Quite a number of years passed between the time when I wrote my first vampire novella, The Nightwatchers, and the time I was asked to write another.
I also hadn’t intended to use Todd Gregory, but that was the name I was publishing under with Kensington at the time, and so they wanted me to use it for the novella–and you know me: they were paying me well so I didn’t care. The fraternity books I was writing for them under that name were doing well, and so they wanted some kind of tie into the fraternity stuff. I didn’t want to write a vampire story set in fictional Polk, California; I wanted to write about New Orleans–I’m sorry, I know it’s a cliche, but vampires and New Orleans just go together in my head. What I actually wanted to do was go back to the mythology I’d created for The Nightwatchers, and at first worried that using my “other” name precluded me doing just that…but then I reminded myself you’re both the same person, dumbass and so that’s precisely what I did. For the fraternity connection, I decided to bring four college students from the University of Mississippi to visit New Orleans for Carnival (one of them was from New Orleans), and have them all be brothers from the same fictitious fraternity I used for the fraternity stories: Beta Kappa. (I first used Beta Kappa in Murder in the Rue Dauphine; it’s the same fraternity Chanse belonged to at LSU, so whenever I need a fraternity that’s my go-to; I even used it in my story “This Town” for the anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s), and of course, one of the boys gets turned over the course of the weekend.
After all, shouldn’t everyone be afraid of coming to big, bad, dangerous New Orleans?
“Happy Mardi Gras!”
The woman was obviously drunk as she threw her arms around Cord Logan and pulled him close and tight to her soft breasts. She pressed her mouth on his before he had time to react and push her away. His entire body stiffened and he winced. Her mouth had the nauseating taste of sour rum and stale cigarettes. He pushed her arms away from him. Repulsed, he pulled his head backward and took a step back, almost bumping into a weaving guy in an LSU sweatshirt carrying a huge cup of beer. She stood there in the middle of Bourbon Street, grinning at him. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, and heavy strands of beads hung around her neck dipping down into her cleavage. Her lipstick was smeared, making her look kind of like a drunken clown. Her hair was bleached blonde with about three inches of dark roots growing out of her scalp, and was disheveled and messy—her hairspray had given up on it hours ago. Her bloodshot eyes were half-shut, and she tilted her head to one side as she looked at him, her sloppy smile fading. She was wearing a low-rise denim mini-skirt over stout legs and teetering heels. Her red half-shirt with Throw me something mister written on it in gold glitter revealed a roll of flab around her middle, and a fading sunburst tattoo around her pierced navel. She tried to grab his head and kiss him again, but he deflected her arms.
She narrowed her eyes, going from ‘happy drunk’ to ‘mean bitch’ in a quarter second. “What’s a matter? Don’t you like girls?” she jeered at him, weaving a bit on her heels. She put one hand on her hip, replacing the smile with a sneer.
What? He stared at her, and froze for a moment as horror filled him.
For that instant, everything seemed to stand still. The dull roar of marching bands in the distance, the rock music blaring out into the street from the bars lining Bourbon Street, the shouting and yelling of the revelers, all faded away as he stood staring at her squinting eyes.
Don’t be stupid, Cord, no one can tell just by looking at you.
The spell was broken when a strand of purple bands flew between them, hitting the pavement with a clatter. Cord involuntarily took another step back. The woman squealed with excitement and bent over, her T-shirt falling open at the neck to reveal a cavernous blue-veined cleavage. She stood up clutching the beads in her fist, a look of triumph on her face. She turned around, Cord forgotten, and lifted her shirt, showing her bare breasts to the crowd of men holding beads on the balcony. She shook her shoulders, making the large breasts sway from side to side, and she started yelling up at the men on the balcony. They all began whistling and cat-calling. The beads began to fly—Cord grabbed a strand of gold ones just before they hit him in the face. He slipped them over his head and moved on down the street before she remembered him and tried to kiss him again.
Something like this actually happened to me at my first ever Carnival, when I flew in from Tampa for it in 1995. I was walking with a friend up Bourbon Street to the gay bars (“running the straight gauntlet” is what we used to call it) when this woman stepped directly in front of me and went through this entire song-and-dance that I later adapted into the opening of Blood on the Moon.
I don’t remember if I’d ever written about a young gay man slowly beginning to take baby steps out of the closet before, or i Cord was the first–I think he may not have been the first; Jeff in Every Frat Boy Wants It I think was probably the first–but I really liked the idea of him coming to New Orleans for Carnival with some of his fraternity brothers, and that his best friend in the fraternity is the only other person who knows about his true sexuality–and suggests, in fact, that Cord lose the group during a parade and head to the gay end of the Quarter to explore and be free. Unfortunately for Cord, he runs into Jean-Paul, an incredibly hot older man and his group of really hot older gay men…but the next morning, Cord has some issues with the sun and other things. That evening Cord heads back down to the Quarter to see if he can find Jean-Paul, and instead runs into a Creole named Sebastian; and Sebastian is a male witch with an ulterior motive: he wants to drink from Cord’s blood–Cord is infected, but hasn’t completely succumbed to transitioning into a vampire yet, and Sebastian thinks vampiric-infected blood will make his own witchcraft powers even stronger.
I liked the character of Cord a lot, and I liked that he didn’t really transition into becoming a young gay vampire by any choice–Jean-Paul selected him as a plaything for the night, that’s all, and had no intentions of turning him, until Sebastian got involved–and while this story ended with a definite resolution–I also saw not only how the story could continue, but how I could also weave The Nightwatchers and the mythology I created for that novella into this new story. I eventually wrote another short story about Cord–“Bloodletting”, which was in Blood Sacraments, and when my editor asked me to write an actual vampire novel, I made “Bloodletting” the first chapter and continued it from there…and that became the novel Need–which is a tale for another time.