(Mostly) Heroic Vampires

This weekend finds me at CoKoCon in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the third weekend in a row that I’ve attended a convention. In between conventions, I took my youngest child back to college and worked my first night shift at Kitt Peak National Observatory since we had to leave for a wildfire back in June. Fortunately, all the scientific buildings and equipment seem to have come through the fire fine. The observatory did lose and suffer damage to a couple of support structures. We also lost utility power to the site and internet. The internet has been partially restored thanks to a satellite linkup and we’re running on generator power at the moment. The last of the monsoon rains continue to cause mudslides, which occasionally close the road. Still, we’re making progress toward opening back up for regular operations. As I’ve mentioned in some other posts, my work at Kitt Peak helped spur my interest in vampire fiction, since telescope operators are only seen from sundown to sunup. With that in mind, another thing that happened in the midst of all my travel is that my list called “Books about Vampires You Want to Root For” has been published at Shepherd.com.

At Bubonicon, I read from my story “Horsefeathers” which is scheduled for release before the end of the year in the anthology Staring Into the Abyss coming from Padwolf Publishing. It’s a somewhat dark story that mixes witchcraft, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and elements of the Arabian Nights. After reading the story, author Jane Lindskold asked what I’m working on now and I discussed my novel-in-progress Ordeal of the Scarlet Order. She further asked what it is about dark, underworld characters such as spies, vampires, and pirates that attracts an apparently upstanding and moral person like me. We’ve discussed the topic before, especially as it relates to pirates, but this time I had the opportunity to discuss the topic more generally.

I think an answer can be found in the books in this list. I find it interesting to meet characters who aren’t intrinsically moral and discover how they became more moral and ethical creatures. In books like Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut, Irina is fundamentally moral and ethical, just misunderstood. Of course, all of us feel misunderstood from time to time and I enjoy stories about how people better understand one another. That seems an especially prescient lesson these days. In books like The Vampire Tapestry or The Vampire Lestat, you could argue that Dr. Edward Weyland and Lestat do not always make moral and ethical decisions, but their examination of their own natures is fascinating to me. These characters may not be traditional heroes, but they do their best to navigate an existence through a world of humans.

So please, go check out the list. I’d love to hear if you have a favorite vampire novel and what you find appealing about it. Is it a story about a vampire protagonist trying to make sense out of the world or is it a story where the vampire is pure evil and the appeal is the hero defeating that evil? I’d also be delighted if you looked at the list and found a new favorite book! Meanwhile, you can find my own novels featuring vampires you want to root for at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Remembering Anne Rice

Two of my treasured Anne Rice volumes

I was saddened over the weekend to hear about Anne Rice’s passing. Her writing entertained me, provided food for thought, and even inspired me. I’m afraid I never had the opportunity to meet her in person, but I was fortunate enough to find a signed copy of Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis at the Garden District Book Shop in New Orleans a few years ago and while I’ll admit it’s not my favorite entry in the Vampire Chronicles, it’s still a treasured part of my collection. In the photo with my signed copy is another treasured part of my book collection. It’s an early copy of Interview with the Vampire. I especially like the back cover where actors posed as Lestat, Louis, and Claudia.

I discovered Anne Rice’s writing in the early 1990s while working at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Those of us who worked nights at the telescope were often referred to as the vampires of the observatory because we generally weren’t seen when the sun was up. One of my fellow telescope operators was a fan of Anne Rice and encouraged me to give Interview with the Vampire a try. At the time, boxed sets were widely available with all the Vampire Chronicles in print at the time, which were Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, and Tale of the Body Thief. I breezed through all four novels in rapid succession. I especially enjoyed Rice’s take on the vampire as protagonist and even misunderstood hero. Soon after reading the books, I read an interview with Rice and learned that she wrote Interview with the Vampire as part of dealing with the grief of the loss of her daughter. Having lost my father at a young age, I’d long been oversensitive to the notion of my own mortality and I began to think about what I would do if I ever decided to create a vampire hero.

