(Started July 1989-Finished June 1990)
Fate and “who you know” played a huge role in getting my first novel published. To my surprise, some seven years later, this supernatural thriller about vampires who thrive in daylight is in its third printing. It all began through friendships, and in many ways, the story was about friendships, where water could be as thick as blood–friendships as strong as familial relationships This is the way I felt about my good friends in Bristol; I still see many of them often, and we communicate even more frequently.
While living at Cedar Creek Lake, I had worked on my first full-length manuscript, An Amok Fantasy, for about two years (1987-1988), trying to learn to write and get it right. Unfortunately, once the manuscript was complete, I couldn’t find a publisher or an agent- something I’m sure most authors have experienced.
In May of 1989 I attended a good friend’s (Ben Frizzell’s) wedding in New York. The best man, Dave Hirshfeld, was an editor for St. Martin’s Press, and he was on the move to Kensington Press (also Zebra and Pinnacle, among other imprints.) He was gracious enough to read my manuscript and to accept an invitation to the lake house for our Bristol 4th of July reunion. This would be our third year. Many of my friends from Bristol-the Dungeons and Dragons players, waterskiers, and ultimate frisbee crew of high school swimmers, guys 3-5 years younger than I, would attend en mass. We were a pyrotechnic group: we loved to shoot off fireworks, which were legal in Tennessee and Texas. Dave said it sounded like a good vacation between jobs.
On the flight Dave read “An Amok Fantasy.” He said that I had writing talent and obvious desire, but that Zebra didn’t publish fantasy. This was a huge disappointment. He suggested I write something they could publish and listed their genres. Horror sounded like the easiest move from Fantasy; both genres have undead and creatures of darkness. I didn’t and don’t read much horror, so I think watching Dark Shadows as a youth played a part in this, as well as watching Sammy Terry on Saturday nights on Nightmare Theater on Indianapolis’ Channel 4.
While drinking a beer and watching the sun set one evening after a hard day of waterskiing and playing frisbee and badminton (I was on vacation), I envisioned a novel about vampires who could thrive in the sunlight. I suggested an evolutionary track from Dracula to the present. Dave liked the idea but didn’t want me to muddy it with old vampire history. He wanted it to be modern. He suggested placing it someplace I knew, such as Cedar Creek Lake, and beginning with finding dead bodies, or “floaters,” in the lake. The rest of the crew-Steve Sikora, Tim Motter, Ray Dzek, Ben Frizzell, Todd Saddler and Bill Martin-chimed in with ideas. (Only Jim McGill was missing.) We bandied things about a bit.
I suggested using South Lake Holston, the lake we all knew and loved so well along the Tennessee/Virginia border (a fantastic place to camp and waterski). I remembered a friend telling me about a Texas lake, Lake Lavonn. A typical Texas rain had caused the waters to rise so fast that the construction equipment was soon buried underwater. What should have taken months to fill took only several days. Steve said the same was true of the TVA [??] and South Lake Holston. His dad had told him about a place, Cemetery Ridge, where an old town lay under the waters. I never discovered the town’s name, so I called it Wreythville, a spooky alteration of Wytheville.
After several days, everyone left and I went back to work at Vistawall. My juices were flowing; dreams coming to life can do that. Dave had said to send an outline and half the manuscript. I had someone’s eye, and a forgiving one at that.
On a very sad day in August, I moved from the lake where I was house sitting, and relocating slowed my writing progress. In late October, I quit my corporate job, positive I was wasting time when I should be writing. I reasoned that if I wasn’t chasing my dream, then why was I living, just to feed myself? Then in November, sure I was going to be a best-selling author, I moved to Lake Tahoe-a font of inspiration. My parents were not thrilled, wondering if I wasting my college education. Despite the legion of doubters and with a few supporters who offered encouraging words and help (Steve and my sister Lynne–both helped improve the story and my use of the English language) I began to diligently work on Darkness Walks in the Light, the working title of the manuscript. I decided to abuse my friends in print, change the names to protect the guilty, and set the story on South Lake Holston, where vampires long held in check by the cold waters would be freed by the lowering of the lake to repair the dam. Such repairs had been done at least once when I was living in Bristol. I was already a scuba diver, so integrating that into the story seemed like a good idea. How else would the characters explore this underwater town? I knew the lake well from one glorious summer of camping, skiing, and inner-tubing.
Looking back to 1983, I only regret that I didn’t go boating every day of the week instead of twice a week. Inspiration came from those days on the lake. Ray had hooked up a stereo system, putting the controls in the drywell and bagging the huge speakers, then setting them on the back on my dad’s 17ft Procraft bass boat with a 115hp Evinrude. I used the music we played, AC/DC and ZZ Topp, to help me write, even “using” some in the story. Several times we camped on what was affectionately called “Bug Island.” We had dreamed of waterskiing by night, under lights or moonlight, but never had the guts-it’s illegal. Skiing in the morning was fantastic because the fog lay in patches, sometimes reaching into the sky like pillars. Almost any time of day the water was as smooth as glass. The spillway was a wonderful place. We often ate lunch there while “cranking up” Pink Floyd and listening to it echo throughout the concrete amphitheater. Near here, along what we called the Spillway Cove, is where I placed the vampire lair.
So while it was snowing in Tahoe and over Christmas vacation at my parents’ place in Indianapolis, I wrote and rewrote the beginning of Dawn of the Vampire many times, eventually moving the first chapter back, starting with the prologue, and keeping some of the first chapter by moving it into a later scene where the reunion crew play their waterskiing adventure on videotape. This was something my friends and I had done numerous times, not to enjoy the skill of our good friends, but to see their reactions and the impacts of big-time crashes.
Not long after, I believe February, I sent the first half of the manuscript to Dave Hirshfeld at Zebra. He liked it but didn’t like the ending. It read, he said, too much like The Serpent and the Rainbow. I revised and revised, adding more emphasis to the jewelry book, the underwater town, and the war among the vampires. It wasn’t until I was almost done that I decided the climax had to occur underwater in Wreythville. Dave loved it.
By early April, I was a first time author! It was a most memorable day. I was on top of the world, as a “mangy author,” as Dave often called me. Now I needed to hurry: Dave was going back to school to become a lawyer, so I needed to get it all to him by the end of summer. I wrote furiously, probably rewriting less than I have on any manuscript, and unfortunately, it shows. (What I could do with that story now!) I mailed the manuscript in early summer. Dave accepted it, thrilled with how I’d written about my friends, people he knew.
The title wasn’t acceptable-too poetic-but they liked my second suggestion, Bloodrise. Later, he called back. No, that wouldn’t do; it had to SCREAM vampire. They came up with Dawn of the Vampire. I was and am thrilled with the artwork for Dawn of the Vampire. I truly believe it helped sell the novel.
When I look back, the story was actually a prequel of the story I had expected to write. I’d planned to write more about the war between vampires-a faction that wanted to stay as they had for centuries, and some that wished to thrive and hunt by day. That, I believe, is plenty of material for a second story that will one day span from San Francisco to New York City, and of course, to Bristol. I only hope the townspeople will forgive me once again when I unleash vampires on a good place to live. I hope my friends accept their one-dimensional counterparts; at least they will be immortal in print.