Friday, January 07, 2005

The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Companions of the Night

Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde (Harcourt, 1995). Thinking she's stumbled into a crime scene, Kerry, 16, helps Ethan escape from the seemingly crazy men who claim he is a vampire. But soon after her family is kidnapped, Kerry realizes that maybe they weren't so crazy after. Worse, she can't think of anyone better to help her find vampires than a vampire himself. But will Ethan turn into the love of her life or the creature who takes it? Ages 12-up, but content is more innocent than, say, Klause's (probably okay for 10-up).

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

I am a writer because I love books. When I read a good story, it catches me up and carries me away. I love that feeling so much I've always wanted to be able to create that magic for somebody else with my stories, my characters. Since one of the *types* of stories I enjoy is vampire lore, of course I wanted to create my own vampire story.

There are lots of elements to the mythology of vampires, some of it downright contradictory--for example, how a vampire is made, or what will kill a vampire. I had to consider what was reasonable (given, of course, that vampires are made-up creatures so NONE of it is truly reasonable) and what would help to make a good story.

What was the timeline between spark and publication, and what were the major events along the way?

We're talking about ten years ago--I'm having trouble remembering what I had for dinner last night! My impression is that I wrote the story with no major problems in about six months. (But my husband points out that I say about every book: "No, I didn't have trouble writing any of the others, but THIS ONE that I'm writing NOW is really tough.") In late 1993 I sent it to my editor Jane Yolen--who, among many other fine qualities, was always quick to respond. Within two weeks, she called to accept the manuscript.

At some point while I'd been writing the story, I'd heard the Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." Being in a vampire mood, I heard the words in a different context than I'd ever taken them in before, and I thought it would be neat to quote the song--not in the story itself, but in the front of the book. I paid for the rights to quote the lyrics in the hardcover edition, but things got complicated when the book was due to come out in paperback. (At that point Harcourt was not doing its own paperbacks, but licensing the rights out to other publishers.) In the end, I decided not to use the lyrics in subsequent editions. But, because I paid for it once, I still claim "Unchained Melody" as MY song, and force my husband to dance with me whenever we hear it played.

The original hardcover (with a great cover by Cliff Nielsen) was published by Harcourt in 1995. The Bantam/Doubleday/Dell paperback (basically the same Cliff Nielsen cover, just cropped differently) came out in 1996.

When that license expired, Harcourt decided they wanted to do a paperback. Cliff Nielsen redid the cover (making it even better), and that was released in 2002.

Companions of the Night has come out in the U.K., in Italy, France, and Indonesia. On the internet I've found a picture of a Dutch edition--but I've never actually seen the book.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

There were no special challenges in writing the story or getting it published, but it is certainly the book about which I get the most mail. Some of this mail is very heart-warming, with readers telling me that the book helped get them through a difficult time. The vast majority of letters, though, are asking me about a sequel. While I can understand liking characters enough to want more of them, I have to say I think in the case of a vampire story this would be a mistake. In a one-time book, an author can make the vampire deceitful and mysterious in an intriguing way. But if a vampire is a recurring character, your choices are to not take him seriously but to make a comic character out of him; or you're writing about someone who is pure evil and who sustains his life by taking the lives of others; or you dilute the vampire by presenting him as reformed: just a regular guy now, who--sure--has some unusual dietary problems but mostly tries to make reparation for his previous evil by doing good deeds--most commonly, apparently, going into the crime solving business.

See also The Story Behind The Story: Vivian Vande Velde on Being Dead.