How did the characters and story for Leather and Lace: Book One of the Southern Gothic Series come to be?
The original rumblings of this book (and later the series) started in about 2015 or so, when I started kicking around some ideas for a monster hunter story. I had always been a fan of hunting stories, with a particular fondness for Vampire Hunter D, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and Supernatural. For this project I was loosely outlining, I wanted to explore the idea of a paranormal creature hooking up with a hunter to navigate a world where monsters lived in secret among humans. Especially a less-than-fearsome vampire character, who was more loveable screw-up than a creature of the night.
I finally had an excuse to draft the short story in 2017, called ‘Leather & Lace,’ for the Twisted Romance comics and proseanthology series from Image Comics. It starred unlucky, smart-mouthed goth vampire Dorian Villeneuve and his monster-hunting best friend Cash Leroy, a Stevie Nicks stan and East Texas ex-pat who enjoyed karaoke in his off-time. ‘Leather & Lace’ was a fun, flirty romp about a romance between a vampire and a hunter on the case of a pair of murderous weredeer, with some pretty obvious parallels to Supernatural and Dean Winchester and Castiel.
And the story was fairly successful, actually! It garnered some critical acclaim and a small following of readers. Overall, I was proud of the story and enamored with the characters. In time, I found myself returning to them. The next thing I knew, I had written well over 30 stories in Dorian and Cash’s fictional universe (now called Southern Gothic) and had written two novels in a planned series of eight. Leather and Lace is the full-length adaptation of the original short story, and I’m quite excited to see how people react to it.
Has the process of writing dozens of short stories and flash fiction in the Southern Gothic universe changed or influenced how you tackled the first novel?
The process has been interesting. It’s a bit like writing with training wheels. As I moved away from my initial conception of the characters and their world to develop a bigger, more expansive universe, writing short stories helped me explore it before I had to commit to anything in the first novel.
For example, I’ve had the opportunity to work out how monster-hunting works as a job and a class of people and how the larger culture that springs up around it has to function. Beginning with Cash as this kind of archetypal monster hunter, I could work my way backwards to figure out what kind of family he came from, and what kind of social pressures exist to create a character like him. So, we see that he has this kind of conservative, small-town upbringing, where the family is the root of everything, even if he doesn’t feel totally at home in the world he was born into.
The same is true of vampires. If Dorian is meant to be kind of underwhelming as a monster, what are vampires like? Well, they’re a type of monster that can’t shapeshift, so they hide in isolated communities to avoid humans. They’re predators who have been forced into towns and cities or become hunted to extinction, so they’re very protective of their histories. Vampires are also fairly beastly-looking and can grow quite large with enough access to blood, so Dorian being a scrawny, sarcastic goth who runs his mouth and gets queasy hunting monsters makes him stand out.
Related to the previous question: Has going from a piece of short fiction to a full novel been an interesting process?
Yes, I think so! The novel’s plot is essentially the same as the original story and features all the same characters. However, I added a few more, such as Detective Fritz’s partner Detective Billie Hasagawa, and Lola of Lola’s Karaoke Box, Cash’s favorite bar, and where he and Dorian hang out after work. I also developed Paul and Beth, the antagonists of the original story. I made them much deeper characters with more complex stories than before.
A lot of things have changed, but the spirit of the story is still the same. I’m curious to see what fans of the original story have to say about the novel!
Speaking of fans: How has having a fan base for these characters influenced you?
Having a little fandom before the book was even finished certainly helped keep me motivated! All my readers are incredibly kind, thoughtful people, and they send me great memes and jokes constantly. I think the nice thing about my little garden of readers is that we do joke around a lot and have fun with the characters? I’m not the kind of writer at the risk of taking myself too seriously, and I enjoy joking about my characters and the hijinks they get up to.
If I had to pinpoint a specific way in which my readers influenced me, I ‘d say they kept me thinking of what’s the most interesting about the characters and their world. What needed some more attention, what needed some more teasing out, what people wanted to see more of. So, while I think they won’t be terribly surprised by the book, I do hope they appreciate the little Easter eggs and foreshadowing I put in to try and address some of those questions.
How do you classify the genre of the novel, and how well do you think you lean into those tropes or subvert them in some way?
Leather and Lace is an urban fantasy and paranormal romance book, and I think it hits a lot of those hallmarks pretty well. It’s a world where monsters are real but live in secret. Monster hunters live on the margins of human society to track down monsters who step out of line, and the relationships between humans and monsters are quite messy.
Where I think I play around with genre tropes is in Dorian and Cash’s relationship. For one, while they both carry the series, Dorian’s story is what informs the plot, rather than having him be a sort of mysterious vampire love interest. They also have the makings of a kind of familiar M/M romance, with a masculine alpha male hero and a somewhat waifish love interest. But Dorian is non-binary, as vampires don’t conceive of gender the way many human societies do, and he’s also far stronger and more beastly than he first appears. Cash certainly is masculine, but he’s also a very kind, humble, and affectionate character who deeply values Dorian and their friendship.
Whereas Dorian suffers from a lot of self-worth issues and doesn’t see himself as someone worth loving, Cash truly believes in Dorian and wants to care for him in all the ways he’s been let down before. And Dorian fiercely protects and cares for Cash, both physically and emotionally. Their deep friendship is the basis of their partnership and the foundation that everything else is built on. It isn’t always easy for them, and they butt heads over the course of the book (and eventually the series). Still love, respect, trust, and loyalty are the core of everything they do.
