I am really excited to welcome the very talented author C. David Belt to my blog today. He has graciously allowed me to pick his brain and I think some of his answers to my questions might really surprise you! So sit back and enjoy the ride!
What inspired you to write your first book?
A dark image in my head that just wouldn’t go away and the story of an active LDS wife and mother who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. First, I had an image in my mind’s eye of a circle of vampires “ordaining” a new vampire. But in my head, I KNEW the new vampire was being forced into vampirism against his will, and yet I also knew that vampirism was VOLUNTARY. So I imagined the world’s first and only unwilling vampire in a world where vampirism is a choice. (It took me ten years to figure out how that was workable.) Then I heard the story of an active LDS mom who went into a hospital for a routine procedure, received a transfusion of tainted blood, and developed full-blown AIDS. Through no fault of her own and because of the rotten choices of someone else, her life and the lives of her husband and children were changed. She could have become bitter and railed against God. However, she chose to face her drastically altered life with a positive attitude and she chose to rely on the mercy her Father in Heaven. In her case, she received a priesthood blessing and was completely and miraculously cured. However, it was her choice to face her trial with faith and charity that inspired me.
Not easily, I can tell you. I struggled with the titles for both trilogy and the first book. I came up with some goofy titles before I settled on “The Children of Lilith” and “The Unwilling”. I bounced prospective titles off my proofreaders. Ultimately, I decided to focus on the fact that the main character is an unwilling vampire.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
You ALWAYS have a choice. Others can take choices away from you. They can take away freedoms or inflict evil upon you. But God will never abandon you. And even if you do not have the same choices you started with, you always have a choice.
Are any of the experiences in your novel based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Absofraggin’lutely! Carl Morgan (the unwilling vampire) is a decent LDS husband and father, a former Air Force officer and B-52 pilot, and a video game programmer. I’m all three (although I’m no longer in video games). Many of his life experiences are based on my own and those of people I have known.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Some people might say, “The scriptures,” or something like that. Don’t get me wrong: the scriptures have affected my life profoundly, and I don’t want to make light of that. But when I read the scriptures, I’m always looking for motivation: why did Moses or Nephi or Moroni say or do that? How can I relate that to me? What would I have done in that situation? That said, as far as literary influences go: “Dracula”, by Bram Stoker, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, “King Lear”, and “Hamlet”, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”, “A Christmas Carol”, and “Oliver Twist”, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, Mary Stewart’s “The Crystal Cave”, “The Hollow Hills”, “The Last Enchantment”, and “The Wicked Day”, J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”, Robert Heinlein’s “The Green Hills of Earth”, J. Michael Straczynski’s “Babylon 5” (OK, that’s not a book, but it could have been and it has been a profound influence), about one half or one third of a few of Stephen King’s books (wishing I could throw the rest of each away), Stephen R. Donaldson’s “Daughter of Regals”, and just about anything by Neil Gaiman, particularly, “The Sandman”, “American Gods”, “Anansi Boys”, and “The Graveyard Book”.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Neil Gaiman, because of his ability to make the mundane seem extraordinary and the fantastic to be expected.
Which genre are you drawn to as a reader?
I love stories of selfless courage. I enjoy smart science-fiction, hopeful horror, and GOOD fantasy. (I’m really picky when it comes to fantasy.) I also enjoy a good biography or retelling of history (e.g., David McCullough’s “John Adams” and “1776”). I enjoy Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. And I’ve read “Dracula” about eight times (the first time being when I was nine years old).
Do you prefer to read in the same genre as your WIP or do you mix it up?
I think I would always be comparing my own work to someone else’s if I did the former. I read whatever strikes my fancy at the time. However, when researching for a novel, I will read some very strange things. (While preparing for “The Children of Lilith”, I read “The Vampire in Europe”, which is supposed to be a history book, believe it or not.)
What book are you reading now?
I’m about halfway through the final volume of “The Wheel of Time” and “The Whisperers” (an anecdotal history of private life in Stalinist Russia).
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I think Ryan Larsen and his “Dawn Quealy” series has great potential.
If you could only write in one genre for the rest of your career, what genre would you choose? Why?
Wow. I’m currently writing a sci-fi novel. After that, I have an LDS horror/suspense novel planned. I suppose, if I had to be locked into one thing, it would be stories of moral courage set in any era.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Publisher and editor, Elizabeth Bentley at Parables. I was astonished that they gave my LDS vampire story a look. She has been a tremendous help and support. It’s not the type of thing they normally publish (although it fits… sort of).
