A Between the Lines Interview with Heather Graham

By Andrew Peterson

This month it’s my pleasure to feature one of the industry’s most amazing talents–Heather Graham.  She’s classy, multi-talented, prolific, and endearing.  The list of compliments could on and on.  Loyal.  Hard-working.  Generous.  Dare I say–beautiful?
Yes, I’ll make that statement:  Heather Graham is beautiful!

graham-heather.jpgI first met Heather at the 2008 ThrillerFest.  I’d read many of her books, but to discover the person behind the pages was so charming and personable, took me by surprise.  After all, Heather has written over 150 novels and novellas, has 75 million books in print, and her stories have been translated into 25 different languages.  Yet she talked to me as a peer.  Now admittedly, I’m a small fish in a big pond–I have no illusions about it–but at that moment in time, it sure didn’t feel like it.

Later that night when I met her husband, Dennis, the feeling returned.  They’re both down-to-Earth, genuine people who share a profound love of the profession.  What impressed me the most was how approachable they are at conferences.  Heather goes out of her way to interact with fans and authors alike.  She even hangs with Joe Konrath, but we won’t hold that against her!

As a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Heather is constantly being hounded for interviews, conference appearances, and signings, so I appreciate her taking the time to be interviewed for this Between The Lines feature:

Please tell us about your new trilogy coming out this month, Bone Island.

ghost-shadow.JPGThe Bone Island Trilogy takes place in Key West. I’ve spent a lot of time there, all my life, having grown up in South Florida.

The first book is about a killer who likes to leave his victims exposed as a real historical character–Elena de Hoyos. It’s one of the most sad and bizarre stories–and plain old Ugh! Stories–you’ll ever hear. There’s a full explanation up at youtube.com, heather graham/Carl Tanzler. (The cute little blond–the other Heather Graham–is on the same page, yes! Engaged in wild girl-on-girl kiss)  A killing takes place for which the protagonist is accused; he leaves town for a decade, finally returns, and it happens all over again. Naturally, he has to prove himself innocent. The Florida Keys, are by nature, and entity unto themselves, and Key West retains the name “The Conch Republic” to this day, having seceded once to protest a blockade, and not all that long ago.

The second book is about a young movie crew who suddenly finds two of their actors displayed ala their gruesome props on the uninhabited island where they were filming. They come in contact with the families involved in all three books when one of the film makers goes to them, knowing they’re about to film a documentary on the history of bizarre events in the area. Of course, more mayhem occurs, the story they were filming was based on a case or piracy and murder, and of course, again, the past begins to repeat itself.

The third book is about a woman who returns home to the Victorian mansion where her mother died after her grandfather’s death. It’s a true “Addams Family” home, because her grandfather was a collector and professor, an Indiana Jones of his day. He died of a heart attack, but with all manner of defense weapons–including a Defense Against Black Magic–on his lap. The characters quickly discover that evil is afoot, of course, and the heroine finds herself looking not just for what happened to her mother, but what happened to the man whose body they discover on her property, and, ultimately, her mother.

All three are suspense, with shades of the paranormal, and run July, August, and September, and are called GHOST SHADOW, GHOST MOON, and GHOST WALK.

Is there something in your life–a hobby or pastime–that you feel has influenced your writing?

Basically, I think that the fact that life is ever-changing has influenced my writing. Obviously, we are often able to use what we know when we write–and come up with brilliant characters and plots such as those created by Kathy Reichs, a number of our physician writers, attorney writers, police writers, and so on. Before I started writing, I had modeled, bartended, been a singing, tap-dancing rib sales girl, more restaurant and bar service, a few commercials, a few bits in movies, back-up singing, and dinner theater. None of these really help solve crime, or give a clue to crime, or allow for real knowledge for a crime-fighting protagonist.

Hmm. I have known many people who believe they are vampires, so maybe that helps! I have used a lot of actresses, dancers, singers, musicians–and I have to throw a bartender in here and there. In Ghost Shadow, the heroine is a karaoke hostess, but she’s caught up in the act and forced to learn quickly about defense. But, as I said–life itself. I’ve used little-league, dancing, scuba-diving, comedy clubs, and all kinds of places, events, and people I’ve gotten into myself, or through my children. My husband is Italian-American and goes to Carnival every year, so I’ve made use of Venice several times. Everything in life is always a new “what if,” so when I’m at a conference, diving, at a dance studio, wherever, it’s just more to add into the thought process.

