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“I had lied to myself from the very beginning, deceived myself into believing that I was being fanciful and overly imaginative. Surely such monstrosities only existed in nightmares? Yet I had lived through a nightmare these past months, and that was no dream at all. I was still fighting against the awful truth, not wanting to give in, searching my mind for a logical explanation—but there was none. And the most horrible realization of all was that I had known, somewhere deep inside, ever since the day I first set eyes on Vladec Salei. Plague carrier. Living death. Drainer of life. The phrasing did not matter. No euphemism could strike fear into the hearts of men the way that single word could. Vampire. And for me, the uninitiated, that single word meant death.” ~Eric Bradburry, Corcitura, Chapter 8
December 9, 2003—that’s when the idea for the Corcitura crawled into my mind. At that time, however, I didn’t have a name for the book or the creature at all. It was just known as “That Gothic book with vampires in it.” For three months prior to that date, I had been mulling ideas for a novel with some sort of vampire that had never been explored before. In September of that year, I had scribbled my fragmentary ideas down in my oh-so-stylish rhinestone-studded Brooklyn Bridge notebook:
Snazzy, no? I decided that the best way to tell the story would be to have “My Boys” (Eric and Stefan) go on a Grand Tour. Just think of it: dazzling locations, the clash of cultures, and the opportunity for all kinds of tricky vampiric subterfuge to be enacted on them in far-flung locales. From the outset, I chose to have the book “voiced” by three narrators: Eric and two other characters, Madelaine and Zigmund, who were only vaguely defined at that point. I knew he would play a very key role, but for a while, Zigmund remained the most nebulous of all—traipsing around somewhere in the fog. As for the rest of the story, everything else was up in the air. I knew I wanted to write about vampires, but while I had the rudiments of a novel, my vamp was content to stay in the background, kicking through my mind until he finally distinguished himself enough to get the story going. Until then, he’d be nicknamed “Our Combo.”
A year before I even got the idea for the Corcitura, I had seen a painting that sent my mind reeling with all the possible implications behind it. The painting was “Oh, what’s that in the hollow?” by Edward Robert Hughes.
I took one look at that painting and screamed “VAMPIRE!” There’s something so morbidly entrancing and enigmatic about that painting. Is he dead? The sheen of his nearly translucent eyes certainly seems to suggest it. But what if he’s just resting until the moon rises? I only recently found out that he is dead! But back then, I was still in the dark, and so I did what all good novelists do: I totally ignored the inconvenient facts behind the painting and ran roughshod with my inspiration. Those translucent eyes were never far from my mind and inspired me so much that they found life in the book’s eponymous creature.
I’ll bet you’re probably wondering what in the world said creature’s name even means, right? Well, I’ll tell you…in a second. Before the novel was called Corcitura, it went by a bevy of names: “OhmygoshthisissoawesomeIcan’twaittowriteit!” when I was still in the first blush of excitement and idealizing over how fun the writing of this novel would be; “That beast!” when I was in the thick of the conflict and was furiously writing my brains out and the book was taking on a life of its own; and finally “Corci,” which is what I have been affectionately calling it for the last couple of years.
Originally, the novel was titled Nocturne because of an incident that occurs in a scene in the second half of the book. Yet after lots of musing on the title, and how important a title is when catching a reader’s attention, I decided to name the book after the creature the two vampires create. It seems obvious now, but at the time, it really never crossed my mind until I started thinking about how generic Nocturne sounded. Now, when people hear the title, their reaction is “What does that mean?!” which usually results in my saying, “It’s funny you should ask.” This segues nicely into a pitch for the book. 😉
Now back to the meaning. It was important for me to have something based in reality in a novel where the creatures were mythical, so I didn’t want to just make up a name for the new vampire species. I wanted it to be grounded in fact. Once I knew my creature was going to be a hybrid—created after being bitten by two vampires of differing species—I took the next step in finding out what that word in Romanian was (since Stefan’s family has a long and torturous history deep in the soil of that country). I have Romanian ancestors, so digging deeper into the country’s myths and legends was an added bonus. When I discovered that Corcitura meant hybrid, I thought about it, and since I didn’t like any of the names I’d made up, it eventually stuck. I know it seems strange now, but even though I had used the word throughout the novel, it never really occurred to me to change the title until the book was practically halfway written. Oddly enough, I made the decision at a wedding reception. My cousin had gotten married in the late summer of 2009, and as I sat talking to one of my cousins-in-law about the book, I paused in the conversation, stared off into space, and said, “You know what? I’m almost 100% certain I’m changing the name to Corcitura.” And that was the end of that. 🙂
So, why vampires, after all? Out of all the monsters of myth, vampires had always been my favorites. I had always been fascinated by how they could be suave and alluring on the outside (or when the sun wasn’t up), but with the flick of a barbed tongue, turn into slavering, fang-toothed, bloodsucking beasts. The juxtaposition fascinated me, since in original folklore almost all vampires are essentially plagues. Some just know how to mask their true nature better than others.
