A master’s voice

rvl_one-on-one_headerPresented by
Tim

 

On November 4, this year, at 2:17 PM, we received an email at RVL that was at once both intriguing and exciting. The email was from a publicist named Michelle and it sparked one of the most interesting, and stimulating editorial interviews that I have had the pleasure of putting together to date. The project, including our research, provided an absolute feast for the senses and some great reading material to boot.

It also allows us the opportunity to do something we’ve never done at RVL before ~ offer our readers the chance to win a prize but more on that later.

Let me ask you a question, if I may?

What have Vampires and classical concert baritones got in common?
Give up? The answer is John Davies.

As a Baritone John has been, including appearances, telecasts and broadcasts, heard and watched by more than 2 billion people around the world, in more than 130 countries. He has been described as, “A golden voice; one of the great Australian baritones.” (Daily Telegraph) and has been said to have, “Seduced the public with Andrea Chenier by Giordano.” (Le Quotidien – France)

His awards include Opera Singer and Vocal Coach of the Year (2011 – Los Angeles Award; US Commerce Association) The 2010 Omni Foundation, Los Angeles, Classical Music Award and the 2003 International Musician of the Year, IBC Cambridge, UK. John has also been listed in the 2002 publication, “2000 Outstanding Musicians of the 20th Century” (Melrose, 2002 – ISBN 9780948875298)

Within all of this he has also written a number of works including, “Australian Defence Force – Trade Manual for Singing, ADF Music Corps” 2009 – 2010, the independently published “Theory of Simultaneous Communication and Psi Effect via an Unknown State of Matter which may Exist at Temperatures Approaching Absolute Zero” (1997 – 2002) and “Common Causes of Functional and Organic Disorders of the Voice in Adolescents” (1993 – USyd) to name just a few.

So what brought Real Vampire Life E-Zine and John Davies, thanks to Michelle, together?

Img. source - www.thefirstvampire.com Copyright John Davies

Img. source – www.thefirstvampire.com
Copyright John Davies

John’s latest writing venture, one sure to please even the most discerning reader of Vampire book wares. “The First Vampire” is a debut novel which, “provides an alarmingly plausible explanation of why and how the first human was transformed into a vampire, against a backdrop of factual Eastern European history.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in what is a wonderful opportunity, and a great privilege, it gives us great pleasure to introduce to you Mr. John Davies.

JohnDavies-imageaboutRVL: Good evening John it is great pleasure to be able to spend a little time with you and to be able to discuss your new book.

John: Hi RVL Guys! The pleasure’s all mine. It’s quite exciting for me to have the opportunity to connect with the actual vampire community and vampire fans at your site. And to think…it’s only about six months ago that I threw away my 1970s plastic vampire fangs!!

RVL: Okay, to break the ice, and because we’re dying to know, who’s your favourite vampire? And, if we may, can we ask a little something about your background and your interest in vampires?

John: As a kid, I was intrigued by vampire lore – most of which took the form of films. I came along just in time to catch those Hammer House of Horror films – “Count Yorga Vampire” and “Vampire Lovers,” and so on. And of course there were the Christopher Lee films. I’m not actually sure if there’s a vampire film I did NOT see. And I read all the vampire books I could get my hands on. I even read “Interview with the Vampire” before it became popular. I think the element about vampire lore that was most compelling to me was that of immortality. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s quite common among the vampire community.

As for my favorite vampire, that one depends on the context. Elizabeth Bathory has been very present for centuries, and in some ways, she set the standard for generations of vampires to come – even to the present day. My God… the list of film credits that woman has is amazing – not bad for a chick who was born in 1560. Imagine what she’d think if she knew how much of a star she had become!! *laughs* She’s never collected a single fee for any of her appearances! She gets a nod in TFV; one of the main characters has the Bathory surname.
In the film context, I, along with every other red-blooded teen in the world, was mesmerized by Ingrid Pitt’s “Carmilla” in the 1970 Hammer film, “The Vampire Lovers“. That was such a daring film for its time. Carmilla carried out the slow seduction of Madeleine Smith’s character, and the level of sexuality in vampire films went through the roof.

