It is sometimes said that every person has at least one book in them. But being an author is about a lot more than just writing a book.
After last week‘s interview with Seth Gray, author of sexy vampire serial Dead Boyfriend, I figured we might as well continue with the sexy vampire trend.
Tea? Check! Slice of my birthday cake? Check! (No, I’m not sharing. Mine!)
AMH: Let’s start with your writing. Split-Self is described as “Sex and the City if Carrie Bradshaw was a psychic vampire looking to feed instead of a single girl looking for love.” What is it about your story that will most appeal to readers?
Isa: Well, there is no “world saving” in Split-Self: the vampire is really just a normal twenty-something girl trying to survive in the big city like thousands of other post grads are right now.
As a result, Split-Self has none of the normal tropes that run around in vampire fiction and the story could go practically anywhere. Yes, there is some of the “is it wrong to feed off of people?” reflection and a little bit of the “vampires -vs- humans” theme that you usually see with the genre, but in the case of the latter this plays out less angsty melodrama and more theatre of the absurd which I think makes it both more interesting and entertaining.
Split-Self also spends a lot of time deconstructing the culture and social economic climate of New York City. Millions of people fantasize about living here based on TV shows and movies that are rarely even close to accurate, and that largely ignore a number of vibrant underground worlds. So it’s different than what readers have read in the past: different vampires, different New York.
AMH: Speaking of differences, the main character is not your traditional blood-sucking vampire. Can you tell us how a psychic vampire feeds off of others?
Isa: Wow that’s actually a pretty complex question. Some of it is and will be explained in detail in Split-Self, so I’ll just give you a general overview.
Psychic vampires feed off the life force energy of others. Theoretically this could be any kind of energy actually, but most psychic vampires prefer people because there’s less work converting it into something usable and therefore more bang for the buck.
The human body is constantly radiating energy and so the actual technique has three levels: they can pull energy that’s free floating around crowds and busy places (ambient feeding), they can skim energy that’s coming off the body of an individual (surface feeding), or they can go directly into the “soul” as it were and feed from there (core feeding).
There are advantages and disadvantages to each level; core is more potent (and delicious? haha) but because it’s so deep the barriers between the vampire’s mind and the donor’s mind are sometimes blurred in uncomfortable and dangerous ways. Surface feeding is more conservative, but when done over and over again the donor does develop a sense for what’s going on that is pretty similar to the effects of core feeding.
AMH: On to the website itself. Split-Self is posted on fluffy-seme, a website you run. Can you tell us about fluffy-seme, and why a webfiction author may want to use it?
Isa: When you start a business the first question you have to ask yourself is “what is the product?” and then you think about who’s going to use it and why.
While I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree in Japan, I learned a lot about the Japanese publishing industry: the “product” there is seen in a completely different way from the American industry. In Japan they are much less interested in selling the story and much more interested in leveraging the fan community to make oodles and oodles of money on all kinds of releases: print, audio, video, licensing, merchandising, etc.
As a result while the American side obsesses about copyright protection and figuring out a way to charge people for content … well, I have yet to hear anyone in Japan talk about the “Death of Print”. fluffy-seme is built on this concept: the writing is not the product, the fan community is the product. So we built a site that is specifically designed to host fan communities around stories.
Now the challenge for us going forward is developing those communities, which would be a whole hell of a lot easier if we were a division of Random House publishing the next Stephen King novel. So, to be frank, right now I’m not at all interested in convincing the authors that they want to use fluffy-seme I’m much more concerned with convincing *the readers* they want to use fluffy-seme.
AMH: And how, exactly, are you trying to convince readers to use fluffy-seme?
Isa: I’m not going to lie: it’s really really difficult. And since fluffy-seme came out of private beta in May we’ve had some successes and some … err … not quite there yet successes.
The big hurdle so far has not really been finding the readers, so much as it has been convincing the readers that we WANT you to make the story your own; we want you to point out problems, write fanfiction, complain and gush about the characters.
I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t want that, but whenever you have a platform where the writer is present in an obvious way I think there’s a lot of reluctance on the part of the reader to do or say something that might be “wrong” or somehow offensive.
There’s a little community around Season in the Red, for example, that does all of these things … just not always on fluffy-seme, which is driving me slowly insane because I get these really cute little emails with Season in the Red fanfiction or full out essays about what they think about this element or that part. I say “Wow, post this on the site!” and there’s a soft gasp followed by an “oh…. no … I just couldn’t!!”
Isa: I don’t know if I’d say it’s garbage, but I think as a theory it’s too simplistic. First, an income has to be sustainable. If it funds a writer for a year, or a few months then it’s not really an income, it’s just a butt load of money.
In my experience people do not stay fans of one thing forever and ever, but rather float from interest to interest. Keeping your 1,000 true fans engaged and funding you requires an endless supply of new content … some stories simply cannot maintain this, they have a beginning and they have an end.
The creative works that are successful at keeping their fans engaged indefinitely are the ones that allow outsiders to periodically come in and completely reinvent the story (e.g. Star Trek).
AMH: I’m a big believer in fan communities and the importance of fanfiction. I was wondering: did you ever write fanfiction, and if so, is there anything you’re ashamed to admit you’ve written?
Isa: OMG I love this question! Absolutely, I’ve been writing fanfiction for the last ten years … obviously not all my fics are literary gems, or even worth reading, but I don’t know if I would say there’s anything I’m ashamed of.
Mostly, I’m prepared to own up to the fact that I’m a deranged psycho. Although the stuff that I write that involves real people instead of fictional characters I prefer to keep locked up in private communities where only friends can find it. Hmm …. Well, I was the head writer on an epic anime based crossover fanfic black comedy about incest … my only regret there is that we never finished it!
AMH: Is it your love of fanfiction that lead to the name fluffy-seme, or was it something else?
Isa: Sort of. I got the domain “fluffy-seme” years ago after an online conversation on the types of characters I tend to prefer led to more or less coining the term (along with the delightfully snicker worthy catch phrase “Fluff your Seme”).
I held on to it for a long time without any real use for it, but once I started the publishing company it was the perfect name. The type of business model I’ve outlined works best with an audience of fangirls– no idea why, they just tend to be more responsive and creative — and the name “fluffy-seme” tells them immediately that this is a friendly place for them.
At the same time it doesn’t scare off people outside that demographic either. When people ask me what it means, I tell them “seme” is short for semeru, Japanese for “attack”, and “fluffy” is of course an English word meaning “playful, soft, gentle” … so fluffy-seme is translated to “playful attack”. Which is technically true, you could translate it that way :)
AMH: “Fluff your seme” is indeed snicker-worthy, and a great image with which to finish this interview. Any last words?
Isa: Yes actually, if you want to read about the fluffy-seme business model in much more detail or argue with me about the future of webfiction, we just launched a special subsite of fluffy-seme at http://biz.fluffy-seme.net where I’ve been posting not only the numbers on how we’re doing as business, but lots of great insider information that should be of interest to anyone thinking about taking their writing online.
And don’t forget to come back next week, for another author interview.