Last week I reviewed the audiobook version of Tainted Moonlight. This week, I have the honor of interviewing the talented author Erin Kelly. In addition to being an author, Kelly is a graphic designer and elementary school art teacher. Living in Syracuse, New York, the setting of her current novel, she spends a lot of time working, planning lessons, drawing, and writing. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to audio books, playing video games, like Animal Crossing and Mass Effect 3, and watching Supernatural. A fun fact about Kelly is that she had a long running comic book in high school. Some of the art work was accepted to be used on set of a movie called Plan B that will be released on Hulu next year! To learn more about Kelly, read our full interview below!
Q) How long have you been writing?
A) I have been writing stories since I was really young. I remember a few stories I wrote way back in elementary school, around first and second grade, that were picture books. I can’t remember all the details of those first stories, but I do remember the characters pretty well. One of the first stories was about a unicorn and a pegasus that became friends despite their differences, and another was a self-insert story about me marrying my crush. When my parents divorced when I was seven, my father joined the Air Force and moved out to California. My brother, sister and I spent summers and alternating Christmases with him, so we spent a lot of time traveling and I filled that time with writing and drawing in my composition notebooks. I remember around fifth grade that I wanted to try and write my own chapter book, and that’s when I unknowingly began to write crossover fanfiction based on original characters and stories combining things that my brother, sister and I made up during those long trips. As much as I have always loved to read, writing gave me an outlet to create stories of my own, which I loved to work on any chance I got.
Q) Why do you write?
A) Writing has always been a wonderful escape for me. I enjoy creating characters and coming up with their stories, as well as the worlds they exist in. It’s an endless source of entertainment for me, and has been since I was young. It’s just plain fun, and now that I feel comfortable enough to share my stories, it’s an amazing feeling to hear from readers who love my characters as much as I do.
Q) What is your favorite genre to read? To write?
A) I really enjoy reading urban fantasy and horror, though I like the occasional mystery and law thrillers too. Right now I love writing urban fantasy, but I hope to branch out into fantasy and I have some ideas for some short horror stories as well.
Q) What is your favorite book and why?
A) It’s so difficult to pick a top favorite book when I love so many different stories. It’s like asking to pick my favorite child. If I had to pick one of my favorite books, I’d have to say the Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn. I’m kinda cheating here by naming a series, but the story isn’t complete until you have read all fifteen books and I love the journey of Kitty the werewolf (and the fun of having a werewolf named Kitty!). It’s a fantastic series and I highly recommend it if you have never read it before. If I did have to list a single book that I have reread to the point of the book falling apart, however, it’s The Firm, by John Grisham. Whenever I’m in a reading and writing funk, something about that law thriller helps get me back on track. I probably should buy a new copy of it though, as the first chapter and cover of it have basically disintegrated at this point.
Q) Who is your favorite author and why?
A) My favorite author is Carrie Vaughn, because her series helped inspire me while I was working on my own. She writes the Kitty Norville series, which starts at Kitty and the Midnight Hour, and is about a female, DJ werewolf who accidentally outs herself and the supernatural on her late night radio show, and ends up running a helpline for the creatures of the night. It’s so good, I highly recommend it. It’s also one of the first werewolf series that features a female protagonist in it, and I really love the characters and her lore behind the supernatural. I hope one day it gets adapted on screen.
Q) Who is someone that inspires you?
A) I find inspiration in a lot of the people around me. My writing and critique groups help with bouncing ideas together and seeing what works and doesn’t work in a story. Outside of my writing groups, I also have a lot of artist friends who are also a source of encouragement and inspiration. I was fortunate growing up to have a lot of support for my art and writing from my parents and friends. My biggest inspiration these days comes from my students and my niece and nephews. I see them growing up in this time of adversity and they give me renewed strength when dealing with life. My kids, though not mine biologically, are the reason I have hope for our future.
Q) What is your favorite supernatural being?
