For me, this is the mark of a great book:
When you finish it, you feel as though you’ve been filled up. In a good way. With contentment, or angst, or even a righteous desire to go out and kick some vampire backside. Like, right now. With a sword.
The Greyfriar left me with that good, filled-up, feeling. I finished the last page wanting more — dare I say, squirming in my seat with a dire need to find out what was going to happen next — and there’s no higher praise, in my opinion. When you’re caught, you’re caught.
And I’m tight in the net, people. I want more Vampire Empire.
I recently interviewed the authors, Clay and Susan Griffith, interested to find out more about them, the book, and their process (they co-write and they’re married). The result is a great conversation with two lovely people.
They’re giving away three signed copies of the book to some lucky readers. Leave a comment in the blog to enter. Names will be drawn on Saturday, and announced here at the blog.
The Greyfriar, first book in the Vampire Empire series, is an alternate history. How did you approach your changes to historical facts, and what was your process for rebuilding the world after it’s overrun by vampires? And please, tell readers about your vampires! They’ve destroyed half the world in this book! How do your vampires differ from previous blood suckers? Are there distinct biological differences? They also have a complex and unique society. How did it develop?
Historically, we wanted to create a vampire society that was a direct opposite to the industrial world. Vampires live (or did before they conquered northern humanity) in a mobile, tribalistic, oral culture. But, as in real history, when mobile warlike societies conquer static kingdoms, both conquered and conqueror change.
The vampires themselves are a bit different than standard vamps. Ours are not undead humans; they are a parasitic species who co-evolved with humans over the millennia. But they still thrive on human blood. We created biological traits in these vampires that could explain all the myths and legends that rose up about these horrible creatures. The most important element for the world in our book is that they don’t fear the sun, but they suffer in the heat. That’s why humans fled their attacks by rushing to the tropics. Our vampires are brutal, nasty things. They are inveterate enemies of humankind.
Can you explain the origins of The Greyfriar, both his pulp antecedents, and the origin of name itself? A little bird told me that there’s a relation to both the Scarlet Pimpernel and Edinburgh Castle. Speaking of which, the same little bird also mentioned you have a personal connection to that place. Care to share?
We are both avid readers of the pulps, then and now. Let’s face it, there is always something mesmerizing and thrilling to have a hero as big as life and mysterious as hell jumping in to save the day. From the cloaked mask of The Shadow to the Scarlet Pimpernel’s derring-do, The Greyfriar owes his heroic pedigree to a lot of classic heroes. As for the personal connection, Edinburgh holds a special place in our hearts since we were married there fifteen years ago at Greyfriars Kirk. We love that old city and you couldn’t ask for better inspiration.
Princess Adele is the heir to Equatoria, which was formed around parts of the old British Empire. It encompasses parts of India, Arabia, North and East Africa with its capital in Alexandria. When humans from the north fled the vampires in the 1870s, they settled into tropical areas that they had already begun to colonize. However, they found that without the productive power of their northern states, it wasn’t quite so easy to have their own way with the locals. So the neo-Victorian, tropical states in our book are blends of the cultures of the invading northerners and the existing Arab or African or Indian. A whole lot has happened in the 150 years since the Great Killing so these new societies are both similar and very unlike the colonial tropical states that existed in the real world.
Adele herself is bi-racial. Her father, Emperor Constantine, is descended primarily from the northerners, but her mother is Persian. This plays into Adele’s strong attitudes and respect for the various peoples of the Empire and peripheral states, but also plays against her since the imperial court is dominated by those who like to claim purer descent from northern Europe. The multi-racial, multicultural aspects make for some fascinating dynamics in human politics, even without the constant threat of vampires lurking about.
Everyone talks about the fact that the book has vampires, steampunk, romance and adventure, but what about the cats? I love the cats!
The cats are definitely a character unto themselves. Solitary and aloof at times, they just seemed to fit our hero. With the countryside in such a devastated state, is it any wonder that feral cats roam at will? But you know how they are, give them some milk and they just keep coming back. Soon you’re swamped! Greyfriar’s such a softie!
You’re a married couple, and wrote The Greyfriar together. Writers, for the most part, are solitary animals — but, obviously, you both work well together. You’re one of the writers of The Tick — which I also love — but is writing a novel something you both had wanted to do for a while? What are your writing styles, and do you tackle the process in different ways? Do you write at different times of the day? In the same room, staring at each other over a desk? I’m really curious!
