Wisconsin Vamp follows lovable loser, Herb Knudsen, on an awkwardly hilarious journey of self-discovery as he becomes a vampire. The circumstances of his turning are bizarre at best. With no Maker to guide him, Herb fumbles into his newfound abilities, courting disaster at every step. Sure, he’s better at bowling, but he can’t drink beer, the bodies are piling up, and his best friend Dallas is getting suspicious. When Herb and Dallas go for the same girl, keeping his dark secret becomes the least of Herb’s concerns.
Today I’m catching up with Scott Burtness, event organiser of the Vampire Books for Blood campaign and author of the comedic vampire novel Wisconsin Vamp. Scott, thanks for spending some time with me today to discuss your novel. Scott, what started you thinking about vampires being amusing rather than inducing fear?
It actually started when I was rewatching Interview with the Vampire. Claudia, a pale, sickly child, becomes a vampire, and – bam! – her hair is perfect. I found myself thinking, “It can’t be that easy, can it?” That thought sparked a bunch of others. Why are vampires always so cool? So sexy? How do they comb their hair? Do they automatically know kung-fu? I decided to write about a vampire that was the polar opposite of cool. A mediocre bowler and even worse cook. A guy that has trouble matching his socks. I decided to write about Herb Knudsen.
*Laughs* I really like that you’ve pursued the less shiny and less perfect vampires. Is answering that question how the rest of the characters in the novel developed?
The cast of Wisconsin Vamp are definitely influenced by my Gen X upbringing. I found myself thinking of John Hughes films a lot when writing it. Who’s the plucky loser that could unexpectedly win the day? Who’s the obnoxious jock that’s going to get knocked down a peg. The shallow girl that turns out to be surprisingly deep? I wanted characters that would feel familiar, no matter what someone’s generation, geographic location, or circumstances. But I definitely was writing characters that my fellow Gen X’ers would recognize and love.
Now some writers say that they can’t pick a favourite character because they’re like children. I’m not always sure I agree. How about I won’t tell your character who you like best, so you can let us in on who is your favourite character?
Fancy Dan. He comes back in the second book, but there were times when I debated writing a book centered just on him. If you’re looking for a mental image, picture the rural, northern Wisconsin equivalent of Jesus Quintana (John Turturro) from The Big Lebowski.
Would Fancy Dan be your pick to socialise with if he could come to life?
I’d love to have a beer with Slow Johnson, owner and proprietor of Bay City Bowlers, the town’s premier bowling and karaoke establishment. He’s an older guy, walks with a limp. Something tells me he’s got some stories.
Interesting. I hope you get an opportunity to find about a bit more about his tales. Have you formed a strong enough connection with any of your characters to dream about them?
Um… Nope. Never. I never ever dream about Helen, the stripper at Nekked’s and Herb’s first… Oops. I’m going to stop talking now.
*Laughs*. Since we’re keeping this PG rated we’ll move on. Did you pepper elements of your own life into this book?
Absolutely. The fictitious town of Trappersville, Wisconsin is an amalgam of towns I spent a lot of time in when I was growing up. I’m from Minnesota and have a lot of family in small towns.
And the one number question I’m sure that you’ve been asked many times, have you been to Wisconsin?
Yes, I spent many summers with a friend’s family in Wisconsin when I was a kid. Years later, I moved to Chicago and crisscrossed Wisconsin countless times. The people and places in my books are all fond caricatures of the people I’ve encountered over all those years and adventures.
As you’re working with caricatures do you feel the need to have your characters work with solid themes or even genre tropes so that they don’t come across as two-dimensional?
For me, yes. What began as a silly idea for a vampire book has become a series of books that each touch on an individual’s journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.
That’s a great unexpected journey. Is that journey the most exciting aspect of writing to you or do you find something else more enriching?
I crack myself up :-) Writing horror comedy is a lot of fun! (never mind the strange looks I get when I start giggling at my laptop when I’m writing at a local cafe…)
There’s nothing wrong with laughing while you write. Just make sure any liquids don’t end up everywhere and you’re fine. Does writing the in horror comedy space lead to lots of intense studious research with encyclopaedia and textbooks?
I had to look up the scientific word for ‘mosquito.’
Which is culicidae for those of your playing at home. How long did it take for you to write this book?
Stem to stern?
A long time. I started it as a screenplay when I lived in Los Angeles in 2004 and got about halfway through the story. In 2010, I’d moved to Minneapolis and decided to flip it to novel format. I finally put it out into the world in January 2014.
