Saturday, July 15, 2017

Celebrity Vampires

CELEBRITY VAMPIRES (1995) is an original-fiction anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Ed Gorman. While the title implies celebrities who ARE vampires, a lot of the stories instead involve celebrities who MEET vampires. Many of the stars are actors or musicians, as may be expected, but we also encounter memorable names in other fields of endeavor, such as Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Arthur Conan Doyle, Sam Peckinpah, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Howard Hughes, Lenin, and Rasputin. (It feels a bit strange to label those last two as "celebrities"; they would have fitted better in Greenberg's historical anthology TIME OF THE VAMPIRES. Theirs is an effective story anyway, though. Hmm, what DID happen to Princess Anastasia after the Russian Revolution?) Appropriately, Marilyn Monroe, Theda Bara, and Greta Garbo appear. It's not surprising to find Elvis Presley among the undead; in fact, he shows up twice. Carole Nelson Douglas's "Dracula on the Rocks" might be charged with "cheating," since the celebrity protagonist, Irene Adler, is herself fictional, but the story does contain some allusions to historical persons.

Contributors include horror writers such as (to name a few) John Lutz, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, J. N. Williamson, Norman Partridge, and Gary A. Braunbeck. All the settings fall in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, doubtless because the idea of a "celebrity" as we understand the concept didn't extend much further back in history. My personal favorite is "A Night at the (Horse) Opera" by P. N. Elrod, in which her vampire hero Jack Fleming meets Harpo Marx and they tangle with a trio of gangsters. The vampires in these varied, entertaining tales span the whole range from villains to heroes.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wicked Ways

WICKED WAYS (1996), by Kate Hoffmann, is a Harlequin Temptation from back in the day when that was Harlequin's hottest line. (Amazon stocks used paperback copies, and the book has been re-released in Kindle.) As such, the cover illustration and title don't so much as hint at vampirism; you have to consult the blurb for that detail. It's not strictly a vampire romance, since the hero isn't the vampire, although several other characters suspect he is. Hoffmann crafts a lighthearted tale that plays with the burgeoning popularity of vampire fiction at that time. We don't learn whether there's actually one of the undead lurking around until near the end of the novel.

Heroine Hallie Tyler lives in the village of Egg Harbor, Maine, with her twin eighty-year-old great-aunts. They've converted the huge nineteenth-century family home into an inn. Perfectly content with a steady but not luxurious income, Hallie reacts with more dismay than delight when a horde of tourists descends on the town in response to a NEW YORK TIMES article about a Tyler ancestor's alleged vampirism. In response to the vampire-hunters, the curiosity seekers, and her aunts' enthusiastic promotion of the rumor, she insists it's all nonsense and wishes it would go away. A dark, ravishingly attractive man who calls himself Edward Tristan arrives one evening and rents the half-renovated coach house, since no regular rooms are vacant. At his initial appearance, numerous hints imply to the alert reader that he's a vampire. In the first chapter, though, we discover from scenes in his viewpoint that he is, in fact, Tristan Montgomery, a bestselling horror author of solitary, nocturnal habits, but completely human. He has come to Egg Harbor in search of an isolated spot in which to break the writer's block impeding his latest work in progress.

Since he comes out only after dark and doesn't eat the meals provided by the inn, Hallie's aunts quickly decide he must be a vampire, as does one of the visiting vampire-hunters. Hallie herself, struggling against an immediate, powerful attraction to Tristan, entertains the idea that they may be right, although her better judgment repeatedly dismisses the notion. Meanwhile, clues showing up near her ancestor's grave hint that a vampire may be stalking the neighborhood, even if it isn't Tristan. For Hallie, the last straw comes when the local authorities put on a vampire festival at Halloween, a severe blow to her desire for the village to remain unspoiled by tourist kitsch.

