by Dobromir Harrison
Under the neon lights of Tokyo, vampires live out uneasy nights in a city where anyone can lose themselves. Dragged from her native England, one of the youngest vampires in Tokyo acts out her anger and grief through endless hollow nights. Rachel's existence has shrunken in on itself. Violence, blood, and running from her memories keep her going, the city serving as safe haven and prison.
When someone starts killing the vampires of Tokyo, Rachel will be forced to confront everything she's fought to forget for over a hundred years. Trapped between her vicious mentor and the implacable force of the monsters she shares the streets with, she will have to confront the most painful secrets of her past to survive... or she and the woman she loves won't see another night alive.
Gef: What was the spark that started Rachel rolling through your mind?
Dobromir: I’ve always loved vampire stories, from way back when I used to play Vampire: the Masquerade as a teen. The main spark for the story happened when I was living in Thailand and drove past a karaoke bar called Sweet Vampires, and it got me fantasizing about a foreign vampire living there. I should mention that the bar was in no way gothic or vampiric, it was just a silly name!
However, the main elements didn’t fall into place until I moved to Tokyo a few years later. I was in a huge city, surrounded by dark suburbs and abandoned buildings – places where monsters could live, skulking around in the quieter parts. In a way, Tokyo became the catalyst for the story, and placing Rachel in it just worked so well from the very beginning.
Gef: You've mentioned before that while Rachel the novel was hard, Rachel the character was easy. Was this a case where you let Rachel run wild? How far off did she veer from your original concept?
Dobromir: Honestly, she didn’t change that much in terms of personality. I put a lot of myself into her – my own insecurities, and how I felt as a foreigner and outsider in a different culture. The character almost appeared fully-formed when I started writing the first draft.
There were times I had to tone her down, though. One of my main ideas for the book was having a protagonist who you felt for and wanted to see succeed, but who did awful things to survive. In the early drafts, she was a lot more violent, and it was fun just letting her loose in the city to make a mess. I had to take a lot of it out later, though, when it became absurd.
Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting with your writing? What was the allure of Tokyo for you to set the story there?
Dobromir: Setting was everything in this book. Tokyo is a fascinating city, with so much history and culture condensed into this crowded area. It was a place I loved, and I wanted to write it well, make it feel real and not a cliché. I knew setting the story in Japan would bring people into it, and help the book sell, but I wanted people to feel they were right there along with Rachel, stalking the dark streets at night. I set many parts of the story in places I knew and lived, which helped the writing flow.
Tokyo is pretty safe for such a big city, and I used to go walking at night, just pick a direction and see what I found. Over time, I started to see the city as she did, looking for abandoned buildings where she could sleep, quiet areas where she’d be left alone, the love hotels where she would meet her girlfriend. The writing flowed quiet easily after that.
I think one of my strengths as a writer is getting the settings right, making them feel real and lived-in. Hopefully, that comes across to people reading the book!
Gef: Outside of zombies, vampires just might be the most oft-used monster in all of horror and fantasy. How daunting was it in trying to create a unique enough take on vampire lore?
Dobromir: I encountered that thinking quite a bit! When I had the book in a somewhat-finished state, and was looking for a publisher, I found a few companies that said clearly, “no vampires, werewolves or zombies!” It was somewhat disheartening, to be honest.
I think it’s important as a writer to have confidence in your ideas, though it’s not always easy. I wrote vampires because I love the genre, and I figured other people felt the same way I did. Luckily, that turned out to be the case. Vampires have been “over-used” throughout the 20th Century, but are still going strong. Recent books and films, like Let the Right One In, have shown that there’s still a market for well-written vampire stories.
Vampires are still one of the most potent horror monsters, and part of their appeal for me is how malleable they are in terms of what they stand for. They’ve been symbols of sexual freedom, drug addiction, LGBT rights, teenage lust, and so much more, and different audiences have taken different things from them. I don’t think that’s going to go away any time soon; there’ll be new takes on vampires along with the more traditional versions, and both will sell well and delight readers.
Readers’ reactions to Rachel have been great so far and no one, to my knowledge, has commented negatively on it being a vampire novel. That makes me feel I was right, that I’m not alone in being drawn to vampire fiction!
Gef: It seems you lucked out in the book cover department, too. How has the experience been for you thus far with Evil Girlfriend Media and seeing Rachel come to fruition?
Dobromir: The cover is amazing, isn’t it? That was Dean Samed of Conzpiracy Digital Arts, a very talented artist. Some of his other book covers are even better than mine! When I first saw the Rachel cover, I was thrilled, and I think it sells the book by itself.
You know, when I was looking for a horror publisher, one of the first I found online was Evil Girlfriend Media. I honestly thought right then and there that Rachel would belong with them. It was a bit of a surprise to me when they responded and I was proven right!
Rachel is the first book I’ve written, so I have nothing to compare it to, but the experience has been amazing. Katie Cord and everyone else at Evil Girlfriend are a delight to work with, and their enthusiasm for publishing great work is infectious. I got to work with amazing editors, like Lillian Cohen-Moore, who helped tighten up the writing and narrative. And now it’s paying off with Rachel selling really well.
Publishing can be a long, slow, nerve-wracking process, so working with people you respect, and who are excited about your writing, is such an important thing. I feel extremely lucky for having had the opportunity to do that.
Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?
Dobromir: I grew up reading a lot of Clive Barker, and I still love his mix of fantasy and horror, along with his world-building. His earlier horror stories were fearless and gruesome in all the right ways, and I hope my writing can come close to that.
Apart from that, the biggest influence on Rachel was probably the novel Stainless by Todd Grimson. It’s a modern-day vampire story set in LA, and it contains all the things I love about the genre; the gritty urban setting, the weight of history that comes with being an immortal monster, and amoral characters with a predilection for gore. The main relationship in that book feels so real to me in its complexity and weirdness, which is something I wanted to achieve with Rachel and her girlfriend Yoshi in my book.
Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?
Dobromir: Wow, there are so many answers I could give to this! I’m not a huge fan of writing advice in general, because every writer has a different way of working. I think as long as you can write well, are able to listen and respond constructively to criticism, and have the self-discipline to actually finish what you start, you have what it takes.
I guess the advice I hate the most is that you should force yourself to write every day. I know writers who do that – and they’re very prolific! – and I know writers who don’t. Life is complex and strange, and it sometimes gets in the way. There’s no shame with taking a break, or not being too hard on yourself, as long as you’re able to actually finish projects. Writing is a business, and it takes some dedication, but I feel we should also enjoy it.
Neil Gaiman said it best, I think, when he talked about writing one word, then another, then another, until you finish. How writers accomplish that is really up to them to discover for themselves, I think.
Gef: How can folks keep up with your future projects and other shenanigans?
Dobromir: I have a website, www.dobharrison.com, which also has my personal blog. At the moment I’m writing posts about the settings of Rachel and why I chose them. I’m also @dobharrison on Twitter, which is where I share everything. That’s definitely the best place to follow me. Feel free to let me know what you think of Rachel, good or bad, or ask questions about it!