Just ten weeks to go until the release of my new novel Gidion’s Blood and my short story collection. Last week, I talked about the first short story I ever sold, I am Sam. That story was released in the fall of 2006. Five years passed until I saw another short story make it past an editor’s desk. The reason? I wasn’t producing any short stories.
I resisted writing short stories for a long time. In hindsight, that was a mistake for many reasons. Instead, I focoused only on novel writing. It’s tough to progress as a storyteller when you only reach the end of a story every year or so. Short stories help you advance in your skills, but that novel writing wasn’t wasted effort, because one of those novels led me to my next publishing credit, The Deadlands.This story was born from my twin love of mythology and superhero comic books, but I have my wife to thank for this story ever being written. Back in high school, I wrote my first manuscript, a novel called The Demon Riders. This took place around 1990, and I had no clue what I was doing. The story about a team of teenage superheroes was really more like six short stories joined by journal entries from the main characters. It drew inspiration from The Uncanny X-Men, Captain America, and even Dracula (thus, the journal entries). The book was awful, but at the time, I thought those 200 pages were the best damn thing ever.
Flash forward to somewhere around 2008 (more than a decade-and-a-half later), and my wife dug up The Demon Riders in one of her cleaning fits. She started reading through that old manuscript and told me, “You should try to turn this into a YA book.” She even pointed out that there was some good stuff in my first effort that I could play with. My initial protest was, “Yeah, but it’s surrounded by so much dreck.” She was right, though (of course), and not just because young adult fiction had blossomed into this up-and-coming giant in the publishing world.
The novel I wrote from that story never made its way into print, but the first third of it found a second life in an anthology from May December Publications called Four in the Hole. They put out an open call for longer short fiction with zombies and/or vampires. Lo and behold, I had both! Mythology inspired a lot of my world-building as I wrote that novel. The influence of Norse Mythology offers my explanation for the zombies, which aren’t your typical Walking Dead moaners. Bulfinch’s Mythology, in describing the goddess of death Hela, states that “Delay (is) her man,” which prompted me to define that as “delayed death.” I love my zombies, because they’re fast, intelligent, and near impossible to destroy.
The fight scenes with Hela’s zombies in The Deadlands provided useful training for when I later wrote my Gidion Keep novels. The most challenging thing in crafting my fight scenes between Gidion and the vampires is deciding what and how Gidion will be able to inflict damage against something that heals almost as soon as any injury is inflicted. If I give Gidion the victory too quickly, then the monster loses credibility. I also can’t make the vampire so impossible to kill that any victory for Gidion is unrealistic.
Like a lot of my writing, The Deadlands takes place in Richmond. My favorite portion of the story is set inside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. To map out that action sequence, I visited the museum with a camera. I also grabbed one of the gallery maps, which I still have all these years later. In the story, Richmond has lost all power. That meant I needed to know what places in the museum would be open to moonlight. The lack of electricity also meant I needed to know which doors were the kind you pushed open versus automatic.
One day, I really hope to return to Paul Starnes, his journey through the Deadlands, and what happens beyond it when he meets the Demon Riders. The Deadlands wasn’t my first published short story, but it was the first time something I wrote made it into an actual paper-and-ink book. In hindsight, there’s something fitting that a character from my first attempt at writing a book was included in this story. Writing The Deadlands also made me realize how much I enjoy writing for the young adult market. In that regard, my vampire hunter Gidion Keep might never have existed if not for The Deadlands.
Extra Bit of Trivia: the background image to my blog is actually taken from a wallpaper I built for The Demon Riders. At one point, I even considered self-publishing the novel and designed a cover (shown above) using the same elements in the wallpaper. I took pictures of my son as he ran down the road in our neighborhood about a dozen times while wearing a jacket in hot weather to get the silhouette for Paul.