I have to admit that there’s something mysterious about vampires, and A.B. Emrys has brought this to the front with her guest post. How did she entice students to read great works, and what works for her? I think you’ll find this post very interesting. Welcome, Barbara!
Writing Temporary Vampires
by A. B. Emrys
I made my own vampires out of student fandom, classic horror, and a trip to Barcelona.
My first unknowing step toward Temporary Vampire was teaching horror lit 214GS. While I was dragging general studies students kicking and screaming through Great Works, I asked each class what they read or watched on their own; the answer very often was horror. The solution seemed obvious.
Not for nothing did I have a deep background in nineteenth century British lit, from whence sprang all the popular categories of fiction. So I first taught the class I put together great works of horror, from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park (it really is–if you've never read it, go now).
Later I switched to great American writers of horror, from Poe to Shirley Jackson and her ever-loving disciple, Stephen King. By the time I burned out on those variables, vampires were so rampant that I built an entire class around the elements of vampire fiction and how they had mutated since Coleridge's "Christabel," Byron's doctor's little tale, and LeFanu's Carmilla.
It was while we wallowed in undead lore, my students and I, that I decided to try my hand at it. I have a theory that no one can fully understand a type of literature, or maybe any literature, unless they've at least attempted to write it, but then I am a form-alist to the core.
I already was a publishing writer of short shorts, stories, personal essays, and scholarly articles, all them held together by a certain weirdness (you can see some of this range in free mystery stories and other items at abemrys.com). So one holiday gathering, I sat at the edge of the room while others watched a movie and started a little tale about a mime who embodies the vampire as the climax of a New Orleans tour.
Since then I've learned that many people hate mimes second only to clowns, but I had been impressed with the huge variety who perform in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona, where there is a mime school. There was the young man who turned into a tree, the coal miner on a smoking vent, the red devil in a trunk, the ancient Chinese shaman, and many more. My mime was in that tradition. She studies at a school and her best friends are performers. One of her teachers was even visiting from Barcelona.
At the time I finished the story, Temporary Vampire, I had an agent I met in a mystery bookstore in London, and she just happened to be editing a collection of vampire romance. The first two chapters appeared in The Mammoth Book of Vampire Romance Stories (I have copies of the Italian and Russian translations too), and later in a Barnes & Noble collection, Louisiana Vampires (the editor who tracked me down said "It's a really good story").
Of course I started turning it into a novel. Of course while also teaching horror lit and other classes, and writing a nonfiction book about two mystery writers for which I had a contract, and making some big life decisions, and once in awhile having some fun.
My vamps at some points were, well, cold, but I never nailed shut that coffin. Instead I returned to them like an enamored slayer unable to stay away.
Here's the blurb for Temporary Vampire:
Letitia Condit mimes the vampire in Jackson Square for a midnight tour. She's pretending to be the power she fears.
Yankee vampire Nathan Court has come to New Orleans to snare his feral counterpart, who has for decades killed his companions. All he wants is to play human after dark.
By the time he sees Letty perform his reality, he feels safe enough to fall in love.
But Letty, Nathan, and all their allies–Letty's mime troupe, her spirit-walking mentor, and a steel magnolia who runs a vampire's Downton Abbey–must shed their most cherished illusions to have any afterlife left.
See, what I love about vampires are the boundaries. That's why I revere the great old novels. They rise, they have powers, but there are tradeoffs, like the daytime sleep, silver, crosses, garlic, that limit the afterlife. It's the way they negotiate these limits that interest me.
Also, I love the illusion, the passing-for-human, as well as the human costuming as vampire. (I once taught my class on Halloween in vampire makeup.) How much will a particular undead pretend? How much will she live like a feral cat? My plot turns on who pretends to be what, with what success.
So I made a vampire whose main desire is to live his old life. He even gets sustenance from strangers in a discreet way that avoids the savage bite, which at one point kind of disappoints my mime-heroine. Her spooky advisor tells her she may have called a vampire to her, that perhaps they are her fate.
Two of the supporting characters nearly ran away with the whole thing. They are Marla Tremaine, whose a blood-bonded staff keep her in traditional Southern style, and her good-ole-afterlife partner, Remy Sandoz. I wrote a story about the two of them that's also available, Fish and Company, about how Marla's plan for pretending to die and inherit from herself runs into problems when the relative she has put in charge doesn't want to leave. In the novel, Marla acts as mediator when Nathan and his enemy attempt to settle their feud.
The story and Temporary Vampire both are available on Amazon, where you can preview the first two chapters and a little more. A different excerpt is at abemrys.com. The covers are by my sister, and the young woman on the novel cover is my granddaughter.
A. B. (Barbara) Emrys has had more than 40 short pieces published, from Prairie Schooner to Mysterical-E, won two national prizes and was a finalist five other times, and is the author of the scholarly work, Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel, an Agatha and Macavity nominee. She has helped bring attention to the writing of Caspary, once a famous screenwriter and mystery novelist, many of whose works now are available again. After decades in Chicago and on the plains, Emrys lives in a small town in central Florida with her cats, Godzilla and Salamander.
Check out Barbara’s website at http://abemrys.com/
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