“My back digging into the wall, I stood in a quiet alley a block away from the Foster house. The jagged red brick poked through the heavy material of my coat, reaching my skin, like little needles on tender flesh. The pain felt good. It reminded me that I was still alive and kept me at-the-ready, though, at that moment, I longed for death… I unconsciously took out my flask from the inside pocket of my coat and guzzled the contents. The flask drained of its translucent red liquid, my legs let go. As I slid down the brick wall, every bump and scratch burned into my skin… I didn’t care anymore.”
– Vampyre Paladin, Chapter 3, Part 1 (Issue 4)
Brenda Stephens is the author of Vampyre Paladin, a serialization in THE DARK SIRE (Issues 1-4). The above excerpt describes a man, the protagonist Matthias Kade, who is at the end of his ropes. His mental fortitude has collapsed, all hope exhausted, due to his relived loss of a loved one. Ms. Stephens captured the pain of loneliness nicely. This story caught my interest immediately because of its masterful writing. And so, it was my pleasure to sit down with Ms. Stephens to get to know more about Vampyre Paladin and her other works.
TDS: First off, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the serialization of Vampyre Paladin. There was a dark quality about it that brought to mind the kind of Black & White horror stories of the past. How did you come up with the idea?
Brenda Stephens: I had created a character a while ago that was a doctor who traveled the world to serve mankind. His mission was to cure vampire transformation. I took that character, who became Matthias Kade, and expanded his world to be Vampyre Paladin (which I call VP), a world where nationality plays a big part of how strong vampires are and what their abilities will be.
On a side note, I’ve been wanting to write a story that had vampires as fiends, like the old monsters of the past. Gothic literature of the 1800s had such vampire portrayals, and I wanted to go back to the times when vampires were scary. I created VP to bring the vampire monster to the 21st-Century.
TDS: I have a strong fondness for Van Helsing type characters. I always wonder which character an author liked to write the most in a work of fiction. So I have to ask: Who was your favorite character to write in Vampyre Paladin and why?
Brenda Stephens: Matthias Kade is actually a very complex character. He has so many different emotions coursing through his veins. He has a tormented past – as most protagonists do – but is trying to live in the present, though his past continues to haunt him. Every time he tries to heal a patient (a victim of a vampire attack), he is mentally forced to think of his dark past. Because of that, the tension is great and his eruptive emotion and placid exterior (having to stay calm and emotionless) collide. It’s a balancing act for him, and to write him, I have to decide how much of his emotion to let out. He’s a strong gentleman who practices medicine but is also a weak, emotional man who yearns for peace – which is far from his reach. Matthias is my favorite character to write in VP – hands down!
TDS: Since VP is being serialized in TDS, are you writing the story as it goes, or was it written and then published?
Brenda Stephens: Both, actually. Some was written before the serialization. But, honestly, most has been written as we go. Chapter 3 Part 2 is being written right now. It’s been a hard journey keeping up on deadlines, but it’s forced me to continue writing. And since this is my debut novel, I like that I have to write and keep up with publication. This way, I know I’ll finish my book and reach my goal of publishing the full story in 2021.
TDS: Most of our readers like to hear about a writer’s process. Would you mind sharing some of your process with them?
Brenda Stephens: I literally contemplate the story, what I want to tell, and what the purpose would be. Then I consider what protagonist would best fit the world I created in my mind. I think about the character’s mission, their goal in life, and why they’re needed in this new world. I hardly ever write any of these thoughts down. Instead, I keep them in my mind. It may sound odd, but I consider good ideas to stick with me. If I forget the idea, then it’s not a good enough idea to keep. From there, I create the storyline and write the synopsis. This is also when I title the story. I then set everything aside for a few days or weeks; I like to ponder everything – from the characters, to the setting, to the plot. Afterwards, I begin writing. I never outline, so I write organically and let the story tell itself. Anytime I try to push the story to what I want, the direction goes off track and the story needs to be redirected. So, I’ve learned to listen to the characters, the story, and only write what I’m directed to by them. Typically, once I begin writing (a short story), I finish a story in 1-2 sittings, with a polished story ready in about 3-5 days, depending on what else I’m writing. This has been the process in writing VP, though most parts already published have only taken a couple of hours to write.
