Chris Farnsworth’s Nathaniel Cade series is a refreshing take on vampires and espionage. In our review of his latest The President’s Vampire we even liked it to the the supernatural equivalent to 24. And we loved it.
Chris was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions about his patriotically-inclined vampire assassin, creating lizard-human hybrids and how the most evil people usually think they’re working for the Greater Good.
Vampire Book Club: For those new to the series, can you tell us how the idea for Nathaniel Cade was born?
Chris Farnsworth: In 1867, a young sailor was convicted of killing his crewmates and drinking their blood. The papers called him a vampire. President Andrew Johnson pardoned him for reasons unknown, and he spent the rest of his life in an asylum for the criminally insane.
But that’s just the cover story. Nathaniel Cade was actually turned into a vampire and later sworn by a blood oath to serve every President of the United States and to protect the nation against supernatural threats. In over 140 years, he’s gotten pretty good at killing other monsters.
Vampire Book Club: Let’s just get it out of the way: How cool was it writing the Snakehead transformations? Seriously.
Chris Farnsworth: Honestly, I loved it. It’s the mad scientist in me. I could never hack it as a real scientist — too much work, too much cautious experimentation, way too much math — but I have always loved the idea of mismatching animal parts to form an abomination that would cause disaster if it got into the wrong hands.
Vampire Book Club: Cade has the morality one might see as very human, but it’s very clear he’s not one of us. How do you find the balance?
Chris Farnsworth: Cade’s morality is entirely self-imposed. There’s very little, even in his oath, that prevents him from doing exactly what he wants. And with his physical and mental advantages, it would be very easy for him to simply sidestep the few constraints he does face. (This is why Dracula is so frigging hard to kill.) But Cade hangs onto his ethical code like grim death precisely because he knows it’s fragile. He may be a monster, but he takes pride in the knowledge he doesn’t have to act like one.
Vampire Book Club: For a man with a political background, Cade’s handler Zach can be rather trusting at times. What makes him a good match for Cade?
Chris Farnsworth: When I was a reporter, I was often surprised how politics came down to naivete and trust. In most political deals, the only chips you have on the table are your reputation and your word. So trust is integral to being a good politician. We might like to think they’re all lying crooks, but politicians only get to their positions of power by making us believe them. Zach is a product of that world. His knowledge of human nature — how far to push people, when to flatter, when to insult — is essential to Cade because Cade really only has the threat of physical violence as a motivator. Zach is able to persuade people to go along with them because he understands what they want and make it seem like it’s their own idea.
Vampire Book Club: Cade’s POV is otherworldly. The Shadow Company’s key figures’ POVs lean toward evil. Which is more interesting to write?
Chris Farnsworth: The funny part is, the Shadow Company doesn’t think it’s evil; it believes it’s operating for the Greater Good. (Always be leery whenever you see someone capitalizing those words together.) You look back at most of history’s villains and they would have the same opinion of themselves. But Cade is definitely more interesting to write, because he knows he has a great capacity for evil. He is ruthless when he looks at himself. And that kind of unsparing self-examination keeps him from self-justification or self-delusion.
Vampire Book Club: The location and conspiracy details throughout the novel are vivid. What types of research are necessary to write a Nathaniel Cade story?
Chris Farnsworth: Fortunately, there are a lot of great journalists out there who do the hard work of gathering the real facts that I sprinkle into my vampire adventures. For this book, I relied heavily on Tim Weiner’s LEGACY OF ASHES, a history of the CIA, and BLANK SPOTS ON THE MAP by Trevor Paglen, which is about the massive intelligence complex in the United States. There really is a secret world right under our feet — and these guys, along with others, have mapped it out for us. I also used my friends John Whalen and Jonathan Vankin’s book, THE 80 GREATEST CONSPIRACIES OF ALL TIME, which is a marvelously well-researched collection of conspiracy theories and facts. For the Africa sequences, I consulted Dr. Laura Seay, who teaches at Morehouse College in Georgia and writes the Texas in Africa blog. My friend Rachel Lynn is a doctor and psychiatrist, and she offers advice on things like sedating patients who are turning into monsters. Finally, I have friends in and out of the military who fact-check my work for errors when I do something like have Cade leap out of a plane at 20,000 feet.
Vampire Book Club: The document excerpts at the opening of each chapter add great context to the novel. Did you write/assimilate them during the writing process or after The President’s Vampire was complete?
Chris Farnsworth: Both. When I’m stuck on the page and can’t write anything, I find it’s often a nice break to write one of the little fictional glimpses into Cade’s world. Other pieces are meant to set up action in later books, or illustrate a specific point, or just make a joke based on a B-movie I saw once when I was in the 8th grade.
Vampire Book Club: And, because I enjoy her so much: Will we see more of Tania?
Chris Farnsworth: Everyone loves Tania. I do too. She will be back again. She’s trying to figure out something that’s missing in her, and she believes Cade has it. She’s a fun character to write — vicious, unrestrained and smart. It’s going to be a shame when, inevitably, Cade has to kill her.
Vampire Book Club: The President’s Vampire comes out next week, but I’m sure you’re working on new stuff now. What projects are in the works?
Chris Farnsworth: Mainly I’m working on Book Three in the series, which has Cade facing an unstoppable serial killer targeting the president. But I’m also working on some comic book pitches with the legendary Beau Smith, an idea or two for TV, and I’m trying to figure out a new series of books to write as well.
Vampire Book Club: Our big thanks to Chris for joining us today. You can get your copy of The President’s Vampire at The Book Depository or Amazon (read our review for convincing). You can also keep up with Chris at his website.