Note: I've worked with the author and his publishing house but these are my honest thoughts as best I could make them. Consider yourself forewarned.
THE CALL OF DISTANT SHORES is a homage to the works of H.P. Lovecraft with a twist. David Niall Wilson is a author I have very much enjoyed the writings of ranging from his work for licensed properties like STAR TREK, VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE, and STARGATE SG-1 to his original stories like GIDEON'S CURSE as well as the DECHANCE CHRONICLES.
As a huge H.P. Lovecraft and Cthulhu Mythos fan, however, I was skeptical of him bringing anything new to the table. Many people have chosen to write in HPL's style and few people manage to become anything more than a pale imitation. The people who actually succeed in adding something new to the Mythos are those people who take the Man from Providence's work as an inspiration then do their own thing with it.
I'm pleased to say that David Niall Wilson is one of the latter rather than the former. The big thing he brings to the Cthulhu Mythos is humor. You can tell that DNW is a man who doesn't entirely take the creeping, looming, and gnawing horror of the universe all that seriously. It's not so much that man isn't irrelevant in this universe but that such things don't actually scare your average citizen. They know they're cogs in a wheel and the existence of ancient gods beyond the horizon doesn't do much to change the price of your gas bill.
The majority of protagonists in this book are various shades of idiot, working class hero, or average joe versus the nebbish scholars which serve as the prototypical Lovecraftian hero. "Are you looking for Herb?" has an obnoxious set of travelers venture off the roads into the backwoods and miss all the signs they've found themselves among people who are best left undisturbed.
"Cockroach Suckers" is my favorite of the stories here as it's a tale of people who find a horrifying eldritch entity and decide to build a freakshow around it. The superintendent of a building discovers a mad artist building unnatural grotesques that may be summoning SOMETHING horrifying but he's too distracted by the man's daughter's boobs to make much sense of it.
The book isn't entirely limited to humor, though, and contains a variety of takes on the Mythos that other authors don't necessarily touch on. For example, aside from Stuart Gordon, not many people ever explore the sexier side of the Mythos. There's just not much appealing in matings between human women and fishmen or Yog-Sogoth. Here, however, there's two stories that are a bit on the steamier side.
I also appreciated the "Call of Distant Shores" itself, which is more akin to a ghost story than a traditional Lovecraftian tale. Indeed, it's actually a tribute to Clark Ashton Smith (another member of the Lovecraft Circle). It does, however, have many themes of inherited guilt and the unfathomable otherworldly power embodied by the sea. Horror fans should enjoy the story simply because it's great fiction rather than its similarity to the work of Howard Phillips, however. I could easily see this expanded to a Stephen King BAG OF BONES-esque novel as David really manages to nail small-town life.
Another great treat in the story is a Sherlock Holmes encounter with an unnatural horror that was co-written with another author. THE SHADOW OVER BAKER STREET is one of the best anthologies ever written, in my humble opinion, and something everyone should pick up. This was the story included there and reflects the fact he's written for (in his own words) a lot of Lovecraft anthologies. At heart, David Niall Wilson gets the heart of HPL isn't tentacles or specific monsters but ideas that rattle the soul.
There's some serious and even haunting stories in this work but the sense of humor the author brings to his collection is what I give him the most props for. I also love how he tweaked the formula of so many pastiches by adding elements which the original author never touched on (romance for one). If you're looking for a short story collection that doesn't blandly copy the work of the artist formerly immortalized as the World Fantasy Awards then this is definitely a place to do your shopping.
I have an interview with David Wilson, two time Stoker Award winner and owner/operator of Crossroad Press! We're here to talk about his classic book, THIS IS MY BLOOD, which I recently reviewed here.
1. So, tell us about THIS IS MY BLOOD.
This is My Blood is a different telling of a very old story. I changed none of the order of things, nor did I change the outcome – only the road to reach that outcome. Mary Magdalene, raised by Lucifer in the desert to tempt Jesus in the guise of a woman, instead refused – wanting to return to Heaven. Lucifer cursed her to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, feeding on the faithful, and claimed she would become his undoing.
That is where my story starts. You will find the king’s daughter, raised from the dead, Lazarus, all the apostles in their flawed faith, and a narrator – in Mary – who does not depend on faith, but sees with the eyes of one who KNOWS what is truth, and is not impressed with the spirituality of men. Lilith also plays a sizeable part in this book.
All that I learned, figured out on my own, and wanted to repeat of The Bible, Christianity, faith, and – I suppose – of shadows – was tied up in this early work of mine. I have since come to believe that ancient myths should be left to the ancient societies who created them, and that we should worry more over our own self-worth than that of others. I don’t believe there are any spiritual rules laid down in the words of long dead men that I should follow, but I do believe that men know, inherently, the difference between right, and wrong, and that all choices made in that area are their own. No free ticket out for asking forgiveness, and no pit of fire for failures.
2. How did you come up with the concept?
One day, in the middle of the ocean, a group of us were sitting around, playing music, drinking coffee, and working on the various creative endeavors that kept us sane. Out of the blue, someone said: “What if Jesus was a vampire?” There are a lot of flaws in such a story – though others have tried to write it – and I was quick to point them out. I was, after all, not that far past the period of my life where Christianity and I parted ways. I had studied with an eye toward the ministry at one point, and I’d read the book – several times.
