Exclusive Interview: BLOOD PROPHECY Author Stefan Petrucha

Stefan Petrucha (Author) | Blood Prophecy

We recently had a chance to interview Stefan Petrucha, author of a variety of science fiction books and comics (you may remember his works in the X-Files comic series that won him a lot of critical acclaim). His new book, Blood Prophecy, follows Jeremiah Fall as he tries to prevent an artifact with immense power from falling into the wrong hands.

You call “Blood Prophecy” a “historical paranormal” novel, was it difficult to take these two separate genres and combine them into such a compelling story?

Stefan Petrucha: I found it more exciting than difficult. Though it does add an extra layer of complexity in some ways, if you think about, from our modern perspective, the first vampire stories (Lord Ruthven, Camilla, Dracula) are in historical settings. It almost seems more natural for a vampire story not to be present day. That aside, exploring the concept in an earlier context helps, I think, to shakeup all those preconceptions, come at them from a fresh angle.

Similarly, it’s a chance to look at the myth from different cultural perspectives. Aside from being a rip-roaring Indiana Jones-ish adventure tale, Blood Prophecy has several culture clashes at its heart – There’s a look at Puritanism, Native Americans, Napoleon’s intellectual atheists, the church, Islam and Gnosticism, all tied together in what I hope are interesting ways.

It helps that I’m a factoid freak, fascinated by odd little details. Napoleon’s invasion of Europe held particular interest – his savants are on the edge of developing many modern scientific ideas, yet at the same time many believed that hieroglyphs, which no one could read, were magical. They had a proto-version of evolutionary theory, but used powder made from mummies as a medicine. In a way it’s like the Beatles, right before Sgt. Pepper, or the works of Phillip K. Dick – you can feel them pushing at the edge of something bigger, or at least different, but still confined by their old paradigm.

In the end, I think, we only look at history to try to see ourselves in a fresh perspective.

I really enjoyed the attention to detail of the historical aspects of Jeremiah’s story, especially considering the wide span in time and distance it covers. How did you go about researching these different time periods and events?

Stefan Petrucha: Thanks. I’ve read the Bible and Gnostic texts previously, so I had a background in that. In fact, Bandias, the main threat in the book, first appeared in a comic book published by Caliber Press back in 1996, around the peak of my notoriety as writer of Topp’s X-Files comic. It was called The Bandy Man and featured art by Charles Adlard (The Walking Dead), Miran Kim (X-Files) and Jill Thompson (Sandman & Scary Godmother) – each drawing a different time period.

For the rest, I was fortunate to discover some great resource material, such as Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates on the Puritans. Thanks to my sister in law, Sheila Kinney, I was also able to read the now little-known, and fairly bizarre, Young Puritans series by Mary P. Wells Smith (Little, Brown and Company, 1899).

Among many other sources, I read the excellent, Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt by Nina Burleigh (Harper 2007) and Discovery at Rosetta by Jonathan Downs (Skyhorse Publishing 2008). Burleigh’s book in particular is a great read.

Is there any chance we’ll see another story involving Jeremiah Fall?

Stefan Petrucha: That’ll depend on sales. Reviewer and reader response have been fantastic, but it’s a tough market out there! Thus far I’ve either managed to stump the usual vampire-reader, or missed the curve on the undead’s popularity.

Still keeping my fingers crossed, I did indeed plot a second book, working title Blood Legacy. I originally intended to tell Jeremiah stories from different eras, so one book could take place during the Industrial Revolution, the next WW I. My editors felt a direct sequel would be more appealing, so the follow-up is set about a year after the first book, after the Louisiana Purchase. The opening features Hylic being attacked by a female vampire, who claims it was Jeremiah who killed and turned her. From there, the story involves a purported real-life effort by Aaron Burr to start his own country, and a hunt for the race that originally imprisoned Bandias in the stone. Like the first book, there’s a lot of globe-hopping.

You have had lots of success in both the book and comic book worlds, do you prefer one over the other? Why?

