Friday, August 19, 2011

Disease breathes life into book

A Maple Ridge writer's new novel is one readers can really sink their teeth into

First-time author Anita Viljoen has crafted a tale that has a real bite to it.
Mom to a 17-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter, Viljoen did most of the writing for her debut novel Feeders between 1 and 3: 30 a.m., deliciously ironic considering the story revolves around the most nocturnal of fictional creatures - vampires.
"I am a night owl. Then I found out that's the norm. It's the same thing with all artists," the Maple Ridge resident said.
"When your conscious falls asleep, your subconscious takes over, and that's when you dream. I would wake up and write them [the words] down."
Born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa, Viljoen sets the story in her adopted province of British Columbia, where Sir Robert McKay's coven of vampires is known for benevolence. Instead of hunting humans, they believe in their mortal prey voluntarily donating their blood.
The humans they seek - feeders - have a rare blood disorder that enables them to regenerate their blood quickly when first drained. Feeders then need frequent draining to survive.
Viljoen's story is not so much about the bloodsuckers hunting their quarry as it is about the symbiotic relationship between human "volunteers" and vampires.
The twist comes when a woman is attacked by a rogue vampire and left bleeding and broken on the roadside.
She becomes a feeder, and so begins a romance that fans of the thriller/romance genre might just have a bloody good time sinking their teeth into.
For Viljoen, life became art, because the feeders she writes about are based on real people who live with a blood disorder called polycythemia vera, in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells.
Polycythemia vera may also result in the overproduction of white blood cells and platelets. Most of the health concerns associated with polycythemia vera are caused by a blood-thickening effect that results from an overproduction of red blood cells.
One form of treatment for the disorder is bloodletting. The removal of blood from the body reduces the blood volume and brings down the hematocrit levels; in patients with polycythemia vera, this reduces the risk of blood clots.
While researching for the book, Viljoen phoned a couple of Maple Ridge residents who have polycythemia vera, and she discovered their doctors perform their blood lettings.
"What happens if humans have too much blood?" was the question Viljoen asked herself, as the genesis of the story. "It could be beneficial to vampires."
Viljoen describes Feeders as a "vampire love story" injected with liberal doses of drama and action.
"I started writing all the ideas down and it became a story. I carried on and eventually by page 400 I thought, 'Maybe I've got something here,'" she said.
"It came to me like it was playing out like a movie in my head."
She allowed a few "critics" to read the original manuscript, including her boss at Temptations Salon and Spa, Kathy Pring, known as a straight shooter who doesn't mince words.
"She's a very black-and-white kind of person," Viljoen said. "She either likes it or she doesn't. She was the one who said, this is a page turner, you need to get it published."
Then, through a literary agent, Viljoen got involved with Strategic Book Group and Eloquent Books.
"They are the ones who took me on and did a joint venture with me," Viljoen explained.
"They are going to be publishing my second book, as well."
Viljoen said creating the story was the easy part. Getting the grammar, spelling, and tenses correct was the challenge.
She had the novel edited after it was written, which was an expensive venture. With her follow-up effort, Hybrid - a sequel of sorts to Feeders - Viljoen found a local editor who helped her as she went along.
It took Viljoen about nine months to complete Feeders. Her biggest stumbling block was coming up with an ending. A friend read the manuscript and gave her some ideas for a suitable finish.
"She actually gave me an idea to finish it this way so I can carry on with the next book," she said.
Her follow-up book is currently at the publishers, and book three - not related in any way to the other two - is floating around in her computer hard drive, and about halfway done.
Hybrid will be released in book and EBook format in about two months.
Hybrid introduces new characters but has a similar tone. It has more of a family dynamic than Feeders does, Viljoen said.
"It kind of seals the deal; it kind of puts the first book to rest," she said.

tlandreville@mrtimes.com