I was fortunate enough to catch up with M.R. Sellars between book signing events, etc. to learn more about his latest release, Blood Moon, as well as where he’s headed with the Rowan Gant Investigation series as a whole. Known by some as the “Pagan Stephen King,” his novels are filled with paranormal horror coupled with suspenseful storylines centering around his Pagan protagonist, Rowan Gant. So, it should come as no surprise that Sellars is a member of the HWA (Horror Writers Association) and is himself a Kitchen Witch. When not touring, Sellars spends family time with his wife, daughter and rescued felines.
PaganPages (PP): I started with the sixth book, Love Is The Bond, in your RGI (Rowan Gant Investigation) Series, yet I had no problem following the storyline. Is that because I started with your Miranda Trilogy Arc? Or did you intend for each of your now nine books in the RGI Series to be easily a stand-alone read as well?
M.R. Sellars (MRS): It might just be that you’re quick on the uptake (LOL).
Actually, there is a good possibility that starting with the first book in the Miranda Trilogy had something to do with it. That said, however, I endeavored to make the books stand-alone reads in the very beginning, so you could actually read Perfect Trust (3rd book) or Never Burn A Witch (2nd book) before reading Harm None (1st book) and still follow the storyline. Truth is, you could probably read any one of them out of sequence – except the three books in the Miranda Trilogy – and follow along just fine. Still, after Perfect Trust I started realizing that trying to make them “too self-contained” was going to be impossible without an enormous amount of rehashing – which tends to get boring. Any time you write a series, it is imperative that you re-introduce the characters in each book for those who may be starting out of sequence, as well as to refresh the memories of regular readers. And, you can’t deny the things that have happened in previous novels, as these are the things that have shaped the characters and made them grow into who they are in each installment. Therefore, you end up in a bit of a quandary… If you try to make them too self-contained, you are left with no choice but to explain “why” the character is like s/he is. This leads to quite a bit of drudgery in the prose, which takes the reader right out of the story and deposits them back at the bookstore/library looking for a more enjoyable read; and that is the kiss of death to an author.
So, while for the most part I make a concerted effort to make the storyline somewhat self-contained, I try to avoid any long-winded flashbacks unless they are actually going to move the story forward in an entertaining and engaging fashion… And, of course, I used the word “somewhat” in the previous sentence because, as my long-time readers are aware, I am fairly well known for the “cliffhanger ending” that sets the future stage and drives you into the next novel. Therefore, they are never “really” self-contained. J
PP: You’ve mentioned that your main character Rowan started off as a character named Wendy (from another manuscript you were writing). I’ve told my friends when describing Love Is The Bond, All Acts Of Pleasure and The End Of Desire that your character Miranda doesn’t believe in giving her victims any rights, so their deaths are like her twisted versions of Miranda Rights (at least in my take on your writing). How did you really come up with her character and name?
MRS: Wendy was a case of inexperience, hormones, and living vicariously through the character herself. While the story itself was okay, I readily admit that I was far too young at that point to have had enough life experience, which is how we create believable characters. And, like I said, there were these hormones and I could make Wendy be whoever and whatever I wanted her to be…But, that’s better reserved for a letter to Penthouse or some such J
Now, as to Miranda…
“Mistress Miranda” was a different case entirely… Well, maybe not entirely, as I am sure some hormones still played a part in her creation (LOL)… In any event, she actually started out as nothing more than a germ of an idea. Back when I was writing Perfect Trust, I was already thinking about three books ahead – and I still do that. However, the thinking ahead often just encompasses a basic idea that starts getting fleshed out the closer I get to putting it on paper. The original concept for the “Killer Dominatrix” was actually based on the following idea:
Rowan’s wife, Felicity, gets together with her old college roommate who comes into town on business. It just happens that said business revolves around the fact that she makes her living as a Pro Domme, and she is there to see a high profile client. Ben Storm, (Rowan’s cop friend) who by that time is divorced, takes a strong liking to Felicity’s friend – even to the point of taking her on a date – but he has no idea what her occupation is. Anyway, when the high profile client turns up dead, Felicity’s friend is implicated, Ben is forced to arrest her, and our intrepid, witchy duo set out to clear her of the impending charges.
