In her now classic novel Interview With The Vampire, Anne Rice cleverly treated vampirism not as a mystical or demonic issue, but instead as a medical condition, paving the way for more realistic stories about bloodsuckers. Which is where we find David Carrico’s new urban fantasy vampire tale, The Blood Is The Life (hardcover Kindle). Well, mostly. As Carrico explains in the following email interview, his story puts a rather interesting spin even Rice wouldn’t have seen coming.
I always find it best to start with a plot overview. So, what is The Blood Is The Life about, and when and where does it take place?
Chaim Caan had a one-night stand that occurred as a result of a night club visit with his college classmates. The girl left him a little present — not an STD, however. It was worse. She made him a vampire. But it gets even worse: Chaim is Jewish, raised Orthodox, and he immediately had an existential crisis, because he was very familiar with the commandment that Jews weren’t supposed to eat blood. He began reaching out for help, and eventually makes contact with Rabbi Avram Mendel, an older rabbi with a bit of a mysterious background. Mendel accepts Chaim for what he is. They explore what it means to be a vampire together, including dealing with the questions of was Chaim still a Jew? For that matter, was he even human? Chaim deals with a myriad of changes as he navigates his new life-path: changes to his body, to his metabolism, to his mind, and yes, to his faith. His new existence takes him in directions he never expected to go, and in the end, after dealing with a couple of personal disasters, he finds a place to stand.
The primary theme of The Blood Is The Life is, you wake up one morning, and you’re super. But then you find out that to be super — in fact, to exist at all — you have to do something on a regular and frequent basis that you find very morally repugnant. Vile, even. How would you deal with that? How would it affect your world view, your relationships, your lifestyle? How would it affect your self image? How would you cope with the fact that you’ve become something that everyone around you, if they knew it, would consider you a monster?
As to the setting, it’s basically now or the very near future. The first part of the story is laid in California in or near the fictional city of Santa Carla. In the second part, the action moves to Israel, mostly in Tel Aviv.
Where did you get the idea for The Blood Is The Life?
The idea first came to me quite some time ago, and there’s a bit of a history to that. I’ll try to keep it short. In late 2009 I had finished a writing project, and I was sitting in my office brainstorming to try and come up with an idea for my next one. Like every writer I know, I’ve been an omnivorous and eclectic reader all of my life, so my head is stuffed with all kinds of weird facts and information, and a lot of it was popping out that night.
All of a sudden, in the middle of that, I had a really unusual thought float through my mind. It was a paraphrase of a verse from the Bible, from the 17th chapter of Leviticus, and it paraphrases something like this: “You shall not eat blood, for the blood is the life and is sacred to the Lord.” If you know anything about Jewish culture and practices, you know that this verse is basically the cornerstone of what’s usually called the Kosher laws. It’s a big deal in their culture.
Well, my mind, being the weird and occasionally wonderful place that it is, followed that thought with this one: “Wow, that would be a problem for a Jewish vampire.” And I immediately had a vision of an Orthodox Jewish man having an existential crisis because he wants to obey the commandments, he lives to obey the commandments, but now he’s a vampire, and he can’t survive without breaking this very important commandment.
That’s where the story started. It took eleven years for it to take shape, though.
As you said, Chaim is an Orthodox Jew. Why did you decide to have him be Orthodox as opposed to a reform Jew or someone who’s Jew-ish — i.e., someone who’s ethnically Jewish but not religious?
Once I had that initial vision of the opening of the story, settling on the point-of-view character was basically a no-brainer. No other faith has a resonance with that particular commandment like the Jews, and of the Jews, it is the Orthodox among whom this conflict would strike hardest. To get the full impact, it had to be an Orthodox Jew that was the point-of-view. The story just wouldn’t work as well with a Reform Jew or a secular Jew.
Chaim was raised Orthodox, though as the story begins, he’s moved out on his own and out from under his parents’ thumbs, so he’s started experimenting a bit and isn’t living a strict Orthodox life. But his mentality and his reactions initially are all Orthodox based, and that ultimately drives the story.
Vampire stories are usually horror stories, but not always. What genre does The Blood Is The Life fall under? Because it kind of sounds like it might be more of an urban fantasy tale than a scary one.
When I pitched The Blood Is The Life to Toni Weisskopf at Baen Books, I actually pitched it as an urban fantasy where the central character was a Jewish vampire. I well knew it wasn’t a typical vampire story.
But it’s also not a horror story, as such. This story is focused on psychological darkness, not supernatural darkness.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some hints of other things, though. A little bit more of that will be brought out in a story I wrote titled “Dark Angel,” which is free on Baen.com.
It also seems like it could be a little funny…
There are moments of humor scattered through the work. Jews are capable of humor even in their darkest moments. But I’d say it’s all situational, things that are funny in the moment. The nature of the story didn’t seem to lend itself to joking.
