So friend and fellow author (of the very popular dystopian Juliana Rey series) Aral Bereux asked me to participate in a blog tour. Since I rarely pass up an opportunity to talk about myself, I said yes. You can check out her books here: http://www.aralbereux.com/ She’s Australian too, which is pretty rad. Here’s her interview, if you’d like to read it.
What am I working on?
I’ve got a few irons in the fire at any given point, but right now my main focus is on the Bloodletting stories. It was originally a screenplay I wrote many years ago (late 90s) and I went through the process of sending it off to people and showing it to a few agents and directors and things (including an awkward, borderline stalker meeting with a gracious but disinterested Rob Zombie) but eventually I moved on to other creative projects.
Then, once self publishing on the internet became a thing, I decided to try my hand at developing it into a series of stories. I originally planned on publishing it as one or two traditional novels, but as I was writing it, I realized that the chapters themselves were becoming almost stand alone short stories and novellas. I was also so excited about how it was coming along that I wanted people to read what I’d written so far. Because I already knew basic path of the story (the screenplay, in the beginning, functioned like an incredibly detailed outline) I felt free to expand on what I’d written and flesh-out the character histories.
I’d say I’m (probably?) about halfway through the story, and I’m about to publish 12th volume. Though very recently I’ve started to consider changing the ending, which completely tosses out the template I was working from. We’ll see.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’d say Bloodletting is different in a few distinct and important ways. That’s my main struggle in selling people on the story, establishing the ways that what I write is different from the ocean of vampire stories out there. In the time since I wrote the screenplay and now, Vampires have completely saturated the market. I’m just as sick of them as everyone else.
So how is it different? For one thing, I feel like vampires in fiction and movies have been put into two different camps: Romance and monsters. You’ve got your Twilight, Sookie Stackhouse gang and Anne Rice vampires on one horny side, being all moody and sexually complicated and tormented. On the other side you’ve got your reaction to that, which are the more zombie-like straight up creatures/monsters that exist for pure horror show gore fodder. Both have a place in fiction and I honestly don’t have a problem with either interpretation (well… Twilight isn’t exactly my thing) but it’s not what I do. It’s not what interests me.
My approach is to treat vampires as people dealing with extraordinary circumstances. How do people deal with being immortal? How do people deal with having to murder other people to live? I try to write about what being a vampire does to a person’s psychology and personality and how it changes the way someone perceives the world. How they interact with each other. That’s what interests me.
The Bloodletting stories focus almost exclusively on the vampires themselves, which isn’t completely unheard of, but isn’t super common in my experience. Anne Rice’s stories were from the vampire’s perspective, but she wrote about a very different kind of vampire than I do, and honestly her vampire stories were of a different time. I feel like my approach is relevant (at least to me) and desperately needed in a genre that’s dominated by stories that treat vampires as a plot device rather than fully realized characters. I’m not interested in the mortal hero of the story dealing with the problem of vampires, whether it’s fighting them or being seduced by them. I like my vampires to be real people with a realistic perspective on their situation. I like broad, gray streaks in characters. Real people aren’t good or bad. They’re dealing with their environment and circumstances in the best way they know how. Everyone thinks they’re the hero of their own story, and that’s my approach to my characters.
The format is certainly different. While there is a linear thread to the story (which was more clear in the screenplay) I’ve sectioned the volumes off in such a way that you can really start at any point in the series and read them in whatever order you want. Because I had the screenplay as a launching place, I could drop in anywhere in the story and explore whatever I want, whenever I want. I feel no obligation to write and release the story in a particular order, because it doesn’t really matter.
I’ve actually modeled my approach to structure somewhat on the show Lost, in that I’ve got an A story and a B story. The A story is linear and happening “now” (or, in this case, in 1999) and the B stories take place in the individual character’s histories. The two stories work in tandem and inform each other, and hopefully keep the broader story moving. I’m a little loose with that structure, and not all of the volumes follow it, but that’s the basic approach I’m taking and it seems to be working. It gives me a chance to tell the story I wrote originally, while also fleshing out the characters and how they came to be where they are.
I’ve also got a few stories that I call “Sally Simpson” stories, that flip the script and take place from a victim’s perspective. It gives me a chance to step out of the drama of being a vampire and look at these characters as the monsters that they are. Regardless of their own experience and limited self-awareness, there’s no getting around the fact that to someone on the outside, vampires are scary as hell. They’re murderers and they’re walking corpses. It’s important to me, both as a writer and a fan of the genre, to reestablish the horror of the story every so often. I don’t want people to get too comfortable with these characters and forget that they are still horrible monsters. The Sally Simpson stories are usually shorter (with the exception of Bette, which follows a character based heavily on Elizabeth Short, the victim in the Black Dahlia murder, and is one of the longest volumes) and I’ve made them free in most formats. I like to think of them as introductions to the characters.
Just as a side note, I call them Sally Simpson stories because of the song Sally Simpson by The Who. The album Tommy is one long story and follows a few key characters. Then at one point on the second half of disk two, there’s a song called Sally Simpson that is from the perspective of a teenage girl going to see the main character perform at a show. It’s a clever way to take us out of the story and give us a perspective on what’s happening from the ground and I’ve always loved it.
Why do I write what I do?
I write what I would want to read. I write as honestly as I can, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t working out some personal issues through these stories. Vampires are a good, malleable material for pounding out some of the pain that life puts us through. There are definite themes in all of my stories that directly relate to personal tragedy. I try not to saturate the stories with it, but it’s there. I have to assume that’s true of all writers. Anne Rice wrote Interview With the Vampire after watching her four year old daughter die of cancer. You might not know that reading the book, but once you do know that, it’s impossible not to see that pain all through that story.
