Cold in California … Where it Came From

Excerpt from the site History Page, http://deborahriley-magnus.com/CIC/ColdinCAMain.html 

Where does any original idea come from? I’m a firm believer that creativity is plagiarism with a flare; the wheel can’t be reinvented and if it’s square, it can’t roll. Basically, all story ideas come from the same original three or four concepts. I strongly believe that how a story is told makes a bigger impact than what the story is about. Most ideas start with love or adventure, coming of age or fantasy; the great one’s come from a skewed point of view no one ever thought of before … but Cold in California came to me from a very different place altogether. Oh, it takes a simple concept and twists it into unrecognizable contortions, but this one was extraordinarily personal for this writer. 

Like most people, I’ve spent countless hours wondering about life after death. Is there a heaven or hell? Who, after a mere few decades on the planet, actually earns one or the other? What pivotal points lead a man up or down? Unless a person is completely devoid of faith, religion or spirituality, I venture to guess there’s a deep, unbridled fear of hell and the horned demon awaiting; his fiery eyes and pointy-toothed grin haunting, evil and looming from childhood nightmares. Shiver! 

Consequently, my own terrors of the hell and billowing hopes for heaven guide many of my choices as well as my creative process. I’ve taken long hard looks at organized religion, new age philosophies, Native American ceremonial traditions and contemporary Christianity. I’ve explored the subject in many stories and more than one novel that I’ve written. Sometimes it’s horrifying, sometimes it’s revealing … and in the case of Cold in California, sometimes it’s fun. 

If a man is generally a good man and something horrible happens to him, something that stretches his world view, how does God evaluate that man’s subsequent qualities and flaws? It’s a simple exploration that started to go strange and make me laugh. What if that man was turned vampire? What if he retained some semblance of human honorability but still needs to suck blood to survive? What does God think? Could He condemn this man for having to survive within those extreme parameters? 

Then my head went a little further. Please understand, I don’t like vampire stories, never read one and never wrote one. The only reason I watched Interview with a Vampire was because I found Brad Pit’s long silky hair super sexy/yummy. Can’t tell you one thing that happened in the film, aside from the way the firelight shimmered and swayed in those brilliant locks. (I was younger, sigh.) So, the concept of writing a story about a vampire was originally distasteful. But then my fanged protagonist, Gabriel, came into form inside my head and I was hooked. No heart throbbing coils of golden hair, but something about the guy snagged onto my psyche. My logical brain formulated a proposal that my creative brain simply couldn’t walk away from. 

Having only rudimentary understanding of vampire lure, I still understood that there were rules. Vampires sucked blood to survive. Ew, but okay, I can cope. Most vampires didn’t choose to become vampire. It only made sense, who in their right mind would say, “Hey make me a murderer, I want to live forever in the dark”? Maybe there are hundreds of stories out there about vamps who sought out the life, but I choose to make my bloodsucker a bit resentful about his situation. Another “rule” seems to be that with the strategic strike of a wooden stake into the heart, the perfect swipe of a blade severing head from body or prolonged exposure to sunlight, a vampire finds his final end. Why? Why should this writer follow other writers’ strict laws of existence and demise for a race that doesn’t exist? With that revelation, the doors were suddenly flung wide open and I found myself on the ride of a lifetime! 

For days I walked around with a notebook, listing every possibility now that I was freed of the conventions surrounding vampire life and death. Questions flew and crashed into each other and the answers molded and mutated into strange concepts that made me laugh and groan. Oddly enough, delight is the only way I could describe it. Delight and amazement. I was about to write a vampire novel. Who’d’a thunk? 

The premise was simple. Assuming that I didn’t have to follow the universally accepted parameters, I started to wonder. What happens to a vampire after he dies? After his final, gushing stake-in-the-heart-dissolving-body death? Because in my world, something surely will happen and I decided to put it to the test. Here’s what I came up with. 

For a chosen few vampires, after their second death, the one that’s supposed to end it all, they get a surprise. It’s not over, not by a long shot and they are sent to a place where they can take one final run at heaven or hell (surely a concept vampires didn’t even think possible; after all, they’ve been reading Anne Rice and know the poop). These guys get one more chance to earn a ticket through the pearly gates … or consciously drop like a rock into the devil’s waiting arms. 

After I laughed at that idea, I took it a few steps further. Where would my twice-baked vampire go? I didn’t want a fantasy world and wasn’t nuts about someplace exclusively vampire populated. What if I mixed Gabriel in with real people? And what if I added a plethora of other dead supernaturals? Now I was cooking. What if I told him he’d only retain a few of his supernatural capabilities, and that he had to live (day and night) among living, breathing humans? What if I said his physical body is temporarily adjusted to function as human and what if I forced him to get a paying job? How would it feel for him to walk in the sunlight, eat pastrami on rye and drink a beer for the first time in more than eighty years? Now I was rolling on the floor. 

But … knowing me … I had to take it even further. Having recently moved from lovely Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to southern California (Los Angeles to be exact), I reviewed my travels around the city and exactly what my new hometown represents to me. Everything about L.A. shouts “crazy”; from the drivers on the freeway to the creative insanity of Hollywood, from the Santa Ana winds to the frequent rumbling earthquakes; from the uniqueness of Valley dwellers to the culture of Watts. Los Angeles is an art form that continues to reform itself every day. It is by far the most amazing, dangerous, beautiful, creative and scary city on the planet. So, there was no question in my mind, Gabriel would come to California. But, where? 

Beverly Hills? Venice Beach? Burbank? It seemed like I was faced with endless possibilities, but my mind repeatedly went to the Sunset Strip and West Hollywood. Perfect. 

And so, Cold in California was born! I had Gabriel, a character with a ton of potential. All I had to do was put him in West Hollywood with other dead supernaturals (tolls, pixies, leprechauns and the like), add one very beautiful human woman, an evil warlock and … voila. A vampire story you’ve never seen before!

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About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

2 responses to “Cold in California … Where it Came From

  • Sharon Ferguson

    Ive kind of been on the same journey (only for a lot longer because Im GOOD at procrastination) but I guess my questions centered around identity and what would make a person be willing to give up their life for someone else.

    I love the idea of what happens to a vampire after he really does ‘die.’ Have often wondered that myself!

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Great minds think alike, LOL. Thanks Sharon. And I’m looking forward to working together on our future critique project!

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