TDS: Are there any hidden messages or social commentary in your work?
Brenda Stephens: Most of my current work has social commentary. But I’ve interweaved the messages within the text so well that most readers don’t seem to catch it. I’ve left Easter eggs in a few stories that no one noticed. I thought my subtle hints where beacons with shining lights and red blinking points to the clues, but it turns out that they are hidden a little too well – and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. In VP, the social issues tackled are human trafficking, drug addiction, and child abuse. Like Dracula was used as social commentary in the 1800s, VP is a social commentary of the 21st-Century.
TDS: Social issues such as you mentioned are at the forefront of many of the top stories on the news. Can you elaborate a little more on how you use Vampyre Paladin to tackle these topical issues?
Brenda Stephens: Vampires as fiends are creatures who must feed lustfully on their prey. They represent drug addicts who are always looking for their next fix. The vampires kidnap children, making them victims and thus slaves to the vampire lust for blood. This represents both human trafficking and child abuse. All of this comments on the human trafficking that is so rampant in the world today and how children are becoming playthings to adults who prey on them. Abuse then materializes as mental, physical, and emotional damage on the world’s children, like the children in the world of VP.
TDS: How does Matthias Kade play into everything? What does he represent?
Brenda Stephens: He represents hope, though he also represents struggle and overcoming one’s barriers. Addicts struggle with their drug addiction but need courage, strength, and love to overcome their demons. Matthias not only understands this but has gone through a struggle of the mind and body that he’s overcome to be a servant to his community. He’s the one who’s come out on the other side and is showing all others the way to beat the odds. And since he serves society, he becomes the beacon of hope that things will change, but only if others stand strong with him, following his example of not looking the other way, but facing the wrongs of our world to create change and make a positive impact.
TDS: That’s deeper than the currently published chapters have gone. So when will the readers see these areas of conversation?
Brenda Stephens: First I had to establish the setting, story, and characters, which is what chapters 1-3 did. Right now, Matthias is beginning to break. He’s struggling with memories of his past. He’s supposed to be saving a patient, a victim of a vampire attack, but his emotions are running rampant and he’s falling into a depressive state. Readers are experiencing the depth and heaviness of his thoughts, feelings, and emotions that weigh on his shoulders every day. Guilt. Remorse. Loneliness. Anger. These emotions are all eating at him right now. This is the beginning of the social commentary: Just because a person looks okay, doesn’t mean they are. Mental health awareness then becomes a second-layer commentary, one that I find is gravely important right now during the pandemic. The mental health conversation wasn’t a planned conversation, as usual with my writing, but it’s critical to the character and came out at the right moment. Once we get through this and he makes the decision on whether to save his patient, the story will roll quickly into the other social areas, with tracking the fiendish vampires, finding their coven, and battling them head-to-head not far behind. Chapter 4 is the turning point.
TDS: Not that I want to tease our readers with a spoiler or two, but can you tell us any Easter Eggs that you left behind for us to enjoy?
Brenda Stephens: I don’t like to tell secrets, but I can give you a hint: NUMBERS. I use numbers to add to the storyline. If you understand the meaning of the numbers, you’ll understand Matthias even more and thus the story will take on a whole new meaning for you.
TDS: We will definitely have to keep that in mind. But right now, I would like to switch topics on you. What other stories are you currently working on — or is it just Vampyre Paladin?
Brenda Stephens: I am currently working – slowly – on a short story collection called Heaven and Hell. It will be a book of 10 short stories, 5 heaven stories and 5 hell stories. The heaven stories are ones about a wish coming true while the hell stories are about a nightmare coming true. One of my hell stories, Road to Hell, was published in Issue 5 of The Dark Sire. If you’ve read it, you know that it was definitely a nightmare come to life.
TDS: It certainly was. It was very different than Vampyre Paladin. Is there social commentary or any Easter Eggs in this story?
