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[GUEST POST] Harris Gray of VAMPIRE VIC 2: MORBIUS REBORN on Vampire Lore, and Creating Vivid Worlds

harrisgray1Allan Harris and Jason Gray are the writing duo Harris Gray, authors of two novels, two screenplays, a Christmas play, and a collection of stories from Jason’s younger days. An early version of JAVA MAN was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers contest. Allan is a former guest columnist for The Denver Post. Jason owns Crowfoot Valley Coffee and the Crowbar, land of rumor and embellishment.

The Harris Gray collaboration began in Jason’s coffee shop. Allan wrote, and eavesdropped as Jason entertained his customers. One day Allan found a little yellow notepad waiting for him, crammed to the margins with Jason’s exploits. Allan typed them, touched them up, and called it good, but Jason had other ideas. As their tales converged and became inseparable, Harris Gray took shape…the writer and the storyteller.

Allan and Jason are both married with two kids apiece, but many people still consider them a couple. Vampire Vic launched the VV Trilogy in March 2013, with Book Two due this spring.

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

by Harris Gray

Writing book 1 of the Vampire Vic trilogy, one half of Harris Gray closed his eyes, stuck his finger on the map, smudged BBQ sauce his computer screen and identified a Transylvania town, Târgu Mureș, as the birthplace of the crucial vampire bloodline. Harmless enough…but as Vic’s tale unfolded, the ancient backstory insisted on coming to life, and reaching into the modern day. To save the world, a few VV characters need to understand what happened in 16th-century Romania. So we figured we should, too.

harrisgray2Maybe 15 years ago, we would have gone straight to the library to research Romania in books. (Books?! Ha-ha-ha, how can you find anything in books, short of reading them?) Today, we googled, and might have inadvertently bing’d.

What we found is amazing.

Starting with Wikipedia, we received a broad historical overview of Târgu Mureș. And then we followed internal cross-references to other Wiki pages and out onto the broader www…learning that this region was very Hungarian and coveted by the Habsburgs—who couldn’t manage to squeeze their Holy Roman tentacles south through the Carpathians’ Bran Gorge—in which lies a castle that may or may not have belonged to Vlad Dracul (the Impaler!)—who definitely built the Curtea Veche palace, as part of the Bucharest fortifications against the Ottomans—who never should have challenged Michael the Brave, a nationalist-minded boyar—which were rich dudes who wore crazy tall hats as a status symbol…

In other words, we went down all the virtual rabbit holes in which you can waste hours. Except that for an author, in those warrens lies research gold, a nugget here and there that brings your fictional world to life. Back in the day, such tunneling would have taken not hours but weeks. Only with today’s Internet do we have the luxury (i.e., time) to pursue every link and lead that strikes our fancy.

It was inside one of those tunnels where the www really flexed its muscle. We found reference to a 1970’s Romanian-made movie about the aforementioned Michael the Brave…a movie that exists on the Internet!

And it’s 6 hours long! And subtitled! And free! We were able to immerse ourselves in (the director’s representation of) 16th century Romania, during the exact period our backstory occurs. Even taking into account a couple naps, and half of Harris Gray continuously questioning why the “Romans” weren’t wearing sandals and togas, it was worth it. Prior to this century, this would have been virtually impossible. On the slim chance we had heard about this movie, we wouldn’t have been able to get our hands on it.

With such rich information about everywhere and anything on the screens before our faces, why would authors ever subject themselves to the pain, price and risk of air travel, language barriers, cutpurses, and time away from their Yorkies?

We are going to find out. Like a walking double-blind study, one-half of Harris Gray is always up for being in the test group, or just doing something stupid that yields a great anecdote, posthumous or otherwise. This September, half of Harris Gray is spending 10 days in Romania.

In full disclosure, we’ve wanted this for 40 years, ever since we laid eyes on Nadia Comaneci’s flexible spine (yes she was 14, but she was older than us, so it’s okay…?). But if by chance the BBQ sauce had slid that finger down the map, to say Stara Zagora in Bulgaria, we’d be going there instead. Because we’re writers!

And yet…(fuller disclosure)…it feels like a bit of a boondoggle. Which is truly a sign of the times—writers feeling like they’re wasting time and money traveling to their novel’s locale? Only with today’s Internet.

Half of Harris Gray, we’ll call him H.H.G., in a time we like to call B. (Before) H.G., wrote a yet-unpublished young adult novel set in western Colorado. A place he had never visited. But he imagined the hell out of it—he could feel that country, the rugged grazing lands on the foothills of the West Elk Mountains, the fields irrigated by the Uncompahgre River, the site of the dam that would change it all. This was before today’s Internet, imagined from the story of Los Angeles’s water theft as told by Marc Reisner in Cadillac Desert, and Chinatown, and a map.

The world H.H.G. created B.H.G. was vivid, emotional, real. But it might not be right. He won’t ever visit, for fear of making make-believe the world he loves to believe exists. And forcing an arduous re-write. (When the time comes to recast it in Harris Gray style, perhaps he will reluctantly send the other H.H.G., heartened by the prospect of a hair-raising adventure to be incorporated into the tale, semi-posthumously if necessary.)

We want to get it right. If our story takes place in Romania, or in Nadia Comaneci-less Stara Zagora, we want the details—and especially the feel—to be right. But as richly as humanity has virtually painted and reported on every single locale, is there much to be gained in leaving our seats?

Like brothers-from-different-mothers, the next best thing to an identical twin study, the writing duo Harris Gray intends to find out.

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