Tuesday, November 16, 2010
FEATURED AUTHOR: Terence Taylor
He lives quietly in Brooklyn and laughs a lot between acts of literary carnage.
Blood Pressure: A Vampire Testament
The secret war between vampires and humans escalates and the world will never be the same again…
Christopher Jude Miller – fully grown and still human – has returned to New York to seek answers about his past. It is there he meets Joie, a young woman connected to his past, and falls into a twisted love triangle. He and Joie also realize that the magical forces that made both their lives possible have unexpected side effects, as they discover that united they have abilities neither knew of before - including the power to cure vampires.
Created after the incidents that brought in the National Guard to contain the vampire zombie plague on the Lower East Side, Clean Slate Global is a covert ops organization formed to rid the world of vampires, run by ex-deputy mayor Jonathan Richmond. But Richmond unleashes an ancient evil with darker motives. It plots to use Christopher and Joie’s power to eliminate all vampires from the Earth…with the exception of its own new and improved indestructible army of the undead.
How did you start out your writing career?
In children's television. I wanted to be a movie director in college, took a lot of film courses and fell in love with the medium. To me it combined art and story, I had design skills and could write some -- it seemed the perfect place to combine my dual talents. After graduation my film teacher recommended me for a job as a production assistant trainee on a low budget kids' show funded by the New York State Education Department. It was called Vegetable Soup, and was designed to teach kids what we now call "multiculturalism", with stories and segments that taught children about different cultures, and to respect people who act or believe differently than you. We could use a revival of it today. I got my first writing credit there, an adaptation of the folk tale Stone Soup, and kept going from there. It was a great job that gave me the chance to write scripts at a time when there were only a handful of black writers in television.
I hadn't really done much writing up until then -- I'd been editor in chief of the high school magazine the year my friends and I took it over and tried to turn it into the National Lampoon, which was popular then. But I only wrote one or two pieces. I'd write down ideas, but was slow to develop them -- I'm baring my youthful procrastination to encourage all those late life writers -- I'd find a million reasons not to write, then start stories and not finish them…as soon as they got harder to write, as stories always do at some point, I'd jump to a new idea. I spent this summer cleaning out all the storage boxes in the house and closet and found the box I'd packed the writing fragments of decades into. I'm looking forward to spending a long cold winter's night putting off new writing by flipping through my past…
My current career as a novelist began during a long period of no script work in L.A. I had a little time to try my hand more seriously at fiction, and sent out a few stories that got rejected. Despite that, there was enough encouragement in my rejection letters to make me decide to finish a vampire novel I'd been poking at since the 1980s. When I realized I had enough money in the bank to move back to Brooklyn or pay one more month's bills in L.A., I decided to move back and finish the book. I'd rented out my loft when I left New York or I'd never have been able to move home! I'm totally behind that "The Rent's Too High" party guy running for governor.
The book wasn't the only reason I moved home. My mother was in her seventies and I wanted to move closer so my sisters weren't alone in her care, which was a good thing as her health started failing shortly after my return. I was lucky enough to find freelance graphics work I could do at home, while I ran back and forth to my mom's assisted living apartment nearby. In five years I'd finished the novel, found an agent, and they got me a two book deal with St. Martin's Press. You really, really must understand that in saying that I'm compressing two painfully long years of maternal care and agonizing rejection by more agents than J.K. Rowling before I found the right match. I'll be writing that book later.
What did you learn while writing this book?
I found my voice as a writer finishing the first novel. The second reinforced it. I was lucky in that my agents came from an editorial background, and knew what would and wouldn't fly with publishers. They loved the story but not the form. It was my first novel, so fortunately I was willing to listen. They gave me four pages of notes on the manuscript, culled from a meeting with two other readers they brought in. The end result was a series of questions about things they still wanted to know as readers that I sulked about for two days, then set out to answer. Like my editor, they asked me the right questions, and didn't suggest the answers, which is what I consider the best kind of notes. It took me a year to rewrite, but at the end of that year, I knew how much work and research I really needed to do as a novelist. More importantly, I discovered the things about life I had to say, and learned to distinguish them from what the characters have to say.
