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".