TTS : The Top Shelf would like to welcome Harris Gray to the blog! Tell the readers a little bit about yourself and your book Vampire Vic.
Harris Gray is pleased to be recognized as a single human entity. In the distant, murky past, there existed two individuals, Allan and Jason…but as the stories they told converged, the two men fused and became inseparable. All the king’s horses and men couldn’t unmake Harris Gray again.
Jason: I’d really rather just do the interview separately.
Allan: Oh. Okay. Thanks for having the two of us, Top Shelf.
Jason: We appreciate the opportunity to talk about Vampire Vic. Victor Thetherson is a fat, balding, middle-aged, accounting manager vampire. He’s too passive to bite anyone, and blood makes him nauseous. So he gets it from his buddy at the blood bank, and masks it in Bloody Marys.
Allan: Bloody Bloody Marys.
Jason: Because Vic won’t bite, he gets walked on, by his accounting staff, by his boss, by his ex-wife and daughter.
Allan: Vic’s buddy Tripp pleads with him to bite somebody already.
Jason: And then Tripp has one of those “Be careful what you wish for” moments.
TTS: How did the idea for this book come about?
Allan: Over beers, as a greedy attempt to take advantage of the current vampire craze.
Jason: The thousand year vampire cycle we’re in the middle of.
Allan: Beer #1: “Hey, we should write a vampire book!” “Yeah, hot vamps battling sultry vampire slayer chicks!” “Who know they have to slay those hot dudes, but are irresistibly drawn to them!” “Oh the hot conflict, the steamy tension!”
Jason: Beer #2: “Wait a second. We don’t know sexy.” “And I really can’t imagine biting anyone. Sounds gross, and intrusive.” “Crap.”
Allan: We started joking about the kind of vampire we could write about. A guy who looks like the composite of the two of us, with all kinds of human troubles.
Jason: Next thing you know, we had a vampire we loved. And a vampire slayer, too.
Allan: The Harris Gray of vampires versus the Inspector Clouseau of vampire slayers.
Jason: I wish we had thought of that for the back cover blurb.
TTS: I like to ask this question of every author I interview because I find character creation interesting. How did you name your characters and did you shape them after people you know in real life?
Jason: Every character is exactly someone we know. That’s the beauty of being a writing duo. Any time someone gets suspicious and demands, “Did you base that idiot what’s-his-face on me? Because my wife says you did,” I can say, “Of course not. Allan invented that character.”
Allan: We only get in trouble with people we both know.
Jason: Naming the characters is a blast. One of us always seems to have a vision of the perfect name.
Allan: It’s one of the benefits of writing as a team. Even something that simple, naming a character and describing why you chose it, can spark all kinds of creative ideas in the other guy.
Jason: That’s how the title came about. I just knew our vampire was Victor Barton Thetherson. Allan heard it and said, “Vampire Vic. That’s what his disrespectful, slacking staff calls him. And the name he will grow to embrace.”
TTS: Did you have the storyline all planned out when you sat down to write or did it take on a life of its own beyond the initial paragraph?
Allan: By the end of Beer #3, we had mapped out the basic plotline.
Jason: We would have started writing on the spot, but by now we’ve been sitting there for four hours. Allan’s a sipper.
Allan: I don’t want the good times to end.
Jason: Our writing process varies depending on the book. In this case, one of us would have a strong visual for a scene, write it, and then hand it over to the other guy for edits and additions. While the storyline stayed consistent, new characters came to life, with their own histories. It expanded Vic’s world.
Allan: We might agree on the theme and emotion and plot development, but we both interpret and write it very differently. And that in turn inspires unexpected insights and ideas for the other guy. Probably similar to the process for solo authors. Doubled.
Jason: Squared, I think.
TTS: Were there moments where the story didn’t go the way you planned or personally wanted it to go? How did you deal with that?
Jason: I don’t know how many times I’ve read what Allan wrote and thought, “I would not say that.”
Allan: Ditto. Because we’re each secretly writing about ourselves. And so we receive the other guy’s latest draft and cringe and shake our head and say “no no no” and complain about the poor light cast upon our protagonist.
Jason: I’ll edit the hell out of what Allan has written, to sanitize the character’s inner thoughts and motivations. If I’m lucky, before I return my marked-up copy to him, before I’ve diluted the conflict that arises from the character’s flaws, I’ll have a moment of clarity and realize, “That’s exactly what I would say.”
Allan: The revisions that initially elicit the most adverse reaction usually turn out to be the most creative additions to our story.
TTS: What led you to writing?
Allan: In college my English instructor called me into her office. I thought I was in trouble, which was stupid, because I was a goody-two-shoes, but that’s how goody-two-shoes think. She had the dean in her office, to introduce me as a writer with potential. That was worse than being in trouble, I was embarrassed, English was just a prerequisite for my business degree. I couldn’t wait to get into business. Two years after graduating, I couldn’t wait to be a writer.
Jason: When did I first know I wasn’t a goody-two-shoes? About the time I started rewriting ’80’s pop lyrics like a raunchy Weird Al Yankovic for my high school band. My English teacher wouldn’t have liked it, but if she had, I would have asked her out.
TTS: Almost every author says they’re a reader first. What do you like to read?
Jason: First of all, those other authors are liars, because writers don’t have time to read. We do, because we each only have to write half as much as a normal writer.
