Last week I contacted Kathryn Meyer Griffith after seeing her announcement that her book Vampire Blood was being reprinted by Damnation Books. It was originally published in 1991, but Kathryn revised the book and it has a spiffy new cover as well. I was fascinated by her 39 year career as a writer, and she offered to send me this guest blog with her story of Vampire Blood. I thought we'd all find it interesting and inspiring!
The Story of Vampire Blood
By Kathryn Meyer Griffith
In 1990 or so I’d just got done releasing my first three paperback novels with Leisure Books, a romantic historical (The Heart of the Rose 1985) and two romantic horror books (Evil Stalks the Night, 1984 and Blood Forge, 1989), and because I wasn’t making much money on them, was looking, as most so-called restless young authors were doing, to move up in the publishing industry.
So I wrote snail mail letters to three established authors of the day – Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Peter Straub – asking for a little advice and a little help. What do I do next? I want to be one of the big dogs running in the big races. I want to make the big bucks. Be famous like you. (Ha, ha. I was so naïve in those days!)
Well, Stephen King and Peter Straub never answered my letters but one rainy fall night I got a phone call from Gerda Koontz (Dean Koontz’s wife) and she said Dean had gotten my letter and wanted me to have a name of a brand new agent who I should call or write to and say I was recommended by him. If I thought it strange that Dean Koontz himself wasn’t actually talking to me I was told by Gerda that he was a shy man and had had a particularly hard couple of months because of family problems (I think it had something to do with his father in a nursing home or something, but can’t exactly recall now) and he’d asked her to call me. She often did that for him, as well as helping him with the business side of his writing career. He (through her…and I got the impression that he was actually nearby telling her what to say the whole time) said I had to have an agent (I didn’t have one) and then he gave me the name of an ambitious one, Lori Perkins, just starting out and his advice on what I should do to advance as a writer.
I do remember being incredibly touched that he, a famous busy novelist that I admired – I loved his Twilight Eyes – would take the time to talk to me, even through his wife. They were both so sweet and we talked for nearly an hour all about writing, books and everything.
I took their advice and contacted that agent and she agreed immediately to represent me on my fourth book, Vampire Blood, no doubt, because I said Dean Koontz had recommended her to me. Name dropper! But Vampire Blood was the reason I’d contacted those famous authors in the first place. I thought it was the best book I’d done so far and wanted it to go to (what I thought at the time) would be a better publisher than Leisure Books, which contracted and hog-tied their writers with a horrible ‘potboiler’ one-size-fits-all ten year contract with low advances and 4% royalties. Yes, I got a whole whopping 14 cents a book in those days, but, I must confess, they did print thousands of paperbacks each run and had a huge distribution area. I thought I could do a lot better. Anyway, Lori Perkins wanted me to send her the book and she did like it and eventually sold it, and then three others zip-zip-zip right after, to Zebra Books (now known more as Kensington Publishing) at 6% royalties and double the advances I was used to getting. They slapped a sexy blond vampire with a low dress on the cover and a hazy theater behind her. Lovely colors. I thought it was an eye-catching cover. I was so happy. I thought I’d made it! Again, so naïve.
Vampire Blood. A little story about a family of vicious killing vampires who settle in a small Florida town called Summer Haven and end up buying and fixing up an old theater palace to run, and pluck their victims from, and a divorced, down-on-her-luck ex-novelist and her hard luck father, who along with friends, help thwart them. Now to how and why I wrote it.
My husband and I lived in this small Illinois town, Cahokia, at the time and there was the neatest little hole-in-the-wall theater in a nearby shopping center we used to go to all the time…run by a family of a sweet man, Terry, and his wife, Ann, and sometimes their three children, two teenage boys and a girl named Irene. Such a friendly, but odd couple. The run-down theater was their whole world it seemed. The kids helped take in the tickets, pop the popcorn and sell the candy snacks.
Now the minute Terry and Ann found out, in one of our earliest conversations, that I was a published novelist they were my greatest fans. Terry went right out and bought all three of my books and they all read them. Terry always thought they’d make great movies. Next time my husband and I went to the little theater Terry and Ann greeted us like old friends, so delighted to see us, and refused to take a dime from us for anything. We got in free whenever we went from then on. Now in those days my husband, my son, James, and I were pretty broke. I worked as a graphic designer at a big brokerage firm in downtown St. Louis (across the Poplar Bridge from our Illinois town) but my husband was in between jobs. We lived on a shoestring. Hard times. So I always was so tickled that we could get into the local movies for free. We went a lot, too, as we loved movies, especially science fiction and horror films.