It was intended as a self-contained story. As you, and other readers know, that is a far cry from what actually ended up happening, and I’m not just talking about the trilogy aspect. By the time I reached the point where I was literally writing the story, the characters had grown and been through some events that I hadn’t foreseen. Characters tend to do that – they come to life. In a sense, they are almost like thought forms. We breathe life into them and they develop minds of their own. I know that sounds a bit insane, but honestly, I think most of us who write are just a little touched in the brainpan to begin with.
Anyway, back to Miranda. By this point I had spent an enormous number of hours researching sexual predators and serial offenders. Not as a hobby, although I DO find it fascinating, but for the express purpose of being able to write my antagonists in an accurate light. As it turns out, while there are plenty of female serial offenders worldwide, the classification of sexual predator is almost non-existent where they are concerned. One theory is that because of societal expectations, female sexual predators are overlooked, and that they actually exist is numbers rivaling males. Another is that females are simply better at not getting caught, again, because of what society has taught us to expect from the gender roles.
My twisted brain – much like some of the psychologist who wrote the papers I was studying – wanted to know what might happen if those female sexual predators started coming out of the woodwork in as blatant a sense as their male counterparts, and so, Miranda was born – a female sociopath. One who is wholly self-centered and has a skewed view of compassion and emotional attachment. And, since the RGI series deals with occult overtones to the cases, Voodoo/Hoodoo/Vodoun was a perfect fit since spirit possession is an accepted event within the practice, therefore allowing for a different sort of depth to the character. I don’t want to say any more than that since some readers of this interview might not have read the books just yet.
In order to make Miranda herself convincing in her role as a Dominatrix, I did countless hours of research into the BDSM sub-culture. I actually have a close friend who is a Domme, so she was invaluable to me where the research was concerned. This information, I am sure, begs the question, “just how experiential was your research?”… Well, I’ll leave that to everyone’s imagination, but I will say this much. I have a safe word. (LOL).
As to Miranda’s name, that was actually simple. It harkens from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and it means, “to be admired, and/or extraordinary.” That just seemed to fit the character, as she sees herself as one to be admired. And, yes, I do have to admit the Miranda Warning did cross my mind when I was coming up with the name, as evidenced by Ben Storm’s reference to it late in Love Is The Bond, so you get bonus points for picking up on that. J
PP: When can Miranda fans expect Miranda, forthcoming in your RGI series, to be released?
MRS: Miranda: A Rowan Gant Investigation, is slated for release in October of 2009, and will be the tenth book in the series. I’m not allowed to say much about it at the moment – although that will change in the months to come when the publicists start doing their thing. But, for now here is the “blurb” being used in the catalog:
Picking up where Blood Moon leaves off, Rowan Gant finds that not only are his fears realized, they are worse than he had imagined, as sadistic, serial-killing dominatrix, Miranda, (The Miranda Trilogy—Love is the Bond, All Acts of Pleasure, and The End of Desire) has him on the end of her metaphorical—but no less terrifyingly real—leash.
PP: In your latest release, Blood Moon, you included the real-life human sanguine vamps in your storyline. I think it greatly added to the willing suspension of disbelief element. What kind of research did you do on sanguine vamps to come up with their presence in your novel?
MRS: Much like I did with the research into the BDSM community. I did quite a bit of reading and interviewing, for the most part. While I don’t rely entirely on the Internet, I do some of my research there as well. But, I don’t take anything I find on the World Wide Web at face value. I always make sure I can corroborate Internet info with sources outside the web, such as books or multiple interviews.
I also do quite a bit of “people watching” to develop characters, and that can be done at various distances. In this particular case, I spent time lurking on forums dedicated to the vampire sub-culture and gleaning information there. I also talked to a self-proclaimed sanguine vamp that was a friend of a friend.
This one, however, I won’t leave up to anyone’s imagination… No, I did not partake nor did I provide. While I can certainly be adventurous and open to new ideas, as far as I was concerned, that particular experience simply didn’t fall into my “need to know” purview.
PP: Part of being a successful novelist, you attribute to touring. Did you tour alone at first? When did you start touring with Dorothy Morrison? And, how much has that turned up the Fun Meter?