"The Vampire Lovers" - American International Pictures (AIP), Hammer Films, Fantale Films 1970

“The Vampire Lovers”
– American International Pictures (AIP), Hammer Films, Fantale Films 1970

In the modern era, I think I like Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) the most. I am intrigued by the duality of his personality. In this respect, he’s a little Jekyll and Hyde-ish…and this may be a very accurate reflection of all of us, to a greater or lesser extent.

RVL: In your research and development of the book, prior to writing, how important was the history, myth and folklore about vampires?
John: The book offers an explanation of why and how the first vampire was created, the history, myth and folklore of vampires didn’t play such an important role, simply because from the perspective of the book, there had been no previous vampires. Right or wrong, that was one of the premises of the book. However, the actual history of Wallachia and the Draculesti (Dracul clan) was very important, as it was upon this that the superstructure of the book was constructed. It proved at times to be somewhat frustrating to get at the real facts, as the facts change according to by whom and when those facts were written. Where I found it impossible to determine what the facts were, I avoided making any mention of them, so as to avoid entering into an academic discussion of the opposing points of view and their relative merits. That kind of discourse doesn’t belong in a historical fiction which is aimed at informing and entertaining the readers.

Img. source - http://www.johndaviesmusic.com/

Img. source – http://www.johndaviesmusic.com/

RVL: Have you had the opportunity to read any of the non-fiction material that deals with the modern, vampire sub-culture?
John: Unfortunately, not really. I have read a few things in magazines and online and I have found them to be very interesting. I am certainly aware of the modern vampire sub-culture, and to my way of thinking, it’s not really a new thing – yes, the subject matter is new but the underlying principles are not. The vampire sub-culture seems to be constituted by people with a shared set of beliefs, interests and possibly values and more, and in that respect it’s not all that different from any group which has shared beliefs and practices. To many people, this seem to be a little outside of the so-called “norm” – whatever that is. There’s the magic word – “norm”. If a person chooses to live their life as a vampire, is that really so much different from someone who chooses to live their life as a fanatical football club supporter, or a religious zealot? I guess catching up on materials relevant to the vampire sub-culture will have to go onto my list of must-dos.

RVL: What was it that shaped your early interest in the vampire particularly as a literary topic?
John: When I emerged from the theater after seeing my first big-screen vampire film, I had some questions. If you had to be bitten by a vampire to become a vampire, then how was the first person transformed, and why? Working out answers to those questions was never going to be easy. Sure, you could make up something completely fantastic, but my take on that was that it would leave the vampire to languish in the realms of fantasy. I wanted to attempt to offer an explanation that would seem reasonably plausible to that omnipresent legal entity known as the “reasonable person”. If I could come up with an explanation that a “reasonable person” would read and say, “Hmmmm…”, then I’d be happy. It seems that I may have been a little successful, in that some of the readers have mentioned in reviews that my explanation is quite plausible. Modern-day vampirism is not a fantasy, and I thought that writing a book which was, to a certain extent fact based, might possibly give a little more power to people following the vampire lifestyle. I hope it worked.

RVL: …and when did you first decide to venture into the genre?
John: About ten years ago, I decided that I could take a little time to do a few things I wanted to do (after a life of doing what I didn’t want to do in order to get the house, pay the bills etc – the usual routine). My first thought was to write an opera based on vampires, and I talked to a few friends about that and got started. But as I spent more time developing plots and themes, my ideas transformed. I realized that an opera or Broadway musical wouldn’t work because of the amount of material required to deal seriously with the emergence of the first vampire. So then I thought about a screenplay, but a discussion with a film producer friend led me to immediately forget about writing a screenplay and just do the book.

