Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Vampires are doing all the cool stuff while humans stand idly by... (Indie Book Review)

Indie Book Review is what it sounds like: I ask an indie author 10 1/2 questions about them, their book, and things that are on my mind. What? It didn't sound like that at all? Tough. No refunds.

They're real: Fight them. With those four words, Lucy's grandfather sends her life spinning more out of control than it already was. Having just turned 18 and almost ready to graduate high school, Lucy only thought her life was hard, with her parents fighting and her best friend mad at her. Then a community service sentence lands her at a homeless shelter and she finds her dead grandfather's vampire-fighting kit, and realizes that things are only beginning to get weird.

Blood Calling is the beginning of Lucy's life as a would-be vampire hunter who realizes she knows nothing about vampires. And reading it, I realized I know nothing about vampires, either. I ordinarily hate vampire books -- but this isn't vampire fiction the way most people expect it these days. No sparkling, and no Bela Lugosis, either: In Blood Calling's world, vampires' existence makes sense -- the ins and outs of vampires fit in so perfectly I found myself thinking "Yeah, that's how it would work."

But that's secondary to the compelling story and tight writing: Blood Calling is a fast read because it pulls you into it right away and keeps you reading. Lucy's exploration of the world of vampires is not leisurely: she's pulled and pushed along but rather than being a passive observer, Lucy spends most of her time trying to shape the events around her.

Blood Calling is available on Amazon and Smashwords. The author, Joshua Grover-David Patterson, agreed to answer my 10 1/2 Questions:

About the Book:

1. I was impressed by the almost magical-realism feel you gave vampires, explaining what they use blood for, how their emotions work (or don't) and other realities of day-to-day vampire life. How much time did you spend working out the "rules" for vampires before sitting down to write?

The original idea behind why the vampires ate who they eat came first. *spoilers go here, for those who don’t want to read a very minor twist* The idea of vampires whose “job” is to help people die was a concept with which I had been toying for a while. The “why are vampires like this, anyway?” portion of the story is one that I keep meaning to get into the books, but “Blood Calling” and “Baby Teeth” are both in print, and the sequel to BC, “Misfits,” also is finished, and there wasn’t a place for it. Maybe in part III.

At any rate, once I knew I was going to write this particular vampire story, I realized I was going to have to think about what parts of vampire lore I was going to use, and which I was going to ignore. Holy water? Roses? Crosses? They all went into the trash pile, because I didn’t think my vampires were evil.

Super speed? Super healing? Sure, I figured. That works.

I knew that my vampires were going to get into some vicious fights, and now I knew they would have super healing. But the problem I have with a lot of vampire fiction is that the speed-healing process is a little too magical. You cut off a vampire’s arm, and it comes back, and it doesn’t really affect the vampire. That makes it hard to put them in real peril.

So I decided that damage was healed by vampire blood, and that the worse a vampire was hurt, the more blood it cost the vampire during the healing process.

And everyone knows vampires are dead, so their hearts don’t beat. Which means blood isn’t usually running through their veins, carrying chemicals around, and much of our emotional landscape relies on those chemicals.

That was fun to play with too, because when vampires are hurt (and they get hurt a lot in my books) they get to feel.

Granted, I’m thinking that a lot of my doctor and science-teacher friends would point out that I’m missing a lot of nuance, but, well, it is fiction, and vampires are fictional creatures, so…

2. You created some memorable characters in this book, including not just the protagonist, Lucy, but Emma and Wash, John Smith, of course, and the others. Which character is your favorite, and why?

I have a soft spot in my heart for Lucy, because she spends so much of the book being confused, terrorized, or some combination of the two. I kept shoving many of the emotional minefields teenagers live with (death, friendships, divorce, etc.) at her and as a character she had to blindly push through it. By the end of the book, she has lost everything with which she is familiar. And yet? She endures.

That said, my favorite character is Emma, because she managed to save not just one, but two stories (Baby Teeth and Blood Calling).

I was writing both stories at the same time, and I had hit a wall with both. In “Baby Teeth,” I needed someone to show up and shake the story up a bit (I’m trying not to give too much away). In “Blood Calling,” I had two problems to solve:

I had the “underpowered human” problem. I see this in vampire stories all the time. The human is telling the story, and it is the human’s story, but the vampires are doing all the cool stuff while the human stands idly by. Because otherwise, the human probably will end up dead.

Tied to that issue was the “man” problem. Too many stories of this nature, unfortunately, end up with the man coming in and solving all the story complications. I love the character of Wash with all my heart. I think he’s a great guy. But I just couldn’t have him spend the entire book being a hero and ordering Lucy around.

And then this short, somewhat acerbic woman came into my mind, and I realized she could solve all my problems. I even knew what era she came from, and I had an idea of who she “really” was.

Of course, if I’m totally honest, having three primary characters also puts the reader into a kind of unease, because that means one of them might not make it through the book. (Which I considered for a long time… I’ll let people read it and find out who lives and who dies.)

