Dearly Departed: Sarah Zettel’s Vampire Chef Series

I was recently bemoaning the fact that so many of the cozy series I enjoyed ended all too soon and wondered why that was. It seemed like one of those great publishing industry mysteries, destined to go unsolved. Then I realized, I know authors. I’m part of the cozy community now! I reached out to the author of the series that started my ruminating and here we are!

  1. Tell us about the Vampire Chef series. What was the premise? Who was the protagonist?
    Charlotte Caine is the vampire chef. But she’s not a vampire. She just cooks for them. Charlotte runs the restaurant “A Taste of the Nightlife,” which is a place where vampires and humans can sit down together and have a meal without anybody getting hurt.
    This is a world where paranormals are out in the open, and not everybody’s happy about it. There’s a lot of tension between vampires and the traditional witch/wizard families who have been hunting and fighting them for years. And some people really want to force vampires, like Charlotte’s brother, Chet, back in the coffin.
  2. What, or who, was your favorite part of the series?
    I just love Charlotte, the main character and sleuth. I love her attitude, I love her family, both the “blood” family and the found family.
  3. Why did it end?
    The series ended for the most prosaic of reasons. It wasn’t selling as well as hoped and the publisher decided not to buy a third book.
  4. Was its ending a relief or were you disappointed?
    I was deeply disappointed, not in the least because I’d ended book two on a cliff-hanger.
  5. Would you ever resurrect the series?
    Here’s where it gets complicated.
    The Vampire Chef series came into existence in a round about way, and explaining it requires a brief dive into one of the lesser-known aspects of traditional publishing. In addition to the publishers there are these things called “book packagers.” Book packages take existing concepts, such as a tie-in, or an anthology theme. They then find authors to write the book around the concept and sell the book to a publisher. The author is paid for the work, but the copyright belongs to the book packager.
    Vampire Chef came into being when a book packager and editor named Marty Greenberg walked into the office one day and said “Vampire Chef! Why has nobody done this!” This was in the hey-day of both Iron Chef and vampire romances, so everybody agreed it was a great idea, and started looking around for an author. The first person they approached was a friend of mine. She was booked solid, but knew I was looking for work, and that I was a foodie, and the conversation went something like this.
    Her: Sarah? Vampire Chef?
    Me: YES! I AM THERE? What are you talking about?
    So, I wrote up a plot synopsis for the packager, the packager took the synopsis and sample chapters to a publisher, the publisher bought it and I wrote it. I got an advance, and I got royalties, and had a lot of fun, but I never owned the copyright. So, I cannot write another book, because legally speaking, the root idea, characters, etc. isn’t mine. It’s the same reason I can’t just go out and write a Star Wars book.
    I did try to find a way to buy the copyright. But there was an additional problem. Shortly after the series ended, the original packager, Marty Greenberg died. When he died, his corporation was dissolved, and the assets, including the copyright on Vampire Chef, were purchased by somebody else. After a lot of work, my agent was able to track down Somebody Else, but they were not interested in selling the copyright at a price I could afford.
    This is a very weird situation, but it is what happens in the sort of in-between world of work-for-hire fiction writing. I like work-for-hire. It’s a good income stream for a professional writer, and if you can develop a reputation as someone who can deliver, it can open doors for you with editors and publishers. But, you lose control of the results in ways that you don’t on a project where you own the copyright, and that is not a small consideration.
  6. Did you learn anything from writing the Vampire Chef books?
    I’m very fond of the Vampire Chef. First off, I had a lot of fun writing the books. They’re also the books that got me started as a mystery author, which has taken me to some very good places. And, it turns out I’m kind of good at mysteries.
  7. What are you working on these days?
    All kinds of things. I’ve got a new suspense book (A Mother’s Lie) coming out in April. Under my Darcie Wilde pseudonym, I’m working on the fourth book in my historical mystery series (the Rosalind Thorne mysteries, sort of Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle). Under my Delia James pseudonym, I’ve got my “Magical Cat” books and will soon be starting on another pet-themed cozy series, but I can’t announce the details yet.

Thank you so much, Sarah! This may be the best thing I’ve ever done on this blog, because now I know a little more about the behind-the-scenes of Vampire Chef and got a whole new list of books to put on my TBR!

Did you love the Vampire Chef books? Did you also love the story of Marty Greenberg? Is there a mystery series you want to ask about next? Let me know!

Sarah Zettel never met a genre she didn’t like.  Her thirty-five novels have covered the gamut from science fiction to romance to young adult to, most recently, mystery and suspense.  She is award-winning and bestselling and can’t believe she gets paid for this.  When not writing she is hiking, cooking, lifting weights, embroidering anything that doesn’t move fast enough, and parenting her teenage son.  She is very tired right now.

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