Friday, December 13, 2013

Guest Blog: Brian McKinley

Today I’d like to welcome Brian McKinley to the blog. Brian has written stories since he learned to print and his short stories have appeared in Reflection’s Edge and Challenging Destiny magazines as well as Dark Company, an anthology to benefit the international charity BuildOn. He is a regular contributor to the website and a member of the Horror Writers Association. His first novel, Ancient Blood, was published by Ambrosia Arts Publishing in March 2013.

Or: Why I Ignored Everyone’s Advice 
And Wrote Another Damn Vampire Novel!

So, why vampires?

That's the question I'm most often asked when people ask me about my writing at all (it doesn't happen nearly as much as I'd like, since I love talking about writing). I think the most concise answer I can give is that vampires give me a little bit of everything. In today's world, vampires have the ability to transcend the monster role they were traditionally given and can now be just about anything. They are the monster that most resembles us. They are us. They are the best and worst parts of our natures amplified and given the power to enact their desires on a large scale. How is that not attractive to a writer? What's more, being a minor history buff, I love having the ability to pull characters out from various parts of history and examine how becoming a vampire either changes or doesn't change them.

I love researching the folklore of vampires in different cultures and bringing that into my work, but it's probably fair to say that I've been more influenced by the newer Anne Rice style vampire. That crap with crosses and mirrors and holy water never made much sense to me. It's all based on the idea that the vampire is inherently evil and that the Christian faith is inherently good, both concepts that I reject. Vampires start as people so, to me, there would have to be good vampires and bad vampires. And as for religion, well, what about a vampire that's older than Jesus? Why the hell would he care about a Christian cross? People created the vampire idea to explain things they didn't understand, but every good boogey man has to have a weakness, so they made those up too. I wanted to start from scratch with my vampires.

I started with the idea of doing a different take on vampires than what I was seeing out in the movies and novels of the time. This was many years back, however, so certain things have caught up a little. But I liked the idea of vampires having a society, a political hierarchy that explained why nobody knew about them. If you live forever, what do you do with your time?

In most movies, all vampires worry about is feeding, but think about it like a person. How much of your day do you worry about eating? A society gives you what you need to survive (food) without having to work as hard for it, so you have time to do other things. In my vampires' case, they spend their time building up their personal power so that nobody can mess with them. The more power and wealth you have, the safer you are. It's been that way for hundreds if not thousands of years. All a vampire needs is to save some money and, over time, he's got a fortune. Money is power in our world and power equals safety. So, that was the basis for The Order. Vampires are the true aristocrats of the world because blood is easy to get when you control the power of nations and, ironically, nations are easy to control when you can offer its leaders everlasting life, enormous sums of money, and the ability to dispose of their enemies.

So, I started off with science as my vampires’ basis just because I wanted to do something different and make them more plausible. However, I love seeing magic done well in a book. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, for example, has fairies and magic and different species of vampires and werewolves and all kinds of stuff, but what makes it work is that Butcher explains his magic in a very specific way and keeps it consistent within his world. You know how things work in that world, which makes it feel real. I love that! When it's not good is when it seems like an author is being lazy and describing things as magic because they don't have the imagination to figure out a way to make things work any other way. Then magic becomes just a deus ex machina that the writer is pulling out of their ass to solve plot problems for themselves without doing the work. My novel also features some sort of magic, you could say, in the Jiang-shi which are the Chinese folklore vampires. 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 my nod to the classic mystical vampire 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 vampires 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.

But, after all that, there was still something crucial missing: why should a reader give a damn about any of this? The story in its final form began to take shape when I realized that I needed a viewpoint character to get the reader into this world. Originally, it was going to be done third person and I was going to follow all the vampires back and forth as they schemed and plotted, but it was all too much. There was nobody for the audience to really root for.

Originally, there was this guy named Avery who had just been brought in by Caroline and was kind of her side-kick. However, he never worked. Nobody I showed the script to thought the character belonged. I was going to get rid of him when it occurred to me that maybe the reason he didn't work was because we weren't seeing things from his viewpoint. Once I decided to write the entire book as Avery's story, everything else sort of fell into place and the book became richer and more poignant. Here's a guy who is coming into the situation with the same expectations that the vampire reader has, along with the same context, and so the reader hopefully is right there emotionally with Avery when confronted by these vampires that don't act the way we've all been taught that vampires should act.

My name is Brian Patrick McKinley and my first novel is called Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony. I hope you’ll check it out!

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