How long does it take you to complete a rough draft?

It never takes me the same amount of time to write any book. Sometimes they flow, sometimes they are more difficult, and sometimes they require more research.

Are your trilogies and series books freestanding?  Or is it best to read them in order?

The trilogies are free standing, but I think it’s best to read them in order.

It can be tough to quantify, but how important is your electronic presence–your website, blogging, social networking, etc.–in promoting and selling your books as opposed to touring and attending conferences where you meet fans and readers in person?

I find promotion on the internet to be brilliant–but I love conferences and being on the road. People are still people, and I’ve had many great things happen because of people I’ve met at conferences and workshops, not to mention the great friends you acquire. And that’s not necessarily because I met a particular editor or agent or even publisher–you never know who will lead you where.

Sometimes, you acquire friends you felt like you always knew, and you wondered how you ever stumbled along without them. I’m often amazed to realize that I just met Alex Sokoloff and Harley Jane Kozak at the first T-fest, they are now such major players in my life. And I’ll never forget the first time I met Paul Wilson. Levy’s was doing cruises with authors and readers, and I found myself about to be seated next to him at an autographing. My family was with me, and we all read his books–he came to the table to find a horde of gawking groupies and they were us! Again, an amazing man! So, the Internet is wonderful–being out there is wonderful, too. Maybe they work in different ways.

I also just did Deb LeBlanc’s Pen to Press. My “students” and I are on a group email still, we discovered we likes each other so much, even as different as we are. I was terrified of doing it–what could I really teach that could help anyone in four days time?–but it was an amazing experience, and I know that the writers were so good, they’ll soon be outselling me.

How do you feel about e-books.  Same question about audio books?

I love ebooks. They had to be written. I love audio books. They had to be written. I’m not big on reading on gadgets yet–I love to hold a book, take it on a boat, to a beach, in a tub–Dr. Seuss had it right! You don’t have to “turn off” your non-electronic book on a plane. I listen to audio books constantly and love them, and sometimes wind up buying the book as a book as well, just to read again what I might have missed–or to get the ending I don’t have because it’s in Dennis’s car and we’ve gotten home! I do understand and appreciate the convenience of a Kindle or Sony Reader of electronic books–so much easier to carry than dozens of books or, for editors and agents, manuscripts.

I’m hearing more and more about “urban fantasy” as a genre.  Can you give us a snapshot of  it.  And do you think the genre is growing?

Urban fantasy. Well, it’s urban. And it’s fantasy. Seriously, that’s the definition in a roundabout way, as I know it. It’s present day, and contains elements of magic or the paranormal. I do think it’s growing. There’s always a new genre growing, and I think it’s wonderful. Writers have come up with amazingly clever scenarios. Titans roaming present day NYC. Gargoyles slipping out in the Paris night. Pagan and mystic religions solving problems. Yep, it works for me! Love steampunk, too!

You write in many different genres, do you have a favorite?

I seriously don’t have a favorite genre. I have always read across the board, and though I’ve never written a sci-fi, I love it, too. Since I do love history, I’m glad I do at least one historical a year–even if the last two have been about vampires in the wild west–and then in the Civil War. Still wind up getting to read tons on the Civil War, a period of history I find fascinating and heartbreaking.

You have a long, integral relationship with the Romantic Times Conference.  Can you tell us how that started and how you became the host of the famous “Vampire Ball” every year?

Kathryn Falk was the first person I ever met who had anything to do with writing or publishing. Like many people at the time, she had come to Florida to visit an elderly relative. She encouraged me to come to conferences and meet other people, and she actually showed me something she had just gotten to advertise in her new writer’s magazine.

Shannon Drake existed because of Kathryn, because the ad was for a company wanting to do historical novels by writers who could write like Heather Graham. The company I was with wasn’t doing historical novels at the time, so I can say in all honesty Kathryn totally furthered my career.

I think I’ve been doing the vampire ball for twelve years. Each year, it’s a challenge, but we have an incredible time–and I get to do dinner theater again! It’s costly, so I’m grateful that Helen Rosburg jumped in to co-host a few years ago. But what a great time we have!

