(July 1998)
(Started 1992-Finished June 1997)

IN 1993 I completed Vampire’s Kiss for Pinnacle. The original manuscript had a lot more about the youngsters involved in discovering the vampire/diseased author suffering porphyria. The very first drafts centered around the youth gang, Grimm’s Reapers, but editor Jennifer Sawyer wanted me to focus on the stricken author and only one of the kids, the main troublemaker, Kevin Grimm; thus, a lot of the youths’ story was deleted. (And this turned out to be fine, because Vampire’s Kiss read well at a good pace. If the youths had been involved, the story might have been King-massive in length.)

KEEPING a few of those ideas but taking the theme from “real” evils are worse than “fantastic” (or unreal) evils to “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and “what you see is not always what you get,” I wrote a new story focusing on the kids in the gang, calling it the Graveyard Armadillos. Persecution is big in both stories, although the bigotry is not so dominant in The Vampire Hunters.

I sent sample chapters of “The Vampire Hunters Club” and an outline to Pinnacle/Kensington Press’s new young adult book group, called Z-Fave. Alice Alfonsi was not interested in the story, so over the years, I further changed the story, calling more on my experiences on Texas lakes southeast of Dallas.

MY last two plus years in Texas, 1987-1989, I lived on Cedar Creek Lake. I waterskied it, as well as Lake Tawakoni (not far from where I worked in Terrell at Vistawall Architectural Products) and Lake Ray Hubbard. I used a lot of the aspects of Cedar Creek Lake: the house at the base of the dam that I discovered while bicycling toward Athens; Cadillac Ranch, which inspired Pickup Ranch; Seis Hombres — the nearby housing development that became Siete Hombres; and the house I house-sat at the end of the peninsula. It was a marvelous place, the closest neighbor was more than 800 feet away. Water almost surrounded me. The brick house used in the story was actually across the channel, not the one I lived in, but the placement on Cedar Creek is what I moved to Lake Tawakoni.

SO I had my new setting, Lake Tawakoni, and a new theme of not judging with eyes. I also wanted the story to be less dark, gritty and grim. The end of Vampire’s Kiss is very downbeat, a storm cloud with a silver lining. The ending of “The Vampire Hunters Club” would be positive, instead of ’70s anti-hero-like. I also wanted to add humor and young romance, things that were missing in Vampire’s Kiss. Based upon all this, the old gang wouldn’t work. I wanted a vivid group of kids to comprise The Vampire Hunters Club, but a group with which youths could identify in their own lives.

I changed the biggest troublemaker from a demented jokester to a way too cool, too good-looking user and abuser named Garrett. I added three female characters, especially a main one, Kristie Candel, the minister’s daughter who wants to be a singer. Adding girls diversified the group, changing its make-up and offering the chance for a little romance. I focused on the threesome of Kristie, Scooter (an insecure teenager who wants to draw comic books and is the grandson of a local judge), and Paul (the sheriff’s stuttering son who dreams of driving). I modeled the judge after my dad, who is not a judge, but he would have made an excellent one. Scooter has some aspects of me, feeling as though I didn’t fit into any group and wanting to draw comic books.

THE three main characters are all good youths looking for excitement, but they find it in the wrong place and with the wrong people (Another theme! You are judged sometimes not by what you do, but who are your friends.). I added a pair of abused brothers, the daughter of a bunch of felons, and Paul’s beautiful but cold, mean-spirited older sister. I’m not sure where all these kids came from. None of the latter were inspired by specific kids I remember.

FOR humor and companionship, I added a golden retriever, a dog inspired by Dean Koontz’s Einstein in Watchers and possibly by Lassie and Scooby Doo. No, Flash is not that intelligent, but he’s brilliant for a dog and very animated. I guess Flash is the type of dog I’d love to have: he is smart, true and loyal. He knows how to identify good people, and he stays away from the others.

THE setting, theme and characters are set. What now? Where will they discover the vampire to hunt? What if there seems to be more than one vampire?

SCOOTER’S initiation into the gang involves photographing a Hollywood horror-movie maker, which will prove or disprove that the recluse is a vampire (Chandler suffers from Vitiligo, another disease that keeps victims out of the sun). The director’s parents had died recently. This, combined with the recent rash of kid’s deaths, place the spotlight of suspicion on Marcus Chandler. Garrett doesn’t believe the moviemaker is really a vampire, but he sends Scooter out anyway, just to harass the director. After the initial encounter, the group changes their mind. But is Chandler the vampire, or is something else in the woods?

TO further alienate Scooter from the group, I had Chandler befriend him, helping him learn to write screenplays. This format is used in writing comics. Going back to apologize for his actions was important to Scooter’s development. That courage bonded him to the moviemaker. It takes true courage to admit you’re wrong, especially when your embarrassed, and not enough of us take the time to do it. Unlike Vampire’s Kiss, at the end of this story, no doubt remains about who Chandler is. I made Chandler black because it furthered the storyline and muddied it too. Were people persecuting Chandler because he was different-black, diseased, successful in Hollywood — or because he was a vampire?

PEOPLE have asked me if I’ve ever belonged to a gang since the initiations ring true. No, I haven’t. Early on, I didn’t seem to fit into any social category — not a jock, not a nerd because I could be both. This could be why I never became a big joiner of organizations. Even the Boy Scouts seemed like a different type of school, so I quit, preferring to let my imagination run free (In hindsight, I could have learned some wonderful things to help me hike, camp and boat, even ski patrol.). Groups can get into “groupthink,” like to much inbreeding, and it can often leads to bad things (like taking too much stock in your own press clippings).

THIS could be why I had this group go bad. Because the leader believes Chandler is a vampire, so do many of the others. There go the lemmings!

ANYWAY, Garrett believes that by proving the town is in danger, the gang members will be considered adults. Being seen as an adult is attractive to youths. They want the freedom to make their own decisions. (In hindsight, we now realize that we should have basked in being young and irresponsible. Responsibility and working for a living are necessary evils. Besides, we have less freedom than we originally believed.)

The Vampire Hunters has traveled a long road, from a deleted spin-off and rejected child to its own story. Little remains of the previous story. Missing is the grim harshness and vile characters. The story evolved far beyond what I first saw. That occurred with the change in characters — the all new cast. Good kids caught doing something wrong, then trying to right the wrong, making something bad grow into something good.

MAYBE this story will touch a cord to anyone that doesn’t quite fit into that special group, and they’ll see, as I did, that it’s okay to be an individual, that making good friends is very important. Good friends enhance your life.