I also learned to enjoy the process of writing itself more than ever. Public readings, reviews, checks, all of that is well and good, but pass quickly. A life in writing is mostly spent in a room alone by yourself, and I've learned to love the process of building and shaping a story, getting to know the characters and following them through the world I've created more than the completion. Finishing a book is actually kind of depressing. Post-partum depressing. Your characters are done with you and you have to find a new world and circle of imaginary friends to play with.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
I wanted to be a novelist and now I feel I am. It's a very particular kind of writing and takes a particular form of discipline. I wanted to finish my first novel and finish it well -- for me that meant publication. By getting a two book deal, I proved that to myself better than I could have hoped. Beyond that, I can only hope for enough sales to keep me published, and past that, enough sales for my books to support me while I write more. These two books set me on a path I can't leave now -- I'm a novelist now, it's what I think I do better than anything else I do and I can't bring myself to stop.
Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?
Ha! The best in a list of good questions. It is so not what I thought it would be. But nothing I've ever asked for has been what I thought it would be when I got it. I like that I have more respect for myself as a writer now, and more respect for the processes of writing. I don't like that I still have to remind myself to work as hard telling the world about the books as I do writing them. That whole "not hiding your light under a bushel" thing. It will get more automatic as I get used to it -- mostly I've found that book promotion is endlessly talking about yourself, which my friends complain I do too much anyway. So it's just learning to keep my stories shorter and to the point, which can only benefit my friends if those habits drift into my every day life.
More than anything, I find that I'm inventing my writer's life is as I get deeper into it. There are as many different ways to be a writer as there are writers, and just as I've tried not to follow any one path in anything else in my life, I'm trying to keep an open mind about everything that comes next in this.
Which five characters (can be from books, movies, or tv shows) would you invite over for dinner and why?
The Wicked Witch of the West, from "Wicked" or the original, because she has a story to tell and is a renowned lady of color, even if its green. Mr. Spock, first gen, though maybe the older Spock from the new movie -- more multiculturalism, I always liked and identified with his struggles with identity. Hannibal Lechter, though he won't be allowed in the kitchen. Just a very complex villain who often slips into sympathy and a great conversationalist on a variety of topics. Easy Rawlins, for tips on survival. He had a better run than most. Hm. Last…hell, Wanda Sykes. She cracks me up, and she is a character, even if non-fictional. But she could even get a laugh out of Spock.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
One -- that you're never done with anything when you think you're done with it. Two -- that when your fondest wish in the world comes true, it comes with strings you never imagined, asked for or want, but that's okay and you roll with it. Third, to appreciate each step on the path, which I finally do. Every inch forward no matter how slow is a different view and a whole new world of its own, and it's too easy to get so caught up in looking ahead that you don't see and enjoy the progress you're making day to day.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
There is no such thing as an aspiring writer. As Yoda said, do or no do, is no try. You either write or you don't. Period. That said, DO write, write often, and learn to enjoy it so much that you'd be happy if there was no reward in it but that. DON'T spend more time coming up with excuses for not writing than you spend writing.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
That no matter how easy the final product may make our writing look, it's not. The simplest, purest line can take hours of agonizing rewrites and discards.
That it is both a lonely profession in that you spend long hours alone in a room or in your head, and that you are really never alone, but roaming a wild wood of your own invention that can sometimes seem better than the real world. Ask us out. It's good for us every now and then.
Most importantly, that half the time we're telling you about something we're working on we're really telling ourselves, and that when we stop halfway through to say -- "Duh, that's exactly what it is, isn't it…?", forget that you're in the room and start scribbling, you should just give us a moment. We'll be back.
Oh. And that when you attack our writing, you attack our children, and we will defend it the same way you would if someone physically or verbally attacked your child. You can make your point without making us hurt you.
Damn. That was four, wasn't it? The fifth is that it's hard to shut up a writer. The first is the most important.
What was the best advice you’d ever gotten about the publishing industry? The worst?
The best is that the writer's job on a book doesn't end when it's sold. A whole other job on that book begins, as successful published writers assured me when I started. The worst? I've gotten remarkably little bad advice. Though I would like people to stop asking why don't I make a movie of the books, or would I "let them" -- I'd love to see movies made, but my opinion means very little. I want to tell people who ask, "Get me a hundred million books sales worldwide, and I'll take you to the premiere…" That's what gets movies made. Book sales. It's like telling someone their new baby should be president. It's not really my call, but thanks, I'd love it!
What is something readers would be surprised you do?
