Nerine Dorman is an author from Cape Town, South Africa who is a rising star. She creates scintillating paranormal novels, erotica, and good reads with not only a supernatural element but a South African flavor. I had a chance to interview her and she was generous to offer the following responses:
1. When did you start writing? How many novels have you written? What are their titles?
I first started stringing words together for my pleasure when I was about twelve or thirteen. I just remember being extremely bored in a geography lesson the one day. I’d been reading a lot of Anne McCaffrey at the time, so was very much inspired to write a SF epic of Pernese proportions. I only stopped writing for a short while between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six, because I realised I hadn’t lived enough. But even this time wasn’t a complete loss because I embarked on a series of twenty-something misadventures that provided valuable fodder for my later writing. I’m a thug at heart, which is probably a throw-back of my ancient Scandinavian ancestors a few hundred years ago. During my early twenties I did write a lot of magazine articles for an assortment of publications, so I’ve had a broad range of experience with research and writing.
The first novel was Khepera Rising, a bit of a fluke since not only was it the first novel I ever wrote but it was the first I ever sold. After that came Khepera Redeemed then Tainted Love (erotic romance writing as Therése von Willegen).
There are a few “lost” novels between these, one of which is a YA urban fantasy I’m possibly still revising, pending my feelings about the work when I’m done with some of my current projects.
I’ve two releases this year, an urban fantasy novella entitled The Namaqualand Book of the Dead, and another erotic romance, Hell’s Music.
My two WiPs are on the go, so I’m quite happy to say the floodgates are bust and the words are flowing. I don’t think I lack for ideas. I certainly don’t have enough time to write all the ideas stored on my hard drive.
2. When you look at your past work, what thoughts do you have? How has your writing developed?
I would have done things differently. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I had a clue what I was doing when I wrote Khepera Rising. For a debut novel it’s not bad, and I’m proud of it, but that is also largely due to having had a brilliant editor guide me after my crit partners had a good go at me. Since then I’ve learnt a lot about the craft, trying to spin tales that don’t dither or get bogged in exposition. I’ve got a few “lost” manuscripts I know I’ll never go back to that were just so flawed I’d only return to them in order to cannibalise cool characters or scenarios.
A writer knows when to let go of an idea that doesn’t work, and to apply what she’s learnt to the newer works. I’d say my writing flows much better, that there aren’t so many scenes where not a helluva lot happens. Right now I’m working to up the emotional impact of my words, and to layer scenes so the writing is more textured.
Of course it helps that, for the past five years now I’ve been employed as a sub-editor at a newspaper publisher. I’ve learnt a lot about how to self-edit based on the training I’ve received in my work environment, and also the encouragement and help from the assorted writing groups I belong to.
3. What advice would you have for people who want to be writers?
Read as many different novels as you can, outside your genre. Read the classics. Read the “how to” books by folks like Donald Maass and Stephen King. Go check out www.absolutewrite.com to see the forums there. Hang out with other writers. Write every day. Find yourself a dedicated writers’ group to work within. Revise, read, write… Don’t give up. Never be too proud to take constructive criticism. Don’t be precious over your words. I’ve fought tooth and claw to be where I am right now and I’m never satisfied to settle for second best.
4. Out of all of your characters, which one is your favorite? Why? Was it patterned after any living person?
There’s a lot of me in my protagonists. I’ll always have a special place for Jamie of the Khepera novels, just because he represents all my worst characteristics and he’s just so damn annoying. He annoys my readers as well, yet they oddly end up cheering for him. But I’m kinda nuts about my current protagonist, Ash, who was inspired by two dreams I had last year when a certain musician I’m fond of passed away. It’s all very personal but sometimes these stories hit you with all the force of a runaway road train and you just have to write them. Ash came into being when I thought of the worst possible scenario in which to drop a once-powerful being. In a way he’s a tribute to a man whose music has played a large part in my life.
5. Many of your works have a supernatural element. Which elements of the supernatural do you find fascinating? How do you conceive of new and interesting ways to incorporate these elements in your fiction?
I’ll be honest. I’m a bit obsessed with death and dying, and what happens afterward. I’ve faced death four times: twice by disease, twice by my own hand. It’s not a nice place to be and a central theme is often the continuation of consciousness after physical death. I’ve lost a lot of people close to me, the most painful being my “uncle” Shaen. I carry a lot of guilt for him in particular because I never went to see him in hospital when he was ill. I was too scared. But I went to his funeral, which offered some catharsis and laid the framework for my current work in progress, which is very much themed on death and the afterlife.
