Friday, December 19, 2014

Blog Radio Appearance

I'm pretty excited because later on today (Friday, Dec. 19, 2:38 a.m. is when I type this) I'll be doing an hour long interview on the Speculative Fiction Cantina. We'll be discussing To Touch the Sun, among other things. They also asked me to do a 5-8 minute reading from the book and choosing a passage that fits in that time has been difficult but it's been fun practicing with the possible choices. 

There are a number of accents in my book: Heavy Chicago, light Chicago, Indian, British, I've always enjoyed playing with accents so playing with these (not to mention trying to pin down the male voices without it being too obvious that that I'm "husking" my voice) has been interesting.

I'll say this, I've often wondered why most authors don't read versions of their own audio books. You would think it would be perfect since they know the rhythm of the words they put down on paper. 

It can be quite a challenge, however, as I discovered when I read the prologue of TTTS so that the publisher can put something on Facebook the day it was released. It was me, in my living room with a headset and a computer, trying to accomplish the task in a hurry and luckily it was mostly prose so that I didn't have to go in and out of too many accents. Even still, I found myself having to pause frequently to attend to sinal issues, or because I had a tickle in my throat, or Oliver T. Kitty decided I was spending far too much time with that and not nearly enough praising him so he tried to steal my focus with a whiny meow. Or, and this is a huge problem, you tend to assume what the next words will be only discover you're off by a word or a tense. 

Now I know that most audio book readers are locked up in a quality studio with technicians to help them. Still, it has to be a daunting task.

If you want to hear a reader successfully attack a variety of accents in a book, listen to John Lee's exceptional reading of Ken Follett's "Century Trilogy." I have gotten through the first and half of the second book (hoping to finish it soon) and was blown away. I was made fully aware of his talent after listening to the audio versions of Follett's Pillar's of the Earth and subsequent books in that series. It was like listening to a radio play. But in the Century Trilogy, Lee is taking on a variety of British accents, a variety of American accents, German, Russian, male and female...and he does it all seemingly effortlessly. It's astounding. 

Of course the audio versions of the Harry Potter books are classics unto themselves thanks to the voice talents of Jim Dale. He doesn't have the vast amount of different ethnic accents, but he does have the male/female, adult/child accents to perform. I had a friend who made a ritual of reading the Harry Potter book and then made a ritual of listening to it on CD.

I really enjoyed Ron Perlman's reading of The Strain, the first novel in a vampire trilogy by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Hogan. His was a measured reading, but it was perfect for the subject and added to the tension.

Recently (well, several months ago--unfortunately, with my schedule, that's recent for fiction) I finished the audio book of The Martian by Andy Weir. It was a surprisingly engrossing book (I say surprisingly because it's very subject should have left my eyes glazed over from minutia). The performance by R.C. Bray only helped to pull me into the story. 

Frequently I find myself listening to books on audio because my schedule leaves me little time to read. Popping a CD into the player driving from one thing to another is a lot easier. And if you have a great reader, it can be a fantastic experience.

If you would like to hear me take a stab at a live reading, tune into the Cantina tomorrow. And feel free to call in with any questions. I'll be on at 5 p.m. Central time. Visit

Monday, August 18, 2014

Vampires Hearts: To Beat or Not to Beat

When you write a book, you have to be ready for the reviews, both good and bad. Thankfully TTTS has been receiving generally favorable reviews so far. And even the review I'm highlighting in this post ends on a positive note (and the reviewer gave the book three stars):

"vamps have a heart beat?????? not in any other vampire stories that i have read.....slow read, all the time long explaination. i have read many and never heard the heart beat thing, most state that there is no need for one as they are dead. T
he ending is super great and i loved it"

Apparently, that whole heart beat thing really knocked her for a loop. And hers is a fair question if she's primarily read stories in which vampire hearts don't beat. Vampires are, after all, supposed to be dead.

Or are they? Many might say, "yes," and certainly there are many authors who write them that way. But (as I state in my book Vampires' Most Wanted) one reason I feel the creature has remained popular over the centuries is that it's so versatile. While the term "vampire" may have arisen in Eastern Europe, legends of vampiric creatures have existed in cultures around the world, their traits often taking on a style particular to that country. 

The penanggallan
There was the penanggallan of Malaysia, for example, a woman who could detatch her head and send it flying around looking for victims. Or the Mananaggal of the Philippines who could detatch her upper torso to go hunting. The jiangshi of China are basically reanimated corpses with green fungus on them that hop around and absorb life essence from people. Ashanti legends of West Africa tell of the asanbosam which waits on the branches of trees for a juicy victim to walk by. In ancient India they believed that ghoulish beings known as vetalas inhabited corpses while a chedipe was a witch vampire that also specialized in sexual pleasure. The Alp of Germany is more of an imp while Germany's blautsauger was even more frightening.

