Archive for the 'Popular Fiction' Category

Robert B. Parker, RIP

Mystery author Robert B. Parker has died.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

An interview with a vampire author

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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.

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Triton University, a research leader

Don’t worry about the side effects.

Magical

It’s 2 a.m. and we just got back from a book store an hour ago to buy the final Harry Potter book for my 9 year old, who is magical in her own right and a big fan of the series.

She won the Harry Potter poetry contest at the book store (she wrote it on Buckbeak) so she got a trophy and got to be one of the first to buy the book. Ms. Carnacki read the poem — my daughter wasn’t feeling well plus the size of the crowd would have intimidated most poets. My daughter got a lot of applause and she blushed as several people told her how nice her poem was.

Proud and majestic, half horse, half bird
There’s nothing more stunning in all the world
The Muggles think his kind a myth
Meet Buckbeak, Hagrid’s hippogriff

Draco Malfoy showed Buckbeak no respect
– a mistake the evil boy would soon regret
when Buckbeak his arm practically wrecked
But unfairly it was the hippogriff whose execution was set

Later on Harry and Hermione turned back the clock
With a pumpkin the executioner they mocked
The two also saved another life that day
But sadly neither Buckbeak nor Sirius could stay

The book store was a mad house. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like this — although I guess the midnight showing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula when it first opened is probably the closest thing — but it was a fun experience for the girls. Two of them fell asleep on the way home.

Carnacki’s List of Top 10 Favorite Vampires

In answer to questions posed by Ardeth Blood and a long-ago emailer, my favorite vampires:

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Bodhi from Baldur’s Gate II is No. 9 on my vampire list.

1. Lucy Westenra. From the original Dracula and from my novel, The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire. She plays with her victims.

2. Dracula (Marvel comics version 1972-1979). This was the version that I grew up reading and my first introduction to vampires.

3. Dracula (1932 movie version). Classic.

4. Valeria. The vampire at the heart of The Traveling Vampire Show by the late Richard Laymon arrives late in the novel and after a long build up she does not disappoint.

5. Marcilla/Carmilla/Mircalla Karnstein. Ingrid Pitt plays a vampire who changes her name to live with and seduce her victims in The Vampire Lovers.

6. Spike. I’ve got to go with Blondy Bear over Angel. “You listen to me. I’ve been alive a bit longer than you and dead a lot longer than that. I’ve seen things you couldn’t imagine and done things I’d prefer you didn’t. I don’t exactly have a reputation for being a thinker. I follow my blood which doesn’t exactly rush in the direction of my brain so I make a lot of mistakes. A lot of wrong bloody calls. A hundred plus years and there’s only one thing I’ve ever been sure of. You.”

7. Dracula (1992 Dracula version). The best is when Gary Oldman is playing the old version of Dracula, entertaining Jonathan Harker at his castle in Transylvania. Amusing, dangerous, congenial, maniacal all in one and all believable as a vampire.

8. Dracula (original novel by Bram Stoker). The original vampire version of Dracula has got to be on the list, but his low ranking is due to the fact that the Count does a lot of fleeing from the hunters and spends more time than he should seducing the women. Nevertheless, he does feed on a baby and turns the wolves on the child’s mother when she arrives at the castle doors so he’s got that going for him. It was a lot of fun for me trying to figure out why Dracula traveled to London when I wrote my novel.

9. Bodhi. Possibly a surprise pick, she’s a vampire in the computer RPG Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. She’s the sister of the game’s lead villain, who turned to vampirism after being punished with a curse to strip her of her elven immortality. She appears to enjoy the dark nature of vampires immensely and the character’s avatar moves with a speed and grace to be expected of a vampire.

10. Kurt Barlow (Salem’s Lot by Stephen King). He revels in evil. He doesn’t suffer remorse like many other modern fictional vampires. He wants to drink blood and kill. Plus he owns an antiques shop in a small New England town. How could he get more evil?

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP

Vonnegut

From The New York Times:

Kurt Vonnegut, whose dark comic talent and urgent moral vision in novels like “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “Cat’s Cradle” and “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” caught the temper of his times and the imagination of a generation, died Wednesday night in Manhattan. He was 84 and had homes in Manhattan and in Sagaponack on Long Island.

snip

Like Mark Twain, Mr. Vonnegut used humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence: Why are we in this world? Is there a presiding figure to make sense of all this, a god who in the end, despite making people suffer, wishes them well?

He also shared with Twain a profound pessimism. “Mark Twain,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote in his 1991 book, “Fates Worse Than Death: An Autobiographical Collage,” “finally stopped laughing at his own agony and that of those around him. He denounced life on this planet as a crock. He died.”

snip

To Mr. Vonnegut, the only possible redemption for the madness and apparent meaninglessness of existence was human kindness. The title character in his 1965 novel, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” summed up his philosophy:

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ”

I was late to the long black limo parade

But I’m so grateful that Bravo is showing Six Feet Under. What a terrifically, life affirming show about an undertaking family and their lives. If you have not watched the show before, or even if you have and want to rewatch this amazingly, achingly beautiful show, catch it at BravoTV.

On Mondays, they have a little “mini marathon” of Six Feet Under episodes.

I have been to Aladdin’s cave…

…and back. No, really.

This weekend we schlepped down to Portland for a wedding. It isn’t that bad a drive, even with holiday traffic (if you time it right), and we enjoy seeing family there well enough, so we made a weekend of it. I won’t bore you with the details, but this morning the groom’s mom & dad hosted a goodbye brunch for family members.

Let me tell you, stepping into that house was like stepping into Aladdin’s cave. There were rare comics on display, along with comic art, cover art, and fantastic images of all kinds. Many were originals, and those that weren’t were signed and (low-)numbered prints. But that wasn’t the best part.

No, the best part was the dad’s downstairs study. It was nearly wall-to-wall pulp fiction – a complete set of Analog, bound by year for easier reading (he had unbound copies for the cover art); ditto for Astounding and Weird Tales. He had a full floor-to-ceiling bookcase of lurid true crime novels, two-fisted hardboiled gumshoe tales. And the hardcover books – by way of a couple of examples, there were various editions of Poe’s works & Alice in Wonderland that he’d picked up because they all had different illustrators that he liked; also, I think the man owned everything Arkham House ever printed. And what wasn’t covered in bookcases was covered in yet more artwork. There was original art that had graced the covers of Heavy Metal and other such magazines, more comic art, more cover art, some fantastic originals… There were even a couple of 3-D pieces that looked like they were a movie studio artist’s models. It was in-freaking-credible.

The funniest thing was when we actually talked to him about his collection – initially he thought we were just being polite. It’s probably not an uncommon reaction – his collection is, well, voluminous, and if you aren’t into horror or pulp or related stuff, it probably seems a little… peculiar. But once it became clear that we were fellow travellers, his face lit up as he brought us back downstairs to unlock cabinets and show us his favorite pieces. (Lovecraft? You know Lovecraft? Here, let me show you…)

It was hard to leave; I still say he wouldn’t have missed that set of Weird Tales…

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