Welcome to the opening of our very first Vamp Week here at Brief Encounters! As a special treat, we’re kicking off the week with a two-part interview with Jordan Castillo Price, author of the much beloved series Psycop and Channeling Morpheus (which we’ll be reviewing here all this week). The first part of the Channeling Morpheus series has been re-released from Jordan’s own e-publisher, JCP Books, with the second part soon to follow (being re-released as Channeling Morpheus 6-10). In addition, Jordan has graciously offered to give away a bundle of all five stories we’ll be reviewing this week, to a lucky commenter on either day of the post (**more details below). It’s a fascinating conversation, so we hope you’ll enjoy!
Note: Questions by Cole in Blue, and questions by Ruby in Green.
Hi Jordan! Ruby and I are both very excited to review one of our favorite series this week, Channeling Morpheus, and revisit two of our favorite characters! You’ve been interviewed here in the past, so we thought we’d dig a little deeper this time and hopefully encourage anyone who hasn’t read this series to pick it up. Can you start off by giving us a few sentences about both of your characters, Michael and Wild Bill?
Hi Cole! Hi Ruby! I was so excited that you wanted to explore Channeling Morpheus in depth. I feel like it’s more than a vampire series—it’s an elaborate character study. Hopefully there are a few readers out there who are oversaturated with the same old vampire books will have their interest piqued and give it a try.
Michael Davies is a vampire hunter who is determined, painfully smart, and also painfully naive. He’s determined that if the authorities aren’t going to do anything about vampires, then he needs to locate the worst ones and start cleaning things up. Oh, and really it’s probably more about revenge.
Wild Bill would have been happy to coast through life rebuffing anyone who might begin to care about him with a smartass veneer, but he was in the right place at the right time when Michael was poised to make his first kill…and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
With each new story the point of view switches from one character to the other. Whose POV felt most natural to you to write?
I would say neither one is natural, because I think if I ever wrote someone who felt natural I’d be writing as “me,” (especially in first person writing) and that’s something I want to avoid. I think writing in first person feels a bit like channeling. (Which isn’t the origin of the series title…there just really isn’t another word for it.) With Michael, he feels like me as I’m writing him, though maybe more black-and-white, right-and-wrong opinionated. But his vocabulary is a lot like mine. I don’t dumb him down, even though he’s so young. He’s very booksmart, unlike some of my other characters like Victor Bayne (Psycop), where I need to be careful about what he knows and what he probably wouldn’t know, since Vic didn’t finish high school and isn’t really a scholarly guy.
Wild Bill has a poetic turn of phrase that’s all about getting into the mindset. He’s based on a guy I dated who did talk like that, and often leave me scratching my head as to what he was really saying because his real-life non sequiturs probably had more tangential relationships to the concept he was trying to convey than the literary Wild Bill.
He strikes me as more of a “regular guy” than a pacifist. In fiction I notice many stories are very “big” in a way that doesn’t work for me. (This is a new idea that’s just taken form in me over the past few weeks, so bear with me.) Squabbles become wars—and the wars don’t just kill people, they destroy the planet and all life in the universe. Characters aren’t just comfortable, they’re billionaires with nightclubs and yachts. The antagonist isn’t a guy with a chip on his shoulder, he’s the devil. For me, I think that “big” themes begin to lose me because characters engaging with those themes feel less and less like someone I can relate to. It feels fake. It feels contrived.
So with Bill’s character, it’s more like I try to imagine how a regular guy would react to having to kill someone, or seeing someone murdered. His guilt really drives him, and he’s haunted by all the death and trying to figure out the meaning of life, and being stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can’t walk away but it’s hell to stay.
Approaching Wild Bill as a “regular guy,” then, I think if a regular guy met up with a vampire (and knew it was a fact the vampire was a killer and needed to be stopped) he wouldn’t think, “Okay, I’ll kill him (or let my boyfriend do it.)” He’d probably call the cops!
I, of course, love the books from Wild Bill’s POV because he has such a unique and funny take on the world around him. But for some reason Michael’s stories tend to stick with me and I sometimes resent that Wild Bill gets all the attention (Hey, I can’t help it — he just has the punk attitude that makes me weak at the knees!) Did you ever feel like you played favorites while writing the series? How do you feel about them now?
I’m glad you asked this because I’ve had some feedback that Michael isn’t particularly beloved among readers, and I wonder sometimes if they realize he’s critical to the story. Michael is the catalyst. He’s not there to be agreeable or likeable. He’s there to move the story forward. If Wild Bill met up with a mirror image of himself, it would be just a couple of guys trying to out-smartass each other and then wandering away in disgust. Michael is the momentum and the fuel and the freshness that makes things happen. He’s very intense and very single-minded, and he’s damn near unstoppable.