Bottom line, there are a heck of a lot of vampire legends out there and they don't all follow the same playbook. Even the current crop of romantic vampires are relatively new, the notion gaining a foothold in the mid-19th century and growing stronger in the 20th century. That a vampire could break hearts was something that most people would have found absurd prior to the that.

The key element in the vampire tale concerns the ingestion of blood stolen from another being (though one could widen the parameters and switch the word "blood" with "life force"). One person living off another to survive. But the legends and the vampires themselves all differ from each other in some way. Some are little more than zombies, some feast only on relatives, some fly, sometimes only half of them fly, some can handle the sun, some can't. And even those notions change and evolve over time. 

Count Orlock  disintegrates in the light of the rising sun
An aversion to sunlight, for example, was never a big thing in the Eastern European legends until the danger of sunlight on a vampire was introduced in the movie "Nosferatu: Symphony of Terror." After that, it was something used quite frequently as a way to combat a vampire. The past decade or so, in shows like "Moonlight" and books like Twilight, you come across more vampires immune to sunlight (albeit in Twilight, they aren't exactly immune to sunlight since it makes them sparkle, thus going out in the sunlight attracts attention to themselves...I know I didn't buy it either).

So people have often played with a legend that was never set in stone to begin with. 

It's exactly what I did when I decided to write a vampire novel. Since I didn't want to resort to the supernatural to explain my vampires (I have no problem with the supernatural, I just felt more comfortable not using it), I made vampirism a physical not a metaphysical condition. That's how it made sense to me. How is it that reanimated corpses can function?

Or to put it another way:

In a episode of the TV show "True Blood", Bill tells Sookie that he doesn't breathe. Well, why would he? Again, as a vampire, he's not alive. But then how is he able to speak those words to her. Try to speak and not inhale or release air. Nothing is said about him having magical speech so presumably he's speaking the way humans do. How is that done without the air to lift those words out of his throat?

Mina Harker feasts off Count Dracula
Or consider Dracula who accosts Mina Harker in her room one night and has her drink the blood leaking from a self inflicted wound on his chest. How is the blood able to flow if there is no circulation system powered by a beating heart? 

Authors of course can use the conceit that as creatures reanimated from the dead their vampires have no heart beats. Again that's the beauty of the genre: There are so many different takes on it. 

But for my novel, I wanted an explanation for how a "corpse" was able to move.

All life on earth has some sort of circulatory system powering it. I needed something, aside form the supernatural, to power my vampires. The human body is an amazing machine. The amount of processes happening on a cellular level is astonishing. There are processes within processes. 

Which is why I made the condition a disease. My soon-to-be vampires might be on the brink of death, but somehow the microbes infecting them can take advantage of the barest spark of electrical-chemical impulses to jump start their systems. They take a person, repair certain functions, improve or alter others, all to create a safe environment where they can thrive. 

So in my universe, vampires are alive. Their hearts beat, their organs function. But as with the legend, their lives (or the lives on the microbes keeping them alive) depend on the sustenance gained from other beings.

It's just another spin on the legend.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Interview at the New Lenox Library

A few months ago I taped an interview about To Touch the Sun at the New Lenox Library in New Lenox, Ill. It's a beautiful library, a bit of a drive. I think it took me about 90 minutes heading south. But it was a nice drive through some rural area.

I was interviewed by the director, Kate Hall, for a series the library just started called "Meet Your Neighbor".

I hope you enjoy hearing about the novel. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting to Know the Characters

I make no secret of the fact that I never had an urge to write a vampire novel prior to To Touch the Sun. I liked reading the genre, I just never had a character or story in mind.

That all changed with TTTS. There was a huge amount of evolution that went on with that novel. I decided to take on the project in the hopes of attracting an agent but I still didn't have a character or story. Just a two word idea: vampire chef. I played with plot, narrative, perspective. Eventually I came up with characters I really love and a plot that suits them. I'm sure that's why the series that grew from it is so close to my heart: Because it came about as such a surprise.

Once I had the novel (and the agent thing fell through) I became desperate to find a publisher. Again, more so than any novel I've written, I wanted this published. It took years to find a publisher, and I'm happy with Dagda, but those were frustrating years.

Looking back on it, however, I'm kind of glad for the wait because it offered me the chance to write the next three novels in the series and enabled me to know my characters better. Now, when I talk of TTTS, I can also talk of the series which lends excitement to talking about TTTS. I understand Narain, for example, in a different way then I did right after finishing TTTS. I understand the friendship between him and Dom or the love between him and Cassie in a much more complete way.

Actually, it can sometimes be frustrating to have the next three novels written. There are some surprises in the next two novels that I have to be careful not to reveal when talking about TTTS. But there's an arc to some characters that I'm extremely excited about and would love to discuss.

