23 Hours…in 60 Seconds

Zombie and vampire guru David Wellington told Tor.com that his new book, 23 Hours, arose from him not being able to leave well-enough alone.

“The last vampire book in my series, Vampire Zero, ended with a lot of the characters dead or in bad situations. Most notably, Laura Caxton, the protagonist, was arrested for kidnapping and torturing a (human) suspect to get information on the vampires,” Wellington said in an interview. “I had to know what happened next—what Laura’s experience in women’s prison would be like, and what the last remaining vampire would do when she was out of circulation. So the book pretty much created itself.”

The book starts off with Caxton having been sentenced to jail for five years. “This isn’t some exploitation drama women’s prison, either—it’s a maximum security prison, and the conditions there range from brutal to nightmarish,” Wellington said. “Still, she’s alive and able to take care of herself. The last remaining vampire, Justinia Malvern, is still at large, however. The cops chasing her are inept and hampered by their leader, a bureaucrat from the U.S. Marshals Service who refuses to accept that hunting vampires is different from hunting human criminals.”

But like Wellington, Malvern can’t leave well-enough alone. “Malvern has a history with Laura Caxton, and a burning desire for revenge against her,” Wellington said. “She also has a desperate need for blood. She attempts to solve both these problems by invading and taking over the prison where Laura is being held. At first it appears that all she wanted was ready access to the prison population, as unwilling blood donors. Quickly, though, we learn her agenda is much more complicated—and for Laura Caxton, much darker.”

The prison in the book, SCI-Marcy, is not a real place, but is instead a composite of several different women’s prisons in Pennsylvania. “I did not want to get into describing a real jail and have it turn out I got some detail wrong or, worse, that I ended up making light of some very real tragedy,” Wellington said. “I had to design its layout, how it functioned on a day by day basis, and how it worked, or didn’t work, when things went wrong. I had to figure out how the vampires would get inside in the first place, and how Laura would get around after the place went into emergency lockdown. Call it worldbuilding in microcosm.”

Wellington always sets out to write thinking that he’s writing escapist fiction, but something of himself always finds its way into the books. “I’ve become quite a workaholic since I started writing full time—for a guy who doesn’t have a ‘real’ job, I’m working harder, with longer hours, than I ever did before in my life,” he said. “Laura’s struggle to find a balance between her humanity and her purpose is very close to my heart. It’s not easy. The things you do, the things you need to do, have a way of becoming larger than you are. That’s very much true for my writing, and even more so for Laura’s descent into becoming an unstoppable vampire killer. My personal issues got written larger than life, but I definitely could empathize with her plight.”

Not content to be merely a zombie and vampire guru, this fall, Wellington will be adding “werewolf” to his resume with his next book, Frostbite.

But before that, Wellington fans have more zombie goodness in store for them: He’ll be branching out in the realm of comics. Marvel Zombies Return is set to drop this summer in a five-issue event which will feature the writing talents of Wellington, along with Marvel Zombies 4 author Fred Van Lente, Patient Zero author Jonathan Maberry [Tor.com interview], and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies author Seth Grahame-Smith.


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