Let’s talk about the best literary bloodsuckers
Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Lavie Tidhar
THE WASHINGTON POST – What is the appeal of the vampire novel – and how did this burgeoning horror subgenre begin? Silvia might point to John Polidori’s 1819 novel The Vampyre, inspired by the same night of ghost tales on Lake Geneva that gave us Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lavie could counter with Carmilla from Sheridan Le Fanu, the ancestor of lesbian vampires. But it is undeniable that it was Bram Stoker who, along with Dracula of 1897, brought the vampire into the limelight. From Salem’s Lot to Twilight, The Historian, Let the Right One In, Lestat by Anne Rice and Bill Compton by Charlaine Harris, vampires are everywhere. So come with us as we welcome you, Renfields! Let’s talk about the wonderful leeches of literature.
Life: I think you have an unfair advantage, insofar as you wrote a vampire novel and I didn’t! I know whatever we do people will say, “How could you not mention…? So, yes, I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson is a vampire novel – a very good one. But we like to focus on the books that have received less attention. So from Russia there is Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch (and its aftermath), translated by Andrew Bromfield. The book isn’t all about vampires, but the ones there are awesome. In today’s Moscow, supernatural creatures clash, some taking sides with the dark and others with the light. Huge bestsellers in Russia, I encountered them through the two film adaptations of Timur Bekmambetov.
Meanwhile, I think it was you who drew me to Kazuki Sakuraba’s A Small Charred Face (2017), translated by Jocelyne Allen, a terrific Japanese vampire novel told in three parts. It’s very different from typical Western dishes – not only because of the vampire biology, but also the tone of the book – and so much the better for that. The same goes for The Ice and Salt Route by José Luis Zárate, translated by David Bowles, the Mexican short story that you recently managed to translate into English thanks to your micro-press, Innsmouth Free Press. I found it to be wonderful, an eerie exploration of Dracula’s journey aboard a ship to England that is full of haunting Gothic imagery.
Sylvie: So many of our conversations involve me asking, “Have you read that book about vampires?” But if you’re not a vampire junkie, where do you start? I recommend anthologies as a gateway. Ellen Datlow has edited several, including Blood and Other Cravings (2011) and Blood is Not Enough (1989). Datlow also ran Omni Magazine, where a vampire short story titled Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons first appeared. It was developed in 1989 into an award-winning novel of the same title. In a nutshell, they are wealthy psychic vampires who rule the world and hunt humans for sport.
Most recently, there’s Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire (2020), edited by Nicole Givens Kurtz. While traditionally vampires tend to be mushy and European, this volume focuses on black characters. The Stories of Gilda (1991) by Jewelle L Gómez is another book that focuses on black protagonists, following a former slave turned vampire through the centuries.
One of the strangest vampires I have encountered appears in Paul Hoffman’s The Wisdom of Crocodiles (2000). It’s a strange novel that follows a wide range of characters. The most compelling story, for me, was that of Steven Grlscz, an emotional vampire whose relationship culminates in murder. Like I said, it’s a weird novel that’s not really about vampires, it’s more of a literary exercise that just happens to have a vampire hanging down. But boy, it’s worth reading for him.
Finally, I must mention Billy Martin, who writes under the name Poppy Z Brite. He still uses the pen name but has switched to non-fiction. Now you can find him on Patreon where he’s posting tracks from Water If God Wills It: Religion and Spirituality in the Work of Stephen King, his latest project. In the 90s, Martin focused on novels. Lost Souls, its debut, is a blood-soaked gem about vampires who seem to follow the mantra of “Sleep all day.” Party All Night ”in all its violent and decadent glory. It would be nice to see that, along with the Wormwood collection (1993), which contains the excellent vampire short story His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood in new editions.
Lavie: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite vampires of recent years, Christopher Farnsworth’s Nathaniel Cade in Blood Oath (2010) and its sequels. He takes politics into horror – and horror into politics – in such an awesome way that I wanted to applaud. Cade is a vampire in the service of the President of the United States, and in the first book he must stop an al Qaeda zombie invasion while worrying about the Deep State and its Lovecraftian doomsday plans. . I think the American political reality eventually got too strange, even for Farnsworth, although Cade appeared in shorter works, including Deep State (2017). All in all, I would say there is still a lot of life in the living dead – and what sweet music they make!