Hopefully it won't be too long before the next books are published. but I'd like some saturation for TTTS before that happens.

To Touch the Sun is available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sense of Family

Narain's loyalty to his family plays a big part throughout the series. He's surrounded himself with people who become his family: Sophie, Dom, Cassie in some respects the staff of his restaurant who he treats like family (though he has yet to reveal his secret to them). Perhaps all to replace the family he's lost when he left to fight in the fields of France so many decades before.

Narain was 25 when he left for the First World War. He was the oldest of four children which included Aziz who was 13 in 1916. Aziz could be petulant and headstrong. The brothers shared a resemblance in looks but not one in temperament as Aziz felt a sense of rivalry with an older brother who seemed much more in sync with their beloved father. Zaheer, 10, was the quiet brother. The compassionate child. The brother always ready, even at so young an age, to offer a comforting word. The one often breaking up disagreements between his older brothers. Then there was Ujaali, age 5 when Narain left, the light in everyone's hearts. As headstrong as Aziz yet sharing the compassionate trait that ran so strong in her brother Zaheer.

When news of Narain's death reached the family after he promised Ujaali he'd return, Ujaali was inconsolable for days. Zaheer cried himself to sleep all night but did his best during the day to put on a brave face for his parents who were dealing with their own loss.

Aziz went off on his own to deal with his grief for while he and Narain had had their differences, there was love there as well. Sometimes his grief would lead him to look for trouble as if a street brawl could take his mind from the loss. That sense of directionless grew, leaving his parents to wonder what would become of their second son.

After Narain became a vampire and, thanks to meeting Alphonse Reno, he learned to understand the condition better. Alphonse was able to convince Narain to return to India. If Narain could sit down with his family, explain what had happened, what he'd become, help them understand the condition the way he did, perhaps they would accept him.

Alphonse yearned to be reunited with his son and didn't care what his son had become. Would the joy of Narain's return help his family look past what he now was?

The question was never answered.

Narain traveled back to India and returned to his village but couldn't bring himself to take the final step of meeting his family. The thought of the looks on their faces should the horror over what he told them be too much held him back.

And it was a chance meeting with Aziz in his hotel room that sealed his decision. Aziz, now not very much younger than Narain had been when he left, had heard that his brother's look-a-like had been spotted in town and he came to investigate. But his demeanor when they met was cold, a bit calculating, as he told Narain that the family had grieved for him. He should remain dead to them. It had been too long.

Narian's own cowardice had already made up his mind. This stunning hardness on the part of his brother only confirmed the correctness of his decision.

And so he left (though this meeting would figure in later novels), returning to Europe but not to Aphonse. he didn't have the heart to return having failed in his task. Narain wrote to Alphonse every so often, letters full of positive news and contentment. All lies, for Narain's life upon return to France became a life of wandering and uncertainty as he fought to do that which he had to do to survive, all the while fearful of passing the condition on as it had been done to him. He roamed town by night, sleeping in caves or crypts during the day, uncertain in how to turn things around.

It ws during his wandering at his lowest point in life that Narain met Sophie (a meeting described in the second book), the daughter of millionaire industrialist Harrison Grayson. She and her father allowed him into their lives and after the father had died and and Germany invaded France, Narain and Sophie opened their mansion to war orphans. It was Sophie's suggestion but Narian agreed, the couple somehow making it work while hiding what Narain was from the children. To them, he was simply curious "Uncle" who appeared to interact with them as soon as the light faded. Playing with them, giving them cooking lessons.

After the war, when Sophie and Narain made their way to Chicago they kept the mansion open as a school for children from around the world. In the meantime, Narain collected what family he could in Chicago. His staff, who, in a business with high turnover, often stayed on at the restaurant because of the way he treated them. Dom who became like a brother. Cassie, his new love once Sophie had gone.

To Some he revealed his secret, the secret he couldn't bring himself to reveal to his family in India. To some he he didn't. But those who received Narain's trust and loyalty received the sort of loyalty he would have showed his family from so long ago had he found the courage to return to them. Decades later their loss occasionally hits him. 

In To Touch the Sun it's revealed that he's been searching for Ujaali, the one person from his immediate family who might still be alive. He isn't sure if he simply wants to know if she lives or if he would take the next step if she does and go to her.

The biggest regret in his life was when Narain promised his weeping sister upon his departure from India that he would return to her and he never did. It's a promise that haunts him through the decades that follow.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vampirism as a Disease

In the novel The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, the cause of vampirism is a pathogen that once set loose begins a pandemic. Anyone bitten by someone suffering from the disease becomes infected and carriers of the disease themselves.

The Strain is one of the creepiest novels ever written. A highly engrossing read.

