I’m super excited to bring you another author chat!
I reviewed David’s book, ‘Blood Flow’ a few weeks back, and wanted the chance to pick his brain. Here’s the result- enjoy! (Our discussion may contain some plot spoilers for the book)
Literature Lynx: ‘Blood Flow’ touches on an impressive number of social issues. Did you know ahead of time what you wanted to talk about, or did things pop up throughout the writing process?
David Hill: Well, I didn’t make a plan to talk about any specific things, per se, but I figured certain things would come up. Parts of Blood Flow are autobiographical. Some are based on close friends. I had a friend who died in a drive-by shooting. My best friend in high school committed suicide. My protagonists each have facets of both of those two people, and of me.
There are certain things I can’t say that I intentionally touched on, but I should have expected I would. For example, LGBT issues are important to me. I’m proudly bisexual. So I’m going to write things that interest me. Straight-up heteronormativity doesn’t interest me. Dylan doesn’t pursue any male/male relationships in Blood Flow, but he does have a few crushes. Part of the reason for that was I knew his relationships were going to be really messed up, and I have a pretty weak point for same sex relationships that go haywire in fiction. I just finished the Van Helsing Netflix show. While I largely loved it, their treatment of a same sex relationship really burned me on the series. I lost all interest at that point. So while I might do that sort of thing down the line, this wasn’t the place for it.
If there’s one thing I planned to do, it was explore vampire fiction and what it means socially. Vampires have stood in for a lot of real-world issues over the years. Literary critics have given all sorts of meanings to vampire fiction, whether intended or not. From Bram Stoker’s exploration of exoticism and sexual liberation, to Rice’s treatment of taboo sex and male vulnerability, there’s a lot of room there. However, my career’s been dedicated to vampires for most of my adult life. I’ve worked on and played games based on vampires (Vampire: The Masquerade being the most popular) since I was a teen. And over the years, a lot of things keep floating to the surface, things I think people aren’t asking enough questions about.
My single favorite topic is consent. In Dracula, and indeed any fiction featuring mind control and sexuality, consent is a minefield. I personally believe “mind control” was a weird way Stoker expressed a sense of Victorian misogyny, presuming that women could not be sexually open without being controlled by evil outside forces. But in Blood Flow, I jump right in to consent within the first few pages. Dylan knows that controlling minds is fundamentally “wrong.” But, what if he does it in pursuit of a good cause? What if it’s an accident? What if the person consents to forgoing consent at later times? I didn’t want to answer those questions, but I wanted to ask those questions, and ask the reader to judge Dylan and others’ actions in context.
One thing I didn’t get a chance to do much with was mental health. Mental health advocacy is a very big deal for me, and mental health is a big part of vampire fiction. But, I’ve got some future plans to work on that.
LL: As a genre, science fiction/fantasy doesn’t have a great track record with diversity and inclusivity (at least the traditionally published stuff). Why are you drawn to fantasy writing? What would you like to see more of in this genre?
DH: I have huge problems with diversity and inclusivity in fantasy (and specifically urban fantasy). While there are a lot of great authors out there who buck the trend, a lot of the biggest names, the ones who really float to the top of the lists, tend toward really doing diversity poorly or not at all. If your series about a sorcerer in Chicago doesn’t feature any significant black characters until the eighth book, there’s a huge problem. Is there room to use that to examine racial issues? Of course. But let’s be honest: That’s not really a common take.
I like fantasy because it’s all about asking “what if?” And if you can ask a ton of “what if” questions about the physics and magic of your world, but can’t even bother to ask, “What if this character wasn’t white,” then that tells me you’re not actually reaching very far. If you’re afraid to explore characters that don’t look like you, how can I expect you to present fairies and dragons and wizards and werewolves with any real, human depth? Clearly you’re not comfortable examining the human condition. And to me, that’s what fantasy is—it’s using fantastical elements to ask meaningful questions about humanity.
Then again, there’s part of Blood Flow that’s simply practical. There’s a range of characters from a range of backgrounds in the story. It’s a story set in Southern California. It looks like my home growing up. To do anything otherwise would feel inauthentic.
LL: You identify as a ‘dirtbag leftist’ (an amazing phrase, by the way)- want to share a little bit about what that means for you?
DH: Absolutely! So, to me, what it means is that I’m very much a leftist. Labels are really hard with this stuff, but I’m basically Communist, or Libertarian Socialist ( Libertarian there has nothing to do with what most Americans think of as libertarianism—like I said, labels are tricky). The dirtbag part comes from the fact that I don’t have reverence and respect for institutions, traditions, and politics which I feel are hurtful.
There was a big moment for me that happened right after the November US elections, where Hillary Clinton said, we owe Donald Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.” To me? That’s horrendous. That’s unacceptable. The world doesn’t owe Donald Trump anything. Donald Trump is an elected official: He owes the world a lot of things. And, frankly, he’s not going to pay up. I think respecting him in any way is hurtful to the very real people out there with very real struggles, the people he’s going to hurt and kill.
I think that trying to respect harmful people and positions is a lot of the reason why the far right wing has taken such a firm hold of politics worldwide in the past couple of decades. I think we need to stand proud for what we believe in, and I think we have a responsibility to use irreverence, humor, disrespect, protest, and dissent as weapons against regressive politics. I think that when you treat someone with respect, you lend them an air of credibility. While I don’t have a massive audience, there are people who follow me who look to who I respect, and afford them the benefit of the doubt. I’d rather be brash and honest than reserved and polite.
LL: When you first contacted me, you said “art should be political” and I completely agree. Have you faced any backlash for sharing your thoughts?
DH: A ton. I’ve lost more than a small amount of freelance work over the years, from companies afraid of controversy. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told, “We agree with your politics, but a lot of our fans are conservatives who don’t, so we’d really rather not rock the boat,” I wouldn’t have to take freelance work. I’ve had groups talking about ethics in video game journalism bombard my employers with demands for my firing. It happens. But I’m of a mind that ideas need to be voiced if you want them to survive. Silence, for ideas, is death. Particularly right now, in a hostile political environment for left politics, I am afraid of the consequences of letting those right wing views drown out left and progressive voices.
From a purely artistic standpoint, I think art can technically be apolitical and still good, but it’s rare. In our climate, women’s bodies are political. LGBT identities are political. Human rights are political. I want a world where that’s not the case. But until that day comes, anything that claims to be apolitical is an endorsement of the status quo. And as far as I’m concerned, the status quo is not okay.
LL: Any ideas what’s next for Dylan and crew?
DH: Yes! I’m currently writing the direct sequel, Blood Letting. It’s about half from Dylan’s perspective, and half from Claire’s. It’s basically an exploration of the political situation after the end of Blood Flow. It has its own primary driving conflicts, so it’s not really about resolving that conflict, but it’s about feeling out its consequences.
I’m also writing a side story that ties into those events, called iHunt. It’s a story about vampire hunters in San Jenaro, who contract their work through an app. It’s basically Uber, but for monster hunting. So, the story is all about the implications of the gig economy, and what it’s like to be a poor millennial trying to turn a buck through ethical means when you can, and unethical ones when you can’t. The idea is that hunting monsters, like providing rides, is inherently a pretty good thing. But when you monetize it, when you commodify it, it causes some ripple effect issues which make it problematic.
At the pace I’m going, I feel like iHunt is going to launch first. Ironically, I started writing it because I wanted to do a little exploratory writing about vampire hunters for Blood Letting. I figured I’d just do a couple of shorts, and settle on the first idea I really liked. I ended up writing the first chapter of iHunt. Then the second. Then the third. And I realized right around chapter 10 that it was a real thing, and it had legs of its own.