April 2, 2004 was the earliest date I have recorded for the inception of Blood Family. Also known as Blood Family ~ Quest for the Vampire Key, the novel was going to be a Young Adult horror adventure which would by my take on vampires and what vampires might be. And when I’d decided that, I knew I was in for an interesting journey, but had no idea where it would take me…
Vampires, vampires, everywhere…
I’ve always loved vampire tales and vampire movies. As a youngster growing up in Massachusetts, I was aware of quite a few famous vampires. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, of course, but also Dark Shadows’ Barnabus Collins and the Count off of Sesame Street. They were everywhere, Scooby Doo, The Groovy Goulies, and even Gilligan’s Island had a vampire episode (didn’t Ginger look great in that gothic dream sequence?). In fact, it was a short vampire tale that we read in school – that’s right, school; it actually had some cool moments – that flicked on the writing switch within me. I now wanted to write. And so I did – a science fiction tale that had nothing to do about vampires. But my seventh grade English teacher read it out to the class nonetheless. My first audience! I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
As with everything I write, I knew that Blood Family had to be not just a good book, but a book that I would want to snatch from the bookshelves if I saw it there. So it had to be exciting. It had to feel real. And it had to be different. But not too different – vampires have to be vampires. Blood, immortality, strength, and supreme coolness. Oh yes, and fangs. (Where the hell are the fangs in the Twilight series?). Yes, I would keep all of the good stuff. Otherwise, I might piss off any potential readers. But how could I make them different?
The Devil In The Details
The angle I came up with was to make my vampires dimensional creatures that entered our world via ritual portals, altering those human beings who let them in. The dark spirits would take over the body of a willing host and that host would change. Strength. Long life. Hypnotic powers. And a thirst for blood.
That was my angle. I liked that. Now for my characters. The first character any writer should come up with is the main character. If he or she isn’t of supreme interest to you, then that character’s journey won’t be either. Daniel Dark starts out as a sullen, lazy seventeen-year-old New England kid. He loves his car. He loves his girlfriend. He loves the occasional spliff. But he has father issues. Dad is harsh, distant, and, to make matters worse, a strict pastor of a local church. But those daddy issues become enflamed a hundredfold when he receives a mysterious parcel from an entity claiming to be his true father – a vampiric entity calling himself Dominus.
As Daniel’s true origins unfold, he realizes that his life has changed completely. Not only is he adopted, but his real father is some kind of demon, one not even fully in this world. His adoptive mother tells him that his true mother is actually her sister, Celeste. Celeste has been a captive of Dominus since before Daniel’s birth. Daniel then knows what he has to do. He has to find his real mother, and confront his real father.
I had decided to make Daniel an American as I had grown up in New England myself, near Boston. I knew what it was like to live there, and to go to school there. I knew how the kids talked. Now I live in old England, and thought it would be exciting to lead Daniel on a quest that would lead him to the UK. Where in the UK, though? What was the spookiest, most myth-ridden area of England, a place where the malevolent Dominus might reside?
A Haunted Inn
I decided upon the moors of Devon. These vast tracts of wilderness and bogs located in South West of the country would be the perfect place for Silverwood Manor – the mansion in which Dominus and his followers resided.
Research. That was the next thing. I knew I couldn’t just read about Devon and its moors and hope that it would all sound authentic once incorporated in my novel; no, I knew very early on that I had to go there.
My friend Mike Hopkins lives in that area and, as it turned out, was pretty much an authority on the moors. Notebook and digital recorder in hand, I set off for Devon for several days. I stayed in the Old Church House Inn is set in the tranquil village of Torbryan. This historic Inn was built by stonemasons in the middle of the 14th century. During my nights there I had experienced not only strange sounds in my room but the distinct impression that someone was in the room and standing close to my bed. On the day that I checked out of the Inn I made a joke to the proprietor about the place being haunted. He told me that many people had experienced just what I had experienced. I left the Church House Inn with a chill lodged well within in my spine.
But I am getting ahead of myself. There was much to see and take in even prior to checking in at the Church House. I had taken the train from London to Torquay in Devon – a journey that took several hours . My first impression of the colourful town of Torquay was that it looked like something out of the 1950s or earlier. Perhaps even a town you might find in France or Spain. The climate was much warmer than the parts of England I knew, and was right by the sea. It is not called the English Riviera for nothing. I even spotted palm trees lining the roads. Was this really England? The writer Agatha Christie certainly had loved it here, having lived in Torquay most of her life.
How things would change by the time I got to the moors!
A Moor Is A Mysterious Place
‘Ok, ok’, I hear you say. ‘But what on earth is a moor?’ Imagine a vast wilderness, peppered with white granite rocks, russet hills, and peat bogs that squish beneath your feet as you walk. A perfect place for ghosts, or vampires. And Dartmoor is three hundred and sixty eight square miles of it.
There is a quiet and an eeriness to the place which cannot fully be put into words. It is a place where mists and howling winds are perfectly at home. The barren trees, I noted, were so relentlessly windswept that they took on the shape of scrawny hands clawing at the air. Ancient stone circles are everywhere – not quite as imposing as Stonehenge but remarkable all the same. Some were over a hundred meters across. Thousands of years ago, these circles would have been roofed with grasses set atop wooden supports. An entire extended family of perhaps a hundred people would live inside.
And what of the various legends associated with this place? There was the legend of the hairy hands. Cross a bridge here, and a pair of hairy hands will cover your eyes. Shudder. Great black cats, perhaps panthers, have been spotted skulking here. And then of course there are the ‘bottomless bogs’, as featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901). Thin, loamy topsoil fills in any gaps between impervious granite. You could be walking along and suddenly – you sink. ‘You just don’t know where any of them are,’ Mike cautioned. But were they actually bottomless? The mischievous smile I got back from Mike answered that one.
After tales of ghosts, phantom panthers, hairy hands, and way more than I will go into, I knew that I had a lot of material for my novel. Much of my journey became Daniel’s journey.