Author Interview: Melissa de la Cruz on Blue Bloods

From Hyperion: “Melissa de la Cruz is the author of the bestselling The Au Pairs novels for teens and the coauthor of the adult title How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less (Ballantine, 2003). She writes regularly for Marie Claire, Gotham, Hamptons, and Lifetime magazines and has contributed to The New York Times, Glamour, Allure, and McSweeney’s. She has spent time as a journalist covering the club scene in New York City and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Melissa de la Cruz is not a Blue Blood, but she knows people who are…”

Could you tell us about your path to publication? Any sprints or stumbles along the way?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I can remember. But when I graduated from Columbia, I took a job as a computer consultant because it would allow me to live decently in New York, and I wrote my first novel while working at Bankers Trust. I would write it at work and on the weekends. I felt like I had to “write” my way out of the corporate world, and I felt a huge sense of desperation. I was good at programming computers, but the longer I stayed in the corporate environment, the more depressed I knew I was going to be.

I’d always wanted to write books, so it never really occurred to me to try to get a job in magazines or publishing. I wanted to write books, not edit them. I finished my first novel at 22, and I sent it out to about twenty agencies I found through the Writer’s Market, following their query guidelines.

Three agents responded favorably, and I went with the agent who’d sold Auntie Mame some twenty years before! He was very supportive, but we were unable to sell the novel. But he did get it in the hands of Geoff Kloske, who was then a young editor at Little Brown (he discovered David Sedaris and Dave Eggers and is now the editor-in-chief of Riverhead). Geoff called me, said he was not buying my book, but he saw something in my writing, and wanted to talk to me about my career. I was floored–and extremely excited. He advised me to try to start writing for magazines, because it’s very rare that publishers buy a book from a complete unknown.

I finally published my first essay in the New York Press in 1996, and covered the trendy, fashiony beat for them for years, then I sold my first novel–an adult book called Cat’s Meow (2001), to Simon & Schuster in 1998.

By then. I was writing for a ton of women’s magazines. I still held on to my day job though–I was at Morgan Stanley by then. I got laid off right before Cat’s Meow was published in 2001, and I never looked back. I’ve been writing full-time since then. I published a non-fiction “chic-lit” book, How to become Famous in Two Weeks or Less, and during the book tour for that, I got a call from Simon & Schuster.

The YA market was exploding–and did I want to try my hand at doing a glamorous book for teens? I was a big fan of Gossip Girl, and I jumped on the opportunity. The Au Pairs published in 2004, and it was the book that changed my life.

Before then, my adult books sold okay, but the Au Pairs sold extremely well, and it opened up all these doors for me. Hyperion asked if I wanted to try my hand at horror, and I’d been kicking around and idea for a while to do a dark fantasy book, and Blue Bloods came to being. For S&S, I also have a new dark series set in LA, called Angels on Sunset Boulevard, and a seventh-grade social-climbing saga, The Ashleys, and a jet-setting series called Social Life. And of course, more Blue Bloods books!

For those new to your body of work, could you highlight a few titles?

The most popular books I’ve written are The Au Pairs and The Blue Bloods series. The Au Pairs centers on three different girls who work as nannies in the Hamptons to a rich family, babysitting by day and partying at night. It’s really fun and fast, and there’s a lot of romance and drama and social satire. I own that series in conjunction with Alloy. The rest of my books are totally my own.

Blue Bloods is about a group of diverse New York city teens who discover their secret heritage–they are Blue Blood vampires, fallen angels who are doomed to live on earth.

Angels on Sunset Boulevard is my series in LA, about a group of teenagers in the city who are trying to fight an evil cult that uses the Internet to lure its members. It’s also about rock and roll and fame with lots of sexy romance and drama.

The Ashleys is my newest series and very fun to write, about four girls, three of whom are named Ashley and who are the most popular girls in junior high, and one, Lauren, who’s gone from geek to goddess and wants to destroy the reign of the Ashleys to make the seventh-grade a better place to be.

I also still have a foot in the adult world–my latest book is called Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys (Dutton, 2007), an essay collection co-edited with my good friend Tom Dolby, about the relationship between straight women and gay men. We have some stellar writers in it like Cindy Chupack, Simon Doonan, Gigi Grazer and Andrew Solomon among many other fabulous names.

Congratulations on the success of the Blue Bloods series (Hyperion, 2006-)! Could you fill us in on the global story?

Thanks very much! It’s very rewarding that Blue Bloods found an audience. It’s very close to my heart. The story centers around a group of teenagers: Schuyler Van Alen, from a once-great and grand New York family that has fallen on hard times; her best friend Oliver Hazard-Perry, a sweet boy who’d rather go to museums than hit the lacrosse fields; Mimi and Jack Force, the richest and most fabulous twins in Manhattan with a strange and secret bond; and Bliss Llewellyn, a Texan transplant who is experiencing strange episodes of deja vu and dread.

They are the newest generation of Blue Bloods, who trace their ancestry to the Mayflower and are perennially reincarnated fallen angels who were cast out of Heaven with Lucifer and are doomed to live on earth. Just as they are starting to discover their new powers, something or someone is hunting them. They have to figure who or what it is–are the dreaded Silver Bloods, vampires who feed on vampires, back to feed once more?

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I read on the Internet once about how all these prominent Americans, like the Roosevelts and the Bushes, and also famous people like Marilyn Monroe, and even Oprah, are descendants of the people who came over from the Mayflower. And I thought, what if all their power and influence is because they’re immortal? They’re vampires, of course! And of course, I’m a very literal writer (LOL) so the blue bloods actually HAVE blue blood.