We both always wanted to write. Where one focused on comics, the other aimed at mainstream fiction. Eventually, we came together out of necessity and wrote comics and short fiction together. But the goal was always a co-authored novel. In terms of writing together, it can be a challenge. Each of us has our quirks. For example, One (Susan) is a morning person and the other (Clay) writes in the dead of night. The way it works with a novel is that we plot out the book in detail and then divide up chapters. We each have separate offices since the actual writing remains a solitary profession. Then we come together at the dinner table or coffee shops, and collaborate. We hand chapters back and forth to edit. We never stop talking about story and characters; in the car, at the supermarket, over meatloaf. Always.
The Greyfriar is full of incredible details — every little thing from the costumes to the weapons become real on the page. I’d love to hear more about your research, and how long you’ve been planning this book. What was the inspiration? When did you both go, “Hey, this would be a cool story”?
The book was long in planning and writing. It was originally conceived as a comic book, but the more we planned it, the more we knew it was too epic for comics. We knew it was a novel. We worked on it, off and on, for years. One of us (Clay) is a historian by training, so research is second nature, and late Victorian colonialism is a specialty. The other (Susan) is very detail oriented so she pays attention to all the little things. What do people wear? What do the weapons do and why? For both of us, research is constant. Studying changes in technology and urban planning, pouring over photographs of Victorian cities. Trying to understand politics and economics. It’s fun.
I found this book to be very romantic — heartbreakingly so — and I know folks who read my books will love it partly for that reason (and everything else about it). Was that an important element for you both, as you were writing — or was it just something that evolved during the process of telling the story?
We knew the romance would be there. It was vital. We don’t think one could create two such dynamic characters and not expect there to be an attraction between them. Adele is so young and idealistic, just on the cusp of womanhood, and suddenly she meets a dark legend. Unfortunately it is in the midst of a war. It’s that war and the boundaries between them that make their romance so heartbreaking. Think back on WWII when lives and loves were being torn apart. The reader wants Adele and the Greyfriar together but the world won’t seem to let them. It’s that struggle to reach for each other, no matter what, that brings out the best and worst for them.
Along those lines, there’s a real Beauty and the Beast vibe to this book, isn’t there? It’s really interesting how this novel combines so many genres into something that feels new and different, even while being familiar and recognizable. I mean, there’s steampunk, urban fantasy, horror…again, was that intentional, or did it simply evolve that way?
We like to blend genres and a lot of that comes from a joint love of old movies. In great Hollywood movies, there is always a mix of genres: action, romance, comedy, suspense. Something for everyone. With The Greyfriar, we wanted to recreate that experience as well as give our take on some of the classic genre elements with a new spin, like vampires. If you have vampires, you naturally have a touch of horror. We planned to set the book in a skewed neo-Victorian world, which is essentially steampunk. It was important that our world be different and yet, at the same time, familiar. You’re right, there is a bit of Beauty and the Beast, and a bit of Romeo and Juliet, and bits of a lot of things from our lives. But we’re glad you think we’ve given these elements a new shine and presented them in a way both familiar and fresh. That was our goal.
You are spot on with your information! The cover is the result of hard work by Chris McGrath, Grace M. Conti-Zilsberger, and Lou Anders. It so fantastic! As for the casting of our characters, that was always a question we had in our own heads quite early. We’ve never come up with the perfect contemporary cast for a Greyfriar movie, but while giving input on the cover, we did reference Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans and Sean Bean’s Richard Sharpe for Greyfriar. Adele would definitely have the wonderful exotic look of Morena Baccarin of Firefly fame.
I heard that The Greyfriar had a tremendous reception at DragonCon — 200 advanced reader copies, disappearing in a flash! How do you feel about the overall avalanche of positive buzz?
We couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was the best convention experience we’ve ever had. The response to the book so far has been incredibly warm and welcoming. Some of the reviews have astounded us. We are humbled and overwhelmed! Everyone at Pyr Books has been at the forefront of our cheering section, and we thank them from the bottom of our hearts. And to you as well, Marjorie. Yours was the first official review of the book and we weren’t expecting such fabulous praise from someone so well respected in the fantasy community. Thank you.
