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1. The Undying Queen of Ur is a vampire story, but it's so much more. Can you tell us a bit more about the book?
The book is not actually a story about vampires as one might understand the concept of a “vampire.” When we think of Dracula and the lore about vampires established in books like Interview with the vampire by Anne Rice, Dracula by Bram Stoker, or Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, among so many others, we immediately think of a lurking creature of the dark hiding in shadows ready to strike an innocent beautiful girl down and drink her dry.
Well, this is not what The Undying Queen of Ur is about. In this book, the Undying (we never call them vampires in the book—not even once!) is the dominant class of Ur, cursed creatures spawned from the pits of the Underworld who rule over humankind. Arkhalla is the queen, the first of the Undying and the one who created them all.
Arkhalla was born a human and was cursed by the demon god Asag into becoming the first Undying after her father’s betrayal of the pact he had with him. Her father was the king, and after his death she ruled in his stead.
So even though the characters in this book drink blood and have other similar traits to vampires, the story is not focused on that but on the interactions and conflicts of the characters. The “human” aspect of the story is what defines this novel, while the facets and consequences of them being “vampires” are almost imperceptible in the grand scheme of things.
Those are the most “human” vampires you will ever see! LOL
Character development is for me one of the greatest qualities of a story. The plot is the most important, no doubt, but a story with poor character development, in my opinion, fails to grab the audience at the most significant level. We just don’t care for the characters! And this, for me, is an unforgivable sin in any story told.
When we wrote this book, our main focus was to develop our characters to a point the audience could feel for them, no matter if you love or hate these characters, but our goal was to make you feel and connect with them.
I remember many times discussing scenes with Abraham, and telling him about “tear-jerking” moments. We gotta have those sprinkled throughout the book or we won’t accomplish anything, I always said!
So The Undying Queen of Ur is a book about people, their yearnings, their fears, humanity and all those things that make us tick, but above all, it’s a story about love. And I’m not talking only about the love between the main protagonists. This is not a “love story!”
You see, this is the difference… This is not a love story, but a story about love.
Arkhalla and Shamath’s love is the central point of the plot, of course, but if one looks carefully, one notices that all other characters also love… and feel the repercussions of it.
This is a brutal story, don’t get me wrong. It is graphic, bloody, and strong in all the right places. The story has a lot of action, war and politics. The characters scheme and betray one another in pursuit of their own interests and selfish desires… This is not a soft story made for children, but the beauty of it all is that deep inside, in the core of everything, you will find their humanity and their weaknesses. Heroes are only as strong as they are vulnerable. Weaknesses are what defines us; our strengths come from overcoming them in the face of our adversities.
So yes, a thousand times I say. This is not a story about vampires.
2. How did you come up with the premise?
Ha! This is an interesting question. Simple answer… It was all an accident!
Back in 2014, I was involved with my company’s new development—comic books. I had just started producing some graphic novels, and was deeply involved with another character completely unrelated to Arkhalla, but since I also wanted to produce another comic book for a character called Queen of Vampires, I asked one of the artists working with me if he knew another writer that could develop a secondary project for me; I was too busy working, writing for another comic book story, so I thought, why not… Let me hire another guy to write for the Queen of Vampires.
Then I was introduced to Abraham Kawa… and everything changed!
I told Abraham that I wanted a script for a story that would introduce our character and set up a continuing storyline for a future monthly comic book title. He asked me what the story was about, and I had NO IDEA of what it could be. I really didn’t care much about the Queen of Vampires at that time. The character didn’t even have a name yet. She was just a character I was producing as a collectible statue toy to sell through my company.
So it was when I was driving back from California after a very strenuous business trip and was alone on the road that I started thinking about who the Queen of Vampires was. I thought of a quick plot of a powerful ancient queen who ruled over a realm of vampires and humans (I can’t tell the rest without spoiling the book) and gave that one-page plot synopsis to Abraham, and told him—write me a five-part comic book script!
A few weeks later, Abraham came back with a full synopsis for the whole story divided into five chapters and the first issue script of the graphic novel.
Everything else I was doing with my life at that moment lost meaning!
I was so impressed by his script and his eloquent writing that producing that story became my whole life from that day on! Of course, we changed the story around a thousand times, and I requested tons of re-writings of a bunch of stuff, mostly changing my own initial plot and ideas.
I had told Abraham in my original one-page-synopsis that Arkhalla (our newly named queen of vampires) should have a human slave who would help her (*SPOILER*) escape the rebellion against her, but it was when I read the script and I saw that this slave, who became Shamath, had such a fantastic chemistry with our queen, that I saw a love story in the making!