When I decided to write about a vampire I knew I had to set up some ground rules (something every author whose written about vampires has done). I liked some of the old standbys (the need for blood to survive, toxic affects of sunlight, immortality), but as the authors of The Strain did, I wanted to jettison the whole metaphysical aspect of it: Vampirism caused by black magic, evil spirits, etc. Which is fine for certain novels but didn't really work for mine. I wanted--well a mundane explanation. So I turned to science (albeit a fantastical version).

It has been done before, perhaps the best by Richard Matheson who wrote I Am Legend, offering a pathogen carried on the wind to explain the vampire plague, and scientific explanations for old legends. A vampire must be staked, for example, and the stake remain in the wound because withdrawing the stake will allow the tissue to knit back together before the vampire dies. A vampire can't look at his own reflection because the affect of the illness messes with his diseased mind so much that the reflection frightens him. The illness has also made vampires allergic to certain properties in garlic.

It remains one of my favorite vampire novels.

Unlike Legend or The Strain (which I read after writing my first novel) I didn't want an illness that wasn't naturally regulated. The hero in I Am Legend becomes legend because he is the last uninfected human on Earth. Anyone else not outright killed by vampires is infected and becomes a vampire. The same with The Strain.

I wanted to afford my vampires the option to not need to kill their host. As long as they're of healthy minds and bodies they can control themselves and take only what's needed. It goes back to what I've written about moral compasses. Those who have no compunction about hurting people will probably have no problem killing the host. Those with higher morals before conversion will do what they need to survive but try not to hurt the host.

But that can only be done if the infection can't be spread. In essence, when it came to vampires, I needed two possibilities: A human that could be infected and one that couldn't. There had to be something in the physiology of the future vampires that allowed the disease in and an immunity in the nonvampire that conquered the disease.

And so begat the vampire gene. Explained as a gene that might have survived on from prehistoric times, those with the gene are susceptible to the disease. If a vampire bites someone without the gene, the disease dies within their system.

This enabled me to do a controlled "passing on" of vampirism, otherwise, it would indeed turn into a raging pandemic and the world would be peopled with vampires (even Matheson, knowing he needed at least one normal human alive for the story, gave that human an immunity to the plague turning everyone else into vampires). Other authors have tackled this problem of creating more vampires using other devices coming up with elaborate ways to pass on the condition. A certain number of bites before the host is turned. In some, vampirism is considered a gift bestowed carefully upon someone (anyone not allowed this immortality is drained to death or killed in some other fashion). An answered prayer from an evil deity.

I didn't want to go that route to explain why everyone hasn't turned because I wanted to use the possibility as a dramatic device.

Narain has feeding issues, partly because of his attitude toward what he's become. When he had Sophie to feed on it was easier. But prior to her and after, feeding was difficult not only because he felt like a thief but because he was afraid of passing the disease on. Not everyone he fed on succumbed to it. But some would. Some whose lives would altered forever. As his was. And if he passed the condition on to someone dangerous? While it had its inconveniences it also left him a nearly indestructible being. Someone without conscious possessing that power--well the idea disturbed him greatly. 

So it helped me give Narain one more hurdle in the story that he'd have to navigate. It's a hurdle that it takes a couple of books for him to navigate as Sophie's passing makes him realize just how complacent he's become about what he is.

It has also helped me come up with other types of vampires with which to people my stories. While most people with the gene are affected in the same way, there are those who may convert to vampirism with a slightly different result (the most striking example being those who become feral and those sentient). And as in novel four, some might not convert completely, yet have a connection to vampires after being attacked none the less.

It's opened up a variety of possibilities for me which I hope will be revealed in a long and successful series of novels.

Monday, March 10, 2014

To Touch the Sun on the Radio

Things have been exciting since To Touch the Sun was published. The marketing machine is in full swing. I'll be a guest on the Nick Digilio show on WGN radio at 2 a.m. March 12. Nick was nice enough to interview me when my book Vampires' Most Wanted was published and I had a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to this. And I'll be live in the studio. Should be interesting to head to downtown Chicago at 1 a.m. The Tribune Tower has a great gothic-look to it. This design was the one chosen by the Chicago Tribune after a design contest held in 1922. Completed in 1925, it's 36 floors, 462 feet high and at night, you might even see some bats flying around the top of it. Maybe even a few vampires.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

To Touch the Sun Book Launch Soon

The poster on my wall says it all!
Well this is pretty exciting. The big day is coming up and Dagda Publishing will be having a Facebook book launch for To Touch the Sun Feb. 25. I'll be popping in as often as I can during the day and am looking forward to meeting people and discussing the novel. And those who attend will have the chance to win a copy of the novel. 

She's on the case!
As I've stated often before, this novel is my baby. I've even taken publicity photos for press releases and I do NOT take photos.

