Sunday, November 07, 2010

Taliesin Meets… …Susan and Clay Griffith

Clay and Susan Griffith are the husband and wife team behind the novel The Greyfriar, the first book in the Vampire Empire series. Their blog can be found here. You’ll see from my review of the book that I thoroughly enjoyed its heady mix of steampunk and vampires. Susan and Clay agreed to drop by TMtV and answer a few questions for me.

Hi Susan and Clay, welcome to Taliesin Meets the Vampires.

It’s great to be here. We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to speak to you in-depth about the book.

Your novel Greyfriar has just been released and it mixes steampunk with the vampire genre. What inspired you to go down that road?

When this book was first conceived years ago, we conceived of a sweeping epic adventure, with vampires. We also wanted a historical element (we love historicals) and so we chose the Victorian Era as one of our favourites. Therefore, our book was always planned as a “neo-Victorian” fantasy. We love that era; the feel and sensibilities, the brittle social relations between individuals and groups, and the clunky technology. But our story required an altered world with a familiar but changed Victorian Era, and that equals steampunk. We certainly didn’t set out to write a novel that could be labelled as “steampunk” – it just came out that way.

You develop a rather rich political landscape, certainly amongst the human regions of the globe and definitely hinted at amongst the vampires. How important was portraying the political cloak and dagger aspects of the books?

Very. Our main characters are the rulers and future rulers of their respective species that dominate the Earth, so politics determine the plot in many ways. With a major war as the backstory to a novel, the details of government, economics, and foreign affairs are important. The debate over the proper exercise of power is paramount to give the characters context and motivation.

Your vampires mix a level of natural predator, above humans in the food chain, and supernatural creature – able to change their density and injured by icons of faith. Could you tell us a little of why you went down that path?

Obviously we wanted to be different, but still have a book about clearly recognizable vampires. Our goal with our vampires was to start with elements of their traditional mythology and then come up with biological traits that might have been responsible for inspiring those myths in ancient times. Our vampires' behavior can be described and explained by science, although given that the science in our world is an altered 19th century science, there is much biology that is not yet understood or explained. We also create elements of a new science, which some consider to be “magic”, to explain why vampires are repelled by icons of faith under certain circumstances (more on that in Book Two).

You seem to have planned out a great deal of the world of the Vampire Empire; the steam driven Empire Equatorial, the chemical powered American Republic and the vampire infested Northern regions. How much of the world have you mapped out in advance?

We know what happened across the world after the Great Killing (where vampires destroyed the industrial states of the northern hemisphere in 1870). But we certainly don’t have the time or space to more than make passing reference to it in the book. We hope to bring more of the world into the books as the series continues. In Book Two, for example, we are heading for the heart of Africa to spend some time in the Congo so we can see how that continent has been dealing with their own version of the vampire threat. There are so many unique settings to choose from.

How many books are planned in the series?

Three. Vampire Empire was pitched and sold as a trilogy. However, the world is so rich and fascinating to play in, we’re hoping that we will get to write many more. We’ve even been discussing prequel stories, perhaps diving into the Great Killing and the events that lead to the creation of the Greyfriar himself.

I found the character Mamoru and the mysterious Cabal absolutely fascinating, are we to see more of their inner machinations in future volumes?

Definitely! The Cabal and their shadowy motivations become more important in books two and three. Originally those characters weren’t central to the narrative; they hardly showed up at all, just working behind the scenes. However, we found them fascinating, as did our early readers, and so the secret Cabal has earned a much larger part on screen. We both have our favorite cabalist fighting for space.

What is it like writing as a team? What challenges does it hold when compared to writing solo?

We’ve been writing together for fifteen years now. When we first started working together, we discovered that we each have unique strengths that blend together nicely and our work could benefit from that marriage. No pun intended. Granted, working jointly means giving up some autonomy and sublimating your own voice. But it also means we have to listen harder to each other and appreciate the other person’s point of view. Of course, that doesn’t always come easily and we sometimes carry out our collaboration in public places to keep the disagreements civil and without throwing objects. Though seriously, we are both committed to the final product and trust each other to only have the book’s best interests at heart. It’s a wonderful process and it really is thrilling when we’re both excited and on the same page.

Do you both have a favourite vampire novel and vampire film? What are they?

Susan: I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, so Buffy and Angel are both huge influences. I also love Tanya Huff and her Blood series.

Clay: Stoker’s Dracula was a formative novel for Victorian horror/adventure. And I’ve been shaped by many horror films from the classic Universals to Hammer gothics. I was also a big fan of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, both films and series. I loved the way that show took classic horror myth and folded it into a contemporary world.

Did any of these inspire or inform your thoughts around Greyfriar?

There are many echoes of Dracula in our book, from the Victorian feel to our twists on classic vampire mythos. We tried to take and turn many previous vampire stories on their head. The roots of The Greyfriar emanate not just from Victorian vampire tales, but from pulp fiction, adventure movies, American comics, and Japanese manga, with clear nods to the Shadow, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Vampire Hunter D. The influence for the name came from Edinburgh, Scotland, where we were married at a little place called Greyfriar’s Kirk.

Many thanks for taking time to answer my questions.

Our pleasure. We’re delighted you enjoyed the book and hope you enjoy the rest of the series as much, if not more.

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