At this point Abraham was well into the third issue script, and I told him I would change the whole story and make it into a love story between the queen and her slave. After that, I worked on the concept and the details of the story for the next three years to fine-tune it into what the story became today. It ended up not quite like a love story, but a story about love.
So yes, the story you can read now in the book The Undying Queen of Ur was never meant to be what it is today. It was an accident. A providence if you will. It was Abraham’s talent and commitment as a writer and artist that changed everything!
I would love to say I had this all planned from the start and that one day I had this fantastic inspiration and created this magical saga; it would be a lie! It all started with a one-page rough idea for a comic book... I didn’t even care to think of a name for the characters myself.
But Arkhalla, like Galatea, came to life and dictated her own story. And just like Pygmalion, I fell in love with my own creation, I fell in love with writing and creating stories, and I have been doing it since then.
3. The book is around 500 pages and the first in a series. How many novels are you planning?
As I said it already a few times, Arkhalla became a universe. Abraham got my initial synopsis and set the story into a realistic background. Instead of going full fantasy/fiction, he placed Arkhalla in the Great City of Ur, right in the beginning of the Bronze Age, circa 3000 BC. We are talking here about the same time the first civilizations of people surged on earth, when writing was “invented” by the first Sumerian Kingdoms and when the Egyptians started building their mighty pyramids, so it was really a long time ago. Abraham gave the story this fantastic and realistic historical background, and the story grew into much more than it intended to be. I know I feel this way, and Abraham said the same. The characters took control of their lives during our writing. We are just the ones responsible for scripting their chronicles.
Once I changed the initial premise of the book into a love story between Arkhalla and Shamath, all the other characters came to life around them creating an intricate universe. Suddenly the story was no longer about Arkhalla, it became also a story about Shamath, and then when I realized it, it had become a story about all of them. Arkhalla is just the glue that binds them all together.
I have written eleven stories for this saga.
But here is what I consider the special aspect of this novel. When one day, we finally finish writing all eleven books, and we can read the whole thing at once, we will notice that in the first book, we think the story is about Arkhalla. She is definitely the main protagonist of the book; after all, the title of the book is named after her, but then… we read the first three books, and we realize, that the story is actually a trilogy about Shamath; he is the character who drives the plot. But then again… when we read the whole thing—all eleven books—we discover that the story was never about Arkhalla, or even about Shamath. The story has been always about… someone else!
Hehe! It is very confusing what I just said, and you will only fully understand it after we have released all eleven books!
But the beauty of our story is that we divided it into four independent phases. The first phase starts in The Undying Queen of Ur and follows into two more books, The World Without Arkhalla and The Quest for the Undying Queen. Once these three books are over, we have a complete closure for Arkhalla and Shamath’s story. I leave nothing hanging. It is a complete story with beginning, middle and ending. Done. Over!
But the saga does not end here. What we do next, in the second phase, is to write a kind of a “spin-off.” Arkhalla and Shamath are still present in the second phase, but they are not the protagonists of the story. The second phase is comprised of four books and tells the story of a new Undying Queen who replaces Arkhalla.
The second phase, in my opinion, is the strongest part of the saga—the part where we shed the most tears.
Phase three is comprised of only one book and could be considered the end of the saga when you put it into a chronological time frame. This book is called “Undying” and tells the story of the last Undying alive. We go all the way to the present times to show how one of the characters, who was born more than 5,000 years ago, is able to cope with modern days. It is also a tear-jerking story that I’m proud of having created. This story was formatted in a way that it can stand alone without the rest of the saga, so it is like a solo story that can be fully understood without any knowledge of the previous stories. It is also self-contained, meaning, it has a beginning, a middle and an ending on its own.
The last phase of our saga goes all the way back in time to tell the story BEFORE the Undying. It is another trilogy focused on Arkhalla’s origins and what happened before she became an Undying. The story is actually about her father and mother and one special villain we all came to love and hate, Sin—the mastermind behind everything! It also shows the origins of Bel and Narama. Here in this trilogy, we go deeper into Asag’s Underworld, and we learn everything about Arkhalla’s creator and his three Demon Daughters who blessed Arkhalla with her powers.
4. One of the major themes of the series is love, but it doesn't seem to be love as so many view it today. Why did you decide to make a series centered on the sacrifice and commitment side of love?
Love is commitment and sacrifice. Everything else is lust.
I read so many times stories about “true love!” Even in movies, we see this all the time. Two characters meet, they know nothing about each other, but they are both attractive, so a couple of scenes later they are in “love.” This is rule #1 in Hollywood movies, but it is also a recurring theme that festers in many, many modern novels.
