Welcome to another Manic Monday. I’ve got Piper Maitland on tap today talking about her writing journey. Piper lives on a Tennessee farm with her family. She is the author of the vampire thriller, Acquainted With the Night (Berkley/November 2011). She is currently working on the sequel, A Requiem for Daylight. Piper has also written novels under the name Michael Lee West.

Without further adieu – here’s Piper…

When I was a tiny girl, I watched Dracula movies on the Late, Late Show, and I would get so frightened, I’d scream for my father to walk me back to my room. For years, until I discovered boys and lost my fear of the undead, I slept with a crucifix around my neck and garlic under my pillow.

I didn’t begin writing seriously until I was a junior in nursing school. I cobbled together horror stories in an airless closet under the staircase and pinned my rejection slips on the wall. We’re talking floor-to-ceiling wallpaper here. Some of the slips had tiny indentions in the paper, as if the editor had stabbed them over and over with a sharp pencil, or maybe a butcher knife.

The free wallpaper continued for a decade. My family begged me to give up this crazy dream and go make cornbread. I made the cornbread, but kept writing, Lord knows why. I just like words and making up stuff. There’s no telling how much weight I gained from stress eating–and corn bread was a favorite. It still is.

Despite setbacks and slammed doors, I kept writing. One Mother’s Day, my eldest son wrote me a letter: To my Mom. I’ve never seen anybody work harder than you and get nowhere. But I love ya.

I didn’t have a PhD in literature. I didn’t know any writers. If I saw an infinitive, I gleefully split it. I thought a plot had something to do with gardening, as in a “plot” of land. But I kept going. I got up at dawn to write so my avocation wouldn’t interfere with family life, and I stayed up late. I joined a writing group. The members were spread out all over the country, and we communicated via snail mail.

I continued to paper my walls with rejection slips. I wasn’t published, but I was still a writer. It’s easy to spot one. We have ink stains on our hands and clothes; and we can’t go two seconds without thinking, “What if….?”

A long time ago, someone advised me to be a “bit like a weed.” I embraced that advice. In 1988, I submitted a short story to a very fine literary journal. The editor in chief wrote me a two page rejection letter. It basically said, Dear Horrible Writer, You suck. Stop sending us stories or we shall cry. Etc, etc.

Somehow I persevered. My first novel was published in 1990. I was 38 years old. Like my mama says, I was the opposite of an overnight sensation. Now I’m 58. I no longer work in a closet, but I don’t have an office. I roam around the house with my laptop. If the weather isn’t too grim, I will sit outside with a legal pad.

After years of writing southern fried novels, I got the idea to write about vampires during the winter of 2008, while I drove to the grocery with my son. He’s a biochemist, and we began playing the “what if?” game. What if vampires weren’t allergic to garlic? What if they had a biological basis for their blood cravings?

I knew it would be a risk. But I’d started out writing horror fiction, and I was longing to write something different. So what if it wasn’t published? That’s not the point. The point is to have a rollicking good time while you’re writing. A writer writes because we love words and because we’ve a burning desire to put those words onto the page.

The character of Caroline Clifford took shape while I shopped in the Publix bakery, and by the time I’d made it to the check-out line, I was eager to get home and start writing.

I pulled from my science background to try and create an unusual strain of vampirism and to explore the physiology behind it. My fact checkers were “in house”–my husband, a physician, and my younger son, a biochemist. Jude Barrett, a main character in the novel, is a biochemist. I showed it to my agent, some writing friends, and my mother. My agent believed in the manuscript from the beginning. Friends were divided. My mother freaked. “Oh no,” she cried. “Go back to writing unplotted Southern fiction.”

I decided I loved tying my heroines to the train tracks. The experience of writing a paranormal novel infused a new joy in the writing process. But it wasn’t easy. I had a lot to learn about plotting and pacing. As a self-taught writer and die-hard pantster, I had to roll up my sleeves and get to work.

Since I am overly fond of writing about food (and I love feeding my characters), I had to learn how to trim the fat and get the action moving. I plunged into workshops and writing classes. I’m still taking classes. I just finished a year-long mentorship with author Lori Wilde, and I’ve taken a steampunk workshop with author Theresa Meyers. The learning has just begun, but I’m having a blast.

Acquainted With the Night was published this November by Berkley. To be sure, I will be celebrating with cornbread.

You can find out more about Piper and her books at http://www.pipermaitland.com/

Thanks for swinging in today. Don’t forget to swing in on Friday when I’m dishing it up with Jonathan DeCoteau.

Until then,

Ciao

JET

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