Interviews

An Interview with Debbie Lynn Smith, Creator of Gates of Midnight

In early March I had the pleasure of meeting Debbie Lynn Smith, creator of the amazing new comic series Gates of Midnight, at the Long Beach Comic Expo. We’ll be taking a closer look at this magnificent new series from Kymera Press in upcoming posts, but for now, let’s meet Debbie Lynn Smith.

 

Interview with Debbie Lynn Smith

Creator, Gates of Midnight

Interview by Sarabeth Pollock

Would you do us the honor of introducing yourself?  Can you tell us about your incredible experiences in television?

I’m Debbie Daughetee, but I write under my maiden name, Debbie Lynn Smith or D. Lynn Smith.  I was a television writer for many years (as Debbie Smith) and wrote for such shows as Murder, She Wrote; Touched by an Angel and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

You have mentioned that you could have published Gates of Midnight through major publishers, but you decided to self-publish through Kymera Press in order to maintain full creative control of your book.  What was this important to you?

I did have interest from several independent publishers but I felt strongly enough about certain issues that publishing Gates myself seemed the right thing to do.

Part of the mission of Kymera Press is to depict women as they are with realistic bodies.  I acknowledge the right of creators/artists to use the exaggerated hyper-sexual bodies common to some comics, but I didn’t want to have that in my comic.  If you publish through another publisher, you can’t control the ads that are placed in your comic.  I was on a panel at Loncon 3 last year with a man who said that he bought a comic book for his five-year-old daughter and was appalled to find a sadomasochistic ad for another comic in the book.  He used a black marker to draw over it so his daughter wouldn’t see it.  I didn’t want that to happen to Gates or any of the comics I help develop.  So I decided to start my own publishing company.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

That’s actually a funny story.  I’ve been writing since I was eight-years-old.  But I never thought about making it a career.  After doing some plays in high school and college, I decided to be an actress.  But when I moved to California and saw how my friends who had dedicated themselves to this goal lived, I quickly changed my mind.  Keep in mind I’d been writing all this time.

I then took a short story writing class through the extension program at UCLA taught by horror writer Dennis Etchison.  He brought a lot of writers in to lecture to the class:  George Clayton Johnson, Clive Barker, Ray Bradbury and Bill Nolan.  Amazing, right?  Anyway, both Dennis and Bill Nolan made me believe I could be a writer.  They invited me to my first writer’s convention (World Fantasy) and showed me the ropes.  At that convention I met the man who would get me into television.

Talk about a few of the people who have inspired you over the years.  Who are your mentors?

As I mentioned above, Dennis Etchison and Bill Nolan were instrumental in making me believe in myself as a writer.  Charles de Lint is another writer who believed in my writing and was very supportive.  In television, Carol Mendelsohn took the time to educate her writer’s assistant (me) in what it took to write a television script.  So I had a lot of help from some really wonderful writers.

Who is your favorite author?

I really hate this question—no offense—because it’s so difficult to answer.  I have favorite books spread across the spectrum of writers.  One is Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.  Both the Shining and The Stand by Stephen King.  And, of course Tolkein.

In comics it is the writer and the artist who create a good story so:  North 40 by Aaron Williams and Fiona Stapleton, Gotham Academy by Becky Coonan and Brenden Fletcher and Kark Kerschl, Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine DeLandro and Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark.

Are there any aspects of your character in Raven’s character?

My father was a police officer in a small town in Ohio. There was always the threat of something happening to him.  So I decided to give Raven that trauma as the inciting incident in Gates so I can explore my own fears growing up.

What can we expect in future issues of Gates of Midnight?

Monsters, of course.  But also a look at different social issues we are facing.  I don’t want to make Gates into an issue of the month comic.  But I do like to acknowledge that there are problems in our society.  Like homeless vets and vets struggling with PTSD.  In issue #5 I introduce a homeless transgender character to explore the stereotypes and problems facing transgender people.  So we’ll keep exploring the theme of who are the monsters, the creatures coming through the gates… or us.

Given all of the hats you’ve worn, what do you love about working on a comic book?

I love the collaborative environment of the comic book.  Every artist brings something to the story that gives it a depth my words alone can’t give it.  I work with amazing artists who are dedicated to bringing my vision to life, even if I haven’t always visualized it very well.

Talk about your experiences as a comic creator at comic conventions.  What’s it like to talk with fans of the book? 

Gates of Midnight is our first title, so the Long Beach Comic Expo was the first convention where we actually had a dealers table.  We’re just building a fan base.  I will say that people have been very enthusiastic and supportive of our mission and of the comic.  I’m beginning to get letters from people who are suffering from PTSD telling me that they are happy to read about someone who has the same problems they do.  That is very gratifying.

