Saturday, January 14, 2012

NIGHT LIFE: The Story Behind the Book


Never say never. I speak from experience. There was a time when I vowed I would never write a sequel. To anything. I was opposed to sequels because most of them — whether books or movies — were not only inferior to the original but struck me as little more than a cynical attempt to keep cashing in on the popularity of something original and entertaining that was the result of actually applying effort and imagination to its creation rather than just rehashing something that worked the first time. And to be fair, that’s a pretty accurate description of most sequels. There have been exceptions, but they are rare

My erotic vampire novel Live Girls seemed to strike a cord with readers and became quite popular. For the next 18 years, the question I was most commonly asked was, “When are you going to write the sequel to Live Girls?” Not if but when, and not a sequel but the sequel, as if this book already sort of existed in some metaphysical pre-written form and they were just waiting for me to make it available. But I resisted.

I was always sincere when I said there would be no sequels because I wasn’t interested in repeating myself. I meant that. At the time, anyway.

When I finally decided to write a sequel to Live Girls, I was laid up with a lousy hip that, at that point, had required two operations (with a third to come), one of which was a hip replacement that didn’t seem to be working because I was still in tremendous pain. I was full of narcotic painkillers that weren’t all that good at actually killing pain but fucked me up so much that I almost didn’t care about the pain. Almost. Looking back on those eight years, I don’t remember doing much writing. I remember spending most of my time stretched out in a recliner in an altered state of consciousness, and avoiding walking, which only ground at the jagged chunks of broken glass that seemed to be lodged in my right hip. But in fact, I wrote a good deal during those years; I’ve found a number of short stories and novellas that I wrote, but which I have absolutely no memory of writing. Reading them was like reading someone else’s work, but it was mine. It was bizarre.

At some point, I started considering the possibility of writing a sequel to Live Girls. It was the first time I’d advanced to that point — where I was actually considering writing a sequel. The drugs might have had something to do with it, I don't know, but I began thinking about the possibilities. Would it focus once again on Davey Owen? Would he still be with Casey Thorne? 18 years had passed since the publication of Live Girls. Would the sequel take place 18 years later, or would it pick up where the first book left off? I had no idea. But I had a lot of time on my hands and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then I passed the point of no return. I got an idea I loved. Our first meeting with Davey and Casey in the sequel came to life in my head:

They are having a romantic nighttime picnic at the foot of the “Y” in the Hollywood sign on Mt. Lee overlooking Los Angeles. They are still together all these years later, still in love. And when they leave their mountain picnic, they =fly away.

I had the opening of the novel. Obviously, they had gone west to Los Angeles, because there they were dining beneath the Hollywood sign. And what’s in Los Angeles? The movie business, for one thing. And vampires, of course. This wouldn’t work without vampires. Bloodthirsty vampires in Los Angeles? Hell, it was practically a work of nonfiction!

And that was it. I was hooked. I had to follow it through to the end. The book has kind of a romantic opening, but I knew it would not be a romantic vampire novel.

No matter what story a novel tells, it’s almost always the characters who carry me through the book. I want to find out what they do, who they become, how the story changes them, if at all. I’d forgotten how much I liked Davey Owen. In Live Girls, he’d started out as a pretty spineless, self-pitying and even irresponsible guy but had been forced by extraordinary circumstances — and with the help of Casey Thorne — to grow a pair and grow up. Of course, those extraordinary circumstances would not have gone away. To vampires, 18 years would be like ... brunch. I knew they would not have forgotten Davey and they would still be out for revenge for what he’d done to them in New York. Those vampires still would be after retired journalist Walter Benedek, too, who’d helped Davey back in the Big Apple. I wondered how he would handle that. I had enjoyed writing Walter in Live Girls because I wrote him as one of my favorite movie actors, Walter Matthau, only a little younger. I don't do that sort of thing normally but Matthau just seemed so right for the role! Suddenly, I looked forward to getting to know these people again.

But I was determined not to repeat myself, and I knew that if I focused on all of the same characters again, that would be pretty hard to avoid. This book would need new characters and much of it would have to be from their points of view. That’s my favorite part of the sequel — the new characters.

Night Life introduces private investigators Karen Moffett and Gavin Keoph. She’s from Los Angeles, he’s from San Francisco, and they meet for the first time when they show up for a meeting with bestselling novelist Martin Burgess, a hugely successful horror writer. Burgess writes about ghosts, demons, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures, and he harbors a genuine curiosity about their origins. He even goes so far as to wonder if they exist. So he hires Moffett and Keoph to investigate some things Burgess has heard about vampires living in Los Angeles. Where would a horror novelist hear such a thing? Burgess has plugged himself into a network of computer geeks who are seriously into the paranormal — extraterrestrials, ghosts, Bigfoot, demons, the Illuminati, a wide variety of conspiracy theories, that sort of thing. They keep him informed. Burgess knows that most of that stuff is nonsense, but when something stands out and looks possibly genuine, he pursues it. This time, he decides to hire professionals to pursue it for him — Gavin and Keoph.

Those three characters were the best part of writing Night Life. I enjoyed getting to know them so much that I knew I would return to them at some point. And I did. Gavin, Keoph and Burgess return in Bestial, the sequel to my werewolf novel Ravenous (another sequel!), which kind of links all four books together. I will be strengthening that link later this year when I begin work on a series of books in which the vampires of Live Girls and Night Life are pitted against the werewolves of Ravenous and Bestial, featuring characters from all four books. Those three characters also show up in Vortex, an upcoming novella from Cemetery Dance that has nothing to do with vampires or werewolves. I enjoyed Vortex so much, I’m considering expanding it into a novel — maybe even a few novels.

Night Life and Bestial aren’t the only times I broke my vow never to write a sequel. I followed my novella The Folks with a sequel (and I’m considering a third to wrap up Andy’s story). And there will be more. I still have ambivalent feelings about sequels, though, and I try hard to keep them in mind when I’m writing one. I try to make sure that sequels be connected in significant ways to the original but tell a different story in a different way.

Night Life is available as a trade paperback, for Kindle from Amazon, and for Nook from Barnes and Noble. If you enjoy the book, I hope you’ll post a review of it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can read an excerpt from Night Life here. If you have a Facebook account, drop by the Night Life fan page and click the “like” button, then do the same over at my fan page. To see my full bibliography, keep up with interviews, stories and new books, and interact on the message board, visit my official website.

The vampires in Night Life (and in Live Girls) are not pleasant. They don’t want to discuss your feelings. They don’t attend high school. They don’t sparkle. They’re mean and dangerous. It makes me feel kind of old to know that I’ve been writing long enough for vampires like that to seem refreshing!

4 comments:

  1. Ray, I have to argue with this notion that sequels are always less than the books they follow. Karen and Gavin are wonderfully shaped characters that you could build a series on that would beat some of the stand alone stories you have written. I for one want MORE of them!

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  2. There are exceptions to the sequel rule, as I mentioned, but they're rare. However, a sequel isn't the same as the next installment in a series. When I wrote NIGHT LIFE, I thought I was just writing a sequel; I didn't realize I was beginning a series of stories involving Gavin and Keoph. I plan to write a lot more about those two, so you'll see plenty of them. ~(:-D

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  3. COngratulations on the new book release Ray!!! :)

    I still think Karen & Gavin would make a great duo for a series of Graphic Novels fighting the seedy paranormal underworld... Fun stuff!

    Lisa

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  4. By the way. You have been promising me the clash between the Live Girls/Night Life vampires and the Ravenous/Bestial werewolves for about 4 years now.I think that was when you first suggested it to me.The wait is torture.
    Joe Parks

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