Since its initial release in 1991, the tabletop role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade has expanded to encompass video games, collectible card games, even a short-lived TV series, Kindred: The Embraced. But their latest expansion is a literary one. In Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) writers Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, and Caitlin Starling each put their own unique spin on the game’s Gothic horror world. Though as they explain in the following email interview, you don’t need to be a Vampire: The Masquerade player to enjoy them (or have written them, as the case may be).
Genevieve Gornichec, Cassandra Khaw, Caitlin Starling
For people unfamiliar with Vampire: The Masquerade, what kind of game is it, and when and where is it set?
Genevieve: Vampire: The Masquerade is probably best known as a tabletop role-playing game, but it’s so much more than that. It’s set in our world, but…not. The World Of Darkness itself is vast and intricate, and the lore is really, really cool.
And then what are each of your individual novellas about, and how are they connected to the game?
Caitlin: My novella, The Land Of Milk And Honey, is about an eco-commune in north Portland, Oregon, that just so happens to be managed by a vampire who’s prone to making disastrous choices when faced with cute girls. It’s full of sheep, butchery, community dynamics, and vampire politics. Like the other two novellas, it’s certified lore compliant and more or less takes place right now (albeit in a world not in the midst of a pandemic).
Cassandra: Mine, Fine Print, is about a techbro named Duke, who decides he’s absolutely smarter than the Clan Of Kings. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say that I used Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs as a guideline as I slowly obliterate Duke’s unfortunate unlife.
Genevieve: And my novella, A Sheep Among Wolves, is about a vulnerable, depressed college freshman named Clea who finds some purpose in her life when she falls in with a…questionable crowd. Like Caitlin mentioned, all three have a contemporary setting, although mine is definitely the lightest on the lore.
Aside from all being connected to Vampire: The Masquerade, is there any connection between your three novellas?
Cassandra: Nope. We were given carte blanche to pitch our own ideas without needing to worry about continuity in that sense.
That said, they did make sure to keep us from writing the same stories, and steered us along if one of us had an outline that was too similar to another.
Vampire: The Masquerade has a Gothic horror vibe to it. Do your stories in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us have one as well?
Cassandra: [flees into the night, haunted by the horror that is attempting to attach a concrete genre to any of their work]
Wait! Come back! I have more questions! Anyway, Caitlin…?
Caitlin: The Land Of Milk And Honey is, as strange as this may sound, a farmer’s memoir. It’s got horror elements to it, but that’s largely in how the reader’s opinions of the situation will clash with our narrator’s opinions. Structurally, it’s very slice-of-life.
And you, Genevieve, does your novella have a Gothic horror vibe?
Genevieve: Not really. There are moments of horror, but A Sheep Among Wolves definitely skews urban fantasy, just because that’s a genre I am super familiar with, and one I immediately think of when I think of vampires…more so than horror, weirdly enough?
So how familiar were you each with Vampire: The Masquerade before you started writing your individual novellas, and how do you each think that level of awareness, or lack of, influenced your stories?
Cassandra: Very. In fact, I think you could say that I’m way too familiar with the franchise. I know far too many of the sourcebooks by heart and have actually written for the game before.
Genevieve: I was not familiar at all. I didn’t have any friends who were into tabletop role-playing games until just a few years ago, and whenever I’d think about looking more into Vampire: The Masquerade I’d get totally overwhelmed and not know where to start. So for this project, I was so excited to finally get to see what it was all about.
Caitlin: Back in the mid 2000s, I got a lot of the tabletop rulebooks and several of the Clan novels from my local comic shop. I never got to play it myself, though. I just made characters and talked with one of my friends about it. I did get the entire Kindred: The Embraced series for a birthday or Christmas one year, and watched it at least two or three times all the way through.