Those thoughts coalesced just a few short years later when I moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico and a friend wondered what a vampire would make of “the City of Crosses.” This led me to my first vampire short story. After a few more, I felt I understood my characters well enough to write the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Of course, even as I wrote, Rice continued to write. Her next Vampire Chronicle was Memnoch the Devil. One of the things that began to appeal to me about vampire stories was how you could view large swaths of history from a single character’s point of view. In the fifth vampire chronicle, not only did Rice look at Biblical history but considered theology through Lestat’s vantage point. I’ve never quite questioned my faith in the ways that Rice questioned her own, but I have had questions about my faith and the interplay of that faith with dimly viewed moments in history, such as Arthurian legend. Her open and frank approach to Memnoch the Devil would inspire me when I wrote Dragon’s Fall, the prequel to Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

I’ve continued to enjoy Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles and other novels. I wrote some reviews of her later novels, which I was pleased to see her share on social media. While I’m sorry I never had the opportunity to meet Anne Rice in person, I’m glad to have been able to share how her work had touched me. While I thought some of her novels were much stronger than others, all of her novels entertained me. I’ve been starting to think about a third Scarlet Order vampire novel. I’m sure Rice’s works will continue to speak to me as I think and plot and plan. Like her own hero, Lestat, I’m pretty sure Anne Rice will live forever.

Blood Communion

One of my birthday presents this year was Anne Rice’s latest Vampire Chronicle, Blood Communion. By my count this is her thirteenth vampire novel if we count both the official “Vampire Chronicles” and “The New Tales of the Vampires.” This is one of the few series I’ve made a point of keeping up with over the years. The first two books in the series, Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat were recommended to me by one of my co-workers at Kitt Peak National Observatory circa 1994. My co-worker used to refer to those of us who worked at night as the “vampires of the mountain” because you rarely saw us before sunset and after sunrise. I bought a boxed set of the first four novels and read them straight through, a little before Neil Jordan’s film of Interview with the Vampire was released.

Blood Communion is told in the voice of Lestat, who is now prince of the vampires living in his restored estate in France. In many ways, this is the tale of Lestat settling into his role as leader of the vampires. The biggest threat to that rule is an ancient vampire named Rhoshamandes who has shown himself to be a real danger in previous volumes of the series and now intimates violence against vampires and their allies he believes have done him wrong. Lestat wants to believe the best in Rhoshamandes, but must take action when the ancient vampire ups the ante. The problem is that it’s not altogether clear whether or not this is a battle Lestat can win.

Blood Communion is a thin volume in terms of page count. The hardcover is only 256 pages. Despite that, it addresses one of the more difficult subjects today, bullying and unchecked anger that turns into violence against one’s coworkers and friends. Without spoiling the novel’s plot, I think it’s fair to say that Rice’s answer is that such behavior can’t be allowed to continue unchallenged. On a lighter note, I enjoyed spending more time with other fictional friends from previous volumes such as Louis, Gabrielle, Marius, and Pandora. Also, the hardcover featured lovely illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer.

One interesting moment in the novel came when Lestat is presented with a Medusa ring. I don’t remember Medusa playing a role in the Vampire Chronicles before this. The ring’s significance isn’t really explained and I’d be interested to know more about its significance to Rice’s vampires. In my own novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, the vampire Theron is fascinated by stories of Medusa. In particular he sees stories of her turning people to stone as being akin to his ability to subdue prey with the power of his mind. Also, he’s captivated by versions of the Medusa legend that portray her as so beautiful she made Athena jealous and it was Athena who turned her monstrous.

Interview with the Vampire was one of the novels that cultivated my interest in New Orleans. When my daughter went to Tulane University to study, it gave me an opportunity to know New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. While most of Blood Communion is set in France, I enjoyed the brief foray, Lestat took to visit a vampire in Louisiana.

