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The Sirens of Suspense

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ABOUT CHRISTOPHER FARNSWORTH:

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In addition to being Autism Awareness Month (see what you can do to help HERE), April is also Vampire Appreciation Month (not really, I just made that up.)  To make sure we're hip to all the trends, we've invited Christopher Farnsworth, author of the President's Vampire series (THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE, BLOOD OATH and  RED, WHITE AND BLOOD, released April 12th) for an interview.

Find Christopher on Facebook and Twitter

http://chrisfarnsworth.com/

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Here's a little taste of what his books are about: 

"Turned into a blood-drinking abomination in 1867, Nathaniel Cade was offered a choice by President Andrew Johnson: serve the United States, or end his unnatural existence. Cade has served every president since, he is the most closely guarded of White House secrets: a superhuman covert agent who is the last line of defense against the nightmares that threaten the American dream."

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Four days after THE PRESIDENT'S VAMPIRE hit shelves, Osama Bin Laden was killed. Your book opens with Cade and Bin Laden (who happens to be a lizard-human hybrid) fighting to the death. Do you have a psychic you use, or are you just really proficient with the ouija board?

Actually, it was very much the opposite. I knew someone had to get Osama Bin Laden eventually. But I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen any time soon when I wrote that scene. Instead, it was my way of dealing with the fact of his existence -- my version of Captain America punching Hitler in the face. It's inevitable, when you're including real people and events in fiction, that the outside world is going to overtake the story inside your book.  But it was still a little surreal to see it happen so fast. Maybe there was a psychic component, after all. I should have played the lottery that week.

 

You live in Los Angeles and worked as a screenwriter for MGM. BLOOD OATH has been optioned for a film, and you're in the rare position of being able to adapt it yourself. Having a screenwriting background, when you work on your novels do you find yourself describing the movie you see in your head, or is it a completely different process for you?  Any tips for authors who'd like to see their work get onto the big screen? 

I think I see everything visually when I write a scene as a result of being a lifelong comics geek. Movies only recently started to do well the things that comics have done since the 1930s -- the big set pieces where people can fly, throw cars, or swing from rooftops. When I write, I'm still, on some level, just trying to create a word picture of those larger-than-life scenes in my head.

The one exception is dialogue. That's me trying to get the sound and pattern and emphasis of the lines just right. That's almost entirely about the words. I look to old favorites like Gregory McDonald, who wrote the Fletch books, as the best examples of really sharp, tight conversation between characters.

As for tips, I had a fairly unsuccessful run as a screenwriter. I sold my first script -- the first one I ever wrote -- in something like two weeks. My agents at the time told me it would never happen that fast again, but I didn't believe them. They were right. I spent a long time flailing around after that. I was only able to get out of that rut by throwing aside everything I was told that producers wanted and writing what I wanted -- which was an idea about a secret agent vampire. That would be my only advice: never be ashamed your enthusiasms and write what you want. If people don't get it, write it again, and better, until they do.

 

How did you end up blending the vampire and political thriller elements. Was there a dartboard involved? What inspired you to mash up these genres? 

The inspiration for Cade came from an actual event in American history: a man who was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson -- the man who followed Lincoln in the White House -- after he supposedly killed two crew members on a ship and drank their blood. That little factoid just fascinated me. I wondered why the president would ever pardon a man accused of that sort of a crime. And then I wondered, what if the man was actually a vampire? From there, it snowballed into a story that let me bring together all the stuff I loved out of pop culture: spy stories, history, Americana, horror movies, comics, and urban legends.

 

Despite the fact that you write about vampires, lizard-human hybrids, zombies, CIA agents, and a myriad of other fantastical creatures, you insist on a high level of accuracy, or at least believability in your work. How do you walk the fine line between reality and fiction, and how do you uphold this standard?

For the unbelievable stuff, this is what I was taught very early on: that people will accept the impossible as long as it's within the rules as they're established at the beginning of the story. It would be a cheat if I suddenly changed the rules in the middle of the game. If I say sunlight kills vampires, then Cade can't suddenly develop an immunity to it around page 250 because it's convenient. It may not follow the rules of physics, but at least it's consistent. I'm always trying to do my best to honor that agreement with the reader, to keep them within the narrative and not jolt them out of it.

 

With the popularity of teenage vampires in the genre, how do you deal with the vampire canon? Do you stick with the preconceived notions everyone has from books and films (and did you have to re-watch them as research)? What "rules" did you decide to break or bend? Why?

I was never a big fan of vampires. They scared the hell out of me as a kid. But I watched all the movies and read the comics and the books, because I was always looking for ways to kill them. So I had the lore down by the time I started writing. There's a basic, Stoker-model vampire that everyone is familiar with, and most authors stick with that package: blood-drinking, undead, superhuman strength, speed, resistance to damage, repelled by sunlight and crosses. 

There are a lot of variations on that, but I wanted to use those traits and limitations because if you don't have at least some of the weaknesses, then it's not really a vampire story any more. There has to be a downside to being a vampire, or otherwise, it's not a monster any more. It's just a superhero with bad teeth.