Allan: There is no better feeling than curling up to a good book, knowing your partner is somewhere writing on your behalf.
Jason: When Allan is writing I curl up with Nick Hornby. He writes about the kind of dude we can relate to, a guy struggling to achieve success – and coping with the possibility he could come up short.
Allan: Except we agreed not to contemplate that possibility, remember? Let’s just say we read Stephen King. Let’s say Vampire Vic is an updated Salem’s Lot, and leave it there.
Jason: More like Carrie. Like Nick Hornby doing Carrie.
Allan: That’s another perfect blurb for the back cover.
TTS: Does music influence your work at all? If so how?
Allan: The great songs draw me into an alternate, heroic reality. I’m awed by artists who can create a mood, pull my emotions to the surface with the music, and then put a lump in my throat or bring tears of joy, with a single phrase. That’s my inspiration for each scene that we write.
Jason: I like funny music. I like to write funny things.
Allan: Pandora still can’t figure out what Harris Gray’s style is.
TTS: Do you feel what you read or listen to influences what you write?
Allan: Listening to accountants drone on at work influences me to write.
Jason: Listening to Allan talk about his work influences me to write, and to tell my kids not to become accountants.
Allan: Eavesdropping on Jason was actually responsible for the birth of Harris Gray. Jason owns Crowfoot Valley Coffee and the Crowbar here in Castle Rock, Colorado. I would write in my corner nook seat in Jason’s shop and secretly listen to him telling crazy anecdotes to his customers, working them into my stories.
Jason: Of course I knew Allan was listening the whole time. I could see he was having a hard time keeping up, he’s a slow typist, so I figured I’d help him out.
Allan: One day waiting for me at my corner seat is a little yellow notepad, crammed and curling with stories from Jason’s younger, wilder days. I edited them, Jason added to them, back and forth…. We ended up with a compilation that we’ll be releasing soon.
Jason: And better yet, we realized how well we mesh and write together.
TTS: Are you planning on sticking to one genre or do you see yourself branching out into others?
Jason: We know how important it is to be consistent, so that readers will know what to expect, so that we can build a loyal following.
Allan: So of course, we have now written one autobiography, one mainstream novel, and one vampire story.
Jason: Romance is probably up next. I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels. At the writers conferences, the romance tables are always the most fun.
Allan: At the last conference, we found a sharpie and covertly added “Vampires &” to the “Romance” placard. That didn’t fly, so we realized we needed to bump up our street cred.
Jason: Allan’s reading cozy mysteries as a backup.
TTS: What advice would you give a writer just starting out? Maybe something that you wish you would have known before you started?
Allan: Find a coauthor. Someone with a completely different style and perspective. It’s like a built-in workshop, inspiring plot twists and character depth that you never could have created on your own.
Jason: Or better yet, join us. That way we’ll have less competition—we’ll create a multi-author money-making monopoly—and you’ll actually have time to read.
TTS: What is next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about your current work in progress?
Jason: We are plotting the next two installments of the Vampire Vic series, and in the meantime preparing to release the other two books we mentioned, starting with Java Man in September.
Allan: It’s about an independent coffeeshop owner battling the competition, and then bone cancer.
Jason: I’m not looking forward to the nightmares kicking in again.
Allan: Jason has an issue with internalizing our characters’ problems. Writing Java Man was an emotional rollercoaster, thinking about friends and family who have been afflicted, and trying to convince Jason he was okay.
Jason: I can’t tell you how badly I was hoping for a happy ending.
TTS: Once again I would like to thank Harris Gray for being here. We’d love to have you back sometime!
Jason: We really enjoyed it. We would love to come back with Java Man.
Allan: Please check out our website, www.harrisgray.com. With our blog, and the bits we occasionally stumble across in the recesses of our dark, musty e-cave, we do our best to entertain you.
Jason: And to keep Eugene the Vampire Slayer from taking over the site.
Allan: Eugene hacks better than he slays, unfortunately for us.
Synopsis: Would you give up donuts…for blood? Fat, balding accountant Victor Thetherson hoped becoming a vampire would turn his life around. But Victor can’t stomach confrontation and gets queasy at the sight of blood. Instead he gets it from the blood bank, diluted in bloody Bloody Marys. The result: a vampire who doesn’t bite, and a man who gets no respect.
Victor’s slacking staff mockingly calls him Vampire Vic. Victor’s boss amuses his wife by intimidating Victor on video. His ex makes him stay out late while she entertains boyfriends in the house she insists they continue to share. One night it finally boils over, and Victor bites someone. And then another…and very soon, he’s no longer visiting the blood bank.
Muscle replaces fat, and his comb-forward widow’s peak takes root. Victor basks in newfound attention and respect, at the office and at home. But real vampires get hunted, and as the transformation reaches the tipping point, Victor must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the power of the vampire.
Harris Gray finish their third pint and mull over their next writing project, simultaneously deciding on a vampire book. Because the women in their lives eat up every vampire story on the shelves. And for the gratuitous T&A. But hunky, smoldering vampires are beyond their grasp; and dammit, T&A should mean something. Deciding to write what they know, Harris Gray return to their wheelhouse: An aging, uncomfortable man, not so happy with his lot in life. A man bitten by a vampire, unsure what to do with his new…skillset. Vampire Vic – VV – is born. Perfect.
The latest book is Vampire Vic.
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