The Big Idea: Caroline Frechette
As a writer, you can plan and prepare, but then some stories and characters sneak up on you anyway. Caroline Frechette had that happen with Blood Relations — and explains why in this case it was a welcome exception to her usual way of writing.
If you can do good, you should.
Funny words to hear from a criminal, but on top of being one of the biggest ideas behind Blood Relations, it’s also the motto Alex Winters lives by. He’s the kind of character I like to write: strong-willed, resilient, carrying a heavy past and an enormous amount of responsibilities without ever feeling sorry for himself. Instead, he accepts it all readily, because it needs doing, and he can do it, better than most. He was the main idea behind the book, and behind the series. I wanted to talk about him, about the kind of person that takes on responsibilities just because they can, just because they understand that it’s the price of power.
Power, and its price. That’s what this book, this entire series, was supposed to be about, and in a way, it still is. But it’s not at all what the central idea turned out to be, in the end. It changed, because of Mister Lupino, Luke, and Jimmy. Well, I say changed; it didn’t really. It’s what it was always about. It just took me writing it to figure it out, and as soon as I started, it was like it came into focus, like it was there all along and I just didn’t see it. I felt like that about this whole story, actually. Writing this was like nothing I’ve written before. I’m a planner; my characters come to me, yes, I don’t have to sit down and build them, but I still spend an inordinate amount of time planning, outlining, building, making sure everything fits, before ever writing down a single word.
This one just happened. I had a vague idea that I wanted to write about Alex, and I wanted to write a vampire story (though originally this story wasn’t supposed to be about vampires), but when I decided to try writing without a net it just poured out, exactly like what Michelangelo said about his sculptures: they were already there, and all he did was find it; this story was always there, and all I did was reveal it for everyone else to see.
The only characters that were truly defined when I started writing this book were Alex, Erik and Lori. I had a good idea of the others, and knew that they would tell me who they were as I wrote them, but I was blown away by the strength of their personalities. Luke and Jimmy were the first to hint at the concept which was really central to the story, because of their heavy pasts, which meant they had no real, born into family, but were as much Alex’s family as if they had all been born brothers.
In the end, though, it was Mister Lupino who settled it for good. Originally, I only needed him as a supporting character, someone to show what Alex did for a living, but they turned out to be hugely significant in each other’s lives, having a father and son relationship that I didn’t really see coming. It reminded me of a principle that is truly dear to me: the fact that your family doesn’t need to be the people to whom you are linked by birth, or blood; they are the people you care about, the ones that are there with you through thick and thin, and the ones that make you a true priority in their lives.
That’s what Alex and Mister Lupino are to each other: family. It’s what Jimmy and Luke and all the kids Alex took under his wing are to him, too. And it’s what Alex’s story, what all his stories, had to be about. And that is, of course, where the title comes from; family. Family by Choice, for the family that we choose. And Blood Relations, well, of course, that’s a pun. On top of the character of Alex, and themes like family and responsibility which are profoundly important to me, this book is also about vampires.
Why vampires? To tell you the truth, Family by Choice as a series was never really supposed to be about vampires at all. But I’m a fan of horror, and I longed to see vampires return to what they are to me: something dangerous and scary, a predator that needs, and WANTS, to prey on humans. And since the last comment I received from one of my editors was “Thank you for writing a vampire story I can enjoy”, I think it’s safe to say that I reached that goal.