“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” takes on a new twist in Carole Nelson Douglas’s Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator series. Delilah left Wichita a few years ago and now works in Las Vegas where the werewolf mob reigns, rock star-sorcerers are the hottest tickets on the Strip, and dowsing for the dead isn’t considered unusual but just another good police investigative practice. Adjusting to her new surroundings hasn’t been easy, and in the latest installment, Silver Zombie, Delilah must return to her hometown and discovers she truly isn’t in Kansas anymore.
I recently caught up with Carole to get the supernatural scoop on Delilah’s newest adventures.
Jeannie Holmes: Hi, Carole! I know you’re super busy so I appreciate you taking some time from your schedule to chat. Silver Zombie is the fourth title in the Delilah Street Paranormal Investigator series. Would you mind telling our readers a little about the series?
Carole Nelson Douglas: What’s not to love about writing a Las Vegas-set paranormal series? The Vegas of 2013 has gone post-apocalyptic since the turn of the millennium when all the supernaturals of legend showed up everywhere. Delilah and her ex-FBI profiler partner, Ricardo Montoya, go up against demon drug lords and Vegas Strip moguls that include a werewolf mobster, an albino rock star-sorcerer, and a ghoulish but likeable CSI V TV producer who provides Delilah with an Enchanted Cottage to live in. Oh, and Ric’s “profiling” skills that got him the “Cadaver Kid” nickname in the FBI are because he’s been able to dowse for the dead and raise zombies since a child.
JH: Sounds like your version of Vegas has a little something for everyone, whether they’re human or not. Would you classify Delilah as a supernatural mystery, urban fantasy, or somewhere in the middle?
CND: This genre is classified as urban fantasy, but Delilah’s voice is noir detective with a touch of edgy chick lit. Charlaine Harris is the most famous mystery writer to move into the supernatural territory, and while traditional mysteries now sport ghosts and such, the Delilah Street series is more crime-oriented. Ghosts tend to be murderous, like teenaged Loretta, brutally killed by her own father, werewolf mobster Cesar Cicereau. The series allows me to combine investigation and big-time crime with large-scale action that can verge upon horror, yet still use a “witty” sense of humor and satire.
Basically, I’d describe the Delilah Street series as a thrilling, edgy, imaginative, wild and sometimes sexy ride through mystery and crime history and pop culture, yet it tackles current evils like the Mexican drug wars and unchecked corporate greed.
JH: Ah, Charlaine is definitely the reigning queen of urban fantasy mysteries. I know you, like Charlaine, write in other genres as well, so how did you first start writing Delilah’s adventures? Were you influenced by any classic noir-crime story figures?
CND: “Delilah Street” is a play on Della Street, Perry Mason’s secretary. When Delilah gets in trouble with the local police, Perry shows up as her lawyer-cum-father figure. That’s because Vegas is populated with Cinema Simulacrums, black-and-white noir screen characters the mysterious Immortality Mob has blended with zombie bodies smuggled in from Mexico. These CinSims, 3-D black-and-white figures from Sam Spade to Nick and Nora Charles, are leased as major attractions at Vegas venues and “chipped” to stay in place. They may have more free will than anyone suspects, except Delilah, who finds them fabulous confidential informants, particularly the Invisible Man. In one touching sequence, Ugarte, the lowlife from Casablanca played by Peter Lorre, manages to become the first CinSim to break computer-chip bonds to get Delilah a message that Ric is in danger. From sniveling coward to hero. Only in Las Vegas.
(Recently, a new Vegas club still a-building announced it would have holograms of famous people customers could “interact with.” My Las Vegas-set Midnight Louie series anticipated the arrival of interior gondola rides. Sometimes fact follows fiction.)
JH: I love the concept of all these classic Hollywood figures being brought to life or at least some version of life. The interactive holograms sound like something straight out of Star Trek, which I find fascinating, but the Delilah series is actually set in a near-future Las Vegas so I suppose it isn’t that big of a leap. However, while previous Delilah Street books were set in Vegas, you chose to take Silver Zombie to Wichita, Kansas. Did you have reservations about temporarily moving your characters out of their environment?
CND: Not at all. It freshens the series to leave the glamorous corruption of Vegas for unsuspected heartland horrors like cartel drug routes, zombies on speed, weather witches who can concoct perfect storms and a climax at the Emerald City Hotel and Casino, which throngs with CinSims from the non-color opening scenes of The Wizard of Oz.
JH: Delilah has a mysterious past, and everyone loves a woman who carries a touch of mystery with her. How would you describe Delilah? Will she have any great revelations about her past when she returns to her hometown?
CND: Delilah is a kick-ass heroine with a strong social conscience and a smashingly girly side. Think a younger Mrs. Emma Peel from The Avengers. She’s named after where she was found abandoned as an infant and grew up in Wichita group homes having to fight off vampire punk boys. She was never adopted and is clever and resilient, with a crusader’s heart and a vulnerable core. In Wichita in this book, she finds out who did her what terrible wrong at an early age, which is not what readers would suspect. And . . . there is no Delilah Street in Wichita. Uh-oh.
Also, it was in Wichita that Delilah also saw her exact double autopsied on the Vegas CSI TV show, which brought her to Vegas in the first place. Lilith could be clone, doppelganger or twin. She remains elusive trouble, but finally steps out of Delilah’s mirror into her life in the next book, for good or ill.
