Vampire fiction got a new twist when James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell, both bestselling authors, collaborated on The Order of the Sanguines series. The first installment in the series, The Blood Gospel, introduced a trio of unlikely heroes: Erin Granger, an archaeologist; Jordan Stone. a soldier; and a priest, Father Rhun Korza, a member of the Sanguines (priests protected by the blood of Christ). The three banded together to fight against the striogi, vampirelike, soulless creatures.
Rollins and Cantrell's newest release, Innocent Blood, continues where Blood Gospel left off. Erin, Jordan and Father Rhun have reunited to find a child prophesied to be an angel made flesh.
Neither Rollins, who's based in the United States, or Cantrell, who's based in Europe, had ever written fiction with a partner before The Order of the Sanguines. We asked them about their experiences.
Rollins had the idea for the series and asked Cantrell to join him. Hesitant at first to discuss the series before she committed to the project, he eventually told her all about it and she eagerly agreed to join him.
"The series started from a simple supposition: If vampires existed, how might Christ have dealt with such a scourge?" Rollins told us. "Would He offer them a path to salvation? If so, how might that change the Catholic Church in the past? How might that look today? This led both Rebecca and I into intense research about the [Catholic Church], about how history might have been altered, etc. It was a great deal of fun building this alternate history of the world."
While the books deal with the history and mythology of the Roman Catholic Church, neither author is comfortable calling it a "Christian horror thriller" series. "The book was written as a mainstream Gothic thriller," Cantrell told us. "Some of the characters, the vampire priests, are Catholic, but I don't feel the books deal primarily with issues of Christianity."
"Agreed," said Rollins, "though I can see how that tag might be attached to the books."
Both authors agree that elements from several genres are used in the series, most obviously Gothic horror. "Most of my books in the past have blended different genres, mixing scientific speculation with explorations of historical mysteries," said Rollins. "And this series is no exception, even with the introduction of vampires, as Rebecca and I also looked into the 'science' behind vampiric mythology and folded that into the books.
"I...try to always tell the story that is truest to the characters," Cantrell adds. "If the characters are Sanguinist priests on the hunt for an angel, then that world has expectations, and it's fun for readers (and writers!) to play with those expectations. Can the story lead the reader through a strong Gothic/horror world where they hear every heartbeat, feel every terror? What do Sanguinist priests struggle with in their darkest moments? How does it feel to be them? Those are human questions (or vampire questions, anyway), and answering those questions without regard to genre feels, for me, the best way to pull readers into the story.
"As a writer, I'm also a reader," Cantrell continues, "so I'm constantly asking myself: What would be fun and new and interesting for the reader? What haven't we seen before? What happens if we open this door instead of that one? I try to search past the simplest solution, sometimes coming up with a long list of options to choose from, just to make sure that I'm getting the best answers to those questions. I owe the reader and the story that."
Working together via long Skype sessions and sending pages back and forth through e-mail, Rollins and Cantrell were surprised at how problem-free the writing process was for them as a pair. "We tend to brainstorm big plot and character issues via Skype before we start (and then often after)," Cantrell said. "As for pages, we send them out on Friday, and then talk about them in a weekly Skype meeting on Monday. We both work the pages over again and again, to make sure that it's a seamless story for the reader."
"What both Rebecca and I learned is that it was in that fire of debating, talking and researching together, we both found new and exciting elements to the story, elements that neither of us would have necessarily discovered on our own," Rollins said. "It's that fire of creativity between two authors and friends that helped make this story really burn more brightly.
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"This was both of our first partnerships," he continues, "and though we knew each other prior to this collaboration, I think we both went in with a bit of trepidation. But we quickly learned that two brains are better than one. As a solo writer, any problems you have with a scene or a character must be solved by yourself. With a collaboration, it's great to have someone to lean on. And that applies to the writing, too. I might write a scene that I'm not sure about, and Rebecca then reads it and reassures me or comes up with a new way of tackling it that I hadn't considered.
"We also each had our own strengths as writers. I might be stronger with action, but Rebecca is better with atmosphere and character nuance. So we strove with each scene to let those strengths shine, while also challenging each other to push farther. And most of all, it was a great deal of fun."
Luckily, neither writer had an "I'm a bestselling author and I know best" attitude. Differences in opinion were solved through collaboration. "I'm happy to say that there isn't a lot of ego in the partnership," said Cantrell. "We are both trying as hard as we can to stay true to the characters and the stories -- so any differences are resolved by asking what the characters would do. That always leads to a solution."
Rollins and Cantrell discuss and sign Innocent Blood at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, December 12. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit the bookstore's website. Free.