Interview with Nancy Kilpatrick

An Interview with Nancy Kilpatrick

Photo courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

By Derek Newman-Stille

This week I had the opportunity to interview an author who is often referred to as the Canadian Queen of the Damned, and the Canadian Anne Rice. She is an author who plays with multiple types of vampires and doesn’t confine herself to a singular image or myth of the vampire. Ms. Kilpatrick is the author of 18 novels including Near DeathDracul: An Eternal Love Story, and The Vampire Stories of Nancy Kilpatrick, . She is also the editor of 12 anthologies including Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, Tesseracts Thirteen, and Danse Macabre: Close Encounters with the Reaper.

I want to thank Ms. Kilpatrick for being willing to do an interview on Speculating Canada.

Spec Can: Could you take a moment to tell us a little about yourself and introduce yourself to readers?

Nancy Kilpatrick: There’s not much to tell.  Writers are boring.  We spend an inordinate amount of time alone musing, worrying, talking to ourselves in our heads and sometimes aloud, constantly struggling with the inner angel we need to convince to allow us to destroy characters’ lives and then fighting the devil within to persuade him/her to let us save/redeem a character.  We’re the people that look as if we are insane, or always distracted, or angry, or upset, or terrified, unless we’re at a table at a convention signing books where we wear the mask of normality.  The rest of the time, if we leave home at all, you will likely find us in a bar, even if we’re non-drinkers.  Our world is secret and internal, steeped in paranoia, so there’s little to talk about and most of us are not given to small talk and idle chatter anyway.  In fact, sometimes we look pained and sound incoherent because we are so involved in the worlds we create that the reality outside our skin seems a tad confusing if not pale by comparison.  As we compulsively jot notes on small scraps of paper in public places, you will often see us looking perplexed when the inevitable request comes:  “Tell me about yourself!”  Thank God someone invented astrological signs!

Spec Can: Where do you feel Canadian horror is headed?

Nancy Kilpatrick: To a very good place.  At the moment, there are two dynamic publishers of Canadian horror.  Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy, which got into horror with Tesseracts Thirteen (2009) when David Morrell and I co-edited that anthology, and they haven’t looked back since.  ChiZine Publications publishes quite a bit of horror as well as speculative fiction.  The covers of horror books from Canada are terrific.  I know from the four anthologies I’ve edited for Edge (the others being Evolve; Evolve Two; Danse Macabre) and the one collection of my stories from Edge (Vampyric Variations) that they are very open to me recommending cover art, which I did for three of the anthologies and for the collection.  The artist for the three anthologies is John Kaiine, whose work is exquisite, and for the collection the artist is Jimmy Mallet from France, who has a dynamism all his own.  ChiZine has wonderful covers.  I believe they use the same artist(s) and this creates a consistent line of books with unusual artwork.  Both of these publishers release stand-out books and in the horror field, rife with gruesome art covers and stock images, fonts and colors – that is important.  I think the work we see on the covers and interiors and the subject matter and presentation of the contents of the books reflect extremely well on Canada as an innovative country, on the cutting edge of books in the dark fantasy/horror genre. This is as it should be and it’s been a long-time coming and we are very lucky to have these two publishing houses in Canada.

I should also mention Éditions Alire in Québéc City, which publishes the French version of my Power of the Bloodseries.

Cover image courtesy of Nancy Kilpatrick

They are very open to horror and dark fantasy, with the genre’s French spin on the covers which obviously works since the books garner attention and sell.  There are several noir authors with Alire.

Spec Can: What is different about Canadian vampire fiction from that of other nationalities?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I’d say that in general, Canadians write with intelligence, and that includes the darker genres.  They are educated and that becomes clear when you read the stories and novels.  Nothing here is slapped together and I suspect that’s because in the past we didn’t have a horror publishing industry so writers have had to work harder, knowing their English-language markets were in the U.S. and Britain, and the French markets in France.  Having Canadian publishers with a horror ‘line’ allows writers to feel they don’t need to leave home to get published.

Besides being thoughtful and intelligent, Canadians write from their experience.  Cities here are different than cities in the U.S.  For example, our citizens don’t carry guns.  Our landscape involves a lot of nature, which is important to Canadians, and that allows for a certain type of horror that can be both visceral and psychological.  Characters in the stories and novels produced in this country — and I’ve read a lot of short fiction for the four anthologies I’ve edited for Edge (two were all Canadian authors and the other two have a goodly chunk of Canucks) and the eight before those for the U.S. market — read like real people, well-constructed, with depth and lives and thought-processes which aren’t stereotyped.  Because the characters are intelligent, even if a tad whimsical, readers can respect them.  There’s nothing worse in a horror novel or story than the clichés, for example:  “Let’s split up!” Stories by Canadians strike me as having characters who are loners, not necessarily out of some twisted or evil past but more because of the way we live here, a kind of self-sufficiency that isn’t bitter.  What I mean is, you get characters who just get on with it and deal with things to the best of their ability.  And most of the time they don’t have arsenals at their disposal so they have to use brain-power while coping with the emotions evoked by the horrific situation.