MRS: Touring is key. Especially when you are first starting out. Look at it this way – nobody has any clue who you are or that you have written a book. Getting in front of people, introducing yourself, and above all, being entertaining, is what gets the books into the hands of the readers. Once you accomplish that, word of mouth kicks in.
Initially, when I was completely unknown – unlike now, when a there are maybe a dozen folks across the US who recognize my name (LOL) – I begged and borrowed my way into events. I jumped through every hoop put before me, packed my family into a beat up VW microbus…well, actually it was a Honda Odyssey, but a VW microbus sounds so much more “sexy” and adventurous in a late 60’s early 70’s kind of way…and hit the road. If my family couldn’t come with me, I tossed my overnight bag and a couple of cases of books into my truck, and away I went. Back in those days – all of 9 years ago – I was still working a full time job, so all of my “touring” had to be done during my vacation time and/or days I would take off without pay. I have to admit that looking back on it now, I have no clue how I managed it. I was working a 50-hour per week job, my wife and I had finally managed to have a child after untold years of trying, I was writing, and on top of that I was trying to tour. I suppose it was a good thing I was younger back then J
At any rate, my initial touring was solo, or with my family on weekend gigs.
Now, on to the “Morrison Factor”…One of my first major events was something called the Real Witches Ball in Columbus, Ohio. I had been there as an attendee in the past, but I managed to wrangle my way in as a speaker – again, footing my own bill for transportation, lodging, meals, etc… The organizer guaranteed me nothing more than the fact that I could present a couple a workshops, and if it went over okay, I could do another one. On top of that, I had to bring my own copies of “Harm None”, for sale (the only book I had out at the time) because he refused to order and stock them – why? Because I was an unknown, and because it was fictional story. There was a pervasive idea in the ranks of metaphysical storeowners back then that “pagan fiction” doesn’t sell. Unfortunately, that sentiment still exists today among many, which sometimes makes it hard to find my books – and other pagan fiction – in the independent pagan stores.
Anyhow, I got myself to this event, and just to initiate me as the new kid on the block the organizer had set me up to do the first workshop of the weekend – that being the 5PM Friday slot – the slot where you are lucky to get three people showing up. Well, knowing I had to pay my dues I sucked it up and headed to the venue where I was to give the workshop. My family had pretty much just dropped me off there and headed out to get checked into our motel on the outskirts of town, because we had been driving all day and arrived with only 30 or so minutes to spare. At this particular juncture, the RWB was a “street fair” and therefore my venue was one of the vacant storefronts that the organizer had rented for the weekend, a block or so away from the store proper.
Now… Dorothy Morrison happened to be headlining this event, and I was already a fan of her work. In fact, I was so nervous that when I saw her in the store upon first arriving, I was unable to muster the courage to even walk up and say hello. So, anyway, here I am at the venue going over my notes, and people start coming in. I actually started to feel a bit better about things because I had more than three folks, and there were still people coming in. Since I had plenty of experience with public speaking there wasn’t a nerve issue there at all, so it was all good. I returned to going over my notes and when I looked up again a few minutes later as I was about to start the workshop, I couldn’t help but notice that Dorothy Morrison was now sitting in the front row.
At THAT point, I became nervous… (LOL)
As an aside, the story goes that the organizer had sent her down to see my workshop in order to keep me from feeling like the odd man out. I still maintain that she was sent there to spy on me and see if I was a f*ckup. (Grin)
I knew I still had to do the workshop, so I tried to pretend she wasn’t there and launched into my spiel. I was presenting on “Paganism and its Treatment in Modern Fiction”. Luckily, it ended up being fantastic – to the point of me having standing room only, receiving an ovation at the end, and getting handshakes and hugs from several of the attendees. After folks cleared out, Morrison walks up to me and says, “Mister Sellars, when you’re finished here come see me at my table back at the store.”
Nervous now gave way to abject fear. I was firmly convinced – of my own accord, I must admit – that I had said or done something during my workshop that was A) completely stupid, B) embarrassed the pagan community, or C) all of the above. And, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dorothy Morrison herself was about to dress me down for doing it.
