Husband and wife writing team saddle up for the May 2014 release of book three in The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection; the tangled publishing history of the series mirrors industry shifts.
Portland, Ore. – When the first edition of The Cowboy and the Vampire: A Very Unusual Romance (Hays and McFall, Llewellyn) hit the shelves in 1999, there was no Twilight, no Vampire Diaries and no True Blood. Readers interested in compelling vampire fiction had to content themselves with Anne Rice standouts such as Interview with a Vampire to scratch the undead itch.
“We were fortunate that a traditional publisher took a chance on the story and two unknown authors,” said Kathleen McFall. “At the time, no one else was really thinking about paranormal fiction as a standalone genre and, of course, e-books and digital printing were distant glimmers on the horizon. All of that changed dramatically over the next ten years.”
Though the book sold well, more than 10,000 print copies, it would be a decade before the authors returned to the genre they helped create — Western Gothic. As vampire fiction burned up the charts and caught the attention of Hollywood, their first book returned from the dead with a renewed push from their publisher and a sexy new cover in 2010.
With the resurrection of their book and growing popularity for all things undead, Hays and McFall wrote book number two: The Cowboy and the Vampire: Blood and Whiskey.
“We learned from the past and dove right into the second book, but this time — given the radical changes in the publishing industry — we wrote it with an eye on retaining rights for ourselves and publishing under our own imprint,” said Clark Hays. “We’re what people now call ‘hybrid’ authors — that means we’ve worked with traditional publishers and as independent authors. It also means we run on a mixture of fuels, notably cocktails and sleep-deprivation.”
Book two was published in 2012 under their authors’ imprint, Pumpjack Press. As the role of traditional publishers continued to contract, Hays and McFall regained the rights to their first book and spent the next year “rebooting,” editing book one to the “author’s cut” and working with a Portland, Ore., artist to re-imagine the look of the series.
“We developed a stripped down, almost elemental approach to our Western Gothic genre,” said McFall. “We moved away from the expected cleavage and abs covers, distilling it down to the essence of our books — a unique and dark blend of gritty western, sexy romance and otherworldly paranormal with plenty of action and humor.”
At the same time, they began the fiery creative process for writing book three: The Cowboy and the Vampire: Rough Trails and Shallow Graves.
“While we love the freedom of indie publishing, we didn’t have much of a life beyond our computers and notebooks for the last year or so as we worked on the re-launch and writing the new book,” said Hays. “I’d say we spent about fifty percent of our time working on the new book, fifty percent on the editing and design of the first two books and fifty percent on marketing. On an unrelated note, our math skills are terrible.”
McFall agrees that the process requires a huge commitment of time, energy and passion.
“The Hollywood notion of writers having glamorous, interesting and carefree lives isn’t very accurate these days, if it ever was,” she said. “It’s hard, painstaking work that requires unwavering commitment and long hours. But ultimately it’s rewarding when you connect with readers.”
The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection follows the exploits of Tucker, a perpetually broke cowboy in the modern west, and Lizzie, his undead lover who is coming to terms with her ancient legacy. The books feature a cast of quirky characters including long-suffering Rex, Tucker’s overly sensitive cow dog.
Reviewers and readers have called the books everything from riveting to hilarious to a love story for the ages, and have noted their sly mix of genre entertainment with serious topics, like the tragedy of mismatched love, the slow decline of the American west and the nature of good and evil.
With so many vampire titles on bookshelves and cable channels, are the authors worried the public has had its fill?
“Just when it seems readers have had enough, the undead roar back into the public consciousness with some new twist that makes them fresh and relevant again,” McFall said. “They are the perfect blank slate to transfer our fears and concerns and help us think about sexuality and immortality, and I don’t think that will ever change. Vampires always surprise you, especially vampires thrown in with cowboys.”
“Vampires will never jump the shark,” he said. “Our vampires are actually much tougher than sharks and would just dive in and feed on them, letting their drained carcasses drift up on the beach somewhere.”
About the books
The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection is a passionate love story set in the beautiful and stark Wyoming wilderness with plenty of paranormal action and humor.
About the authors
Between the two of them, Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall have worked in writing jobs ranging from cowboy-poet to energy journalist to restaurant reviewer to university press officer. After they met, their writing career took center stage when they wrote the first book in The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection as a test for marriage. They passed. Clark and Kathleen now live in Portland, Ore.