Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Twenty Years of The Vampire Files-- YIKES!

Holy cr@p!  Has it been that long?

Um, yup. Calendars don't lie. Not that much!

I'm going to be the writer guest of honor at OryCon 32 next month and they wanted to know if I wanted to mention in the programming that this was the 20-year anniversary of The Vampire Files

Really, I was in too much shock to think about it much less give an answer. That's a big chunk of my life.

Original 1st edition from Ace

The first book of the Vampire Files series that I began writing in 1986 (YIKES AGAIN!!!) and sold in 1988 and which hit the shelves in 1990 is now technically a year past the legal drinking age. I signed the contract with Ace in the spring of 1988, the first book hitting the shelves in 1990.

But we'll keep it simple and call 2010 the 20-year anniversary of my partnership with vampire PI Jack Fleming. I can't say it's been easy--he's a tough guy to work with--but it's never been dull.

The series almost never happened. Back then, the Big Name writer was Anne Rice, and I was told that her style was the only style readers wanted. I was told repeatedly that the vampire genre was sewn up in its shroud and dead, not just undead, and that a cross-genre book of any kind had NO chance at all for publication.

I am not known for taking no as an answer. Besides, all the how-to books I read about writing asserted the importance of not giving up. When a rejection comes (no writer escapes!), you take it on the chin, put on your game face, and start all over again--which I did.

Ace reprint edition
That book, "The List", which became Bloodlist, was sent out about 24 times, collected rejections, rewritten, and sent it out again. And again. And again. I got feedback from some very brave people, and kept rewriting.  In the meantime, I began another book in the series, then another, and I wrote gaming modules, selling them to TSR. Professional credits! Pay checks! Cool!

It took two years to sell that first book. 

I made all the rookie mistakes. I sent terrible queries, worse proposals, a rotten synopsis, and they went to the wrong publishers. Back then I thought a mystery house would love to see a dark fantasy--that's what they called vampire books when they were being kind. The rest of the time they lumped them into horror which was and still is dominated by Mr. King.

But the book I wrote was not horror! 

Sure, it had a vampire as the main character, but he was a GOOD GUY. He had a bit of a food allergy, but he usually tried to do the right thing, had a sense of humor, a wiseacre mouth, and even sent money home to his mother. Back then it was too alien a concept for the black cover crowd.

My inspirations came from Fred Saberhagen and Dark Shadows and Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Conan Doyle and The Shadow and countless movies from Universal and Hammer Films. I watched anything with Bogart, Cagney, Karloff, Chaney, Lugosi, Cushing, and Lee in it.

I can thank author David McDaniel and his Man From UNCLE book, The Vampire Affair for stirring up my imagination!

I can thank author Jeff Rice for inventing Carl Kolchak and the books, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler and the TV series with Darrin McGavin owning the part.  

It is NO accident that Jack Fleming started out as a down at the heels reporter. Carl Kolchak is his spiritual godfather.
Audio book

I read the pulps when I could find reprints and searched for books to feed my appetite for supernatural good guys--who were thin on the ground! 

Certainly you could include Barnabas Collins, so ably played by my first crush, Jonathan Frid. He and the writers for Dark Shadows turned him from the heavy of that six-week story arc into an ongoing anti-hero vampire with a conscience long before Joss Whedon stepped in with Angel and Spike.

Thank them for the Vampire Files, not me.
Thank the slush pile reader who liked my first 50 pages and kicked them upstairs to the senior editor who sold the series to the bean-counters who okay'd an offer to me of a 6-book contract and an advance. 

Thank friends like Teresa Patterson, Bill Fawcett, past agent Donald Maass, and present agent Lucienne Diver.

Because of them I got to meet many of my heroes: Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Lois McMaster Bujold, and whoa! -- Jonathan Frid!  (You still make my knees go weak, sir!)

Because of them, I got to meet thousands of really COOL readers at countless conventions.

