Elena recently caught up with Gabrielle Faust, author of the Eternal Vigilance series, to talk about inspirations, favorite vampires, and what happened to Texas’s football stadium when Austin got bombed in the apocalypse. Read on for a fascinating look at her thoughts on vampires, dystopian futures, and more!
Elena: What got you started writing? What kind of background do you have-any formal training such as classes or conferences? Were the Eternal Vigilance books kind of the start of your writing, or merely the first that have made it public?
Gabrielle Faust: On my father’s side, my grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were all poets, playwrights, novelists, and journalists, so I suppose you could say it runs in my blood. I started writing very young; I wrote my first short story around the age of five or six and penned poetry steadily from about the age of nine on. My grandmother was especially influential, constantly encouraging me with my writing and sending me books on everything from creative writing to history to read. As far as formal training, I minored in creative writing in college and spent ten years as an art director and copy writer before pursuing my own personal ambitions of becoming a professional poet and novelist. The Eternal Vigilance series was the first published work that the world really took notice of, however, and has definitely launched my career as a horror/science fiction novelist.
Elena: What is your background as a reader-did you read as a kid? What kinds of genres do you like now (and if there are any you have drifted away from what did you used to like)?
Gabrielle: I have been a voracious reader since I was very young. My tastes in genres have always been diverse; even as a child I would find myself picking up books on everything from history and anthropology to high fantasy and horror. I think the greatest difference between what I choose to read now and what I immersed myself in back then is the gravitation away from the high fantasy genre and a focus more on horror, hardcore science fiction and research-necessary nonfiction, because these are the genres I myself am pursuing as a career. Though I still love dragons and kingdoms, tales about them simply don’t seem to hold my interest as much nowadays. But perhaps that has to do with the fact that I simply haven’t come across any new authors that specialize in those stories that have presented a truly unique and moving rendition of the tale. When you read as much as I do, you realize quickly that there are actually very few “new” ideas, but only new literary voices and new interpretations.
Elena: Is there a writer (or a couple) you particularly admire? If so, why?
Gabrielle: My top idolized authors include Michael Marano (Dawn Song), Storm Constantine (Wraeththu), William Gibson (Neuromancer), and Leonard Cohen (Beautiful Losers).
Marano’s style instantly captivated me when I discovered Dawn Song about ten years ago. Not only is his writing style mesmerizingly dark and poetic, but his ability to transport the reader deep within the tragic hearts and minds of his characters is profound, a trait I have aspired for in my own writing. I also admire Marano’s journalism, as well (he writes for various publications such as SciFi.com and ChiZine). His straightforward honesty and keen observation of pop culture in these particular pieces reminds me in many ways of Hunter S. Thompson’s unapologetic style of reporting.
Storm Constantine also has that ability to create characters which you instantly find yourself obsessed with and before you are even cognizant of it, you are completely entangled in the epic worlds she crafts. Truly amazing!
William Gibson is by and far my epitome of the science fiction author. The worlds he writes about are gritty, dark and surreal, his writing style cold and alien, yet psychedelically poetic. His ability to speak of cyberspace and futuristic technology with such fluent ease that the reader somehow intuitively understands exactly what he is describing, despite how alien it might be, is astounding. Another skill I aspire to in my writing.
And, last but certainly not least, the Beat poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen. I have been obsessed with Cohen’s work since I first discovered a collection of his poetry when I was sixteen. His writing, whether poetry, prose, or songwriting, is brutally honest in a way that simply leaves the listener/reader speechless. He speaks the unspoken, he paints the invisible. He is Leonard Cohen.
Elena: What attracts you to writing vampire stories?
Gabrielle: For me, vampires are more than merely sexy supernatural creatures with fangs, though that is definitely a major plus to the genre. They are a philosophical representation of the absolute extremes of humanity: the best and worst of our natures and the most amazing and terrifying strengths, as well as weaknesses. To intensify this, they are trapped on earth forever without end which makes them the ultimate historians of human civilization. The other aspect is their mental resolve to survive the ages. By this I mean that a single human lifetime is often far too much for the mortal psyche to bear. The physical, emotional and mental hardships and tragedies that we endure in 80 or 90 years are absolutely incredible, but imagine if you were to endure an infinite amount of this suffering. I am fascinated by the concept of a creature that could hold such self-preservation as to be able to adapt mentally and emotionally to this extreme degree. It is the ultimate psychological study, I suppose.