Demons and ghosts feature quite highly. I’ve had a bit of a twisted upbringing in a strict Calvinist background, so any subject that was considered taboo (the occult) has become my bread and butter. In many ways I’ve become the very thing I feared the most when I was a kid. Maybe it’s just my way of embracing that fear and becoming a whole person composed of both light and dark elements.
I love collecting other people’s stories relating to demons, ghosts and other inexplicable entities. I don’t necessarily believe in them, but I don’t discount their existence either. I’m quite happy to say “I don’t know” but hell, when I uncover these anecdotes, I start looking for ways to illustrate them in my tales.
Sometimes weird stuff happens around me but it doesn’t scare me. I see myself almost as a literary paranormal investigator at times. I embrace the unknown and the stuff that goes bump in the night.
6. How does being from South Africa inform your writing?
Write what you know. That’s my rule. Since I live in Cape Town and have travelled throughout southern Africa, this is what I write. I’ve had rejections from publishers and agents who say my writing isn’t “recognisably African” but in my mind that’s a load of absolute bollocks. I don’t have bloody elephants roaming in my home town (unless they’ve escaped from the circus, and that has happened) and I certainly don’t live in a mud hut. The closest lions to me live in a sanctuary for abused and neglected lions rescued from zoos and canned hunting breeding centres. People have this misconception that South Africa is “Africa”. It’s not. I live in a first world environment that’s coloured by its colonial roots. It’s a place where Europe, Africa and Asia have collided.
I do believe I can offer my readers a recognisable setting with exotic influences. So, while I’m not writing about any game safaris any time soon, I offer a virtual tour of my world that has socio-environmental slants you won’t find in the States or Europe. Something different, but with a touchstone of familiarity.
7. Who would you like to read your novels? Which demographic? Which individual person– living or dead? Why?
I write the kind of stories I want to read, so anyone who’s into alternative subcultures and bohemian lifestyles will get something a little bit more up their alley. I write about people who are anything from drug dealers, to black magicians, strippers, barmen, musicians, artists, bookshop owners… Essentially the people your mother warned you to avoid.
If you like Tim Burton’s early movies, wear inordinate amounts of black and have a poster of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman somewhere on your wall, know about bands like Type O Negative and A Pale Horse Named Death, and have danced to Bauhaus’s A Passion of Lovers, or groan when the DJ spins the extended version of the Sisters’ Temple of Love, you’re going to be on familiar turf.
And for those who’ve always been fascinated by alternative subcultures, you’ll find plenty of that in my stories. I’m so sick of watered-down Hollywood representations of the goth, metal and body modification scene. I offer the real thing, because that’s where I’m at. Many of my friends are photographers, tattoo artists, burlesque girls, magicians, body piercers, strippers, musicians, performance artists, witches and indie filmmakers. I’ve hung out with rubber dolls, attended BDSM play parties, helped suspend people from meat hooks and eaten sushi off “live” platters. My life is always a little too interesting…and these interests, no matter how bizarre, reflect in what I write.
8. Do you think that being bi-lingual influences your writing? How?
I’ll let you into a secret. I’m actually an Afrikaner (South African of mingled Dutch and French descent). In fact, I don’t have a single drop of British blood flowing through my veins. The irony is that I can barely speak my mother tongue anymore. I sometimes add a little Afrikaans to my novels, but not enough to annoy people. It’s a nice little bit of colour, the same way a novel set in France or New Orleans may end up with a little French thrown in for the bargain. I have no idea what the French means but it sounds cool. Though I have an erstwhile Jewish friend who says Afrikaans sounds a bit like Yiddish…
9. How do you think a bookseller would describe your writing to someone that they were recommending it to?
I’d first find out what sort of books the person normally reads. I’ve sold books to people who read mostly crime, based purely on the fact that I can describe both my Khepera books as “occult crime thrillers” (which they are). Yet I can also peg the Khepera books as horror or urban fantasy. People who enjoy Neil Gaiman and Poppy Z Brite’s earlier works, will enjoy the books. As for my contemporary erotic romance line, these tales are so gritty compared to the usual romance fare, I’d say it’s easy for people who enjoy my “serious” genre fiction to cross over to that if they’re in the mood for something “lighter”. I’m a bit of a brat, so I’ll always find some selling point.
Nerine’s novels include:
The Namaqualand Book of the Dead
You can read more about The Namaqualand Book of the Dead: http://www.lyricalpress.com/store/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=81&products_id=313
Follow Nerine’s blog here: http://nerinedorman.blogspot.com
Or like her Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nerine-Dorman-author/173330419365374