Thursday, February 11, 2010

Interview with Ravenous Romance Editor Lori Perkins

Lori Perkins is the Editorial Director of Ravenous Romance, a new publisher of erotic romance ebooks and audio books, and has been a literary agent for 20 years.  Perkins has edited 12 erotica anthologies. She is also a published author, as well as an adjunct professor at NYU’s Center for Publishing.

Perkins is President of L. Perkins Agency, which has foreign agents in 11 countries and working relationships with Hollywood agents. Perkins was the agent for How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson, which made the New York Times best-seller list for seven weeks. She was also the agent for J.K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter by Marc Shapiro, which was on the NY Times Children’s best-seller list.

In addition, Perkins is the author of four books –The Cheapskate’s Guide to Entertainment: How to Throw Fabulous Parties on a Budget, excerpted in Redbook and Family Circle magazines The Insider’s Guide to Getting a Literary Agent, chosen by as one of the top 100 books on writing; and The Everything Family Guide to Washington D.C. and The Everything Family Guide to New York. She has also written numerous articles on publishing for Writer’s Digest and Publisher’s Weekly.

Prior to becoming an agent, Perkins was a journalist who received her B.A. in journalism and art history from N.Y.U., where she later taught feature article writing. She was the founder and publisher of a local newspaper in Upper Manhattan.

Perkins is a native New Yorker with a 17 -year-old son who attends the Bronx High School of Science, just like his mom.

Fatally Yours: What does horror mean to you?

Lori Perkins: Wow. Good question. My first reaction was that I better strap myself in for this interview.  And that’s what good horror means to me too – a ride that will make me hold on for dear life.

Fatally Yours: How did you fall in love with the horror genre? 

Lori Perkins: Through Dark Shadows, a daily horror soap opera that riveted me as a kid. And then through books. I loved Poe as a pre-teen. Dracula was the first book I took out of the adult library at 12. Read ‘Salem’s Lot at 14 in Belfast, ME in one sitting with the lights on. I didn’t really see horror movies until I was in high school, although I do remember being scared by Frankenstein.

Fatally Yours: How did your career as a literary agent begin and how did it lead up to your online publishing company, Ravenous Romance? 

Lori Perkins:  I was a journalist when I got out of college and started my own newspaper in Upper Manhattan. One of my editors worked for a literary agent, and said I should be my writers’ agent, since I was always telling them where to sell their articles and what the pitch was. So I sold the newspaper and became an agent, and thought I would represent journalists and authors of the Great American Novel. Except what I was always reading was horror. One day the head of the literary agency asked if anyone in the office had read any books by this guy Stephen King. And when I told her I had read all of them, she said, “Poof. You’re now the horror agent.” And I was. I went into the slush pile, found a bunch of horror novels, and sold four horror first novels in a month.

I’ve been a literary agent for two decades, during which time I have sold more than 250 vampire novels. I love horror from the high brow to the slasher.

When we started, we were going after the established erotic romance ereader. We knew she loved those vampire romances, so we gave her quite a few of them (I think we have seven vampire series at RR as I type). But we also have made a name for ourselves as the epubisher that does really good horror romance, with the launch of Hungry For Your Love, our zombie romance anthology, as well as Hal Bodner’s For the Love of the Dead, our M/M (that’s gay in mainstream fiction) zombie romance novel. We’ve got werewolves (gay and straight) and ghosts and shape-shifters galore. The “paranormal” romance category is a best-seller in women’s eficiton.

Fatally Yours: Why do you choose to pursue horror and romance/erotica as opposed to other literary genres? What interests you in these genres?

Lori Perkins: It’s what I read for pleasure, so I am well-read in it. I believe that to be a successful agent, author or editor in a genre, you have to read what’s been published in both the past and the present.
When I met Dean Koontz as a baby agent in 1987, he told me that I was pretty well-read in the genre for a horror agent, and that also gave me the seal of approval to go forward with it.

I also loved Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus and Little Birds when they were published when I was in high school, and was disappointed that no one else was writing anything like that. When I was a teen-ager, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to establish a women’s erotica magazine when I grew up. is really not that far from that dream.

Fatally Yours: What criteria do you use for Ravenous Romance when going through book submissions? Have you ever turned something down because it was too explicit/violent/gory/etc.?

Lori Perkins: RR novels must be erotic romances, which means they must have happy ever after or happy for now endings. And they must develop the love relationship. We’ve had one novel that was too gory, so we asked the author to cut to white space for the gore. The book has received high praise from the readership, so it was the right move for our audience. But I’m a good editor, and a fixer by nature, so I can usually fix anything. It’s up to the author to go along with my suggestions.

Fatally Yours: What sub-genres in horror (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.) and romance are you sick of? What sub-genres do you want to see more of?

Lori Perkins: You can always re-invent the mythos, so I am never sick of anything. I know that just when you think you can never read another teen vampire novel, one will come along that will blow you away.

Fatally Yours: Has the Twilight trend helped supernatural adult books sell more?

Lori Perkins:  I think it’s more Laurel K. Hamilton and Sherlyn Kenyon, and the success of HBO’s version of Charlaine Harris’ series with True Blood. Twilight is really aimed at the teen market, although we know those mothers want to run off with Edward too.

Fatally Yours: How have the horror and/or romance literary genres changed from when you first started in the business?

Lori Perkins: ‘80’s horror was very Judeo/Christian with a smattering of American Indian/Hispanic/voodoo mythos and the main characters were all white males and the books were set in the suburbs. Today, you cannot sell a male dominated horror novel, and the more diversity you have, the better.

Fatally Yours: Has there been any subject or trend that has surprised you with its popularity? 