Finding a publisher for it was like finding gold. I've been doing some interviews on it and writing a few guest blog pieces. It's given me a chance to reflect on the story and the various inspirations that went into it. I've been covering that in this blog. 

I remember when I was writing Chicago's Most Wanted: The Top Ten Book of Murders Mobsters, Midway Monsters and Other Windy City Oddities (My first book published in 2005 by Potomac Press). The day I signed the contract for that was the happiest and scariest day of my life. Happiest of course because I was finally going to be published. Scariest because I wasn't sure if I could pull it off, especially since I'd never done anything like that before. Once it was published, and I looked back on the writing of it, I have a lot of good feelings (even though I was going crazy while actually doing it). I guess it's all hindsight.
On the left you'll see Lake Point Tower, home to Narain Khan
It's a bit like that with this book. Slightly different though because I didn't have a contract for it and it was a work of fiction, so there was nothing pressing on me in the way of deadlines. But I remember, once I had fallen in love with it, being very concerned that I'd never find a publisher for it. I really wanted that story out. And as I say, looking back on it, I can see things perhaps I didn't realize as I was writing it. For example, I didn't realize how vital the character of Sophie is to the plot even though she really only appears in a few reminisces. Sophie helped Narain live a relatively normal life (in light of his condition) for decades. When she died, his motivations were colored by trying to retain that normalcy. 

The trenches of World War I
I used World War I as a backdrop for Narain's conversion to vampirism. I was inspired when I read that Albin Grau, producer of the film "Nosferatu" served in Serbia in World War I and heard the locals tell folk tales of vampires. It's what inspired him to produce a vampire movie. Narain left that war a very changed man. But it wasn't until I was writing up a blog entry that I stopped to consider that even if the feral attack hadn't occurred to so drastically alter his life, Narain would probably have returned to his family a very changed man. As most veterans of war do. Whether they wear that change on their sleeve or keep it buried deep inside, there's no way that the violence of war wouldn't change them in some way.

On a more personal note, and this is something I realized shortly after writing it, Narain's family dynamic somewhat mirrors mine. There were four siblings (though we had two and two). There's a wonderful scene in It's A Wonderful Life where Mr. Baily tells a young George, "You were born older." That's how I feel about Narain. He was actually born 12 years before the next child Aziz comes along, 15 before their brother Zaheer and a full 20 before their beloved sister Ujaali. So in some respects, even before he goes to war, he's on his own among the siblings. 

Denny and old time radio
It was such with my siblings. My older brother Dennis was only two years older than my sister Barbara (I came along seven years after Barb, my brother Robert a year after me). Yet from an early age, he was off working on jobs with my dad, an electrical contractor, while the rest of us had more to do with each other. Often, he came home very late at night, whether he was off working late, or with his friends. When I was ten, he had moved out of the house and popped in infrequently. I'd never even been to his apartment. Consequently, I knew very little about him. So while the age between us wasn't as expansive as Narain and his siblings, Dennis was just as apart. And sadly, as Narain was "lost" to his family (though he survived the war), my brother died at the relatively young age of 42. 

It's possible that's why I wrote Narain with so many regrets (and why he feels he needs to see if his sister, who would be in her late 90s, is still alive). He regrets never taking the chance to try to reunite with his family and help them understand what he'd become. It's that stuff that was left unsaid, for whatever reason, that makes loss difficult.

So reflecting on the novel for pieces to publicize it has led me to consider what went into writing it. Some of it done without even thinking about it. Which can be some of the best kind of writing.

And as I say often, I hope people get as much enjoyment out of reading To Touch the Sun as I got out of writing it.

My reaction to finding a publisher.
Visit on Feb. 25 to stop in at the launch on Facebook and say hello. The novel will be available on Amazon for Kindle and paperback format. There have already been some wonderful reviews on Goodreads for it also. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sophie's Sacrifice

It's funny. I didn't stop to think of this before but Sophie Grayson who only figures into a few quick reminisces is none the less incredibly important to the plot of To Touch the Sun. In the second book I offer a scene on how Narain and Sophie met, and I plan to delve into their relationship in depth in a later novel in the series. But Sophie's presence in Narain's life make it so much easier. Her absence is palpable.

After Narain returned to Europe from his aborted attempt to reunite with his family, he was lost. Because of his vampirism, he could only move about at night and was forced to hide out where ever he could during the day (once his money was gone and he could no longer afford lodging). Feeding was difficult since, aside from what he considered the immorality of so intimate an act, Narain was worried he might pass the condition, and all its inherent power, on to someone who was dangerous.  

