So far, Neill has been working on 3-book contracts. There have been seven so far, and there will be at least three more, depending on sales. (the eighth (Biting Bad) comes out in August) Originally, she thought the main storyline would fill eight books but eight are finished and there’s more to tell. Though she has no set end point for the series right now, she said she’ll continue to write them as long as Merit keeps growing as a character and as long as the mystery remains. Later on in the event she shared that she is not planning on closing up the series soon, per se, because she still very much loves the characters and they are still fresh for her. Well, except for McEttrick. She admitted that he can be sneaky and hard to get a handle on. There will not be any more books in her Dark Elite YA series, but she has played around with the idea of a spinoff-type series, where it is a second generation and the main characters in that series are the adults. It would be darker, she says, and concentrated on human-vampire relations.
I found Neill’s story to be very intriguing as she did not always dream of becoming an author. In fact, she did not even start writing until 2005 and she joked that the only literature course she took in college was titled “African Novel,” though she did go to a liberal arts college where most of her exams were essays. (I hear that!) She began writing after a marriage fell apart and she spent an extensive amount of time reading every Regency romance out there. At that time there wasn’t a ton of vampire fiction out but she said that she was a fan of the Anita Blake series…well, until the series changed at least. She also loved Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series and wrote some fan fiction for that series. She created a character and had the character interact with others from the Dark Hunter series and after doing this, she got the idea for Merit’s character. After that, it was quite a short road to publication. Neill wrote the first Chicagoland book in four months. At that time, some publishers were still accepting unagented manuscripts and hers (3 chapters and a query letter) was picked out of “the slush pile” by an editor at Penguin, and they bought the first two books. She did not even have an agent until after that point in time. Neill said she initially went to that specific imprint, New American Library, because it published Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series, which she is a fan of.
Someone in the audience asked who Neill pictures when she pictures Ethan’s character, while implying that this discussion had been going on for quite a while and that the answer is David Beckham. Since I am not super tapped into the Chicagoland gossip, this came as news to me. Neill confirmed that initially she never did but after that series of underwear ads that Beckham did, she admits that he is who she pictures in her mind when she hears Ethan’s dialogue. I was sitting in the audience at this point thinking, “But his voice is kind of weird and I don’t picture him with that voice,” and then Neill said, “Well, except for the voice.” Thank you for that. Seriously. The next question was about why she chose to give the vampires silver eyes when they have heightened emotions. Neill answered this by saying that it was mostly just because she wanted them to have some outward sign of emotion and the silver was just because she likes the color more than gold.
Next, she spoke quite a bit about her writing process. Because the books have such a strict deadline, she has to be organized and diligent which she says is actually hard for her, as she is a procrastinator by nature. She spends about two to three months writing a first draft and then three to four months editing the prior book after it comes back from her editor. Though Neill says she is good at dialogue, she finds plotting much harder and has to work with her editor on it. (She later said that if you like the series, it’s because of her editor.) Neill writes a short outline of what will happen in the book before she starts out and she has to write every day and achieve a minimum word count of about 1000-1500 words per day to stay on track. Amazingly, she still has a full-time job. She says she doesn’t think she’d be any good at full-time writing because she needs a routine and things to do all the time. As it is, she squeezes in her writing every evening by sitting in bed with her laptop and keeping Adult Swim on in the background. If she can keep her concentration on writing, it can be finished up in an hour but like the rest of us, she often succumbs to the interwebz. On the weekends, she spends about five or six hours writing and doing marketing stuff for her books. In terms of how she approaches writing, she said she used to just do random scenes and patchwork them together but too often she’d forget she’d written something and lots of stuff would need to be cut so now she just writes straight through the story. All of the installments are about 93,000-96,000 words and she ends up cutting about 10,000-20,000 words every time and adding the same amount of new material back in.
Another point was added in the “Neill is awesome” column for me when she talked about how much she loves Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb’s In Death series, which I love still in anticipation of the thirty-sixth or so installment. Someone asked her about the reaction from readers after the big plot twist of book four, Hard Bitten. She said that she got many horrible emails after that book was released and won a nod from me when she said, “It’s the internet age. People’s tastes are different. What can you do?” Exactly. She said that what happened wasn’t meant to be a cliffhanger—she meant it to happen as it did, with some finality. She doesn’t want to just throw in twist to be “M. Night Shyamalan-ing” everyone. (nice one) The next question was about the Gabriel prophecy in the books and whether that is still important. Neill said very much so and that she has that ongoing arc in mind as she writes the next books in the series.
At nearly every author event I go to, someone asks the author how much say they have concerning the cover art for their books. The answer is almost always “barely any,” “just a bit,” or “I can say I hate something but that’s about it.” The answer was the same in this case, and Neill joked about trying to get Merit’s bangs on the cover in the last few covers with no luck. When asked if she thinks the Chicagoland Vamps series will ever be adapted for television or the big screen she said there are no plans in the works but that she’d love to see it and thinks it would work better as a television series. (I concur.) After this comment, someone asked her if, since she likes to write dialogue, she’d ever considered writing scripts. She said yes, though she really doesn’t have any free time. She joked about how she would love to write an episode of Castle, minus the mystery bits. I took this to mean that she just wanted to write an entire show of witty banter.
A few random asides: We’ll find out more about Jeff in House Rules, she thinks Lacey is like that friend we all have who just repeatedly makes the worst decisions, and she agrees that the series needs a new female bad guy. (she misses Selena but doesn’t see a way to bring her back.)
And that, folks, is another author event. I guess I’ll never know if Chloe Neill would’ve gone to the roller derby but I do know that you should all go see her if she’s coming anywhere near you on this tour. If you miss her, I bet she’ll be on tour again in six months for Biting Bad.