Q: Why a vampire novel? What does vampirism represent to you?
I don't think of THE SOCIETY OF S as a vampire novel, but as a novel in which some characters happen to be vampires. For me that distinction is important. Many of the books written in the vampire genre are plot-driven, with characters who tend to be fairly flat or stereotypical. When I write, characters always come first, and I try to create characters who are complex and capble of surprising me. Writing novels takes a long time, and I want to spend that time with characters I 'm curious to know.
In June 2005 I had a dream set in Savannah, a city I'd visited briefly, twice. I've learned to listen to my dreams, and I wrote this one down: the narrative of a man and woman meeting in a Savannah café, told in part from the point of view of their daughter. It became the genesis, and later the preface, of the novel. I believe that through dreams we sometimes hear the narrative of the unconscious world; after we wake up, we may begin to come to terms with that world.
Vampirism can be a wonderfully liberating literary construct. If characters have the potential to live forever, their dramatic stakes (ouch) are different from those of mortal characters. They're in this world for the long haul, if you will. They can look at life in epic terms, rather than focusing solely on immediate gratification of the senses. They confront serious ethical and philosophical questions that most humans tend to evade or ignore.
In classical and contemporary novels, vampires have been used to provoke discussions of issues of class, race, and gender. I chose to write about vampires in order to create dialogues about disabilities, ethics, and politics, as well. But while I conceived my vampires as intrinsically other, I wanted them to have the illusion of free will, so that they would be able to define and regulate the terms of their otherness (to varying extents) through use of artificial blood, new medications, meditation, special diets, and the practice of ethics. I wanted my soulless creatures to have dark nights of the soul.
Once my vampires had qualms and ethics, they could take on cultural concerns ranging from corporate greed to animal rights to academic politics. They weren't human, but nonetheless they were perplexed, passionate, and vulnerable.
Ultimately, for me as a writer, vampirism is a means of enchantment. It allows me to suspend the constraints of the real world-watch Ari turn invisible, for instance-while still dealing with many of its injustices. We have an unhealthy tendency in our culture to identify Good and Evil in monolithic ways, and the contrarian in me rebels against that. Why can't (at least some of) the vampires be the good guys?
Q: How does this book compare to your previous books, in terms of theme?
All of my fiction features characters who are at odds with the dominant culture, to varying degrees. Thematically, I'm fascinated with outsiders. Watching their personal values collide with society's is cathartic, I guess, but more than that, I hope that readers are provoked to ask questions and to recognize the "other" in themselves. I think all of my writing, even the lighter stuff, aims at unsettling us, making us question our beliefs and actions, moving us toward compassion and tolerance.
Q: What are your favorite horror movies & horror books?
As a teenager I read Bram Stokcr's Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And I read Something Wicked This Way Comes and fell in love with Ray Bradbury. Later I read Poe's tales and poems; a good deal of Poe found its way into my novel. In college I fell in love with John Keat's "Lamia"-must-reading for anyone interested in vampires. And in graduate school I discovered W. Somerset Maugham's The Magician-highly recommended for its atmospheric style. I'm also a life-long fan of Roald Dahl, who has written some of the creepiest stories I know. And the work of Haruki Murakami fascinates me.
As far as films, I gravitate to Japanese (such as Higuchinsky's Uzumaki) and Korean (such as Kim Yong-gyun's The Red Shoes)-the perfect antidote to my day job as an English professor. And I've just heard about some American films:Vampires and Other Stereotypes and Addicted to Murder. I'm looking forward to checking those out.
Q: I liked the idea of these vampires being environmentalists-it makes sense. Does this reflect your personal beliefs?
Yes, it certainly does. If we don't learn SOON to get beyond the notion that we live in a disposable world, what sort of planet will be left?
It strikes me that vampires have good reasons to despise mortals, who by and large seem bent on destroying the natural world and each other, with few (if any) qualms. In my book vampires may choose to destroy, ignore, barter with, or embrace human society. My protagonist eventually becomes a translator among the various sects and cultures.
Q: Vampires cover such a wide spectrum, from myth and legend to fiction to movies. Recently, there seems to be this trend (both fiction and movies) where there's a "bad" male vampire who is the one responsible for turning the "Good male vampire" into a vampire, such as with Bob Fingerman's recent BOTTOM FEEDER or even Anne Rice's INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. How much is "SOCIETY OF S" influenced by what has come before?
Tough question. I haven't read Fingerman or much contemporary vampire fiction, since I don't want it to influence me; I look forward to reading a great deal more after I stop writing about my vampires. I did read INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE some time ago. It wasn't a conscious influence on my book. However, when INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE was first published, it seemed so fresh and so dramatic that undoubtedly it affected the way its readers perceive vampires in general. But I think my Sanguinists are very different from Rice's vampires, and my prose style isn't like hers. Viva la difference.
Some of the works I mentioned earlier, by Keats, Poe, and Maugham, are more likely to have influenced the style of my book. I wasn't aware of any influences when I was writing it, but now when I read it I see how it played with, and sometimes subverted, the conventions of the gothic horror tale.
Q: Will there be another book about Ariella? Any other horror novels?
Yes, I'm beginning work on the sequel to The SOCIETY OF S now. Ariella's voice still is with me, and the next book will be darker and more political, I think.
And I've always wanted to write a novel that involves inter-connected ghost stories. Whenever I travel, I look for collections of local folklore and tales of the supernatural; they reveal so much about a place and its inhabitants. Often I see parallels in tales from far-apart cultures that raise questions about archetypes and psychological demons that seem to haunt us all.