A) Werewolves are definitely my favorite (I know, probably obvious!), though vampires are a close second. I really like the possibilities that other animal shapeshifters bring to the table as well, such as werejaguars, werebears, and even wererats. Werewolves, or other variations of shape-shifting people, can be found in every culture across the globe, which is really neat because there are many different tales and lore out there to discover. Some cultures see werewolves as monsters, while other cultures revere and celebrate them. I find it all fascinating.
Q) What inspired Tainted Moonlight? What was your purpose for writing the story?
A) A one shot fanfic that my friend wrote, which we continued together, started this idea and then the idea took over. The theme that emerged from it, of monsters helping monsters, instead of fighting one another, became the cornerstone of my series. Korban’s story is one that a lot of different people can relate to. He’s the underdog (perhaps, underwolf?) of this tale. He has the odds stacked against him everywhere he turns, and yet he still manages to get by thanks to the help of his friends. A lot of that serves as a parallel to my own experience. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the help of some amazing friends along the way. Korban’s story resonated with me, and I had to tell it. I hope that people can find positive meanings from his story as well.
Q) Stories with werewolves have been around for a long time. What drew you to write an urban fantasy involving lycanthropes and how did you go about putting your own twist on it?
A) I did a lot of research on the lore of werewolves during the years of development for my series. I wanted to see what was out there, so that I could put my own unique spin on the supernatural. I watched a ton of movies and read piles of books. There’s a lot of good, bad, and really awful books and movies out there about werewolves, but I learned a lot through my research. I always have enjoyed reading horror and urban fantasy stories, so writing my own take on the genre was inevitable. By knowing most of what has been put out there on werewolves (but not all, that would take a lifetime!), I bent the rules just enough to make my own lore. In my story, there is a supernatural virus outbreak that occurs, which mutates some survivors into vampires and werewolves. There’s a lot that isn’t known about the origins of the virus to my characters, and as the series goes on more will be revealed. That’s all I will say without spoiling too much. In the third book Korban learns more about the origin, but even that is only the tip of the iceberg for what I have planned to come. I will say, surviving through a pandemic has given me new perspective on my research on viral outbreaks. On top of the supernatural lore that I looked into, I was asking medical questions to my sister who is a doctor and read up on the CDC’s response to a pandemic, including a preparation plan for a zombie outbreak (It’s true! Though there was a lot more on the site a couple years ago, check out here: https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/zombie/index.htm ). I may have done more research than was necessary, but I wanted to have a grounded base so that I could twist a bit of reality with my supernatural story.
Q) Were there any books or stories that influenced Tainted Moonlight?
A) Yes! There are many books that I have read through the years that influenced my writing style, from R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga to Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, but probably the most influential story of all was the source material for the fanfic that inspired my series: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (Mild spoilers for that book ahead). I was so upset by how others treated a werewolf in that story, and the idea of those inflicted with lycanthropy being prejudiced against because of their condition really upset me. My friend wrote a one shot story not too long after we read that book, it was a quick story that featured Remus Lupin/Sirius Black aka Wolfstar and it ended with a cliffhanger, something that my friend really liked to do to torment her readers. I got to thinking, and the injustice of what Lupin endured of losing his job because of who he was resounded with me. So, out of that outrage, my American werewolf rights’ activist, Lobo, was born. He came in, along with Sophie, and the two of them helped Lupin deal with the aftermath of that one shot story, and they ended up forming a pack. We had plans for them to change the laws of the Ministry of Magic and help start change for werewolves and other supernatural beings. The funny thing was, this idea sprang before reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Hermione’s own SPEW campaign, etc. For many reasons, we sadly were not able to finish that fanfiction series, but that idea of “monsters helping monsters” really stuck with me, even through the age of werewolves versus vampires. I kept thinking of how much they’d have in common, and that I wished the author had gone deeper into helping these werewolves who wanted to live as normal a life as possible, while treating the symptoms of their disease and dealing with their personal struggles to remain in control. That began my writing, and about a dozen rewrites before I finally published Tainted Moonlight in October 2016.
Q) For those that have read book 1, what can readers expect in books 2 and 3?
