Quite a lot of you have expressed interest in Not to Be, my urban fantasy/steampunk/twisted history novel involving vampires, shape-shifters, typical London drizzle and a good deal of sarcasm. I decided I’d devote an entire post to it, to let you know a bit more about the characters and the stuff behind it, and also to let you know that Not to Be was just a working title. I was struck with blessed brilliance this morning when reading Hamlet’s famous speech, and I re-named Not to Be “This Mortal Coil” then and there. It fits the tone of the book so perfectly, I don’t know how I didn’t see it before. But anyhow.
The hero (I use the term lightly at first; he’s more of an antihero) of the book is a man named Skata; a former bounty hunter from America who came to London seeking revenge on the vampire who killed his wife and unborn child. He goes through a rigorous process, joins the Guild, and becomes a Lamia Venator – a vampire hunter with a license. Vampire hunters, contrary to popular belief, don’t seek out vampires to kill them, however; they seek out any non-human Creature to make sure they aren’t harming humans. If they find a troublesome Creature, they arrest it, warn it, or kill it. (Note: I’ve stated this before, but I find it necessary to mention every time – my vampires aren’t typical vampires. They don’t drink blood; it’s a nasty rumor spread by lowlifes with nothing better to do. They drain human energy through touch if they so choose.)
At first, Skata and I didn’t ‘click.’ We didn’t get along in my head, and we didn’t get along on paper. Oh, he was chuntering on fine, doing exactly as he pleased, snarking here and snarking there and taking the law into his own hands like a vigilante, and I didn’t know what to do with him. But, little by little, we began to get along. I got to know him, and he realized that I was capable of putting my foot down. He’s not a bad fellow, Skata, but he’s bitter, prejudiced, and thoroughly American (read: very out of place in London. He doesn’t like it). One fun fact about Skata: He was inspired by a hairdo. I’m not kidding. You know how much I love Japanese rock? Well, the drummer in my favorite band had a hairdo during one era that was too fantastic not to use for a character at some point. Therefore, my snarky cowboy bounty-turned-vampire-hunter has hair that’s really quite epic.
Skata also wears the half-vest seen in the picture, but his is loaded with blackwood stakes, coriander, salt, silver, and other useful items. But isn’t the hair amazing? Who THOUGHT of that ‘do? I put too much thought into my characters’ hair, that’s certain. I know exactly what each and every head looks like. But anyway.
This Mortal Coil is by far my favorite novel to write at the moment, and I know exactly why – it has the best cast of characters out of any of my books. It’s not because I love them more than my other characters, but because their chemistry is so unique and awesome. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow, they all bounce off each other with such fantastic precision that half the time, all I can do is gape at every encounter. Skata’s sharpness bounces off Angel’s sarcasm, Angel’s sarcasm turns to cowed humor at the sight of Rukiel’s authoritative snark, Rukiel’s authoritative snark stands in contrast to Cassis’s soft intelligence, Cassis’s soft intelligence is at odds with Collin’s brusque tell-it-like-it-is attitude.
I remember one revelation that led to this particular cast’s getting along so well, and it came to me when thinking about romance in movies, and how, if the characters have no chemistry, then the romance falls flat onscreen. I realized that chemistry wasn’t just for romantic couples – every character should have chemistry in relation to another. And so I combine a bunch of chemica – er, characters, and when nothing exploded, I realized I had the right formula for character interaction.
I know fantasy is unpopular with many Christians – when I publish This Mortal Coil, I will probably end up on a few homeschooler hate lists – but I didn’t write it simply to flaunt fantasy in people’s faces. I personally believe that there’s nothing wrong with fantasy – as Tolkien stated, we, as the created, are inherently given the right to mimic our Creator by creating things ourselves – but too often, I can see why many Christians dislike it. They see witchcraft and rebellion and spellcasting and evil being promoted as good, and this leads them to believe that fantasy is anti-God, Phillip Pullman-style.
I want This Mortal Coil to break the stereotypical mould. I want to have a novel with vampires, fantasy creatures, epic fight scenes, touches of steampunk, lots of wit – the usual – with deep characters, Biblical themes, spiritual struggles and triumphs. Mom is still reading it, and still enjoying it – which says a lot, because she likes ‘deeper’ novels such as Stephen Lawhead (so do I, but read/write pretty much every type of novel, and she does not) and she isn’t used to fantasy aside from Lord of the Rings.
I like trying to take sterotypical ideas and make them into something different, something that will pleasantly surprise people and I hope I’m accomplishing that with This Mortal Coil.