In the end, all three of the main characters have fans, which makes me happy, because it means they’re all “real” people. Emma, however, has far and away become the fan favorite. I plan to give her at least a novella, and maybe a novel of her own. Someday.

3. The fight scenes in the book are incredible; I can't recall a literary fight scene that had such a vivid, kinetic feel as the ones you write. What's your secret?

That’s very kind of you to say, because writing action is so, so, so hard for me.

When I sit down to type, I usually have the next big chunk of story affixed in my mind before I begin. I know (mostly) what everyone is going to say, and what they’re going to do.

But with action scenes, I know the winner and the loser, and maybe one or two “events” in the middle to serve as touchstones. And then I have to slog through every single solitary motion. I quite literally have to do this (warning, this is kind of dull):

“Okay, Character has to get into Place, but to do that, Character would have to jump, and that’s kind of lame and someone else already did that. So maybe Character can throw Another Character through the window, only Character is on the third floor, so there’s plummeting. And it’s X time of day, and that’s going to have Y effect. But that can work, because Z can happen to Character, which is both kind of fun and very dangerous for Character, and puts Character at a disadvantage, which has a certain dramatic potential.

And once Character is in Place, and X and Y have happened, and Z has happened, then Character will have to accomplish Goal…”

Usually by the time I get that far, I have to stop thinking ahead, because I won’t remember what comes next. Then I have to transcribe everything that was just in my head onto the page.

That two-paragraph thought process can end up being anywhere from three to ten pages, depending on who needs to explain what to whom, what has to be described (the window, the throw, the plummet, the landing) and whether there’s some kind of emotional component that also needs to be explained.

By the time I get to the little ellipse I left up there, I have to figure out the next Impossible Task my Character needs to accomplish so my Character can get to the next little part of the plot. As an author, I constantly find one of my characters saying, “We really, really, really shouldn’t go there.” Then I send them where they really shouldn’t go.

It gets ugly.
About You:

4. You mention in the afterword using some music to write "Blood Calling" to. What is your favorite song/band/music to write to, and why?

I can’t write while listening to music anymore, because it distracts me way too much. What does tend to happen is that whatever I’ve been listening to throughout the day (which I often deliberately choose) has a direct effect on what I’m writing.

As I say at the end of “Blood Calling,” I wrote it with the music of Cobra Starship banging around in my head. I always think about borrowing lines from one of their songs, but whenever I try it comes out awkwardly, and I’m forced to change it to actual human-speak.

But I digress. While the actual words of the songs never made it into the text of the novel, a lot of the songs’ energy did.

5. Among your film writing credits are "Searching For Mr." What do you find more fun to do: write a screenplay or a novel?

Lately I’ve found myself drawn to novels mostly because when you’re done, they’re complete in and of themselves.

The trouble with a screenplay is that once you’ve finished writing it, it still needs to turn into an actual movie. That takes time, and money, and a group of talented people, not all of which will see the movie exactly the way you do. So they’ll change things, some for the better, some for the worse.

And if you can’t convince someone to make the movie, or raise the money yourself, then the screenplay becomes nothing. I’ve written a few “became nothing” scripts now, and it weighs on you after a while.

Once a novel is done, you have choices. You can find a publisher. You can put it online as an ebook. You can email copies of it to people, if that’s all you want to do, and they can read it, and not wonder what it would look like if it actually got made.

All that said, I’ve been hoping to get a couple more screenplays turned into movies in the coming years. But we’ll see how that goes.

6. Your blog "But The Third One Was Great," provides in-depth analysis of sequels to horror movies. What attracted you to writing exclusively about the SEQUELS?

I have a strange love of underdog media material. The one-hit-wonder band whose CD has that song everyone knows, and a bunch of other wonderful songs no one knows. The brilliant author who keeps getting books on the shelf, but struggles in obscurity when not enough people read them.

Movie studios mostly think of horror movies this way: They’re that thing that they spend almost no money on, because, you know, icky, and then they put them out and they make a bunch of cash, but the studio is never really proud of them.

But once one of the movies makes money, the studio is usually happy to cough up a little more money to make another one, because once a movie is out, it’s out forever, and it always will make more money. And a person who watches part 1 and likes it is liable to come back for parts 2, 3, and 154.

The thing is, you don’t find a lot of non-horror franchises that kick out six or seven sequels. You’re never going to find “The King’s Speech, Part VI” on Netflix. They will probably make a “The Hangover, Part III,” but they’ll never get up to Part VIII. The only recent series that comes the closest is “American Pie,” which is about to get a part IV, and has a bunch of direct-to-video spin-offs that only tie tangentially to the original story.

But horror movies, man. The series keeps having to go on, and on, and on, frequently with different writers and directors who pick and choose what to keep from the earlier stories, and what is best forgotten.

So you get strange dead ends, like in the “Elm Street” series, which has one movie where Freddy actually comes into the real world. Except that in all the movies that follow it, he can’t, and no one ever talks about why he managed it that one time.

And you find actors like Naomi Watts in Children of the Corn IV, in her first starring American role.

