Tuesday, April 19, 2011
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: CHRISTOPHER FARNSWORTH
When the shock of selling my first novel finally wore off into acceptance, I was intrigued to learn I had a full writer sibling. The previous year, my agent had sold another novel, by debut author Christopher Farnsworth, to my new editor at Putnam. Same agent, same editor: our books must be like twins, right?
But while a taut, pulse-racing vampire thriller like Blood Oath might seem worlds apart from a sweeping love story like Overseas, Chris and I soon figured out we had a lot more in common than our shared publishing connections and an aggressive appetite for bacon. Both of our protagonists are historical misfits, operating in the modern world by paranormal means; both of us find much of our inspiration from examining the past and asking the imaginative what if?. In Chris's case, the answer is Nathaniel Cade, a vampire sworn to protect the President of the United States from supernatural threats, and seriously, what could be more awesome than that?
So I loved Blood Oath when it came out last year, and when Chris was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the sequel, The President's Vampire (due out April 28), my squee set off car alarms for blocks around. Once I finished hyperventilating, I begged Chris to let me interview him in my usual hard-hitting Diane Sawyer fashion, and he was gracious enough to indulge me.
Give us a little background on Nathaniel Cade. Where did you get the idea for a presidential vampire, and why doesn't he sparkle in sunlight?
The idea came from a semi-true episode out of American history. According to news reports, in 1867, a sailor was tried and convicted for killing two of his crewmates and drinking their blood. And for some reason, the president at the time, Andrew Johnson, chose to commute his sentence to life imprisonment. The idea stuck with me. I kept thinking, "There's got to be a story behind that. What would the President of the United States do with a vampire?" That's how Cade was born.
Ah, yes, the sparkly question. Cade doesn't sparkle because vampires don't sparkle. Vampires, in my mind, have always been predators. They're meant to eat teenagers, not date them. I'm eternally grateful to Stephenie Meyer for resurrecting the undead once again -- I seriously doubt my book would have been published without the success of Twilight -- but I just don't see vamps as romantic. I stick with the classic Stoker model -- smarter, tougher and meaner than any human.
THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE and its prequel, BLOOD OATH, take all our favorite conspiracy theories and up the ante. Are you a conspiracy believer or a skeptic? Somewhere in between? And what's the nuttiest (or scariest) thing you've uncovered in your research?
I've become more and more of a skeptic. I was a reporter for a long time, and everything I learned about people in that job convinced me that there's no such thing as a successful conspiracy. I once covered a three-person County Commission -- just three people, and they couldn't keep anything secret. If they couldn't stop bickering over low-stakes stuff like zoning ordinances, then it doesn't seem possible to me that the New World Order and the Illuminati would be able to hide the murder of JFK and the presence of aliens on Earth.
That said, I do have a higher tolerance for weirdness than most people. I like to think I'm still open to the possibilities of all the strangeness out there. Lately I've been doing a lot of reading about the idea of a Satanic cabal that is supposed to be the organizing force behind the Manson murders, the Son of Sam, the Zodiac, and a small army of serial killers. There are times when that scares the crap out of me.
But as much as I love delving into all these twisted secret histories, I take them primarily as entertainment.
Of course, I could be in on the cover-up, which would explain why I'd say that.
The confrontation between Cade and Osama bin Laden blew my mind. Any qualms about rewriting history? No fatwa worries?
A friend of mine seriously warned me about including bin Laden in the book. And I'll admit, in light of the whackjobs who threaten people over cartoons of Mohammed, I wondered if maybe I was asking for trouble. Religious zealots seem to have no sense of humor whatsoever.
Then I remembered I write about a vampire who's also a secret agent, and I kept the story the way it was. If a copy reaches Osama in his cave, I may have to reconsider.
In all seriousness, I wrote that chapter before I wrote any other parts of the book simply because it had been festering in me for a long time. I love those old comic-book covers from World War II where you could see Captain America or Superman punching Hitler. Having Cade fight Osama was basically just my attempt to do the same thing.
The relationship between vampire Cade and handler Zach Barrows develops all kinds of layers between BLOOD OATH and THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE. Where do you see the bromance headed? Is it really possible for a vampire to be friends with a human?
That's a good question. I think the answer is uncertain, at least for Zach and Cade. I like to say that Cade, as a vampire, no longer has genuine feelings but instead runs something like a human emulation program. He tries to act like he believes people should act. Again, vampires are predators -- developing feelings for their prey would get in the way of eating. But Cade can still find certain human traits genuinely admirable. He prizes duty and self-sacrifice above almost all else; those times when Zach is tempted to act like a hero -- stupid as it can be -- are the times when Cade sees the qualities he lost when he gave into his need for blood. Zach challenges Cade -- and reminds him what it means to be human.
Dialogue is such a strength in both books -- realistic, witty, plot-advancing -- which must have something to do with your background as a screenwriter. Did you find the transition from scripts to novels challenging? How do you think your screenwriting experience affects your approach to story creation?
I was actually writing books -- unpublished, thank God -- long before I ever wrote a script. I was a frustrated novelist out to make a living, so the actual transition from writing scripts full-time to writing novels full-time has been a joy. Scripts end up being a group activity; everyone has a say in the final product. When I wrote BLOOD OATH, I simply put everything I liked on the page without worrying too much if some studio reader was going to get the jokes.
That said, I learned a lot by writing scripts. A screenplay requires you to cut any line of dialogue that's not carrying its weight, if for no other reason than producers and development execs often refuse to read any block of text longer than a paragraph. I read a lot of David Mamet trying to get that same economy and impact. I tend to block things out in terms of scenes now, and I'm always trying to end each scene on a powerful image, or at least a good exit line.
Vampire bodyguard: pros and cons?
Pros: Works nights. Never wants time off for Christmas. Doesn't demand health insurance. Can travel in baggage compartment.
Cons: Might eat you.