An interview and giveaway with Ben Tripp, author of The Fifth House of the Heart

bentrippBen Tripp’s new book, The Fifth House of the Heart, just came out, and Ben was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about it!

Also, courtesy of the lovely folks at Gallery Books, we’ve got 2 copies of the book to give away to 2 lucky US winners!
I’m very excited to dive into Fifth House of the Heart! Will you tell us a bit about it and your take on vampires?

A pleasure to chat with you. As you know, I enjoy reinventing monsters. Fifth House of the Heart was an opportunity to have a go at freshening up vampires, which in my opinion have gotten a bit weedy in recent years. But most of all, I wanted to tell a story in which the most ferocious and deadly creature comes up against the least ferocious protagonist.

Tell us more about Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang. What makes him a compelling character?

You know, it’s an odd thing about Sax. I set out to write someone who wasn’t at all formidable, but as I wrote him, he revealed himself to be cunning, resourceful – and although he claims to be an abject coward – tremendously brave when there’s no alternative.

He’s an antiques dealer in his early 70s, frail, dreads physical danger, but he has this overpowering greed for beautiful things. And vampires spend many centuries collecting such objects. So despite Sax’s many reservations, he can’t help himself – he has to hunt vampires and loot their hoards.

That makes for a pretty interesting character. He did a lot of things I didn’t expect – for example he has a powerful moral code, despite his outwardly libertine persona. it’s always a treat to write a character who decides to take over and write himself, in a manner of speaking.

Did you do any particular research for the book?

Oh, what a good question. I thought I already knew my subjects pretty well – for example I’ve traveled around Europe, India, and Korea, where passages of the book take place; I know Manhattan pretty well, and take an interest in antiques and history and so forth. I’ve toured more chateaus than Louis XIV. But of course when it came time to write things down in convincing detail, I realized I actually knew nothing about anything.

So I had to go back and research every little aspect of the story, seek out experts, beg for interviews. I got snubbed by the Vatican Library! Topics of study included castle architecture, ten centuries of furniture design, famous missing masterpieces, the systematic looting of art that occurred during the Nazi occupation, old clocks, dozens of auction catalogs and sale prices, the Ordine dei Cavalieri Sacri dei Teutonici e dei Fiamminghi, train timetables, wine, languages, precisely what jazz bands played in Paris in 1965 — it was ridiculous. And what’s worse, I’ve since forgotten all of it again. Prathima Bangalooru, who is London-based, was a huge help with the really obscure archives on vampires and the occult that haven’t been digitized yet.

A little bird told me that you’ve got two new YA books coming out soon. Was it tough transitioning between writing for a younger audience and writing a book for adult audiences that you’ve described as violent and profane?

It’s actually a lot of fun. It’s like simultaneously having a dinner party upstairs and the Donner Party in the basement.

Speaking of writing, how has your writing process changed since you first started (if any)?

I got into the book trade pretty late in life – I’d already had a long career designing theme parks and so forth. So I wasn’t used to having all day to write. That was a big transition. It used to be I procrastinated by writing novels. Now I procrastinate by writing novels other than the ones I’m supposed to be writing. Fifth House of the Heart is one of these, in fact. I should write a book called “Productivity Through Procrastination.” But of course I haven’t got around to it.

Have you read any good books lately? Anything you’d recommend?

It’s funny – I can’t read fiction when I’m writing, or I start writing like whomever I’m reading. It’s a huge handicap. So I’ve been in a drought lately. I only just got to the point where I can safely read again without screwing myself up. I did read The Good Soldier Svejk while living in the Czech Republic this winter, and a bunch of Shakespeare’s less usual plays; the former I recommend to anyone interested in the Czech psyche, and the latter to anybody who wants to sound like a pompous ass.

What are you currently reading?

Among other things, I’m re-reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I still can’t believe that’s her real name. It’s a brilliant novel. I’m plowing through the James Herriot books, the roman a clef memoirs of a Yorkshire veterinarian, too. Lovat Dickson’s Radclyffe Hall at the Well of Loneliness is another I’m enjoying right now; about women openly in love during a time when that wasn’t the done thing. And right here at my elbow is Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach – the A. T. Hatto translation. For a book written more than eight centuries ago, it holds up pretty well. I think von Eschenbach might have been killed by a vampire, incidentally.

What’s next for you, this year and beyond?

As I mentioned, The Accidental Giant is imminent, to be followed by The Accidental King; I’ve also got a weird take on the alien abduction genre just about done, there’s a comic sci-fi epic I’ll probably never finish, and I’m collaborating with my wife, who is a TV writer/producer, on a European horror series concept.

The thing is, I believe you should never be afraid to start projects, put them down, pick them up again. Switch genres, write fragments, short stories, essays, poems… Every once in a while something gets finished, or two good ideas merge into one better idea. I think we’re trained from childhood to believe we have to finish a thing in a straight line, according to a schedule, or we’ve failed. But with writing, nobody can fail you but yourself. Keep plugging away, and one day you’ve got a body of work.

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About The Fifth House of the Heart:
Filled with characters as menacing as they are memorable, this chilling twist on vampire fiction packs a punch in the bestselling tradition of ’Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.

Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang, a vainglorious and well-established antiques dealer, has made a fortune over many years by globetrotting for the finest lost objects in the world. Only Sax knows the true secret to his success: at certain points of his life, he’s killed vampires for their priceless hoards of treasure.

But now Sax’s past actions are quite literally coming back to haunt him, and the lives of those he holds most dear are in mortal danger. To counter this unnatural threat, and with the blessing of the Holy Roman Church, a cowardly but cunning Sax must travel across Europe in pursuit of incalculable evil—and immeasurable wealth—with a ragtag team of mercenaries and vampire killers to hunt a terrifying, ageless monster…one who is hunting Sax in turn.

From author Ben Tripp, whose first horror novel Rise Again “raises the stakes so high that the book becomes nearly impossible to put down” (Cory Doctorow, author of Little Brother), The Fifth House of the Heart is a powerful story that will haunt you long after its final pages.

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