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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Julie Rogers shares the inspiration behind her hit new novel, Falling Stars, and her creative writing process.
Written by Julie Rogers
Odd and one-off questions about life usually present as muses for many of my stories. Falling Stars started out that way—also fueled by one of my childhood experiences.
When I was ten, a boy in my third-grade class was an avid fan of the TV cult classic Dark Shadows. He hurried home every day after school to watch it. This was in the daytime soap’s heyday after Canadian actor Jonathan Frid joined the show and its ratings went through the roof.
This little boy, my classmate, could pass for a vampire himself—the complete package with dark hair and eyes, long cuspids—and his ability to act the part. He had a flashy cape too, not just any old cheap one, with which he regularly entertained our classroom performing Barnabas Collins impersonations. I was curious about Dark Shadows, but at the time my parents censored that one for me because they thought the show would frighten me. And they were probably right.
Years later I revisited the memory, this little boy’s whole live action role-playing, really before LARPing was a thing. He did it because he loved the TV show, the whole Collinsport society soapbox, and his theatrics were fun-and-games when school got boring. But it posed a question to me: What if a young boy roleplayed a vampire for a much more serious reason, and where would that take him?
In this story, nine-year-old Tommy Lucas needs a bone marrow transplant to survive. But he’s a very imaginative little boy, and he’s convinced his disease is a curse on his bloodline, that he’s a vampire. His mother’s an oncologist, but Tommy insists that only magic can cure him—or the same synthetic blood substitute developed for urban legend (and vampire) Viscount Claudius Fallon.
Fallon comes from a ruling class of vampires in Cardiff and is said to have traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas seeking a cure for his own leukemia during WWII. Tommy’s stoked when he discovers a five-part series about Fallon in an online pulp fiction magazine called Philly’s Argosy and believes the information from this story will help him locate Claudius Fallon.
His quest leads him to befriend a local artist in Eureka Springs named Callan Masters, who struggles with his growing affection for Tommy’s mom, June—for Masters is Fallon, cured in 1939 at the Baker Cure-for-Cancer Hospital there. Since Fallon a.k.a. Masters is dedicated to living off-grid and keeping his identity a secret, he must decide whether he’ll take the risk in helping Tommy or falling in love with June.
He’s also survived over half a century on a blood substitute, is committed to keeping his identity a secret, and fears being studied. Because of Fallon’s own illness, his bite was never capable of turning anyone—or so he thinks.
Thus, my muse: Why would a little boy with a terminal illness insist he’s a vampire?
I’d written a few op-ed and inspirational pieces about people recovering from or succumbing to cancer, but I wasn’t sure I could pull off a story where the arch-nemesis was cancer and cancer treatment. I also knew I couldn’t exclude the courage, humor, and insight I’d observed in those very same people. I outlined the story after my maternal grandmother passed away from melanoma and pitched it as a screenplay treatment at the Maui Writers’ Convention in 2001 to Alison Rosenzweig, one of the producers of Windtalkers. She didn’t go for it, and I put the story away with all the other pitches that weren’t greenlighted at the time.
My father lost a five-year battle with multiple myeloma in 2018, and Mom, adrift without him, died during the pandemic. I didn’t write for a year.
In 2021, I pulled the project out of the closet with the intention of writing it as a novel. The original screenplay version had a YA or PG feel to it because I put the major focus on Tommy Lucas. In a novel, however, I had more room to weave in some incredible Eureka Springs’ and WWII history, as well as the whole Claudius Fallon persona, this vampire-human hybrid (dhampyre) who struggles with his own disease process, how he integrates a successful art gallery in the middle of a tourist destination without being discovered. I also realized I was the wrong person writing this in the wrong way in 2001.
My day job is a ghostwriter and editor, and I’d ghosted three other books about vampires. These were far more graphic and dystopian in nature, set during a future world war happening largely in bombed-out military zones and reconstituted American territories. The vampires in those books were more feral in nature, their behavior governed by clan hierarchy and by trying find their next meal under martial law.
For Falling Stars I wanted to reintroduce the romantic vampire, what some say came from the original vampire story in Greek myth, a love affair between a young Italian adventurer, Ambrogio, and a Delphi temple maiden, Selene. I decided to cast Fallon as a sick dhampyre. He does crave red meat, but his major issue isn’t a desire for blood so much; it’s surviving his own congenital leukemia.
So, up to November 2023, Fallon manages to keep his nose clean. He’s never had to forage for blood, anything like that. His father siphoned blood off ponies to keep him alive as a child, actually a common medical practice among nobles in Eastern Europe dating back to the Middle Ages. At the time, physicians often recommended this for patients with blood disorders like porphyria—to drink animals’ blood to raise their heme levels. Fallon’s a noble, he’s hip, and while exceedingly sneaky with his abilities as a spellcaster, he looks with a bit of trippy disdain upon the whole jugular-craving vampire lore. Since feeding frenzies aren’t a feature in his day-in, day-out existence, I had fun coming up with personal habits and hobbies he’d develop to stave off lifelong boredom, since he’s been around awhile—like learning how to samba.
Tommy’s blood disorder is paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, a blood cancer more commonly diagnosed in adults. PNH destroys red blood cells through hemolysis and presents with symptoms similar to porphyria, a disease in medieval times that caused vampire-like traits in its victims. A bone marrow transplant from a healthy donor match can put PNH in remission, but with a growing child, timing that procedure can be tricky.
I set the story in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a historic destination spot where my husband and I have vacationed almost every year since we met. After Osage tribes shared the springs’ medicinal value with white settlers, Eureka Springs became an overnight, citywide sanatorium—about 25,000 people inhabiting it all at once. Early settlements were little more than wagons and tents hanging off cliffsides before the clear-cutting, railroads, and construction of elaborate Victorian homes and hotels—many of them still standing today.
Eureka’s own hard times during the Great Depression paved the way for radio-doctor Norman G. Baker to prey upon the gullibility of the common man. He set up the Baker Cure-for-Cancer Hospital in one of Eureka’s bankrupt hotels and bilked millions from patients using injectables and mentalism before being federally convicted for mail fraud. Although his “medical practice” bolstered Eureka Springs’ economy for a few years, this is one of the bleaker spots on their historical record, and dark enough to make the famed Crescent Hotel (the location of his hospital) America’s Most Haunted. I felt like historic Eureka Springs was a perfect backdrop for all that we know and don’t know about incurable cancers, plus the fictional irony that one of Baker’s cured cases might’ve been a vampire.
JULIE ROGERS is the author of Falling Stars and six books, including Seven Shorts; Letters: Sidereal Insight for a 21st Century Mystic; Hootie; and Simeon: A Greater Reality. Her articles and award-winning stories are featured in self-help, inspirational and fiction publications like Coping with Cancer, Daily Meditation, and the annual anthology Writes of Passage: Every Woman has a Story! The 1999 Writer’s Digest Writing Competition Grand Prize winner for her horror short story, “House Call,” Julie also freelances as a ghostwriter and an editor. She lives in Georgetown, Texas (a suburb of Austin) but is relocating to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, soon—”the city that water built.”
Julie Rogers recently won the Firebird Book Award for Falling Stars.
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