Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today, Damian. Why don’t we start by having you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
Thank you for inviting me to participate! I read this website regularly for the reviews, commentaries, and discussions, so it’s fun to participate in this way. As for my background, I have a doctorate in history and teach college level courses. Writing my horror novels is my second career/passion. I started writing fiction as an outlet, because I had all of this creative energy and all of these ideas that wanted to escape. I live in the Chicago area with my partner of 19 years and two dogs. The dogs are actually in charge. They secretly help with writing my novels, too.
When did you discover your passion for writing? Was there someone in particular who encouraged and inspired your love of storytelling?
I think that I always had a passion for writing. My mother loves to tell the story that I made up stories in preschool and had the teachers write them down for me, so that I could come home to share them with everyone. I doubt they had anything to do with gay horror or romance! But I’m sure they were brilliant. But through high school and graduate school, I focused on history and thus true stories. It was toward the end of graduate school that I began dabbling in the fiction side of things and putting those stories and dreams to paper. I think that I was inspired by Anne Rice more than anyone. Her ability to tell a story with vampires and witches but that seemed so real and heartfelt really spoke to me.
Your upcoming release, The Vampire’s Quest, is the long awaited, much anticipated follow up to The Vampire’s Angel. Would you set up the premise of the series, then maybe give your readers a small taste of what they might expect from your vampires, Xavier and Thomas?
The series follows the lives of a group of primarily gay vampires, particularly Xavier and Thomas, who came together during the French Revolution. I don’t want to steal the thunder from my first novel, The Vampire’s Angel, if you haven’t read it! But they went through a long and difficult courtship before ending up together.
The sequel takes up a few decades after that, with Xavier called by an archangel to go on a quest; this quest, however, mandates that Xavier break the laws of vampires without immunity from the Vampire Council, who will sanction him if they catch him. This includes the possibility of a death sentence. This quest forces Xavier to hide from Thomas, because Thomas would never allow him to go such a dangerous mission. Thomas searches the globe for Xavier and gets their best friend, Anthony, to help him, but it’s complicated because Anthony is on the Vampire Council. Xavier has to get his aging sister (not a vampire) to go with him to help.
How did you come up with the idea for this series?
I have always loved vampires, and how you can mix horror and romance within their lives. They allow you to play with eternal life, and it makes it easy to give them a lot of wealth, so money doesn’t complicate things! When I wrote The Vampire’s Angel, I set it during the French Revolution because that’s one of my favorite periods to study. I had no idea that it would become a series, until after I published it and the second story came to me. I wanted to see how Xavier would react if he ever came into contact with slavery in America before the Civil War. Now, I am almost done with the first draft of the third book in the series. It’s taken on a life of its own, which is really exciting to me.
Is there a message you hope readers will take away from the books?
I want them to find their own message, you know? It’s always dangerous to me for an author to throw out their idea or hope for the novel, and then readers only look for it. A beautiful thing about literature is the inspiration for creativity and imagination that it inspires in each and every reader’s unique sense of the world, the story itself, and for each character. That being said, all of my novels focus on relationships, love, and family. That is certainly central to The Vampire’s Angel. The Vampire’s Quest still has the relationship element but infuses a heavy dose about true friendship.
Outside of the fact that these men are vampires, do you feel they resemble you or people you know, in any way?
Ha! “All characters are completely fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.” I have to make that disclaimer or my brother always thinks the characters are about him. Seriously, I avoid making any one character a complete representation of someone that I know – but they are often conglomerates of people. For example: Catherine, Xavier’s sister, is a combination of three or four people in my life. Xavier and Thomas are actually different sides of me, with other unique characteristics mixed it. Anthony has a lot of my spouse, Paul, in him.
Were you able to draw at all upon any of your own life experiences when writing the books?
Of course! Thus far, the series is set in the past, thus relying on my academic training. And I always have personal experiences, feelings, and emotions that play into what I write. I think it’s the best way to impassion your writing and make it feel real. Especially with ghosts and vampires, you need that connection to reality so it doesn’t get too far out there. My second novel, Secrets in the Attic, very much relied upon my coming of age and coming out experiences, because the main character, Jaret, is going through that.
Do you typically outline your plots before you begin the writing process, or do you write in a more freestyle fashion?
I’m too anal retentive not to have an outline. 🙂 The “freestyling” happens once I establish the outline and get lost in the story. For example, there’s a new vampire in the second book, Harriet. In the outline, she was in one scene briefly and then disappears. But she came to life and demanded a spot, to the point that she became an important figure. She’ll even be in future novels now!
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received with respect to the art of writing? How did it change the way you approach your craft?
Two things that I can think of were crucial for me to learn. One: carve out consistent time to write. You just have to keep at it. Even when you’re really busy and working a “real” job or jobs, you need time every week to stay with your story or stories. Two, you have to share it with people along the way, and then – most importantly – accept their suggestions and criticisms. Nothing is perfect the first time around. Yeah, it’s your baby and you should be proud of it. But you’re not Moses and these aren’t the ten commandments from a burning bush! Edit. Make it stronger. Listen to others.
What is the question you’re most frequently asked by your fans?
Actually, the one that you asked above. They always want to know if the characters are based on actual people or if I just make them up.
What is your most memorable fan experience?
I did a book promotion in Denver last summer at a bar during Drag Queen Bingo. I’m pretty shy, so it was a whole thing just for my sister, who had arranged for my participation in it, to get me to go on stage and be there in front of everyone! But the guy who won the copy of The Vampire’s Angel was so excited that he had won, and nervous to come over and get it from me while I personalized it. It broke my heart in a way. I’m thinking, I’m just Damian, a gay writer. It was very touching and sweet.