I didn’t want to write about two handsome characters that feel attracted to each other, then have sex, and call it love. This is not love.
Love is a verb, an action, not a feeling.
So, when Shamath meets Arkhalla, he feels everything a man feels before an attractive woman. He feels his heart beating fast and his collar hot. He is completely taken with her to the point of not thinking straight anymore. There is no doubt about it. But it is when he acts on his feelings, by knowing, understanding, forgiving, and ultimately saving her from her own darkness that he proves he loves her. He sacrifices everything for her. He goes against the whole world because of her. He pays the price for what he believes, and his commitment to her is not just about fighting for her so he can have her, but he fights FOR her, even with the prospect of getting nothing in return. He fights for her because he truly loves her.
And this is what I think is worth writing about. But most of all, I believe it to be worth reading about.
One small point I have to make here is that I’m referring to the full three first books of the story when I talk about Shamath’s love for Arkhalla. Without reading book two and three, one might not have a full understanding and all the repercussions of his love for her.
5. Can you tell us a bit more about the writing process of the book, especially since it was co-authored?
Abraham and I understand and respect each other! This is the formula for any successful shared work. He knows exactly what I want, and I know exactly what he means. I trust him 100%, so even when he goes against my own directives, I stop and I listen to him.
In the beginning we ruffled feathers a little. Like any new relationship, we needed time to get to know one another, but after the third script for the comic book, we were pretty much on the same page, and today I would say we are in perfect sync.
This story is as much mine as it is his. We both have contributed creatively to the making of this novel. Basically, I would say that I write the story into a plot outline. I write down everything that should happen in the story, most scenes and dialogue ideas. Then I send it to him, and he writes me a report. Most of the time he shoots down my first synopsis. He shows so many problems and plot holes and bad ideas that I almost feel shamed! LOL
Then based on his report, I re-write, and I re-write, and I re-write, until he says, “It’s good now!” Then I get all happy and I develop the story even further, now basically creating all the major scenes and dialogues. Once I finish what could be a 20 to 30 pages synopsis, I send it to him and he makes it into a 300-page book!
The process of writing the actual novel takes about a year, and during this time, I bombard him with tons of more content, scenes and details that he has to shoehorn into his writing. It is a live process, month to month, almost day to day. He sends me 15 pages of text every month as he progresses. I mark down all that needs to change or what I didn’t like, then at the end of the writing process, we go over everything again to fine-tune the novel to its final state.
Once the story is completed and no more changes are needed I format everything into a book.
6. The names of your characters are a bit different - Ur, Shamath. How did you come up with their names?
All these names are REAL names. I can say that besides Arkhalla, all the names of all the characters in the story are real Sumerian names, cities, places, people and everything else is actually based in reality. If you get a map of ancient Mesopotamia, you will see that all the cities in the story are actual places that existed, and we construct the story based on the authenticity of these places, so for instance, When Arkhalla goes to invade Shamath’s land at the beginning of the book, she goes all the way from Ur to Larak which is a real city north of Ur that existed in those ancient times.
The city of Ur was located in modern day Iraq. It is not called Ur anymore, but the place is still there. Anyone who researches “ZIGGURAT OF UR” online will find images of the ruins of the great ziggurat that Arkhalla’s palace is based on.
Even the name Arkhalla is based in reality. Abraham suggested that we called her Irkalla, which is an ancient Mesopotamian word for the Underworld. I liked his suggestion but changed the spelling to ARKHALLA instead, and our Undying Queen of Ur was born!
7. How much research went into a novel of this length?
A lot! Abraham did such a risky gamble staking a “vampire” story with real history. But in the end, I believe it paid off because not only we created something new and unique, but we also developed a part of history that most people have never heard of. We are all well familiar with ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, the Akkadians, and Greeks and Romans, but most of us have never heard of the Sumerians, and they are so important to our own civilization! Our writing, our Duodecimal system, and even the wheel itself are samples of the achievements created in early Sumer. The first poems written by mankind were found in Mesopotamia. Who has never heard of Gilgamesh? Right?!
Abraham not only took all the names for characters and places from real history, but also weapons, objects, clothes, costumes, religion, and so much more. All the mythology we created around Arkhalla is also based in true Sumerian mythology. Our master demon god Asag, who rules the Underworld and created Arkhalla is actually a demon god worshiped by the Sumerians.
I completely fell in love with everything Abraham brought to the story, mostly because of his commitment to researching everything and not just throwing names and facts into the story.