So, I finished gathering my things and started trudging back to the store. Now, remember, this is Columbus, Ohio at the end of October, and my family and friends had more or less just dumped me out on the street in front of the store because they had plenty to deal with – getting checked in to the motel, seeing to our daughter who had just turned 1 a few days prior, getting something to eat, etc. Therefore, I had no coat and on top of that I was in fear for my metaphorical life since I was on my way to see the evil Dorothy Monster. It was dark, the temperature had dropped below freezing, and it was spitting snow. How much more depressing could it possibly become?
After doing the “dead Murv walking” shuffle for a block – this only took about three minutes, but seemed like two hours – I arrived at the store, made my way to Morrison’s table and meekly said, “You wanted to see me?” Whereupon, Morrison invited me to sit down, have a drink, and proceeded to pick my brain about public speaking – seems she wasn’t as comfortable with it as me, and wanted some advice. Dorothy Morrison wanted advice from me… I was flabbergasted.
There’s more to the story but I don’t want to bore you… At any rate, we’ve been best friends ever since. And, touring together followed very closely behind that incident – as in just a few short months later. That first tour is yet another story in and of itself.
As to the “fun factor” – it definitely adds to it. But, even more than that it adds to the sanity factor. While Morrison and I still do events solo, or with other authors, or even together with other authors, we also have our tours with just the two of us. When we plan a tour we tend to think we are superhuman, then we end up having to do the things we have booked…What I mean is this – typically, we get on the road between 5 and 6 AM, sometimes earlier. So, this means we are up even earlier than that to get showers, pack, and throw things into the car. We drive several hours, arrive at a store, do a two or three hour meet n’ greet/signing, then get back into the car, drive a few more hours, check into our hotel, get cleaned up, drive to the evening gig which could be 10 minutes or two hours away, do a workshop, sign books, visit with folks, then drive back to the hotel. This is usually the point where we realize that it is now 11:30 PM and the last thing either of us had to eat was a stale bagel and a cup of really bad coffee at 5:30 AM on the way out of the previous town that morning. So, we grab a really awful burger at an all night dive – of course, it always tastes wonderful since we are starving – then get back to the hotel at 12:45 AM or so… Grab a few hours sleep, and then start all over again. We do this for 12 to 15 days straight. So, you see, sanity is the key. When you have a schedule like that it is imperative to have someone with you that you can trust, who you can cry with when it all gets to be just too much, and who you can laugh with when you want to cry for the second time on any given day.
Morrison and I have toured together so long we are to the point where we tend to finish one another’s sentences. When I am driving I warn her if the road is going to get rough because she is generally stapling on her face while we are in between stores. Stuff like that. We are like siblings. In fact, we are both convinced that we had to have been siblings in a former life.
Now, there is the pervasive rumor out there that we are married. Well, that’s kind of true. As in, we are both married, but to different people. Not each other. We actually find it kind of amusing.
But, getting back to the fun… Well, yeah, we tend to cut up a bit. We’ve been known to sing old commercial jingles for 50 miles, and then there is also the incident where we stole a staff member’s golf cart at an event. Well, actually we’ve done that more than once, but hey, we’ve got to entertain ourselves somehow. J
PP: Your lead character, Rowan Gant, is a modern day Witch and practicing Pagan. Yet, his personal practices refreshingly add to the plot without overshadowing it. Have your own Kitchen Witch practices tended to help cook up spicy story lines (couldn’t resist:-) in any way?
MRS: When I first started writing the series I wanted to create something with a pagan flavor that didn’t involve Arthurian Legend, Dragons, Flying Brooms, or a trio of hotties battling demons. I wanted it to have actual pagan dynamics and realities. However, I also knew that for fiction to be successful across the board I was going to need to take things just a bit over the top. After all, it is fiction.
So, while the magic works quite a bit easier for Rowan, and his psychic abilities are far more developed than the overwhelming majority, I definitely strive to find a balance between down to earth paganism and spirituality and the magic behind the Witchcraft. Not everyone agrees that I have accomplished this, but I’m happy with the blend I have formulated. And, in doing so, yes, I have drawn quite a bit from my own practices and experiences to create plots and subplots. As much as I hate to admit it, there is definitely a segment of my life that has been fictionalized and woven into the fabric of the stories.
PP: Wonderful that you’re an outspoken believer in Pagan Anti-Discrimination and Religious Freedom in general. Of all your lectures on the topic, which one do you feel made the greatest impact?
