Tristan Pierce propels himself through the moonlit water. His sleek skin ripples as he senses the approach of a seal. He’s no ordinary surfer – he’s a vampire shark, and he’s ready to kill. He’s also the creation of Marina writer Tina C. Zmak.
Surf and vampire cultures meld together surprisingly well in her novel, Dark Surf, perhaps because of their shared pop-culture appeal. When her wave-shredding vampires transform into sharks, they become especially fearsome predators. Hollywood has taken notice.
The idea sparked while Zmak was hitting the beach on Summer Solstice 2010. A new season of True Blood was about to premiere on HBO, and the third Twilight movie was hitting theaters. It got Zmak thinking: If she reinvented the vampire genre, how would she do it?
She grew up in San Diego, moved to Marina in 1996 and now runs a graphic design agency, Zmak Creative, with her husband, Steve. She knew her vampires would have to be Californians. After deeper reflection, they became surfers. Who could turn into sharks.
These vampires would be surfing after sunset. But they would need to wear sunscreen, since moonlight is reflected sunlight. And they couldn’t be away from seawater for more than three days.
The story took shape from there. Tristan is the leader of a group of night surfers, the Nomads. He is the only one capable of transforming ordinary vampires into shapeshifting vampire sharks. He got the ability after a run-in with a shark and some radioactive waste near the Farallones:
“[The shark] released Tristan and swam away, pondering the unfamiliar flavor. Deciding she liked it, she circled back and zoomed in for the kill, excited about the idea of eating something foreign and exotic, even if it was bony… As the shark hit the water, Tristan jumped on top of her. He grabbed the shark by the steel-gray gills lined up behind her head. He tore into her, covering her face with bite marks.”
Several mortals are on the vampire-sharks’ trail. Surfer Jake Ryder, who sees his best friend’s mangled body wash ashore, sets out to find the mysterious surfer he saw moments before the attack. FBI agent Lani Marley is also pursuing of a series of shark attacks, but she finds herself getting a little too close to Tristan.
The novel thrums with action, romance and surf, plus the kind of gory thrills you get with a horror flick. Short chapters make for a fast-paced read.
Zmak has been fascinated by vampires since watching Salem’s Lot with her sister around age 10. She recalls the vampire scratching at the window, saying, “Let me in, I’m your friend.”
“You knew something just wasn’t right with him,” she recalls.
Dark Surf is Zmak’s first fiction venture. She uses real beaches she’s visited in Encinitas, Solana Beach and Santa Cruz for her settings. She wants to give readers a sense of being in those towns – eating at the restaurants, feeling the sand and hearing the crashing waves.
When literary agent Jill Kramer first heard the idea, she was skeptical. “I inwardly rolled my eyes. But then I started reading… and couldn’t put the book down,” she writes by email. “I couldn’t believe [Zmak] was a first-time author. The book was perfect.”
Publishing houses were more hesitant. Kramer queried over 40 publishers, but none would bite. Some said the vampire genre was dead. Finally Zmak took the self-publishing route, using Amazon affiliate Createspace to get her books published and printed on demand. Since Zmak provided all the edited text and cover art, she had no out-of-pocket costs beyond the printed proofs.
Kramer netted the interest of movie producer Norman Stephens. His voice crackles with excitement over the phone as he details his love for the characters, especially Lani, and the theme of environmental stewardship. “It has real substance,” he says. “There are so many emotional and romantic connecting points.”
Though Dark Surf is unusual fare, Stephens says, “I was at a point in my career where I wanted to try something fun.” His television movies and miniseries tend toward heady subject matter – including Emmy-winners Bang Bang You’re Dead and My Name is Bill W.
He hopes to get major studio backing and start shooting as early as next summer. It’s perfect timing, he says, with Sharknado piquing interest in sharks, and surfer movies doing well.
Zmak is relieved and excited to see her book in print. She’s hoping to build a fan base while working on the sequel, which will mostly take place in Marina and Monterey.
She isn’t giving me spoilers, but she drops one hint: A different sort of paranormal creature is lurking in the water.