If you had to describe the world and its characters in three words, what words would you use?
Cheeky, sexy, and earnest.
Can you share something about the book that isn’t included in the blurb?
There is at least one knife fight, one slow dance number, and there are no less than four karaoke scenes. Oh, and there’s a duet. Some of this information is relevant to the plot, too!
Is there more in store for Dorian and Cash?
Yes. Quite a lot, in fact! I’m in the process of revising the second book in the series and outlining the third and fourth. There will be demons, mermaids, tulpas, harpies, werewolf crime kingpins, vampire mafia, occult smugglers, monster-hunting in-laws, mothmen detectives, and maybe even a Batsquatch or two.
What do you want readers to take away from your work?
I think it goes without saying that I want readers to come away entertained by this book. It’s designed to be a funny, flirty, sometimes scary, but ultimately entertaining romp through the world of monster-hunting. But more than that, I hope readers see something valuable in these characters and their relationship. Their friendship and love are the beating heart of this book, and the entire series it’s a part of. I want these to be characters worth rooting for, shouting at, and spending time with.
If I can pull that off, I can feel good about this book.
Falling in love with a vampire bites—and sometimes loving a human bites back.
Dorian Villeneuve is an unlucky vampire from the slums of Devil’s Row. He makes ends meet for himself and his emotional support Chihuahua by working sleazy bars and nightclubs, doing what it takes to get by. Cash Leroy is a monster hunter from East Texas with a golden voice and an unrivaled devotion to Stevie Nicks. Hunting does not leave time for friends, let alone love.
When their paths cross during a bloody run-in with the vampire mob, Cash upends Dorian’s life—and takes Dorian under his wing to teach how to hunt monsters.
The unlikely pair become partners, and soon, best friends. However, their deepening bond grows complicated when Dorian falls in love with Cash. Their friendship is too important to throw away over an interspecies attraction, especially in a career that is already nasty, brutish, and short.
And things become even more complicated when Cash finds himself returning the vampire’s affections.
When an unusually deadly case lands in the hunters’ laps, their ill-fated affair takes a backseat. A pair of maneating weredeer are on the loose taking victims’ hearts. With the pressure on to end the killing spree, Dorian and Cash must set aside their feelings and hunt down the blood-thirsty deer.
Can Dorian and Cash’s friendship survive this monstrous romance, or will they lose their hearts in the process?
Originally seen in the Eisner-nominated TWISTED ROMANCE anthology from IMAGE COMICS.
Content Warnings: Monster-related violence, sexual content, depictions of anxiety and mental illness
Cash Leroy could have been a singer but killing paid the bills. He stood at the karaoke machine and bathed in the pink neon spotlight, every inch of him painted in a dusky glow. Mic in hand, he commanded his favorite booth with lowered eyes, splinters of light catching in his fallen lashes as they fluttered against his stubbled cheeks. His voice hit the high notes of ‘Outside the Rain’ in a velvety dither that belied his smoky drawl and taste for Pall Mall cigarettes. In a depth of sound so full, it overshadowed the shrill karaoke track.
Here, on most nights and nearly every weekend, Cash sang Stevie Nicks songs and only Stevie Nicks songs. This was his ritual for the eight months that Dorian knew Cash, but it went well beyond their partnership. Cash was a man of singular interest, and no one else loved Stevie Nicks like he did.
The hunter cradled the mic between strong hands, his booted foot keeping time as he swayed to the music. Onstage, he seemed like a different man from the one Dorian knew the rest of the day. Singing straightened his slouched posture as his voice overtook the room. The stage broke Cash’s even temperament and replaced it with a showman’s presence as he performed for his preferred audience of one. Even the flecks of blood on the collar of his shirt disappeared into the neon. Everything else about Cash seemed to fall away whenever he opened his mouth to sing.
And Dorian, despite his best efforts, was in love with Cash.
Dorian nursed his second beer of the night on the modular pink loveseat across from the karaoke machine. He tried not to watch Cash as closely as he did. It was hard not to watch Cash in all things, both on the stage and off it. Dorian fought to keep his gaze from wandering over Cash’s strong legs in his beat-up blue jeans. The vampire fought harder to avoid staring at Cash’s neck, mouth, and sweep of his dark lashes as he sang.
Because Cash was Dorian’s best friend, roommate, and partner. He didn’t want to be in love with Cash. Loving Cash made Dorian’s life complicated and scary. It put an ache deep inside the vampire’s rib cage, choking on glass whenever the feeling threatened to claw its way out of his throat. Choking it down because they could never be together.
But sitting in a karaoke booth, watching Cash sing, Dorian loved Cash anyway.
Magen Cubed is an Eisner-nominated writer, essayist, and occasional critic, best known for her queer monsterhunting urban fantasy/paranormal romance series SOUTHERN GOTHIC. She has appeared in the critically acclaimed TWISTED ROMANCE comics anthology from Image Comics and has bylines on the award-winning Women Write About Comics. Magen lives in Florida with her girlfriend Melissa and a little dog named Cecil.
Genre: Paranormal Genre: Romance Genre: Urban Fantasy Identity: nonbinary Orientation: Gay Pairing: enby/M Self Published Tag: Guest Post Tag: Part of a series Trigger Warning: Depictions of Anxiety Trigger Warning: Violence Leather and Lace Magen Cubed Southern Gothic series