Elena: Do you/have you read much vampire fiction? If so, was it something you were into at a young age (for example I grew up on Christopher Pike and L.J. Smith books) or something you came to later?
Gabrielle: My love of vampire literature began at the age of ten when my mother handed me copies of Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. It has been my favorite horror subgenre ever since, and I have eagerly consumed everything from the classics to upcoming new authors. Around the age of sixteen was when I was introduced to vampirology by a professor at the University of Texas by the name of Guvudni Elisson, expanding my fascination with the subject matter to the historical, sociological and mythological.
Elena: Any favorite movies? What about your favorite film vampire (since s/he may or may not be in your favorite movie)? TV shows can be considered.
Gabrielle: Ah, I have so many!
Favorite films (in general): Modigliani, Fightclub, The Big Lebowski, Aliens, Pumpkinhead, The Shining, All the Mornings of the World, Bladerunner, Dune, From Hell, Miller’s Crossing, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek….
Favorite vampire films: Perfect Creature, Lost Boys, The Shadow of the Vampire, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, Fright Night, Let the Right One In, Underworld, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans….
Favorite vampire television shows: Blood Ties, Angel, Forever Knight, True Blood.
Elena: Were you specifically trying to make your own stamp on the vampire mythos, or was your treatment of them more in line with how you perceive the canon of vampire powers and limitations? Why did you take this tact with them?
Gabrielle: I hope I have made some sort of stamp on the vampire mythos. It was my desire to present the mythos in a fresh new way that perhaps had not been done before. My passion for mythology played a large part in the development of the vampire origins and evolution depicted in the Eternal Vigilance series. As for their powers and limitations, after two decades of reading vampire stories and researching vampirology (the study of vampires and vampire lore), I had defined a set table of abilities and weaknesses that made sense to me, whereas others, such as a violent aversion to garlic as many ancient legends portray, were not plausible. From there I sculpted my vision of what the vampire species would be like… .
Elena: Sort of following that question, what made you decide to give your vampires no option except to kill those they feed from? (At least, that was the impression I got since all of the humans Tynan drinks from are killed in the process.)
Gabrielle: While my vampires can feed without killing, for me it was far more realistic for them to be true predators in that regard; in the wild, other species that are considered predators do not merely take what they need, they kill. Even humans rarely show such compassion or restraint when it comes to food. There is also the inherent mentality amongst the vampire species that they are the masters and rulers of humanity and, thus, humanity is there for their needs alone; the vampires see themselves as the true rulers of the earth. Though I haven’t show it, yet, Tynan and the others can feed without killing, but up until the end of book 2, Tynan’s mindset has been too violently unstable for such controlled feeding. To overcome one’s instincts it takes incredible strength, focus and control… .
Elena: Do you think the path that brought you to reading vampire fiction influenced your perception of the genre? Such as YA conceptions of vampires tending to be more humanized and less monstrous-certainly they are not like the vampires in 30 Days of Night, to use a more recent example of vampires-as-horrifying-creatures-rather-than-misunderstood-emo-boys-versus a more traditional demonic view of them?
Gabrielle: While I have a great appreciation for such depictions of vampires as the ones in films such as 30 Days of Night or Guillermo Del Toro’s new vampire novel The Strain, in which they are depicted as feral, cold feeding machines, my own preference is the more “humanized” version, as you put it. My early influences in the genre with such works as Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, Whitley Striber’s The Hunger, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula heavily dictated my initial attraction to the creatures. For me, one of the most terrifying species is humanity itself; humans are capable of more monstrous acts of violence than any of the supernatural species we dream up. Thus, exploring a psychological, sociological and philosophical evolution of our own species into a more physically capable and highly intelligent predator is fascinating. A creature that can move in and out of society virtually unnoticed, a creature that we are drawn to impulsively and yet will inevitably kill us, is more alluring to me as an author than a brutal, bloodthirsty monster. It is what we cannot see that terrifies us the most. But that is simply my taste.
