Hello, this is L.M. David. Today, I am interviewing Brian Patrick McKinley, author of Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony. Brian, thanks for coming today and I must say, I love your suit. As a matter of fact, you and our resident vampyre were seen talking in the hall beforehand – we caught it on our surveillance cameras. Mind telling me what that was about?
Brian: Nothing really. Preston just wanted to know if I would tell him who my tailor was, said something about a credit card, your name and him needing a new wardrobe…
L.M.: Oh, not again … memo to self, close credit card account.
Okay, let’s get started before he gets out of here and bankrupts me.
Q. Tell me a bit about yourself.
A. Being a writer is probably the most interesting thing about me. I’m 38 year old and live in New Jersey, but I’ve also lived in Pennsylvania, California, and Illinois. I’m single and have hit what most would call a string of disasters just prior to being accepted by Midnight Hour Publishing. While that alone hasn’t turned the rest of my life around, I have to say that finally being published and finding such support and company has helped me emerge from a very dark period in my life.
Q. Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony has a lot of political undertones. Why did you fashion your world of Vampyrs (I love the fact you did not use the traditional spelling for vampire) that way?
A. Actually, the reason I used that spelling is because it’s the way the word first appeared in written form. I forget where I found that tidbit, but I decided that I would use the oldest form as what my vamps would call themselves.
The inspiration for Ancient Blood came from my experiences playing roleplaying games, especially Live Action games where you spent more time trying to accomplish your goals through social manipulation and back-room dealing than by beating other vampyrs up. It opened my eyes to the idea that a vampyrs best defense against the outside world would be using the power wealth and politics brings, especially in America. From there, it’s an easy jump to imagine that if vampyrs did actually exist, they wouldn’t run around killing victims in alleys but cultivate groups of people happy to give their blood and soul for a taste of the power a vampyr could amass.
Q. Are you into politics?
A. I’m not so much “into” politics as I am disgusted by politics. To me, politics and corporations are the reasons that we live in a society where the top 2% live with such abundant wealth that they could literally end world hunger and yet more than half of the rest are barely surviving. I wonder why Congress and CEOs regularly give themselves “cost of living” raises, but in the same motion deny a dollar raise in the minimum wage for the people who actually have to live on their salaries. To me, the idea that a conspiracy of ruthless vampyrs is secretly behind all the evils and injustices of the modern world is obviously ridiculous, but also almost wishful. It would be nice to think that it wasn’t all our own fault, wouldn’t it?
Q. Yes, you’re right about that. Is the world you created the way you believe a vampyr driven society would be? And if so, why?
A. I think it’s one possible scenario. To me, it makes sense if you take it from the Vampyr’s point of view. Assuming the society began in ancient times, most ancient people didn’t have any conception of freedom or individual liberty as we think of it today. Add to that the Vampyrs cannot exist in large numbers or make their existence known or they will likely be hunted to extinction by frightened humans. They can’t go out in the day, which is an enormous hindrance to activity in all but modern times, but they need blood to survive. The only practical answer is to accumulate wealth in order to buy all those things you can’t go out and get yourself. Naturally, with wealth comes enemies and so you need to build up a protective force to keep you safe and guard your secrets. How do you build up an army without becoming a threat to whatever local governments exist? You become the government. You support it with your wealth and the power of your blood so that it can protect you. The Order exists because it needs to. As restrictive as it is, it provides its members with safe and easy access to food, shelter, and safety. The vampyrs all toe the line because it’s obviously in their interests to do so, while the slim hope of advancement eliminates the weak and incompetent members. Social Darwinism in action.
Q. The Hegemony is a dark vampyr story, with degradation of its own and sex slaves, a place where Caroline has all the answers and Avery is rebelling against everything. Why did you have these two be polar opposites?
A. From a practical standpoint, it was a way to explain things to the reader; however, to me the relationship aspect was as important as the politics. That’s what gives the book its heart. For me, a relationship without conflict isn’t really a relationship at all. Part of the tragedy here, in my opinion, is Avery and Caroline both enter their relationship for different reasons and think it will work. Maybe it would have if they hadn’t been caught, but under pressure, you see the differences between their personalities and the stress it causes. Remember, Caroline was a rich intellectual who is literally old enough to be Avery’s grandmother! She’s going to have a very different value system from Avery’s working-poor, pop-culture saturated, Generation X mentality. I think too often those kind of differences are glossed over in vampyr romances, but that subtle difference in expectation and experience has destroyed many relationships I’ve had. And while both are idealists, even romantics at heart, Caroline has lived The Order at its best and worst and learned the rules while Avery thinks he’s going to be a superhero with fangs living out all his fantasies. I think they really do love each other, but I’m not sure they’re actually good for each other.