That’s an impressive timeline. Do you use any writing techniques to keep yourself sticking at it?
I try to write every day, even if it’s only for 45 minutes to an hour. I also have a few cafes that serve as my ‘offices.’ For Wisconsin Vamp and Northwoods Wolfman, I didn’t plot the stories. I had a general idea in mind for each book and let the story unfold as I wrote. I’m approaching Book 3 a little differently. I tried the whole, “I’ll just write it!” approach again, finished a first draft, and hated it. I tossed that draft and spent the next month just plotting the story. Once I had a plot, some central themes, and a few characters and their motivations mapped out, I dove back into a fresh draft.
Can you give us a little taste of what is coming up in Book 3?
I’m finishing up Monsters in the Midwest, Book 3 (title TBD). The series is a little atypical. The three books follow three friends, Herb, Dallas, and Stanley.They’re chronological, so each book picks up shortly after the previous book ends. But instead of one main character as the center of the series, each book is dedicated to one of the friends. Wisconsin Vamp is about Herb. Northwoods Wolfman follows Dallas. Book 3 will be Stanley’s adventure.
Do you find editing challenging?
I have a patient and wonderful wife who does content editing. I do the line and copy edits. Please don’t jugde. Juge. Judge.
*Laughs*. Now, I have to admit every time I see the cover for Wisconsin Vamp I smile. Where did you get it designed?
That wonderful wife I mentioned earlier? She also happens to be a wonderful cover creator.
She’s done a great job, it does really stand out when you have it amongst a field of other covers. When your book stood out enough to get its first review how did you feel?
Fortunately, it was a good review, so I felt pretty damn good ;-)
That’s great. You’ve been in the publishing space for a while now, do you have any tips for any other authors wanting to become an author themselves?
Join the online community. There are so many great Facebook groups and people on Twitter, etc. They can offer moral support, help direct you to valuable blogs and resources, offer feedback on your process or work, and more. Once you become part of that ‘indie author community,’ you’ll make lasting friends, learn a ton, and hopefully embark on a long and satisfying career as a writer.
What’s your overall opinion on the indie publishing industry?
It’s a tough industry. You pour so much time and energy into creating something, and then realize that it is really flippin’ hard to get your creation noticed. I think there’s a lot of tremendous opportunity for aspiring authors, but success is a long road. Future best-selling authors will be the ones that not only wrote good stuff, but had the patience and fortitude to stick with it for the long haul.
And you are one of those authors around for the long haul. Are you lucky enough to be a full time writer, or do you have traditional employment eating into your writing time?
I’m an IT Project Manager. You might think that would make me a very organized writer. If you did think that, you’d be wrong.
I’ve worked professionally in IT and worked with many a project manager and I’m not disillusioned that it means you are an organised writer. So your job doesn’t sway your writing, instead does your reading tendencies style your writing?
Oddly, my favorite authors are mostly Sci Fi. Frank Herbert, Larry Niven, etc. But I do also love Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and the like. They’re the ones that really influenced my sense of humor, and how I try to convey that humor when writing.
Yeah, now that you mention it I think I’ve detected those Douglas Adams humor influences in your style. Is there a book that you wish that you’d written?
Dune by Frank Herbert. Wow. Just wow.
One day I will have to actually sit down and read Dune properly. Did you like Dune as a child? Or did you have another favourite?
Ringworld. I read it when I was in 6th grade, and have re-read it about 40 times since then.
That’s the mark of a good book. And now we’ve reached my personal favourite section of the interview, the quick fire round. Brace yourself Scott for the barrage of questions:
What is your favourite word?
What is your zodiac sign?
If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
I like the sound of that! Can you stand on your hands unassisted?
What are you currently reading?
Kingston Raine and the Grim Reaper by Jackson Lear.
What is your favourite quote?
“Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart.”
What is your best tip for authors?
Write. Write write write
If you could steal one thing without consequence what would it be?
Do you have any philosophies that you live by?
Who is your favourite literary character?
Silverlock in the book Silverlock by John Myers Myers. He’s a wonderful example of an anti-hero that really grows on you.
Can you curl your tongue?
Which are cooler? Dinosaurs or Dragons?
What is your favourite line, quote or statement from your book?
I make pretty good French toast
*Laughs*. Scott, thanks again for enjoying some laughs with me about Wisconsin Vamp and I hope that you keep enjoying your work on Book 3. For more quotes like this last question of today’s interview check out Scott’s book Wisconsin Vamp as a part of the 3rd Annual Vampire Books for Blood drive.
Want to connect with Scott? You can find him here: