Characters and stories come to me in the strangest ways. “Mattie Hornbecker’s Other Bag” (a short story) evolved from the bird-shaped sweat-stain on the back of a neighboring cyclist—and the Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles was born of an exam-induced stress dream.
It was a cold day in late November, after leaves and before snow: the perfect setting for a class on gothic novels. I was a graduate student then, and we were plotting to convince the prof that exams should be foregone in favor of fiction writing. Why not? We were discussing vampire stories; wouldn’t it be a better test of our ability to write our own? Not surprisingly, the professor didn’t see it that way. Ah well, I thought. Worth a shot. I went home that night with plenty of studying to do, little suspecting that an idea had taken hold in my subconscious.
Sometime late that night, I found myself dreaming television. It’s boring, really… Insipid dramas and highly suspicious CSI episodes. But you can’t change the channel on dream-TV, so I watched. And there he was: a young man, cajoled by his obnoxious aunt and annoying sister, desperately trying to escape the house for some night air… as a vampire. Exactly what Freud would make of this, I have no idea (even though we were studying him in class, too). Regardless, I awoke with twitching fingers and thought of nothing else all day long. That next evening, I scurried home, dumped my books, and wrote from dinner till 2am. Jacob Maresbeth was born.
Ever since he was involved in a mysterious “accident” while on family vacation, Jacob (Jake) Maresbeth has suffered from an unusual medical condition. Having a doctor for a dad has certainly made things easier, but puberty throws a wrench in the mix. Even Jake’s father, a respected neurologist, has been hiding some of his more unusual symptoms for years…especially that little detail about drinking blood. From hermetically sealed juice boxes. In the basement.
Is there a “good way”? History tells some alarming stories on that front. In the 1730s, Europe witnessed a vampire scare resulting in the appointment of vampire commissioners, autopsy inquests and the occasional mutilation of corpses. The skeletons unearthed in Český Krumlov were stakes and beheaded. What on earth for? To stop an apparent “outbreak” of vampirism. Odd, isn’t it? That’s a word we reserve for plagues. But what if vampirism is a plague or disease of some kind? What if the modern vampire isn’t a vampire at all? The more I thought about Jake, the more I realized how much Hollywood leaves out of the picture. If you take away the fancy covens and the protection super-human systems provide, what you have left is a marginalized victim of circumstance. But of course, in our more “enlightened” modern era, surely medical science would prevail over superstition. After all, we never treat medical anomalies as freaks or guinea pigs or outsiders… right? Yeah, right. In Jake’s world, the medical diagnosis offers no real protection. What’s a guy to do? Lucky he’s not the worrying kind.
Easygoing and affable Jake knows the whole blood-drinking thing is a little weird, but doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it. Would you? Hospital visits suck (no pun intended) and medical tests are boring. Anyway, Jake’s got bigger things to worry about, like writing articles for the school newspaper and trying—sometimes desperately—to get a date. But the safety bubble Jake’s family and community provides is burst when he takes a summer visit to his quirky Aunt Sylvia, college professor. While Jake and his theatre-loving sister Lizzy struggle to keep the “unofficial” details of his disorder secret from Aunt Syl (who embarrassingly mistakes Jake’s condition for spastic colon syndrome), Jake also has to contend with a growing appetite and a limited travel-sized blood supply. Level-headedness tends to be Lizzy’s strong suit, however, and Jake throws caution to the wind in an effort to impress Zsófia, Aunt Sylvia’s gorgeous Hungarian graduate student.
Blond beach boy with a spotless reputation, well-balanced home life, and plenty of friends: it doesn’t sound like your normal angsty vampire novel. But as I developed the story, I realized the world of a “differently abled” young adult would be fraught with danger enough—and to spare. When the remaining blood supplies in Jake’s portable refrig-o-mat suddenly come up missing, his vacation takes a more sinister turn. Worse, he seems to be developing new symptoms, far from the protection of his doctor-dad. Will he make it until fresh supplies arrive? What exactly is Zsófia researching? And why does she seem suddenly, seductively, interested in Jake? For the teenage medical vampire, even summer vacation can be deadly serious!
From grad class to dream to trilogy of typed text, Jacob Maresbeth has been very good company. I’ve enjoyed watching him grow and change (puberty plays havoc with anyone, fangs or no fangs). Find out more about Jake and his (mis)adventures in High Stakes, Book One of The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, released on April 1st from Cooperative Trade (an imprint of Cooperative Press). You can find it on Amazon and Goodreads—and I welcome your reviews! Look for Book Two, Villagers, out this summer.
Author, historian, and adventurer at the intersection, Brandy Schillace spends her time in the mist-shrouded alleyways between literature and medicine. Taking a cue from Edward Gorey and John Bellairs, she writes Gothic fiction with a medical twist. Her first series, The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, will be out spring 2014 with Cooperative Trade. Dr. Schillace is research associate at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, managing editor of Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, book reviewer for the Huffington Post, and chief editor for the Fiction Reboot and Daily Dose blog. She helps develop medical humanities curriculum for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College and teaches for Case Western Reserve University’s SAGES program. Her non-fiction book, Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying can Tell us about Life and Living, will be released in 2015 with Elliott and Thompson.
Blog’s “about” page: http://fictionreboot-dailydose.com/
Goodreads book page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20927933-high-stakes