Our final guest of honour at the urban fantasy party is the one and only Jennifer Armintrout! Jennifer also writes more erotic romance as Abigail Barnette. Welcome, Jennifer - tell us about your inspiration for urban fantasy...
Inspiration is a crazy thing. It’s just kind of floating out there in a big, nebulous mass and occasional tendrils of it will prick our brains. And sometimes, that prick has also pricked other people. The prick.
When I was writing the first draft of The Turning, I had a subplot involving a vampire who had removed his heart, rendering him un-stakeable. He kept it in a music box that played “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” While I was shopping the book around to publishers, an episode of my husband’s favorite vampire series, Angel, featured a nearly identical plot, sans music box, but totally with the song. Sonofa–
Okay, so that’s bound to happen once in a writer’s career. After all, there are no new ideas. Everyone says so. And that’s fine. I changed it up a bit and moved on.
Then, when I was writing Lightworld/Darkworld, I explained the concept to a friend. “Have you ever read Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman?” he asked. I checked it out. The only element our books had in common was the underground city. Oh, and the fact that an entire action sequence was punctuated by the word “flash” in italics. Like, “Flash. Something happened. Flash. Something else happened.” His was much more exciting than my example, you’ll just have to trust me on this. I brushed this off with the most logical explanation: Neil Gaiman and I both watch a lot of action movies and it is reflected in our writing.
But my latest book, American Vampire, is chock full of Stephen King references. Some are intentional. Some are not. For example, the title of the book itself was completely out of my control. The original title was Penance, Ohio, but as authors’ titles so often are, it was changed to American Vampire. I’m pretty sure I originally signed off on the title, possibly because I was listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen at the time and The Boss raises some kind of small town patriotism in me. Shortly after that, someone told me, “Hey, dummy! Stephen King has a book coming out right now called that!” Motherfu–
Since the marketing department still thought it was an okay title to use, it stayed. In the book itself, I have another unintentional nod to King. The monster that stalks the people of Penance, Ohio is called “It” by the townsfolk. My intention was simply to highlight what often happens when a zoo animal or a tornado comes to town: everybody saw “It”. They heard about “It”. “It” left a mess in their yard. Whatever. They never give the monster a name, and refer to it as “It”.
You know, just like this one clown movie that Tim Curry was in but that I’m too scared to watch because I have a crippling fear of Tim Curry.
One thing in the book that was completely formed by the work of Stephen King was the fearful isolation and sense of helplessness the citizens of Penance feel. I won’t lie and say that my own writing hasn’t been shaped by the groundbreaking rules of horror that Mr. King used to redefine the genre. Urban Fantasy authors always say that our books are a mash up of several different genres, including horror, and that’s what I wanted to put into American Vampire. Luckily, this time, I did it intentionally. Almost.
Excerpt from American Vampire:
If there was one power a vampire could really use, Graf McDonald figured it would have to be internal GPS. Steering his car—a black 1974 De Tomaso Pantera L, a total snatch magnet—with one hand, he jabbed at the tiny screen of his TomTom GPS thingie and said words his mother would have made him eat soap for speaking.
His BlackBerry vibrated against the leather of the passenger seat, seconds before Lady Gaga blared from its tiny speaker. He ripped the GPS from its suction cup base and took it in his left hand, steering with his knees while he answered the phone with his right. That was another thing vampires could use. Extra limbs, to be utilized whenever they willed it.
"Sophia," he said into the phone as he pounded on the TomTom screen. "What do you want?"
"Darling!" Sophia called everyone darling. It was her thing. "You're on your way, yes?"
Of all the traits that got Graf all hot and bothered about his sire, the way she would end questions with the answer she wanted to hear was in the top five, at least. He couldn't help but smile to himself at that. "Slight delay. This stupid GPS thing isn't working."
"Oh, no, no!" Sophia clucked her tongue, and even that sound had an Italian accent. "Darling, you're not going to miss my party, no?"
Graf flicked his gaze to the windshield, to the straight road that hadn't changed since the last time he'd bothered to look at it. "Not if I can help it."
"Well, where are you?" she asked earnestly.
"I'll be honest with you, Soph. I have no fucking clue where I am." He braced himself for the reprimand that was sure to come.
"Graf, your language! You sound like a peasant." She sighed. "You have my address, yes?"
"Yes, I have your address. I programmed it into the thing."
Fucking technology. Usually, he loved it. The internet, thank God for that. High-definition television, yes, yes, yes. Little weaselly devices that pretend like they're going to help you and then stab you in the back? Those could suck his big, fat—
"Honestly, I do not know how you have such difficulty with directions. Get on the highway and go toward Washington, D.C. It is not difficult!" Sophia pouted over the line. "Do that!"
"Well, I would, pumpkin butt, but I dropped the damned TomTom in the parking lot at Denny's, and now it's all in Spanish and I can't get back to the map screen." He took a deep breath and propped the phone against his shoulder as he fished for the cigarettes in his jacket on the seat beside him.
"I do not understand you, you men," Sophia said, sure to lean on the word enough to let him know she meant it as an insult. "You know, I only turn women now, yes? Because they are not as…vulgar and stupid. I do not wish to hurt your feelings, sweet Graf, but it is true, it is just my opinion. Now, why do you not find a place to pull over and ask for directions, and then you hurry here. Okay, good boy. Bye-bye!"
As always, she hung up without a chance for rebuttal. He tossed the phone back onto the seat, threw the TomTom on the passenger side floor, and lit a cigarette. When he looked up at the road, the biggest deer he'd ever seen stared back at him.
With a shout, he jerked the wheel and veered onto the shoulder, narrowly missing the animal. Tall grass and a ditch loomed just past the shoulder, aching to chew up his paint job and destroy his aftermarket ground lighting. Unacceptable. He fought to get the car under control on the gravel shoulder, and brought it to a stop in the center of the road.
Very few things got Graf's adrenaline pumping the way a threat to his car did, and he leaned over the steering wheel, his heart—which usually didn't beat—pounding in his chest.
"Christ," he muttered, easing the gearshift back to First. Okay, maybe Sophia was right. It was time to swallow his pride, ask for help, and keep his eyes on the road.
The trouble was, he reflected as he slowly rolled down the road, scanning the fields on either side for more white-tailed devil creatures, there didn't seem to be anyplace to stop; he'd passed plenty of farms, lots of little ranch houses with decks, aboveground pools, and absolutely no shade trees in the lawns, but nothing that would indicate a town was nearby. He'd passed a grain elevator, but it had been abandoned. When he tried to remember the last time he'd seen anything that promised civilization lay ahead, he had to reach at least an hour back. And he was cutting his trip close… If he wandered around all night, he'd have to find a hotel to stay in. And if he didn't find one before sunup…
He swallowed the lump in his throat and forced himself to take things one step at a time, without panicking. He'd been stranded at sunup before. The memory of prickling pain flaring into full-blown, fiery agony spread over his arms in a heated warning. A cold sweat of blood broke out over his forehead, and he wiped it away with a curse, ordering himself to get his fear under control. Yes, being burned by the sun had been excruciatingly painful. Yes, it had taken a long time to heal. But he'd been younger then, with less healing ability. The entire situation could be avoided, if he kept a cool head.
To distract himself, he thought of all the fun he'd have at his intended destination. Sophia's July Fourth parties were legendary. All those years ago, she'd been in England when news of a potential uprising in King George's colonies had caught her attention and Sophia, never wanting to miss out on anything exciting, had hopped a boat and relocated. Thus, she'd been at the very first July Fourth, and the revolution that followed it.
"Darling," she had told him once, "it was either going to be a historic moment, or it was going to be chaos. How could I miss either? All of those bodies lying around, the countryside unprotected as the men went off to war. Delicious."
Graf smiled at the memory. His sire was…well, she was spectacular. The only thing he didn't like about her was that he had to share her with her other fledglings. She turned about three a year and sent them on their way, like she was a friggin' vampire factory, but, somehow, she made them all feel special and loved. Just receiving her blood was an act of love in itself—what more precious gift could you give someone than the gift of eternal life?
From the corner of his eye, he spotted light. Not enough that a human could have seen it; vampire eyesight was beyond excellent. A beam of light swung wildly through the darkness. A flashlight. Inside a structure of some kind. He hit the brakes and pulled over, examining the source of the light. The building was a gas station, all closed up snug for the night, because nothing in these Midwestern middle grounds stayed open later than ten.
A gas station would have a map. And if someone was robbing the place, he could get one for free. And pick up a snack.
He pulled closer, then killed the engine and let the car drift into the gravel lot, not closing the door when he got out. The element of surprise somehow made people taste better, and if they had a gun, he didn't want to get shot. It wouldn't kill him, but it would hurt like hell.
As he approached the building, it became apparent that the place wasn't just closed, it was abandoned. Several of the windows were broken, but no one had bothered to board them up. The price of cigarettes displayed on the faded sign in the one nonshattered window would have made Graf weep with joy had it been current. He pushed open the unlocked door and a bell jingled. So much for surprise.
The shelves were bare, so the place had clearly been looted. Why would someone even bother to break in?
"Hello!" he called cheerfully. "Anybody home?"
Something scurried in the farthest corner of the store, near the empty, glass-fronted coolers.
"Look, I know you're in here. I saw your flashlight." This was, Graf reflected, the kind of thing that would happen at the beginning of a horror movie. Cocky, confident guy walks into a creepy place, thinking he's the toughest thing in there, something horrible jumps out of the shadows.
But he knew he was the most horrible thing there at the moment, so the horror-movie comparison made him grin. "Okay. You want to do this the hard way? We can do it the hard way."
Whoever it was scurried across the floor. But they didn't move away from him. They approached on hands and knees. A hand grasped his ankle, and he kicked to dislodge it.
"Stop! It will hear us!" A feminine voice, consumed with panic. "Get down! It's coming!"
Dude, my books are awesome.
Jennifer's contest (subject to confirmation!): she will be giving away two prizes today - American Vampire (Mira) and In the Blood (Samhain), both in ebook. To enter the contest, say whether you think the hiding woman will be ultimately safer with Graf or with "It"! Or comment on Jennifer's post in some other way. The contest will close at midnight tonight EST, and the winner will be announced tomorrow on this thread.