For Blue Bloods (Hyperion, 2006). What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I believe it took a year between the idea and publication. It took about three months to write, but it took about six months to even think about it. I wrote all the outlines and mythology and character sketches before I wrote the book. The major event for me was discovering the Roanoke mystery–it fit so well with the story, I think I was halfway done writing Blue Bloods when I stumbled upon the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It was like a light bulb went on. From there it was a race to the finish! I couldn’t write the story fast enough.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

In a way, it was really easy to write because it’s a story that I’ve lived–my best friend Morgan (who is the inspiration for Oliver) and I used to go to this club called The Bank, so the first chapter is just based on all those times we would stand there in line. We used to go to numerous nightclubs, and there was always the “will-we-get-in” worry. So it’s cool to have Schuyler use her vampire powers to gain entrance. Ha!

The research also fit in really well–a lot of people died in the Mayflower voyage and the first year, almost half of them were killed or died of disease. I had a pretty detailed outline, but like I said, it didn’t really click until the Roanoke thing. That’s when the book really came to life for me, when I felt like I was excavating a story instead of making it up.

Even the myth with the angels and Lucifer, it just all seemed so right, that it’s weird to me that the myth that vampires are fallen angels doesn’t exist anywhere but my books. It felt like I was just pulling from the air, like the story was there all along. That felt really awesome. I love Milton’s Paradise Lost, and I love the story of Michael and the archangels and Lucifer. There’s lots of good stuff in the Bible.

Did you always intend for the story to be a series? How did that aspect evolve?

Yes. Hyperion wanted a series, and they bought two books first, then after Blue Bloods pubbed, bought another two. I’d always intended for a nine-book series. (My editor said, let’s hope we get to Blue Bloods 19!) Which I think is a little much. I’m planning to do three three-book arcs for now. There’s tons of stuff in the Blue Bloods world, and I want to stay there for a while.

Where does Masquerade (Hyperion, 2007) take the story?

In Masquerade, we see the fabulous Four Hundred Ball, a vampires-only white tie affair, where Schuyler kisses a boy who’s wearing a mask. She also travels to Venice to find her grandfather, who holds the key to defeating the Silver Bloods. We learn more about vampire powers, and why Jack and Mimi are awfully close for brother and sister! Also, there’s a hot new boy in school who drives the girls crazy.

What about the young adult audience appeals to you?

They’re so enthusiastic! One of my fans started a Blue Bloods message board, and a site devoted to the book, breaking it down by character and chapter. It’s amazing. I get a lot of fan art and fan fiction (which I can’t and don’t read), but which is just so cool. Teens are the best readers–they read closely, and they’re not shy about telling you what they like. I feel like a teen myself, so really, I’m just writing for my peers.

If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were beginning writer, what advice would you offer?

I was pretty level-headed, practical and determined as a young writer. I don’t think anything I could say now would really change what I did back then.

I always had a single-minded goal: to become a commercial fiction writer. And now I am, and I don’t think I could have gotten here without all the experiences I had in the past.

I was a big club kid, I spent a lot of time in nightclubs, I had tons of fabulous friends, we all had boy drama, and friendship drama. I covered Fashion Week, I went to fashion shoots, I worked at Conde Nast, I summered in the Hamptons, everything in my books is inspired by my life, but I also use my imagination to take it to another level.

I dated and kissed a lot of cute boys before I found my husband, and I don’t regret any of them–even the ones who dumped me or never called after a one-night hookup. I feel like a lot of writers just want to write. But you know, you have to live so you have something to write about.

What would you say specifically on the topic of writing horror/gothic fantasy?

I guess I write about what scares me. Even though Blue Bloods isn’t very scary, or at least, it’s not gory, I am Catholic, and even though I say that I am a “secular Catholic,” the devil still scares me. Evil scares me, and in Angels on Sunset Boulevard, which is a deal-with-the-devil kind of thing, that scares me too. Like, what if you could have everything you want? Fame, Fortune, Rock and Roll Lifestyle, but you had to lose your soul to get it? I mean, would you say no? Or would you succumb to temptation? I mean, I would hope I would say no. But it’s very tempting isn’t it? So I write about it.

Which books would you suggest for study and why?

I got a lot of practice writing cliffhangers because I used to write a serial fiction novel for Gotham magazine, and at the end of every chapter I had to write a cliffhanger so people would ‘tune in’ for the next one. (I also have to add that for the Ashley and Au Pairs books I have all the fun chapter headings because I had to write ‘heds’ and ‘deks’ for magazines -you know, headlines like “Lash Attack” or whatever and that was good practice for that.)

I would suggest reading Michael Crichton‘s novels to understand how to write a page-turner. I can’t put his books down! It’s hard for me to say “study” books because when I can see the blueprint of the book it takes out the pleasure in reading it.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I am taking care of my nine-month-old baby, hanging out with my husband and my family (my parents and my sister’s family live near us), going out to dinner, seeing friends, planning extravagant vacations (it’s the only thing that gets me going to finish a book–knowing I get to have a fabulous vacation at the end of it like a reward), and spending way too much money on clothes, shoes and handbags.

How do you balance your life as a writer with the responsibilities (speaking, promotion, etc.) of being an author?

It’s hard. That’s the hardest actually. Because you can get really bogged down by doing all the PR work, and find you don’t do any of the real work, which is the writing. I love doing the PR work because it’s just part of procrastinating. I’ve hired publicists for some of my books (mostly my adult books) so that takes off some of the work. And I think the best promotion is really to write a good book. It gets the word out.

Of course, you need your publisher to put some backing behind you too–if they don’t do anything, no one will even hear about your book so how can the word be spread? I’m very lucky to be with S&S and Hyperion, both houses have done an excellent job of promoting my books.

What can your fans look forward to next?

The Ashleys drops in late December/early January, and Blue Bloods: Revelations, is out next fall. The fourth book is tentatively called Apocalypse. And the next book in Angels on Sunset Boulevard is The Strip.