Danielle J. Dresser: Welcome to Fresh Fiction, Cassandra, Genevieve, and Caitlin! We are excited to chat with you about WALK AMONG US, set in the world of the RPG game, Vampires: The Masquerade. Were you all familiar with RPGs and this one in particular before you started the project?
Cassandra Khaw: Oh my god, yes.
Genevieve Gornichec: I was not, but I always wanted to be! The world just always seemed so big that I didn’t know where to start.
Caitlin Starling: I was obsessed with the source books and clan novels back in the mid-2000s, though I never got a chance to play! I definitely screamed a little when I saw what project I’d been brought in on.
Vampires have always been popular—what do you think makes them so attractive to readers?
Cassandra: The prospect of immortality, of someone who is ancient and ageless and able to have anyone in the world but chooses you to satisfy their needs, I think people like that. I think people like the elegance and sophistication too, the gratuitous amount of black, the tragic nobility.
Genevieve: I think there’s something about them that people are drawn to. It’s like, a lot of stories portray them as these elegant figures that are monsters below the surface. I think there’s something inherently enticing about that.
Caitlin: I think it’s the combination of power with deep, very clearly defined need. You’ve got seemingly full control over your entire environment, but with one undeniable hunger that can absolutely destroy you.
Each story in WALK AMONG US deals with, of course, the fantastical element of vampires, but also some really dark themes that everyone grapples with in some way—depression, radicalization, and immortality (which probably speaks to our own mortality!). How did you balance the paranormal aspects of your story with the big themes throughout?
Cassandra: That’s really interesting. I treated the fantastical elements as incidental, almost. Like eye color or dietary predilections. They’re just part of the character and the characters’ environment. For me, the main thing here was scrutinizing the way that someone can hold power over another, the subtle things, the way it happens if one is isolated and removed from their environment. You don’t need supernatural prowess for that. You just need to know how the world operates.
Genevieve: I tried to make the paranormal aspects more like background details, to the point where when I tried to work in some of the lore near the big reveal at the end of the story, I was told to take them out. I don’t think Clea would have ever suspected anything paranormal if Jade hadn’t planted the seeds. Jade is such a manipulator; she legitimately makes Clea think that she’s becoming a better person while validating all the worst parts of her so she doesn’t have to face them, to the point where Clea doesn’t even flinch when innocent people are killed at the end of the story because she sees herself as so different from them. Vampires aside, there are groups in real life that prey on lonely, vulnerable people the same way.
Caitlin: They’re intrinsically linked for me, right down to the plethora of farming details in my story. My goal from the beginning was to make our narrator, Leigh, both deeply convincing but also, when you take like half a step back, horrifying. Leigh is responsible for feeding two communities: her commune members and the Portland Camarilla. To feed her commune members, she grows crops and slaughters livestock; to feed other Kindred, she drains her commune members. The lengths she goes to in order to keep the day-to-day experience of the humans in her care pleasant and safe is, when you see the back end of it, entirely built on manipulation and control. But how much worse is that, really, than randomly descending on some hapless person in a bar and subjecting them to direct predation?
To be alive is, in many ways, to be “monstrous”. It’s to impose your will on everything around you, and hope that you’re doing it in a way that, on balance, is beneficial. With vampires, it’s just a little more obvious that that’s not always the case.
WALK AMONG US first came out as an Audible Original, and is now being released in paperback and ebook, which is very exciting! Did you approach writing your story differently knowing it would be an audiobook first? What was the process like for you?
Cassandra: Only a little. I knew I had a story I wanted to tell in a very specific way, and I wanted to keep to that.
Genevieve: I did read it out loud (at Caitlin’s suggestion when we all finally met each other!) to make sure it sounded okay, but other than that, I didn’t write it any differently than I would have a story that was coming out in print first. Erika Ishii’s performance of it was a delight, too.
Caitlin: I had a lot of fun with the ‘voice’ of our narrator, Leigh. I had always wanted to write a fictional farmer’s memoir of some kind, and this was the perfect opportunity! I let Leigh be almost stream-of-consciousness and very personal, as if she’s telling you the story herself (or, perhaps, telling it to herself), complete with all her charm and glaring oversights.
During the actual drafting, I made sure to read chapters out loud as often as possible, to make sure they sounded fluid and full of character. I read it a little differently than Xe Sands, who read it for the audiobook edition, which was an absolute delight – it’s fun to hear a different riff on what I came up with!
As mentioned above, there are some dark/heavy themes in these stories. I’m wondering what you all do in regard to self-care after working on a difficult scene or after a long day of writing?
Cassandra: Exercise. Long baths. Good food. Primarily, though, sitcoms. I almost exclusively watch frothy, happy things as a consequence of what I write — it’s easy to sink into a deep grief if you keep swallowing nothing but darkness. So, I don’t. I opt for the lightest things I can find and generally, those are sitcoms. (Also, sitcoms are fascinating in how they carry a story thread across a decade of storytelling; it’s rarely done well, but you can see what they’re doing.)
Genevieve: I literally had to work on something else to cleanse my palate. I drew on my own lived experiences battling mental health and body image issues in college to write Clea. I was reading a lot of vampire fiction when I was her age, and never saw anyone like me in those stories, so I wanted to change that. Vampires aside, it was hard to go back to such a dark place, so as soon as I was done working on this, I had to start something new to get my mind off it and remind myself that I am not that person anymore, and that Clea ended up in a way worse place than I ever did.
Caitlin: Honestly, I spent a lot of time reading actual memoirs of shepherds and farmers! It served a dual purpose of giving me fodder/specific details to shape Leigh’s story while also reminding me of what’s good and noble about those practices when not applied to people just looking for a safe place to live.
For the more directly tough scenes (like a particular chapter towards the end of The Land of Milk and Honey where Leigh realizes she’s done something horrific), the act of writing is itself, cathartic. It drains the tank, so to speak, which lets me focus on stuff entirely unrelated to the story for a while after. It’s a lot like an exorcism.
What can readers expect from you next?
Genevieve: My debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, came out this February and is the polar opposite of my story in this collection in every possible way. It’s a Norse mythology reimagining/historical fantasy. Hopefully, I’ll have more to talk about soon!
Caitlin: I’ve got a gothic horror novel coming out October 19, The Death of Jane Lawrence. It’s full of Victorian-era surgical practices, esoteric magic, and, uh, calculus theory. And ghosts!
One of the most popular role-playing properties in the world gets new life with this trio of horror novellas set in Vampire: The Masquerade‘s World of Darkness by three brilliant talents: Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, and Caitlin Starling
The subtle horror and infernal politics of the World of Darkness are shown in a new light in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us, an audio-first collection of three novellas that show the terror, hunger, and power of the Kindred as you’ve never seen them before.
In Genevieve Gornichec’s A SHEEP AMONG WOLVES, performed by Erika Ishii, depression and radicalization go hand-in-hand as a young woman finds companionship in the darkness…
In Cassandra Khaw’s FINE PRINT, performed by Neil Kaplan, an arrogant tech bro learns the importance of reading the fine print in the contract for immortality…
And in Caitlin Starling’s THE LAND OF MILK AND HONEY, performed by Xe Sands, ideals and ethics bump heads with appetite on a blood farm.
Three very different stories from three amazing, distinct voices, but all with one thing in common: the hunger never stops, and for someone to experience power, many others are going to have to feel pain.
Fantasy Urban [Harper Voyager, On Sale: May 4, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780062994059 / eISBN: 9780062994066]
About Genevieve Gornichec
Genevieve Gornichec is a writer from Northeast Ohio. She earned her degree in history, but she got as close to majoring in Vikings as she possibly could. Her writing is inspired by the Norse myths and Icelandic sagas.
About Cassandra Khaw
CASSANDRA KHAW is an award-winning game writer and an award-nominated author. Her short fiction can be found in publications such as Tor.com, F&SF, and Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy.
About Caitlin Starling
Caitlin Starling is an award-winning writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, won the LOHF Best Debut award, and was nominated for several others.
About Danielle Jackson
Danielle Jackson Dresser is a contemporary romance author (her debut novel with Berkley will be out in 2022!), avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher.
Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in the business as the Editorial Manager of Fresh Fiction and co-host of the Fresh Fiction podcast. Danielle is one of the Boozy Book Broads, a monthly author chat show streamed live on YouTube. She also moderates panels, interviews authors, and hosts a book club at Love’s Sweet Arrow, the romance-focused independent bookstore.
Danielle lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @dj_dresser.