This year, Paul played Edward Cullen, and Connie Perry, my friend, set designer, and costumer, had him all set to “glow” on cue.  Joe Konrath was a great March Hare, and my daughter did Sookie Stackhouse and my son was a near-identical Dexter. Another son was actually Alice–one damned ugly Alice, according to “Sookie.” My oldest son was a werewolf, and my oldest daughter was in the giant set piece designed to be the “hooka-smoking caterpillar.” We spoofed Alice, Dexter, the Werewolf, and with Charlaine’s blessing, True Blood. Oh, and the icing on the cake. Chynna (Sookie) came out from California (she goes to CalArts) with a friend who did the world’s most amazing rendition of Lady Gaga at the end.  Harley, Alex, and another writer friend, Beth Ciotta, agreed to be the pink flamingo croquet rackets and they were hysterical, while author Mary Stella was the White Rabbit/narrator, Helen was the White Queen, her husband was a vampire hanging with Edward Cullen, and we rounded out with friends Jessica and Mark. It was great, and worth it, and all proceeds from basket and T-shirt sales went to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Fund.

We also put on a dinner theater at Writers for New Orleans, which takes place Labor Day, and it’s definitely a labor of love that we started the year after Katrina to bring people back into the city. F. Paul Wilson, Dave Simms, and others contribute as the Slushpile Band, so it’s something akin to true musical theater. This year, we’re going interactive. It’s going to be interesting! (check out writersforneworleans.com)

Dennis, your husband, is an amazing man–a very cool dude.  Does he help you with editing and plotting, etc…?

Dennis does not help me write. He tells me when he thinks I’m wrong about something, so I argue it out with him. Ha! Right or wrong, I get to win. It’s my book. He was really funny once, though. I was working a lot on deadline and I turned around to see him sitting behind me. I was working on a romance, and he told me, “Hey, you know, you can’t write on memory forever.” We met in grade school. We still fight like kids. But he’s been everywhere with me, and he can have amazing intuition at times. It’s funny, too, because he is one of those people who will never be on stage, but he loves books, the theater, movies, and music. That’s what works for us, I think. We did pose together for a couple of book covers. That was hysterical! And funnier, still, when a friend called me, laughing away. We wound up on her book when it was translated into Russian.

Early in your career, was there ever a time when you felt it was grim and you’d never be published?  What kept you going?

Oh! Early in my career, I was the most depressed and pathetic thing possible. But I figured I had majored in theater arts to be good at smiling through rejection. It took me about two years; I was totally blind. I bought Writer’s Digest Writer’s Market, and started sending out. My first sale was a short horror story. I had stayed home because Florida is non-union state and I couldn’t make enough to afford the baby-sitters and daycare once we had three of the five children. I am totally talent-less at all else that can make a living (or even create a nice, clean home!) so I was incredibly grateful to sell, and I remain amazed and grateful to this day.

At conferences, your hotel suite often becomes a hub of activity.  Do ever long for a brief spell of privacy at conferences?

At a conference? I’m grateful that I can get a suite when I do so that we can enjoy the company of our friends. I have five kids, remember, I’m not used to being alone. Life is crazy and busy, and I love it that way. I don’t need privacy at a conference. I can have privacy at home.

How often to people mistake you for the other–the cheesecake–Heather Graham?

Ah, that cute little cheesecake! Well, sadly, I had the name first, and it’s why my domain is theoriginalheathergraham.com. (Also eheathergraham.com)

My web mistress and friend, Sally Schoeneweiss, on the eheathergraham called me one day, laughing hysterically because she’d gotten a lot of requests for nude photos.  I told her that I didn’t appreciate quite that much laughter! Hey, I loved her in The Hangover!

You’ve got a beautiful voice as a singer?  Do you practice much, or is it a natural talent?