Speaking of New Orleans, if you like the little Nosferatu next to the novel in the photo above, you can order them from Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter. Clicking the shop’s name will take you directly to the page. While you’re visiting the Boutique, you can also pick up a signed copy of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order as a gift for this holiday season. Clicking the book title will take you right there.

My Life With Vampires

Today finds me in Denver, Colorado at MileHiCon 50! If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by. You can get more information about the event at: http://www.milehicon.org.

As we approach Halloween, I find myself looking back at how I developed an interest in vampire fiction. I think the first vampires I encountered were the Scooby-Doo episodes “A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts” and “Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats.” At the risk of spoilers, we find that both vampires are really criminals engaged in a scam. Somewhat scarier to me was the 1979 version of Dracula starring Frank Langella. That opened up an interest in Bram Stoker’s novel, which I remember starting, but not finishing at the time because I was 12 and easily distracted.

Illustration for Vampires of the Scarlet Order by Steven Gilberts

It was another 1979 film that really got me thinking about vampires and that was Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, which I saw in 1984. The film’s atmospheric quality and Klaus Kinski’s genuinely creepy portrayal of Dracula set a standard for me. Even so, I didn’t really get captivated by vampires until I started working at Kitt Peak National Observatory in 1992. At the time, the observatory had both solar astronomers working at the McMath Solar Telescope (as it was known then) and “stellar” astronomers working at night on the other telescopes. Those of us who worked at night jokingly referred to ourselves as the vampires of the observatory because we weren’t seen before sunset and went to bed before sunrise.

As it turns out, one of my co-workers at the time was a fan of vampire fiction. She encouraged me to finally read Dracula from start to finish. I read much of it during a stormy night on the mountain. Periodically I had to go check conditions outside and I kept imagining that predatory eyes were upon me. This really hooked me on vampire fiction. Soon after this, she encouraged me to read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. From there, I dove right into The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. Even so, I didn’t really think about writing my own vampire fiction until nearly a decade later.

In 1995, I had moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico and soon got involved with the Border Book Festival. I hosted a panel in 2000 and afterward, my friend Janni Lee Simner asked, “What do you suppose a vampire would make of Las Cruces, the city of crosses?” She followed that with a comment by telling me if it sparked a story idea, I was welcome to it. A few days later, while driving to Apache Point Observatory, I had an idea for a story about a vampire astronomer who moved to Las Cruces. That story became “Vampire in the City of Crosses” and I sold it a few weeks later to the magazine The Vampire’s Crypt.

The story and those that followed suggested that the vampire was on a quest. His quest led him to discover the vampire mercenaries who called themselves the Scarlet Order. Those stories all came together to become the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Once I got that far, I wanted to explore how the vampires decided to fight for human kings and that led me to the prequel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. As mercenaries who fight for human causes, my vampires aren’t the kind to sit around and brood about their immortal existence, seduce mortal girls a fraction of their age, or sparkle in the sunlight. In short, I’ve enjoyed spending time with them these last seventeen years. They make great companions in the Halloween season. If you’re looking for a good read this time of year, learn more about the books at http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

In 1993, one of my co-workers at Kitt Peak National Observatory introduced me to the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice. At that point there were just four volumes in the series. I picked up a set and read straight through them. I loved the way her vampires were able to travel leisurely through history and see things in our modern world with wonder and passion. An example is the way 17th century French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt discovers rock and roll, makes it his own, and wakes the Queen of the Damned herself. This long view of history appealed to me both because of my inherent love of history and my love of science fiction. After all, that’s much of what science fiction is about, looking back at history, understanding how people and technologies change, and then projecting those changes into possible futures. Thanks in part to Anne Rice, I would try my own hand at vampire fiction, gave it a science fictional twist and Vampires of the Scarlet Order was born.

