San Antonio writer’s first novel may soon be at a theater near you
San Antonian Raymond A.Villareal is a lawyer by profession, but he also has devoted a lot of time to writing.
Villareal, 50, started a number of novels over the years, most of which he abandoned without completing them: “I’m sort of the king of starting something and not finishing it.”
That streak ended with “A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising,” a sprawling look at what might happen in the United States should a virus take hold that transforms the infected into creatures of the night. The book was published by Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. Even before it was published, it had grabbed the attention of Hollywood: A film is in the works from 20th Century Fox and Shawn Levy’s 21 Laps, the latter known for the big-screen hit “Arrival” and Netflix’s buzzy series “Stranger Things.”
“They finished the script and send it to me a month ago, and I really enjoyed it,” Villareal said.
He finished writing before the 2016 presidential election — there are several references to an unnamed female president — but he thinks that current events, especially around race and immigration, helped make the book more appealing to publishers and to movie studios.
It deals with “how we view people that are different from us, whether we want to learn from them or learn about them, do we feel threatened by them,” he said. “You can see that in things that are happening today. That was something that interested me.”
Much of the book takes place in the Southwest, where the virus is first detected, but it also stretches well beyond that, with scenes in the nation’s capital and the Vatican. Though a short review in Publishers Weekly noted that genre fans will pick up on the influence of “True Blood” creator Charlaine Harris and the films of Guillermo del Toro, Villareal steers clear of a lot of the expected vampire tropes. Instead, much of the focus is on how the Gloamings, as the infected prefer to be called, push for civil rights, including political representation.
Soon the rich and powerful — seeing the advantages of enhanced physical strength and an abnormally long life span — intentionally “re-create.”
Most of the book unfolds as an oral history that’s laced with faux primary sources, including memos, magazine articles, blog posts and transcripts of congressional testimony and interviews.
Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, which, Villareal said, is part of the reason that he was able to finish the book: “Since each chapter is from the point of view of one character, it was like writing five different little books. I think that helped me not getting bored.”
He also started yoga and meditating, which helped, too.
“It really focused me a lot on finishing stuff — starting and finishing and staying on it,” he said.
It took him about 11 months to write the book, chipping away at the project after work and, sometimes, during the work day.
“Being in court, there’s a lot of time spent waiting, and so that’s always a good time to catch some writing time if I’m not doing work,” he said.
Villareal grew up in San Antonio — he’s a Churchill High School grad — and moved back about 10 years ago after stints in Dallas and Austin.
The idea for the book came to him on a trip to Salt Lake City. He doesn’t fly — he suffers from panic attacks — so he drove from San Antonio to Utah, a long trek that gave him lots of time to work through potential novel ideas. Among other things, he started pondering how he might approach a vampire story.
“At the time, I was thinking I would try to avoid the mythology and try to keep it more grounded in reality and that kind of thing,” he said.
Part of that reality comes in the form of name checks. A character talks about reading a New York Times series by Maggie Haberman about “the Gloaming presence in America and beyond”; news of Taylor Swift re-creating is in there; and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan writes the opinion on a Supreme Court case in which a Gloaming lawyer sued after being fired from his practice, which refused to allow him to work at night.
He has outlined a sequel, but he’s taking a break from vampires for his second book, which he described as a mystery. He’s taking a sabbatical from his law practice to work on it.
He’s always written, he said, but he sees the process a little differently now.
“I need to find another hobby,” he said. “This doesn’t feel like a hobby. It feels like work.”
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