One night I was watching Terry and Ann and their joy in running that little theater, with the kids bustling around doing their jobs, and I got the idea for Vampire Blood. Just like that! Use them and the theater as a backdrop for a vampire novel. Hey, wouldn’t it be neat, I off-handedly mentioned to Terry one night, if I wrote a book about a family of vampires that was trying to pass as a real human family, the man and woman wanting so badly to fit in and lead a normal life for a while, renovating and then running a theater together…but the kids are wild and, as kids always do, make trouble for them in the town…killing people? Terry loved the idea and I asked him if it’d be all right to use him and his family as a template for the vampires. He was thrilled to be part of anything to do with my books and said yes. So…I wrote this book about them (sort of), the theater (making it much grander than it was, of course), a small town terrorized by cruel, powerful vampires who can change into wolves at will….and a saddened lonely woman, her brother, and her ex-husband (who she still loves and ultimately ends up with again after he saves her life) who finds herself again, but loses a lot, as well, fighting these vampires. Vampires she doesn’t believe in at first.
I was very happy with the book when it was done and dedicated it to Terry and Ann when it came out in 1991. Terry and Ann were thrilled, too. So Vampire Blood came out and did very well for me, second only to my Zebra 1993 Witches. As the years went by it went out of print and when, twenty years later, Kim Richards at Damnation Books contracted my 13th and 14th novels, BEFORE THE END: A Time of Demons and The Woman in Crimson, she asked if I’d like to rerelease (with new covers and rewritten, of course) my 7 out-of-print Leisure and Zebra paperbacks – and I said a resounding yes!
So…here it is…Vampire Blood…twenty years later, alive again and better, I believe, than the original because my writing then was done on an electric typewriter, with gobs of White-Out and carbon paper (I couldn’t afford copies), using snail mail; all of which didn’t lend itself to much rewriting. And in those days, editors told an author what to change and then the writer only saw the manuscript once to final proof it. Who knew what those sneaky editors were slipping in inbetween and before the final book was in an author’s greedy little hands. Hey, and I was working full time, raising a son, living a life and caring for my big extended family in one way or another, too. Busy, exciting, loving, happy and sad times.
For this new version, Damnation Book’s cover artist Dawné Dominique made me an astonishingly intriguing cover of a lovely vampire (Irene the youngest vampire who turns out to be the most brutal and ancient in the end)…but, thank goodness, without the low sexy top. And my DB editor, April Duncan, helped me make it a better novel.
A lot has happened to me and my family in these twenty years, as well. Both my parents, and my beloved maternal grandmother, the storyteller of her generation, have since passed away. Many people we used to know have. Old boyfriends, old friends and relatives. I miss them all! I no longer have that agent; she went on to bigger advances and bigger writers. I lost my good job at the brokerage firm, bumped around in lesser jobs for years, always writing in my spare time, and now, at long last, write full time while my husband works way too hard in a machine shop to support us.
Rewriting the book brought back so many good memories…and tears over those no longer here. The theater closed sixteen years ago, the owner believing it’d served its purpose and used up its time. Terry and Ann, heartbroken, were never the same. They had other jobs, none they truly cared about. Ann is still with us, but Terry died a few years ago, I heard from someone. We lost contact once they stopped running the theater and we moved from Cahokia to a nicer town miles away.
But I’ll never forget those early days and the stories that came with them. Days of high hopes and far distance future dreams…some of which have come true and some which haven’t. I’ve never made the big bucks, never gotten truly famous, but now, at long last and to my great delight, all twelve of my older books, from Leisure, Zebra, and The Wild Rose Press are being rewritten and reissued from Damnation Books and Eternal Press between June 2010 and July 2012. Better than ever after I’d rewritten them. I have plans to write more books and short stories, too, when they’re done. Most importantly, I’m living a good life with a husband I adore and brothers and sisters I love. Writing the stories I was born to write and happy I am. I have my memories. All in all, I’m a lucky, lucky woman.
So, all you writers out there…never give up and never stop writing!
Kathryn Meyer Griffith has been writing for nearly forty years and has published 14 novels and 7 short stories since 1984 with Zebra Books, Leisure Books, Avalon Books, The Wild Rose Press, Damnation Books and Eternal Press in the horror, romantic paranormal, suspense and murder mystery genres… and all 12 of her old books, see below, (and two new ones) are being brought out again between June 2010 and July 2012 from DAMNATION BOOKS (http://www.damnationbooks.com/ ) and ETERNAL PRESS ( http://www.eternalpress.biz/) again in print – and all in e-books for the first time ever! Learn more about her here: