Although it seems as if the mainstream’s fixation on vampires has exploded to epic proportions in recent years, the forbidden allure of the undead has been glamouring the masses for ages.
Daring, provocative and enticingly seductive, a well-written vampire story has the entire package.
Combined with the picture of beauty, power and sensuality that pop culture paints the phenomenon as, it’s no wonder that fans can’t get enough – and we’re not just talking teenage girls here.
More often than not, their mothers and adult friends anxiously devour copies of young women’s vampire novels.
Award-winning author PC Cast knows this all too well, and has mastered the art of telling tales of ancient mythological legendry with sexy, contemporary twists.
With more than 12 million books in print in more than 35 countries, she and her daughter Kristin are the co-authoring team behind the widely successful House of Night teen vampire series, which has been a steady presence on the New York Times bestseller list.
There’s no question that the close bond between Cast and Kristin is, at the heart of their books, a key ingredient to their unique creative chemistry.
Be it vampires or goddesses, time raiders or Harlequin teen tales of the immortal, the worlds of Illinois native turned Tulsa transplant Cast allow the imagination to run wild without straying too far from home.
From elements of Oklahoma heritage to Tulsa itself, her ability to link paranormal worlds to the real world has earned her widespread success for series, such as the Divine, Goddess Summoning and House of Night collections.
Cast’s love for the written word began at a young age, even before her father gave her the Lord of the Rings trilogy and she got sucked into fantasy and science fiction.
Later, as a literature major in college, she read deeply into mythology and took an active role writing for college publications and creative writing ventures.
Although she is known as a paranormal romance author, Cast has a strong appreciation for many different genres and says she didn’t have one single style in mind when writing her first published book, Divine by Mistake, in 2001.
“When I finally sat down to write my first book, in my late 30s, I decided to write the book that I most wanted to read, which was fantasy, a lot of wine and sex and humor and everything all mixed into one,” she says.
“There’s no genre in mind when I’m writing – it just so happened that when Divine by Mistake came out, it was during an upswing of paranormal romance – and it just so happened that my book fell into that genre.”
As a part of bringing to life the stories in her head that she needs to tell, Cast adds that she loves to create worlds where she is what she calls the “goddess” that can make anything happen that she wants.
Known throughout history, legendry and lore as powerful female deities, goddesses are commonly associated with motherhood, love and the household, as well as rulers over war, death, destruction and healing.
True to goddess form, there’s a very strong matriarchal influence to be found throughout all of her books, and Cast says that the purpose of her writing is not just to entertain her audience, but to empower women as well.
“That’s the interpretation of the goddess thread that I have – that the strength of today’s women needs to be celebrated and acknowledged not just by society, but by the women themselves,” she says.
Independence and self-empowerment are two things that Cast can tell you a thing or two about.
Having gone out on her own to join the Air Force right out of high school, Cast later put herself through college and taught high school English while juggling writing and raising Kristin as a single parent.
It wasn’t until her 18th book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list that she decided to retire from teaching, after both teaching full time and writing full time for three publishers.
It’s no surprise that although many of her novels’ heroines fall in love, in none of them are the women waiting around to be saved by men – and they’re not looking to be completed by anyone, either.
“These women first learn about themselves, and then once they understand who they are and where their place is in life, a man can complement them,” Cast says. “Quite often my heroines even save my heroes – particularly in the House of Night books. Zoey may be in trouble a lot, but just when you think her guys are going to save her, the story twists and turns around so that it ends up that she has to empower herself first to save the situation.
“You are never going to see my heroines falling in love with one guy and focusing their entire being and existence and world around his every breath. I think that idea is unhealthy and unrealistic for young girls, and for women.”
A former English teacher at Broken Arrow South Intermediate High School, Cast learned from years of experience how to get into the heads of teenagers.
When her agent came up with the idea for her to write a series set at a vampire finishing school, she immediately made the connection between school and young adults – thus, House of Night was born.
“It was an easy fit for me. I’d been teaching for over a decade, so I’d been around teenagers for forever,” she says.
“Kristin and I write a lot of different kinds of characters. There are many different races, backgrounds and gay kids – I try to represent what’s really going on with teens in a healthy manner.”
Characters come naturally to Cast – most of them are based on former students or composites of several students – so they are very real. In fact, Cast based House of Night’s leading teen lady Zoey – who has been hailed by many as the most relatable of vampire characters in contemporary young adult literature – on one former teen she knows particularly well: Kristin.
Cast and Kristin’s relationship has all of the elements of a true dynamic mother/daughter duo, complete with lots of laughing, finishing each other’s sentences and endearing banter.
As the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree,” and mother and daughter are on the same page with their creative drive.
“I always did the summer reading programs at the library. When we were super broke and mom was going to college, I used to win gift certificates to Mazzio’s pizza for reading so many books, and that’s how we went out to eat,” Kristin says. “It was always weird for me when other kids would tell me at school that they didn’t read or had read only one book because it was mandatory, or even that they hated reading.”
An avid reader of numerous book series as an adolescent, Kristin found herself turned off of young adult fiction because teenagers were not portrayed accurately.
She believes her mother’s insight and intuitiveness, born of experience with teens, gives Cast an advantage over many other authors who are disconnected from the realities of teen life.
“She taught for so long and heard their conversations and figured out what was important to them,” Kristin explains. “I don’t think most people really get teenagers unless they are surrounded by more than one type of teenager for more than one day, and I don’t know how anyone can write young adult literature without having been constantly around lots of teenagers, all the time.”
More than just a sounding board, Kristin serves as the House of Night teen voice editor – a vital role that Cast says began accidentally when her daughter was home for a semester early in her own college career.
“I was writing, and my ‘70s teenager voice started coming out. I could hear it as it was happening, so I would yell at Kristin down the hall and ask what was the right word to use,” Cast remembers. “Then after three or four times of doing that, I realized it would be easier if I just wrote the whole manuscript and then gave it to her later to see if I messed up one of those words. Now I don’t really worry at all about how old I’m sounding because if I’m sounding too old, Kristin will cross it out, write, ‘Are you crazy lady?’ in the margin and fix it for me.”
Now 24, Kristin has ventured out to write her own novels on the side after her short story for Harper Teen’s vampire anthology had publishers both foreign and in the U.S., asking her to turn it into a trilogy.
Currently at work on the highly anticipated Destined (book 9 in the House of Night series, set for release in November), the Casts are well into their groove and work together very easily.
“People ask us the relationship question all the time – but it’s been just us two for so long, so we’ve always been close. Working together hasn’t really affected us, except now with the book tours we get to take really cool road trips together,” Cast says.
While doing their book tours together, the Casts have not only gotten closer, but they’ve also discovered the eccentricities and extremes of many fantasy fiction fanatics.
“We get a lot of fans who tell us that they are vampires or know them and are friends with them, and sometimes we can’t tell if they’re being serious or not, but a lot of the time they are,” Kristin says.
“We’re big fans of a lot of authors, so we’ve been on the reader side of thinking that, ‘I wish this world was real, or that these characters were real,’” Cast adds. “But it’s completely different as an author when your readers believe that your characters are actually real. It’s a very strange experience – and when it involves the paranormal, things sometime kick over to the side of uber weird.”
Unusual feedback or not, it’s all in good humor, and the authors believe that anything encouraging people to read is positive. They’ve even received emails from parents reporting that their books have helped to open channels of communication with their children.
The Casts don’t give much attention to negative energy, despite some local and nationwide criticism of House of Night content.
The series is currently the most banned book in Texas public schools, because of sexual content and nudity, but Cast doesn’t read reviews – good or bad – and stays off of chat sites and blogs that aren’t hers.
“I’d say that we’re in good company with To Kill a Mockingbird in some places and with some schools,” she says. “I never intended to write something that everyone approves of. That would just be ridiculous. I agree with Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451: ‘If they give you ruled paper, write the other way.’”
Adhering to that mindset of thinking outside the lines and staying true to the self is, in a sense, an extension of Cast’s affection for female empowerment and encouraging women of all ages to tap into their strong inner goddesses.
“Women need to listen to their instincts. We are told too often from a young age to do what society expects you should do,” she says.
“I believe that you should always listen to what your instincts are telling you and find your true path in life, even if it’s not always what parents or society thinks it should be. If women listened more to themselves and less to other people, we’d have even more leaders who are women.”