I recently listened to a free podcast of Kimberly Steele’s vampire novel Forever Fifteen. I thought it was the best vampire novel since Richard Laymon’s The Traveling Vampire Show. Steele’s vampire is Lucy Albert, who was turned into a vampire at the age of 15 after surviving the Black Death in the 1340s in Italy by an ancient vampire, who wanted her for his carnal desires and to ease his lonely, undead existence.The novel is set in 1983 in the United States, where Lucy lives among mortals, posing as an innocent foster child, who moves from family to family while she secretly commits her monthly murders to satisfy her blood cravings.Steele really captured the “otherness” of a vampire living among humans. It’s obvious she put a lot of thought into how a vampire would exist and maintain secrecy over the years. The serial killing scenes were particularly well done. Forever Fifteen is not a perfect novel, but it is very entertaining and captures the essential uniqueness of vampires that is often missing from other books in the genre. Steele graciously took the time to answer my questions.….
Haunted Vampire: You mention on your site you were inspired by a recurring nightmare. What was that nightmare?
Kimberly Steele: In my life I have battled a great deal of personal anger that seeps into my dreams. I grew up in suburban Chicagoland surrounded by rich kids who threw tantrums at Christmas time if they got the $500 dollar toy rather than the $800 toy that they REALLY wanted. Though my family never wanted for anything, they weren’t swimming in the inconceivable amounts of money that the neighbors threw around like confetti at a party. I was acutely aware of the differences between myself and my classmates from an early age. By High School, I had but one friend, a young gay man who was also persecuted by the rich in-crowd for his otherness. Like him, I have continued to dream about High School nearly fifteen years after the fact. There was a feeling of being trapped in that place that was uniquely hellish. My dreams of the era are full of false friends, disgusting bathrooms, weary yet condescending adults who overstep the boundaries of decency. My own parents excluded, adults would act horribly almost all the time and at every given opportunity. Mothers would seduce and sleep with their daughters’ boyfriends, gym teachers committed racist and anti-gay crimes for which they were never punished. This overall obsession with acquiring wealth, status, and possessions poisoned everything we did or tried to achieve.
In the dreams I always find out I have a year left to go of High School. I need to go to an office or classroom I cannot find in a labyrinthine maze. There is often a storm outside which I must walk miles through to get home, through unfamiliar territory. I feel much like a wolf that would gnaw off its own leg to be free. It is this feeling of isolation that I tried to convey to the audience of Forever Fifteen.
I have no fear of rejection, I have reached a mental state where I could truly care less what so-called “experts” think of my writing. My style attracts lots of fans. Even if what I write is not great writing (it’s certainly NOT going to garner any Nobel Prize nominations) I am aware that a small niche is absolutely rabid for it.
What it comes down to is that I simply do not have the time to chase down prospective publishers and agents. Creativity is for me the only effective anti-depressant. Life for me is very unpleasant without it.
I look forward to reading more of Haunted Vampire. I read a little and found it to be interesting. Have you ever thought about turning it into an audiobook? Things are getting to a point where you almost have to make an audiobook. Recording equipment is ridiculously cheap these days, so let me know if you ever need guidance about what to buy to create an audio version of your novel.
Haunted Vampire: Do you know how many people have listened to your audio version? What made you decide to go that route?
Kimberly Steele: I have no idea how many people are reading my book. The statistics are unreliable and come in from dozens of different sources. I believe about 10,000 have listened to the novel on iTunes from their statistics, but there are also listeners from Podiobooks.com as well as a dozen other podcasts as well as my own ForeverFifteen.com website. I get about 7000 hits a day on ForeverFifteen.com, but I have no idea what this means.
I chose to record an audiobook because the technology is cheap nowadays and most people are too busy to read books in print. I released it for free because I didn’t have time to chase publishers around. I’m very fortunate to make a small income from donations. It has helped me both donate to some of the charities I love, like Women for Women International, and pay off some bills.
Haunted Vampire: How long did it take you to write your book?
Kimberly Steele: It took me a year to write the book. I had never so much as completed a short story, and suddenly Forever Fifteen poured out of me. The creative process is one of the few truly mystical experiences in life. I think the reason why this book happened so fast is because I had only to draw upon my actual life, full of trials and tribulations, to write it. I had to make Lucy a medieval character, this was almost pre-ordained by my teenage obsession with the European Middle Ages and Renaissance. Once I started, I knew there was no stopping. Oftentimes, I found myself staying up until four and five in the morning, scribbling or typing like mad.
Haunted Vampire: Where did you write? (I wrote most of mine in my home office/library with candles all around me and incense burning to help get me in a spooky atmosphere, but much of the rewriting was done in coffeeshops.)
Kimberly Steele: My husband and I bought a 150-year-old house in a small town hours away from the Starbucks lifestyle I have been conditioned to adore. Forever Fifteen was written in a dusty, bare-floored room with cardboard taped over the windows and walls painted a cold 1960’s era sea-green. I had no choice but to write it by hand in a red 3-ringed notebook until I got a computer. I believe the house may have been haunted and I rest assured that it was accursed. Often I heard voices screaming over the vacuum cleaner, yet this might have just been my mind. The only good thing to come out of that house was Forever Fifteen.
