A presidential vampire? One author says why not?

YORBA LINDA, Calif. — Christopher Farnsworth sold his first screenplay in just two weeks, and while his agents were happy for him, they also warned him that nothing would ever be that easy again.

That was back in 2001.

The movie never got made.

And Farnsworth still hasn't sold another movie.

"For a long time I was like a monkey flinging poo," he says, laughing, for as you'll soon see, he can afford to laugh about it now. "I threw everything I could at Hollywood and just nothing stuck."

Then two years ago, Hollywood shut down for a writers' strike. So Farnsworth, unable to pitch his latest story to the movie and TV people, decided to turn it into a novel.

A year later that decision landed him a three-book deal with Putnam. And on Tuesday, "Blood Oath" (Putnam, $24.95) — a thriller about a vampire secret agent sworn to serve the presidents of the United States — arrived in bookstores on a wave of positive reviews.

So to find out how you survive as an unpaid writer for close to decade and what it feels like when all that work pays off, we asked him to meet us at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda.

After all, if "Blood Oath" were true — and who can really say it isn't? — maybe there's a secret file somewhere back there in the Nixon archives about a shadowy agent named Nathaniel Cade.

Farnsworth, 38, grew up in Boise, Idaho, a kid who loved comic books, superheroes and all that creepy, paranormal stuff.

"The Academy," a screenplay about an academy for covert operatives, punched his ticket to Hollywood in 2001, but then the fallow years of writing but not selling his work began.

"It was a long, long march through the desert," Farnsworth says.

At times, he says he thought he would quit and get a day job as a bartender or barista. Always, though, his wife Jean would talk him back to his computer.

Then, with a new house and a baby on the way, a new idea arrived: "It just seemed so blatantly obvious — a spy who was a vampire."

Here's the true part of "Blood Oath": The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, in the 1890s, published an article that described a convicted murderer as having years earlier killed his shipmates, drunk their blood and then for unspecified reasons — been pardoned by President Andrew Johnson.

Farnsworth says he spotted that strange incident in an account written by Robert Damon Schneck (who debunks much of it) and couldn't stop thinking about how that might work as a movie or TV show.

"And then I thought, 'We've got nuclear weapons; we've got all the best weapons — of course the president has a vampire!' " he says.

"This was really my half-court shot. If I missed I really was going to go get a job at Starbucks or tend bar. And so I put everything I loved in it: spies, vampires, sci-fi, thrillers. Everything I would find entertaining."

And while it has all those pop culture goodies galore — and a relentless page-turner pace — the backdrop of politics and government also lends "Blood Oath" a subtle, serious undercurrent, too.

"My friend read it and said, 'This is sort of like an exorcism of the war on terror,' " Farnsworth says. "I'd been getting all my fears out since 9/11, and here's something even scarier — and he's on our side.

"I think the appeal of Cade is that he is a way to address all the anxieties and fear we have in the world today. He handles all of the nightmares for us, and this is a way to fight back. And plus, vampires are cool!"

When the manuscript was finished, Farnsworth turned his attention to getting it published. Three or four months of blind queries finally landed him a contract with agent Alexandra Machinist. ("It's the name of a Bond girl or a mad scientist," he says of his wonderfully named agent.) She shopped it to all the big publishers and soon landed a contract with Putnam for three Cade books.

"From the publisher and agent's perspective, this is a book that could be effectively marketed," Farnsworth says of the quickness with which everything fell into place.

"One of the good things about going through the desert in the movie business, it taught me to think, 'What is the movie poster going to be? What is going to be the audience?'" (Thinking through that, "Blood Oath" quickly earned the easy-to-get tagline of "24" meets "True Blood.")

The thrill of realizing his boyhood dream to write books for a living is still sinking in. After a book tour (and an upcoming trip to Comic-Con in San Diego as an invited guest — something that leaves the comic book fan boy practically giddy) there's a movie deal in the works, a second Nathaniel Cade book almost finished and a third one to start after that.

"I always wanted to be a novelist first," Farnsworth says of the way his writing career twisted and turned from journalism to screenplays to the books he's writing today. "I thought I'd go the traditional route of writing a novel, and then being co-opted by Hollywood and drinking myself to death in a bar somewhere in Culver City.

"Fortunately it didn't work out that way."

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