Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sex, Blood & Rock'n'Roll: An Interview with Jeri Smith-Ready

By Kayley Thomas

Jeri Smith-Ready's third novel in the WVMP Radio series is out today, July 27th! I had the pleasure of chatting with Jeri a bit last week about the series and its newest installment, Bring on the Night, a book I recommend you all go out and buy. A quick summary of the book to bring you up to speed:

"Recovering con artist Ciara Griffin seems to finally have it all. A steady job at WVMP, the Lifeblood of Rock 'n' Roll. A loving relationship with the idiosyncratic but eternally hot DJ Shane McAllister. A vampire dog who never needs shots or a pooper-scooper. And after nine years, it looks as if she might actually finish her bachelor's degree!

But fate has other plans for Ciara. First she must fulfill her Faustian bargain with the Control, the paranormal paramilitary agency that does its best to keep vampires in line. Turns out the Control wants her for something other than her (nonexistent) ability to kick undead ass. Her anti-holy blood, perhaps?

Ciara's suspicions are confirmed when she's assigned to a special-ops division known as the Immanence Corps, run by the Control's oldest vampire and filled with humans who claim to have special powers. To a confirmed skeptic like Ciara, it sounds like a freak fest. But when a mysterious, fatal virus spreads through Sherwood—and corpses begin to rise from their graves—Ciara will not only get a crash course in zombie-killing, but will be forced to put her faith, and her life itself, in the hands of magic." -Official blurb


Another vampire series, you say? Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s a vampires series. But no, it’s not just another one. The WVMP Radio books have bite.

Sad, sorry pun, I know. It’s true, though. Jeri mixes some seriously sexy, sometimes frightening bloodsuckers with a snappy, sardonic wit that you can really cut your teeth on. The WVMP series – beginning with Wicked Game, followed by Bad to the Bone, and now Bring on the Night – boasts a kickass heroine in Ciara Griffin, former con artist gone good with a marketing internship at a local radio station. Or at least, that’s how it all began back in Wicked Game. A little more background, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into the first two books:

The crux of the novels begin with Ciara's discovery that the radio station – WVMP – is DJed by an eclectic crew of vampires. Think about it: it’s the perfect job. No one has to see you, you can record your show any time and, in Jeri’s vampire ‘verse, it helps you stay in touch with your humanity. Each vampire was “turned” in a different decade, part of which they still hold onto in their behaviors and attitudes. There’s sensitive grunge cutie Shane McCallister (sorry ladies, Ciara snags him), turned in 1995; goth-punk Regina in her black eyeliner and blacker moods, turned in 1987; chill, reggae-loving Noah, turned in 1979; the psychedelic, tune-in-and-drop-out Jim, turned in 1970; blues gent Monroe Jefferson, turned in 1940; and rockabilly Southern boy Spencer, turned in 1959.

Though Ciara and Shane’s relationship bring the two of them to the forefront, each vampire has their own distinct personality, musical leanings, and backstory, making for a rich ensemble cast – one that at times is sure to clash, from their tastes in tunes to their beliefs. Each vampire is bound to their past – if they lose touch with it, they waste away. But they still have to survive in our world, one with increasingly few places for a vampire to hide and thrive. The radio station offers the perfect solution, but when it starts going down the tubes, Ciara comes up with a brilliant plan: hide in plain sight. Market the radio station as exactly what they are – vampire DJs, sexy and mysterious with unique radio programs and personalities. An elaborate fantasy that a vamp-crazed culture is bound to buy into, and who would ever guess that everything they say is true?

But of course, life – and life after death – can never go so smoothly. Throw in threats of corporate radio takeover, anti-vampire groups intent on exposing them, crazy cults, a mysterious group called The Control, and Ciara’s own dark history, and you’ve got a series that knocked me off my feet. I fell in love with Wicked Game, devoured Bad to the Bone, and can’t wait for my copy of Bring on the Night. This is a series that you don’t want to miss – sexy, fun, dark, sly, and unique.

Jeri and I talk the new novel, the state of the vampire, kickass heroines and their dreamy vampire boyfriends, the series’ rockin’ soundtrack and the overall importance of added zombies.

What can you tell us about Bring On the Night?

Jeri: Bring on the Night is the 3rd book in the WVMP Radio urban fantasy series (aka, the vampire DJ books). I think it's a good jumping-in point for new readers, because it takes place 2.5 yrs after the end of Bad to the Bone. It's also more urban fantasy/action adventure than the previous two volumes. It's got zombies!
But for current readers, it'll be particularly rewarding, because Ciara and Shane and their friends take a huge leap forward in terms of character development. A lot of things change in BOTN, to say the least! That's why we've kept the book a bit of a secret, only doing a limited mailing of ARCs. We didn't want spoilers to get out about the Big Developments.

