Serpent’s Tooth developed from a dream, and it’s the only novel I’ve written which originated that way. Probably not many people today remember Arthur Franz, but he was a very active science fiction star in the 1950, both in the movies and on TV. Well, one night, ‘way back in the ‘80s, I had a dream about Mr. Franz and I have no recollection of it now, except his being in it and the name “Hildebrandt.”
So, a couple of days later, what do I see on TV but the movie Atomic Submarine, staring guess who? And one of the characters was named “Hildebrandt.” I have this rule…if something sticks with me for three days, I know I have to write about it, so I took these two incidents—which occurred within three days of each other—and decided there was a novel in there somewhere with “Hidebrandt” playing an important role, then the story of Faust--the scholar who sells his soul to the devil--intruded, and… Serpent’s Tooth was born.
My hero, Travis Brand, is a Mid-Westerner, a part Pawnee orphan studying at the University of Nebraska. He’s ambitious (he’s putting himself through school on student loans), talented (a drama major getting raves in every role he portrays), a loving husband, a gifted student, but bitter because he has no prospects, and angry since his lack of money is keeping him from realizing his potential and providing his wife with the family she wants. When a famous actress comes to Lincoln to act in a play and he wins the male lead, it’s his ticket to instant stardom. Suddenly this impoverished youngster is the one calling the shots and it goes to his head. He’s got it all but he wants more and he doesn’t care how he gets it. Soon he’s involved with some very deadly people and when he wants out, the only way is to fake his death. He gives up everything, hiding out on a ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, fearing discovery by the people he left behind, but that doesn’t happen until the day he lets back into his life the one thing he’s missed most of all: Love.
I’m not even certain Travis should be called a “hero.” He might be better termed the “protagonist” of Serpent’s Tooth, although he has many of a hero’s features, he doesn’t’ meet all the criteria. That’s a question worthy of a lengthy debate: What makes a hero? It would’ve been easy to portray him as a thoroughly despicable character, considering the things he does of his own free will, so I chose to detail the reasons why he did them, and the main one is his love for his wife. Can a man who loves be all bad, no matter what he’s done? He wants to give her all the things he couldn’t when they were students, everything she ever wished for and he couldn’t afford. His story is also an object lesson in what happens to someone who’s been without all his life and suddenly finds himself with more money than he’ll ever want. He deliberately loses everything--including that beloved wife--and when he meets Melissa--just as in the story of Faust--it looks for a moment as if the love of a good woman will redeem him. It was easy to like Travis, even easier to sympathize with him but I viewed him with a somewhat jaundiced eye because I--as the Omniscient Author--know what is coming. Love him? No. Like, empathize, agonize over, hope against hope everything will come out all right? Yes.
As Clayton Bye (www.thedeepening.com) says, "...it will show horror fans that slice and dice just doesn’t stand up to understated and/or realistic horror."