What I proposed, eventually, was that it made much more sense if someone close to Jesus was a vampire. Someone he trusted. Someone who could account for the rising of the dead in three days, without it actually being the man himself behind it all. I didn’t write about it then, I thought about it, and I filed it away with a lot of other ideas. Eventually I wrote a novelette – A Candle in the Sun – that was published in Starshore Magazine, then reprinted in Year’s Best Horror XIX, edited by Karl Edward Wagner, and has since been reprinted nearly a half dozen more times. It was good – everyone agreed that it was good, but I knew that it wasn’t complete. I just wasn’t ready to do the thing justice.
Then, on a completely different cruise, locked in a transmitter room with a 386 computer, a Deskjet 500 inkjet printer, and a CD Player loaded with Concrete Blonde & Depeche Mode, I realized it was time. I had a marked up, four inch tall copy of the New Testament that the Gideon Society had presented the ship with, and I had notes. I started out, jumping from gospel to gospel when some part of the story either had a hole, or was missing something important. As I went, I crafted large chunks of The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot, because I’d always thought he got a raw deal in the original mix, and I wanted him for a hero.
3. How would you describe Mary?
Mary is the key to the story. I’m working on a treatment and screenplay – adapting this novel – and the book I’m reading describes the type of book I’m writing as a “Superhero” story. Someone with extraordinary ability dropped into an ordinary setting (If you can call the fictional times of the gospels ordinary).
She is a fallen angel. She has suffered… she has been offered hope. During the novel there are several key moments in her development as a character… and I would dearly love to get into those, but I don’t want to spoil the story for people who have not read it. Suffice it to say – she does not require faith. She does not doubt Jesus, or God, or Satan – she knows them. Stuck in human form – albeit powerful and vampiric – she learns about pain and death and emotion as only men can celebrate them. She learns about the “Heavenly Father” and prophecy in the same way. She has n irresistible perspective on mysteries we can only ponder.
4. How do you handle figures like Jesus, the Devil, and other historical/theological personages?
Most of the points where these characters interact with the story are told through passages from the fictional Gospel According to Judas Iscariot. There are scenes with Jesus, of course, and many with Judas, who is something of a hero himself – a counterpart to Mary who was born human, with all of our faults and fears.
The rest I tried to portray in the same way the unknown authors of The New Testament did. In the form of biblical verse, or in a very carefully worded narrative. They all serve the same purposes they did in the original story – but I did not want them to intrude in the story I was telling and I also did not want them to overshadow my main protagonists… they are very much the God, and Lucifer, people would recognize from Bible school. I was careful not to just write something blasphemous… it was never the intent.
5. What do you hope people take away from this book?
QR codes for all of their friends and relatives to buy the book?
Seriously, I didn’t write it with other people in mind. I wrote it because I spent a number of years of my life reading and studying a book of ancient mythology I thought (at the time) was the answer to life, the universe, and everything… then I grew up. I started to take charge of my thoughts, and my life, and to think – really think- about all those years spend feeling guilty for things that should inspire no guilt, and spreading the same nonsense to others… There is a meme out there in social media – a group of religious leaders gathered around a table… the caption says … Religion – where grown adults argue over who has the best imaginary friend.
So I think what I hope people will take from my book is the experience behind it, the part of me that I wrote into the words and pages. I hope they take something out of it that sticks with them, or leads them to another of my books. I hope it influences them in some way. But I didn’t write it for them… I wrote it for me, and then I gave myself to the readers. That’s what one of my other projects is all about – a non-fiction half-memoir, half book on writing titled “Writing What Hurts.” This one did.
6. Do you think vampires mix well with religion?
Traditional vampires are tied straight in with traditional religion. Crosses, sanctified graves, holy water. One would not be the same without the other, but in the case of my novel, it was just a marriage of convenience. There were too many ways a vampire might fit into the holes in the original plot. And as is the case in most urban horror and fantasy, modern monster tales, and stories about creatures beyond the standard limits of mankind… the point of the story is not that there is a vampire, or that there are monsters. The vampires, fallen angels, etc… are just characters. They are *in* the story… but their powers and situations are outside that story. In the days of Dracula, the story was about a monster that was a vampire. Mine is a novel that happens to have a vampire in it.