It was also very important to me that my character be scary. Cade is a monster. He does inhuman things because he can, and because he has to. He's repellent, on a very basic level, to humanity, because he's designed to eat us. This is one reason I did not go with the power of mesmerism as one of the options in Cade's model of vampire. My thought was that if a vampire confronted a human, it would make us freeze up -- but like a mouse in front of a snake, not in a romantic swoon. 

I get why other authors have stuck with their versions of the myths—there's a huge amount of sexual imagery in vampire legends and stories—but for me, it was more about the scares. 

 

The audiobooks are read by Bronson Pinchot, which is kind of awesome. I think immediately of Balki, the goatherd from Mypos in "Perfect Strangers", or the art gallery owner from Beverly Hills Cop. Out of curiosity, did you have any say in who reads your audiobooks? If so, why did you go with Balki rather than Larry?

First of all, I am incredibly impressed that you spelled "Mypos" correctly. 

Second, I did have a say in the casting decision, even though I didn't realize it at the time. I got a bunch of samples, and I thought Bronson did the best job, and I said so. Then I heard back, "Great, we'll go with him."

And he's freaking fantastic. The first time I heard him read the book, I was actually scared by what I wrote. I thought, "Wow. Whoever came up with this scene is messed up." He also nailed Cade's voice, just the way it played in my head. He can do Cade's coldness without making it seem flat or uninterested. He's a very talented guy.

I've met him and spent some time with him since he started doing the books -- he was kind enough to get in touch and tell me how much he liked them -- and he's also an incredibly nice, smart, and funny guy. I think I lucked out by getting him as the reader.

For the record, he's also still friends with Cousin Larry.

 

Are you just using the smokescreen of vampires to push a subliminal political agenda? If so, when can we expect you to run for office?

I won't lie: I like the fact that I sometimes get to put my political rants into the mouths of my characters. I used to cover politics when I was a reporter, and the idiocies our democracy manages to produce still make me grind my teeth. So it's fun to put in jokes or political references when I get the chance.

But I find myself deleting those sections of the books in great big chunks when it comes time to edit. The current book, RED, WHITE, AND BLOOD, has more politics in it than the first two, but only because it's set during the 2012 election. There's a certain amount of political intrigue that's necessary to the plot, and to the ongoing action. 

That said, there are characters who say things I would never agree with in real life. There are characters who just say stuff I would only think when I was in an extremely ugly mood. These are details that I'm adding, and they're not meant to be the aim of the novel.  I don't want people to read it like a work of journalism or political science. It is about a vampire who's a secret agent for the president, after all.

My own political views have shifted considerably, and they will probably continue to do so. Right now, I go back and forth in my own particular blend of nihilism and idealism. I am trying, every day, to remember that this life is a struggle for everyone, and I want to temper my knee-jerk reactions with sympathy. I don't always succeed. But I'm working on it.

By the way, I never want to run for public office. I tend to agree with Kurt Vonnegut that anyone who really wants to hold a position of power should probably be automatically disqualified from doing so. I'm starting to be in favor of a draft for public office.

 

What can we expect to see next from you? Tell us also about any upcoming appearances.

I'll be touring bookstores and doing signings for RED, WHITE, AND BLOOD. My whole schedule is HERE but I'll be at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale on April 29 at 2:00 pm.

After that, I will be at the Iowa City Book Festival from July 13-15.

 

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QUESTION FOR CHRIS? COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW? Ask here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win one of two CADE 2012 baseball caps! 

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QUICKIES WITH CHRIS:

Writing ambience: I work in an office down the street from my home. I walk there every morning and try to write. My next-door neighbor is an accountant, so at tax time, there's a lot of yelling and cursing.

Reading now: I'm reading IMMORTALITY by Stephen Cave, which is an elegant piece of non-fiction about all of humanity's attempts to live forever.

Book or eReader? Both. I prefer the feel and heft of a paper book. (Yes, I'm old. I also have a land-line and use the word "album.") But I read a lot of things, especially manuscripts, on my iPad.

Favorite protagonist (other than his own): Tough call. Either Lee Child's Jack Reacher or John Connolly's Charlie Parker.

Favorite big or small screen vampire: Angel.

Who he would like to see play Cade onscreen: I've said this before, but I'd love to see Christian Bale as Cade. Although he might be sick of the whole bat thing by now.

Cats or dogs? Dogs. If you die alone in your apartment, a dog will lie down next to you and mourn. A cat will eat your face once its bowl is empty.

Favorite online resource: FakeNameGenerator.com. I use it whenever I'm stuck for a supporting character's name.

Favorite independent bookstore:

Sadly, most of the indie bookstores I loved in LA have closed their doors. I get my comics every week at Hi De Ho Books With Pictures in Santa Monica.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be? Flight. I once asked for jet boots for my birthday. Would still love to get a pair.

Any self-defense tips for readers who may someday encounter a vampire? Run.

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