Lori Perkins: I wasn’t surprised by the zombie trend, as much as I was amazed by its scope. This is by far the most creative zombie epidemic we’ve seen, and there is just so much more to come.  I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and was really happy to see the big budget Zombieland.

I am personally thrilled by all this vampire/zombie apocalypse fiction.  I thought I was the only one prepared for that particular end of the world.

Fatally Yours: Why do you think vampires are always so hot and sexy in erotic fiction? What other monsters would you like to see sexed up?

Lori Perkins: Vampires are the ultimate bad boys, which are a staple of romance fiction.  And so oral, please! In the words of Stephen King, “who wouldn’t want to stay up all night and live forever?”
I have never understood why Succubae and Incubi haven’t made it big in erotic fiction, as well as ghosts. I think shapeshifters will be big next year.

Fatally Yours: Do you think the characters in traditional “bodice rippers” have evolved from the stereotypical helpless female and macho male that saves her to stronger, more independent women and more sensitive men or are the characters pretty much the same? 

Lori Perkins: They’re the same, but with contemporary mores. The alpha male’s a werewolf instead of a pilot or cop, and the women is an educated every woman vet who happens be a perfect match for his DNA, and her biological clock has been ticking since 30.

Fatally Yours: Overall, do you think female characters in romance novels set feminism back or advance it forward? How and why?

Lori Perkins: Both. The paranormal female characters are exponentially more kick ass (like Buffy), but ultimately she’s still looking to be swept off her feet. In paranormal fiction, she can at least save his ass (and sometimes she’s more physically powerful in her supernatural state, she gets to sweep him off his feet – or at least knock him on his ass).

Romance novels are not issue oriented – they are relationship oriented, so that is where this fiction can advance feminism. Certainly the men in these pages do more dishes and baby-sitting and foreplay than the men of the general population. And they are much more emotionally available.

Sometimes the manipulation that the characters have to use in order to get to that happy ending seems retro.

Fatally Yours: It seems that horror films and novels have always featured sex and violence. Why do you think the two have successfully been paired? What is the attraction between sex and violence?

Lori Perkins: Sex and violence are both roller coaster rides. They both release the same endorphins.

Fatally Yours: Why do you think the romance novel genre is mainly dominated by females? Do women authors also dominate the horror-romance/supernatural romance genre?

Lori Perkins: Women buy 75% of all books published books, so they know what they want to read. As long as horror romance follows the paranormal romance format, it will be written by women. But a man could take the format and turn it inside out and have a break out novel, sort of like what Robert James Waller did with Bridges of Madison County.

Fatally Yours: The audience for horror-romance novels is obviously a bit different from the standard romance novel audience. Who would you say is the target audience for the horror-romance hybrid novels?

Lori Perkins:  It’s three audiences – women who love romances, both the men and women who love erotica, and horror readers, but horror readers were described to me in the ‘80’s as 17 year old boys and their 35 year old mothers. Today, these readers also encompass the 55 year-old boomers, so maybe this is the way to grab three generations of readers.

Fatally Yours: What different perspectives can women bring to the literary industry, as authors, agents, publishers or otherwise, that are lacking in men’s perspectives?

Lori Perkins: The sexuality is very different. Much less objectification; much more internal analysis. We’ve had 50 years of the male gaze in erotic writing. Now it’s time for the female perspective, which pays attention to different details. Women also pay much more attention to the nuance of relationships, not only between men and women, but parents and children and friends and co-workers.

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give women who want a career in the literary world?

Lori Perkins: Pay attention to what’s being published and then write what you love.  Follow your own fantasies and make them more universal. Work on your craft. Read. Write every day, but write for your own pleasure. Never give up.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite horror authors and what are your favorite horror novels? What are your favorite romance novels and who are your favorite authors?

Lori Perkins: Stephen King, by far. I have read everything he’s written. I also love Peter Struab, who has mastered telling a story like peeling an onion. Ghost Story is one of the best horror novels ever written. I have always loved Poe. I could re-read Dracula every year. Misery is my favorite King novel (and it was genius they way he wove the romance novel into the horror novel). I also loved ‘Salem’s Lot, which is Dracula set in a small American town and the death of a small town.

My taste in romance novels is a little lite.  I loved Cheryl Brook’s Cat Star Chronicles.  Our own RR titles, Ripping the Bodice and Knight Moves are two of my favorites in this genre.

Fatally Yours: What was the last good book in the horror genre that you read? What was the last good horror film you saw?

Lori Perkins: I’m just about finished Under the Dome and loving it. I really loved Zombieland (which was a zombie romance). I just saw American Zombie, which I thought was really well-done. And I finally just saw Cemetery Man, which is a ‘90s Italian zombie romance that is fantastic and one of a kind.

Fatally Yours: What are your goals for yourself within the literary world?

Lori Perkins: When I was a teenager, I wanted to start that women’s erotic magazine. As a young adult, I gave my neighborhood an award-winning local newspaper. As a young agent, I wanted to find the next Anne Rice or Stephen King. In mid-life, I wanted to make sure that some of the writers I loved continued to publish (John Skipp, Nancy Collins). And I guess I wanted to prove that the horror genre had room to expand – I sold Polly Frost’s collection of erotic horror stories to Tor, Deep Inside.

I think all genre fiction can thrive in the ebook market. I think books are too expensive to be mass-market impulse purchases at the price they currently command. I think that if books sell for about $5 a pop, more people will read more books. And that’s what I’d love to see happen with ebooks.

Fatally Yours: Where can people find more info on you?

Lori Perkins: I write two blogs, and  I’m also on twitter as @LoriPerkinsRR, and on Facebook. Since I work two jobs, and put in 16 hours a day, you can usually find me and what I’m reading, editing and even eating.

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