Do you have a dream cast in mind should GoM make it to the big screen?

Ha!  You know, I haven’t spent any time thinking about that.  I’m so busy with Gates and our new title, Pet Noir, which will premiere at San Diego Comic Con, that I haven’t had much time for anything else.  That being said, I did use actors as models for my characters.  Raven was modeled on Audrey Hepburn. Alex, Keanu Reeves, Constance – a mix between Angelina Jolie and Uma Thurman.  Marie- Susan Sullivan.

Tell me about your creative team.  It seems like you have quite the dream team working with you!  Can you talk about the experience of working with an all female creative team?

I’ve love working with each of our artists.  Amelia Woo is always working to find a better way to present Gates.  She’s doing the covers starting with Issue #5, and they’re going to blow you away.  Unfortunately, Mirana Reveier, our colorist, has withdrawn from our project.  It was her work that gave Gates the distinct, gritty urban look.  Luckily I was able to find another incredible colorist, Sandra Molina.  She and Amelia are working together closely on Issue #5.  While Sandra is duplicating what Mirana did, she’s also bring her own unique talent to the pages and I think readers are going to be thrilled with her work.

Where did you come up with the idea for GoM?

Back in my other life as a television writer, Barbara Hambly and I came up with and pitched Gates as a television pilot.  This was the origin of Gates of Midnight.

Who is Raven Moon?  Is she based on a real life character?

I didn’t really base Raven on a real character.  I did have a few people in mind when writing her, people who had a characteristic I thought would suit her character.

Raven is a combat medic who served in Afghanistan and has PTSD as a result.  How important is her background, especially her military service, to her character?

It’s essential.  Her boyfriend died in front of her eyes.  She was wounded.  She’s now suffering from PTSD and has lost the father who grounded her.  She’s angry and scared and somewhat at a loss at how to live life.  And then gods and monsters get thrown in the mix…

Is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I’m not sure what you mean—personally or in the comic?  Personally, oh yes.  I’d like to travel more.  I have other projects I’d like to write.  In Gates, oh yes.  There’s lots to come.

How far ahead have you planned GoM?  Can readers expect story arcs in the future, or is there one main storyline that you want to follow?

I actually have 48 issues planned.  Yeah, I plan ahead.  I don’t know if Gates will go 48 issues, it depends on how it is received.  Every 4 issues will have some kind of arc.  The story continues past that arc, but I’ve written each 4 issue series so the arc is somewhat like the 4 acts of a one hour television show.  I want the reader to come back after the 4th issue, but I also want the reader to feel satisfied that they got something out of each set of 4.

Kymera Press has the best motto ever: “We’re not asking for permission…”  How did that come about?

It’s sort of been the motto for my life.  When I was a teenager, my younger sister asked me how I got to do all the things I did.  I told her because I don’t ask for permission.  If I asked, my Dad would have said NO.  When I first got into television as a writer’s assistant, people kept telling me that it was impossible to sell a spec script.  I ignored them, and I sold a spec and launched my career.  Now I’m doing comics using an all-female creative team with women friendly content.  People are telling me I won’t be able to make it as a) a publisher and b) the comic won’t sell if it doesn’t have the kind of content that attracts teenage boys.  Quite frankly I think they are underestimating teenage boys, but regardless, I’m simply not asking for anyone’s permission to support female artists in this way.

In the first issue of GoM you spend some time at the back of the book talking about how GoM was originally a television pilot inspired by Johnathon Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies.  What was it about that book that inspired you to create GoM?

I loved the idea that there was a Gate that opened to another world and that there were creatures on the other side of that gate.  It’s as simple as that.  Just think of the possibilities.

“Kymera Press is proud to be making a place for women in comics.”  What is it like being at the forefront of providing an outlet for women in comics?  Do you feel any pressure in that role?

Quite frankly I don’t feel like I’m at the forefront at all.  So many women have come before me, blazing a path that makes what I’m doing possible.  There’s a wonderful documentary out there called She Makes Comics that interviews the women who have been active in comics from the past to present day.  I recommend anyone who thinks that women in comics is a new thing watch this documentary.  The only pressure I feel is the pressure all comic creators feel, the pressure to create a quality product that I can be proud of.

How important is it for you personally to be writing stories for women, given that women are the fastest growing demographic in comics?

I don’t know that I’m actually writing comics for women.  I’m simply writing about a strong female protagonist who has flaws.  I’m not using any kind of exaggerated anatomy and I don’t have graphic sexual content.  There are quite a few men out there who have read Gates and are enjoying it.

