We’re very pleased that our new novel, The Afghan Vampires Book Club, has been garnering some enthusiastic responses. Jane Fonda calls it, “A riveting story of love and war… A marriage of American Sniper and Heart of Darkness. I read it straight through in one sitting.” Scotland’s “The Herald” writes: “Partly a satirical broadside against the insanity of war by two writers who have spent years campaigning against violence, The Afghan Vampires Book Club also works as conspiracy thriller, speculative fiction and full-on descent into hell.” Foyle’s Books calls it, “‘One of the most powerful examples of the fiction being written in response to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.” And a manager at London’s prestigious Daunt Books has nominated it for his imaginary “Alternate Booker Prize.” Here is an interview Gary and I did with England’s Foyle’s Books .
Afghanistan? Vampires? How did you come up with the idea for this book?
A few years ago the two of us were doing what authors do best: bemoaning the state of the book industry. Michael’s first novel, The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars, had been published a decade earlier by Penguin. Gary’s first novel, Luisa’s Last Words, had just been published in Dutch by the literary publisher, de Geus. When Gary’s agent showed it to a prominent UK house, they were extremely interested but said, “We already published a title on Latin America this year. If it were only Afghanistan.” Meanwhile the vampire craze was on, along with book clubs. So, there it was, we had the title.
We weren’t interested in writing a vampire story, certainly not a teen romance with lots of purple, black, and red on the cover. The two of us have spent years writing about and working to end men’s violence. Gary has worked in conflict zones and in violence prevention with men, including Bosnia, Brazil’s favelas, Rwanda, and the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Michael spearheaded an international campaign called White Ribbon which focuses on mobilizing men’s voices globally to end violence against women. We wanted to write about manhood and war and the encroaching surveillance state.
Okay, so if not a vampire tale, what is it?
Our story is set ten years in the future. The US and its allies had left Afghanistan and then returned to be mired again. After two hundred US soldiers are massacred by unknown combatants, rumours fly that one soldier, Tanner Jackson, made it out alive. British journalist John Fox tracks down this story through the underground world of discarded vets, who are causing their own havoc back home. When Fox finally finds Jackson, he hears an impossible tale of war, violence, and revenge, but also a story of enduring love.
One of the newspaper reviews favourably compared it to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
The book is clearly inspired by Conrad—Marlow’s trip up the Congo River to find the horror is transposed to an Afghan war that hasn’t ended and apparently never can. For us, though, the darkness isn’t with some colonial Other. It doesn’t reside in Kurtz. It is with Us.
It’s an anti-war story that highlights the tremendous impact of war on the soldiers who fight them and the society back home that wages the war. NATO isn’t the main victim in Afghanistan, not by a long shot, but young men (and now some women), often from poor or working class backgrounds, are trained to do something that humans really don’t do well—namely kill. All of our souls are corroded in the process.
How does this relate to your day jobs working for gender equality and positively transform the lives of men?
Our nations have long assumed that men can be plugged into the war machine and live that life without being scarred. Our societies believe men should be able to bury their emotions and take whatever is thrown at them, that “war is hell” but they get over it. As the cascade of news stories about PTSD and veterans suicides are showing us, this simply isn’t possible. These stories are in the news, but we sought to use the steroidal power of fiction, which allows us to look at Western incursions in Afghanistan from the 19th century and onward but without being a history textbook. And vampires became a metaphor for … Well, that would give it away.
And your basic hope in writing this book?
To trouble us about the state of warfare and surveillance in the world but in an engaging, entertaining, and intriguing tale that both men and women will enjoy reading. To cast a fictional light on the tragic and misguided wars of the moment; and to use a bit of the surreal to wake us up to the real.
What’s it like to write fiction together?
It’s lunacy, really, but the fun kind of lunacy. Writing non-fiction together is enough of a challenge, but because fiction relies so much on voice and personal idiosyncrasies of style, it’s not for the faint of heart. We decided to work with two narrators. That gave each of us a voice. We would each write our “character” and then pass it to the other to rip to shreds. To paraphrase Nietzsche, what survived was stronger. It would be pretty hard to identify who wrote what at this point.
So your friendship survived?
Absolutely. Some men fish or play tennis together. Writing a novel set in the near-future about themes we care about and still being friends at the end is pretty damn fun. How many friends get to do something so extraordinary together?
And are there vampires in it?
We hope you will order it today! (In the UK, Europe and Australia, visit your local bookstore. We don’t expect it in North American bookstores until in mid-2016.)