Clay and Susan, you’ve both had a long career in comics. How did you begin? Heck, how did you both meet and start working together?
We met in a bookstore (surprise!) over the purchase of a comic book (X-Men #201 to be precise). It was love at first sight. When we discovered we both wanted to be writers, we thought we were doomed, but then realized we were a perfect fit! We worked on solo projects for a while but we always found we were asking each other’s opinions on all our writing. Clay managed to break into comics with Tick spin-offs like The Man-Eating Cow. Then Acclaim Comics offered work in Disney comics. One of us (Susan) was a Disney scholar and the other (Clay)…well, the other was not. But it was Clay who had been contacted about the job, so we finally went to work as an official team. Looking at the finished work, we immediately saw the potential, and we’ve been writing together ever since.
I’m always asked what the differences are between writing comics and writing a novel — so I’ll pose the same question to you both. Also, do you prefer one to the other? Did you learn anything about yourselves as storytellers when you made the transition to novels?
Both mediums are wonderfully complex art forms. With novels, the intricacy and sheer length require painstaking plotting of every nuance because there’s so much more material to create. However, that length is also the beauty of a novel; you can go into exquisite detail and you can get inside a character’s head in a way that comics just can’t match. In comics, you have limited space to tell your story, from the number of pages to the size of word balloons. Every panel and every word has to illustrate the most important aspect of the story. There’s no fat in a comic, at least in a good comic. But the thrill of seeing your words illustrated by a great artist is just wonderful. Oddly enough, we each thrive in opposite media, but that’s because one of us (Clay) is a very spare writer, while the other (Susan) is more florid. In the end, we realize where our strengths and weaknesses lie, and how each of us can use those strengths to help the other shore up the weaknesses. You can see the result with The Greyfriar.
Your work in comics feature satirical characters like The Tick. What’s the role of humor in The Greyfriar, if any?
Humor works well in suspense or adventure or horror. It both enhances and breaks the mood, as long as you use it at the right time and don’t demean the tension you’ve worked so hard to build. We’ve written so much comedy in the past, it’s actually hard not to include humor in some fashion. We like our characters to be witty, if possible, because it makes them more pleasant to be around. In The Greyfriar, we rationed the humor to certain situations because so much of the story was about Adele running for her life. It isn’t logical for a character under constant threat of death or violence to be spouting one-liners. In Book 2, we add more humor because our characters are more familiar with one another and feel more comfortable to banter.
You have a great blog at http://clayandsusangriffith.blogspot.com/ and you twitter at @clayandsusan. Do you enjoy blogging? What are your opinions about this whole social networking thing?
Social networking is amazing, but it has its limits too. Just like when there are too many pieces of paper thumbtacked to an old-fashioned bulletin board, it can be hard to find the right information. Social networking is a great way to keep up with friends and family, but for it to be useful commercially, it takes a lot of time, time we could be using to write. We like Facebook; you can send out a lot of information quickly, although the only people who see it are people who are on Facebook. Keeping a blog is great, but nobody really has interesting thoughts every day. And as for Twitter, we haven’t really gotten our heads around that yet. We use it, but we’re only scratching the surface.
Any other upcoming projects you’d like to talk about? I heard that you’ve written about Vincent Price and Nelson Mandela. Can you tell readers more about those projects?
We wrote the bio comic Political Power: Nelson Mandela (art by Pablo Martinena) published in March 2010. We’re proud of that because it’s nice to bring Mandela to a readership who may not be familiar with this great man. We also have a number of comic/graphic novel projects coming up from Bluewater Comics. In November, It Came From Beneath the Sea…Again (art by Chris Noeth and Todd Tennant) is a graphic novel sequel to the Ray Harryhausen film. And in December, Quatermain is an original graphic novel adventure based on the character created by H. Rider Haggard. And we wrote issue #26 of Vincent Price Presents called “The House of the Raven.” Quatermain and Vincent Price Presents have art by Patricio Carbajal, a fantastic artist from Argentina who should be working for every comic company in the U.S. and Europe. Wow. That’s a lot of stuff! Check them out at www.bluewaterprod.com
And, of course, 2011 brings Book 2 of Vampire Empire.
To purchase The Greyfriar, check out the following links (and its publisher, Pyr):