Haunted Vampire: I definitely know how you feel [about trying to find an agent/publisher]. I just found the whole process of trying to find an agent/publisher terrible. Many agents can’t find publishers for the clients they do have. And as a fan of the horror genre, it seems to me many editors pick the dregs of their slushpiles to publish. When I first heard of The Historian I was so excited about it. Then when I read it, I thought, ‘This is crap! My book is much better than this. How the hell did this get through an editor?'” There was a huge flaw in The Historian that made me stop reading. I’ve hit an age [edited] where if I don’t like a book, I don’t finish it. Soon after its publication, I saw tons of copies of The Historian on deeply discounted remainder tables at bookstores.
If you wish to read my manuscript, The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire, you can find the links to the chapters online here. The foreword is now gone because I rewrote it and didn’t put the new version up, but I think the links to all of the chapters work.
My vampire is also named Lucy. I continue the story of Lucy Westenra from the original Dracula novel. It’s a pastiche using characters from Dracula, William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghostfinder, and H.P. Lovecraft’s Dr. Henry Armitage. The overall theme is why does God allow suffering. There’s mystery, horror, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, the Biblican demon Lilith,
sex, romance, discussions on faith, lesbianism, cannibalism and lots and lots of blood and gore. (I can’t believe I didn’t find a publisher – LOL.)
But enough about me, let’s get back to talking about you and your novel.
Kimberly Steele: Ha!! Dr. Evil!! Now I have to read it.
Haunted Vampire: About your novel, I see now how you really captured the otherness and loneliness of Lucy so well. Have your schoolmates or family read Forever Fifteen? What did they think of it?
Kimberly Steele: My family has read Forever Fifteen. One aunt of mine has listened to the full audiobook three times–she’s been a wonderful supporter of the book. I don’t talk much about my fiction in my immediate family, for this reason my mother read it rather late in the game. She picked up some of the editorial errors I missed in the print edition. Only one friend from High School has read Forever Fifteen, of course he loved it because he was also one of the persecuted lower castes. I do tend to villianize my High School, but I do have a few friends I have lost touch with who deserve kudos. As an adult, I’ve realized that I have very little tolerance for any “herd” situation. Even as a Girl Scout, I didn’t much care for the idea of a community among my peers. Though I don’t feel I am better or worse than anyone, I feel I am too different from my peers to get along with them. Sitting through a typical executive meeting makes me want to slash my wrists and go jogging. Sitting through a full Sunday church service is an irritating ordeal as well as a tragic waste of time. Groupthink causes me internal strife, therefore, I enjoyed creating Lucy as a vampire that wanted to be a part of the crowd (the antithesis of myself) yet could not because of her vampire status.
Haunted Vampire: Have you thought of turning your experiences into another novel about the horrors of high school, sort of like Stephen King’s Carrie?
Kimberly Steele: My next novel will be Ocean Avenue, a fictional prequel to the Amityville horror. One of the protagonists will be of High School age. I exorcised a great many personal demons with Forever Fifteen, but in Ocean Avenue, you just might see a few more come to light. By the way, I love Stephen King. He is and always will be a huge influence on my writing. Carrie is a great book, but there can never be another Carrie, Firestarter, Shining, or Delores Claiborne.
Haunted Vampire: To me, you really captured well how a vampire could exist by hiding in plain sight. Could you talk about your thought processes on vampires?
Kimberly Steele: I don’t like the way most vampires are written. You and I have talked briefly about the suspension of disbelief: it’s a real problem for me when a vampire character sinks to the level of neo-Romantic cheese. Anne Rice wrote a pleasantly stylized vampire, but once she made Lestat into a rock star I had to stifle my gag reflex. The one exception is when the fantasy aspect is over-the-top, like the Blade series. I think that if you put yourself in your character’s shoes, absolutely immerse yourself in that thought process and feel their actual feelings, it becomes clear what to write.
The difficult part is getting outside yourself and living in that imaginary world. Writing Forever Fifteen had me in tears, laughing, and sexually frustrated on many different occasions. Since it was my first book, I wasn’t sure that people would be able to feel these things through my writing. Happily, it turns out that FF’s readers not only get the joke, they have insights into the characters that I didn’t realize or foresee.
Haunted Vampire: Like you, I spent many nights until the wee hours writing too. There were a couple of times while writing creepy scenes that I creeped myself out. Did that ever happen to you?
Kimberly Steele: My normal hours are very odd–I go to bed at 3:00 am and wake up around 11:00 every day, so “the witching hour” isn’t a time I avoid. It takes an awful lot to scare me. I chuckled throughout Ring 2, especially the deer scene, that almost had me on the floor of the movie theater, it was so funny. I’m more afraid of real people than ghosts. Real people pose real threats. I’m that freak that would be more than happy to spend the night in the abandoned beheading rooms of the Tower of London or perform a midnight seance at Alcatraz, as long as someone was willing to pay the airfare and a security detail was present to protect me from HUMAN misdoing. It’s not that I am a complete skeptic, because I am not. Perhaps there’s a certain insane part of me that dares any demon, ghostie, or ghoulie to try me out.