Exclusive Interview with Brian McKinley
For me, Ancient Blood was a chance to write the vampire novel I had always wanted to read. Ever since I started playing the Vampire role-playing game back in the 90s, the idea of vampires having a unique society of their own has fascinated me. I started reading every vampire novel I could get my hands on and none really seemed to really explore such an idea. I’m also a fan of historical films like The Lion in Winter, Dangerous Liaisons, and I, Claudius that feature a lot of scheming and back-stabbing and it just seemed to me to make sense that, if a society of immortals wanted to keep themselves hidden, then most of their maneuvering would have to be social. If they went around killing each other all the time, then it wouldn’t take long for that to spill over into the human world.
By the time I started, however, I had moved past the game influence and just really wanted to see how plausible I could make a society of vampires. What would they eat? How would they pass their time? By the time I was done, I realized how much of a satire of wealth and power I had created. I think Ancient Blood has the distinction of working on a number of levels: it’s a loving combination of numerous old vampire archetypes, but it also has a real biting commentary on America during the Bush years.
Describe the central characters.
My hero is Avery Doyle. He’s an average guy working boring jobs to pay his bills when he meets Caroline and falls desperately for her. He’s a huge fan of fictional vampires and, when he realizes she’s a real vampire, he’s completely hooked. Caroline, of course, knows the danger she’s in and doesn’t want to bring Avery into her world, but he’s so genuine and completely unlike what Sebastian’s become that the attraction becomes mutual and she eventually gives in to Avery’s desire to make him a vampire as well. Avery is basically a guy like me: kind of a geek, funny, and a romantic. When I asked myself what I’d do if I met a girl who seemed perfect for me but was a vampire, my first response was “get her to make me one too” so I knew that Avery would wind up representing all of us readers/viewers who secretly wish we could have an opportunity like that. What happens when Sebastian captures the two of them and Avery learns what being a vampire is really about is the story.
My heroine is Caroline Ludlow. Caroline is a psychology professor from the 1940s who was recruited by the government during WWII to help analyze the Nazi hierarchy and provide insights for espionage purposes. Toward the end of the war, she met Sebastian Blackwood and the two fell in love; Sebastian, however, was a Vampyr with a degenerative condition. To make matters worse, he was also in charge of North America. Caroline chose to become a vampire to be with him, but also to help him steer America in a beneficial course for the future. Sadly, as Sebastian’s condition worsened and he became more feral, their relationship worsened and became abusive, but Caroline was literally trapped with nowhere to go. She eventually figured out a way to escape and went into hiding while she worked on unraveling the mysteries of the Vampyr condition. She’s a very strong character, but in a distinctly feminine way which I thought was important.
The “world” of your novel reminds me a bit of Underworld as well as Vampire: The Masquerade. Was that more or less deliberate?
As I mentioned above, I was originally inspired by Vampire: The Masquerade and it’s concept of a hidden vampire society. Naturally, once I decided to create a story, I built my own society from the ground up and made sure that it didn’t resemble White Wolf’s at all. However, it was my hope that people who enjoy those games will appreciate the politics and social gamesmanship in my novel. Ironically, I had nearly finished writing Ancient Blood when the first Underworld movie came out and I was terrified that people would think I stole the idea! I thought some of that similarity might help me get the book sold, but it actually proved a hindrance more often than not.
You included several historical figures as undead. Why those in particular?
Well, many of them were homages to those historical movies I love. Geoffrey was my favorite character from The Lion in Winter and, if you catch it, there’s a moment where Caroline quotes a line from the play to him, just to tweak his nose a bit. Julia Agrippina came from my love of Roman history and because I wanted a truly powerful and formidable woman on the council; who better than the woman who was Caligula’s sister, Claudius’ wife, and Nero’s mother? Both of these figures are background figures in history, which seemed to me the way the vampires would operate. They wouldn’t Create someone obvious like Caesar or Richard Lionheart, because it would be more trouble than it’s worth and people like that would be too power-hungry out of the gate. You couldn’t control them. By and large, I felt my vampires would take the powers behind the throne. Though he’s supposed to be part of the Medici family, Iago isn’t a true historical figure, but I do have it in his history that Shakespeare named the character in Othello after him, which I thought was a fun detail. Naturally, Othello is my favorite Shakespeare play.
Which vampire novels or movies or t.v. shows inspired you? Or non-vampire for that matter?
Well, I mentioned some of the non-vampire movies already. Probably the biggest influence was Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. It’s hard to over-state the impact those had on me when I was in high school and the idea of telling the story from the “monster’s” point of view really changed the way I approached fiction.
You mentioned having “cast” a movie version of Ancient Blood in your head. Care to share your choices here and now?
Well, as I showed on my website, I could see Henry Thomas making a great Avery and Christina Ricci being awesome as Caroline. Someone like Liam Neeson or Gerard Butler could be great for Sebastian. Alan Rickman or Jeremy Irons would be a fantastic Iago while Uma Thurman could be a very surprising Julia. After seeing him in Rome, I think Simon Wood could be a great Geoffrey. Many of these ideas have changed over time, however, because this story has been around for so long. I can tell you my original mental cast was quite different! Most of them are now too old for the parts, unfortunately!
Any plans for a sequel? If so, any hints or teasers you care offer?
Absolutely! Well, in my current plans, the next story will pick up a few years after the first where relations between Avery and Caroline have become strained by all the factors working against them. Another gathering will be held, this time in Julia’s Domain and there will be parallel stories: Avery staying in America to watch home base while Caroline attends her first Gathering as a Hegemon. I can promise that it will have all the action and intrigue of the first story, if not more!
Photographs by Rebecca Stanford Theobald, 2012