Chloe Neill is the author of the Chicagoland Vampires and Devil’s Isle series. In this short interview, we discuss her novels and the research trips she takes to make them see more authentic to her readers.
UNBOUND WORLDS: Would you mind telling our readers about your two series?
CHLOE NEILL: The Chicagoland Vampires series, not surprisingly, takes place in Chicago and it’s about vampires. It’s kind of a sarcastic but action-oriented urban fantasy. The Devil’s Isle series is set in New Orleans, and it’s a post-apocalyptic story about what happens when magic invades our world.
UW: You’ve picked two cities with very rich histories. Some of the things that happened in them almost defy fiction. Can you talk about some of the things that might have inspired you?
CN: I’ve realized recently the more that I write that place is really important to me. It’s very inspirational and I get a lot of ideas from it. Both cities have such interesting histories and mixes of different cultures, and economic situations. There are the super rich and very impoverished in both. You’ve got gangsters in Chicago, you’ve got an amazing food culture and amazing architecture, but also a history of corruption, and frankly, if you’re thinking of putting vampires in a city or a demon as a mayor, it’s not that hard to imagine. New Orleans is much the same. I’m originally from the South and I wanted to set a series in a southern town that had the same kinds of interesting stuff to draw from.
UW: Where are you from originally?
CN: I’m from Jacksonville, Arkansas: a little town outside of Little Rock.
UW: I’m from practically next door: Jackson, Mississippi.
CN: No kidding? We used to vacation in Jackson. All I remember about Jackson is that we saw the state capitol and I went looking for New Kids on the Block Tapes at an old record store. That’s my only memory of Jackson.
UW: You know, that’s something people post-digital don’t really understand: When you went to a new city that was your opportunity to go find things you couldn’t find in your own. Before the internet, I used to drive to New Orleans and visit Tower Records for music and books. This brings me to my next question: If you’re writing about supernatural creatures like vampires and magic-users the internet changes the game. We all carry cameras and have the internet in our pockets. I can imagine that a real vampire attack would be on LiveLeak or YouTube about five minutes after it happened.
CN: It’s tricky. In the Chicagoland Vampires series there is paparazzi, there are blogs, and there are fandoms centered on particular vampires, but there is also a heightened sense of awareness that vampires are different. They’re celebrities, but there’s something weird about them, and even if they get some of the pop culture exposure that human celebrities get now, it’s still paired with suspicion. When you try to write a mystery, there’s always going to be a tape somewhere, or a video, or something on the internet, so it actually makes finding clues a little bit easier.
UW: What’s your most recent book?
CN: The most recent book I have is Midnight Marked: It’s the 12th Chicagoland Vampires novel, and it came out in March. The Sight is the second of my New Orleans series. It comes out on August 16.
UW: Are you meeting more fans of Chicagoland Vampires or Devil’s Island? Are they evenly divided?
CN: It’s hard to say. The vampire series has been out since 2009, so I’ve got a lot of long-term fans who have been reading it along the way, but I also think that the first Devil’s Isle book, The Veil, has such a striking cover that a lot of people have started becoming acquainted with me by having seen it. Now I’m trying to push them into the Chicagoland Vampires series, too.
UW: People say that you shouldn’t judge a book by the cover, but I’ve bought novels based on the covers alone. What is it like when you’re waiting for a book’s cover art to be done?
CN: It can be a little nerve-wracking. You hope that the reader will have a visceral sense of excitement when they see the cover. I have a fantastic cover artist: Tony Morrow. He has done all of the Chicagoland Vampire covers. They all have an interesting feel to them. The Devil’s Island covers are also fantastic. I also should have mentioned that I have a young adult series called the Dark Elite—there are three books in that series—and the covers for those are fantastic, too. You hope that the covers are true to the story, but also really appealing, so people who are unfamiliar with your work will grab copies and become true fans.
UW: Are you based in Chicago?
CN: Not at all. I’m based in Omaha.
UW: Have you gone there for research trips? You said that place is very important in your fiction. How do you manage to take that in and make your fiction feel authentic?
CN: Google Earth really helps to be able to figure out what something looks like and write about it with accuracy. That said, I don’t think it is an equivalent for going down and getting a real feel for a neighborhood. That’s true for both New Orleans and Chicago. I’ve taken what I call “scouting trips” to both places. What I usually do is pick a particular neighborhood and spend some time driving around trying to get a sense for what the neighborhood feels like. If I get home and there’s something specific i don’t remember, you can’t beat a Google Earth satellite image for figuring out what something looks like.
UW: Do you wonder what people think when they see you driving around their neighborhoods in a rented car?
CN: I try not to think about it too much. I really had that experience in New Orleans. In the Devil’s Isle series, the premise is that a magical war has broken out and left much of the South in shambles. It’s been 11 years since Katrina, and I wanted to get a sense of what the city looked like and felt like, so I went to the Lower Ninth Ward to see the reconstruction. I did feel very much like an uncomfortable tourist peeking into someone’s doorway, so there are definitely moments where it feels a little bit weird.
UW: It’s for a good cause, though. You get to explore the realities of these areas with fiction.
CN: Absolutely. What I’m hoping most to do is to tell the truth of something. I might put magic or dragons in it, but want most is for people reading these books to have a sense of familiarity and see these places as things that exist outside of me. Hopefully I’ve rendered that truthfully in the novels.