With They Thirst, my fourth novel, I decided to kick out all the
stops and go for the throat.
They Thirst began, actually, as a novel called The Hungry.
It was set in Chicago, and involved a gang of vampiric teenagers. I got
about two hundred pages into it before I began to feel constricted. When
you get that feeling, you know things aren't going right. You have to put
aside the manuscript and think about it, and let me tell you that deciding
to cast away two hundred pages of a manuscript and start over again from
scratch is the kind of decision that makes cold sweat break out on your
I wanted a vampire novel with a huge cast, set in a city where anything was
possible. Ah, Los Angeles. The City of Angels. Eternal Youth Shall Reign
So I started over, and They Thirst was born.
It has always interested me that from time to time I meet someone who has
read They Thirst and lives in Los Angeles. They usually want to
know how long I lived there, because certainly I had to be a native of L.A.
to get all those streets and landmarks correct. The truth is that I
visited Los Angeles for an intensive weekend of research. I trundled off
in my rented car on the freeways, maps in hand, and went to every location
that I'd already decided needed to be in the book. It was my first trip to
Los Angeles, I was there alone, and I was staying in a Hispanic hotel in
downtown L.A. that supposedly had been a mecca for stars back in the 1920s.
At least that's what the guidebook said. Valentino had a suite there. I
fear he wouldn't recognize the place now.
But I spent most of my time like a real native—on the road. And while I
was in Los Angeles, I read a magazine article about runaways that seemed to
me to hit the heart of the atmosphere I was after.
A young girl who'd run away from her home in the Midwest was talking to the
reporter, telling him where she lived. It was a shuttered-up motel near
the Strip, she said. She and her friends crashed in the rooms on an upper
floor. They had mattresses to sleep on, and they panhandled on the Strip
for drug money. It was okay. Like another society, just different. But,
she said, she and her friends didn't have anything to do with the men who
lived down in the motel's basement. She couldn't understand how anybody
could live like those men did, down in that place with no light. She said
they did ... terrible things. But hey, live and let live, right?
The thing is, there are so many dark basements in Los Angeles. And
shuttered-up motels. And houses with histories. And so many, many
A friend of mine, also a writer, lives in Los Angeles and asks me why I hate
his city. I don't hate L.A., but it scares the hell out of me, even without
vampires. My first sight of his city, from the airplane, was a sprawling urban
wasteland unlike anything I've ever seen in my life. I mean, the place is
huge. I grew up and live in a city that hasn't yet reached a million
population, so you might imagine my reaction when I saw the Los Angeles area
for the first time. It was a beautiful day: the sun shining, the traffic
buzzing around, people going on about their lives.
But somewhere, just off the glittering neon-mad Strip, there's a dark
basement where men do terrible things.
The Land of Eternal Youth. Disneyland. Movie stars and "A" lists.
Gangs fighting for survival on the mean streets. The ghosts of memory, and
dark halls where Valentino once walked. The "big break," and people who
will sell their bodies, souls, and minds to get through one more day
of that hard, golden sunshine.
I think a Vampire King would find Los Angeles a wonderland. He would know
that such a beautiful beast has a huge dark belly. And in that darkness,
surrounded by pallid forms who fall at his feet in worship, even a Vampire
King might become a star.
Robert R. McCammon