 

RVL: Did your work on the preparation, premise of, and execution of this work come easily or did it take a particular focus and expansion of thinking on your part?
John: The notion of writing a book presented me with what I thought would be quite a bit of difficulty, as while I had done a great deal of academic writing, writing for the purpose of entertainment wasn’t something I’d ever attempted. However, one day, I decided to just start instead of thinking about how I should proceed, and I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed creative writing. I actually had fun…whereas I never had “fun” in academic writing. LOL…it’s ironic that while I was writing creative fiction, I carried out as much research as I would have done in writing academic stuff. But instead of simply reporting clarified historical facts, I tried to paint the picture of the historical events, (at least in a few cases), so that the readers could read history but become a bit more immersed in it by the visions I was trying to put into their heads. By the way, I should mention here, that I never did academic writing in historical subjects. That wasn’t my area. Yes…if you insist…my area tended to be anthropological and I penned such toe-tappers as “Social Iconicity of the Central Javanese Wayang Performance“. Yeah, they really loved that one!

RVL: In approaching the subject of your work what was the basic definition of “vampire” that was uppermost in your mind?
John: I wanted my vampire to be, essentially, a being that was immortal unless attacked at its vulnerable point. I wanted it to be unable to exist in sunlight, and also consigned to drinking blood. Most importantly I wanted to demonstrate why those conditions came about within a purely understandable and logical argument. So, the definition from which I worked was fairly stereotypical. If I was going to invent a whole bunch of new conditions which were quite foreign to those which we attach to the more “traditional” vampire, then I would be inventing a new type of entity. For example, a vampire imbued with a whole bunch of magical and extra-sensory abilities still fits in with the essential stereotype, whereas a vampire who is, say, susceptible to kryptonite radiation would be essentially a new invention of my own devising. And a book about that creature would fail, in my view, to be fairly faithful to the vampire genre.

RVL: Has your mindset changed from the basic premise of vampires that you set out with in approaching your writing?
John: Not really. However, as I developed the plot, I found that the vampire that I would end up creating would be a creature that we humans and current vampires could genuinely feel sorry for, relate to and view as very noble for having chosen the course it did. The pre-vampire human of the book was given virtually no choice in whether he should become a vampire. He HAD to transform in order to achieve a bunch of ends. I had to create a set of circumstances which would force a perfectly reasonable person to opt for the transformation which Dracula opted for. I hope that the result of doing that is that I wound up with a creature who had a great deal of human characteristics and emotions with which ordinary people could feel empathy. Am I making sense there?

RVL: How did the characters come to life for you in writing? Did you have any precedents in mind?
John: No, I had no precedents in mind. As I proceeded with the historical research into the Draculesti, I found that the actual history dictated much of the fiction to me. For example, the fact of continual, bloody murder and random raids carried out by the Ottomans created a tableau in my mind of utter carnage which took place at Corbeni (a real village not far from Curtea de Arges and Cetate Poenari). The meeting at Kiralyi-Palota on October 9, 1408 did happen in reality. And the men who were inducted into the order that day, were the men in my book. Where I could find details of their appearances, either by examining documents or artworks, I included in the text. As for the exact details of the shape that meeting took, nothing is known, so I invented what I considered to be a reasonably viable hypothesis which would (hopefully) be entertaining to readers. I don’t know if pastiches like this are interesting to modern-day vampires or not, but to my way of thinking, without that meeting and those inductees, today’s real vampires might (emphasis on might) never have been able to come into existence. Now I’m raving!

Corbeni, Romania Img. courtesy of www.booking.com

Corbeni, Romania
Img. courtesy of www.booking.com

Most of the characters of the historical discourse of the book are real, and by reading everything available about them, I tried to extrapolate to a point where I could surmise a reasonable version of what those people were actually like back in the 1400s. Setting those people into the action, once I had decided what they might be like, wasn’t too difficult, despite the six hundred year gap. For example, if a guy has food poisoning and feels a sudden need to run to the bathroom whilst in the middle of a conversation with a beautiful woman, the outcomes of those circumstances will be the same whether it was 1415 or 2015. And that kind of scenario led me, in part, to the decision that the language should be modern, and not archaic. Some readers have mentioned that the book reads very quickly, and I think that’s because I opted for 21st century language instead of the stilted type of language that has been prevalent in literature right up to the present day.