While I’m not looking to explain away the various themes that show up in Bloodletting, there is definitely some pain being worked through. Some of it was there when I wrote the screenplay, but most of it is coming out in the writing now. I don’t fight it and I don’t consciously put it in there, but it shows up when it shows up.
And it’s not all tragedy either. Obviously any writer’s life experience and unique perspective will come through in their work. My stories are about a lot things that interest me, and often I’m working out my own perspective on the world and life and death and sex and relationships.
Also, I write what I write because I feel like the genre needs it. Maybe that’s presumptuous, but I know that I’m not finding the vampire stories that I want to read in books or movies at the moment. I’m not saying all other vampire stories are bad, it’s just not really what I’m looking for, so I made my own.
Lastly, one of the main reasons I’m writing Bloodletting specifically is because I feel like vampire stories have almost always had a theme of male dominance. Starting right at the big daddy, Dracula and forward, vampire stories have pretty consistently been about the ways that men abuse women. Whether it’s psychologically or outright physically, there’s a male dominant, rapey quality to vampires that is frankly boring to me, if only because it’s SO prevalent. So I write predominantly about female vampires and I try to write those female characters as honestly as I can. There’s still a sexually violent element to the stories (it’s virtually impossible divorce the concept of vampires and sexual violence, and I’m okay with that) and much of the stories center on power dynamics, but I don’t want that to be the core of it, as it seems to be in a lot of other vampire stories. I specifically took sex out of the equation for that reason. My vampires don’t have sex. My vampires, biologically, don’t reproduce through sex, so they have no natural sex drive. By taking sex as a motivation away, it frees my characters up to explore the other aspects of being a vampire and relating to other vampires (and non-vampires) without the baggage of sex.
That said, because the individual stories often cover how my characters came to be vampires, there is a sexual component to the stories, often before they became vampires. There are other ways sexuality comes into play as well. I’m not saying my stories are devoid of sexuality. There’s plenty of sexuality sprinkled through the stories, I’ve just taken sex as a motivator out of the equation. Specifically, I’ve taken most of the romance out of it.
How does my writing process work?
I’m not even positive it DOES work 🙂
Basically I’ve got the original screenplay, but I very rarely reference it directly anymore. Elements of the story have changed dramatically as I’ve written out as fiction. Originally I put myself onto a strict bi-weekly schedule, and that worked for a while, but I found that I was rushing myself and the writing was suffering because of it. So now I write them as they come. I try to force myself to write for a few hours a day, sometimes as much as five or six, but that doesn’t always work out. I’m terrible with structure and that’s completely my own fault.
I seem to do my most prolific writing between 10pm and 2am, which probably isn’t the healthiest way to live, but that’s how it’s worked out. I’d like to force myself to write during the day and get onto a more adult sleep/work schedule, but we’re not quite there yet.
I make my own covers, so a lot of the time if the writing isn’t coming, I’ll take a break and work on the cover for whatever story I’m writing. There have been times where I’ve actually adjusted characters and story elements based on things I’ve thought of while making covers. I actually changed one character dramatically based on the photograph I used to represent them on a cover. That was a change that ended up making that character significantly more interesting to me.
Because I’m writing short stories and novellas (usually each volume is between 11k and 24k words, with the longest clocking in 46k words) I usually tend to just write and write until I feel like I can package it into a self-contained story and then I’ll go back and edit two or three times. I also typically reread as I write. Because they’re fairly short, I’ll go back and reread what I’ve written of whatever story I’m working on before starting for the night, and I frequently make changes and edits as I go. For the last two or three stories, I’ve had a friend that’s offered to edit for me as a second pair of eyes, which helps dramatically. I’m terrible with spelling and grammar and often miss obvious problems on my own. I’ve got a second friend who’s also offered to beta-read for me and do some editing, which I’m excited for. The more help I can get the better.
Ultimately, when the story is finished, I plan to compile the entire thing into larger volumes, or possible one big book. I haven’t decided yet. In that process, I will likely overhaul a few things to help the story function as a novel rather than a series of individual shorts. That may result in story changes and structure changes, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Final thoughts . . .
Bloodletting is a passion project that has been in development for over (I just did the math) 20 years. I started developing the characters when I was 16 and have been building this story in chunks and pieces since. A various points it’s been a screenplay, a comic book and now a serialized novel. I feel like I’ve finally found the right format to tell this story and get everything I love about it out to an audience. The serialized volumes format has its challenges, but now that I’ve started, I have to finish it. I know where the story is going, and even though it’s changed dramatically in some ways, and much of it is new material that’s come through this process, it’s something I have to see through to the end.
I’ve got other stories and other ideas, but I’m deeply entrenched in this one, and I hope that comes through in the writing. I love these characters and I’m eager to see how the story falls into place and where it takes turns that even I don’t expect. That’s the beauty of not having to keep my story under 120 screenplay pages, I can take the story in as many weird directions as I want. That’s very exciting for me.
Now, originally I had a couple of people lined up to continue the blog tour, but unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, both have dropped out. So… yeah. Unfortunately my interview is something of a dead end :/ Sorry about that.
Katrina Rasbold has provided insightful, accurate and helpful life path consultations to clients for over thirty years. She has worked with teachers and mentors all over the world, including three years of training in England and two years of practice in the Marianas Islands. A lively and articulate instructor, Katrina is available for workshops, individual classes and speaking engagements tailored to fit the needs of her students and clients. She is a professional life coach who holds a Ph.D in Religion with a minor in Psychology. She and her husband, Eric, are co-creators of CUSP (Climbing Up the Spiral Pathway), a program designed to manifest positive, long term life changes by following the ancient agricultural cycles throughout the year. Katrina has written twenty-three books, all of which are available through www.rasboldink.com and www.amazon.com. <<…>> Her popular blog is at www.katrinarasbold.com.