I have always had a mild fascination for the arcane and the occult.
To be clear, I was not so much interested in the "dark and spooky" details (but yeah, those were fun, too) as much as I felt drawn to the idea of something else out there. Something other than, well, textbooks, TV, and schedules.
Something that defied all that.
Since a child, I was captivated by legendary monsters and ghost stories, tales of people and creatures that cracked the skull of Reason and made us hesitate about that noise downstairs. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed them so much because if they were real, even a little bit, then that meant there was more, more journey out there, frightening as it might be.
You might imagine my disappointment as I grew older, when I learned that all those bumps in the night turned out to be settling boards. All those shadows lurking in the corner were mere phantoms born of superstition and inopportunely placed curtains. For awhile, I lamented their loss, like a child that must suddenly part with a beloved toy in his journey into maturity.
It was some time after this I discovered that, through writing, I could give them life. I could give them form and voice how I had always imagined them.
They could live.
The Noble Souls evolved out this spirit, but the story itself was inspired by a few specific sources that must be given credit. Bram Stoker's Dracula--one of my favorite novels--takes most of the credit, and it is his vision of the undead that I sought to emulate. Buffy the Vampire Slayer should also come to mind; however, while I did (and still do) enjoy the film, I have never taken the time to watch the much beloved television series of the 90's. I'm sure Sarah Michelle Geller did a great job, though.
Those two are more obvious influences, but there are two others that are worth noting. The first is the extremely underrated novels The Bartimeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.
His vision of a world influenced and built by magicians was so fascinating in its ability to seem so real. It was a refreshing and realistic take on a widely used premise. One such detail in the books was the idea that, in a world mastered by people of magical ability, nature would invariably create an opposition to their power. In the story, a small minority of people were born who naturally resisted the effects of magic. It created a variety of problems and conflicts that kept my attention deep, deep into bleary-eyed mornings. And so, when thinking about writing a novel about the undead and the heroes that would oppose them, I used this idea as a template for the Nightbreakers.
The last source of inspiration was less that, and more... motivation, let's call it. For a while, I had watched pop culture butcher the ancient lore and legend of the undead. Out of that mass of ever-mutating tentacles came iteration after iteration of vampires and demons whose form and theory were more eye-roll-worthy than the last. It was like watching that favorite toy I mentioned ripped from the closet where I put it, only to be torn apart, re-dressed, colored over, given a ridiculous name, only to torn apart again by some other hack with no great imagination, but a good sense of fashion.
Needless to elaborate, I came to loathe the very term vampire, and I do to this day.
That word has taken on a more monstrous series of identities which chase its ancestors back into their graves for fear of catching the disease. I'll not name specific popular works, but I imagine if you've managed to read this far, you're smart enough to peg the most savage culprit with three guesses.
The actual birth of the book came while I was watching Francis Ford Coppola's turn with everybody's favorite villain. Say whatever you want about some casting choices, the movie is a classic in my eyes. Anyway, I was drawn to the magnificent opening sequence showing Vlad earning his moniker with righteous abandon upon foe after foe, an unstoppable violence given human form.
All this, only to be bested in the end by a scroll of paper, a weak-willed lover, and a terrible, terrible excuse for a priest. That part, I hated, and even as the movie unraveled I began reimagining the opening sequence in a way that would seem, I don't know, much more heroic.
I asked myself the question: How could he, Vlad the ruthless warrior, become the Dracula in a way that was more becoming to his violent nature?
I imagined him on the battle field, slaying enemies both human and monster, only to lock sights with their leader and lord, the source of such unrelenting malice. In an impossible fight, Vlad would dominate the creature--the undead master responsible for all this carnage--and slay him. Then, once he returned to his homeland, he would discover that his victory came at a cost. A portion of the creature's soul was now bound to him, and while it would, in time, make him a thing of evil, it would also grant him immortality and all the power of the darkness besides. He or she who destroyed The Dracula would become The Dracula.
Thus was born the idea of the Mantle of the Dragon.
It would be some time many years later that I would consider a hero to stand opposite such a powerful enemy. Inspired by various myths (and the sources I already mentioned) the Noble Souls and their mythology were born.
