Robert R. McCammon's THEY THIRST


Synopsis

A MASS MURDER.
A DISAPPEARANCE.
A CEMETERY RANSACKED.
It looked like another ordinary day in Los Angeles
Then night came....

Evil as old as the centuries has descended upon the City of Angels---it comes as a kiss from the terrifying but seductive immortals. Slowly at first, then by the legions, the ravenous undead choke Los Angeles with bloodthirsty determination---and the hordes of monstrous victims steadily mount each night.

High above glitter city a deadly contest begins. In the decaying castle of a long-dead screen idol, the few remaining human survivors prepare to face the Prince of Evil and his satanic disciples. Whilst the very forces of nature are called into play, isolating the city from the rest of the world and leaving it at the mercy of the blood-hungry vultures of the night....

THEY THIRST
Theirs is a lust that can never be satisfied...

--From the back cover of the British Sphere paperback edition of They Thirst

Robert R. McCammon Tells How He Wrote They Thirst

Robert R. McCammon Tells How He Wrote
They Thirst

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 skin.

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 Forever, Amen.

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 victims.

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
June 1988


Copyright © 1988 by Robert R. McCammon. This essay originally appeared in the Pocket Books paperback edition of They Thirst, first printed in October 1988. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Reviews

From Publishers Weekly (June 3, 1991)

They Thirst
Robert R. McCammon Dark Harvest $22.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-913165-60-7

Prince Vulkan, master of the vampires, has loosed his army of the undead on Los Angeles in this seamlessly written horror novel by the author of Mine. Vulkan's plan is to replace humankind, city by city, with the living dead. Four people stand in his way. Homicide detective Andy Palatazin, a Hungarian immigrant who fled this scourge as a child, is determined to stop it now. Young Tommy Chandler, whose parents were killed before his eyes, wants revenge. TV star Wes Richer hopes to save his beloved by tracking Vulkan to his lair. Father Silvera, a dying priest, believes that God has chosen him to destroy the vampire prince. Wreaking death and carnage, Vulkan proceeds to a final confrontation between the forces of good and evil. McCammon delivers terror with skillful ferocity as he pays tribute to masters of the genre and raises the standards for the craft a notch or two. (June)

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