Of course that, as a disclaimer, I have to say. This is still a work of fiction, and we “adapted and twisted” a few facts, so we could actually write our story. It is called “poetic license,” and all writers use it, but as freedom to depart from facts go… we have a very realistic story in our hands.
8. Was there anything that you edited out of the book?
Not out, but IN! The Undying Queen of Ur is actually a re-write of the novelization of the graphic novel we released in 2016 with the title of Arkhalla, The Queen of Vampires. I was NOT happy with the original story we wrote, so I decided to re-write the story and correct the mistakes I think I made on my first attempt. So in a sense, I did not edit anything out, but I changed a bunch of things from the original story and added a bunch more.
When one looks at his own work for a long time, one is bound to find flaws in it that most others would feel fine about, BUT because this novel is for me the most important thing I have accomplished with my life, I wanted it to be perfect.
So I re-wrote everything, turning the initial book of 300 pages into a full 500 pages story. Now the story is what I think it should have been since the beginning, and everything that I could have possibly left out of the story, did not belong in the story anyway, so nothing is missing.
For the comic book and consequently the first version of the book, Abraham wrote one of the most beautiful “passage of time” scenes I’ve ever read, talking about all the wars that happened in the Middle-East throughout history and how all the blood spilled in these lands continually fed Asag in his thirst for human destruction throughout the millennia. This passage of time was associated with the very first idea I had for the story, where the story would actually end in the present times.
We had to delete this from the comic book and the first novel because I changed the story limiting it to ancient times only, but I never forgot this scene he wrote.
I ended up going back to my initial desire to bring the story into present times when I wrote the story for the book Undying, but this scene is not part of this story and is in fact, lost!
9. Why did you decide to write the book in the first place?
In the beginning, I just wanted a comic book to validate the characters I was producing as toys with my company, but when I actually got involved into writing, the story took over my life, and today the main reason I think there is for this book to exist is to give people the pleasure of reading a good story.
This is a good story. A story worth reading, worth spending time with. When I read it, I feel all sorts of emotions, I feel sad; I have tears coming out of my eyes, but I also feel happy, I feel strength and motivation, and I feel like life is beautiful and worth living.
I want to share these feelings with others.
In a world where those who are in charge of our lives—and what we see, and what we consume as a society—are constantly dumping on us the garbage they have been creating for so long, it became almost impossible to find something that is wholesome and uncontaminated with propaganda and one’s agenda.
I wrote this story because I wanted to leave something behind that I could be proud of. Something that could touch people’s lives and make them feel good in a world with so much bad in it. A story that could touch people like very few and rare stories have.
This is why I wrote this story, and this is why I think it is worth reading it.
10. What do you most want your readers to learn or discover from the book?
As I said above, I want them to read it. I want them to feel. To cheer. To cry. To love and hate these characters, and that somehow their lives are touched by them.
The burden of a book is to make one feel.
It does not matter what, but if the story does not get you engaged with the characters to the point of feeling something, the story is a failure. But even better is when the story not only makes one feel but makes one feel better. When the story lifts the spirit and makes you look at life with a little more appreciation, then a book can say, it accomplished the highest a book can achieve.
11. What type of reader are you looking to reach? Why should anyone read The Undying Queen of Ur?
My story is not a story about vampires, it is not a horror story, and is not a romantic love story. It is hard to classify this book because it has elements of all of that, but it is none.
Once, I gave this story to an uncle of mine to read. He read it and told me that the story was good and kept him engaged the whole time, anxious to turn the next page to see what happened next. At the end he told me that he did not like the story because he does not like violence.
The story has violence. It is full of the dark grim reality of what life was five thousand years ago, slavery, humans sacrifice, torture, and seasoned with a good dose of blood-related-vampire stuff, but once one passes this, one can clearly see that the story is not about any of that and is so much more.
Imagine a beautiful Rembrandt; all the beauty we can find in the painting. It is almost magical. But then imagine if all you could see was the frame that holds the picture to the wall??
This is exactly what my uncle saw when he read my story. The frame.
So, The Undying Queen of Ur is not for everyone. I would not recommend it to younger audiences, especially those who can get too impressed. But for those who can stomach a little bit of blood here and there, the story is so worth reading. The story will touch whoever reads it in a way not many stories are capable of touching today.
I like to think The Undying Queen of Ur is a classic Hollywood script for a mega movie production. The “classic” aspect of it is what makes all the difference. It is not like what we see today. It is something like what we have not seen in a very long time, but unconsciously just crave for! Something like The Undying Queen of Ur hasn’t happened for such a long time that we think that it does not exist anymore.
― Ernest Hemingway