MRS: That is actually a tougher question than you might imagine. But, since we are talking about the religious freedom aspect, I would have to say that it comes down to two different lectures. The first being, “Do Witches Really Ride Brooms?” That particular lecture is one that I used to do for anything from the Kiwanis club luncheons to the local library book club meetings. It was especially in demand around October as you can imagine. I haven’t presented it for a while now due to my touring schedule. But, basically, it is really a standard “what is Witchcraft and Paganism REALLY?” sort of lecture, the basic stuff. But, I have actually seen it first hand make an impact on people, and change their perceptions. Does it work for everyone? Certainly not, but hey, if I can open even one person’s eyes that’s a start.
The other is the “Paganism and its Treatment in Modern Fiction” workshop. I’ve presented that to pagans and non-pagans, as well as a mix. When you lay out the fiction for everyone to see and are able to show them what really and truly is fiction, and what is real that has simply been incorporated into the fiction, it tends to open a few eyes too.
PP: I know your sales have been phenomenal, and you now have a worldwide English-speaking audience. Have your books been translated into other languages yet? If so, which ones? And, would you consider touring abroad in the future?
MRS: I don’t know if phenomenal is completely accurate, but I definitely thank you for thinking so. (Grin). I admit I have enjoyed a bit of success, and that for the past few years the Rowan Gant Series has been making a splash on things such as the Amazon Horror/Occult bestseller list. But, I am a far cry from pulling in the kind of cash a King or a Grisham does – a far, far cry. Like, see that mountain range over there? Well, on the other side of it, all the way to the ocean, and then some kind of far cry. But, I digress…
However, yes, according to my fan mail I have readers in Germany, the UK, and Malta just to name a few. As yet, none of my titles have been translated. There was a deal going a few years back where an Italian publisher was looking at picking up the foreign rights to the series, but nothing ever came of it. Not sure why. Maybe Rowan needed to eat more spaghetti.
Touring abroad? Well, I already tour with Morrison (Badump-bump! Did I mention we pick at each other constantly? Another sign that we have to have been siblings.) But, seriously, sure, I actually wouldn’t be opposed to touring outside the US at some point. Although, my wife has already informed me that there are certain places I am not allowed to visit without her.
PP: How can you be contacted for speaking engagements, etc.?
MRS: Homing pigeon works. As do smoke signals. But both of those take a bit too much time. Really, the best way to contact me is through my website, www.mrsellars.com. Now, I am not going to blow smoke here (pun not intended) – if the email has to do with booking me, I tend to forward it to one of my publicists, quite honestly because most of the time they know far better where I am supposed to be and when I am supposed to be there than I do. On top of that, I don’t always know what they have cooking that I haven’t been told about yet – and, I have made the mistake of double booking myself so they don’t let me play with the schedule that much anymore. (LOL)…Especially Wendy. She’s mean like that. So, you can either go by the website and email me directly at [email protected], or you can email one of my publicists directly. They would be:
PP: Where can your books be purchased?
MRS: Well, as I mentioned earlier, even after all these years there is still some resistance by independent pagan stores where fiction is concerned, although there are several throughout the US that carry the RGI series. Chain bookstores carry them as well, but on a limited basis – since I am with a smaller press they don’t automatically stock my books in every Barnes & Noble, or Borders. They leave it up to the managers, so I have been in chain stores where my books are prominently displayed, and then gone across town to another where they’ve never heard of me. It’s sort of hit and miss where they are concerned, unfortunately.
Still, any, and I mean ANY bookstore can order the RGI novels as they are distributed nationally. I stress that because I have heard from fans that have told me that their local B&N, often in these cases staffed by highly religious folks, has told them that they couldn’t order the books. Well, it wasn’t that they couldn’t, it was that they wouldn’t. I don’t know how to fix that, other than to say, yes, Virginia, they CAN ordered. (If you are dealing with a pagan bookstore and they tell you they don’t know where to get them – tell them to contact Abyss or New Leaf.)
But, if you can’t find them locally, and your store gives you too much lip, there is always Amazon.com, and B&N.com… They definitely sell them and they will be more than happy to take your money.
And, finally, if you go to my website you can order them directly and get them autographed.