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In part one (see here) of our exclusive interview with Mexican filmmaker and author Guillermo del Toro, the HELLBOY director previewed his latest novel, THE FALL, co-written by Chuck Hogan and available now from William Morrow. THE FALL arrives as Book II in the authors’ epic STRAIN Trilogy, the apocalyptic story of the death of mankind and the rise of a race of malignant vampires. Del Toro continues his discussion below, giving insight into his creative process, details his obsession with bloodsuckers, dishes on upcoming works and reveals just how he manages to juggle so many projects at once.
FANGORIA: What do you owe your career-long obsession with vampires to, as we’ve seen in CRONOS, BLADE II and now THE STRAIN Trilogy?
GUILLERMO DEL TORO: It’s a Catholic streak. I was reading about vampires right about the time that I was becoming a spokesperson for the Virgin Mary, and I was deeply enmeshed in the Catholic religion as a kid. I took the act of communion in my brain literally, and it freaked me out. I was reading biographies of real-life vampires, meaning psychopaths. It was a very strange flashpoint in my head, it was an imprinting, and they are there for good. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon things like PASSPORT TO THE SUPERNATURAL, Montague Summers’ vampire books, THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE VAMPIRE by Anthony Masters, and all of these were seminal books of my youth. I was not reading fiction that much, and I was blessed with a bad childhood.
FANG: So it was always an obsession with the truths behind vampirism, the more realistic aspect of it?
DEL TORO: Yeah, yeah. In NATURAL HISTORY OF THE VAMPIRE and VAMPIRES, BURIAL, AND DEATH, they analyze vampirism from the point of view of real diseases. For example, there was a nasty streak of vampires called the Shroud Eaters. That was a plague, and it came from people opening up the coffins of suspected vampires and finding that they had eaten through the shroud [that covered them]. There was a bloody stain on the mouth, and they believed these guys came out with their shrouds and bit people through the shroud. But in reality, it was a discharge of bloody foam and bacteria coming out of the mouth of the bloated corpse, and the bacteria would eat the shroud’s fabric. I was always interested in, for example, the early European chronicles of vampirism. One of the things that is consistent is “the body looked rosy, the skin was pliable, and the body was engorged with the blood of the victims.” But in reality, what happened is the gas, stains and the blood accumulates in weird ways, and there are gas stains on the body that make it look yellowish and pinkish. So all this is what I was reading as a kid; I was not reading anything remotely romantic. Although I loved INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE as a young guy, it was always too hip, too pleasure oriented, it was about the pleasures of immortality. I never connected with that. I always liked the hard life, like the vampire in CRONOS is a poor devil, the vampires in BLADE are essentially parasites, except for Luke Goss, who is a thinking monster.
FANG: In the STRAIN Trilogy you get into the biology of the vampires to make it very real and scientifically plausible, yet you could defeat them with some of the old-fashioned lore of the past.
DEL TORO: The beauty of it is we’re doing it step by step. In the third book, we finally tell you why silver, we finally tell you why daylight, and we tell you why they nest in places of great tragedy. We reinvent our own little mythology for it, and it all finally comes together. Essentially, the third book tells you biology and magic are exactly the same thing. Chemistry and magic are exactly the same thing. Alternately, it is a nomenclature for supernatural things we can’t understand.
FANG: Why didn’t you dispense with the lore altogether and make them unique creatures that none of the superstitions of the past and none of the ways of warding off the vampires have any truth?
DEL TORO: The funny thing is that when you go back to the original myths, there is no consistency in what vampires do. You go through Mesopotamian vampires, Hindu vampires, Mexican vampires, Greek vampires—each of them changes, and the rules to dispose of them changes. One of the things is, originally, they used to be nailed with a long nail to the coffin, to keep them from getting up, then it became oak and so on. Many times they would just simply flip the coffin upside down, so that when the vampire dug itself out of the ground, it dug deeper into the ground and would never come out. Sometimes they would stuff a brick with a hammer in their mouth, to break their teeth to prevent them from biting and then binding the head, decapitation, extraction of the heart… Sometimes they just amputated their legs. What we’re playing with is the modern concept of old lore. Silver only gets mentioned originally in mirror backings, and in certain places, a needle in the heart—but it can be iron or silver. But even then, at the end of the trilogy, we make sense of everything, and that creates, hopefully, a new mythology.