A) Mild spoilers ahead! Book two, Captured Moonlight, continues where we left off at the end of the first book. I won’t spoil too much, but Sophie and Korban find themselves lost in the Adirondack Mountains, and face new challenges when they encounter two very different types of werewolves in the wilderness. That book leads right into the third book, which deals with the aftermath of the first two books, and brings to light new complications and a lot of drama. Both Korban and Sophie grow and develop through the first three books. This is a bit of a mild spoiler, but in the first book, Korban is a lone wolf until Sophie is attacked, and suddenly he is torn- he can either continue to follow the rules, or bend them in order to help her out. As we go into the second book, the consequences of their actions lead them both to grow. Korban learns that he isn’t the only werewolf whose eyes remain like a wolf’s, and what comes with that ability, and Sophie comes into her own and regains her confidence that she lost as a result of the first book. The third book wraps up their first growth arc as characters, as Korban straddles the line between following unjust laws, and helping others, while Sophie learns to stand up for herself and faces a difficult choice between trying to reclaim her past, or moving forward into the future.
Q) I personally listened to the audiobook — and loved it! Can you tell us about the process of creating an audiobook?
A) I have known since before I published that I wanted to have an audiobook version of my story, though I wasn’t sure how to put it together at first. I wanted to be able to put my story in as many formats for my readers as possible. I ended up using the service ACX, which I an Amazon company, and the process was great. I plan on making a tutorial video to help other authors with the more detailed process, but the short version is that once you have a book published, you can use the ACX service to find a narrator through auditions or browsing their demos on the site, or upload your own recordings and sell them across Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. A bit of a heads up though for those who are looking into this, ACX doesn’t allow you to control when your audiobook is released, and their quality control process can take up to 30 days for review. They also control the price of your audiobook, at least the way I had released them, so there is that to know as well. Either way, it opens up your readers to a new way to check out your story, and it’s really neat to hear your story come to life in a new way. I definitely recommend it, even with the pitfalls.
Q) Torian Brackett is an amazing narrator. How did you come to work with him, and what is it like to have him narrate your story?
A) Torian is an amazing, talented, and wonderful person to work with, and I am so lucky that I was able to hire him when I could. The timing was totally serendipitous. I had been thinking about making an audiobook for Tainted Moonlight for a couple years now, ever since I published it and started promoting my series. I just never got the chance to do it because I was spending my time preparing for conventions and library events, and it always got pushed aside. With the pandemic happening, some unfortunate changes led me to looking more seriously into making this happen. All my plans for events were suddenly off the table, which I know many people can relate to, unfortunately. On top of that, I had been hired as a full time art teacher the day before schools closed in Oneida County, New York, and I had been so elated, and then utterly devastated when that happened. I ended up getting the dreaded call that my position had been deleted due to budget cuts in May, and a few days before I got that call I had started looking into ACX to produce my audiobook. I was heartbroken to lose my job before I could even start it and get to know my students, so I threw myself into getting this project started. I set up my account, and let it sit, waiting for auditions to come in for about twenty or thirty minutes. I began to explore the site and saw that there were demo reels available, and Torian’s demo was on that first page. I listened to a few others before I listened to his, but the moment I heard his voice I knew he was the narrator for my story. It just clicked and I went to his website, checked out more of his work, and the first thing I saw on his site- and you really can’t make something like this up – was a review about him playing Wolf from Into the Woods. It was like a sign, and it made me smile. So I reached out to him, and made him an offer to produce Tainted Moonlight. He accepted, and the rest is now history. Torian is such a wonderful talent and I’m so glad that we were able to connect when we did. Right now we are recording the third book, Infected Moonlight, and I am blown away by his range and the genuine emotion that he is able to convey in my characters. It sounds so vain, but he really brings the story to life in such a way that even I, as the author, can enjoy listening to my own story over and over again.
Q) Do you have any available books in addition to the Tainted Moonlight series? If so, can you tell us about them?
