August 7, 2014

Not Through With Sonja Blue: an interview with Nancy A. Collins, author of "Sunglasses After Dark"

Nancy A. Collins has spent the last twenty-some years writing everything from short stories, comic books, to full-length novels. She first made her mark in the late 80s with the award-winning Sunglasses After Dark. These days she is keeping busy with the comic book series, Vampirella, but this year sees the re-release of her Sonja Blue novels and I had the chance to ask her a few questions about the series, her career, and what's on the horizon. Enjoy!

Gef: Open Road Media re-released Sonja Blue in ebook form this summer (could have sworn they were already out as ebooks), a quarter century after she first hit bookshelves. Did you ever figure this series would garner such longstanding appeal? Even after Sunglasses After Dark snagged you a Bram Stoker Award?

Nancy: You’re right, they were already available as ebooks from a copy called Premier Digital Publishing (PDP), but I’ve since changed epublishers to Open Road Media. And, to be honest, I never imagined Sunglasses After Dark becoming popular enough to warrant a sequel, much less a series. Even after Sunglasses After Dark won the Stoker and the British Fantasy Society’s Icarus Award, I was still surprised when I was asked if I planned to continue the character. I never dreamed she would catch on with readers the way she did.

Gef: This particular release through Open Road Media is considered a "preferred text" after you revised it to some degree. I can't imagine there was much in the way of overhauling needed if it won both a Stoker and Icarus Award, so were the revisions merely a matter of addressing edits from the original publication, or maybe you wanted to tinker with some things you only came to recognize after several years in the writing business?
Nancy: Well, Sunglasses After Dark was my first novel, and it had some rookie mistakes in it, re grammar and syntax, that always bugged me once I got enough experience under my belt to realize what a rookie mistake was. The same holds true for In The Blood and Paint It Black as well. But most of the revisions I’ve made have been to update the text to the 21st Century—adding cell phones, the Internet, references to 9/11, that kind of thing.

Gef: Is there something about the punk scene, especially during the 80s, that you felt melded well with vampires? Was it simply an organic evolution of the monsters? For that matter, how have you found the evolution of vampires over the years, for good or bad?

Nancy: Well, I was involved in the Punk/New Wave scene—It was a world I knew fairly well, so it was only natural for me to set my story in that world, as vampires prey on the outliers and outcasts of human society, and that certainly describes Underground Music. And given her background, it made sense that Sonja Blue would gravitate to that aesthetic.

As for the evolution of vampires in the last 25 years—The genre seems to undergo regular bouts of wussification, to put it politely. Every decade or so some writer will de-fang them and turn them into romantic leads—like with Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer. Twilight did a lot of damage to the vampire archetype—but I think we’re through the worst of it now. The fact that a popular TV show like Penny Dreadful actually features scary vampires is a good sign that the reign of the sparkling vampire is nearing its end.

Gef: I don't know how comfortable you are with being hailed as a pioneer in what people know these days as urban fantasy, but you certainly have your fair share of authors singing your praises and citing you as an influence. When it comes to any kind of mentoring to up-and-coming authors, do you approach it with a particular mindset? Also who were some of your own writing influences?

Nancy: Well, in regards to mentoring, I just try to answer questions put to me by aspiring writers in as helpful a way as possible. I don’t offer suggestions on how to write so much as what to look out for re agents, editors, publishers and practical tips on research. I’ve been in their shoes—in my case, I was able to ask writers like Karl Edward Wagner, Michael McDowell and John Shirley for advice, which they all freely gave. So I just try to pay it forward.

As to my influences, that’s a fairly wide category. I can cite everyone from Dr. Seuss to Roald Dahl to Robert E. Howard to Robert Bloch to Richard Matheson to J.G. Ballard to Ramsey Campbell and Flannery O’Connor, not to mention the three authors I mentioned above.

Gef: When it comes to writing about a female vampire, your talents aren't limited to novels as you've returned to comic books as the lead writer for Vampirella. How has that experience been for you so far, and how much of a gear shift is it going from one medium to the next?

Nancy: I’m having a ball writing for Vampirella. And as for the change of gears—it’s no biggie. I wrote comics in the 1990s—I was the lead writer for Swamp Thing for 2 years. It’s like riding a bicycle. And I would compare it to writing short stories as opposed to novels. As it happens, I also adapted Sunglasses After Dark into comics back in the 1990s. In fact, the Sonja Blue comics are being collected and released as a graphic novel by IDW this coming November.

Gef: While you seem to have no trouble tilling new soil with vampires, is there a monster or archetype in genre fiction you wish would just eff off for a bit?

Nancy: I’m really getting tired of zombies. Which is something I never thought I would ever see myself type.

Gef: How can folks keep up with all your projects?

Nancy: I have a Fan Page on Facebook where I post Vampirella and Sonja Blue news and other weird crap.

I also have a Twitter handle: @nancycollins

As for what I currently have up my sleeve: I’m writing Vampirella for Dynamite Comics for the next year.

I’m also shepherding a mini-series called Vampirella: Feary Tales, which is a horror-comic anthology featuring stories by authors such as Joe R. Lansdale, John Shirley, Stephen R. Bissette, Gail Simone, Devin Grayson, Stuart Moore, Steve Niles, Eric Trautman, Elaine Lee, and me that will start hitting comic book stores this October. 

There’s also an audio book version of Sunglasses After Dark that scheduled for both digital & CD release from Radio Archives by Labor Day of this year, and the graphic novel version of Sunglasses After Dark coming this November from IDW.

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