Clay Gilbert has been thinking about aliens, vampires, and people from the future since he was four and he channeled these thoughts into stories. I was fortunate to have been able to interview him about his previous book series. Gilbert recently re-published his novel, Dark Road to Paradise, which explores HIV and vampirism. Wanting to know about this new novel, Gilbert allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: We last talked in February about your book, The Conversationalist. We are now talking about your novel, Dark Road to Paradise, being republished. Before we discuss this story, I need to know this: how the hell do you publish so much, so quickly? Do you not sleep? Did you make a deal with a demon? Do you just live off of a combination of Redbull and Adderall?
Clay Gilbert: It’s mostly coffee, Nick. Seriously, though, I do write a lot—about eight to ten hours a day. I can finish a new novel in about a month, maybe a little longer. And no, I probably don’t sleep as much as I should.
Yanes: More seriously, how have you been since we last talked? Any cool life updates on your end?
Gilbert: Pretty much just work. I’m going to be an author guest at JordanCon in Atlanta this coming weekend; that will have happened by the time this interview is published. It’s one of my favorite conventions, and I’m happy every time they ask me to return as a guest.
Yanes: Also, how goes the fight to build your fanbase and your professional brand? Any new suggestions for writers?
Gilbert: It’s constant, as constant as the writing itself. I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a newsletter, and this year, I’m going to do that. I think I’ll put it out twice a year, in the Spring and in the late fall, similar to what my publisher, Dark Moon Press, does with its book releases. I’ve got the first issue pretty much planned out. Suggestions for writers: be regular. Try to sit down in the same place, same time, every day. Set a goal. When I was thirteen, Stephen King told me, at a convention, that ten pages a day was a good daily output. So that’s what I try for—some days I even get twenty or thirty.
Yanes: You first published Dark Road to Paradise in 2013. What was the inspiration behind this story?
Gilbert: I’ve been a vampire fan all my life. I wrote the book over a period of years between 1996 and 2004 (I was in grad school and working full time in a conventional job in those days), and, in 2004, it became the thesis for my MFA degree, where a hardbound copy could be found in the library of the University of South Carolina (and nowhere else) nearly ten years before the book even had its first official printing in 2013. There had never been a vampire novel dealing directly with the HIV/AIDS crisis, and particularly with the prejudices HIV patients often suffer from. All these years later, there still hasn’t been. Dark Road to Paradise remains a unique benchmark in the genre for that reason, even though there have been plenty of love stories between humans and vampires since 2004. And Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight wasn’t around until 2005.
Yanes: What was the motivation behind republishing it? On this note, how do you think you’ve improved as a writer since this story was first published?
Gilbert: Well, PDMI Publishing, who brought out Dark Road originally, went out of business, and Dark Road was the last book of mine that hadn’t been republished under my current contract with Dark Moon Press. Also, when I originally wrote the book, the setting was a fictional Alabama college town called Grove, based on Auburn. I’d always regretted not just having the town be Auburn, so for the new edition, that’s been addressed. It’s set in Auburn, Alabama now, as it always was meant to be. Finally, I thought Dark Road needed a chance to be read more widely. It is the only vampire novel, as far as I know, to deal head-on with AIDS and the HIV virus, and it was certainly the first. Perhaps not entirely altruistically, I’d like for people to be aware of it. I do think I’ve improved as a writer since 2013, and hopefully, the re-edits and slight polishes in the new edition reflect that.
Yanes: Dark Road to Paradise deals with vampirism and HIV. When you think of how HIV has impacted culture, how were you hoping to engage in this conversation with this story?
Gilbert: Throughout the history of vampire legends and myths in human culture, vampires and disease have been linked—whether it’s malaria, the bubonic plague, or HIV/AIDS. Having been an avid reader and viewer of vampire media practically all my life, it was somewhat shocking to me that, as of 2003, when the novel was first completed (it was the thesis for my MFA degree in Fiction Writing), there had been no vampire novel or film that dealt with HIV/AIDS in anything but a metaphorical way. Believe me, I researched.
In 2013, when the book was first officially published by PDMI Publishing, I Googled and researched again. And this year, while sitting down to write the introduction to Dark Moon Press’s edition of Dark Road, I was again confronted with the fact that this is apparently still not just the first, but also the only vampire novel to confront the disease directly as part of the story, and to draw an in-story parallel between the outsider status of AIDS patients and the outlier/outsider status of the vampire in myth.
It’s a double parallel really, because the vampire and the HIV patient are both marginalized to some extent by a condition of their blood. And of course, both the vampire and the virus are, to an extent, parasitical. In all my stories, though, my main purpose is to foster understanding between those who are misunderstood, disabled, or otherwise marginalized in our culture. As much as they are anything else, my stories are tales that seek to bring the outsider in. I hope that Cassie Edwards, who is a young woman who amounts to much more than her HIV positive status, helps people to see that life can and must go on even under the threat of death. Life is, after all, a terminal sentence for all of us. The worth of our lives is how we live—not how long.
Yanes: The relationship between Martin Cabot and Cassie Edwards is the emotional arc of the story. Where there any relationships that inspired how Cabot and Edwards interacted with one another?
Gilbert: Not so much, this time. Martin began his life as a character in a vampire role-playing game, and there are, of course, things Martin and I have in common. We’re both writers, and we’ve both spent time in Auburn, Alabama, where the book takes place. But Cassie isn’t based on anyone in particular. I suppose the women who have been a part of my life at various times over various years might argue with that, but she’s certainly not just one person—besides herself, of course. I do think that the essence of Cassie’s and Martin’s relationship is compassion for one another, mutual understanding, and willingness to forgive if things somehow go south for a while. Those are certainly qualities I believe in, and things I’ve learned in my own relationships over the years.
Yanes: Are there any elements of Dark Road to Paradise you’d like to revisit in a sequel or spinoff?
Gilbert: As it happens, I’m currently finishing up a second book called Cassie’s Song, and I expect there will be a third novel called Heartsblood either in 2019 or 2020. Cassie’s Song will actually be published this year, in the late spring. Saw the cover art for it just the other day.
Yanes: When people finish reading Dark Road to Paradise, what do you hope that they take away from it?
Gilbert: That life is made meaningful by our connections with others, and also by the passion and creativity we bring to our lives. Also, a sense of sympathy—and empathy—for those who may be misunderstood or even feared just because they are different from others, sometimes in ways they may not even be able to control.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Gilbert: Well, Cassie’s Song of course, and also Mission to Mercy Prime, the second part of The Conversationalist. A little later on—this fall—I have an urban fantasy coming out called The Kind, and the fourth Children of Evohe novel, Annah and the Arrow. It’s a busy year.