One of the themes I wanted to examine in this series was the inconveniences of this life altering condition. While Narain has the prerequisite strength and longevity found in so many vampire legends, he also has certain concerns that aren't often addressed. How does a man morally repulsed by the act feed from a host, even if they don't need to die for him to do so? Where does a man who must shun the sun hide when he doesn't have a castle to flee to or money to burn? And what does a man who craves human contact do when most of the people are in bed when he's able to roam around. I explore this even more in the fourth book of the series, but I touch on it in this first novel. After his conversion to vampirism, Narain's main motivation in his very long life is to achieve and retain some semblance of normalcy. 

Sophie is key to this. 

The couple fall in love and thanks to her resources, she's able to help him have as normal a life as possible even later helping him achieve his dream of becoming a chef when they move to Chicago and open a restaurant. When it's discovered early on in their relationship, through necessity, that Sophie is immune to whatever causes vampirism, she becomes Narain's food source, freeing him from the guilt and worry of having to go out and hunt for his food. Aside from some other minor logistical inconveniences, Narain suddenly realizes that Alphonse may have been right. It is possible for him, with some adjustment, to lead a relatively normal life. Thanks to this, in many respects, he grows complacent to the realities of what he is.

When the novel opens, Narain has reached a crossroads. Sophie is gone, succumbing to cancer the year before. She had over the years stored blood realizing that she would continue to age and eventually die and hoping to give Narain a chance to transition back to hunting for food. Narain, however, in grief-induced denial, ignored the inevitable. Now the blood is gone, and he's left having to hunt again yet unable to bring himself to do so. He has to though since, if his starvation should drag on too long, the body will make the decision for him and it could be deadly for whoever he should chance upon in this feral-like state. The last thing he and his normal business partner need is for Narain to lose control.

It would put at risk everything he worked so hard for: That normalcy that Sophie helped him attain. Everything he does after that is done in an attempt to cling to that normalcy.

So Sophie's presence and absence is integral because they offer motivation to Narain. And after she's gone, he doesn't always make the wisest choices.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Stuff of Legend

Discovering you're the stuff of legend is always a bit of a shock at first for the vampires in my universe. Those unable to process it become the ferals (more on them later). But for the sentients, how they deal with their new life depends on what sort of people they were prior to it. Those of a more evil disposition prior to the conversion will remain as such but be even more dangerous considering the abilities the condition gives them. One reason Narain finds "feeding" so difficult, even though he needn't kill the host, is because he's not sure if he'll pass on the condition. And if he should unknowingly choose a dangerous person...well you can imagine the rest.

Those people of decent conscience, like Narain, will remain decent even after the conversion and perhaps feel even more responsible for guarding others against the nastier realities of their condition.

That's one thing I wanted to convey in the novels: I wanted to project the confusion one might feel if he unwittingly falls into this situation where his life alters dramatically. And even for sentients it's not always an easy road to hoe. I view Narain not so much as a vampire but a man suffering from a dangerous, sometimes deadly condition that dictates how he maneuvers through the world. 

Narain found two key people who helped him deal with what he had become. The first was Alphonse Reno. A few days into the conversion (which would take a few weeks), when Narain's physical makeup was being altered, he was found wandering half out of his mind by Alphonse Reno, a wealthy land owner in the area. Alphonse had been researching vampirism since he lost his own son Laurant to the feral condition and believes that there is a physical cause behind it. It's his hope that one day he will be able to find a cure to bring his son back to him. Once Narain is out of his fugue state and Alphonse is certain he is the other sort of vampire: A sentient in full possession of his faculties. 

I really like the first scene between Alphonse and Narain when the old man breaks the news to his young guest what he has become. It's touching for Alphonse who takes on a fatherly aura when it comes to Narain; and to Narain who is now faced with an uncertain future.

Alphonse helps him adjust to the realities of his new life and even gets him to believe that a relatively normal life can be achieved. He even convinces him to try to reunite with his family in India who have longed thought him dead. But even after taking the trip, Narain is unable to bring himself to do so. (Still the trip would have ramifications in future novels).

Narain returned to France yet was unable to bring himself to go back to Alphonse feeling in many respects that he failed the old man confidence with his cowardice. Instead, he wanders, uncertain how to live a normal life with the constrictions of his condition. When his money is gone, he hides from the sun in crypts and caves, forcing himself to steal the blood of others yet unable to come to terms with what he must do to survive. 

It's during this time that he meets the second and most influential  person: Sophie Grayson, daughter of industrialist Harrison Grayson and the woman whose sacrifice would help Narain achieve what he thought no longer attainable. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Origin Stories

For me, the origin story is half the fun of a vampire novel. Becoming a vampire is a pretty life altering thing. How in the world did it happen? The origin story also sets up the universe the writer is creating complete with rules for vampirism. Some vampires shun the light, some are fine in it (and of course some sparkle). Some are crazed killers, some romantic heroes. 