I knew if I was going to write about vampires, they’d better be different and intriguing, and since I’ve always been crazy for folklore from different parts of the world, this idea gave me an excuse to explore vampire mythology. It’s fascinating reading, freaky, but fascinating. Yet the real impetus behind the idea of having the victim be attacked by two vampires came down to one thing: sunlight. Yes, that’s how the whole “combo” idea started—finding a way to make sure my vampire would be able to frolic around during daylight hours without being charred to ashes by the sun’s rays. For three months, I went back and forth on how a vampire could achieve this, during which time I whittled down my choices for favorite vampire candidates. Once I started seeing how different the strengths and weaknesses were, and understanding how much more indestructible the combined blood of two vampires would be (plus the human blood of the original victim), I knew I was on the right path.
Out of all the vampires I researched, the two that won in the end were the Upyr (from Russia) and the Vrykolakas, which hailed from Greece. The Vrykolakas (referred to as the Vryk from this point forward) was a jackpot find for me, mainly because he’s a virtual unknown in literature, but mostly because it is unclear if the Vryk is a vampire or a werewolf. You see where this is going, right? Just before I hit the halfway point of the novel, I realized I would have to be crazy not to exploit that gray area to the hilt. It only made sense to embrace this ambiguity, which led to a whole new story arc being created for my two female Vryk protagonists later on in the novel. I am so happy I did this because it launched the second and third halves of the novel onto a completely different plane, with the book beginning to essentially write itself from that point on. To quote Colonel Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together!” 😉
The Upyr and the Vryk are two sides of the same coin. Where the Vryk was plague-ravaged, nasty, and didn’t do anything to hide his true nature, the Upyr moved heaven and earth not to show his hand. My Vryk was rabid and couldn’t do much to control it. But the Upyr…he was a bird of an entirely different breed. Debonair on the outside, but blacker than the foulest dungeon, he was ten times more deadly than the Vryk and no one would ever be able to tell. He was my linch pin and turned out to come on scene much quicker than expected, which goes to show you that when the character wants out, you’d better listen, because from the moment he waltzed into the story, everything was transformed.
After doing all that research and character planning, I came up against my next problem: how to outline a novel with three narrators (different voices and perspectives were a must with a story this long and with this many converging arcs) and several different plotlines and locations? Simple, really. You write an outline, then throw it out the window once the characters hijack the story and take it where they will. My original outline had the book being even longer than it turned out to be. I am so thankful that outline changed—and dramatically. Since the boys were going on a Grand Tour, there was originally going to be chapter upon chapter of what I realized quickly would be nothing but a travelogue, and a dull travelogue at that. In a novel billed as a thriller, one can only tolerate so much local flora and fauna before the hair starts being ripped out of the scalp. So, if I was getting bored, something needed to give. That all got scrapped when Vladec Salei decided to make a pit stop in Paris and bring along his particular brand of trouble much earlier than expected.