Don Hutchison, who was the editor of the wonderful anthology series Northern Frights, used to say he thought Canadians wrote with a sense of place, and that might be what I’m getting at.  But I think it’s more.  I think the place shapes the person and their world view and how they cope with everything.  What I like about what I’m reading by Canadians — besides  the fact that they like to slide between genres, which I find fun — is that they bring themselves to the fore and that Canadianism is recognizable.  In my view, we don’t need the government shoving Canadian content down our throats as if it has to be protected or die out, or shoving language down our throats, ditto the reasons.  These things already exist and can stand on their own.  It’s who we are and it shines through in the writing.  When travelling, one can usually spot travelers who are English or French or German because they are distinctive.  But you can also spot Canadians because we are distinctive in our way.  Canadians are nice, fair, friendly without being in your face, and honest.  Why Canadians don’t see and appreciate these rare qualities in themselves, I don’t know, but it’s also in the writing and in the books we’re now producing that are in the horror/dark fantasy genre and that’s one of the reasons Canadian fiction stands out.

Spec Can: Where do you see the Canadian vampire going from here? How is it evolving or changing?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think my follow-up anthology to Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead really says it all about where the vampire will go and the Canadian authors in the volume Evolve Two: Vampires Stories of the Future Undead very much move the vampire forward in time and space and also advance ideas about how society will evolve and the undead with us.

Spec Can: You are often called the Canadian Anne Rice and are compared often to her. It seems that people are often trying to put you into her shadow. How do you feel about this? Do you find that this comparison ignores your own innovations and the uniqueness of your craft? What are some things that mark your work as different from Rice’s writing?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think it was a daily newspaper that tagged me with that moniker and so it got onto the wire service and since then many other publications have picked up on Canada’s Queen of the Damned–it’s a catchy phrase, that is.  I don’t write like Anne Rice, never have, and our concept of the vampire is quite different.  I suppose the idea of calling me that implies that my work is a) vampire and b) well known.  I’m prolific and been published quite a bit, having written and edited quite a lot of material–overkill, maybe <snark>.

There are, of course, others in Canada who have written vampire novel series, some of whom have scored major publishing houses, like Tanya Huff and Nancy Baker.  And plenty of others with a couple of vamp novels under their belts–Edo van Belkom, Stephanie Bedwell-Grime, and Karen Dales, as well as YA author-stars Alyxandra Harvey and Max Turner.  Just to name a few, and there are many others.  I suppose I snagged the title because of timing and, again, because I’ve written so much that features this archetype.

I don’t find the title offensive.  And the only times I’ve found it annoying are during interviews when, for example, we’re about to go on air and the interviewer admits to not having read my novel and then spends the interview asking me what I think about Anne Rice’s work!

I’m focused on readers first.  My readers are not run-of-the-mill people.  They are smart and like my dark take on material.  For these people, any sort of silly title attached to my name doesn’t encourage or hinder them because they already read me, so I don’t feel ignored or denigrated.  Writing is one thing.  Marketing is another animal entirely.

Spec Can: What does the vampire reveal about the modern world and our modern obsessions?

Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire has, tragically, become part of today, with all the shallowness this age engenders.  It’s because the creature must evolve with us.  That makes sense, since the undead are a construct of our fears and fantasies.  I’d like to think that the vampire as predator of humanity still has an edge, despite having become essentially a romantic figure and a sex machine.  Not that I’m against romance and eroticism in my undead at all–anyone who has read my work can assure you of that–but there’s such a predominance of those qualities today with True Blood and the books on which it’s based, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and so on.  We`ve altered the vampire to fit our interests, it seems.

Ours is a society (in North America) obsessed with being young at all costs, which ultimately translates that we are fearful of losing power and control, of dying, and of no longer being valued.  YA (Young Adult) vampire fiction (in fact, YA in general) has boomed and not just with teenagers.  Many older women read the Twilight books and see the films (and I won’t even go into the popularity of mommy-porn Fifty Shades of Grey, which began as Twilight fan fic!).  The vampire has had to adapt to our desire to stay youthful and vital and since the nosferatu tends to live eternally and look young and attractive and sexy, those traits fit right in with what many people want.  This is why you’re not seeing or reading much about the old resuscitated corpse anymore, although that’s changing a bit and we’re getting a little more of the corporeally corrupted, hideous and fetid vampire you have no desire to date.  The vampire is cursed and its main curse is to conform to the age in which it’s presented in fiction, film, television, art, etc.