RVL: Are you aware that there is a thriving community of people who self-identify as “vampires” in the world today that originated in New York in the early nineties, what is your perception of that?
John: Yes, I am aware of that. Not totally aware, but I know about it. I know that there are several classifications of current vampires, according to their proclivities for example. But I’m not up on the details. My take on it is pretty straightforward. As a former dead guy myself (cancer, not fangs – diagnosed not to live past 2014), all I have to say is good on them. It’s 2015 and not the 70s and people should be able to live their lives however they choose, provided of course, that they do no harm to others.
It’s a human characteristic to strive to extricate oneself from the amorphous mire of anonymity and non-individuation, and to that end we all, in some way, create a platform whereby we can be considered to be individuals. So, if a guy wants to wear a neon-green suit and go to Starbucks on 55 and 7, and people comment positively on his suit, then the odds are that the self-edification of that will make him feel a bit better about himself. (Of course, people might make negative comments about his suit, with different outcomes.) He’ll possibly be a happier camper, and happy campers are possibly more likely to rate a plus, as opposed to a minus, in the community at large.

I’m not being judgmental here, don’t get me wrong. But if people feel good about themselves and they feel that they’re being honest to their ideals, then they’re probably living a more fulfilling life. And let’s face it, we all have only one life (so far) and to spend it in a way that makes us feel good should make for a pretty satisfying existence. OK, make exceptions to that for the criminally insane etc., as they harm others and place a great burden on society as a whole.

So, if someone identifies with the vampire persona and that leads them into fruitful social and intellectual interaction with others of their kind, then that can only be a good thing, right? And the exchange of information – be it historical, cultural or whatever, which likely happens when vampire groups meet – serves as a strong underpinning to bonding, and again, that’s very important for people. At least I think it is (exception: solitary vampires). If living one’s life as a vampire, maybe sleeping in a coffin, being awake only at night or wearing fangs adds to ones sense of self worth, then that also has to be a good thing.
I can’t help but note a little irony here, insofar as being a member of a sub-culture such as vampires, could possibly have an effect of bringing the members closer to societal “norms” (sorry!) in that they have a shared set of beliefs, maybe ritual practices, rules and mores. Further, they have websites, magazines, social media pages and sites, administrative infrastructure…all the same things that church groups and vintage fire truck enthusiasts have. In the latter case, the ritual of the “sounding of the klaxons” is far more offensive and unacceptable to me than say, the calm ritual of attracting spiritual nourishment from higher planes, and in that respect, the fire truck guys remove themselves way further out of the mainstream than do vampire groups, when they conduct the sounding of the klaxons in a public park in a densely populated area at 8.00am on a Sunday morning.
On another, possibly trite, tangent, I am very happy to see that people identifying with the vampire cult can now buy professionally made fangs and a whole bunch of apparel which goes with the genre. We had to make our own back when I was a kid! It’s really great to see all the YouTube videos about various aspects of vampirism – OK, all the videos aren’t necessarily for serious adherents, but they cater to people’s interest in the subject.

Img. source - www.thefirstvampire.com Copyright John Davies

Img. source – www.thefirstvampire.com
Copyright John Davies

The First Vampire.com

RVL: Please tell us a little about your novel… just a teaser, naturally…
John: I think some of the facts I introduced are interesting. OK, I hate to spoil the fun with the facts, but Dracula’s association with Transylvania was practically non-existent. He was born there, as his parents were there at the time of his birth, in a kind of self-imposed exile. He spent only the first five years of his life there, and then the family moved back home to Wallachia, on the southern side of the Carpathians. It was Stoker’s fiction which placed him in Transylvania, not the facts. The introductory section of the book has a sincere warning about the possible dangers of reciting the Latin rite, which is used to summon evil. A great deal of what drives the narrative centers on a Catholic priest who really gets it in the end. And the whole mystery of how and why the transformation took place is uncovered by a contemporary college sophomore. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, and that’s not easy when there’s a spoiler on every other page!

 

RVL: Do you have other works in the pipeline, along the same lines?
John: Yes. I’m working on the sequel now, which will be a little different from the current book in that it will lean less on historical fact. After all, the facts have been established in book one. That said, book two will still rely heavily on facts – just not so much historical (but still pretty weird). In book two, there are some of the old characters and a few new ones, and hopefully a whole new bunch of WTF moments.