Vampires have been portrayed many different ways in fiction. In deciding how they’d behave in The Blood Is The Life, did you base them on any specific ones you’d seen in movies or TV shows or other books?
This is going to sound weird, but I’m not really a fan of vampire stories. I don’t like the old-school gothic horror stories like Dracula, I don’t much care for the paranormal romance stories — with the exception of Robin McKinley’s novel Sunshine — and I really don’t care for the glittery stories. The one series about vampires that connected with me, that I enjoyed, was Barbara Hambly’s James Asher Vampire series, which started with Those Who Hunt The Night. Those stories made sense to me, and I connected with the characters, most of whom were very rational. From the beginning, I set out to make my vampirism plausible and rational.
By my count, The Blood Is The Life is the 16th book you’ve written or co-written.
Yes, this is the 16th book I’ve had published.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on The Blood but not on any of your other books?
A secondary theme in the book is that it is what a literature teacher would call a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story. But it’s not a modern YA coming-of-age story in which an angst-ridden teenager is coping with a dysfunctional family or a dysfunctional society or both. It’s an old-school coming-of-age story, showing the growth of a young person — growth physical, mental, and spiritual. Part of the advertising for the book contained the phrase “A coming-of-age story like no other…” I think that’s an apt summation. And that is due in great part to the work of David Drake, whose stories I’ve been reading since the 1960s. Dave has crafted many a coming-of-age story in his lengthy bibliography, and when I realized that I was headed that direction with The Blood Is The Life, I looked to his work for inspiration and instruction.
Some of your other books were co-written with other people. You and Eric Flint, for instance, co-wrote The Span Of Empire and 1636: The Devil’s Opera. Did any of your previous collaborators have a big influence on The Blood Is The Life?
I collaborated with Eric Flint more than any other writer. Eric was my mentor for my entire professional career to date. He bought the stories for my first professional sales. He offered me a chance to collaborate with him and learn the craft of novel writing from him. He mentored me for the last eighteen years. Every milestone of my professional career, he was involved in it. There’s not a way that he hasn’t touched my writing career. And as I write this, it’s been five days since he passed away. Like so many other writers whose lives and careers he touched, I miss him terribly. I owe him a lot, and I can only pay it forward.
Some vampire stories are one and done, and some are part of larger sagas. Y’know, since vampires are ostensibly immortal. What is The Blood Is The Life?
The Blood Is The Life was not conceived as a series. I told the story I set out to tell in that book. It is complete.
That said, I confess that I left a few loose threads in the story that didn’t get tied off by the end. So a sequel is possible. And Baen has a history of convincing an author that a stand-alone book could become a series if it sold well. So it’s certainly possible.
Earlier I asked if The Blood Is The Life had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip the script, as kids don’t say anymore, and ask you if you think Blood could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think the story could be done as a movie, but I think it would actually fit a TV miniseries format better. I’m actually looking to pitch this to a TV producer.
I’m not a gamer, so I’m probably not the best one to judge its suitability for a game. I guess it could be the basis for a game, but it would take a whole lot of development work beyond what’s revealed in the book.
And if some TV producer decided to make The Blood Is The Life into a miniseries, who would you want them to cast as Chaim and the other main characters?
Daniel Radcliffe [Harry Potter] is a bit old for the part now, but Chaim would need someone of that appearance and, more importantly, that intensity.
For Mordechai, Benedict Cumberbatch [Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness], by all means. He just has the right build and the right ability to portray unusual characters.
For Rabbi Avram Mendel, I would go for either Chaim Topol [Fiddler On The Roof] or John Rhys-Davies [The Lord Of The Rings], although they’re both getting on in age. Either of them could portray the almost genius man of faith very well.
And for Yael Malka, I can’t identify a specific actress, but Yael has always looked like a young Sandra Bullock [Speed] with wavy hair in my mind’s eye, so someone with a similar build and carriage that could play an ex-military college student.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about The Blood Is The Life?
I said earlier that I set out to make the vampirism plausible and rational. I actually sat down and listed all the usual tropes of vampirism from popular books and movies. You know the list: can turn into a bat, silver is poisonous, holy water is bad news, can’t be seen in a mirror, etc. I sat down and divided them into two categories: mythic and plausible. Those tropes that I found plausible, I then worked at making scientifically plausible for the story.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Blood Is The Life, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
First, The Span Of Empire, which I co-wrote with Eric Flint. This isn’t a fantasy. It’s a space opera novel which was nominated for the Dragon Award for best military science fiction or fantasy novel in 2017. It deals with unusual life forms and people in crisis, so there is a certain resonance with The Blood Is The Life.
Second, my Blood’s Call duology: Blood’s Call and Blood’s Cost. This is a straight-up epic fantasy that is loosely based on Celtic themes, but the central character, Duncan corNial, goes through many of the same trials that Chaim has to face.