JH: Hmm…that just makes me all the more curious. Delilah has danced with werewolves, gotten close to supernatural rock stars, dealt with vampire mobs, and faced ancient gods. In Silver Zombie, she confronts, among other things, zombie cowboys and spectral cattle drives along with her past. In a genre that allows for a wide variety of obstacles, how do you decide what supernatural challenges Delilah will encounter with each book?
CND: Delilah must go up against her own inner demons as well as the plentiful ones lurking everywhere, so exterior battles often mirror the internal ones. I enjoy occasionally combining horror with humor. In Silver Zombie, Ric pauses their road trip at a restored drive-in showing Night of the Living Dead. It’s guy-versus-girl culture. Ric wants to snack on popcorn and Delilah while watching grotesque cannibal zombies stalk helpless people. Delilah longs for the repartee and glamour of The Thin Man. What they both get is zombies coming off the screen right at them, so they have to save the terrified audience and figure out how to off the zombies with the help of Delilah’s wolfhound-wolf cross dog, Quicksilver.
This incident is just a normal side trip in the Twilight Zone that is Delilah’s post-Millennium Revelation world of supernatural creatures openly co-habiting with humans.
JH: I think I’ll have to agree with Delilah on the film choice. Blending the paranormal with our modern world has become increasingly popular in fiction over the past few years. How much research, if any, do you find yourself doing for the Delilah books?
CND: I did my most extensive research for my Sherlockian-Victorian Irene Adler series and love finding obscure facts to use in unlikely ways, like the corpse on Dracula author Bram Stoker’s dining room table. I research a lot for Delilah’s series too. For instance, the spectacular silent film, Metropolis, will inspire a new Vegas hotel tower . . . and the iconic curvy silver-metal female robot from the film will be a character in the next adventure, Virtual Virgin. Call it Art Deco Steampunk. This iconic CinSim may be used for good or evil and possession of it/her becomes the goal of many powerful forces. I also explore the movie’s theme that “the heart is the mediator between the head and the hands” through my characters’ issues.
JH: Art Deco Steampunk – I can’t wait to read that! The paranormal genre runs the gamut from campy to dark-bordering-on-horror. If you were to describe the Delilah series, where in the spectrum would you place the books?
CND: This series is a bit of both and yet deals with serious social/crime issues as well as the personal challenges and in-depth growth of the characters. It’s about guilt and innocence, pride and prejudice, love and lust, good and evil, freedom and servitude. And high spirits.
JH: Speaking of high spirits…the Delilah books are known for a rather unique feature, are they not?
CND: Every title now has a matching original cocktail recipe because Delilah strolled up to the Inferno Hotel bar in the first book, Dancing with Werewolves, and ordered an “Albino Vampire” to annoy arrogant rock-star mogul Snow. He promptly established it as a “house” drink (she used his alcohol) and made a mint off of it. In real life, people have ordered the cocktail at conventions, where bartenders compare it to a “white” chocolatini. Delilah may have started this trend, but the author has to invest in exotic booze and do the test kitchen work. I love it when my characters make me stretch.
JH: Sounds like a more pleasant research project than some. While we’re on the subject of stretching, The Delilah Street series isn’t your only series. You mentioned the Irene Adler (the only woman to outwit Sherlock Holmes) series. And there’s the twenty-three book Midnight Louie (feline PI) series that’s planned for twenty-seven books. You are a busy woman! Do you find it difficult to switch between historical, contemporary, and futuristic-supernatural settings?
CND: It’s refreshing for a prolific writer to explore a variety of genres and settings. I tend to combine genres in my books, which also helps. Midnight Louie’s contemporary Las Vegas is very different from Delilah’s, although I had him cross over to her turf in a novella that just won the Short Fiction award from the Cat Writers’ Association.
CND: I enjoy doing sneaky series crossovers. The Midnight Louie coroner is a bear of a man nicknamed “Grizzly” Bahr. Delilah deals with him too, a few years later, but in her darker Vegas, his nickname is “Grisly” Bahr.
JH: That’s awesome! I love when authors throw in these little sneaks. Well, Carole, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. I know you have many more books to write, but one last question before we adjourn. What can readers look forward to seeing from you in the future?
CND: I’ll be Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic mystery convention in Bethesda, Maryland, next April 29-May 1. Sue Grafton will be Lifetime GOH. As for books, besides Virtual Virgin next November, Midnight Louie’s Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta arrives Aug. 3 in hardcover, just after Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme comes out in paper. I should add the Louie is Sam Spade with hairballs, both a satire and a noir sleuth voice. The series characters have dealt with serial killers and an international terrorism subplot, so once again the surface humor rides over underlying serious issues. “Fluffy” cat mystery series are often dissed, probably by people who’ve never read them, but my books never do business as usual. Louie’s devoted readers credit his books with everything from helping them “talk down” a suicidal friend and turning back from “the white light” after a head-on car collision to getting through chronic pain and family heartache. Not bad for “fluffy.”
JH: Not bad at all. Thanks, Carole, for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat and wishing you much success!
CND: Thanks for asking such thoughtful questions.
Silver Zombie saunters into stores November 30, 2010. Also look for Carole Nelson Douglas’s other Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator books – as well as her Irene Adler and Midnight Louie series – in your favorite haunts.