Creative Grit with Author Raymond Villareal

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This week's episode of Creative Grit is with author Raymond Villareal of A People's History of the Vampire Uprising.  The novel was written in a unique format, with legal documents, interviews, multiple POV’s, even magazine articles, all documenting the rise of gloamings – the name given to someone with a vampiric blood disease. Similar to World War Z, there are many shifting POV's that make up this narrative. This made for a fun and entertaining read.

Why was this novel different than other vampire books? Raymond offered a unique take by focusing on the gloaming's infiltration of political and celebrity culture. Whether it was a TMZ article about pro-gloaming concert headlined by Justin Bieber, or an excerpt from the Harvard Theological Review, or MommyBlogsGalore.com, there was a wide variety of mediums that Raymond used to retell the uprising.  I also loved seeing it from a legal perspective, and how our judicious system might deal with a growing vampire-esc population, especially when there’s mainstream support. I’m sure Raymond’s background as a lawyer gave him valuable insight into how the law would deal with this uprising.

As far as his own publishing journey, what fascinated me the most was how Raymond’s agent and editor worked with him to produce the copy that you see today. Many writers imagine that agents sign writers after reading and falling in love with the manuscript. For Raymond’s agent, Dan Lazar, although he recognized the incredible potential of the book, he wanted to make sure that Raymond would be able to handle the edits. Therefore, they went back and forth for months before the contract ever came. 

It was also interesting to know that the first draft had a different ending. Raymond’s first title was, “A People’s History of the Gloaming Civil War,” which ended with an actual account of the war between humans and gloamings. During the editor process, Raymond’s editor suggested that they stay with the characters, and not derail the plot by focusing on the war. Raymond agreed with the decision and believes it is a better book for it. The lesson - Your manuscript is not done until the thing goes to print!

Here were some of the other highlights from our talk. 

What inspired you to write this book?

I had it in my mind that I wanted to write a vampire book based on reality-- Focusing on the humans and not the vampires. I thought the easiest way to do it would be an oral history with different perspectives. How would the law handle people who had this sort of disease? That’s how the idea started.

How difficult was it to finish the first draft?

I’ve always been the king of starting books but never finishing.  But this book was different. I’ve never written a book with so many different perspectives. Each character was like writing a mini-novel, which made the work much less daunting. I also like having prompts. For instance, I would do research on the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and that would prompt me to sit down and get to work. That first draft took me about eleven months. Pretty short amount of time for me given that I like to procrastinate.

How did you go about querying the book?

I intended to query as many as agents as I could in batches. Dan Lazar was actually part of the original 10-15 I sent out. Once he responded, I stopped querying. I didn’t think I could get a better agent than him.

Did he sign you right away?

It actually took him a couple months to see if we could work together. He would give me some notes and then he wanted me to re-write based off those notes. It wasn’t like he said, “This is the greatest book ever.” It was a process. The back and forth was tough. I was so close to being with a great agent, and I didn’t want to screw it up. Thankfully, after a couple of months of back and forth, he sent over a contract.

What is the best part of this whole publishing process?

The best part was when the book went to auction and I was waiting to hear which publisher would buy it. By then, you know it’s going to be published.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My editor, Joshua Kendall, taught me a lot about writing. Showing emotions in characters isn’t my strong suit. He gave me great advice on how to reveal these emotions -- What their mood is, did they feel apathetic, displeased. He taught me how to show more of what each character is feeling.

Do you have any advice for other writers trying to bring their creations to life?

Don’t try to make it perfect. For 1% of writers out there, it all comes naturally. Others have to work at it.  Just keep writing and get through that first draft. Even if it’s terrible. You’re going to change it anyway. I’m not someone who comes from a writing background. I don’t have a masters in fine arts or have any short stories published. But I was able to get a publisher’s attention because I had a high concept manuscript. The other thing I would say is play to your strengths. I think my unique legal perspective helped me with the hook.

Bonus Question: How did you come up with the name gloaming?

I knew right away that I didn’t want to use the word vampire, though it did end up in the title. The word actually came from a poem I had read from the 1800s entitled, “In the Gloaming.”