|P.N. Elrod (continued)|
P. N. Elrod: I tidy up a few loose ends left from previous books, and set up the means for Jack to do some cool stuff in future stories. Angela Paco's back, trying to hold onto her mobster father's territory even if it starts a major gang war. Jack's stuck fast in the middle and trying to get out of things with a low body count. Of course, we don't always get what we wish for. The reviews have been love letters, so after a five-year hiatus I haven't lost my touch.
Crescent Blues: What inspired you to mix vampires with gangsters?
P. N. Elrod: I love the classic pulp hard-boiled mysteries and film noire. If Bogart, Dick Powell, or Alan Ladd are in it and co-starring with a dangerous dame, I've probably seen it. There's a edge of honesty to them; the emotions are intense, and justice uncompromising. The mood of the genre lends itself perfectly to a vampire character. Jack's subject to dark moods, but not going to wallow in the angst. The hard-boiled detective has no patience for self-pity and neither do my vampires.
Crescent Blues: Jonathan Barrett, the vampire who "brought over" Jack's vampire lover, was introduced in Bloodcircle, the third book of the Jack Fleming series. When did you realize you wanted to write books about Jonathan?
P. N. Elrod: From the first as I wanted to do something of an historical book at some point.
Crescent Blues: Did you know from the start he was a good guy, too?
P. N. Elrod: Yes, just not forthcoming with important information, since he was suspicious of Jack's motives in the story.
It took time to develop Jonathan. When sketching out my concept for that story I was going to have Jack encounter an older, "head honcho" vampire who would demand Jack's "allegiance." (Yawn.) Jack would have only told the guy to go screw himself, and walked -- which would have made for a very short, dull book. I still wince over that one. Thank God, I smarted up and quickly tossed that hoary old cliche into File 13 or my career would have been over.
After some hard thinking, I determined that the "guest vampire" would probably have the same attitude as my hero. Why should he even WANT anyone's allegiance? What the hell good is that? If my next door neighbor imperiously demanded it of me I'd call the local psychiatric hospital.
I reasoned Jonathan would be like Jack and just wanted to be left alone to live his life like anyone else. With that premise, with my questioning the motivations of my supposed villain, the story had a chance to develop along much more interesting lines. He ceased to be a villain and turned into a guy who's just trying to protect his family from someone he viewed as a dangerous stranger. To him, Jack was the bad guy.
There's also the rivalry thing. He and Jack both loved the same woman, but at different times. Both are thinking the same thought: "What the hell did she ever see in THAT jerk?" It's very funny. I plan to bring them both together again in a future story. Maybe I'll call it "Another Stake Out," but I think that one's been taken. How about "Lethal Fangs?" A vampire "buddy" story!
I was originally going to have Jonathan dating from the Civil War, but that era did not suit the character I needed to write. I wanted a dandy, a somewhat snobbish gentleman of wry humor with a touchy sense of honor, so the Revolutionary War was best background for that sort of thing. Putting him and his family on the side of the British also made it more interesting. Everyone seems to love that twist.
Crescent Blues: In I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire, Lord Strahd von Zarovich "started life" as one of the baddest of the bad guys in the TSR role-playing game universe. Given your strong identification with heroic vampires, how did you come to write his story?
P. N. Elrod: My agent at that time was contacted by TSR to see if I might be interested in writing Strahd's autobiography. My name was on the short list of authors. I looked over the reference material and a couple of the books written in the Ravenloft universe and decided I could do the job and do it very well.
Crescent Blues: How difficult was it to "change horses" and write about such a dark-hearted villain?
P. N. Elrod: About the same as for a actor going from one part to another. And every actor knows villains are the most fun to play. I gave him a sense of humor -- a dark one, of course -- which is his prime appeal to fans of that series. A bad guy who enjoys himself is more fun to read about.
I also wrote the books so that anyone unfamiliar with the series would enjoy it. It worked. It's the only one of its sort ever reviewed by both Publisher's Weekly and Locus, and both were love letters. One bright soul even noticed that the "voice" I used for Strahd was quite different from those I used for Jack and Jonathan. How clever of me. But that's the acting angle again. You don't play Richard III the same as you'd play Hamlet. Both were men with strong intellect, power, and good at putting up a false front, but Richard always knew exactly what he was doing and why; Hamlet questioned himself at every turn. Subtle stuff, that.
I was a drama major at university, and if I wasn't a stellar actress then, I did pick up a lot of the techniques of the craft, which translate well into the craft of writing. When I write a book I run a film of it in my head, which gives the work a good visual quality. I'm the director, lighting crew, camera, continuity, costuming, special f/x, and star with an unlimited budget. What a power trip!
My really big thrill about I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire was the audiobook, which was read by the legendary Roddy McDowall. I've always been a great fan of his work. That man can pick and choose what he does, so it was a tremendous thrill and compliment that he decided to perform my work. He did a marvelous job of it, and I'd be recommending it to people even if I'd not written the book!
Crescent Blues: I seem to recall reading that you wrote for role-playing games before selling the first Jack Fleming story. Would you like to tell us something about that?
P. N. Elrod: It was how I broke into the professional market. I used to role-play in the late 80's, created a few adventure modules and sold them to TSR, along with an article on gaming familiars. It gave me the professional credits I needed to help sell Bloodlist -- and snagged my first fan letters!
Crescent Blues: The standard advice given to all young writers is to "write what you know." How do you reconcile that with writing about vampires in 1930s Chicago, 18th century America and Britain, and furthest Barovia?
P. N. Elrod: Human emotions and interactions are a constant to all genres, all historical periods. Those are what good writers must draw on for the meat of their stories. So long as people will be people, we'll stay in business.
I also do research and exercise my imagination. If I limited myself to "what I know"...