This novel requires the reader to accept two common tropes—instant, irresistible sexual magnetism between two characters who scarcely know each other and belief in vampirism by otherwise sensible, modern adults. For vampire fans who can embrace these assumptions, WICKED WAYS is a fun riff on the tropes of the genre.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt

Monday, May 15, 2017

Blood Price

If you like urban fantasy with romantic vampires and have never read Tanya Huff's "Blood" series, start with BLOOD PRICE (1991). This novel introduces Vicki Nelson, former Toronto police homicide detective turned PI. A degenerative eye condition forced her to resign from the police department. Her peripheral vision is deteriorating, and she's almost night-blind. In an appropriately ironic development, she ends up working on paranormal-related crimes with a vampire (of the "can't function in daylight type"), Henry Fitzroy. The bastard son of King Henry VIII, Henry is based on an actual person who died as a very young man in real-life history. He has learned to feed without killing, taking and giving pleasure with donors who don't know his true nature, and he earns good money as an author of historical romances under the name "Elizabeth Fitzroy." He and Vicki team up to investigate a "slasher" serial killer that turns out to be a blood-drinking demon summoned by a hapless wannabe magician. Vicki also works with police detective Mike Celluci, her former partner and lover, with whom she has an ambivalent friendship marked by annoyance and professional rivalry as well as lingering fondness.

In subsequent novels, Vicki, Henry, and Mike encounter other supernatural creatures, including a werewolf pack and a reanimated mummy. Throughout the five-book "Blood" series, Vicki's triangular relationship with Henry and Mike adds tension on top of the paranormal suspense plots. Vicki is a strong, likable character whose medical problem (with the frustration she suffers over her resulting limitations) and other personal issues that arise in the course of the series engage the reader's sympathy. Any lover of dashing, sensual "good guy vampire" heroes will enjoy Henry Fitzroy. The original five novels are followed by a couple of story collections, plus a spin-off series that begins with SMOKE AND SHADOWS (2004), which includes an affectionate satire of vampire TV shows no fan of FOREVER KNIGHT should miss.

The "Blood" books also spawned a pretty good two-season cable TV series, BLOOD TIES, available on Netflix.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Vic the Vampire

Children's chapter book VIC THE VAMPIRE: SCHOOL GHOUL (1990), by Hanya Bloom, is the first novel in a series that also includes (as far as I can find on Amazon) three other books, subtitled SCIENCE SPOOK, FRIENDLY FANGS, and VAMPIRE COUSINS.

As first-person narrator Mike begins the fourth grade, a strange but friendly new boy, Vic Alucard, joins the class. His family has recently moved from Transylvania (which the kids, including Mike, mishear as Pennsylvania). He's pale with red lips and wears a black cape over his black jeans and purple shirt. His family lives in a large, spooky house and keeps bats, a fierce-looking but affectionate dog, and a giant spider as pets. Vic and his sister Viveca eat raw hamburger, while their parents don't seem to eat at all, and Vic brings a thermos of thick, red liquid to school. He's allergic to garlic and flees in panic from getting his picture taken or being sprayed with a hose.

In keeping with the typical children's novel tropes, Mike has to cope with a class bully, in this case a girl named Missy. Although her sidekick, Clint, occasionally resorts to physical violence, Missy's bullying takes the form of insults and pranks. Naturally, she's the first to accuse Vic of being a vampire and spends the whole book trying to expose him. Mike, meanwhile, struggles with the problem of whether his new best friend could really be a vampire and whether that's a reason to fear him. The class organizes a fall carnival, in which Vic and his family play a vital role, where Mike finally has to come to terms with Vic's nature.

VIC THE VAMPIRE, aimed at a sightly younger readership than Mel Gilden's delightful Fifth Grade Monsters series, doesn't feature the witty pop culture allusions that make Gilden's stories fun for adults as well as kids. Still, if you're looking for fiction to entertain vampire-loving children, with a diversity-friendly message of openness toward people who seem "different," Bloom's series fits that niche.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Goldcamp Vampire

Elizabeth Scarborough's humorous historical novel THE GOLDCAMP VAMPIRE OR THE SANGUINARY SOURDOUGH (1987) is narrated by Valentine Lovelace (nee Pelagia Harper), a newspaper editor and writer of dime novels. After the death of her dissolute but well-liked father, her father's mistress, Sasha Devine, invites Valentine to accompany her as companion and general gofer on a trip to the Yukon gold fields, all expenses covered (but salary to be paid at some later date). To Valentine's surprise, the journey includes the coffin of a certain Mr. Lawson, whose grieving partner wants him transported to the Yukon. On the voyage north and in Dawson City, Valentine gets arrested for murder, fakes her own death, and poses as a Spanish dancer, among other predicaments. Along with other eccentric characters, she meets Sasha's "admirer" (owner of the saloon whose dance company Valentine joins), Vasily Vladovitch Bledinoff, a Romanian Count who emigrated to Russia and thence to the Yukon.