And the hero, Valerie Zeta?
I had a college professor once who always had the most plain, yet interesting ideas. We were once discussing Joseph Campbell's great work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He pointed out the rather glaring fact that all these archetypes applied to the male identity, his rise into maturity in metaphor. While some consideration was given to the female identity and her rise into maturity in metaphor, it was by no means as detailed. He challenged us to think about that.
What is the heroine's journey? Surely it wouldn't be a simple as a gender swap.
To be fair, we've seen our culture recently attempt to wipe the grime from our eyes and tell her story, but the common tropes (still being repeated today) are woeful abominations.
They go something like this.
Stage 1: The Princess. The heroine is born of royalty or higher leadership. She exhibits curious tendencies, but nothing that makes her a reject. Society loves her, as she represents the future of her people.
Stage 2: The Misfit. The heroine takes a little adventure, most of the time with a divine guide or lesser sidekick. She discovers a strange male figure, usually a foreigner or the scion of a rival faction. This causes a bit an outrage among her people since she is usually promised to the handsome son of another prominent family. Sidenote: her betrothed is often a bull-headed jackass.
Stage 3: The Lover. The heroine agonizes over which man she'll choose. No doubt, she loves the foreigner. He's exotic, which makes her feel unique and free from the crushing weight of being the embodiment and continued life of the accumulated tradition and culture of her people. Yet, she feels responsible to stay the course and do what everyone expects of her by marrying within tribal lines. The totality of her power and worth as a person is contingent on which male she chooses. I'll spoil it for you. She picks the guy in the leather jacket, much to the chagrin of the jackass.
Stage 4: The Idol. An empty shell to be admired and used. The man uses her. Society uses her. Everyone lives happily ever after--even her (inexplicably).
By now a hundred different examples have probably popped up in your mind like sour apples. And yes, they're sour apples.
Put simply, this is the heroine's journey born from the womb of a male-oriented perspective of society.
To find an alternative, one that is free from the traditional masculine imagination, you've got to keep your eyes open. The stories are out there, you've just got to look for the clues.
The formula can best be summarized as follows:
Stage 1: The Inititate. The heroine is presented to society for acceptance (into a sisterhood, usually into a subservient role to a male or other dominant power). Because of some defect inherent to her character, she fails and is shunned by society. Sidenote: that defect may be the first sign of a nascent strength necessary to her ascension.
Stage 2: The Outcast. The heroine is on her own (though she may have a familiar of some sort), having to employ her wits and take advantage of limited resources to survive in a dangerous world. Society fears her power, not knowing where she got it, or what she may do with it. Though she may be even seem sympathetic, it's best to keep her locked up. You may find her hiding, or assuming false identities to remain undetected.
Stage 3: The Sorceress. Though still shunned by society, the heroine now rises above her petty oppressors, having gained power and knowledge (usually forbidden) in her exile from humanity. The choice is sometimes presented to apply her powers in the service of good or evil. Sometimes, we see the Sorceress encounter a male culture hero who manages to appeal to her flagging sense of humanity. He then woos her and uses her power, often (if not always) to her detriment (Medea and Jason, should come to mind here). If this happens, her journey ends in tragedy.
Stage 4: The Goddess/Wicked Queen. The heroine has grown in her strength, nearly beyond challenge. If she has chosen evil, she has risen as the Wicked Queen who rules with tyrannical authority, usually to her demise. If she has chosen good, she has risen as the Goddess and people search after her, hoping for her divine aid and wisdom.
Circe should come to mind here along with their more modern iterations in Mulan, Sarah Connor, Queen Elsa--and most recently Daenarys Targaryen. I have used aspects of this pattern to craft my protagonist, and I hope that Valerie Zeta will one day find her place among their ranks in the true pantheon of heroic women.
All of these ingredients combined are the foundation of the series itself. The soul of the books. My highest hope was that through this story, I could bring to life strong and memorable characters whose drama might inspire some part of the reader, while reaching into each of us, to awaken the child deep inside, so we can remember and wonder again about the nature of those shadows that still lurk in the dark.