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’m actually pretty happy with it. It’s not perfect, but I told the story I wanted to tell and I told it honestly. In the end, that’s what matters most.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’m currently working on a standalone science fiction novel with LDS themes and a main character who is LDS. “Time’s Plague” borrows themes (and character names) for Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and is set roughly a century or so in the future. It starts out on a penal colony on Callisto (one of the moons of Jupiter). The story centers on Edgar Cordell, an innocent man, who has been sentenced for life (there can be no parole and no escape from the Hades penal colony) for a murder he did not commit. He was framed by his ex-wife and his best friend. The prison has no warden and is ruled by the prisoners, all of whom are male. It is literally a hellish place populated by murderers and rapists, the worst of the worst. New prisoners and supplies are dropped from orbit and no ship ever lands on Callisto… that is, until a shuttle crash-lands. There is only one survivor—Edgar’s ex-wife, the one person in the universe he hates more than any other. No woman can survive on Callisto. Edgar has to figure out a way to get her off-world and protect her from the other inmates.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The start of each chapter. Unless the last chapter ended on a cliffhanger, I stew about the perfect way to start a chapter and hook the reader from that first line. I also find fight-scenes to be especially difficult.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Neil Gaiman (at least for now), because of his ability to tell an interesting story about absolutely anything.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I like to set stories in places I know. I travel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir every other year. I find some interesting locations in which to set scenes.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For a decade I tried to write the story as a mainstream (i.e., non-LDS) book, but I could never quite work things out in my head. It was hard to kick against the pricks, I suppose. When I surrendered and made the main character LDS (and set it in Utah), everything just snapped into place. The central themes are agency, the atonement, and courage to do what you know to be right. You just can’t fake the first two. So I guess the answer to your question is that the hardest part was surrendering.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned so much. I didn’t know what a “Tom Swifty” was until my editor pointed them out and had me essentially eliminate the form. The most surprising thing was when Moira MacDonald (the female main character, a Penitent vampire) spoke up in my head and said, “I would nae ever say that, laddie! Here’s what I’d say…” And it changed the course of the book. I love it when a character does that now.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Tell the story you want to tell, even if you’re sure nobody else will want to read it. I’m not saying that you should ignore your audience, but rather I’m saying that you should be honest in your storytelling. Give your audience the RIGHT ending, even if it isn’t the fairytale ending. Don’t cheat; you’ll never be happy with your story if you force the ending you want. And above all, LISTEN to your characters. They know who they are better than you do (at least on a conscious level).
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. I sure have. Remember that you ALWAYS have a choice. No matter how dark your way gets, God will never abandon you.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
Writing Carl Morgan was simple. His life experiences are, in large part my own (except for the whole vampire thing). Writing Moira? Now that was another story. I had to research 18th century midwifing, Scottish customs and beliefs, the Battle of Culloden in great detail, and other historical settings and customs. I had to get into the head of Michael, Rebecca, Chikah, Benjamin, Lilith, and the other villains. What I found there was surprising, especially in the case of Benjamin, the child vampire. I did have one tremendous resource, however: being in the Tabernacle Choir. If I have a medical question, I have a number of doctors, anesthesiologists, and nurses I can go to. If have a legal question, there are a few lawyers in the Choir. There are Choir members who help with translations into German and Latin. One Choir member (a BYU professor of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Roman History, and Ancient Scripture) helped invent the “Adamic” language I used. Another helped with Australian slang. I could discuss scriptural issues and obscure matters of church policy with experts. I even went to Lloyd Newell (who was once an anchor at CNN) to learn how cable news stories are vetted. In fact, if I need an expert on just about any topic, there is probably a Choir member who can help.
Tell us one thing that would surprise us to know about you?
Indulge me with two things.
I LOVE Irish drinking songs. I laughed myself silly when I discovered that the glorious song about the resurrection which I recorded with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was originally (before it became a folk-hymn) an old Irish pub song about a dying fiddler planning his wake (involving large quantities of whiskey).
Also, I collect medieval weapons. I have more than thirty pieces, including swords (copper, bronze, and high-carbon steel), axes, spears, a mace, a flail, a war hammer, a halberd, a fighting targe, and an antediluvian spearhead (4,500 years old). I also collect medieval armor. I own most of the swords featured in “The Children of Lilith”. (And yes, I’m more than willing to give tours. But be warned: if you show the slightest interest, I’ll talk your ears off.)
What is your favorite type of food?
Kalbi (a Korean form of BBQ ribs), although a really good French onion soup is a close second.
Do you have a song that you'd consider the theme for your novel?
The Unwilling: “Kingsfoil” (a.k.a. “If You Could Hie to Kolob”, but an instrumental version played sad and wistful).
The Penitent: “Amazing Grace”.
The Prophecy: “Abide With Me, Tis Eventide”.
Time’s Plague: “Blue Star on My Horizon”. (I actually wrote this one myself, and it’s featured in the book.)
extensively around the Far East. He served as an LDS missionary in South
Korea and southern California (Korean-speaking). He graduated from Brigham
Young University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a minor
in Aerospace Studies. He served as a B-52 pilot in the US Air Force and as
an Air Weapons Controller in the Washington Air National Guard. When he is
not writing, he sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and works as a software
engineer. He collects swords (mostly Scottish), axes, spears, and other
medieval weapons and armor. He and his wife have six children and live in
Utah with an eclectus parrot named Mork (who likes to jump on the keyboard
when David is writing).
Get Buy links and learn more about The Children of Lilith Series at his website:
If you feel so inclined drop a comment! C. David Belt would love to hear from you!