I’ve continued to follow the Vampire Chronicles over the years and it feels like a circle of sorts has been completed with her latest entry in the series. princelestatrealmsofatlantis As Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis opens, we learn that a vampire named Roland has captured a strange, human-looking creature. He can drink all the creature’s blood, which is more satisfying than even human blood, and the creature will appear to die. Despite this, the creature will awaken soon after, its blood regenerated. Roland shows this creature to the ancient and powerful Rhoshamandes, who has fallen out of favor with the vampire court led by Prince Lestat. Roland suggests the creature can be used as a tool for Rhoshamandes to regain power.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, another creature hears a familiar name in the radio broadcasts of the vampires. When he attempts to confront vampire Benji Mamoud who hosts the broadcast, vampires confront him and corner him. The creature then dispatches the two vampires. While all this is going on, Prince Lestat, back at the vampire court, has started having dreams of a great city that fell into the sea. Lestat has become prince of the vampires by becoming the host of Amel, the spirit responsible for the existence of the vampires in the first place.

From the title, it should come as no surprise that Lestat ultimately discovers a connection between the strange creatures, the spirit Amel, and the lost city of Atlantis. Like the vampires, the new creatures, who call themselves Replimoids, have aspects that are both likeable and frightening. This story of the Replimoids and Atlantis is the reason I feel like I completed a circle. The series that led me to my science fictional take on vampires has now taken its own science fictional turn. There’s a simplicity and almost innocence to Rice’s visions of advanced civilizations and their constructs that reminds me of the science fiction from the 1950s and 60s. This might be a little surprising for people used to contemporary SF, or used to some of the dark historical realities presented in the earlier Vampire Chronicles, but it mostly works in the context of the story.

Like the previous entry in the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat, Rice tells the story from multiple points of view and we get to spend time with several of the vampires she’s introduced over the course of the series. In one of my favorite chapters, Lestat meets his old friend Louis de Pointe du Lac in New Orleans. I had fun following their walk through familiar French Quarter landmarks such as Cafe du Monde, Jackson Square, and Pirates Alley. As a long-time fan, this was all great fun, but I could imagine the stream of characters being a little overwhelming for a new reader.

As a fan of the Vampire Chronicles, I enjoyed spending time with Lestat, Louis, Marius, Benji, Gabrielle and the others again. I found this an interesting turn in the story and would be delighted to follow the vampires into another adventure. For people new to the Chronicles, I would suggest they start with the early volumes such as Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat and read through at least Queen of the Damned before diving into this latest volume.

New Orleans

My daughter has almost graduated from high school and is scouting out colleges. One of her finalists is Tulane University in New Orleans. With a rich literary heritage that includes such diverse writers as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Anne Rice, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit the city with her.

French Quarter New Orleans

Because we only had a short time, our visit was essentially confined to the French Quarter and Tulane University itself. I gather neither area was especially hard hit by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, but it still struck me how vibrant the city was in spite of the disaster that hit it less than a decade ago.

For our time in the French Quarter, we basically just took time to absorb the ambiance of the place. We listened to several excellent groups of street musicians, wandered through everything from toy stores to voodoo shops and even the Boutique du Vampyre. Of course, we had to visit a couple of restaurants. We stopped for beignets and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde. Later in the day, we had a fine supper at The Gumbo Shop, near the St. Louis Cathedral.

St Louis Cemetery

Of course, while we were in the French Quarter, we had to stop by the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 with its above-ground tombs and the final resting place of famed voodoo queen Marie Laveau.

Both my daughter and I were impressed with the college tour the next day. Tulane University is clearly a fine institution and it remains high on my daughter’s choice of schools. It’s hard to say what writing inspiration I’ll take from my visit to New Orleans. Like many things in my life, it’s an experience that I can draw from for future projects. Of course, if my daughter does ultimately decide to attend Tulane, I may have more opportunities to visit in the next four years or so.

Of course, with a daughter about to head off to college, I’m happy for any financial assistance I can get! One of the best ways you could help out is drop by my book page and see if there’s a book you’d like to try!