Courtesy of Thomas Hewlett
Growing up in Los Angeles, author Thomas Hewlett was surrounded by mysterious tales of the city that the average tourist would never hear. One of his grandfather’s built luxury yachts for people like the legendary movie star Errol Flynn. His other grandfather was the only bartender the notorious mobster Mickey Cohen trusted to make his martinis. So when he sat down to write his literary vampire series, Twelve Stakes, it’s no surprise that he was influenced by those stories.
As he acknowledged in a recent one-on-one interview, “I grew up hearing these kind of insider L.A. stories and it colored the way I write. It's no accident that my main character, Vampire detective Jack Strayhorn, is from the old, Black Dahlia era Los Angeles. L.A. at that time was straight out of a gangster movie. Jack gave me a way to explore this city's hidden history as well as infuse it with the supernatural monsters I'm drawn to.”
As a kid, Hewell was a veracious reader of sci-fi and fantasy novels. His passion for reading led to his interest in writing. “Whenever I didn't like how a book ended,” he explained, “I would write a new ending. That led to writing short stories and (terrible) teenage poetry, but I always knew that one day I'd write a book and become a novelist. It took me a long time and I went down a lot of dark alleyways to get here but I've never really wanted to do anything else but write.”
After studying the craft for a short time in college, Hewlett’s personal journey led him down a different path. Upon leaving college a few units shy of a degree, Hewlett says he spent decades as an addict. “That meant taking odd jobs, moving around every few years and never writing anything longer than a few scribbled pages,” he recounted. “It was a long dark journey but during that time, I kept a small seed of hope that writing would one day save me. And it did.”
Ultimately, Hewlett hit rock bottom and found himself in rehab. But he found that when he got clean and had a clear head that his mind “started bursting to overload with story ideas.”
“I decided then and there that I would write and publish a novel and finally bring my long-held dream into reality. I had nothing to lose so it was a very liberating moment,” he remarked. “Writing my first novel, One Death at a Time, kept me going through the early days of sobriety.”
Courtesy of Thomas Hewlett
The idea for the book came over dinner with Hewlett, his wife and his friend and fellow author Khanh. “Khanh knew I was serious about writing my first novel and he was trying to get me going by riffing on ways to use my recent experiences in some way,” he recalled. “The ideas started getting crazier and crazier — angels in rehab, heroin addicted trolls — until finally he blurted out, ‘You should write about vampires in AA!”
Telling the story of a vampire in A.A. also allowed Hewlett to explore some of his own personal struggles through the characters he was creating. “When I started my first book, I was pretty raw emotionally,” Hewlett conceded. “I was newly sober and not at all sure who I was or how I felt about life. But I was writing about a world-weary, cynical but deeply hopeful and driven man and I connected with him on a soul level. Jack Strayhorn is a vampire but he uses his powers to make up for the sins of human life. His redemption story was something I could easily relate to.”
The author admitted that he also connected with the other characters in his series, “The monsters in my book are driven by the demons of their own addictions and the dark magic they can't control. To me it's a clear parallel with what I went through as an addict. Something dark inside comes over you, you don't know where it comes from or what it is, but it takes over. And it causes horrific damage to you and the people you love. I put my characters in the same place and I found that my experiences all came out in the writing. It's all there, the pain, the confusion, but also the hope and the fierce will to live.”
Hewlett followed up One Death at a Time with Darkness of the Spirit and will soon release the third novel in the series A Devil of Your Own. In total the saga will span thirteen books. “Just like in the program, there are twelve steps and twelve novels.”
He described the Twelve Stakes series, saying that it is “about four different supernatural characters who come together to fight a very ancient evil that’s been unleashed on the world. To do this they have to first fight their own addictions and learn to use their magic and harness their strengths.”
The books feature protagonist Jack Strayhorn, “a hundred year old Vampire who chases down killers as penance for the sins of his mortal life.” According to Hewlett, “Jack is joined in the novels Devin McKaye, a rogue Fae alchemist on the run from his rich and powerful drug-dealing clan; Talia Cienfuegos, a young Witch forced to harness the magic within her that threatens her sanity; and Zero, a half-Vampire, half-Werewolf hybrid living wild on the streets of Los Angeles while he tracks down the mysterious origin of his own birth.”
Unlike many sci-fi novels, these books have an important subtext. “The story is based in Los Angeles, and through all the monsters hiding amongst the unsuspecting citizen, it explores the city behind the city — the corruption, the underworld of crime and drugs,” noted Hewlett. “But Twelve Stakes is also about how addiction can be a gift instead of curse. The characters all find something valuable in their pain and use it to fight for a better world.”
To learn more about Thomas Hewlett and the Twelve Stakes series, visit the series’ official website.