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Interview with Casa Dracula Author, Marta Acosta

If you don’t know Marta Acosta’s Casa Dracula series, then you’re missing out on a momentous opportunity for some focused geekish obsession. The series follows the adventures of her sarcastic, but unlucky character Milagro De Los Santos. Recently graduated from F.U. “Fancy University”, Milagro attempts to establish herself as a serious author, writing tales of corporation created zombies. At an obnoxious cocktail party thrown by her ex, she stumbles upon the man of her dreams. Who wouldn’t want a handsome, rich, plastic surgeon? In this case, probably anyone who likes to keep blood in their veins. Through a series of mishaps, Milagro manages to accidentally entangle herself in his bizarre life, and much hilarity unfolds. Needless to say, I am a huge fan, so much so that all of my copies are autographed, but I feel it’s important, when talking about why I chose to interview Marta Acosta, to describe the first time I met her.

At the time, I’d been cranking out books willy-nilly for friends and family (which probably make up most of my audience on this site) and had been struggling to gain any kind of acceptance in publishing. This was largely due to the fact that I had no idea where to start. I had scraped up some fundage and attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2008, where I felt like a funky looking, (but obviously learned and lethal) fish out of water with my Mohawk and super-high stilettos, but being precocious and stubborn, I came back for more punishment the following year, however disheartening it was to hear more about how difficult it is to get published, how much writers don’t know, and all the things I’d been doing wrong.

There was one perk in the grueling schedule of humility punctuated by humble carrot gazpacho, humble poached salmon, and humble raspberry sorbet, and that was that an author I knew and loved would be giving a panel discussion about something I totally needed: “branding”. Not cows, but yourself . . . as an author . . . creating a persona and a writing style that fits into a genre so that your work is easily accessible to everyone! I thought, “What luck! Marta Acosta is exactly the type of person I need to be talking to about this sort of thing!” I mean where can you turn when you write with what my mother affectionately calls a “lopsided” sense of humor while listening to fugues of Sci-Fi movie soundtracks or house mixes of the “Flight of the Bumblebees” on kazoos? You turn to a lady who has, to date, published five novels and created some of the most absurdly unique characters in all of modern satire.

So after Marta gave her very illuminating and humorous talk, I approached her, mostly stoked I was getting to meet someone I admired. I walked up boldly and told her that I loved her work and identified with her ever-tormented character Milagro, because I wrote exactly the same type of fiction and was in almost exactly the same situation, minus the peer group with bloodsucking genetic disorder. Marta seemed to take a step back without exactly moving, looked at me rather speculatively, and shook my hand. “How funny,” she said, “I’ve always felt like Milagro was kind of a Crackpot.”

After spending a few minutes laughing it off and trying to convince her that I wasn’t a Crackpot, but actually a talented, spectacularly fabulous writer who was just misunderstood, I realized that’s exactly what Milagro would do. I think Marta realized it too, because we struck up a conversation and have kept in touch ever since. Most of the best information I’ve picked up about this industry was furiously scribbled on my mental notepad at the local Borders while strolling the aisles with her. I’m sure she was just chatting with the weird girl from the conference whose hair was like a chameleon, but for me it was intensely informative. My inner sophomore was peeping out of my eyeballs, grinning . . . well . . . sophomorically.

I’ve taken all her advice very seriously and passed it along. Hopefully, one day in the future, Marta will go to a Borders and find that the genre of “environmental conservationist horror” or “preservationist science fiction” (ehem Avatar) is a standard, because then we might get to actually read a few of Milagro’s short stories (hint hint). I’m especially interested in the one about the screaming llamas.

One of the reasons Marta’s works have done so well is her occupation of a particular comedic niche somewhere east of chick lit, and far, far west of Transylvania. She says that she “was spoofing some of the trends of vampires as romantic heroes,” but that the “very flexibility of the vampire myth allowed {her} to use them in a comic situation. Both the vamps and {her} protagonist, Milagro, are the ‘other’ in society.” Marta seems to confront a few of the central inequities of California’s conglomerated culture of conspicuous consumption (say that ten times fast, I dare you), while staying just far enough removed to provide us, the audience, a sense of safety. We can think about what she says about racism or gender inequality, even while we’re laughing our asses off that Milagro has yet again managed to dress inappropriately, or spill something down her cleavage in front of her lover’s conservative parents.

“I think that we bring so much baggage to discussions of race and class that it’s difficult to have any kind of reasonable conversation. Not that I’m particularly interested in reasonable conversations…” she notes, and really, that makes me feel a heck of a lot better about many of the things that come out of my mouth. “But as a satirist, I learned that I can more effectively make my point by using humor. Of course, that may just be my justification for writing funny stories.”

Having had coffee with Marta several times, I know her to have a particularly witty personality. I asked her if her snarky way of handling sticky concepts had ever been under-appreciated. “. . . a lot of people think you have to write about grim and serious things to be a serious writer. Writing humor is just as difficult a skill as writing about death and pain and misery. As the saying goes, ‘Dying is easy. Comedy is hard’ . . . I don’t think I’m being especially snarky in my books, at least compared to my snarkiness in real life, because I want people to empathize with Milagro.”