While doing research on the film "Nosferatu: Symphony of Horror" for my book Vampires' Most Wanted, I came across a tidbit about one of the producers. Albin Grau, one of the co-founders of Prana Films, the company behind "Nosferatu," served in Serbia during the first world war. He'd heard tales of vampire lore from the farmers in the area and it inspired him to make a vampire film once he'd left the service.

In my mind I combined the two ideas, soldiers and local vampire legends, and started to think that those legends being told could have been legends of vampires attacking soldiers during times of war. I decided to set Narain's conversion to vampirism on the field of No Man's Land in WWI. I wanted Narain to be old, but not ancient and I discovered that some Indian Soldiers did serve in the British trenches in Europe which makes sense seeing as how India was a part of the British empire at the time.

One haunting reality of WWI worked perfectly with that idea. When soldiers were shot down while trying to cross No Man's Land (the acreage between the trenches of the Allied and Central Powers) often they were left out there to die, or if dead, their bodies left to rot. Collecting them was often too risky since anyone trying to do so was liable to suffer the same fate as the soldiers they went to get.

Considering the local farmers relating their tales (most of which they probably believed) to Grau I began to imagine vampires haunting the area. The notion of such vampires scavenging the dead and dying seemed perfect. Narain is shot down in No Man's Land and suffers the same fate as many of the other soldiers did as they tried to make the crossing. As night falls he's attacked by feral vampires but unlike the other soldiers, rather than dying, he is reborn as a vampire.

Of course I needed a reason for him to have joined the army in the first place. Narain was an unassuming man. Twenty-five when he left for Europe. Prior to that he was a well respected cook in a Bengal restaurant. 

And there was his motivation! Possessing a passion for cooking, Narain wanted to further his culinary skills. He wanted to attend culinary schools in Europe. But he couldn't ask for money from his father, a teacher with three other children to raise (Aziz age 13, Zaheer age 10 and Ujaali age 5).

So, Narain enlists in the army with an eye toward fighting in Europe. Once the war is over (and many thought it wouldn't last the first year), should he survive, he could stay on, hoping to find work that would help put him through a European cooking school.

I enjoyed writing the scene between Narain and his father who is horrified by his son's decision. It gives the reader a taste of the loving family he was a part of before his time in Europe changed his life forever. It revealed just how much he had lost.

I also enjoyed writing the scene between Alphonse, the man who finds him during his conversion, who, once Narain comes to his sense, must find a way to break the news that his life will never be the same.

Suddenly things started falling into place. I had a history. Motivation. Even "discovered" a nemesis for Narain (Reginald Jameson, the sadistic army captain from the trenches) who would prove useful to the plot of the book. It also helped give me a reason why a vampire who had been dealing with his condition relatively well over the decades was confused and troubled at the opening of the novel.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

To Touch the Sun Cover and Release Date

I'm breaking into my narrative about the evolution of To Touch the Sun to show you all the cover of the book.

I now have not only a book cover for To Touch the Sun but a release date. Feb. 25 is when the book will be available on Amazon and in stores.

This book has truly been a labor of love. I wrote it simply to try to get an agent and I ended up falling in love with the characters and the setting. I think that's why it's so special. It came out of no where in a way. For five years I looked for an agent or publisher, writing three more books in the series in the meantime and a spin off featuring two characters from book number three. To finally find a publisher in Dagda Publishing was especially joyous. To finally see the book taking shape is even more so. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I'll have more information as it becomes available, but check on Amazon Feb. 25. In the meantime, check out and "like" Dagda's Facebook page. Dagda is a small publisher trying to get started in a tough field. Support is a wonderful thing.

Monday, January 6, 2014

"Main Hoon Na"

While I was trying to get a handle on some of the themes in To Touch the Sun, I happened to watch a Bollywood movie starring my favorite Indian actor Shahrukh Khan titled "Main Hoon Na." The 2004 movie, directed by Farah Khan is what's termed a "masala mix": Drama, comedy, romance, action and of course music and dancing. Khan plays Ram Prasad Sharma, a major in the Indian army who must go undercover at a college to protect from a terrorist the daughter of a general involved in a prisoner transfer between India and Pakistan. It's decided that rather than pose as a teacher, Major Ram, a few years older than the students, will pose as a man returning to college after previously having to give up his studies to help his family. This way he'll be able to get closer to the girl he needs to protect. Part of the fun of this movie was watching the young soldier, raised by a general, having to move about outside his element. Ram can often times be strict and regimented, unlike the college students he's being charged to protect. His relationship with the students he befriends loosens him up during the course of the movie as he discovers a playful side to his nature that he perhaps never realized existed.

Watching this movie I suddenly realized one of the elements I wanted for my vampire. I wanted to explore someone thrust into an unexpected situation and feeling very much outside their element.

