as I like Stephen King’s site, I never set out to do
anything but hire the people who designed it so I could have the
same level of artistry. I used other author sites as a guide to
what I didn’t want. Most author sites are little more than
vanity mirrors anyway.
Everything about the Darkyn site revolves around the two things
most important to me: the books and the readers. That’s what
RK: Thank you very much Sheila. I'll try to come back to you in a year's
time and see where the Darkyn site is at. Thanks!
SK: You’re welcome. Thanks for talking with
me, and stop in anytime.