Writers look for a lot of things when they set out to tell a tale. They want compelling characters, they want a setting that adds atmosphere and character to a story. Writers like me—specifically, genre writers—want a place where they can really get down in the dirt and play. They want a sandbox, a realm where they can freely explore the far corners of their imagination. I truly believe this is one reason why vampires have been such a perennial favorite of horror writers. Vampires give you the ability to pretty much tell any story you want.
They’re pretty, so you can do romantic stories (we’ve all seen how that goes). They’re violent, which gives you a license for action. And they live forever, which means you can make your vampires into witnesses of history. It wasn’t until I wrote my second vampire novel, 99 Coffins, that I realized this, I think. I always start a new book with an image, some arresting vision that I can hang a story on. For this one it was a cave full of coffins. I could hear the water dripping off the stalactites. I could smell the mustiness of the darkness in that cave. And I could feel the hair on the back of my arms stand up when I realized the things in those coffins weren’t… quite… dead.
Of course, every image needs a story to explain it. How did those coffins get there? How long had they been down there? Since these were vampires they could have been down there for decades. Or even centuries. It wasn’t long before I realized they had been there since the darkest, bloodiest, and, to coin a phrase, Gothiest moment of American history—our Civil War. And since this was going to take place in Pennsylvania (my homeland), that meant Gettysburg.
Non-American readers will be forgiven for not implicitly feeling the mythic resonance of that sleepy little town. It is the American Waterloo, or Stalingrad, or Thermopylae. It is the place where unthinkable carnage and moral velleity turned history around and made life better for every future generation. Before Gettysburg, a black man in America was almost certainly someone’s property. Afterwards he was legally—and permanently—a citizen. The political issues involved were murky and contentious, but the outcome was not. A good thing happened there, born in blood and darkness. And here I had a way to put a character right in the front row to watch it happen.
I’ve written a lot of different kind of vampire stories. I just wrote another one with a historical bent, 32 Fangs, with an even greater scope. But I think 99 Coffins is still my favorite. It’s certainly the one I had the most fun with. And I hope it will stand as proof that a vampire story can be many, many things—not just a love story for abstinent teenagers, but a blank canvas upon which a writer can figure out just how far his or her muse can stretch. It’s easy to forget that these days, and as a result a lot of good stories fall through the cracks—or worse, never get written at all.
The Laura Caxton series and the Werewolf Tales are all avaliable from Piatkus. Please click here to find out more. 32 Fangs will be avaliable to buy next year!
To visit David Wellington's website, please click here.
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