Thursday, June 14, 2012

BATHED IN THE CRIMSON SHADOW (illuminating what's to come):

"Wicked Paints" short
(cover by
With the release of "Crimson Shadow: Noir", book #1 in my vamp-goth psycho-thriller series, and several short stories that tie into the series ("Wicked Paints, "Magic Murderer", and the soon-to-debut "Just Another Night" [June 15th]), I thought I'd take the time to better acquaint everybody with the series as well as give a "behind-the-scenes" look at what's gone into creating the Crimson Shadow world.

But first, for those who aren't already familiar with the premise of the book:

"Xander Stryker wants to die.

Ever since witnessing his mother's murder at the hands of his abusive stepfather when he was a boy, he has spent every day trying to reach that goal. But every night he's denied the death he craves.

Book #1, "Noir"
(cover by Para Graphic)
When his eighteenth birthday approaches, an unforeseen chance for change is offered when his life is plunged into chaos and he's dragged into a supernatural world of vampires and other creatures of darkness. Caught in the depths of this new reality, mysteries of his supernatural lineage begin to unravel and Xander is given the ultimate choice:

Continue on with his wretched life or begin a new one as the vampire he was always meant to be.

Unfortunately, the supernatural world can be just as unforgiving and brutal as any other and Xander's choice is met with disastrous consequences. Now, with the chaos of the new world pressing down on him, his past reemerges and once again threatens to crush him. Will Xander be able to use his new strength to conquer his fears, or will he succumb to his own bloody darkness...

... and allow it to finally destroy him."

Get to know The Literary Dark Prince
In the beginning (nearly 10 years ago), Crimson Shadow started as a means for me to vent; a personal outlet to let some inner demons wreak the havoc they so desperately wanted to while, at the same time, keeping the public and its many innocents safe. At that time, an obsession with death and darkness motivated me to research all of the many creatures of mythology and lore that thrive off of both--especially vampires. Since the beginning of human society, vampires have, in one way or another, existed in the minds of the masses and haunted their nightmares with the threat of robbing them of their life to sustain their own. Throughout history, creatures like this have plagued the minds of humanity and, for me especially, represented an escape from reality; allowing for the fantasy of transcending the mundane and limited life of a human to become something powerful and eternal. And this escape--this means of vanquishing weakness and overcoming abuse in a way that not only brought one above their tormenters, but into a whole new plane of existence--was what I craved at that time.
It was then that Xander Stryker--a boy who, like me, was self-destructive and tortured, but found a way above it all and into something so much greater than he could've ever imagined--was created.

At that time, there was no plan for the project outside of "traveling" with Xander and his journey into a world of vampires and finding the strength to fight not only those that would try to do him harm, but his own desires to harm himself. For me, there was no plan--no future--outside of telling Xander's story, and I was certain that the moment I finished the piece that I would leave it as my last effort before ending my life.

Learn more about To Write Love On Her Arms
(the suicide & self-harm prevention movement
that sees a donation for every copy of "Noir" sold)

But then Xander did something I'd never expected him to do…

He saved my life.

Somehow, in writing a story of a character who was supposed to encompass everything I could never be, I discovered strength and purpose. To add to my surprise, others--who had begun to notice a dramatic change in my mood and behavior and demanded to see what was bringing about that change--found Xander's tale (the tale that would later become the first book in the Crimson Shadow series, "Noir") worked just as well to give them strength and hope; encouraging others who had been suicidal to find their own means of overcoming their personal breeds of darkness. Seeing that this character's growth had such potential, I focused less on what the stories could do for me and more about what they could do for others. Over the years (five in total to polish the first book) I decided that I had found my calling and set my dreams on becoming an author so that I could entertain and enlighten the world (effectively deciding to shift from a nobody who wanted to die to somebody who wanted to provide the world with an enthusiastic storyteller).

As Xander grew more-and-more aware of the world of vampires--a world that I wanted to be laced throughout modern-day human society so tightly that readers would genuinely believe that they, too, could experience it if they turned down the right (or wrong) dark alley. My obsessive research, as it turned out, allowed for me to build and modify on a myriad of legends to create something that mirrored the classic lore while, at the same time, shining the light on the many myths in a way that readers had never before seen them.

The process of creating/modifying legendary "monsters" to create fresh and compelling creatures for my writing proved to be one of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks I could take on. So that others have an understanding of just how broad and complex the paranormal world stretches: I have studied global and cultural mythology for two years before starting to write Xander's story and, since then, have continued my studies (that's 12 years' worth of research--nearly half my entire life).

So far, for the universe that all of my writing has taken place in, there are more than four species of vampires (one of which has three different types) and a breed of shape-shifter that encompasses werewolves, werebears, werecats (any anthropomorphic "were"-creature you can imagine) called "theriomorphs" ("therio-" being a Latin root for "beast") or "therions", for short. Other creatures (like the elf/fairy-like "anaprieks", the bat-like "Gerlins", and many more) were included, as well, so that the world of non-humans--known as "mythos"--would be just as diverse and broad as the one we already know and see every day.