I didn't want to write about a vampire brooding over his existence. Nor, for that matter, did I want the star of this novel to necessarily be reveling in his vampiric existence. I wanted to write a novel where the vampire's moral compass doesn't alter simply because of the condition. A man good or evil before the change will be so after, but he must adjust to all that the vampire condition brings to him. I guess I kept thinking of those legends where the vampire has become such through happenstance. A young man, a brother, a son, a friend all of a sudden wakes up in a very different life. All that he's known has been taken from him, his life drastically altered and he must do things to survive which might weigh heavily upon him. What would that be like for a man decent at the core?

Attacked by ferals in No Man's Land, Narain Khan is thrust into a bizarre situation and a life he never even imagined could exist. How would he reconcile who he is at the core with what he became physically and what he must do to survive? What extremes would he go to, to protect those he loves?

Like Ram, Narain takes on a lot of responsibility. Perhaps it's a little bit of an older brother syndrome (or even a super hero complex). But neither hesitates when someone needs help. It's what leads Narain to become Fred Blythe's champion in the trenches when Reginald Jameson tries to bully him. It's what made him enlist in the war rather than seek the money for school from his father.

Of course, Narain feels the added responsibility of protecting people not only from outside forces but from the realities of his own existence. In one line, during a talk in which sunlight's deadly affects on vampires comes up, Dom Amato tells Narain, "You know sometimes I forget how logistically complicated your life can be." He forgets this fact because Narain does his best to protect Dom from the negative aspects of his condition.

Unlike Ram, who could be naturally stoic and reserved, Narain readily showed his playfullness and passion for life daily. Life changed for him when he got to France and entered a war that drained the color from everything. After he became a vampire, his life was indeed drastically altered, his fears of losing control and what that might mean made him reign in that passion he once had.

And as with Major Ram, he would also find himself having to compromise who he is at times to protect himself or someone he loves. Ram has to go extremes to protect the other students from the terrorist's plans all the while keeping his identity a secret.

Both carry with them the weight of a responsibility not necessarily of their own making.

So as an homage to the film that helped put into perspective some of the ideas I had rolling around in my head, I gave my vampire an Indian heritage and the last name Khan. Narain was a name I saw in a baby name book (a valuable tool) and I liked how it fit. I now had a bit more of a focus for not only the character but for the themes I wanted to present.

But I needed an origin story.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Popped Kernel

As I stated in my last post, To Touch the Sun and the Sentient/Feral Vampire Series grew out of a whim. While I was reading vampire fiction (Ann Rice's series, and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson being particular favorites), I never had a burning desire to write a vampire novel. Many people do and they populate whole series with their takes on the genre. I never had a character in mind to write about. You need to understand that one character and create a universe around him or her and I didn't have one.

So I continued looking for homes for my other novels: Asian dragons, comic westerns set on other planets, teenage assassins able to kill with their minds. You might say I'm eclectic when it comes to my writing. I write to the story that comes to me, not to a particular genre.

It was this search that led me to at last try a vampire story. I'd been in touch with an agent who liked what I sent him though not enough to represent it (the dragon novel came close but he said the market wasn't there). So I went over some of the authors the agency had represented and noticed that they had a vampire series in their stable. This was 2008. Working in a library and seeing all the books coming through, I saw how big the vampire genre was. So I figured "Why not give it a try?"

In 2004, while talking to a friend who is also a local author about how frustrating it was to get my fiction published, he suggested I try doing a nonfiction project. He'd been working with Potomac Publishers writing a book for their "Most Wanted" series. He suggested I write a book for the series. And he gave me his editor's email: The brass ring for writers!

That's how my book Chicago's Most Wanted: The Top 10 Book of Murderous Mobsters, Midway Monsters and Windy City Oddities came about. A book I've been told was one of the more successful in the series. For years I'd stuck to fiction never even considering writing a nonfiction book. By the time my friend had suggested it, I guess I was ready. I finally understood that sometimes you have to zigzag a little to eventually get where you're going.

That was the philosophy that convinced me to try my hand at a vampire novel. And by this time, I finally had a idea for a character even though it was a kernel of an idea. I'd been joking with someone about an "evil chef" character. I don't know what made the chef evil, it was more the notion of the chef with the adjective before it that caught my attention and made me file the notion away. When I tried my hand at vampire fiction, the evil chef became a vampire chef and I decided to jettison the evil part altogether. From there it was a matter of evolution. He was the owner of a restaurant at which a female cop patronized and the two would eventually fall in love. In the meantime, there'd be some killings in the city that would help throw them together.

I hadn't figured at that point, what ethnicity the vampire chef would be. I did want him to be something other than Eastern European or British. I wanted to make him an ethnicity that isn't often seen in these types of stories. But I was stuck on an ethnicity, and I still didn't really have a handle on his personality, which halted the progression of my story.

And then I watched "Main Hoon Na".