Q. Tell me a bit about Avery’s character.
A. He’s an average guy working boring jobs to pay his bills when he meets Caroline and falls desperately for her. He’s a huge fan of fictional vampyrs and, when he realizes she’s a real vampyr, he’s hooked. Caroline, of course, knows the danger she’s in and doesn’t want to bring Avery into her world. But he’s so genuine and completely unlike what Sebastian’s become that the attraction becomes mutual and she eventually gives in to Avery’s desire to make him a vampyre as well. Avery is basically like me: kind of a geek, funny, and a romantic. When I asked myself what I’d do if I met a girl who seemed perfect but was a vampyr, my response was “get her to make me one too” so I knew Avery would represent all of us readers/viewers who secretly wish we could have an opportunity like that. What happens when Sebastian captures the two of them and Avery learns what being a vampyr is really about is the story is about. It’s both tragic and redemptive for Avery, though, because I think that, while he loses the innocence of his fantasies, he finds strength and power inside himself that he never knew he had. He does a lot of growing in the story.
Q. Caroline, Avery’s love interest, is a rather tough individual. Is her character based on someone you know?
A. Not really any one person. She started off as my “dream girl”, where I put together the qualities I find attractive, but then fleshed her with a backstory and followed those qualities to their logical conclusion. Caroline is a psychology professor from the 1940s recruited by the government during WWII to help analyze the Nazi hierarchy and provide insights for espionage purposes. Toward the end of the war, she met Sebastian Blackwood and the two fell in love; Sebastian, however, was a vampyr with a degenerative condition. To make matters worse, he was also in charge of North America. Caroline chose to become a vampyr to be with him, but also to help him steer America in a beneficial course for the future. Sadly, as Sebastian’s condition worsened and he became more feral, their relationship worsened and became abusive, but Caroline was literally trapped with nowhere to go. She eventually figured out a way to escape and went into hiding while she worked on unraveling the mysteries of the vampyr condition. I especially like that she’s a very strong woman, but she never turns into the “alpha bitch” action heroine that’s so standard these days. As for whether Caroline’s ending is tragic or triumphant is something I’ll let each reader decide for themselves.
Q. Your story is told from two points of view: Avery and Caroline, and interspersed are excerpts from a manuscript done by Avery. It’s like a book within a book. How did you come up with that idea?
A. I took my inspiration from Bram Stoker and H.G. Wells among other turn of the century authors and went for an epistolary novel because it added verisimilitude. I realized early on that, to make the novel’s action comprehensible and accessible, I’d have to filter as much as possible through Avery, but there were still elements that I wanted that only Caroline’s perspective could give. In the end, I decided to include Caroline’s journal entries because I thought they created an interesting parallel to the modern-day action. It also contrasted the disintegration of Caroline and Sebastian’s relationship with the difficulties Avery and Caroline were having. There was also the intention that the reader would wonder how much history might repeat itself as they continue.
Q. The character Valmont was a total pill – why make him such a vile creature?
A. Valmont? He’s a sweetheart! LOL! Actually, there are a couple of reasons for that. Mainly, I thought about how interesting it could be to have a villain who is truly evil, but played straight. By which I mean someone who deliberately and rationally chooses to be everything we consider evil. He’s not deranged and he doesn’t think what he’s doing is right in some convoluted way: he has literally made the decision that his soul is damned for all eternity. Therefore, his response is to be the absolute worst person that he can be. He’s dedicated to Satan in a way that most devout Christians are devoted to God, which I thought might be an interesting departure from the normal antagonist. Also, from a fun stand-point, I wanted to poke fun at the “dark, sexy vampyr bad boy” that women love so much and give a glimpse at what a guy like that would really be like.
Q. Now to the evilest creature of them all — Sebastian. Talk a little bit about his character.
A. I don’t see Sebastian as evil. He’s more a tragic, fallen hero who wanted the simple life of an priest, but got sucked into The Order and spent centuries trying to remain decent in the face of all the corruption around him. He finally got his own land to run with freedom and enlightenment, but The Order corrupted and ruined that, too. He then fell in love, but no sooner does he begin to be happy, he develops a degenerative condition that tears at all the best parts of him. Sebastian, as you see him in the book, is an abused animal with enough sense left to make one last attempt at striking back. To me, Sebastian is part cautionary tale and part Greek tragedy.