The humor springs from Valentine's cluelessness in contrast to the reader's full awareness of the significance of mosquito bites on the neck, aggressive bats, sensitivity to crucifixes, multiple disappearances on board the boat, and a mist flowing out of the nonexistent "Mr. Lawson's" casket. For most of the book, she attributes the fatigue, illnesses, and inexplicable deaths to a Deadly Miasma. Even when she realizes the "mosquito bites" on the dancing girls' necks are inflicted by Vasily, she thinks he's just a womanizer with perverted notions of seduction. She awakens to the truth only when someone brings a copy of a recent novel by that Irish writer, Bram Stoker, to the saloon and reads the first three chapters aloud. She also encounters werewolves, a were-moose, an old enemy from her past encounter with a dragon god in Texas (in a prior novel I haven't read), a young aspiring writer named Jack London, and her father's ghost. Vasily turns out to be not so much evil as cheerfully amoral, but even after discovering that his bite induces sensual pleasure, euphoria, and addiction, Valentine has no desire to become a vampire.

The witty first-person narrative and fast-paced adventure keep the reader from getting emotionally involved with the characters who fall into deadly peril at the claws and fangs of monsters. There are moments of horror and suspense, but we can't seriously fear for Valentine when she has obviously survived to tell the tale. This fun, lightly scary romp concludes with a "Biographer's Note" summarizing the heroine's later life as a writer, world traveler, and adventurer. If you like humorous takes on traditional horror tropes, pick up THE GOLDCAMP VAMPIRE.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Vampire Is Just Not That Into You

Reading material for lovers of the undead during the month of Valentine's Day: THE VAMPIRE IS JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU (2009), by "Vlad Mezrich," self-proclaimed vampire, one of several silly/satirical "guidebooks" for women who want to date vampires (men attracted to undead seductresses are on their own, I guess), is the best I've seen. For one thing, the author actually seems to know a fair amount about the subject, even if his examples and advice come mostly from paranormal romance, especially of the TWILIGHT type. The text is profusely illustrated in red and black with numerous drawings and a variety of fonts. Vlad supplements his comments with bar graphs, pie charts, flow charts, multiple-choice questionnaires, and sidebar boxes quoting personal testimony from vampires and their girlfriends as well as a therapist and a vampire-slayer (with advice about "protection"). This layout and print style could get annoying at great length but works fine for this short (176 pages with lots of white space), fast-reading book.

Some topics covered: How to tell an authentic vampire from a wannabe. Best places to meet vampires. What a vampire looks for in a woman. How to decode his dialogue and interpret his kisses. Dating etiquette. Appropriate gifts for vampires. Meeting his friends and family. Fill-in-the-blanks vampire poetry. Celebrating major holidays. Dealing with the centuries of age difference. Surviving the eventual break-up or, conversely, preparing for transformation into his eternal mate. That's just a sample of the many subdivisions. There's even a brief recipe section (real recipes, e.g. Bloody Mary and blood sausage, with the "vampire version" as alternatives).

One thing I'd like to see, and would include if I wrote such a guide, would be a comparison of different breeds of vampires. In both folklore and literature, vampires come in many different types with a wide variety of traits, powers, and weaknesses. They're not all supernatural undead who shun daylight. A romantic fling with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Count Saint-Germain or P. N. Elrod's Jack Fleming would be quite a different (and probably safer) experience from dating Anne Rice's Lestat or Dr. Weyland of Suzy McKee Charnas's THE VAMPIRE TAPESTRY. THE VAMPIRE IS JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU is an entertaining book for hard-core fans. Although it's out of print, Amazon has many used copies for sale.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Love in Vein

Poppy Z. Brite, best known in the vampire realm as author of the novel LOST SOULS (1992), edited LOVE IN VEIN (1994), an anthology subtitled "Twenty Original Tales of Vampire Erotica." Her introduction promises "stories exploring the visceral connection between vampirism and eroticism." Contrary what the reader might expect from the subtitle, many of the tales don't feature highly explicit, graphic sex, but all exude dark sensuality. Contributors include such well-known SF, fantasy, and horror authors as Charles de Lint, Nancy Holder, Gene Wolfe, Barry N. Malzberg,Thomas F. Monteleone, Brian Hodge, and many others. (Nothing by Brite herself, oddly. Some editors disapprove of including one's own work in an anthology, an attitude that puzzles me. As a reader, I pick up an anthology edited by a famous author in anticipation of getting a story by that author as part of the bargain.)

