A conversation with P.N. Elrod

A conversation with P.N. Elrod, author of the cult-smash series, The Vampire Files. Get the inside story behind her new novel, A Chill in the Blood.

P.N. Elrod1. Tell us about the new Vampire Files novel, A Chill in the Blood.

Angela Paco, the daughter of Jack's killer, is back and giving our hero even more grief. Shoe Coldfield finally finds out about Jack's condition--which was a great scene to write. Until I actually got to it I did not know how Shoe would take the news; his reaction was quite hilarious to me. Escott, Bobbi, and Gordy are all back along with the walking adding machine, Opal, who plays an important role in the story.

Angela is still gunning for Jack and Escott, who are hiding out with Shoe Coldfield. There's also a new gang boss in town who is planning to take over Angela's territory whether she likes it or not. Jack gets caught between the two of them while he tries to prevent a full-blown war from breaking out.

It was like coming back to all my best friends again to be working on a new Jack book. This one's certainly a continuation of the mood set in previous stories, but at the same time I'm dropping in a few foreshadowings that will turn up in the future.

2. The Vampire Files has developed quite a fan following. Do you feel pressure to live up to your fans' expectations?

The only pressure I feel is living up to my own expectations. If I worried over what others expected of me I wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning, much less write. The toughest critic, editor, taskmaster, and perfectionist I'll ever face will always be staring back at me from the mirror. But I know if I please myself, then maybe others will be pleased as well.

3. There's a lot of vampire fiction out there. How do you keep your approach fresh for yourself as a writer, and for your fans?

For one thing I hardly ever read the other vampire fiction, only one or two books by friends of mine, and our approaches and styles are so diverse that there is no danger of "literary incest" taking place. (That's when a genre book ends up sounding like all the other genre books.)

My approach remains fresh because I'm always growing and learning more about myself and the world around me. When I grow, my characters grow as well and thus--I would hope--stay interesting and fresh.

4 Given the chance, would you choose eternal life?

My personal belief system has already got the eternal life question settled for me. It's there already, awaiting all of us.

If, on the other hand, you mean choosing to become Jack's breed of vampire, I would say yes, since it involves looking young, fitting into a killer wardrobe, and having lots of money. There's so many wonderful things to do and so many nice people to meet in the world, one lifetime can't cover it all.

But it would mean giving up chocolate, so nothing's perfect.

5. Creating a successful series character may be one of the most difficult things for a writer to pull off. How has Jack Fleming evolved, and where might he go from here?

Jack's growth and evolution is, consciously or not, related to my own personal growth. A writer's characters are an extension of that writer. So long as I grow, so do my characters. I feel that Jack has matured in many areas, certainly he's more comfortable about his condition now. He wasn't that happy at first, going through a sort of denial process, but he's allowing himself to admit that things aren't bad at all. This is perfectly natural. Anyone undergoing a big change in their life needs a period of adjustment. Jack's done pretty well accepting his change, so now he's setting out to enjoy himself.

In the 8th Vampire Files novel I just turned in, Dark Sleep, I'm setting things up for Jack to provide himself with a steady income that will allow him ample opportunity to get involved in all kinds of trouble. The supporting characters like Bobbi and Escott are also progressing in their lives, and this will have its impact on Jack. It will be great fun to see where it all leads.

6. If filming on The Vampire Files movie started this evening, who would be in the makeup trailer having Jack's fangs installed?

Tom Amandes, who played Eliot Ness on the short lived 90s series, The Untouchables. If not him, then Nicholas Cage. Both are excellent actors and would bring a Jimmy Stewart quality to the part, yet still have a tough-guy edge. They're also very sexy guys!

As for Escott, my first choice would have been Basil Rathbone, which is impossible until someone invents a time machine. Until then, I'd choose Anthony Stewart Head (Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to play Jack's partner.

7. Was combining the elements of vampire and hard-boiled mystery fiction a natural progression for you? Were you influenced by any mystery writers? Any writers in general?

During the writing of the first book it seemed the most natural thing for me to combine vampire noir with hard-boiled noir. Being very visually-minded, I was mostly influenced by the films of the 30s through the 50s, not just mysteries, but the Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, and the Universal horror classics.

I've always been a mystery fan, reading Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie and was very much influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I read their books again and again to learn from these masters. Other writers include Lois McMaster Bujold, Dick Francis, C.S. Forester, Robert Graves, Adam Hall, Fred Saberhagen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Bram Stoker, H.G. Wells, and Roger Zelazny.

8. What's coming up next for you?

Another Jack book, and I've a three book deal with another publisher which will include a Dracula story, a science fiction, and fantasy. I'm also working with my collaborator Nigel Bennett (LaCroix of TV's Forever Knight) on our 2nd novel, His Father's Son, and we're contracted to write a third. Work has been slow because of his extremely busy filming schedule. I'm also hoping to edit another anthology and have plans to write a non-supernatural mystery series. I've got another collaborator with whom I'm sporadically working on a novel outline and a screenplay based on it that we want to shop around. Have I mentioned radio plays? Maybe I should be immortal, at least then I'd have the time to get to it all!

9. Some fans who are aspiring writers might be curious how you work. Describe your average day.

I write full time at home. Thirty minutes of CNN over breakfast to wake me up, then I walk two or three miles around the neighborhood, shower, and dress. If I've been good, I'll have a stack of what I wrote the day before ready to read and revise. This gets me warmed up for the work ahead, anywhere from 10-25 pages a day. I write until my brain seizes up, then take a break and completely forget about the book for awhile. I like to drive down to the local Walmart, grab a burger at their snack bar and people watch. When I'm on a very tight schedule I stay at home for days at a time and just work flat out, but this can be exhausting.

A heavy deadline can kill creativity, so taking breaks from the work is very necessary or I burn out. When cabin fever really hits I call up a buddy of mine and take in an afternoon movie or do lunch. I'm careful to reward myself for writing a lot, but no penance for those days when the words don't come. Even if they come slowly I get them down; I can always revise later.

For those who want to be writers the first thing to do is read constantly and read from lots of different genres, not just the one you want to write in, otherwise there's the danger of committing literary incest. I once helped judge a vampire short story contest and could tell which published writer had had the heaviest influence on the contestant. I even spotted one that was imitative of me! The winner of the contest had struck out on his own, standing quite clear of the crowd, and of all of them, he will be the one to see future success.

The second thing to do is write every day. No exceptions. Writing is a muscle you flex in your head. You don't get to be a literary Schwarzenegger without practicing at it.

Writing is not about inspiration.

It is work.

But you love the work.

Love of the work is what brings the inspiration.

10. How about your perfect day?

The perfect day for me is chocolate, champagne, music by Enigma, and lots of sweaty snuggle-bunnies with my boyfriend!

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USA, 1917

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

Drawn to Vamps?