While it still has a lot of humor, it's a bit darker and more intense than Wicked Game and Bad to the Bone, for reasons which will become obvious. Also...zombies!

From the descriptions I've read, the Control will be playing a big part. That has seemed to naturally progress with the books. When you first wrote Wicked Game, how much of this story did you have in mind? Was the Control always lurking and looming?

Jeri: I had the first three books planned out from the first few days of pondering the book. So it's really all been leading up to this! As for the Control, there was a reason why I called them the International Agency for the Control & Management of Undead Corporeal Entities, not the International Agency for the Control & Management of Vampires--I always wanted to allow for zombies. :) Because they are created using blood magic, like vampires, they don't really clash, worldbuilding-wise. I'm kind of a purist (with my own work, at least, not as a reader) and want it to all make sense and be part of the same "mythology."
I also think an org like the Control is necessary when you have vampires trying to stay secret. Someone has to protect humans, and also protect vampires' anonymity. As a former policy student, I'm fascinated by how agencies struggle to balance their own needs with the needs of those they "regulate.

I see the Control as a neutral force, not good or evil, by the way. They are pure pragmatists, which Ciara admires on some level.

It's really interesting to me that you bring in your experiences with public policy to the story. Certainly there's a pragmatic, more realistic tone to your writing, even as you're exploring a mythical subject. It seems much more reasonable that, if vampires exist and have existed for so long, there are people who a) know about them and b) would seek to regulate their existence, like any other fringe cultures and groups, as a threat and as protection. That sort of brings me to another question...

Your savvy treatment of the vampire genre within the books, especially Wicked Game, has always interested me. Certainly there’s a picture there in Ciara’s marketing of how to talk about vampires and their stories, and how to receive them. Was that borne at all of an experience with the genre and/or a reflection on the current state of the genre?

Jeri: Interesting question! I try as much as I can, especially with this series, to make it feel like it's part of our world, like you could bump into these vampires in the grocery store (well, liquor store, since they don't eat). Part of our world is that fascination with vampires, so Ciara does play on that to accomplish her goals. In fact, you could say it's one reason why the vampires survive--there are always willing donors who are really into vampires and that subculture.

As for it being partly about the genre itself, I think it's impossible for any vampire author to not reflect what's come before them. It's so rich and varied. What I really hate to see, though, is vampire authors dissing what's come before them, saying, "Well, I didn't like the way vampires were being done because [insert snide comment], so I decided to create my own." I think we're all guilty of it at one point or another, though, because we each have our own ideas of what they should be like. But we should also respect each other's work, even if it's not our cuppa joe.
It also goes back to one of my pet peeves--saying that vampires (or any other creature) have to be a certain way. I think if an author makes a creature believeable, that's what counts.

It's because hey, they don't exist, so why should anything about them be sacred. If one is writing about real creatures, like wolves or snakes or spiders, yes, there are things they can and can't do. But vampires? Fictional! OK, go.

Exactly! If there was only one distinct model of a vampire, sprung fully formed from the author's head and perfected, I'd have read Stoker and Polidori and have been done with it. The amazing thing about this genre - speculative fiction in general - is just that, the specualtive...Creating new worlds and leaving room for more, riffing off of each other, sure, like any old folklore.

What about other vamp stories - books, movies, TV, etc - out there right now? Are there any you are particularly a fan of?

Jeri: I'm a huge BUFFY fan. I also love Christopher Moore's and Mary Janice Davidson's vampires. Adrian Phoenix has a fascinating mythology in her Maker's Song series, mixing them with a pantheon of angels, fallen and otherwise. In YA, I love both House of Night and Vampire Academy.

Ciara is such an incredibly strong female character. She has her vulnerabilities and her flaws, but she’s clever, kicks ass, and gets the boy. She reads realistically with a genuine personhood to her. How would you say she has grown from book to book?

Jeri: Ciara's journey is from isolation/independence to love/interdependence. It completely goes against her nature as a con artist--they learn to get attached to no one, and to stay on the move constantly. Even before WG, she has already formed a friendship with Lori, but in WG she meets this crazy "family" of vampires who, as she says, makes the Munsters look like the Cleavers. Over the course of the series, she becomes really attached to them (and especially Shane). Beginning in Book 4 (LET IT BLEED, August 2011), she'll start to reconnect with her blood relatives, too, who are probably even scarier than the vampire
I think Ciara's journey is a common one for people her age. In our mid-20s we desperately want our own identity and be our own people, so we often complete the disconnection that starts in adolescence.

So, Shane...Where do I even begin? I admit without shame having a bit of a crush on him! What do we see happening with him in Bring on the Night, without giving too much away?