Being a fan of action/adventure films, comics, and Japanese anime/manga, I'd always seen the superhuman abilities of vampires, werewolves, and other such beings as a means of creating truly epic and (often literally) ground-breaking encounters and, of course, battles. If a being is strong enough to leap 30 feet into the air, punch through walls, move faster than bullets, or move anything and everything with their minds, then it stood to reason that a fight between such beings would be a true visual marvel. Now, because I've always had a cinematic mind (I'd dreamed of being a filmmaker at one time in my life), I've always written in a manner that I hoped would instill an image in the reader's mind that was not unlike the fluid visuals of watching a movie (and, with such elaborate visuals to work with, I had my work cut out for me).

"Magic Murderer" CS short
(cover by
Despite all the challenges associated with it, however, I found that building a whole new world to house my creations proved to be more fun than I'd ever expected. Because of the "rules" that I'd set in Xander's world, I had to research outside of what I was used to (psychology, philosophy, religion, biology, etc…) in order to make the creatures and their abilities believable. For the blood-drinking vampires, for example, I had the pleasure of interviewing a dentist to learn more about how the classic fangs that we all know and love would work in the real world and any biological traits that would come along with them. Magical practices and paralleling beliefs from different views were taken into consideration in order to fabricate a breed of spellcasting that ultimately defined every creature I'd created. More than anything else, though, was the realm of physics and how these glorious creatures would be capable of achieving their extraordinary abilities.
Though a lot of that effort may not be blatantly obvious in the writings, all of that time and research was not spent in vain. For a writer to be confident in their work, and, as a result, have their readers believe and accept what's being "fed" to them, there has to be a sense of continuity and believability (so that they can fully immerse themselves in their entertainment, audiences rely on a concrete understanding of what is "fact" when approaching a book, movie, comic, etc…). Research and development is, in many ways, one of the most important things for a writer to do when creating a new world (second only to following through with a project and seeing it to the end).

In preparing this blog post, I decided to open the floor (so to speak) to a few readers who had questions that I felt were worth publically answering. If you have any questions that aren't answered here, feel free to post them and I'll do my best to answer without spoiling any future elements in the series:

1)      Xander Stryker has a lot of challenges in his life, while you were writing his story did you have a hard time writing certain parts?
~One of the reasons book #1 took five years to complete (at least three years longer than ANY other piece I've written since) was because a great deal of scenes and emotions that I depicted were dangerously close to personal events that I was forced to step away from the project time-and-time-again to avoid slipping into depression (on several occasions, however, stepping back didn't help and, more than once, I suffered from minor breakdowns).

2)      Being this story from a personal perspective, were there certain characters who you found had a lot of traits from special/important people in your life?
~Absolutely! When approaching the process of developing the characters for the book I would often consider what I needed from that character (what purpose they held in the piece) and determined a fitting personality that would drive that purpose. A lot of the time, the personalities that I "programmed" these characters with was similar to one-or-more actual people in my life (some characters, like Estella, for example, were combinations of several people--in that case my fiancé and her determination and kindness mixed with the soft-hearted nature of my mother to create a strong and capable character who detested violence and killing). Other characters were a little more vague/less literal and were built more around a TYPE of personality rather than a specific person's personality (I'd always defined Marcus as the big brother/drill sergeant-type).

3)      We are briefly introduced to the character Estella; will she play a more important role in future books perhaps?
~Yes. At risk of going into too much detail and spoiling future books I can assure you that Estella's character will become VERY relevant/integral to the series.

Look for the next CS Kindle short,
"Just Another Night" on June 15th
(art by
4)      From his suicidal tendencies and depression and rage issues, do you think Xander will fully be able to control his emotions and become the legend he was destined for?
~One of Xander's greatest strengths (as well as one of his greatest weaknesses) IS his self-destructive tendencies and his anger. It's said that the worst kind of opponent is one who doesn't fear death, and it's the truth; if somebody doesn't care about protecting themselves and is focused SOLELY on destroying their enemy, then being shot or stabbed isn't a concern so long as they can eradicate them before bleeding to death
However, while Xander's emotions--like anybody else's--have a tendency to become their own hurdles, he's never beyond a point of seeing that his perception/approach needs to change for both his and his loved ones' benefit. For this reason, while he'll probably never be a Buddhist master of all things Zen, Xander will inevitably rise to meet the challenges he's faced with.

5)      Xander is both a sang AND an auric from what we’ve gathered; does he prefer blood drinking or psychic energy for feeding? If sang, does he have limits to which he feeds from with blood and if auric, do certain “emotions” taste better than others?
~Xander, as a human, grew up with a lot of darkness and suffering in his mind and, as a result, is somewhat reluctant to enter the minds of others (after all, why invite somebody else's emotional baggage into your life if you've already got too much of your own?) and typically prefers to drink blood if given the option. However, this reluctance doesn't keep him from doing what has to be done, and if he needs to unveil a hidden thought to solve a mystery or psychically drain somebody to get the strength he needs, he will do so in the blink of an eye.
As for limitations on whose neck he tears into: like any law-abiding mythos in the series, he makes a conscious effort not to feed on humans to avoid the complications that missing persons and piled corpses tend to arise. For the most part, sang vampires can sustain themselves on any sort of blood, and it's usually easier and safer to get this from animals and sources that store animal blood from slaughterhouses. However, the bagged stuff is to a vampire what freeze-dried rations are to a human; while it serves the intended purpose, it's rarely satisfying and never enjoyable. Like anything else, though, if he gets hungry enough, then ANYTHING with blood in it is an appetizing morsel.
In the end, any sort of feeding (blood or psychic) is a means of keeping up his strength and/or healing from any injuries he's sustained. For this reason, he doesn't "prefer" any blood-type or emotion over another, as long as it does what it's supposed to do.

