Jason Henderson got his first glimpse of Dracula on television more than three decades ago.
He has been obsessed with vampires ever since.
He's an author, based in Grapevine, who today loves nothing more than writing about the toothy bloodsuckers. "As a storyteller," Henderson says, "there are so many cool things you can do with them."
His new novel, Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising, is the first in a series of books chronicling the cliffhanger adventures of a 14-year-old vampire hunter.
It's precisely the kind of story that Henderson would have sunk his teeth into as a kid -- and it's a far cry from the campy TV vamp that initially inspired him.
"The first vampire I remember having a strong reaction to was, of all things, in The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula," Henderson says. "In it, whenever Dracula appears on-screen, stalking various people, including members of Shaun Cassidy's band, you see only his awesome black boots."
If Henderson were to watch the show again today, it probably would strike him as being laughably bad. "But at the time," he says, "I was really struck by this powerful and iconic figure."
All these years later, the Prince of Darkness, and others of his kind, still capture his imagination.
"I don't write about vampires because they're popular," Henderson says. "I write about them because I like to write about vampires."
Alex Van Helsing: Vampire Rising (HarperTeen, $16.99) goes on sale Tuesday.
Before Henderson decided to give novels for teens a try, he wrote comic books and computer games. His work includes the Activision game Wolfenstein, the manga series Psy-Comm and the vampire action comic series Sword of Dracula. In the mid-1990s, while still in college, he wrote sword-and-sorcery adult fantasy novels, but he says he never had the same passion for that genre that he has for vampires.
Henderson believes vampire fiction is so durably popular because vampires themselves are so malleable. "There's always one more way that you can take this piece of folklore that we call vampires and turn it into a new story," he says. "It's interesting, however, what has happened to vampires in recent years. There has been a tendency in a lot of vampire work to take the obscenity out of vampires.
"Traditionally, they're supposed to be something that's full of guilt. They're perverse. They're drinking blood, for Pete's sake. But vampires can do so much cool stuff that it makes them super-attractive. So you've got writers who tweak it a little bit, taking away the moral implications of them drinking blood, maybe by giving them synthetic blood, and what you end up with is vampires as the new superheroes."
Not that Henderson has any real objections to taking such liberties. He says he believes there is room out there for all kinds of vampires. From serial-killer vamps to romance-novel vamps, he says, it's all fair game.
Still, Henderson is a purist when it comes to his vampires -- which is to say that his vampires are pure evil. "As a matter of fact," he admits, "my vampires are basically like James Bond villains."
Which is fitting because Alex Van Helsing, a direct descendant from literature's most famous vampire killer, the Abraham Van Helsing character from Bram Stoker's Dracula, is essentially a teenage agent-in-training attached to a super-secret international vampire-hunting organization.
Henderson is a native North Texan, born and raised in Irving. He's a University of Dallas graduate. He and Julia, his wife of 16 years, have two young daughters. They've lived in Grapevine for the past five years.
Henderson has a day job as a product marketing manager for Verizon Communication. "Then, when my workday is over, I come home and I pound out vampire novels," he says.
It stands to reason that he should be writing these things during "vampire hours."
Book two of the Alex Van Helsing series, already written but untitled, is scheduled to be published in May 2011. Book three will come out in May 2012.
What Henderson and his publisher hope to achieve with these books, he says, is "to bring boys back into reading." Studies show that, for a variety of reasons, girl book readers greatly outnumber boy readers. As a result, books for teenage boys are an under-published area, which is something of a self-defeating marketing strategy. The Alex Van Helsing books, if successful, could help fill that void.
That said, it's ironic that Henderson started writing Vampire Rising with a girl protagonist, Veronica "Ronnie" Van Helsing. A grown-up version of Ronnie was the hero of his Sword of Dracula comic books, which he wrote for several years, collaborating with various artists. In the comics, she was a professional superspy who hunted vampires.
Henderson was well under way in writing the first book when his editor suggested, because of his visceral, action-packed style, that he switch the lead character from a girl to a boy.
"It turns out that I was instinctively writing a boy book all along," Henderson says. "So I switched gears and made the books about her brother Alex."
Now he's eager to see how the target audience responds.
"I know that boys will read if you just put something out there that's more to the taste of boys," Henderson says. "There are a few examples that pop right to mind. Boys are reading the Percy Jackson & the Olympians books. Boys like the Harry Potter books. And boys love Alex Rider, which is a spy series. If I could occupy a space alongside them with Alex Van Helsing, I would be so thrilled."