The story I find most creepily fascinating, "Do Not Hasten to Bid Me Adieu," by Norman Partridge, imagines an alternative ending to DRACULA, in which Quincey Morris takes Lucy's mutilated corpse back to Texas with him, planning to undo the vampire-slayers' work and make her his bride. Other memorable pieces include: Jessica Amanda Salmonson's "Arabian Nights"-inflected tale, "The Final Fete of Abba Adi"; "White Chapel," by Douglas Clegg, set in Southeast Asia, featuring a legendary serial killer and exotic gods; "The Marriage," by Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Tem, about a vampire who drains energy by feeding on bodily fluids, especially sexual secretions; "Queen of the Night," by Gene Wolfe, through the eyes of a boy brought up by ghouls; "The Alchemy of the Throat," narrated by a castrato boy soprano enslaved to a more-or-less benevolent vampire born in ancient Rome.

Brite also edited a follow-up volume, LOVE IN VEIN II (1997), also consisting of original stories—with one exception. The book begins with a reprint of Neil Gaiman's unforgettable "Snow, Glass, Apples," a very dark fairy tale of Snow White as a vampire and the Queen as a good witch striving to overcome the girl's evil. (Tanith Lee's older story "Red as Blood" has the same premise but a happy ending.)

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Before the Count

BEFORE THE COUNT (2007), edited by Margo Collins, is an anthology for hardcore vampire literature enthusiasts. It has a slightly misleading, though catchy, subtitle, "British Vampire Tales, 1732-1897." Not all the contents count as "tales," since they include three nonfiction pieces and two poems. Not all are British; items originally in other languages are included. All of the latter, however, appear in translations available in nineteenth-century England, so they're interesting and useful for the book's purpose of collecting significant precursors in English to Bram Stoker's DRACULA.

John Polidori's "The Vampyre," the first known prose vampire story in English, is included, along with the "Fragment" by Byron that inspired it, even though they're readily available in many other editions. That choice makes sense for the sake of completeness. Many of the other contents, though, haven't been reprinted in other vampire collections that I know of and make this volume a welcome addition to a vampire fanatic's library. In addition to the vampire section of Dom Augustin Calmet's often-cited book, the nonfiction selections consist of two 1732 magazine articles about real-life cases reported from Eastern Europe. An 1835 translation of Goethe's poem "The Bride of Corinth" also appears. The heart of the anthology, for me, comprises four plays based on or inspired by Polidori's novella, materials I'd read about in many secondary sources but never seen in print before. All items appear in chronological order of their English publication.

I'm surprised the editor didn't include "The Mysterious Stranger," an anonymous 1860 story set in the Carpathians with a noticeably Dracula-like villain. It can be read here:

The Mysterious Stranger

The volume ends with Kipling's poem "The Vampire," published in 1897 and inspired by a painting of the same name. Despite the editor's explanation that she included this work as "proof of the continuing interest in vampires," I really don't know what it's doing here. It involves metaphorical rather than literal vampirism, it's frequently reprinted and readily available elsewhere, and it can't have influenced DRACULA. More relevant examples from the 1890s would have been Phil Robinson's "The Last of the Vampires" (1893), featuring a mad scientist and a bat-winged vampiric creature, and Mary Braddon's "Good Lady Ducayne" (1896), a tale of medical detection, altered consciousness, and blood transfusion with remarkable similarities to Lucy's case in DRACULA (although published too late to have significantly influenced Stoker, it illustrates that those tropes were "in the air" at that time).

Nevertheless, this inexpensive trade paperback would be a valuable resource for any vampire-lit completist.

