Full disclosure: I know, respectively, Carlos Dews and S.J. Rozan—the duo known as Sam Cabot, the nom de plume behind the new novel Blood of the Lamb. Carlos is an academic and an international authority on Carson McCullers; S.J. is an Edgar-winning author of Ghost Hero and twelve other novels. I met Carlos early in graduate school in 2006, and we have been friends, confidants, and travel companions ever since. S.J. and I became acquainted last year when we sat on a panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Like a lot of people who encounter S.J., I was immediately taken by her charm, preternatural ease, and acerbic wit. We have been friends ever since. Imagine my surprise when my dear friend Carlos teamed up with my new friend S.J. to carve out a thriller set in modern day Rome about vampires, priests, and a secret that could bring down the Catholic Church. We sat down recently in New York City to figure this whole thing out.
Andrew Cotto (Rail): OK, so, for starters: How was this entity known as Sam Cabot conceived, and how in the world did it bring you two strangers together?
Carlos Dews: I had the idea that became Blood of the Lamb soon after I moved to Rome. My agent thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to write the thriller. But I respect genre writers and thrillers too much to assume I could write one. I asked around about writers I could collaborate with and a friend suggested that S.J. Rozan might be someone to approach (the fact that S.J. and I were at the same cocktail party and she was less than ten feet away from me didn’t hurt, so I asked her). It took some convincing but she finally agreed to give it a try.
S.J. Rozan: Carlos asked me to do this and I tried to figure out how to get out of it. But that was before I heard the idea. But then I heard the idea and I thought wow, this might really work, and it would be worth doing something neither of us had ever done—collaborating—to see if we could pull it off. It was our publisher’s request that we do the book under a single-name pseudonym that lead to the creation of the name Sam Cabot, which we chose for reasons too mundane to detail.
Rail: I get the natural comparisons to books like The Da Vinci Code, Twilight, etc., but this novel strikes me as being far more insightful, intellectually. Were you trying to differentiate from such novels in an attempt not to seem derivative, or was that just the natural manner in which this particular novel developed?
Dews: We weren’t writing to differentiate this novel from others in the genre, but we were writing about the issues that concerned us. These issues—aesthetics, faith, religion, love, fidelity—are perhaps more complex than those covered in most paranormal thrillers.
Rail: What’s the biggest challenge working with a partner?
Rozan: It’s as much of an advantage as a challenge, but working with a partner means that the writing process becomes much more of a give and take proposition. The fact that one has to run everything by one’s partner means the process becomes more iterative and evolutionary and no decision is final until it has been looked at from a number of angles.
Rail: What’s the most beneficial aspect of collaboration?
Dews: The most beneficial aspect of collaboration is having at hand a second way to look at the same sets of ideas, another brain to mine for narrative material, and a flagman to prevent the narrative train from heading down the wrong track.
Rail: The novel “goes places,” as they say, and I won’t give too much away, but you are shaking the cage of a certain sacred and powerful entity headquartered in Rome—billions of followers worldwide—have I said too much? Anyway, are you, as they say, in this case, literally, trying to “piss off the Pope” or what?
Rozan: Blood of the Lamb is a book about faith. Nothing we have said does anything but affirm the importance of faith and the value of believers. We don’t see why, if you really take a breath and read the book, anything in it would piss off the Pope.
Rail: Was this a conscious decision upfront or did the potentially controversial components come out in the process of writing the story?
Dews: The most potentially controversial idea in the book was, in fact, the very first idea that came to me, even before the plot or any of the characters. As far we can see there are only two controversial ideas in the book. The first was the original idea for the book and the second was a natural extension of the first.
Rail: From the opposite angle, I was also pleasantly surprised that the vampires were far more human and far less gruesome than their popular incarnation. What was the thinking behind this?
Dews: There is a difference between vampires previously found in fiction and the realistic type of vampires we included in Blood of the Lamb. We wanted to represent vampires as they might actually exist in the real world. The vampires we depict are people with eternal life, not some other kind of being and not a symbol of evil, lust, longing, or whatever else writers might want to impose on them.
Rail: Forgive my limited knowledge of Catholicism, and my devotion to lamb, particularly chops “scotta ditta” but I didn’t see a lot of either blood or lambs. Please explain.
Rozan: The title is a biblical reference, the meaning of which becomes clear once the reader reaches the end of the book. Anything else we might say would spoil it for our readers.
Rail: Just asking here, but have the unresolved threads of the story left us open to a sequel?
Dews: The answer is yes and the sequel is being written as we speak.
Published on Brooklyn Rail: In Conversation: Sam Cabot with Andrew Cotto