Laugh. A lot. Maybe not. There is humor in my books, dark as it may be. But I like to say that I work in horror, I don't live there. I watch horror and suspense films and shows as research, some because I love them, but I enjoy as much comedy as I can, especially when it makes me laugh at the real world like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I grew up with that Reader's Digest line, "Laughter is the best medicine" and always believed it. I was raised Catholic and always thought that Jesus must have had a good strong laugh -- with a following like his he had to have had a good sense of humor. And he did knock out some great one-liners, like "It's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven…" I mean, classic stuff.
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
Hm. I honestly can't imagine, which wasn't always the case. I can say today that I wouldn't want to be anyone but me right now, for better and worse. It's taken a long time to be able to say that, too.
Our theme this month is Men In Fiction. What male writer are you reading?
I just finished Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. My second book was stacked next to it in Borders as summer reading, and I saw the movie on Netflix, so I was curious. It is a best seller, after all, and the fact that he died as mysteriously as one of his characters makes it all the more interesting. There is a rumor that his ex-wife actually wrote all the books, and is bargaining for her piece of the inheritance (he died without a will) with an unpublished fourth manuscript in the series. If that's true, I suppose he's not the male writer I'm reading…
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
How little I know. I mean, I'm smart and all that, and I've seen a lot and learned a lot, but the older I get the more I realize how little we all know, and how funny some of what we believe will seem to people living a couple hundred years from now. There are things I was so sure of when I was in my twenties and thirties that I know now were just silly to believe. I believe more and doubt less these days.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
The Vampire Testaments continue with PAST LIFE, set twenty years from now in 2028, so there are "futuristic" elements involved, though I class it more as speculative social fiction than sci-fi vamps. The mad vampire Tom O'Bedlam has succeeded in turning the Earth into the Blood World of his dreams, and our heroes, human and vampire, are all returning to New York to stop him once and for all. To say any more would give away too much for people who haven't read BLOOD PRESSURE yet. It's a return to the dark of the first book, with higher stakes, but it's also about redemption, so I'm hoping things turn out well for all involved with a brighter ending. I never really know until I get there.
Here's a sneak peek at part of an early chapter of PAST LIFE for those who've read the first two books:
4:32 p.m. - Shanghai - 4 October, 2028
Joie runs for her life, not knowing where she is or why.
Raging thunderclouds snarl at her from the horizon, vicious as mad dogs. Joie watches them rush toward her across the darkening sky, big storm rising, a bad one. When she was a little girl her mother let her sleep in her bed on nights like this. Terrified by the lightning and thunder, she’d always felt safe when she was snuggled by her mother’s side, protected under warm sheets and blankets, sheltered safely in the warm civilized heart of Park Slope. That would be all she’d need to make it through this night.
But her mother was a world away.
Joie’s twins, Sarah Louise and Annie Elizabeth, tall at twenty, lean as gazelles, race ahead of her, leap from clearing to clearing between wrecked cars as if they know where they are going even if she doesn’t. Joie follows them down the street, not even sure in what city they are in, only that it isn’t theirs. She shouts, unheard by her daughters over the shrieking winds. Lightning licks at their heels as the rains finally come, a heavy downpour, thick and scarlet, a torrent of blood that fills the streets, rises in a tsunami to sweep away cars and pedestrians, tore open doors and windows to pour inside.
Joie reaches for her daughters, grips their arms and holds them tight as they are swept with the current into a light pole. She wraps an arm around it, clings fast to keep the river of blood from carrying them all away as she holds onto her twins with the other.
A bright glow rises in the distance. Red waters part as if for Moses. The source of the light is a tall blond man who raises a hand and exposes dry asphalt, walks along the dotted white line of the cleared street to their side. The storm stills around him as if he travels in its eye, or as if the storm moves with him, keeping a safe distance. He pulls Joie to her feet and reveals his face. It’s Christopher Jude Miller, the twin’s biological father. As his daughters hug him, overjoyed, he looks down at Joie, still taller than she is by a good head. His bluer than blue eyes, blue as Sarah and Annie’s, are filled with tears. He hasn’t changed since the last time she saw him, twenty years ago. His pale hair glows with a saintly light as he speaks to her, mouths words so softly she almost can’t hear him before she wakes from the dream…
Come home and set me free.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
Via my website, http://doyoubelieveinvampires.com/, or http://terencetaylor.com/. There are e-mail links on both. And the first updates regularly with blogs, video and a serial adventure…and thanks for the interview!
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