Today’s special guest is Richard Rhys Jones, author of The Division of the Damned. This novel has received excellent reviews on Amazon. Here’s what one reader had to say: “I initially picked up on this as I liked the idea of vampires working for the Third Reich. However, even though that’s the main thread running throughout the story, it barely scratches the surface of what makes up the plot.” Sound tempting? Read on and discover for yourself what makes Richard Rhys Jones and his groundbreaking novel so intriguing.
Richard: Well, I’m in my mid forties and originally come from Colwyn Bay, a seaside town that sits between Rhyl and Llandudno on the North Wales coast. I left there aged 16 to join the army and sort of never went back. I now live in Lower Saxony, Germany with my wife, two kids and two cats.
T: When did you begin writing?
R: I’ve always wanted to have a go at writing but in the barracks it didn’t seem like the thing to do, to be honest. However, after I left the army I sort of fell into music and writing lyrics and it started from there. I used to also scribble little joke rhymes about my mates at work and I tried my hand at short stories about that time as well; all written in long hand with paper and pen. I knew that one day, if I found the right topic, I’d tackle a full length novel but that seemed like light years away. The crunch came when I bought my first computer. I had no excuse not to try something bigger so I waited for inspiration to nurture the ideas I had in foetus form at the back of my mind.
T: Well, you definitely found the right topic! Can you tell us about The Division of the Damned?
R: The story starts in January 1944. Standartenführer Marcus Von Struck of the Waffen SS and a Doctor Rasch, are sent by Heinrich Himmler to Transylvania to broker a deal with the vampire Count, Dracyl Blestamatul. The doctor has an untried serum that will enable the Count’s vampires to walk the day, in exchange for their loyalty to the Third Reich. That’s basically the underlying plot for the whole story. There are other characters involved, a British spy, the Sumerian demon Lilith, a Teutonic Knight called Michael, Russian soldiers, concentration camp survivors and Jewish werewolves, but the whole tale revolves primarily around that storyline.
T: Vampires and the Third Reich? How did you come up with this idea?
R: I mentioned earlier that I had a few ideas kicking around my subconscieóus about what I wanted to involve in my book, (when I actually got down to writing it). Well, one of them was born from a life changing visit to the Dachau concentration camp while on adventure training in Bavaria. The Dachau memorial site is remarkably well thought out and leaves the visitor with absolutely no doubt as to how terrible a place it was. It maps out in vivid prose and shattering pictures the road to the Holocaust; how a nation turned its back on the principles of humanity, justice and freedom laid out by the architects of the Weimar Republic and turned in on itself to persecute and finally attempt to destroy the minorities within its borders. It ignited in me a passion to understand how that could actually come about, how one of the most cultured lands in the world could stoop to such monstrous depths?
As for the vampires? I had always loved the whole haemovore theme and I knew on some subliminal level that I’d write about them one day. The Eureka moment came while working with a fitter in the steelworks where I spend my leisure hours earning money. Although his German was perfect, he had a strange accent that I first thought to be Bavarian. He mentioned in passing something about when he lived in Romania and my ears pricked up.
“Where do you come from” I asked finally.
“Siebenbürgen” he told me. Transylvania.
Transylvania, the traditional home of the vampire, has a large German community that still uses German as its first language. Transylvanian Germans are considered Auslandsdeutsche, or Foreign Germans, by the German government and therefore have the right to German citizenship.
Germans living in Transylvania; the foetus had just kicked and was starting to grow.
T: How does Von Struck approach his unique mission?
R: Von struck isn’t given the whole story by Himmler and sees the mission at first as a bit of Rest and Recuperation for him and his squad from the exertions of the Eastern front. However, when he’s confronted with the reality of the vampire soldiers his disillusionment with the glorious Third Reich goes into overdrive and the seeds of rebellion are sown.
I wanted Von Struck to be the typical anti-hero, but how could he be in the SS? The last thing I wanted was for him to be seen as some kind of Nazi champion so the character of Von Struck had to be just right. In 1944 there were about 600,000 men in the Waffen SS and I felt that in that 600,000 there had to be a couple of rebels in there somewhere. Oddballs and cynics who made it through the screening because of the shortage of manpower or because at one point they genuinely believed in the NS movement, only to have their ideals blown out of the water by reality. That’s how I wanted Von Struck’s squad to be seen as, like minded individuals, Party sceptics, outcasts in their own organisation and yet first class soldiers. I hope that comes across.
T: How do you feel about the current trends featuring vampires at romantic heroes? Do prefer these kindly vamps or the mindless blood-suckers of yore?
R: Oh without a doubt the mindless blood-suckers of yore. Romantic vampires just do not do it for me and the new trend of teenage, self besotted children of the night really get on my wick… but don’t tell my daughter that please.
T: It’ll be our secret, unless she happens to read this interview. What projects are you currently working on?
R: At the moment I’m writing a series of classical history stories with each one given a traditional horror twist. For example, the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae have been turned into the 300 Vampires of Sparta. I’ve also written a story based around Troy called The Wooden Wolf of Troy, which is obviously about Troy being a city of werewolves and I have a short 4000 word tale about Julius Caesar being a vampire and only Brutus knows. The last one is the current story I’m working on about Spartacus and his slave army being a ravaging horde of cannibals. A friend of mine Paul Rudd, (soon to be published on Night books) is contributing with a very good short about the Ninth Legion that disappeared in Scotland. Anthologies are a hard sell but I’ve had a tentative nod from Taylor Street publishing on it, so that makes me want to sort it out as quick as possible.
T: You’ve got a lot going on right now. The 300 Vampires of Sparta sounds interesting. In your opinion, how important is social media in today’s Indie publishing market?
R: Social media is extremely important and to ignore it is to dice with failure. I mean, the best propaganda is word of mouth for anything and Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads etc are just electronic extensions of exactly that. However, it’s easy to bore, or even worse, irritate your friends with your link and your great stories of “ME!” A constant barrage of your book will soon have them reaching to click on the “Important posts only” panel and nobody wants that.
So I’d say use it but use it wisely. It’s free, it reaches out and it does spread your message as long as your friends will help you; as long as you’re friends want to help you.
T: That’s good advice. What other advice do have for writers starting out?
R: Well, seeing as I’m just starting out myself…
OK, firstly, just write. Practise all the time.
Write down exactly what you want to happen in your book and stick to it. There’s nothing worse than changing your story halfway through and then having to leaf through the manuscript to make sure it all fits with the alterations, I’ve been there on that one.
Listen to what people tell you but do not take it to heart. I told all my friends to prove to me that the story is pants, which they enjoyed doing actually.
Look up something called ‘Hunting Down the Pleonasms’ by a chap named Allen Guthrie on Google for story tips; it really is sound advice.
Take time on your manuscript when sending it away and find out about the unwritten rules of writing a covering letter and a synopsis for your book. I wasted nearly a year sending my “package” off, not knowing that if the letter isn’t written so or the synopsis isn’t laid out so, it won’t even be read. It’s a hard business to break into, believe me.
However, above all, write about something that interests you because then you’ll never be bored of escaping to your own, made up world, lol.
Thanks for letting me splash your page with my wibblings Trish; I hope your readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
To all my readers who or interested in finding out more about Richard’s work, please visit his website: http://divisionofthedamned.blogspot.com/