What inspired your vampire novel The Priest of Blood?
On a trip to Mexico, when I was a fifth grader, I stood on the steps of the Pyramid of the Sun and looked out over the valley that was still being excavated for other buildings—and it's the first time I realized there was a buried, secret world. Then, when I was 16, I went to Spain and saw the Alhambra, and this got me interested in medieval history. At 22, I went to live in Paris for a while, and ended up spending several nights in one of the oldest forests in Brittany—a place of history and legends. All this simmered until 1993 or so, when I envisioned a world of great mythological significance, and I began imagining these creatures that looked more like harpies in my mind than traditional vampires—they had wings like dragons—and the words "The Priest of Blood" came to me.
Given the profusion of vampire fiction written in the last 30 years, is there anything original to do with the theme?
My concern is that I reinvent the world as I see it—I reached back further than Dracula, to very early vampire myth—Lamia, Lampusae, even the tale of Medusa—which in some instances had a vampire twist to it. I wanted to find a sense of vampires as gods of another time. All demons and monstrous creatures in history tend to be the fallen gods of a conquered nation. I drew most of this from Hurrian, Canaanite, Greek, Egyptian—even Libyan—mythology of the ancient world.
Most of your fiction has been set in the present day. What were the challenges of writing a novel so heavily steeped in history?
The biggest challenge was educating myself. What I had to do—which delayed the finishing of this novel by 10 years—was to really research Brittany, the Crusades, the minutiae of the times as well.
How did you go about embellishing traditional vampire mythology?
I wanted to create a mythology of the world—of the afterlife, of history, of creation. Vampires, to me, are a metaphor for the dangers and allures of immortality. So I hunted through ancient mythologies—world myth—and I drew from this to build the creation story of the vampire race in this novel. And I used the historical moment of the 12th, 13th centuries because I feel it reflects our own current world—we are still going to the Holy Land for war, for example. It was the most liberating experience as a writer I've ever had—I recreated the world as my world, as my view, as my sense of shadow and light. I want the reader's imagination to race when he or she reads The Priest of Blood.