What advice would you have for young women writers and artists who want to break into the comic industry?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked.  Many woman are timid about displaying their work.  They either a) are afraid they’re not good enough or b) afraid to garner criticism.  I relate to both.  But the thing is, YOU CANNOT LET EITHER OF THESE THINGS STOP YOU FROM GETTING OUT THERE.  The difference between men and women is that men have a lot more self-confidence and don’t really worry about whether or not they’re good enough.  They don’t hesitate to put their work out there so it’s much easier to find men artists, colorist and letterers (especially letterers) than it is finding women.  So, get your art up on deviant art and other sites.  Listen to any constructive critiques you receive, chuck the rest.  Remember, you DON’T HAVE TO ASK FOR PERMISSION.

Are there any opportunities for people to get involved with Kymera Press? 

At the moment I’m stretched to the limit (and beyond) as is my budget.  If there’s anyone who wants to volunteer to help with social media, a kickstarter project or something along those lines, I’d love to talk to that person.  Also, we would love to have some guest bloggers.

What’s next for Kymera Press?  What projects are coming down the pipe?

Our next project is called Pet Noir, based on the novel of the same name by Pati Nagle.  It’s about Leon, a genetically altered cat who is a spy on a space station.  The first script is being tweaked as we speak.  All of my artists are hired and waiting in the wings.  I’m very excited about this property because it will have a much lighter feel than Gates.  It will also be more appropriate for a younger audience.

We’re also working on additional content for the first Gates of Midnight Graphic Novel, which will collect the first four issues in one place.  Our editor Valerie D’Orazio wrote a short script about one of our minor characters, and our artists for Pet Noir are doing the art.  I thought it would be a great way to introduce our Gates readers to our new artists, and give Valerie a chance to show off her writing skills.

You’re a very busy lady!  Can you tell us about some of the things you’re working on?  Will you be attending any comic conventions in the next few months?

Kymera Press will have a table at C2E2 in Chicago at the end of April.  We’ll have the first 4 issues of Gates of Midnight, along with T-shirts and art prints for sale.  This is our first big convention and we’re very excited about it.

I’ll be doing some smaller conventions in Albuquerque, Madison WI, another in Long Beach and some appearances here in Vegas.  We were lucky enough to get a small press table at San Diego Comic Con in July and we’re hoping our readers come by and visit with us.  After all, they’re why we do this.  Readers can sign up for our newsletter at Kymerapress.com for news of what we have going on and what conventions we’ll be attending.

Interview with Sylvain Reynard, Author of The Raven, Part 2

Interview with Sylvain Reynard, Part 2….

I decided to publish this last segment of my interview with Sylvain Reynard after The Raven’s release.  I’m not a fan of spoilers, and while I don’t think there are spoilers in this interview, I wanted fans to have a chance to meet Raven and the Prince before reading this. So read on for more juicy tidbits from Sylvain Reynard….

(If you haven’t read Part 1 you can find it here)

 

The novella The Prince is followed by the full-length novel The Raven, in which we meet a young woman who finds herself thrust into the Prince’s world.  Raven is a very different character from Julia.  Both represent the epitome of goodness, but Raven finds herself with a man who (by all admissions and appearances) embodies darkness and, perhaps, evil.  How were you inspired to create her character?

When I began writing The Gabriel Series, there were two scenes that dropped into my head. First, the conflict in the classroom that opens “Gabriel’s Inferno,” and the scene in the orchard, which occurs a few chapters later.

 When I began writing “The Raven,” the scene that entered my mind fully formed was the scene in which Raven walks home after a party. I saw what she looked like, how she walked, and her entire history. I knew she was an artist and an art restorer, and that she was extremely intelligent, compassionate, and very creative.

Raven is a very intriguing character.  She’s brilliant but her confidence takes a hit from the frustration she feels with her self-image and her physical limitations. The Prince can’t understand why she feels the way she does about herself or her appearance, reflecting an interesting perspective on the changing perception of beauty over the centuries.  I’m sure that many readers will relate to her body image issues and appreciate that she’s not perfect.   What led to that particular aspect of Raven’s character?

As I mentioned, I saw her in my imagination fully formed, but I also intended her to be an atypical female lead. She doesn’t possess extraordinary physical beauty or bodily perfection and she isn’t thin.  She’s an attractive woman but much of her beauty comes from her character and her actions.

What’s next for the Prince and Raven?  

Thank you for asking. Readers will have a taste of the sequel to “The Raven” at the end of the book, because I’ve included a teaser.