When you find a gem (Children of the Corn III is pretty great, except for the end when they’ve clearly run out of money and appear to be using a giant rat puppet) it’s like a magical discovery. And when the movies wander off the rails (Sleepaway Camp II and III) they can be entertaining for various and sundry other reasons.

As for the blog itself, it’s partly written out of love, and partly written the way I imagine MST3K would look on the printed page.
Stuff I Just Feel Like Asking About:

7. Since you wrote "Searching For Mr.," answer this: If you met your loved one through internet dating, should you be up front and admit to people how you met? Why or why not?

It’s funny you ask this, as my in-laws and my wife and I were just talking the other day about how many of our friends met on the internet. To date, we know three married couples, and one couple that’s living together.

All of them are very normal, non-alternative-lifestyle people. So I doubt I would have any trouble admitting how I met my spouse, had I met her online. (For the record, we met in college.)

8. What's your theory on why we eat candy canes at Christmas but no other time?

Apparently, you’ve never met my daughter, who has a special treat tin that we introduced when she was learning to use the potty. There are candy canes in there that got used all throughout the year.

We also have a couple of local candy shops that specialize in the odd nooks and crannies of the sugar world, including a dozen or so candy cane variations. So my family eats those all throughout the year.

That said, I’d guess the reason we only sell them around Christmas is that it’s the only time we have a convenient place to hang them.

9. You wake up one morning and find yourself with the ability to perform any one spell that Harry Potter learned in school. Which spell do you choose, and why?

You know, I’ve read all the books (most of them twice) and seen all the movies at least once each, and I can’t think of more than a handful of spells used in the books.

Ah. I just looked up a listing online. Turns out there aren’t all that many. I suppose I’d probably pick Repairo, since it gives me the option to fix anything that needs fixing. That’d save me some money on car insurance.

The Impossible Question:

10. "Untriseptium" is a name given to the as-yet-undiscovered element 137 on the Periodic Table Of The Elements: According to what we now understand about science, if Element 137 exists, it will be the last element to be discovered, because any element with an atomic number greater than 137 would need its electrons to be traveling faster than the speed of light; when Element 137 is discovered, it will be renamed and put to use.

Since the Large Hadron Collider recently discovered particles that appear to move faster than the speed of light, you now get the honor of re(naming) untriseptium and marketing it. So what would you call it, and how would you use it?

You’d think I’d be creative and come up with a clever answer here, wouldn’t you? I’d probably call it “Lameossium” and sell it to teenagers in tiny vials that attach to necklaces, as a symbol of their inner pain. Because, of course, it indicates they are “slow” and will never be one of the “luminous.”

I worry about myself when I write stuff like this.


1/2: "But in my other pocket..."

I’m having a flashback to “The Hobbit.” It’s like a lost section with Gollum. “What’s in my pocket? How about my other pocket?”

Howzabout: I keep my wallet in this pocket. But in my other pocket, I have a Swiss Army Knife. Name one use for it that doesn’t involve using one of the tools or blades on it.

Answer: Paperweight.


Joshua Grover-David Patterson is a freelance writer, screenwriter and blogger. His articles on pop culture, film and the Internet have appeared in The Post-Crescent, Bull magazine, delight! magazine and Film Threat. Patterson's films have won 13 awards and appeared in 29 film festivals worldwide, including in Japan, Australia, Hungary, Norway, the UK and throughout the United States. Patterson lives in Wisconsin with his wife and their daughter.

You can follow him on Twitter, or Like him on Facebook or follow his book blogging at Everybody Thinks They Can Write.

10% of all his book profits go to the nonprofit organization Ethiopia Reads.


Nobody's too busy to say Merry Christmas to two wonderful little boys who have been in and out of the hospital all their short lives, are they?

Mateo and McHale were born conjoined twins, joined at the spine, on May 10, 2006. When they were just over three years old, they underwent a 19-hour surgery, that successfully separated them, an operation that required more than 100 specialists to plan and perform. Both boys have undergone dozens of surgeries in their short lifetimes. They were given almost no chance to survive and yet they're still going strong.

I'm asking you to go wish them a Merry Christmas; they have a site at "Caring Bridge," and you just have to go there, find the guestbook, and sign it with a Merry Christmas! It takes less than 2 minutes, and once you do it, you'll be eligible to win a $20 gift card.


Stephen Hayes said...

Thanks for the info on this writer. I'll check him out.

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

How can you, Mr. Pagel, know nothing about vampires? Aren't you a lawyer? Don't you suck the proverbial blood out of people everywhere? I may have to check but I think a google search will turn up a comparison of lawyers as vampires.

That doesn't mean I don't love you. It just means I've always thought you more of Team Edward than Team Jacob.

And you can take that comment to the bank!

Andrew Leon said...

It sounds like a lot of thought went into the book, but I just don't think I can do it. I've been over vampires since before they got big with Rice in the 80s.

Rusty Webb said...

I do think I'm a bit wore out on vamps due to overexposure, but he almost got me to try. Great questions.

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