Though I do not write YA horror, I do have to say, that in regards to the trend in YA vampire fiction, I am not a fan of the complete pacification of the vampire. Vampires should not sparkle in the sunlight or call themselves “vegetarians.” What is the point of writing about vampires if you completely castrate them in such a fashion?
Elena: Speaking of YA vampires in many ways being analogs for stories of the “other” who is equally human and has an equally valid point of view: was there an intentional use of this kind of parallel in your story? Is part of your intention to explore conflicts between groups who perceive themselves as being different from one another in a less “threatening” way than using two real-life groups in conflict with one another might be?
Gabrielle: Well, I don’t see using the vampire versus humans parallel as a less “threatening” way of presenting the exploration of societal conflict. It is simply the two groups that happen to be involved in this particular storyline. Yes, Eternal Vigilance is, in many respects, about pondering the possible outcomes of a dire situation that forces enemies, or in this case predator and prey, to unite for a common cause and how realistic such hopeful concepts are. As the series continues to evolve, this dynamic is tested to the point of breaking. We, the human race, often like to invest our beliefs in the blind positivism that, if faced with such a universal threat to existence, that we would rise above all of our inherent animosity and prejudices and fear to unite and conquer whatever evil assaulted us. But, in the end, just how realistic is this idea?
Elena: I think the future world you created as a backdrop could put your books as validly in the dystopian fiction category as in the vampire fiction category. What influence did other dystopian writers have on you? Were there any specific works that inspired you to write your own?
Gabrielle: My work definitely fits into the dystopian fiction category. I suppose I have always been more influenced by apocalyptic portrayals of the future as opposed utopian versions because they seem, unfortunately, a more realistic evolution of humanity and civilization. We are a destructive, greedy species. However, with every dystopian setting is the underlying theme of survival and the strength of a species, its individuals’ endurance and will to claw their way out of the rubble. In many respects it is the epitome of hope in the face of imminent annihilation. Much of the science fiction, and even dark fantasy, I have read over the years has been in this vein.
I think one of the most influential writers of dystopian science fiction on my writing has been William Gibson (Neuromancer, Idoru, Johnny Neumonic). His version of the future is so incredibly gritty and cold and alien. Another body of work that influenced me early on was Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu series. She has painted a world in which one species, the human race, is slowly dying to be replaced by a far more evolved species called the Wraeththu. In the beginning it is so bleak and so sad, yet you see the beauty in the destruction of one era and the rise of another, like a forest burning to give way to new growth. It is simply a theme that has always resonated deeply with me.
Elena: As far as the global takeover by the Tyst…was this merely a good background story you imagined up, or was it actually based in a conspiracy theory you’ve heard?
Gabrielle: I suppose you could call it a little of both. The idea came to me one night when I was listening to some of my more extreme activist friends heatedly discussing the G8 and global domination of superpowers. They were describing these entities as if they were simply moving chess pieces about the globe in a plot to take over the world. I’m definitely not a conspiracy theorist, but how much do we really know about the goings on of such things? Probably never enough….
Elena: One final question: What happened to the stadium?! (And the rest of the university, for that matter?) My boyfriend’s first question when I told him it was set in a post-apocalyptic Austin was “how did she describe the stadium? What? It wasn’t there?! How could someone not notice it?” I tried to point out that maybe it had been an early target, as being a concentration of people, but he was still upset by this. So…where was it?
Gabrielle: LOL!!! Well, you’re explanation is a good one and right on target with my original view of the area. Large structures like the Stadium and Capital would have been bombed. I suppose I should have elaborated a bit on this, and perhaps I will in the next book, but to keep the book within a certain word count certain details that did not pertain directly to the story development had to be eliminated. I apologize to any other Longhorn alumni who might have felt left out of the series. J
Elena: Well, at least we’ve set the record straight now! Thanks again, so much, for the perspective on your work and your creative process and influences.
If you enjoyed this introduction to Gabrielle Faust and her Eternal Vigilance series, be sure to visit her website at www.gabriellefaust.com!
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.