 At the moment, I’m continuing to write the sequel and I can tell you that a lot of danger and adventure are coming their way. Please stay tuned …

To purchase The Prince, click here.

To purchase The Raven, click here.

Many thanks again to Sylvain Reynard for taking the time to do this interview!

An Interview with Sylvain Reynard, Author of The Prince

I had the pleasure of interviewing New York Times bestselling author Sylvain Reynard about his new Florentine Series, debuting with The Prince on January 20, 2015.  He was kind enough to provide some insight into the creation of The Prince and the Prince’s world, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come in The Raven (released February 3, 2015).

 

Your novels are incredibly detailed and thoroughly researched.  Clearly, research is a labor of love for you.  What was your favorite subject growing up?

Thank you for the invitation to talk with you, Sarabeth. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your readers. I’ve always enjoyed literature and history and any opportunity to combine them.

How did your passion for art, art history, history, and Italy begin?

It probably began with my family. Over the years, my interests have developed through my travels. I enjoy visiting museums. I enjoy reading about art and history. I’m always eager to spend time in Italy.

 If you were hosting a dinner party and could invite any five people from any point in time, dead or alive, who would you invite and why?

I really like these kinds of questions.

 Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Mother Teresa, and St. Francis of Assisi. I have no idea what kind of dinner conversation would emerge out of such a diverse group, but I think the discussions about literature, culture, religion, and history would be well worth listening to.

 After writing a very successful trilogy of romance novels, what led you to venture into the world of paranormal romance?

The Florentine Series began with the city of Florence.  The city is filled with alleys, and at night the dark corners and shadows seem to move …

 Now that you’ve entered the realm of paranormal romance, which genre do you enjoy writing more?

Truthfully, I enjoy them both. But the paranormal world allows greater freedom for the imagination.

Some authors see vampires as a metaphor.  I like to think of vampires as a narrative tool to explore history from a first-person perspective.  What made you decide to write about vampires?  

I’ve always been fascinated about the science fiction aspect to vampire transformations – how a vampire is made, what a vampire is, how they feed, etc. The series gave me an opportunity to develop my own answers to these questions.

In the Gabriel Series there are no traces of the supernatural (with the exception of a few very realistic dreams/visions), and with the Florentine Series you’ve created a whole new supernatural world that exists parallel to the human world.  Your novella,The Prince, serves as an introduction to the Prince while we also get to see another side of the Emersons’ trip to the opening of their exhibit at the Uffizi Gallery.  (We saw the mysterious Prince meet the Emersons’  in Gabriel’s Redemption) What inspired you to bring these two worlds together as opposed to writing a standalone series?

I have a slightly different take on The Gabriel Series. While it’s written as contemporary romance, there are supernatural elements in it if the reader chooses to accept them as such. It’s just that those elements can be interpreted without invoking the supernatural.

From that perspective, then, it wasn’t a stretch to delve more deeply into the supernatural in The Florentine Series. But my starting point was the way the city of Florence changes after sunset. I wanted to move from light to darkness and explore what was going on in the shadows and the hidden passages beneath the city …

With the release of The Prince, you create a new world that’s not simply a group of vampyres trying to blend into their surroundings, but a complex society with rules and a governance structure of its own.   I’m always intrigued with the process authors use to build the canon that shapes these worlds.  Can you talk about the elements you considered when creating this new world, and what factors were most important to you?

I read an article some time ago about world building, which I found extremely helpful. It reminded me that when you construct a fictional world, you have to pay attention to details. You have to think through various problems and their solutions. You have to be thorough.

 So I wanted to be clear on what vampyrism is, how it occurs and how it works. I wanted to figure out what the connection was between sex and feeding and if a vampire could feel love.  I was also concerned with the way vampires constructed their societies and why they kept out of sight.

Vampires (and vampyres) have been heavily featured in popular fiction, especially of late; Anne Rice, Deborah Harkness, Stephenie Meyer and Charlaine Harris have all created worlds in which their vampires coexist with humans.  In some of these worlds the supernatural beings blend in and go unnoticed, while Charlaine Harris’ vampires have been “outed” and flaunt their preternatural prowess.  The Prince lives in the shadows and has very few interactions with humans.  He’s aloof and doesn’t seem to care about the human world around him inasmuch as human affairs don’t interrupt his life.  (Until his stolen property resurfaces and Raven comes along…) Which elements of vampire lore were important for you to keep in your world?

I wanted to take much of the physical traits of the standard myth and incorporate them into my narrative, while allowing myself freedom to explore different social organizations and behaviours. So, for example, the covens I envision exist in cities for the most part, and they’re organized into principalities, not democracies.

