The old Hammer Vampire films would be one of my first entertainment influences, especially “Vampire Circus” also known as “Circus of Fear”. Ages 5 to 7 seemed to have been the most impressionable years.
Learned to read at age 7. (I was an undiagnosed dyslexic.)
Tried to write stories at age 12. Never finished one.
Found the short story collection, PIGEONS FROM HELL by Robert E. Howard the creator of Conan the Barbarian when I was thirteen, or fourteen. It was the first dark fantasy and heroic fantasy I’d ever read. In that moment I knew not only did I want to be a writer, but this is what I wanted to write.
Read CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White at age 13 or 14. It was the first book to teach me a love of language and I still use some of the techniques I learned from that book in my writing today.
Finished my first story at age 14. It was a horror story where everyone died horribly except the baby who crawled off into the woods where it was implied the baby would die a slow and lingering death of starvation and exposure.
First creative writing class where my teacher told me that the first vampire story I ever wrote scared her. For a shy 14-year-old there was nothing better that she could have said. I’d scared a grown-up.
Discovered Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and Andre Norton about age 14. The first two would teach me more about language and atmosphere on paper. Ms. Norton was the first woman I knew that wrote what I wanted to write. It gave me hope that not everyone that wrote this was a dead white guy.
I read Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT and Anne Rice’s INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. Both books would be important influences for me. I also found a book in our high school library entitle THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE VAMPIRE BY Anthony Masters. It was a nonfiction book covering vampire and wereanimal legend around the world. It was also the first book I ever read with serial killers in it. All of that would have a profound influence on me as a writer.
Another teacher found copies of “The Writer”, and “Writer’s Digest,” at the library on sale for 5 cents or 1 penny. She came to school and gave me an armload of them. That would be the beginning of me researching how to be a professional writer. I believe I was 15 or 16 at the time.
By age 17 I was collecting my first rejection slips for my stories. I’d read an article in the above mentioned magazines by Ray Bradbury. He advised to pick a small room in your house and when you have wall-papered it with your rejection slips then you will have gotten the crap out of you and be down to the meat of what you have to say as a writer and you will sell. I picked the bathroom.
College found me enrolled in the creative writing program. I would be kicked out of that program at the end of my sophomore year. The head of the writing program told me I was a corrupting influence on the other students. I’d gotten into the writing program on the strength of two short stories; a vampire story and a Lovecraftian story that had my first sex scene in it. The teacher thought she could cure me of wanting to write horror. When she realized she couldn’t “cure” me, she decided to destroy me. She told me I’d never make it as a writer, and pretty much crushed me. I finished out my English degree with literature courses, and went to the biology department. I would get my bio degree in two years time. People ask me, “Have you sent her your books? Have you let her know what a success you are?”
No, because she didn’t believe I couldn’t succeed as a writer, she feared I could. She feared I would go out and do exactly what I have done, corrupt millions. Wahaha!
I wouldn’t write another word for over two years. I moved to Los Angeles and got my first cooperate job. Started submitting stories again, and getting nice rejection notes from editors. I started my first book, two pages a day every day before work.
Discovered hard-boiled detective fiction in the local library. Biggest influence was Robert B. Parker’s Spenser books.
Moved to St. Louis. Went to my first Science Ficiton convention, NamethatCon. Attended a writing workshop taught by Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, and Stephen Gould. Put through the beginning of my first novel, NIGHTSEER, and a short story with Anita Blake in it. The workshop didn’t teach me to be a better writer, but did teach me to be a better editor of my own work. It also introduced me to my writing group, The Alternate Historians.
I sold the next story that I sent off in the mail. “Stealing Souls” to Marion Zimmer Bradley.
I met my first agent at one of these conventions. By age 29 I held my first written and published novel, NIGHTSEER, in my hands. It was heroic fantasy just like one of my first heroes Robert E. Howard.
Then the bottom fell out of the fantasy market. My second novel a sequel to NIGHTSEER was rejected by my editor. I took a work for hire for a Star Trek novel that would be, NIGHTSHADE. But no one wanted anything else book length from me and I knew I couldn’t make a living on short story sales. My career seemed to be over before it really began. In desperation I went through my files of unsold short stories to see if anything in there could be turned into a novel. I found the story, “Those Who Seek Forgiveness,” starring Anita Blake. I’d collected some very nice rejections for it. Editors loved it, but didn’t know what to do with it. Horror editors thought it was science fiction, those editors thought it was fantasy, and those editors thought it was horror. There was no such thing as paranormal thriller back in the late 1980s. Mixed genre was a dirty word in publishing, because it didn’t sell, or that’s what they told me.
I sat down and began to write a novel in Anita’s world. I had about 70 pages done when I went to Archon a St. Louis convention. There I would read those few pages to a packed room. Why a packed room for an unknown writer? They thought I was Melissa Snodgrass who was doing scripts for Star Trek: Next Generation. She’d had to cancel at the last minute, but her name was still on the door of the room. Since they didn’t know what she looked like, and didn’t know me, they sat down for her, but stayed for me reading what would eventually be GUILTY PLEASURES, the first Anita Blake novel. I read them those pages because I needed to know I wasn’t wasting my time. When I finished reading the room was dead silent, and my heart fell to my feet. I thought they hate it. Then out of that silence came gasps, applause and cries of, “When will it be published?” I had no idea. “Read us more!” I couldn’t, because I’d read them all I had, but it gave me hope and I went home and finished it.
GUILTY PLEASURES would take at least two years to sale. Everyone liked it, but no one wanted to buy it. It was the same problem that I’d had with the short story. It would finally sale to Penguin Putnam, as an Ace original. I got a three book contract out of it, and I was ecstatic. After my first series dying with only one book out, I knew there’d be at least three Anita Blake novels. As I write this I am about to go out on tour for the 17th Anita Blake book, SKIN TRADE.