Horror author J. F. Lewis told Tor.com that his latest novel, ReVamped, is the sequel to his first novel, Staked, and is, as you might guess from the title, about vampires. What you might not guess is that for publishing those books, Lewis was excommunicated from his church.
And what kind of novel brought on an excommunication? Ironically, the basic idea for the series has always been to take vampirism a step or two back toward the “things you really don’t want to turn into” side of the spectrum. “So they can’t eat or taste food, which means most of them like to watch people enjoy food they can’t eat but still crave,” Lewis said. “All of their bodily fluids have been replaced by blood, so kissing and the like can be a bit much for the squeamish. Having said that, I also wanted to provide a main character who wouldn’t whine about it all. Eric isn’t exactly happy being a vampire, but he’s not a complainer, and he, like most people, is willing to do whatever he needs to do in order to survive.”
Tabitha, the female protagonist, arose from a need to see Eric through someone else’s eyes. “Both Staked and ReVamped evolved very naturally around those two main characters, both of which are so real to me that they sometimes make their own decisions, refusing to go in the directions I’d intended and forcing numerous rewrites,” Lewis said. “A large portion ReVamped, was tied into two very simple desires: I wanted to give Eric an undead car and I wanted to make Eric deal with Vampire High Society. For a straight forward ‘man’s man’ like Eric, dealing with those folks is one of his worst nightmares.”
In the first novel, Lewis takes almost everything away from Eric: His club, the mortal love of his life, his car, his girlfriend, his best friend… even his corporeal form. “ReVamped begins only seconds after the end of Staked; it’s about Eric doing what he can to rescue the soul of someone very important to him, kill the new baddie whose gunning for him, and try to salvage what he can,” Lewis said. “Tabitha’s portion of the novel focuses on what Vampire High Society is like and her struggle to come to terms with it.”
In Staked, it was important that readers meet the city itself as a character. “In ReVamped, just as readers get to know Eric, Tabitha, and the other characters better, they get to know Void City better, too,” Lewis said. “Not only does Eric go to parts of the city we hadn’t explored in ReVamped, but some of it involves delving more deeply into vampire politics. One of the key revelations in the book is brought about because Eric has noticed the weird way High Society Vamps tend to face the person in the room who holds the most power or is in charge. It’s a sign of respect. So later on when Eric notices folks aren’t focused on the person they’re supposed to be focusing on, a light bulb goes off.”
Lewis learned a lot about himself and about the writing/publishing process from his experience with Staked. “Editing that first novel took far longer than writing it did, and a lot of the credit for the spit and polish of the final version goes to my agent, Shawna McCarthy, and my editor at Pocket, Jennifer Heddle,” Lewis said. “The most significant challenges came after Staked was published… I don’t want to get into it here because it mostly had to do with being excommunicated from church. For several months, writing anything to do with Eric or Tabitha was like pulling teeth. I’d have these little panic attacks and push Eric aside and start writing something else.”
(For a full account of Lewis’s excommunication, see this interview with Lewis by Alethea Kontis.)