RVL: …and who do you see as the “target audience” with your work in this genre?
John: Teens and forward, but with particular emphasis on people who’ve grown up with Buffy, Angel, True Blood and so on. There are many disturbing parts of the book, and some parents may want to read it before they give it to their 14-year old. I wanted the book to be accessible and interesting for all ages. It all depends where they lie on the spectrum. I hope people find more than a few interesting things. Despite what some readers say, I still like the idea that Dracula’s predicament was discovered by a college sophomore girl. I also like it that some advanced age readers have reached out to me to tell me that they really enjoyed finding out about the true background of Vampire lore. It’s cool to hear that from readers.

RVL: Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your work?
John: The hard copy book and kindle are available on Amazon, and all other electronic formats are available at their respective sites, such as Barnes and Noble. When people have finished reading the book, they should go to The First Vampire.com. They will discover a letter for them from you-know-who…and even though they will have finished reading the book by the time they get to tfv.com, they will find even more little plot twists in the letter.

RVL: Are there any plans afoot to take your creations to the screen, big or small?
John: Let’s just say that I’ll be doing my best! To be honest, I think the book would make a better series than a film because you only have 120 minutes in a film and the book has so many tiny, yet very important, details. It would be difficult for anybody to decide which details to omit from the film while still leaving the plot intact.

RVL: Do you have any comments that you would like to make about the subject of vampires, the literary vampire genre or, in general?
John: The subject of vampires is captivating and alluring, and I think that’s what has made it a constant literary and entertainment theme for generations. Whether it be the element of sexuality, immortality, mysticism, occultism or whatever, it has a strong pull for people from all walks of life. And it’s an enduring subject as well; to my knowledge, the subject has been dealt with fairly constantly since the early 1700s (Bathory notwithstanding) when there was a period of vampire “mania” – even back then, people were digging up graves of others suspected of being vampires. In my view, Stoker’s book was the one which cemented the vampire into the imaginations of people world-wide and into history itself. It is an amazing piece of literature which has given rise to hundreds, possibly thousands of creative works. Vampires seem to have this way of sparking curiosity in our minds. Vampire lore makes us think outside the box, more perspicaciously, and offers us some alternatives which we’re certainly not going to be exposed to in our business admin degrees. Vampires make us wonder, they amaze us, and that possibly makes us think a little deeper and certainly more laterally. I don’t see the genre or its devotees disappearing any time soon, and I’m very glad about that.

RVL: Thank you very much indeed for your time today John; we are honoured and delighted to be able to help introduce your work to our readership and we wish you every success with it.

John: Thank YOU very much RVL, for giving me the opportunity to share some deeper thoughts on the subject with your members; and thank you so much for very intelligent questions! (Beats the crap out of, “So, John…tell us a little about your book..” – to which I think, “Oh, so, you didn’t even do your homework and read it.“)
To those of you who have embraced vampire lore at a serious level, or have immersed yourselves in the vampire sub-culture, all I can say is, “Props to you!” Like I said earlier, you only live once (at this stage), so enjoy it while you’re here!

——————————————————————————————————————-

I think that, from the outset, this editorial/interview was always going to be something special for me to research and write. The research alone was gratifying on so many levels that I feel privileged to have come into contact with our guest this evening.

John Davies, graduate with letters as a Licentiate of Trinity College London with a vocal performance specialization, The Royal Schools of Music and the University of Sydney, composer of the celebratory music for the canonization of The Blessed Mary MacKillop, convener of an ongoing philanthropic program for singing students in Los Angeles in 2010. He gave master classes in performance to young singers, many of whom came from under-serviced backgrounds. Teacher, author, classical concert performer, recording artist, and, in 2011, cancer survivor which led to his 2012 co-venture agreement with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, with the aim of philanthropically funding major research projects in the areas of prostate cancer and radiation oncology with abiding interests in anthropology, science fiction, horror, and classics.

If there were anybody that embodied the very essence of la joie de la vie then it would surely have to be our guest this evening, Mr. John Davies.

 

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“The First Vampire” by John Davies

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