I also believed it was essential to have an explanation for why vampires hadn’t taken over the earth and enslaved humanity. Something or someone had to keep them in check.  As the Prince says, “Every predator is prey to something.”

The Prince is a complex character.  While he enjoys his power as a vampyre and his role governing Florence, he is also conflicted.  “The Prince retained some vestige of a moral code…He possessed a moral code because he’d never been able to abandon aspects of the code he observed when he was human…More specifically, he did not take goodness from the world.  At least, not intentionally.” (The Prince, p. 13)  Can you talk about how you developed this character?  Was he modeled on anyone in particular?  Why was it important that he possess a moral code?

Part of the Prince’s biography and personal history explains why he has a code. But from my perspective as an author, I wanted to explore moral ambiguity in his character. On the one hand, the Prince is a villain. On the other, he has many admirable and you might even say virtuous qualities. He has moral rules that he follows and he imposes those rules on his citizens.

I think that makes him more interesting (and hopefully more compelling to readers) than a completely amoral villain.

 He’s a creature of my imagination but he has features in common with several of the historical figures mentioned in the novel.

Whose voice is more fun to write, Professor Emerson or the Prince?

 They’re both fun in their own way. But there’s something about writing the Professor when he’s offended or angry that truly gives me joy.

Are there any aspects of your personality in Gabriel or the Prince?

Many.

From where did you derive your inspiration for the Consilium?  Will we learn more about the other council members and the mysterious Curia? 

Yes, absolutely. As the series progresses, both the Consilium and the Curia will become increasingly more important. 

I was trying to imagine what a wise ruler would do when he’s inherited a principality while at the same time human history (at least in the west) has long since moved past that institution. It occurred to me he’d try to include some measure of shared governance and so the idea for the Consilium was born.

As someone who keeps a copy of Machiavelli’s version of The Prince on her desk (I find it helps me deal with my students…), is that really Niccolo Machiavelli?!  How did you come up with that?

I’m glad you noticed that. I was wondering if readers would pick up on it.

Machiavelli and his writings provide a lot of inspiration for The Prince and The Raven.  Just as Dante guided The Gabriel Series, I wanted to choose a famous Florentine to guide my new series. For some time, I debated including Botticelli on the Consilium but in the end, he wasn’t as compelling a character as Machiavelli.  And so, for fun, I included him..  But you’ve probably already picked up on the fact that the Prince and Machiavelli have their differences …

In early January you announced a project with Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James.  Is there anything you can share about this project? 

 Last year, she and I collaborated on a short writing project. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed writing it with her. She’s a great friend and we worked well together.

It’s wonderful, as a fan, to see how you frequently interact with your fans through social media.  You also use your platform as an author to promote charitable organizations that you support, which is incredibly refreshing and admirable.  There are some pop culture “icons” (envision me saying this with a lip-curling sneer) that use their celebrity to promote their shoe lines or sell products.  You’re very different.  What are some of the ways you would encourage the people reading this interview to get involved in their communities?  (Might I suggest organizing a blood drive in honor of The Prince?)

I’m in favor of organizing the blood drive. That’s a great idea. I tweet about the Red Cross and their services around the world because they do good work.

In order for community involvement to be successful and sustainable it has to come from the heart. Choose a cause you’re passionate about and use your gifts to support that cause. It’s that easy.  Forced charity isn’t sustainable. But giving to an organization your respect and admire is. And your gift doesn’t have to include money. Most charitable organizations are in need of volunteers or gifts of talents and services.  Give of your time and your talents because those are the unique way in which you can help your community.

Lastly, I want to thank you for writing books that are driven by so much more than sex.  (Though parenthetically it must be said that your sex scenes are incendiary)  I stand by the notion that your books transcend classification; they’re much more than simply romance or paranormal romance.  Your erudite writing style entices readers into the world of Dante and the city of Florence.  Can you recommend a few books for those of us who would like to learn more about the Prince’s world?

There are a lot of books about Florentine history and culture. You can read Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists, or Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” or various histories of the Medici family. I’d also recommend the works of Ross King, who wrote about Michelangelo and Brunelleschi. 

 There’s a great documentary about the Medici produced by PBS entitled “Godfathers of the Renaissance.” I recommend it.

 Thank you so much for doing this interview, Mr. Reynard!                                                                

It was my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me and all the best to your readers, SR

 

Part 2 of my interview with Sylvain Reynard will be posted on February 3 to coincide with the release of The Raven.

To purchase The Prince, click here.

To pre-order The Raven, click here.