Thursday, July 11, 2013

Daniel Ribot - of vampires, Big Brothers and drone strikes

Daniel Ribot
man of the world, writer of vampires
My head is spinning with new revelations about the NSA, Big Brother in the USA. In England, where Big Brother was conceived, they call it GCHQ because people might remember 1984 as something other than an Olympic year. These domestic spying tactics all originated in the practices of the early Soviet Union. What do all these things have in common? Vampires of course.

English author Daniel Ribot, author of the new horror thriller VAMPSOV visits me in an undisclosed location to discuss politics, secret police and vampires.

Johnny: What do you think of all the internet spying going on?

Daniel: The growth of the surveillance society has concerned me off and on for a long time. The Internet is just the most modern tool used of both government and corporate intrusion against us (George Orwell, Philip K Dick and J.G. Ballard among others were riffing on this theme a generation ago). Sure, the way our lives have become entwined with online data networks have accelerated this process, but despite this I am an optimist. The Soviets and Chinese in the postwar era built the most sophisticated state control apparatus using no computers; just typewriters, card index files, string and rubber bands. Today they seek to maintain the same levels of surveillance but, despite the surveillance cameras, computers, satellites and other technical advances, they find it a lot harder to control their populations. So I think the jury's out on that one. I think the Internet may indeed end up as just another method of control but for now at least, it also helps people to come together and resist oppression and even overthrow governments – as happened in North Africa in the recent revolutions.

J: That's enough optimism for now. What’s your book about?

D: Ah, good question! It's about a group of disparate characters who unite to deal with a dangerous threat. The twist is that these are Russian Communists (committed Stalinists at that) fighting against vampires. It is also more specifically the story of Ludmilla, my main character, a woman whose view of the world is based on certainties; about nature, politics, ethics, relationships, love. Slowly these certainties are taken away from her and she develops a more nuanced view of life –  with all the messy contradictions that that brings with it. In terms of themes It is also a book about the monstrous and inhuman, about how you make sense of humanity's capacity for great cruelty as well as great kindness.

J: Your book is set in a political powder keg of Stalinist Russia. What advantages and disadvantages did you find setting your story then and there?

D: The great thing about writing historical fiction (even historical fiction with vampires in) is that it gives you a framework on which to hang your story. Events happen in a certain time and place, so you have 'markers' around which to weave your plot. For example my novel is set during the time that Hitler's territorial expansion is beginning to step up a gear. Interventions in Spain, the invasion of Austria,  annexation of the Sudetenland, etc. help build up a sense of impending doom for the Russians, who know that Hitler and his allies will soon move against them. Another advantage is that you can, with a very few brush strokes, paint a picture of a particular scene. Readers have their own images of what life was like in various times past (particularly the more recent). Once you know what cars people drove, the cigarette brands they smoked, some of the foods they ate in the period, it is much easier to set the scene in a manner most readers will accept as authentic. The flip side of it all is that a) you need to do your research (particularly as many readers are very knowledgeable about their history). And b) You always need to keep in mind that history is contested, that – particularly in the case of VAMPSOV – there are many victims of Stalinist repression and their relatives who may think I'm are making light of their tragedy or mocking them. I have been conscious of my responsibility to show the reality of life under the regime and I have done my very best to show it in its all its awful truth, given the proviso that I'm writing fiction – and vampire fiction at that. HAKDI GHEQ AHYE AIIA AGUWY GHGGE AGWBH MABNV QAHHD

J: Sorry. I lost the last of that. The scrambler frequency slipped. I think it’s fixed now.

D: Ha! Decadent Western technology. Always needs fixing...

J: Do your vampires don't sparkle do they?

Undisclosed location
D: My vampires sparkle only when they've spent the night in a Siberian snowstorm and the light of the moon twinkles on the snow and frost crystals that cover them. Even then, however, they sparkle less than the eyes of proletarian children when they dream of the eventual triumph of Socialism.

J: How do you see VAMPSOV affecting the vampire genre?

D: Perhaps all that VAMPSOV wants to say has been said already, I don't know. From Lincoln, Vampire Hunter to Jasper Kent's Twelve (a vampire novel set in 19th century Russia), many writers – often better than I – have tried to add historical depth to the genre. I aspire to that tradition and hope that VAMPSOV can help promote the diversity and versatility of the vampire myth beyond romance and teen angst. Not that those are bad things, of course.

J: What were your inspirations for VAMPSOV?