A) Right now as of this interview, I sadly do not have other books published. Tainted Moonlight is my debut series, but I do have some plans for other stories to come. I have another urban fantasy series in the works that is in development, and I’m hoping to maybe kick that off in 2021 or 2022, while continuing to write in the Tainted Moonlight series. My personal goal is to have two novels out each year, one for my first story and one for the upcoming and unnamed series, so I’m trying to form the habit of working on two books at the same time.
Q) Can you tell us about your current WIP and what readers can expect from you in the future?
A) Right now I’m working on the fourth book, Awakened Moonlight, as well as a prequel serial that I plan on releasing before Awakened’s release that will shine light on previously unrevealed events from when the initial outbreak occurred. I’m really excited because I have some big plans for the serial, including the addition of illustrations when the serial is completed and in its printed form. I’m really looking forward to continuing my current series, I have some really exciting plans for the fifth book, and it doesn’t end there. I currently have very loose outlines for the next six books in the Tainted Moonlight series, and even some spin off ideas that would explore the same universe with different characters. I’m always brainstorming new ideas for where my characters and their world can go. I don’t see an ending in sight yet for the series, but I’m tentatively planning a run of at least fifteen books.
Q) What are your hopes and vision for your writing?
A) My hope is that my story connects with my readers, and makes them think about how they treat other people. Even though my story deals with the supernatural, the heart of the story is about treating others with kindness. I am a firm believer that you don’t have to fully understand what someone is going through in order to treat them kindly. We all have our own struggles that we deal with, and everyone fights their own battles, some that we can see, and others are more internal. It costs us nothing to be kind but it can be a huge difference for someone who is struggling. It’s important to not lose sight on the fact that we are all human beings doing our best to navigate this world together. Many supernatural stories are used as an allegory to represent the misunderstood and prejudice, and I’m definitely not the first nor the last person to approach this topic. I think the message of being kind to others is worth repeating especially this year when we have all gone through something horrific together. My hope is that one day we won’t dehumanize others and find common ground in the human experience.
Q) What advice do you have for other authors?
A) I’ve given this advice before, but it remains true and worth repeating. My advice is to write when you can, and when you can’t write read. I’m fortunate that when I hit the dreaded writer’s block that I usually can get into a drawing mode, so that I’m always creating something, but even when that fails, reading has never let me down. It tends to refresh my creativity to just enjoy other stories. I have recently gotten into audio book production as well, and so I have been listening to books and it really opens up a whole other world when you can multitask and read at the same time. I also enjoy stories in other formats, such as video games and Netflix, but it’s so important that when you are writing you take the time to read other works too.
My other bit of advice is if you want to be a successful author, you need to make sure you treat it with professional care. There are so many options for publication now, and I chose the route that works for me by independently publishing. However, if you go that route expect to put the work in so that you are selling the best version of your story. That means investing in a professional editor, and a book cover. You want to put your best foot out there, and you want to make sure that your readers have an enjoyable experience reading your story in its best form. I learned this the hard way, unfortunately, with the very first edition of Tainted Moonlight, where I had taken some bad writing advice when it comes to switching tenses, and the number one complaint I got from my first batch of readers was they had trouble with the different tenses. So I hired my editor, and she helped me improve my story, and ever since then I have had much better reviews coming in. I now make sure a professional editor goes over my manuscript prior to release, but please if you take nothing else away, learn from my mistake.
Ultimately, remember this – only you can write your story. Don’t be discouraged if your story gets compared to things that exist. When I started out and pitched my story to people as a story about werewolves and vampires, they immediately compared it to Twilight, because that’s what they know about. There are so many stories about the supernatural out there, but there’s only one series that belongs to me.
I have a section on my website that has more resources for authors, which includes a lot of links to information and videos, and I’m going to start a monthly vlog for advice based on my experiences in the publishing world. I hope to pay it forward to other new authors. I had great mentors who have helped me along my publication journey but not everyone has that, so I want to make sure to help any way I can. I also welcome any specific questions, I have contact information on my site as well, so please feel free to reach out to me anytime and I will get back to you.
Make sure no matter what you do, write your story. You can do it!
Remember to follow Erin Kelly on social media to stay up to date with her and her writing!