FANG: What can we expect from the third book?
DEL TORO: The beautiful thing is that I’m writing with Chuck on THE NIGHT ETERNAL, but I’m also writing solo. I turned in the first chapters of a book called TROLLHUNTERS [see item here] for the young adult label Hyperion, and they liked what they saw. And I’m writing short stories now for HarperCollins, for a book called PHANTOM LIMBS, which is an anthology book. It’s gonna be much more quirky and more sort of my Spanish-language films compared to THE STRAIN, which is the big American movie. PHANTOM LIMBS is really strange stuff.
FANG: Where do you find the time?
DEL TORO: I keep telling people, and they have a hard time believing this, but if you do write two hours a day… most people wait for inspiration and you end up downloading crap, answering e-mail, surfing through the web, Googling yourself…[laughs]. If you’re not disciplined, you can say you’re writing for five days, but if you write every day for two hours a day, you accomplish a lot. A LOT. Right now I’m behind, but if you turn in a screenplay, the studio takes a week, if not three weeks, to come back to you with notes. So what are you gonna do those three weeks? You make sure you have something to write in the morning and you write a lot.
FANG: And you just jump from project to project or you try to stay focused on one novel or screenplay at a time?
DEL TORO: Well, novels and short stories I do when I deliver things on a deadline. For example, THE STRAIN, THE FALL and NIGHT ETERNAL have a deadline. Rigid, rigid deadline. We need to be turning the last novel in come May or June next year, when hopefully I’ll be starting IN THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. But I first do the things that I have to do. The short stories are a lot of fun.
FANG: How much of THE NIGHT ETERNAL is written?
DEL TORO: Every time Chuck and I start one of the books, we have what he calls a four-day breakfast. We meet for four days somewhere, and plot everything we know about the book. The first document I always generate—and this is a really good tip for writers—is a thing called “What We Know.” For screenplays, novels or short stories, what do you know about what you’re doing? And you put down everything you know, in no particular order, stream of consciousness. We do that, over four days, we structure that. NIGHT ETERNAL is a 30-page document already. We already called dibs; I called dibs on this, he called dibs on that, he’s writing his part, I’m writing my part. And then we coalesce the pages, and he’s merciless with me and I’m merciless with him.
FANG: Were you surprised by the international success of the books?
DEL TORO: It is quite crazy to think that the books are translated to 20-something languages and have been successful in 30 countries. We made a decision with the second book to not cross promote it like a film, which we did on the first one, with a trailer, movie websites, and let it really give us a gauge of where the readers should want us. And the second book got five times the pre-orders than the first one, it got faster in the charts than the first book ever did, and the first book was in the top 10 New York Times Best Sellers list. THE FALL is shaping up really good. So I’m surprised by all that, because frankly I think of it as the escape. Writing fiction is such a great escape for me because I’m not dealing with notes, I can do anything I want. It’s like a big-budget production with the freedom of a small-budget film. It gives me permission to be cruel to characters without having the studio say, “Well, I don’t think you should kill that character” or “I don’t think that character should do that.” You can do anything; there’s some sick shit in those first two novels, and I’m enjoying that, I see it as a relief.
FANG: How does it feel that millions of fans wait with bated breath to learn what your next project will be?
DEL TORO: What happens and what’s weird, is that I have a lot of work, but more projects are attached to me on rumors than I’m really attached to, or things are announced way prematurely. Like, things are announced when we’re just having talks. Case in point, I had a lunch with Neil Gaiman four years ago, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a DR. STRANGE movie?” And he said, “Yeah! It would cool.” That’s it! I never talked to Marvel, Marvel never talked to me, and all of a sudden I was attached to doing DR. STRANGE. And it looks like overload on an overload, and it isn’t. The projects I have are all following their due course. For example, PINOCCHIO with Gris Grimly: we finished designing, we have the maquettes, screenplay is written, half of the financing is in place, but it’s all secret. Nick Cave is doing the music. All these things are things I’m going to announce. People are going, “Oh, he was attached to a PINOCCHIO project, but nothing came out of it…” Things are coming out of it. Secretly. So I would love to say we’re doing this, this and that, but it really is precarious when some announcements are done prematurely.
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