Part I of David Wellington’s retrospective on his 13 Bullets series
To coincide with the release of my final vampire novel, 32 Fangs, I wanted to take the time to say something about what an incredible journey this series has been. Suvudu has graciously allowed me to write three articles on the subject: this one, on how things got started, with the other two about how the series got published and how it feels to end it. This is a big deal to me – the end of nearly a decade of work, and a last chance to visit some characters I’ve truly grown to love.
The series started with 13 Bullets, but not the version most people are familiar with. Long before it was a novel, 13 Bullets was a short story – less than 3,000 words – about a vampire hunter in Pittsburgh, looking to track down and kill the last vampire. Jameson Arkeley, at the time just a young federal agent, was about to drive the monsters to extinction. But they refused to go quietly.
I had been reading horror novels voraciously at the time, as I finished up my first zombie series (the Monster Island trilogy). Not the old pulpy Gothic stuff I loved, but the new hotness – which at the time meant Paranormal Romance. Drippy stories about vampires who sipped wine (Dracula would be appalled) and read poetry to their … girlfriends. Not their victims, transfixed by their hypnotic stares, not even their unholy brides, but mortal women who they’d come to love in a real and abiding way.
Vampires were supposed to be scary. At least, I thought they were. They’d always scared me as a child. Dracula, ’Salem’s Lot, I am Legend all agreed that vampires were menacing figures, desperate creatures that stank of the grave and hunted humans. And unlike so many monsters, they were good at it. As in, they could tear us to pieces and they had no qualms about doing so. Yet something had happened, something weird. Over the decades vampires had changed. They were continuing to change, and I could see where that road led, to a place in the near future that was positively … sparkly.
I couldn’t stand it. I was already on edge, waiting to see if my first published novel would succeed in the market (it takes a very long time for a book to go from manuscript to print, sometimes more than a year). I had the need, the need to explore, to reinvent, to write. So I sat down and drafted a little story about the nastiest, most violent, most horrifying vampire I could think of. I took visual cues from Nosferatu and exaggerated the vampire’s speed, strength, and near invulnerability. I shed all the nineteenth-century baggage I could – no garlic, no crucifixes, no romance of any kind. These were predators. They saw us as livestock, as blood donors. Not as potential soulmates.
The story ended up being the most exciting, most compelling thing I’d ever written. I knew I was on to something right away – the reaction was visceral. It scared people. It made them look over their shoulders, and under the bed. It made them want more.
I definitely wanted more. Immediately I planned on how to expand the story into a novel, and then a series. Jameson Arkeley was badly injured at the end of the story but his resolve had never been stronger. He’d found there were more vampires around than he thought, that they weren’t extinct after all. I saw a bitter man devoting his entire life to a cause he knew he could never finish alone. Which meant he would need a partner.
Laura Caxton, who starts out as a highway patrol trooper in Pennsylvania, created herself. Writers talk about this a lot but it had never happened to me before. The original story was the first three chapters of the book, but starting with chapter four it needed a new voice. Someone who barely believed in vampires, someone who still had a lot to learn. Laura just … appeared. As if she’d been waiting for the chance. Details about her started flooding in – she had black hair, well, that was easy. She was the daughter of a county sheriff. She was gay.
She was also the last person in the world who would happily put up with Jameson Arkeley’s antisocial tendencies. The two of them were matches and gasoline from page one. And I loved it. The scenes where they sparred with each other just lit up the page.
It was happening. A book like none I’d ever written before. It put itself together almost like magic. I mostly just sat back and watched it unfold.
Which was not to say it was going to be all beer and Skittles …
But that’s the subject for part two of this series.
David Wellington is the author of the Laura Caxton vampire series (13 Bullets, 99 Coffins, Vampire Zero) and the Monster Island trilogy (Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet). He lives in New York City with his wife, Elisabeth. He maintains his popular website at davidwellington.net. Check back next week for Wellington’s second piece in his 13 Bullets retrospective.