7. How was the response to the book?
Critical response was wonderful. Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal loved it. I can honestly say that the closest to a bad review I’ve ever gotten from an actual review site, or a reader, was one person who had no biblical background and admitted that she liked the story, but was probably missing something. The response has been unbelievably positive… and small. It’s like a cult thing. Those who know the book will go on about it at length… but there just aren’t enough of them (yet). It’s even listed in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mary Magdalene…
One reader (back in the Navy) actually came to me with tears in his eyes after finishing it – which was bizarre. The original publisher bought it over a phone call from Crete (two weeks after I finished it and sent it to him) but – as noted above – he never published it. I have had the odd reaction from several that this book renewed their faith, and others have asked the (kind of silly) question “Did you make up the Book of Judas… or can I get that somewhere?” (Yes, I found a long-lost text that explains that there were vampires in Jerusalem… the church has (of course) suppressed this)
8. Have you ever considered doing anything similar?
Define similar? I’m currently writing a novel titled “Jurassic Ark” wherein Noah is building a great boat in the desert. There are dinosaurs, and the people of the city nearby believe he is crazy. This could have been a comedic story, but is turning into something much more similar to This is My Blood, without vampires. There are Elohim and very, very old men – the aforementioned dinosaurs – the point of it is to sort of show how ridiculous the notion of a 6000 year old earth with living dinosaurs would have been, but along the way it gathered substance, and the characters started to matter… and just like with This is My Blood, I’ve heavily researched Noah’s family, the Ark, and all the notes on his family in the book of the Great Space Fairy.
I wrote On the Third Day where I explored what might happen if a priest actually experienced the Stigmata … how the Church might react, how others might react… how the world might treat it…
I wrote “The Grails Covenant Trilogy” for White Wolf where a vampire is on a quest to find the Holy Grail…
There are similar themes in a lot of my books… not all, by any stretch, but many. Even in Deep Blue – my big book, Stephen King and Dean Koontz style supernatural thriller, there are elements of spirituality and explorations of odd Christian folklore.
9. What appeals to you about vampire fiction?
People always ask questions like this about vampires, horror, etc. Nothing in particular. I write the stories that occur to me – I never (ever) set out to write “a vampire story” or a “horror novel” – I just write what moves me in the moment. Vampires are familiar modern icons – they are characters people are comfortable with now in ways they were not in Stoker’s time… The one thing I will say (and I wrote a very short story about this once) is that the thing that I wonder about with vampires is … after so many years… so much experience… how do they fight off the boredom? I also explored that in the Grails Covenant Trilogy with a character named Kli Kodesh who spent his years creating intricate puzzles and games for others to live out to keep from going even madder than he already was.
10. Do you recommend any other vampire stories?
I have read a lot of other vampire novels that I loved. George R. R. Martin’s Fever Dream, The Golden by Lucius Shepard, Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, Vampire$ by John Steakley (Still cracks me up, that name for a vampire novel author) – Dracula, of course, and Christopher Golden’s Of Saints and Shadows. For humor, it’s hard to beat Bite Club by Hal Bodner, or your own Straight Outta Fangton, but as I’ve said in other parts of the interview… those are novels that have vampires in them, and not necessarily “vampire novels” in the traditional sense. If the fact there is a vampire or vampires is not the central plot, for me, the vampires just become accepted characters.
11. What are some other books you have written you'd like to recommend?
Well, I recommend them all, of course. The problem with a question like this is that I’ve written in so many genres. For Horror I have This is My Blood, Deep Blue, Ancient Eyes, On the Third Day, Maelstrom and others, for Science Fiction I have Star Trek, Stargate, The Second Veil, and more, fantasy and urban fantasy fans might prefer my “Donovan DeChance” novels, and fans of southern or gothic horror might like the Cletus J. Diggs supernatural mysteries.
I have a small stack of collections spanning 200 plus short stories, and a book about baking pies… American Pies – Baking with Dave the Pie Guy – and even a political satire written with Patricia Lee Macomber- Remember Bowling Green – The Adventures of Frederick Douglass -Time Traveler - where 80% of earnings go to the ACLU. It’s a question, in other words, that requires perspective – knowledge of the particular reader. Then, of course, I’ve written a lot of books for White Wolfand their World of Darkness – mostly medieval vampires, but also in their worlds of Wraith and Exalted.
12. Do you have any upcoming new works?
Next in print will be my historical thriller The Orffyreus Wheel, already available in eBook and audio. I’m currently writing five books… A Midnight Dreary- Book V of the DeChance Chronicles, the aforementioned Jurassic Ark, a serial killer thriller titled Tattered Remnants, a writing / memoir non fiction book (also mentioned in the above rambling) Writing What Hurts – and a photo / meme / lol book with my dog Gizmo – Everything I needed to know about Dogs I Learned from Being One.
Purchase THIS IS MY BLOOD from Amazon.com
Purchase THE DECHANCE CHRONICLES from Amazon.com
Purchase THE O.C.L.T. novels from Amazon.com
Purchase DEEP BLUE from Amazon.com
Purchase ON THE THIRD DAY from Amazon.com
Warning - The following book deals with religion and vampirism in a serious way. I know David Niall Wilson from previous collaborators but this review has been conducted with no bias.
Jesus gets a lot of vampire jokes made about him. I say this with dead seriousness. "JESUS THE VAMPIRE: Jesus gave his blood, now he wants it back - coming to a theater near you" is a T-shirt I've seen before. This is a in part because the 19th century vampire (and later Hammer Horror's depictions) is a creature which incorporates many elements designed to exist in blasphemous opposition to God. They rise three days after death, they are repulsed by the cross, they drink and share blood to provide immortality, and so on. The vampire is the ultimate enemy of Christ beyond sin itself because it is living death versus eternal life.