Because of them, stellar talents like Rachel Caine and Carole Nelson Douglas are my good friends.

I've been able to edit some of the best writers in the business and co-write books with the amazing Nigel Bennett.

I'm leaving too much and too many others out, and I apologize. My point is I didn't do any of it on my own, and I'm grateful to everyone who ever traded words with me about my job.

So happy 20 years, Jack Fleming.
Now--let's see what we can do in the NEXT twenty!

Three book omnibus

German Edition
French Edition
Italian Edition



  1. Congrats! ^_^

    And even if you insist that I should thank all those other people - thank YOU for writing one of my favourite vampire series (the only one where both my love for fantasy and my love for the thirties and old movies get satisfied at the same time).

  2. Being set in the 30s means they've not aged. It's easier to keep track of 1938 tech than 21st century tech--which seems to morph every 24 hours or so!

    That reflects me pretty well. Just when I got used to CDs they come up with iPods. I suppose if I wait long enough they can beam music directly into my head--if they're not doing so already.

    I wouldn't know. The aluminum foil hat I wear all the time stops the signals! ;)

  3. Wow, has it been that long? I just remember going into the newsstand/bookstore and thinking "Hey, the second book in the Vampire FIles series is probably out! Now what was the author's name again?" and realizing that in my bag I had a check that I had just written out to you for fanfic! :D (Or am I not supposed to mention the fanfic now that you're a big name author?)

  4. That was back in the bad old stone-age days before I knew what copyright was all about!

    I know how important it is now.

    Thankfully the copyright holders I offended against were in a forgiving mood.

    Me--I'm not so nice! ;)

    Ah, well, The Shadow knew what e-vul lurked in the hearts of men because he indulged in it himself once upon a time!

  5. Gosh, has it been that long? I was lucky enough to buy a first-run copy of all the first six novels. I was browsing at my local Safeway and happened across "Bloodlist" and thought it sounded fun. I must've read it three times in a row and then continued to read it for quite some time after that. Those books really shaped my definition of what a vampire was and even now, having read the offerings of Rice, King, Harris, Moore, and others, yours is still my favorite version. I'm not sure, but I think it may also have contributed heavily to my current love of noir and classic movies, which is a large part of why I do what I do now.

    I sadly lost my first copy of "Bloodlist" somewhere, but I did manage to get another copy with that first cover (always my favorite). My copies of "Lifeblood" and "Bloodcircle" are the originals I bought from that same Safeway, which I kept frequenting in hopes of finding more from my favorite undead PI. I still get giddy when I get my hands on one of his new adventures and read it cover to cover in as close to one sitting as I can. Jack's like an old, comfortable friend and I always look forward to getting to spend some time with him. I'm glad he's still kicking around.

  6. Congratulations! I still remember finding BLOODLIST and falling upon it (well taking it to the cash register) in delight. Growing up with Barnabas Collins, too, I always figured vampires could be good guys, and BLOODLIST made it real. Three cheers!

  7. Wow. It is hard to believe that it's been that long. I remember finding Bloodlist on the shelves of a local Waldenbooks when I had just moved to Texas. I also remember two years later, sitting on the floor of a Consuite, passing around preview pages of one of the then upcoming novels. Anything with Jack and Escott is still a guaranteed sell in my book.

  8. Time flies when you're having fun! :)

    Love the new blog!

  9. I've been reading Jack's adventures since they first got published. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Gentleman Jonathan Barrett, though, mostly because I loved it that you wrote a whole vampire novel in which the word "vampire" was never used.

  10. It was the Ace reprint edition of Bloodlist that caught my eye on a bookshelf maybe 12 years ago. The Vampire Files were some of the first books I ever bought online just so I could complete the set and read them all. I've re-read the entire series many times over the years and they will always be on my favorites shelf.
    Congrats on 20+ years!

  11. i still have my original copy of bloodlist.maybe one day i'll find my way to a Con and have my favorite author sign it.Gratz.