Q. There are creatures called the Kwang-shi in the book. Are these based on mythical creatures?
A. Yes, they are! The Jiang-shi are the native vampyr myth of China, though I should mention that I have taken some liberties with the original folklore. In my story, they have powers and abilities that normal science can’t explain, but some of it can still make sense if you look at quantum physics. Or, you can believe that they actually have magic and that’s that. That’s sort of my nod to the classic mystical vampyr that can’t be explained away. For the purposes of my novel, I combined the Jiang-shi idea with that of the “hungry ghost” that is a staple of Chinese myth. I explained the creation of the Jiang-shi as a Hungry Ghost taking up residence in the dead body and strengthening the po, thus re-animating the corpse. However, I wanted the Jiang-shi to have some distinctive features, so I made them unaffected by sunlight because my regular vampyrs are. I also made them more psychic/emotional vampyrs than blood drinkers, though they can feed on blood that is strong with their emotion of choice. I gave them the traditional weakness to religious items wielded with faith because of the positive energy of the faith which clashes with the negative energies that sustain them. Naturally, given their origins, I wanted to make use of Taoist philosophy in their workings. I forget where I read this, but there was some Chinese demon or creature that tried to avoid sleep because their po was given a taste of their eternal punishment as they slept. I thought this was really novel and different, so I incorporated it into my Jiang-shi as well. For variety, I also gave them the Kuang-shi (which is really just the original pronunciation of Jiang-shi), which are the green and white furred monsters of legend, as servants.
Q. What are you currently working on now?
My current project is called Drawing Dead, which takes place in the same universe as Ancient Blood but in the 1930s. It’s the story of a New York gangster named Faolan O’Connor who is recruited into The Order during a war between the cities of the Northeast coast. He decides quickly that he wants to take over as the boss of New York, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s got a tough fight ahead of him even if he is able to navigate the minefield of vampyr politics. It’s a very different kind of story, primarily because Faolan is a very different kind of protagonist than Avery. I just finished it and can’t wait to see what people think of it.
Q. When writing Ancient Blood, what was your favorite part? And what was your least favorite part?
A. Probably my favorite part was when I got to have fun thinking about some of the banal aspects of vampyr life and incorporating them into scenes. This was originally a screenplay, all action and clever dialogue, but the best part of expanding it into a novel was adding in little mundane details. My least favorite part is always the time it takes me to write. Ancient Blood was a faster than any of my other works, but even so, it took the better part of a year to complete.
Q. So you’re also writing screenplays. Have you had any success with those?
A. Sadly, no. I wrote the script that became Ancient Blood, then one about Native American werewolves who hunt the vampyrs of The Order, then two with a friend that were urban fantasy and a science fiction action-adventure. I got a response from an agent about the werewolf one, but she said the people in L.A. didn’t get the concept, and suggested I try it as a novel instead. Of course, a year later, Underworld came out, so I’m pretty sure they get the concept now.
Q. If you had a chance to become a vampyr, would you?
A. Probably, yes! LOL! After everything I’ve said, that might seem ironic, but I’m still in love with the concept of the vampyr myself. Unless it looked like being a vampyr would really be terrible, I’d probably want to go for it.
Q. What has been the toughest thing you have experienced on the road to becoming published?
A. That’s easily got to be the number of disappointments and rejections. It’s very difficult to keep up that belief in yourself and the determination to write when year after year goes by with nothing to show for it. You can’t help but wonder if you’re doing the right thing and it’s very disheartening.
Q. Do you have any advice for those who want to become published but are becoming discouraged because their work can’t seem to find a place within the publishing world?
A. My advice would be to keep looking around. Just ten years ago, it was either get published by a major publisher or be a failure. Nowadays, not only are indie publishers and self-publishing gaining respect, they’re on their way to becoming the norm! That said, there’s no excuse not to make sure that your work is as strong as it can be. Just because you can go on Createspace and get your book up on Amazon in ten minutes doesn’t mean that you should. Get feedback from anybody who will read you and really listen to it. If your work is good, you will find someone who will publish it.
L.M.: Okay, that concludes this interview. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a call to make…
Brian is a lifelong vampire fan from New Jersey and has written four screenplays, a stage play which won a state-wide contest and was produced by a NJ community theater, and numerous short stories which have been published online in various magazines.