      6)      Xander meets a lot of characters in book 1; out of all the characters you’ve introduced (Marcus, Stan, Estella, and The Gamer) which was your favorite to write about and which was your least?
~All of the characters I made are enjoyable in their own right, but, in the end, it was how those characters interacted with Xander--the way dialogue flows between them or how they behave around one-another--that defined my enjoyment of depicting them. With dialogue, I'm a big fan of the abrasive back-and-forths (they have a more natural feel and also allow for both tension and humor depending on the situation). With Marcus, I wanted a character who would become something like a big brother to Xander--knowledgeable and accommodating, but sarcastic and condescending at the same time--and, because of Xander's tendency to react quickly to his emotions, I loved having Marcus tease and poke at Xander. Because Stan was always somebody Xander got along with and respected there was always a sense of admiration and a drive to impress for Xander, and I liked how naturally he and Stan "meshed" on that level (to compare how Xander interacts with Stan-versus-Marcus would be comparing two cars driving headlong into one another-versus-driving side-by-side on a clear street). Amongst all the characters, however, Estella is the only one that genuinely calms and relaxes Xander and the only one you noticeably see him working to impress/make happy (in many ways I wanted to make Xander an abrasive jerk to just about anybody he encountered EXCEPT Estella). As for The Gamer… well, he's The Gamer; he's a fat, obnoxious, disgusting slob that everyone (including Xander) hates to admit is charming in his own rights (in large part because, despite knowing so much about magic and the world of mythos, he's NEVER bored with it, and it's very hard to genuinely hate somebody who's so damn excited about everything).
If I have to choose a favorite, I'd have to say that Estella's charms on Xander have always been the most peaceful and heart-warming for me to write while he and Marcus have actually succeeded in making me laugh WHILE writing them (so Estella wins, but Marcus is a very close second). For my LEAST favorite… well, I never enjoyed writing scenes with Kyle (but, then again, I was never supposed to). 
    7)      Marcus is hilarious! Xander and him seem to click easily. Will we get to see more of Xander and him in action?
Readers who like Marcus will be glad to see him in several of the short stories that are being released over the next couple of months; the two doing what they do best: killing things. In many ways Xander is still in training, and Marcus is never above using a job as a means of instilling a vampiric lesson (think Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars).

8)      You introduce The Gamer and he shows Xander a replica pair of pistols that are similar to the bad-ass Yin & Yang revolvers…Xander doesn’t seem too happy about it. Do you think he’ll ever be able to cope and possibly use that set in the future?
~If Xander has taught us nothing else, it's that EVERYTHING exists for some reason ;-)

9)      So, we know you have a book 2 coming out soon…what can we look for in that release?
~Book #2 will answer some open-ended questions from book #1 and provide some unsettling closure therein. Readers can also look forward to a FAR more confident Xander who's more excited about killing others than himself and a great deal more (*ahem*) growth between him and Estella. Book #2 will also bring readers deeper into the Crimson Shadow universe and introduce a great many more creatures as well as spotlighting the therions, which were never touched-down upon in very much detail in "Noir". There will be gnarliness--supernatural & acrobatic fight-sequences that will make fans of action flicks, video games, and Japanese anime squirm with excitement--and plot-twists and romance and heartbreak and blood.
Oh yes, there WILL be blood!

10)   Finally, how many books do you plan for the Crimson Shadow series? Do you have them all planned out?
~So far, as I have it planned, there will be seven books in total for the Crimson Shadow series (all of them planned out in some form or another) that center on Xander Stryker and his legacy (there's no exact number on how many short stories will coincide with the series, but there will certainly be more than a dozen). Past that, however, there is ANOTHER series that will spin-off from the CS series and feature a character with close ties to Xander (that series is estimated at about five books).

There you have it! Book #1 of the Crimson Shadow series and the chaos and insanity behind it's literary conception in a nutshell. I hope that this has helped to provide  some illumination (partial as it may be) to the series and the character of Xander Stryker as well as enticing you to learn more. The journey in creating and following in Xander Stryker's growing vampire legacy is far from finished for me, and for all you wonderful readers it has only just begun.

I hope that you'll join both myself, The Literary Dark Prince, and the ever-growing group of fellow readers known as The Legion in exploring the depths of the world of Crimson Shadow and all the other stories that have come into being from it. You can find "Crimson Shadow: Noir" (available in both paperback and Kindle formats) and all of the available CS-themed Kindle shorts on Amazon HERE!

Rock out, live on, & welcome to The Legion!
~Nathan Squiers