Brenda Stephens: Much different! Where VP is about control and keeping your demons at bay, Road to Hell is about the demons overcoming you and you falling into the pits of hell (quite literally!) for your sins. And yes, there are both commentary and eggs to be found in this story. The commentary is that if we’re not careful of our choices, we will be our own downfall. In today’s society, there’s so much evil lurking around every corner – so much hate, intolerance, and division – that society is falling apart. Unless we, as human brethren, come together and unite, our world will die a horrible death, one that we will pay for through our own personal losses due to our inaction. As for the Easter Eggs, think of numbers again and pay close attention to the diner.
TDS: It sounds as if Road to Hell is a call-to-action piece then. Would you agree?
Brenda Stephens: Most definitely! The message is simple: Get off your ass and do something to save your neighbor from falling, and by helping them, you’ll help yourself. Our world is too greedy, too selfish. Road to Hell reminds us that we need community to thrive because left to our own devices, we can never overcome our struggles. We need help, support, love – from the right people, those who will be honest with us (the workers at the diner) and not just say what we want to hear (the girls in the diner).
TDS: I’m beginning to understand that your work goes deeper than the surface and deeper than readers may see at first glance. Is this due to any particular influence on your work?
Brenda Stephens: Yes and no. My work delves into the psychological, like Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic legacy. Like him, I like to discuss the depravity and decay of society. So, it can be said that his love for those things has greatly influenced my subject matter. However, I don’t think that I write the stories just because of Poe. As an artist, be it in words or paint, I must create art that expresses needed change. I don’t write purely for the reader’s enjoyment, though my stories can be read for just that. Instead, I write analytically to make a statement, to start a conversation about a particular topic, and to exchange ideas with my reader. If that makes sense.
TDS: With all of this in mind then, what’s the big dream you have for your writing? What’s your goal?
Brenda Stephens: Just to make our world a better place – and to help people who are struggling with their demons. Mental health is so important, and escapism is one of the ways that will help purge dark thoughts. When the reader can relate to a character, the character becomes their beacon of hope, especially when the character wins their uphill battle. I hope to give readers that connection, that hope, that drive to carry on. Saving someone’s life, giving them the encouragement and strength to move forward, is the goal of my life’s work.
TDS: You mentioned art. Was this a metaphor or do you actually paint? What else do you do that is creative?
Brenda Stephens: Yes, I’m a professional abstract artist. I put my paint brushes up for a while, though, due to creating and editing The Dark Sire. I don’t have time to paint much nowadays. When I was painting, I exhibited my work in several states through solo and group shows. My work is Colorism, which is emotive painting that aims for a viewer’s emotional reaction. I also was an actor and still do some voice acting, as well as was a professional dancer (tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical) when I was younger; I retired from the dance competition circuit a 10-year national dance champion. I miss those days! Oh, and I write screenplays and the occasional poem.
TDS: I didn’t know you had all of that in your background! It’s definitely impressive. One last question, if you don’t mind. With all of your experience and background, do you have any advice for other writers and creatives?
Brenda Stephens: Never let anyone dissuade you from your dreams. If you have a yearning that drives you, that’s the feeling that’s telling you what your life’s mission is. If you wake up wanting to write, you’re a writer. Want to paint, draw? You’re meant to be an artist. Get the education – be it university training, watching YouTube tutorials, or reading how-to articles – that’s needed in order to get where you want to be. Yes, we all need that day job to support us while we train and hone our craft, so don’t get discouraged because you need to work a job to survive rather than working full-time on your art. It’s a rite of passage that all of us go through. Let that yearning and passion feed you so you can be the best “you” you can be. Then, take the world by storm and don’t stop until you’re satisfied with the results of your hard work and labor. To anyone who has a dream, I wish them the best of luck and ask them to take care of themselves!
* * *
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Ms. Stephens and invite you to read Vampyre Paladin in THE DARK SIRE (Issues 1-4), available in the TDS Store. You can also find her on Twitter (@BreLStephens) and Facebook (@BreStephens2019), as well as read story excerpts on her website. And of course, any time you want to contact her, simply send TDS an email (email@example.com) – she’s always there for you as the founder and editor of THE DARK SIRE.
Be sure to leave comments or any questions you have for Ms. Stephens. She monitors this blog and would love to talk with you personally.