Martha Allard and I started writing together decades ago. We’ve collaborated on short stories. I published her essays in Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect and Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. She published a faery tale of mine in Out of the Green. Martha is always my first reader, my sharpest critic and my biggest cheerleader. I dedicated The Dangerous Type to her.
Now she’s returned the favor by dedicating her new novel, Black Light, to me. I can’t tell you how much I love this book. I’ve read it over and over and want to learn it by heart.
Black Light is a rock-n-roll ghost story. It’s got a highly original twist on vampires. The soundtrack is loud, the boys are pretty, and the climax has now brought me to tears three times. You can order a copy from Amazon. And you should.
Her writing has been called “heartbreaking and bitterly romantic,” “tender and cruel as a midnight kiss,” and like the “love child of Charles De Lint and Poppy Z. Brite,” which sums it up perfectly.
I wanted to take the opportunity to ask Martha some questions about the book.
Loren: David Bowie has been a huge influence on your writing. Was there any particular album (or song) that got you through writing this book?
Martha: You’re right, he has been. There is a little of his music in everything I write. Black Light had its birth in the lyrics on the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have owned that album in every possible format and played it in every place I’ve ever lived. My favorite Bowie album, the album that I love the most, is Hunky Dory. I played it a lot to get through the end of this book.
After Bowie’s death, I had the first two lines of “The Bewlay Brothers” (which is the last cut on the record), tattooed on my left forearm: “And so the story goes they wore the clothes they said the things to make it seem improbable. The whale of a lie like they hope it was.” Only after I’d worn it for a week or so, did I realize that it was really the theme of the book.
Loren: What is your favorite scene in Black Light?
Martha: Y’know, I have to say, this is really one of the few things that I’ve written that — now that everything’s done — I really like. So I will give you two favorite scenes.
The first one is somewhere in the middle. Trace is at the house the rest of the band share, looking for Asia. Instead he finds the place dark, quiet. Only Tommi is there, with a black eye given to him by his boyfriend. It’s not the first time that’s happened. Trace doesn’t demand that Tommi leave the guy, or make him feel guilty by telling him how worried his is. He just gives Tommi what he needs right then.
I like that scene because it’s tender and sweet. It’s Trace doing something entirely for someone else.
I can’t tell you about the second scene, though, because it would spoil the surprise. I will say that I love it because when I wrote it, I had no idea what was coming. Definitely not what I had planned. It was like the character just grabbed control and all I could do was write it. I remember looking down at the page, thinking, wait…. Wait! What did you just do? How do we come back from this? It really was the most fun writing I’ve ever had.
Loren: Queen of Angels Cemetery is one of my favorite settings in the book. Tell me what inspired it.
Martha: Thanks! I’m glad you liked it, because I know you know your cemeteries. When I lived in LA, Brian Thomas was one of my housemates. And Brian told amazing stories. One of them that I still remember was about how transitory fame was. He told me about visiting Hollywood Memorial, which is now called Hollywood Forever. He described the overgrown and forgotten graves of former “Kings of Hollywood,” whose names had been obscured from their headstones and scrubbed from history. I imagined that Asia’s horror movie idols would be buried somewhere like that. I borrowed the name from an old hospital that was used as a location for several movies, including The Prophecy. It was rumored to have been haunted.
Loren: I love the bit in the book about the Warhol silkscreens. It’s obvious, now that you mention it, that Warhol was a vampire. Are there other historical figures you suspect?
Martha: I love Andy Warhol and it just occurred to me one day, while I was shelving books at work, that he must have been similar to Albrecht. Someday I want to write their story. Oscar Wilde is another obvious choice, because of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but, unlike his character, I don’t think Wilde’s vampirism would have been malicious or intentional. He was talented and flamboyant, and that drew people to him, and in turn their attention fed his talent, pushed him to be more flamboyant. Maybe there’s a bit of him in Trace.
Another, more negative example of someone who could have been a psychic vampire was Malcolm McLaren, the manager of The Sex Pistols. He made his career and lived his life using people until they were used up.
Also, Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, Rasputin…. I could go on, but it gets weird from here.
Loren: Was there something you had to leave out of the book that was hard to cut?
Martha: Oh, yeah. This book has undergone so many rewrites that I almost can’t remember them all. Originally, there was a chapter where Trace crashes Albrecht Christian’s Jaguar and goes missing for a few days. That was fun, because he nearly ends up starting a new band. Fun and distracting. And there were about thirty pages toward the end of the book that had to go. I was a little sad, because I liked the imagery and the emotion in them, but, as somebody really smart once told me, you can only fit so much into a sentence, right?
Loren: You’ve published one other story in the book’s world. Are there others you’d like to write?
Martha: I’ve always written side stories, because in my mind, characters have lives before the book begins and after the book is done. I have one that I’m currently sprucing up about Asia and Trace before they formed Black Light. Also I have a story about Albrecht Christian as a young man that I’m slowly poking at. And of course there’s that one about Andy and him… Okay, so I might have a lot of other stories.
Loren: What are you working on next?
Martha: I am muddling my way through a Neo-Victorian romance about an airship captain and the captive/experiment of a mad alchemist. It’s called The Night Was Not. It’s a ton of fun, because it has all my favorite things from the Victorian era: a workhouse, a freak show… and a werewolf. Right now I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Loren: Any advice for new writers?
Martha: I’m totally not used to being asked for advice! I would say is this: don’t bother trying to write what you know. We end up doing that, whether we mean to or not. Write what you feel. Write the scariest secret you have. Make every word the word you wanted to write. And then you’ll be okay.
Martha J. Allard is a writer of contemporary and dark fantasy. Her short fiction has appeared in magazines like Talebones and Not One of Us. Her story “Dust” won an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 19th edition, edited by Gardner Dozois. Her story “Phase” was nominated for a British Science Fiction Award. They are both collected in the chapbook Dust and Other Stories. You can find her on her blog at marthajallard.blogspot.com.
The back cover text:
Los Angeles, 1983. Trace Dellon, lead singer, knows exactly what he wants: the white heat of the spotlight. When his band Black Light is offered a record deal, Trace grabs for it. He will do anything to make it.
Asia Heyes, bass player, knows what he wants, too. It’s not fame or the adoration of groupies. It’s Trace. It’s always been Trace. Though it’s been unspoken between them, Trace’s other lovers—his audience—push Asia aside.
With the contract, Albrecht Christian comes into their lives. He is a man with everything but what he needs to live: the energy that runs just under Trace’s skin. Even Trace isn’t enough, and Albrecht finds himself starving.
When everything crashes with a bullet, they all learn the truth. Rock and roll, like magic, requires both love and sacrifice. Then Black Light’s fragile trajectory to greatness really begins.