All three of you have written other books. Genevieve, your first novel, The Witch’s Heart, came out in February; Cassandra, you’ve written other novellas, and have a novel The All-Consuming World, out September 7th, and a novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth, out October 19th; and Caitlin, you previously wrote a novel and a novella, and have a new novel, The Death Of Jane Lawrence, out October 5th. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you each feel had a big influence on the novellas you wrote for Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us, but not on anything else you’ve written?
Caitlin: So many farming memoirs! In particular, James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life and Sue Hubbels’ A Book Of Bees. As a genre, they’re comfort reads for me, and I’ve absorbed a ton from them (both in subject matter and style) that doesn’t usually have an outlet in my work. I jumped at the idea of writing a fictional farming memoir for this project, especially because it’s so unexpected.
Genevieve: I can’t think of any one specifically, but I relied a lot on my fond memories of the tropey young adult vampire novels I was reading when I was my main character’s age. So there was a lot of nostalgia involved in this for me, for better or worse. Trying to mix that with a set of parameters and lore that I was brand new to was definitely a challenge, but luckily we had the opportunity to seek brand guidance on this project if we needed it (and I definitely did).
How about non-literary influences; do you think your novellas in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us were influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Y’know, besides Vampire…
Genevieve: I don’t think so? Not consciously, anyway.
Caitlin: Nothing directly, though there’s arguably some overlap with management and / or farming games (like Graveyard Keeper or Stardew Valley).
Cassandra: Does exposure to the games industry’s stable of terrible men count?
Yes, sadly. … Anyway, as we’ve been discussing, your novellas in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us are all connected to the game Vampire: The Masquerade. But do your stories stand alone, or do they require someone to have played the game to understand and / or appreciate?
Caitlin: The Land Of Milk And Honey touches on some Camarilla (read: The Vampire Establishment out of Europe) politics and some Clan (read: different “types” of vampires with different skills and vulnerabilities) tensions, so some familiarity with the setting is helpful, but I was encouraged to make the novella accessible to everybody. I’d say familiarity with the source material really just gives more depth of nuance, and maybe allows readers to guess what might be going on with some of the events later in the story earlier than a fresh reader.
Cassandra: With Fine Print, I don’t think you need any prior knowledge of the World Of Darkness property. But if you have a familiarity with the game, you’re probably going to enjoy it a bit more because you’re going to be able to catch it when the novella winks at you.
Genevieve: You definitely don’t need prior knowledge of the World Of Darkness or Vampire: The Masquerade to understand A Sheep Among Wolves. But like Caitlin and Cass have said, if you’re familiar with the source material, you might catch what’s happening earlier on.
Finally, there are going to be some Vampire: The Masquerade fans for whom Walk Among Us will be their first exposure to your work. Do you each think your novellas are representative of your style as writer?
Genevieve: Oh gosh, no. The Witch’s Heart is a Norse mythology reimagining / historical fantasy, and my current project is also historical fantasy, and they’re exactly the opposite of A Sheep Among Wolves both stylistically and thematically. But I used to be an avid reader and writer of vampire books in high school and college, so it was nice to get back to my roots a little bit, even if I don’t think I’ll continue in the same vein.
Cassandra: I don’t know. I actually don’t think so. I write whatever catches my fancy at a time, and the books I produce are kinda different except for the lyricalness of the prose.
So then, Cassandra and Caitlin, if someone does like your Vampire novellas, which of your other books would you recommend they read next?
Cassandra: God, I’m so bad at these questions. I guess you could start with Hammers On Bone, which is a cosmic horror noir book, and lots of people seem to like that one.
Caitlin: I think my novel The Luminous Dead is your best bet if you enjoy The Land Of Milk And Honey. Both get really into the nitty gritty logistics of labor, have some things to say about capitalism, and feature unreliable narrators who do stupid things for pretty girls that they perhaps shouldn’t trust. (By that last metric, my novella Yellow Jessamine may also appeal.) But if you’re more of a gore and esoterica person, The Death Of Jane Lawrence has an abundance of surgical scenes and ritual magic.