Yes, the premise of Hell’s Belle is kind of funny: Nina Martinez is a motorcycle-riding vampiress who slays monsters for the government. The writing is hard-boiled. The plots are comic bookish. And the setting is Providence. If you’re not smiling yet, you’re probably undead.
But not long ago, Karen Greco received a note. For a self-published trilogy, Hell’s Belle gets a good deal of fan mail. A mother in Massachusetts had been caring for her son, who had a serious illness and needed to be hospitalized. The mother had routinely read the series aloud by his bedside. The stories meant so much to their family; both mother and father wouldspend their date nights visiting locations in Providence that had been referenced in the book.
“Everything [authors] do is by our- selves,” says Greco, who writes regularly for SO Rhode Island. “There’s no instant feedback. You put in 2,000 words, and then you’re like, ‘Well that was all crap.’ And then you get this email.”
Greco never expected to write urban fantasy, and even her latest effort, a prequel called Sin City Salvation, has surpassed her expectations. Greco grew up in Cranston and won a major playwriting competition at the age of 17; the play was performed at the Kennedy Center. Bolstered, she went to NYU to study dramatic writing. But she stalled in New York. “The critics had a lot of control over the careers of the playwrights. I got gun-shy. I thought, ‘I don’t need to write plays. I think I’m just gonna shelve that.’”
After 20 years as a freelance writer and publicist in the Big Apple, Greco moved to Narragansett with her husband and daughter. She still makes a living through copywriting and journalism, but in 2014 she gravitated back toward creative writing. And slowly but surely, Nina Martinez was born.
“I always loved the idea of writing a novel, but I never thought I could stick to it,” says Greco. “I always loved urban fantasy and horror. I think it’s growing up in New England, we have a rich supernatural history – witch burnings, old houses.”
Greco doesn’t mind her self-published approach, nor does her following – which is why three books became four. “It wrapped up nicely in the third novel, where I really could have stopped,” says Greco. “But there was a push from readers. And it turned out to be great, because I figured out how to wrap up these other ideas that I had into this world, and branch out with some other stories I wanted to write.”