D: The novel is based on a set of rambling ideas and conversations about vampires, history and politics. The nub of my contention was that vampires, associated as they are with hierarchy, order  and aristocracy, would be the natural allies of fascists and Nazis. Add to that the shared aesthetic of  blood, soil, youth and black leather and it all starts to sound a wee bit plausible. The modern tendency in popular culture (Buffy, Tru Blood, Twilight etc) to prettify the vamps to the point where they could pass for Leni Riefenstahl's Aryan archetypes, added fuel to this conceit. After I'd made this  connection, all I needed (as all novels do) was conflict. Who would be the natural enemy of vampires if they sided with the Nazis? Why, uncle Joe Stalin, of course! So that was the genesis of it all.

J: Are you afraid that your book will be seen as a subversive text and put you on an enemy watch list?

D: I'd be happy if it was. The more subversion the better in my opinion. As governments are run by bloodsuckers any way, I'm sure they'll hate it!

J: Someone said at a party that you have dealings with Basque Separatists, but i put them right. I said you were really working for Catalan Nationists. Do they pay well?

D: No. Catalans are notoriously tight fisted, I should know because my family is Catalan and... What? You were at a party? And no invite? Those pesky Basques! ...

J: You speak English, Spanish, French and Catalan? How do you explain speaking so many languages if not for spying purposes?

D: Well, I have had to do a lot of travelling in my life. At the moment I'm Germany working, so I get to pick up these things. Otherwise you'd be really stuck!

J: You’re among friends here. No body reads my blog.

D: Except the NSA and GCHQ.

J: Oh. Right. Do like tea or coffee?

D: Tea. Milk. No sugar or sodium pentahol. Polonium if you have any, thanks!

J: How did you get into writing?

D: About five years ago I returned to my English home town of Leicester at a bit of a loose end. My professional life was going nowhere, I had to move in back with my parents due to lack of money, all the friends I'd had had moved away... In that rut I thought I might as well do something creative with my time, so I signed up for courses at the local Writing School. By chance or design, Leicester has the best of these institutions in the UK outside of a university. I got to meet some inspirational people and try my hand at all sorts of genres, styles and formats. Luckily, I found my voice as a writer fairly quickly and as I started to write more and more, ideas and plotlines began appearing in my head. After two years I'd writen my first novel. It wasn't very good, but I'd proved to myself that I could handle a novel length narrative and taught me a lot of lessons I was to use later in Vampsov.

J: I’m always interested in the author’s journey from writer to published author. Tell me yours:

D: The journey from writer to published author was a long and tortuous one. My main problem in finding a publisher was that I lacked the craft to bring about my vision to a reader. Obviously most editors and agents have a pretty shrewd idea of when a writer is ready to publish and more importantly, what readers want. It took me years to get there, it took a lot of hard work. And I don't think I'm the best writer I could be even now. My journey has brought many obstacles (harsh critiques, rewrites, edits, reflections and the erasing of numerous scenes, characters and pipe dreams that cluttered my plotting and story-lines), but I've also  made a lot of friends along the way. They all deserve their share of credit for this too. Even now I've got here, there's still so much to learn about the writing game, dammit!

J: How’s been your relationship with Omnium Gatherum?

D: My relation to Omnium Gatherum is really about my relationship with the editor supremo, Kate Jonez (author of Candy House). She has taken VAMPSOV through two major edits with patience, insight and belief in the eventual success of the novel that I found both energizing and incredible. In a sense Kate acted just like I'd been told old-school editors did before the world changed and traditional publishing (supposedly) died. Kate had faith in my novel from its early drafts and helped me every step of the way to make their book the best it could be. She helped make an author out of me. That's what Kate did for me and I will always be grateful.

J: Who, besides me, are your favorite authors?

D: Writers I admire apart from Johnny Worthen? Gosh... Well I'm an SF and fantasy buff at heart so I love the works of J. G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K Dick, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula Le Guin, Adam Roberts, China Mieville, Kim Newman, Graham Joyce and others. I'm also a fan of Latin American writing, particularly Borges, Garcia Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Carmen Boullosa. At present I'm on a Will Self and Roberto Bolaño kick, reading everything I can from both of them. In terms of the vamp genre, I love Laurel K Hamilton's series and Justin Cronin's The Passage.

J: What are your internet addresses so people without NSA database access can learn more about you?

TWITTER @Daniel_Ribot

J: Is that a cell phone? You brought a cell phone into my “undisclosed location?!”

D: What’s that siren?

J: Early warning drone strike alarm. Nice knowing you Daniel.

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