And really, it’s difficult not to empathize with someone whose mother Regina seemed to be on a mission to short-circuit her immune system before the age of five, and that’s what I find so intriguing about the character. We’ve all been there – to the cocktail party where we didn’t quite fit in, on the spa retreat that seemed just a bit too frivolous for comfort, or even been conned by the occasional succubus. Through Milagro, we deal with it. As Marta put it, “She often jokes at her own expense . . . Whatever happens to her, she can laugh about it. I think laughter is a coping mechanism for stress, and I think it’s absolutely essential to living life well.”

I wondered if she ever thought about branching out, about taking her satire to another species, or planet. Little did I know . . . Nancy’s Theory of Style comes out on May 18 under Marta’s pen name, Grace Coopersmith. Grace Coopersmith? Really? That sounds exactly like a name Milagro might don when trying to go undercover, but Marta’s reasons are far more pragmatic. “The name is to set this romantic comedy apart from my Casa Dracula series . . . I wanted something simple, yet memorable and with a last name that began with one of the first letters of the alphabet, because I always look for books alphabetically when I go to bookstores.” she explains.

And if you are a die hard fan of Casa Dracula, then I’m sure you already know that yes, it’s that Nancy, “a young socialite with control issues who escapes her tacky McMansion and crass husband. She returns to her Pacific Heights pied-a-terre to work on her event planning company. When she hires an exquisite – and gay – assistant and gets stuck caring for her cousin’s four-year-old,” and of course, “mayhem ensues.” Though, according to Marta, this book “is not a direct offshoot of the Casa Dracula books. Some of the timelines are different.” But really, why would it be a direct offshoot? It’s Nancy’s story, and we know her reality is a little more like a fabulous impressionist painting than a photograph.

Marta has also recently been dipping her toe in the YA waters. Her Gothic novel The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove quickly rose to the number one young adult slot on Scribd.com, where it can be read for free! It has a different feel, a darker, spookier feel, and as Marta puts it, “celebrates those girls who like to learn.” We know what that is code for, don’t we female nerds and geeks with nerdish tendencies? Wo0t!

I was at her lecture, I know how hard it is to build a brand, and how hard it is to leave it once you’ve gotten it established. Marta had this to say about it, “people assume that I’m obsessed with vampires and that I’m writing torrid romances of amateurish quality, when I’ve been developing my writing skills all my life. They assume that I can only write in one style. Like my characters, I hate to be classified.” Of course, I had to ask if any of Milagro’s hurdles or successes as a writer mirrored any of Marta’s experiences with the publishing world. “Ha! I’m much more practical than Milagro.,” she replies. “She’s writing clearly loony stories, and I always think a little of Kurt Vonnegut’s character, Kilgore Trout, a failed writer. Milagro believes that ‘someday people will display {her} political zombie stories on their shelves with pride.’ I love that she follows her own vision, no matter how nutty that vision is.”

Yeah, I feel that one, but seriously . . . not a Crackpot!

Milagro’s agent tells her, “If you ever write anything marketable, call me,” which, according to Marta, “is something {she’s} been told.” But luckily for us, she believes that “writing is an extension of daydreaming” and does as much of that as possible.

When I asked her what inspired her, she replied, “My favorites are too numerous and diverse to mention. Books include: Twain, James, Austen, Waugh, Wodehouse, Bronte. Some of my fave movies and shows are quirky one-shots that basically destroyed the careers of their writer or director.” With her there. We all remember Strange Luck, right? Right?! Anyone? Ok, never mind. “As a general rule,” she says, “I prefer character-driven stories with wordplay, humor, and some action.”

She admitted she “was one of those girls with glasses and lots of books,” saying, “I took physics, Latin, and calculus, and read scifi voraciously. I loved these things. Except for Latin, but I loved the idea of Latin. My two-volume dictionary was always by my side as I read, and I looked up the etymology of words. I still do. I have minor OCD, so I get compulsive about things.” I feel this qualifies her for official geekdom, so I had to find out how often she geeks out. “I have a paranormal blog, Vampire Wire, that began as a way to promote my books, but has evolved into its own little crazy place of vampitude . . . the blog is how I geek out on a daily basis. Yes, I have done YouTube searches for vampire+mambo.” Which, I think we can all agree, makes her Awesome (capital “A”).

There was just one question left, a question so ensconced in the mind of the Casa Dracula fan, that even now, many are beginning to salivate uncontrollably and lose possession of other bodily functions; Oswald or Ian? Will we ever know? To this question of brain-hemorrhaging proportions, Marta says, “I knew for sure from the very first book. Jane Austen’s amoral and party-hardy siblings, Henry and Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park are the inspiration for Ian and his crafty sister, Cornelia Ducharme. Henry James also has some charming and sophisticated European siblings, Felix and Eugenia, who arrive and disrupt their naive American cousins in The Europeans. I’m not going to tell you who Milagro chooses, though. You have to wait for Haunted Honeymoon at Casa Dracula, which will come out in October.”

Argh! Well, all right, I will wait, but will do so with keen anticipation. While I’m waiting, biting my nails, pulling out hairs one by one, and possibly even pacing, I’m definitely going to check out Nancy’s Theory of Style! I’ve been looking for an excuse to keep all the animal print in my closet and according to Nancy, leopard is always in!

If you want to learn more about Marta Acosta and her books or stay up on events she’ll be attending, check out her website or find her geeking out on Vampire Wire.org!

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