I think because Michael and Wild Bill are so different, the stories that happen around each of their points of view are also different. I don’t have a favorite, though. I really do love them both. I wonder if Michael’s stories feel more intense because he allows himself to feel things more intensely, and that carries through in the writing.
It also strikes me as odd that some of the readers who’ve given me feedback strongly prefer reading a Wild Bill-narrated story to a Michael-narrated story. It’s the opposite of what I would expect. I would think reading from Michael’s POV would be preferable (if you’re a Bill fan) because then you get to vicariously have Bill lavishing his attentions on you.
In all, though, I think the fact that readers do tend to have a favorite means I’ve done something really right, and my characters don’t all sound and feel the same. That’s a huge accomplishment, in my eyes.
Given that you could have set your series wherever you wanted, what made you choose the Mid-West as opposed to classic literary vampire territory like New Orleans or Paris?
Two main reasons. One, New Orleans and Paris have been done (over and over) and I wanted to do something new. Two, I haven’t been to New Orleans or Paris, but I have been to Terre Haute and Detroit and Milwaukee and Rockford and Dubuque. Setting Channeling Morpheus in midwestern cities that aren’t particularly glamorous is what differentiates it from all the derivative stuff set in New Orleans. Anchoring the story in places that feel real makes the fantasy elements of the worldbuilding pop.
The sex in these stories is smoking hot (Hell yes it is!), yet the surroundings are always so dirty and uncomfortable. Do you think these two things are connected? Can you ever see Wild Bill and Michael living the life of luxury?
I’ve never thought about the setting impacting the sex, but since the sex is integral to the story and the story is affected by the setting, I suppose it would have to! It’s possible that the grungy settings provide a contrast that makes the sex more vivid, in the way that the mundaneness of the locales makes the supernatural elements more striking. I feel resistant to the thought of Wild Bill and Michael amid luxury. I don’t think they’d fit, somehow. They’d start feeling contrived.
In my opinion, the success of this series, and one of the reasons I love it, is that the focus of the story is really on the characters, rather than vampire mythology like most other vampire stories. Was this a conscious decision? If so, why?
I do go into the physiological changes, the strengths and weaknesses, the social structure (or lack of it,) but I do it via scenes rather than exposition. That’s a conscious choice for sure. I get really turned off by stories that rush to tell me “here are the storyverse rules” in a big expository dump on page two. That’s like driving to a concert to see my favorite band, being handed a set list, and told to go sit in my car and imagine it. I want to see the ramifications of a story unfold via action or dialog or character. Not be told a list of rules. So I guess I’m trying to say that I’m conscious of the focus of everything I write never being on the mythology, but rather the way the characters interact with that mythology/worldbuilding.
They were written a few years apart, and I think that difference is probably the bigger difference than the worldbuilding being bigger in Hemovore. I suppose they were both interesting to write, but Hemovore was a bigger learning curve for me. That was when I discovered that exposition, even delivered in a really clever voice, was still just exposition. I think writers fool themselves by thinking they can get away with being expository if they have a clever way with words, and I think they’re wrong. I was just learning that with Hemovore, whereas by the time I started Channeling Morpheus I was practiced enough annihilating exposition that I could think of other things, like how to convey subtext and characterization via sex scenes.
There is one last question about the series that Ruby and I both have. Do you agree with Wild Bill that Michael is a serial killer? How do you feel about the moral implications of making a killer so sympathetic to the reader?
Great question! I don’t agree with Wild Bill at all, I think Michael is a vigilante. But it makes sense for Wild Bill to feel that way since he’s considered himself a victim (of Ambrose Gray, of circumstance) for as long as Michael has been alive, or maybe even as long as he himself has been alive. So Michael’s crusade against vampires makes him feel pretty defensive. Understandably so, I think. I’d be surprised if there were any moral implications. “One man takes a stand against evil…with a great big gun” is a pretty typical theme in writing and film.
That’s it for Part One of our interview! Check in tomorrow for the second half, where we ask Jordan some fun questions
**Leave a comment in the post for a chance to win an electronic bundle of stories 1-5 of Channeling Morpheus (the 2nd Edition). Comments on both parts of the interview will be considered one entry. Contest is open until Friday, January 20th at 11:59 CST. Drawing will be at random and winner listed at the bottom of comments, so remember to check back or click to get updates emailed to you when you post your comment! Winner will then be put in contact with Jordan to determine the format.