Jessica McClain is a 26-year-old woman living in Minneapolis when she discovers one night that she’s a werewolf. Not just any werewolf, but the only female werewolf on earth, and her male counterparts are, to say the least, wary of her.
Thus begins Amanda Carlson’s first book, the urban fantasy “Full Blooded,” which is set to hit bookstores Sept. 12.
Carlson, 42, wrote the book at her Fulton-neighborhood home while raising three children. She’s a Southwest High School alumna (her maiden name is Hansen) who was working as an interpreter before launching a writing career.
She started writing 16 years ago and once tried unsuccessfully to get a book published. Then, about five years ago, she read the “Twilight” series, imagined the possibilities of writing urban fantasy books and developed her own.
She has a three-book deal for the Jessica McClain series. The series is being published by Orbit Books, which publishes science fiction and fantasy internationally. It’s an imprint of the mega publishing company Hachette Book Group.
Carlson’s second book in the McClain series, “Hot Blooded,” is scheduled for a March 13 release.
Here are highlights from a recent interview with Carlson.
When did you decide you wanted to write a book?
I’ve always been a writer. I had a notebook as a kid and I still have one with stories that I’m writing. I think that when you’re a writer, you’re always a writer. You don’t know if that’s what you want to do, but …
It wasn’t until 1998, when we got our first computer, [that] I started writing stories about my kids, funny things that happened during the day. I would send them to everyone I knew, emailing them.
So, that evolved to something on the side and then when we moved into this house in 2001, I started taking classes at The Loft [Literary Center]. I joined my local writers chapter, Romance Writers of America. I set up a lot of the author signings of the authors who came into town to do our conventions.
And then at the same time I was writing fiction that didn’t go anywhere. I was still honing these non-fiction stories about my kids, these humorist essays. So I ended up getting an agent for that in 2007. And she shopped it around, and it was right when everything was crashing into the ground. Publishing houses weren’t doing what they were now. They all liked it, but they wanted me to have a better platform.
For non-fiction, if you can’t bring in readers and people don’t know who you are, then it’s a hard sell for them. So, it didn’t really go anywhere, but instead of dwelling on that book not selling, I started writing urban fantasy. I had started reading it because my daughter wanted to ready “Twilight.” I was a huge fan of Anne Rice and Stephen King back in the day, but I hadn’t heard of “Twilight,” and she was only 11. So I wanted to make sure it was an OK book for her to read.
I thought, if this is out, what else is out? That started my research of the genre.
Can you explain urban fantasy?
Contemporary Anne Rice is what it is. Contemporary urban fantasy is set in the city. You don’t know what your neighbors are doing. Urban fantasy is right here and right now.
I had fallen in love with it because it was so fun for an author to world-build and pick and choose parameters and your heroine. You’ve got these characters, and you get to choose. You get to choose what rules there are, and what happens to them, and how strong they can be and who shows up. It is a blast.
Why did you choose werewolves?
I’ve been always a fan of the hot-blooded. I was a Team Jacob [from the “Twilight” series] girl, because I was like, ‘You can get married and have a family.’ With vampires, they sleep all day. What are you supposed to do all day?
So, I liked these sort of strong, hot-blooded characters, not as the wolf, but as themselves. I think everybody thinks Jessica McClain is going to spend all this time as a wolf, and she doesn’t. There’s like two pages of it. It’s about her and what she can do with it and I think that’s so much fun.
The book takes place in the Twin Cities and an unnamed town in northern Minnesota.
There is no name of that town, it’s just up north. [The other city] is Minneapolis. She lives in Minneapolis, sort of the Uptown area, but I don’t know if I am ever going to name [the Uptown area] because if you name something, people key into it. But I’m writing book number three right now and I’ve got a witch coven over by Lake of the Isles because you can imagine those homes and what really goes on in those houses.
Will people reading this be able to envision some places around Minneapolis?
Possibly. I don’t call out anything. I don’t name any certain things. She starts there, but it goes from there. She’s on the run. I actually name a bar, and it’s made up. It’s easier to do it that way than to call attention to certain areas.
Can you describe the process of getting a book published?
It probably took me two years to finish this, but I let it sit for eight months. When I finished it, I started querying agents, and I thought, I’ve been trying to do this for so long that if I don’t, I’m just going to get a job at Creative Kidstuff. So I was actually pretty calm.
This was your last go of it?
You say that [to yourself], but I don’t know. My kids were getting older; everybody was out of the house. I knew that I should get a job of some sort that was concrete, so I was thinking, if this doesn’t work, I will take a break of it for a while and try something else. As a writer, you’re probably always going to come back to it.
I worked with my query letter for a good month or two, tweaking it, letting it sit. So I started sending out five to 10 a day.
I had a total of 48 queries out, and I had some agents read it. … I had a couple reading it, and then the agent I [eventually] signed with. I sent it to her and on that same day she said I want you to send me the full [manuscript]. So, I send her the full and I get up at 4 in the morning. She had sent something that said, ‘I want this.’
But because I had other agents reading, I had to go though the process of letting everybody know I had an offer and if they wanted to also offer, they had to let me know. And I had like six offers. You’re sitting in your office and you don’t know. You don’t know if it’s great. You don’t know who’s going to love it. And I ended up picking my agent — she was brand new and she was really hungry.
I knew from my previous encounter that I wanted somebody to rep my career and not my book. She was in it for the career, and that’s what I wanted. It’s the best decision I ever made.
We worked on editing it hard, like four or five times before it went out on submission, and it sold three months later.
Did you sell as a three-book deal? That seems like a lot for a first-time author.
They don’t always do that. A duel-release is very rare because they wait to see how you do, because they have nothing to lose. So the fact that U.K. picked it up as well … I was very lucky. When you do a series like this, the fans want the next book. So it’s a better deal for them to negotiate it now than to wait, if it takes off.
With this genre, series are what it is, because fans want to follow characters for more than one book. It’s not like a romance where you have a heroine [and] at the end it’s all shored-up. After I hand in the third one, I can submit a proposal for more.
You’re just a few weeks away from getting tons of reviews. Are you nervous?
I am very nervous. I think that when you labor at something that you love, people don’t understand it or they expected something else. I don’t know how I am going to handle it. People really do love to hate. People love to tell you how much they can’t stand whatever it is.
Most of my friends have not read commercial fiction in this genre. They don’t get it, or they consider it a very easy or very fluffy thing to write. I think it’s not. Any author that writes anything is doing hard work to make it good for what you’re looking for. It takes a huge amount of energy and time, and you’re pouring your soul into it. I can understand how writers are hermits.
I consider commercial fiction to be like a movie you go to, like a romantic comedy. This is for pure entertainment — that’s it. It’s supposed to be action and adventure and to take you somewhere else. This is not for deep thinking.