Rachel is a hot, sexy vampire story set in Tokyo. I really enjoyed it. Also, I think Dobromir is a great guy and an excellent author.
The Man in Rags
Rachel was a mess.
Not the character, though she had her own problems, and they were entirely intentional on my part. But the story was going nowhere, and I was getting frustrated.
Rachel was my first novel, started as part of National Novel Writing Month in November, 2010. I had a beginning I liked, and Rachel herself appeared fully-formed, leaping off the page (iPad screen) and almost writing herself. I’d started with a dream of writing the best vampire story I could imagine – punky and violent; urban, gritty and drenched in blood; with that weight of history I love about the genre. Lost souls looking for succor in the wrong places, the beast within, et cetera, et cetera. It would be diverse and interesting, and take place in “real” Japan, not the stereotyped version we often see. I even set most of it in familiar locations. Rachel would fight and almost be killed a few blocks from my old apartment.
But a sinister man in rags was spoiling it all.
See, the second part of the book takes us away from Tokyo, and I’m not going to say where, but I’d finished 50,000 words by the end of November and most of it was a mess. I’m what George R. R. Martin calls a “gardener”; I write without planning, just get stuck into the words, then see what I have. Cut away most of the first draft and start again. And that’s how the ragged man crept into the book.
I knew when I wrote him he shouldn’t have been there. I’d added him as a disturbing antagonist in part 2, someone to challenge Rachel and drag her down, force her to the limit to survive. But he never belonged. Nothing seemed to improve him.
And I tried! I made him a vampire, then a human. A serial killer. I gave him sharp teeth, teeth all over his body. Made him pitiful and sad, then lord of where he lived. Then sad again. Friends who read my early drafts (and I am so sorry for what they had to plow through!) were polite, but I could tell none of them liked him. “Cartoonish” was the word I came up with, and people agreed. The rest of the story was gritty, the characters real and deep, but he was obviously in there to be “dark” and “edgy”, and it stuck out like a bloody knife handle.
There was only one recourse, and I couldn’t put it off any longer.
I cut him out. Just stripped him from the book. I deleted words, started again. Kept the darkness subtle. Pitted Rachel against real fears and situations. Her biggest enemy was always herself, I realized, and that’s when the pulsing heart of the story revealed itself, ripe and ready to be eaten, dripping down your chin. Rich and filling, like any good narrative.
Writing is rewriting, as better authors have said, and I rewrote a lot. Still do, and maybe that’s how I need to write. I don’t have the patience for planning, but I like writing and being surprised, and Rachel provided that for me. I hope other people respond to it in the same way now it’s out of my hands.
The best part, however, is that the man in rags is still in the book. I left traces of him, though you’d never know it. But I see them. It’s like he’s haunting the book; a sad, clownish figure, hiding between the words. That’s how I like to think of it, anyway. A swish, swish of his rags in the dead of night. Footsteps on creaky floorboards. The stench of his clothing as you lie in bed.
A hidden history, visible to a few, behind words that are much more effective for his absence.
Dobromir Harrison is from the UK, spent 11 years in Japan, and recently moved to Northern California. A childhood spent reading the likes of Clive Barker has given him a love of the grotesque. He especially loves stories told from the monster's perspective, and is committed to writing diverse fiction exploring the lives of women, people of color and LGBT characters. When not writing, Dobromir plays board games with his wife. They live in Crescent City with their cat, Koshka, who keeps them awake most nights with a truly hideous meow.