Jeri: When BOTN begins, Shane has been rehearsing with his new band, (Vital Fluid, which we'll see a lot more of in LET IT BLEED) and waiting for Ciara to return from Control orientation. The day after she returns is his 15th "deathiversary." Regina throws him a wake, at which she plays out an episode of "This is Your Unlife." He gets a couple of unexpected blasts from the past, both welcome and..not so much

Turns out he has much bigger plans for this big night than anyone knows. Heh.

You’ve released some short stories on your web site within the WVMP universe - Were any of those in your head before the books? Do you have any plan of writing more, maybe gathering them together for print?

Jeri: Four of the vampires' "turning" stories can be found on my website. Shane, Monroe, Spencer, and Jim's are there, each with its own playlist. I plan to write Regina's and Noah's someday, but deadlines are thankfully very tight, so there hasn't been time for over a year.
For Noah's, of course, I need to take a trip to Jamaica!

I have no plans to collect them into print, since I want them to be available to everyone for free. The idea is to give readers a deeper look into the world so that they continue to be interested in the books. BUT, I'm doing a tie-in short story for a YA vampire collection coming out this December, ETERNAL: More Love Stories with Bite, edited by PC Cast. It features one of Ciara's Irish Traveler cousins, who will make an appearance in LET IT BLEED.

Music is a huge part of the WVMP Radio series, obviously. Which came first: the music, or the story? Have any of the songs on the soundtrack lists distinctly shaped part of the story? Sorry, had to try to slip in the quasi-High Fidelity reference.

Jeri: Heh, LOVE High Fidelity--one of my favorite books. The WVMP series was actually spawned by a song I heard on the radio ("Bad Company," which I thought would be a great title for a book--turns out it was not a good title for a book, but at least it got the ball rolling). And different songs have definitely sparked ideas for specific scenes, or maybe the moods thereof.

Oh yes! In Bad to the Bone, Shane communicates to Ciara and Jeremy through his "5:54am songs" while they're being held captive. It gives them clues as to when the cavalry is coming. And yes, it was "Bad Company" by Bad Company...off the album, Bad Company. ;)

Okay, Wicked Game: The Movie. Is that something you’d be on board with?

Jeri: Sure, why not? Although I actually see it more as a TV series, because of its ensemble cast and continuing storylines. (I would love to see David Chase, who did the Sopranos and Northern Exposure tackle it, because I know he loves music.)

One of my beta readers, however, said that BRING ON THE NIGHT was the first one he saw more as a movie than a TV show, because of its epic conflicts and shorter timeframe. Or maybe it was the climactic vampire/zombie smackdown.


Though I'd be more than happy to catch the WVMP crew on my TV every week, as a book series this is a truly fun and rewarding read. Jeri’s as insightful about her own work as she is clever in the writing of it, and I hope you'll all go out and buy Bring on the Night. Jeri is also the author of Shade, the first book in a new YA urban fantasy series that came out just this past May with another strong female protagonist and unique mythology. Be sure to check out her website for more info on all of her work.

The thing about Jeri's characters is that they really come to life - even the undead ones. Ciara, Shane, and their crew are immensely believable in all of their intricacies and idiosyncrasies; you'll get sucked into their stories, immersed in their conflicts and invested in their futures. You'll want a girl like Ciara at your back, in-your-face and fierce as she is. You'll want Shane to come over and go OCD on your CD collection because in a world constantly changing around him while he stays the same, he wants something he can have control over. Some of my readers will probably also want him to throw you down on your bed and have his wicked way with you - or you'll at least enjoy reading about it from Ciara's point of view - I know I did ;) Did I mention that these books have some steam to them? There's vampire action and...there's vampire action. Nothing too explicit - just explicit enough!

I trust that Bring on the Night will bring with it Jeri's trademark heady mix of humor, suspense, ass-kicking, sex, and rock 'n' roll. The WVMP series is urban fantasy at its finest - a story that melds the fantastic with the everyday so perfectly that you want to live in this world and you think, maybe, if you're lucky, you might just run into one of these vamps on the street. Whether or not that's an encounter you'll live to regret, well...

Read the books and find out what Jeri's brand of vampire - and zombie! - is like. There are so very many vampire tales, for better or worse, but Jeri's series is one that deserves to stand out.

Be sure to check out the WVMP Lifeblood of Rock 'n' Roll web site, which offers profiles and music from each of the DJs. You can also catch some amusing banter between Ciara and Shane on Twitter. While you're at it, follow Jeri on there too!

Bring on the Night by Jeri Smith-Ready is out on July 27th, 2010. Get your copy at Mysterious Galaxy, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore. Read an excerpt from the novel here.


  1. wow awesome interview! thanks so much for this!
    Cant wait to get my hands on BOTN!

  2. Thank you! It was a blast to talk to Jeri about her work - she's so articulate and passionate. I should be getting my copy of the book today - there goes my night :)

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment - I appreciate it!