Stefan Petrucha: In a “pure” sense, no – I think they’re both fantastic mediums. In practice, I lean more toward novels – mostly because there are fewer moving parts and therefore fewer things that can go wrong. Since I’m no artist, in comics, I have to have the right partner. While I’ve been lucky to have worked with several great artists, and there’s a wonderful strength in a team that works, the doubling of input also creates a greater possibility for aesthetic or financial failure. With a novel, I have only myself to blame, and no one else to consult when I have an idea I want to run with.

How do you approach writing, is it something you do every day or do you have your own special process?

Stefan Petrucha: The mortgage focuses the mind wonderfully. Since this is how I make a living, and my advances are not yet in Stephen King territory, I have to write every day.

As far as process goes, I know that some writers don’t work from outlines, preferring to discover things and surprise themselves, but I do. Imho, unless you have some idea where you’re going, or at least where you might be going, as a writer you abdicate all sorts of tools, foreshadowing, for example. Importantly, my outlines are not set in stone at all – they’re more something to have a creative dialogue with, the outline evolves with the story.

For the actual prose, I tend to write in sequence, but feel free to jump around whenever inspiration strikes. To that end, I keep a notebook for each book. Whenever I have a stray thought or a bit of dialogue, or a scene description, or even a cool single word pops into my head, or a scene description, I jot it down and number it. I don’t know why I number the notes, probably just so it’s easy to tell where one ends and another begins. At some point, I go through the notes and either stick them into the book, or abandon them.

The creative part, that first draft, is very exciting and rewarding, with all the highs and artistic angst – better than drugs! But, that said, rewriting is key to the process and full of its own rewards. For me, it’s more relaxing, more like doing a crossword puzzle. That may sound duller, but I get an equally big kick when I feel I’ve gotten a paragraph or a scene just right.

Do you have a favorite snack or beverage when you’re writing?

Stefan Petrucha: Not really. I lean toward comfort foods, but when I’m “carried away” the only thing on my mind is the reality of the book. I do like to drink something though. Used to be diet drinks, but my wife considers them poison, so I’m currently sipping away at a Snapple.

You’ve talked in the past of your fondness of science fiction in reading and writing, do you also watch a lot of sci-fi tv shows and movies? What are your favorites?

Stefan Petrucha: A complete list would be huge! Going back, there are the Whale Frankenstein films. Quartermass and the Pit and Colossus: The Forbin Project come to mind. On the horror side, there’s the original Night Stalker film. I adored Buffy, until it got tired, currently love Dexter though I haven’t seen the newest season yet. I’m also a big fan of 1990s Japanese Horror (Cure, The Ring). More recently I enjoyed Let the Right One In and (though not technically horror) The White Ribbon.

Good Science Fiction is tougher, especially on TV. Firefly is an all-time favorite, including the film. When Joss Whedon is on his game, he’s a master. I enjoy the newer Dr. Who, enjoyed Torchwood. Lately? Fringe is a lot of fun. I suppose Iron Man is SF. I liked Avatar and Inception, but didn’t gush over either.

What were your favorite books when you were growing up?

Stefan Petrucha: Again, a huge list. I cut my teeth on comic books, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, and then gravitated to science fiction and horror, Asimov, Ellison, Phillip Dick, Poe, Lovecraft. From there I got into things like Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig, Kakfa, Samuel Beckett, Shakespeare. In comics, I also loved Frank Miller and Alan Moore, but by then I was in my twenties.

Are there any upcoming books or comics you’re working on that you can tell us about?

Stefan Petrucha: Sure – on the comic side, the parody series I’m doing with Rick Parker at Papercutz is a lot of fun. The first book is out, Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring. Next month, we’ll see Breaking Down, a Twilight parody, co-written by my daughter Maia Kinney-Petrucha – which is a major hoot.

In the land of prose, I’m insanely excited about Halloween 2011. That’ll see the publication of the first of two novels from Ace books featuring Hessius Mann, zombie detective. Book one is called Dead Mann Walking, a very unique take on the zombie genre, if I do say so myself.

(Author Photo Credit: Sarah Kinney)

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