Thank you, and that’s very sweet. I have a dear friend, pianist at Writers, who is a vocal coach, and I’m able to see her now and then. I have another friend who owns a studio and is Peruvian and works with a number of South American top ten entertainers, so he’s great to work with. He produced our albums. I always like the Shakespeare line–thou shall beget kings, though thou be none. My children have amazing voices, the oldest was in a band for a time, my second is in our Slushpile band now, and the third–well no one does certain funny songs the way he does! Chynna is truly amazing and I believe we will see her name in bright lights, and Bryee-Annon has a gorgeous voice, though she is very shy, and few people will hear her! I’ve been stunned by some of the voices I’ve heard on friends who are writers.  We come from everything imaginable to be writers–doctors, lawyers, high school, forensics, law enforcement–and theater!

–  –  –

Like her friends, Heather pursues many interests.  She’s a scuba diver, skier, surfer, ballroom dancer, singer and stage actor–she majored in theater arts from the University of South Florida.  On her website, she jokes about being a “shark and gator tamer” as well.

Her lineage is from Scottish and Irish immigrants who met in Chicago.  They later moved to South Florida, where Heather was raised.  Her cultural upbringing and background is found in many of her books, including the new Bone Island Trilogy.

Heather met Dennis in grade school and they married just after she graduated from high school.  They have 5 wonderful children and her family continues to be the most important part of her life.

Early in her career, Heather worked in dinner theater, sang backup vocals for bands, and did some bartending, but she hadn’t discovered her true calling until after the birth of her third child.  Remarkably, she found time to write a book, edit it, acquire and agent, and ultimately sell it to Dell.  If she hadn’t become a bestselling author, she might’ve become a high-wire trapeze artist–seriously.  She has a deep admiration for all of the performing arts.

Since that turning point, Heather has received dozens of literary awards, including the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from RWA.

As mentioned above, she’s multi-talented, writing stories in the suspense, historical romance, vampire, time travel, occult, and horror genres.  She’s even written a Christmas family fare.  It’s accurate to say that Heather Graham has been a pioneer of the urban fantasy genre.  It’s a difficult balancing act.  How do you create a world where supernatural events occur and still maintain believability?  Even though the characters and scenes are outside our perceived reality, those same scenes and characters have to be grounded in the world we understand.  The laws of physics and science can’t be bent too far or the story loses credibility.  Heather is a master at creating such worlds.

It’s been said that in a great movie, you don’t notice the directing–the scene changes, lighting, sound, and camera angles are seamless.  You almost forget you’re sitting in a movie theater.  The same can be said for Heather’s books, you get so involved with the story, you don’t notice the writing.  Her skill as an author pulls you in and doesn’t let go.  I’ve never read one of her books that didn’t seem completely real to me.

Bottom line:  Heather Graham is a pure entertainer–it’s in her blood.  The new Bone Island Trilogy promises to deliver a powerful trio of suspense/mystery stories that will keep you reading into the wee hours of the morning.  The covers look awesome too.  I’ve already pre-ordered my copies on Amazon.com.

This feature wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Heather’s good karma–she has a soft heart for those down on their luck, people and animals alike.  Each year she hosts the Vampire Ball and Dinner theater at the RT convention raising money for the Pediatric Aids Society and in 2006 she hosted the first Writers for New Orleans Workshop to benefit the savaged Gulf region after Hurricane Katrina’s wrath.

If you’d like to meet Heather in person, she’ll be attending ThrillerFest V in New York City from July 7th to the 10th.  Dennis will also be there.

I encourage you to visit Heather’s websites, she has two:  www.eheathergraham.com orwww.theoriginalheathergraham.com.  Remember, that “cute little cheesecake” is out there, so beware–unless you’re just dying to see that girl-on-girl kiss!  I closed my eyes through the entire video.
* * *
Heather Graham is the author of over 150 novels and novellas.  She currently lives in South Florida with her husband, Dennis.  Family pets include, Ozzie Cudjo–“a little rescue mutt with issues”; Zee–Chynna’s “Cat from Hell”;  Nikki–Bryee’s  Syberian Husky; and last but not least, Snowflake–the luckiest rat in the world who was spared from being “processed” by Shayne’s pet snake!

Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is the author of First To Kill, the debut in a series featuring Nathan McBride, a former marine sniper and CIA operations officer.The next McBride novel, Forced To Kill, will be available early next year in exclusive audiobook format from Audible.com.Andrew works as a volunteer firefighter, enjoys scuba diving, target shooting, flying helicopters, hiking and camping, and an occasional sad round of golf.

Visit Andy at: www.andrewpeterson.com.
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