Margaret L. Carter

Please explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Time of the Vampires

THE TIME OF THE VAMPIRES (1996), edited by P. N. Elrod and Martin H. Greenberg, is one of many Greenberg-packaged vampire anthologies. This one, consisting of all original stories, highlights the theme of vampires throughout history. The tales appear in chronological order according to the time periods of their settings. The volume begins in ancient Greece with "A Vision of Darkness" by Lois Tilton. Susan Booth's "Scent of Blood" narrates the Roman emperor Trajan's encounter with the "not-dead" in 106 A.D. in Romania (then known as Dacia). Two pieces center on the Arthurian mythos, "The Gift," by Teresa Patterson, and "Oaths," by Bradley H. Sinor. Elrod's own contribution, "The Devil's Mark," depicts a seventeenth-century witch hunt. Tanya Huff places Henry Fitzroy, the star of her vampire novels, in the nineteenth century in her lighter-toned "What Manner of Man." Several of this story's secondary characters bear the names of classic fictional vampires, confusing and a bit disappointing as it becomes clear they aren't vampires at all; the author has indulged in mere allusion-dropping. Some other stories feature Henry VIII, Napoleon, and the notorious early-twentieth-century preacher Aimee Semple McPherson. Another notable entry, "The Ghost of St. Mark's," by Elaine Bergstrom, links her Austra vampire clan with the London blitz.

Each story is followed by the author's brief explanation of its historical background or what inspired him or her to choose that setting.

Disclosure: I have a story in this anthology, "Voice from the Void." Set in England in 1897, it stars Claude, one of my recurring vampire characters, as he interferes in a seance to liberate a lovely young psychic from her uncle, who uses her in his spiritualist racket. An actor who "hides in plain sight" by playing horror roles, Claude features as a major participant in CHILD OF TWILIGHT (sequel to DARK CHANGELING but able to be read on its own):

Child of Twilight

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Love Bite

LOVE BITE (1994), by Sherry Gottlieb, features a solitary vampire looking for a mate. Risha Cardigan, nicknamed Rusty, was converted in 1969 by a 300-year-old vampire, Gregor, who eventually committed suicide. Gottlieb's vampire mythos includes an unusual twist on the effect of sunlight. It doesn't destroy vampires in itself; however, it instantly advances them to their true ages. For most, that equals annihilation. As far as Rusty knows, she is the only remaining vampire. Transformation in this novel can't happen by accident. It's a deliberate choice and a lengthy, hazardous process. Rusty works as a photographer in Los Angeles and lives alone except for her long-time, devoted human servant, Elliott. Among many other tasks, he does her hair and makeup for her because of her lack of a reflection. Succumbing to loneliness, she places a personal ad: "What would you do to live happily ever after? Mythical creature seeks mate who can believe." In between winnowing the replies and meeting likely candidates, she continues her usual feeding habits, which result in two or three dead bodies per week. She slashes the victims' throats with a knife to disguise the bite marks. When one of her dates has to be killed, the connection threatens to lead the police to her.

The other principal viewpoint character, homicide detective Jace Levy, investigates the serial killing spree and gets acquainted with Rusty, whom he knows as Risha (so he doesn't immediately link her with the personal ad). A strong attraction develops between them. Jace, meanwhile, has started showing early symptoms of Huntington's disease, which killed his mother. The experienced vampire fan can easily guess where this relationship is destined to go.

The reader is clearly meant to sympathize with Rusty, and she's an entertaining, attractive character—except for her habit of serial murder. This moral dissonance becomes obvious as soon as one stops to think about it. Good cop Jace's reaction to discovering the truth about her is particularly jarring. A couple of points that call into question the logic of the plot, in my opinion: Why does she kill whenever she feeds, anyway? We're told that a single feeding drains at least half the blood in an adult body, often more, hence the victim's inevitable death. Three or more quarts of blood going into a human-size stomach in a few minutes' time? A vampire is a corporeal being, after all, and the book doesn't offer any magical explanation for this phenomenon. I have the same problem with a lot of "gasp, the body was completely drained of blood!" vampire fiction. Furthermore, if she's resided in the same area for years, regularly leaving throat-slashed corpses around, why is the police department just noticing them now?

At the time of the book's publication, Gottlieb lived in southern California, and for many years she owned the Change of Hobbit bookstore. LOVE BITE displays her intimate knowledge of the Los Angeles setting. Pop culture references pepper the text (including a mention of Ellen Datlow's vampire anthology A WHISPER OF BLOOD), and there's even a cameo appearance by Ray Bradbury. The novel was adapted as a TV movie (which, as far as I can find, isn't available on DVD).

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.