Finally, things were in place. In May 2008, after five years of planning, outlining, scalping said outline, and gathering my research and ideas, I was ready to begin, and this was the line that sparked the flame: “But the hour grows late, and Eric needs me.” Short and sweet and loaded with hidden meaning, Madelaine’s line from a letter sent to Zigmund in the epilogue was what set the whole process in motion. And yes, I wrote the end before anything else. I had written Chapter 8, A Tavern in Venice, back in 2005, and also the first chapter of the novel that same year, but those were drastically overhauled when I sat down and actually started writing the book seriously on May 22nd, 2008. That line that started the ball rolling is indeed still in the epilogue, but the epilogue itself was turned on its head and bears little to no resemblance to what I had originally thought it would. Aren’t plans wonderful?
I began this process thinking I would just write a vampire novel with a new twist, but what started as a story about hybrid vampires quickly morphed into something beyond what I had been planning to write. Probably more than anything else, Corcitura became the story of the corruption of a soul and how this has a domino effect on all those who encounter him—life is overturned for everyone; everything they have ever known is distorted past recognition; nothing can ever go back to the way it used to be, for now they live in danger, fear, and some that loved him most meet their ends at his hands.
As I entered the second phase of the novel, Corcitura had become not just a name for a dual natured creature, but a metaphor for the duality of our own natures, of the constant battle between base motives and our “better angels.” By this point, having three narrators really helped me define this theme. Letting Madelaine and Zigmund pick up the threads of the narrative in the second and third halves of the novel forced me to look back on Eric’s narration and see if he really was as reliable or as clear-headed as he meant to be, especially in regards to Madelaine. As other characters began to make their way onto the page, the premise of upending centuries of accepted vampiric behavior and tradition began to become more and more important. Several times in the novel, characters are given a choice. Will they uphold the status quo and prove everyone who ever judged them or their “kind” right? Or will they go against the call of the blood and turn their back on their very nature by deciding that they will be the ones to put an end to the cycle of destruction? This was the most rewarding, and fun, part of the novel for me to write, since some characters made the choices I wanted them to, while others categorically refused to cooperate and hence went their own way—often to their own annihilation.
After everything was said and done, and the book marinated and went through countless edits, I realized that Corcitura is, in fact, a horror novel, but not in the normal sense. It’s horror on many levels. The first part deals with the visceral, blatant horror of the vampires and the terror of having no way of stopping these creatures from corrupting you, body and soul; the second with the horror of deception, lying, treachery, betrayal, with thinking you know someone but discovering they have lied to you about practically everything; the third with the horror of abandonment; and lastly with the horror of the unknown—the uncertainty of things to come. But Corcitura is also a historical novel, a thriller, a book with that unnerving Gothic feeling that permeated the stories I grew up with—novels you could lose yourself in for days at a time, tales filled with characters you’d miss when the final page was turned. That’s what I set out to write, even more than a straight up vampire novel, because it’s really not about vampires in the end. It’s about the people whose lives they destroy, the people who choose to fight against them, who team up with vampires who have decided that it doesn’t matter what the legends have taught them, they will do everything in their power to stop the undead from claiming even more souls.
The novel is not only about Eric and Stefan, but the coalition of unlikely allies whose lives intersect with vampires past and present. Each of them, in his or her own way, must overcome anger and hatreds that have been festering for centuries if there is to be any hope of survival. Some of this band, however, are not so different from the creatures hunting them—two half-vampire, half-wolf women who had the “gift” thrust upon them when they would have rather died; the last of the Corcitura’s untainted siblings, a woman whose choice might finally lift the five-hundred-year-old curse laid on her family; a scarred, hunted man who for thirty years thought the most important person in his life was dead; a young bride who was forced to become fearless in a heartbeat to save the man she has just married—the man she is beginning to understand she doesn’t really know—from becoming the vampire’s next sacrifice; and, finally, the son of two vampires, the child who cries blood—the boy who just might be the salvation of them all.
Nine years, twenty-three edits, thousands of revisions, and 700 pages later, Corcitura is finally here. Welcome to a world where an ancient Upyr plots your destruction and a half-wolf, half-vampire haunts your doorstep, its barbed tongue poised to rip into your throat the second you answer its call.
Button up your collar.
Keep the flame burning.
And come along for the ride.