When you have the chance to sit down and enjoy some quiet reading time, what sorts of books are you most likely to pick up? Who are your favorite authors?
My fun reading is mostly horror, and specifically gay horror at that. Because my job is to read and study history, my fun reading is to get away from history completely. Anne Rice is my hero. Then I like Rick R. Reed, Greg Herren, Michael Schiefelbein, and Gregory Maguire. Bart Yates has written wonderful novels, too. Plus, I have been totally captivated by Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series. I swoon through the whole book every time!!
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies?
Hobbies: hanging with my dogs, jogging, spending quality time with friends, reading, and watching professional sports. Paul has turned me into a wine snob, too, so we enjoy a very good wine from time to time.
If time travel were possible, what time period(s) would you most like to visit? Why?
Probably the late 1700s because there were so many amazing and brilliant people around. But, and this is a big but, I’d need something to keep my nose constantly plugged because I’m overly sensitive to bad smells.
If you had the opportunity to sit down to dinner with one famous person, either past or present, who would you choose and why?
Cher! My favorite singer. I know, how gay is that? But that would be fabulous. Or Mika. He’s my new favorite singer. If it was a dead person, it would have to be Eleanor Roosevelt. I very much admire her life and dedication to making the world better. Even with her flaws and mistakes, she stands out as someone who tried to do the right thing and put personal triumph or prejudices aside for the betterment of humankind.
How would you describe your sense of humor? What makes you laugh?
I LOVE laughing. Almost everything makes me laugh. I tend to be sarcastic. Making fun of right-wing nuts is always good for a chuckle. The hallmark of a good friendship for me is that I sit with the people I love and we just laugh a lot. I am drawn to people like that. Life is serious enough and will bring its ups and downs, so along the way enjoy it – laugh!!
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Bad breath. Whew. And selfish people in general, who get so lost in their own little world, they can’t see how they affect others with what they say or do.
Do you have a favorite personal mantra, quote, or saying that describes your outlook on life and the way you approach each day?
My best friend, Dave, always quotes his mother: “This ain’t a dress rehearsal.” That pretty much sums it up. Have fun. Live life to the fullest. I also learned that from my uncle, who died of lung cancer a year after he retired. All through his life, he took time to do the things he loved. It made a difference for him and all of us as he was dying. Don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly depressing and deeply sad. But there was a sense of peace that he hadn’t waited to the end to do all these things he wanted to do. He had tried to do them as he went along. Embrace the people, challenges, and realities around you each and every day. Strive for a sense of calm, and do the things that you want to do. Make them happen.
Do you speak more than one language? If so, which one(s)?
Oh my, no. I am terrible with languages. I desperately wish that I could speak another language. It’d have to be French. I have reading knowledge of German because I had to learn it in graduate school. But that’s it.
Of all the modern conveniences, which one would you most likely say you couldn’t live without?
What’s modern? I’m a historian, remember. So central heat and air conditioning. 🙂 More modern – the computer. I love getting my news from it and how much it enhances the writing process.
What’s next? Do you have any other works-in-progress you’d care to share with us?
Oh yeah! My publisher just picked up my fourth novel, Dark Sorcerer Threatening, which is tentatively scheduled for publication this November. It’s a romance/thriller/horror novel, set in the distant past within a secret kingdom of men who love men. And I am getting ready to submit to Regal Crest the third in the Vampire’s Angel Series in a month or so – The Vampire’s Witch. Finally, I just started a book that has pirates in it. Arr, matey.
Thanks again for spending some time with us, Damian. It’s been great having you with us. Will you tell us where we can find you on the Internet?
And we’d love if you’d consider sharing a favorite excerpt from one of your books with us.
Sure! How about a passage from The Vampire’s Quest. I find this scene moving and painful in its articulation of friendship. Xavier’s dear friend, Anne, is dying after being tricked by a demon. She was trying to save her grandson, who had been captured into slavery but got tricked instead:
Xavier believed every word that Anne told him. She never lied or made things up. If Anne told him she had this interaction with a demon, then it happened. It sent shivers down his spine.
“Oh, my friend, was I stupid. I should have known that a desperate person gets tricked by the demon. Happens every time. I just so needed to save Duncan. I said yes, too quickly, I said yes. The minute I uttered the word, the spirits that I had saved from the black realm soared away, crying in agony as the demon took possession of them. I screamed at him to uphold his part of the bargain. He stalked back to me, black as night except for those burning eyes, and smirked. ‘Slavery. They took him to slavery. He’s safe and sound now in the South.’
“And he disappeared. I screamed again at him. I desperately sought to get him back. But we had made a bargain, and I had foolishly accepted it. All these years, I refused the black magic. All the care I ever took not to get involved. In one stupid moment of desperation I let it all get away from me. Gone were the spirits I protected, and I glanced down at that moment to see this emaciated body. He had kept his promise to tell me what happened, but it did me no good. It meant nothing.” Anne stopped talking as she labored to breath, sweating now from the painful memories.
“So you called for me.” Xavier sat beside his friend, who nodded her head slightly.
“I’m so sorry,” Anne whispered. “You know how I feel about such things. I don’t expect you to do it. I don’t need repayment for anything I ever did for you, it’s not about that. It’s just-” Anne drifted off, crying.
“It’s just that you were desperate.” Anne nodded her agreement. “And friends never abandon each other. Ever. I’ll find him.”
As if finally hearing what she needed, Anne’s hand went limp in Xavier’s. Her open eyes stared into the vacant night, and the fire went out completely. A chilled breeze blew under the bridge, carrying with it the unsavory smell of death.