Spec Can: Your work is both erotic and deals with vampiric topics, what brings the vampire specifically and the monster more generally together with the erotic?

Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire in fiction has always been compelling and in early English lit has always been erotic.  In Thomas Preskett Prest’s (or Malcolm Rymer’s, depending on your research source), Varney the Vampire, the vampire is a creature tormented who ends up despite his best intentions in the bedroom of Victorian women nightly.  Dracula has a taste for the ladies, so to speak.  Carmilla is a rich woman fond of younger women and she makes them swoon.  And the earliest story in English, “The Vampire” by John Polidori (Lord Byron’s physician who took a scrap of a vampire story Byron wrote and expanded it) features a cruel and callous vampire who seduces and kills the sister of his ‘friend’, so this offers both eroticism and viciousness.

The vampire has always been seductive.  This is a creature that can mesmerize us, manipulate us, and knows we like sex and uses that to control us.  Vampires used to want just one thing:  our blood.  Now they want sex too and because they are handsome or beautiful, youthful, persuasive, hypnotic almost, we are happy to succumb to their charms, it seems, since supernatural romances featuring the undead are very popular.

Spec Can: What vampire myths and legends to you draw upon in your work?

Nancy Kilpatrick: There are plenty of myths and legends out there and I’ve collected vampire literature and mythology for a few decades now, so I’m fairly aware of from whence this creature derives.  Still, and although I’ve written a variety of types of vampires, most of mine are blood drinkers.  For me, there is something both intimate and intimidating about a physical attack that I don’t associate with a mental or emotional attack.  I guess that’s because I can protect myself from the last two by simply vacating the premises, but I can`t just up and leave in the face of a physical onslaught.  A mental attack screws you up for a while, and an emotional attack can leave you overloaded with feelings and in tatters.  But you can survive these.  A physical attack is the more dangerous.  It leaves you weak but also vulnerable and the great danger is that it can lead to death.

There’s a site online that specializes in vampire mythologies:  shroudeater.com  run by a friend of mine, a serious student of these myths.  I often check that site for myths and news stories that reflect unusual aspects of the undead.

Spec Can: Why do you think we, as a society, have move toward an interest in a more sympathetic monster image rather than the horrifying monster of the past?

Nancy Kilpatrick: We’ve become politically correct, which isn’t always repression.  Sometimes it entails a true acceptance of ‘other’, the ‘other’ being someone or something that is not us and previously was suspect and/or frightening.  Because we no longer see strangers as monstrous, we no longer see monsters as strangers.

Spec Can: What inspires you to write?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Anything can inspire me.  Most of the time I don’t know what that is.  I can say that seeing a person might inspire me, or remembering something, experiencing something in the here and now.  All of that is true, but not the whole story.  I have emotional urges to sit at the computer and crank out fiction for no discernible reason.  Of course, if I’m asked to write a story for an anthology, I think along the lines of the anthology’s subject.  But otherwise, it’s a kind of psychic free-for-all state that eventually settles down a bit and my intuition takes over and manages (remarkably) to focus on something that excites me mentally and emotionally enough to do all the work involved to take this inspiring nugget and create from it a story or novel.

Spec Can: Do you find that readers try to see you as similar to your characters? Do fans typecast you before meeting you?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Years ago, Don Bassingthwaithe and I co-wrote As One Dead, in the White Wolf Vampire the Masquerade world.  That world breaks down characters by generation, by clan and by sect and then the personality of the individual character under those three umbrellas of identity.  That was about the only time anyone implied I might be like my character, or wanted to know which gen/clan/sect I was part of.

I think readers always suspect that a character is from the writer’s personality or experience, and I suppose to some extent that’s true.  But  I’ve written so many different types of vampires–and other characters–that it would be hard to peg me as any of them.  At the same time, I think there must be a kernel in me that leads to each character I write, although sometimes even I can’t identify the source.

Spec Can: What is dark or vampiric about our urban environments? Why are cities attracting so much attention by horror, dark fantasy, and other authors of the macabre?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think it’s because cities have gotten so big so quickly.  Populations have doubled in two decades.  This throws people who remember how it was into chaos.  Suddenly there are too many people, too many cars, too much noise.  Jobs are harder to get, transportation is slower, people from elsewhere have different ways that conflict with the common standards of courtesy and etiquette.  This makes for tension for everyone and that means cities are balls of tension.  Tension breeds paranoia and suspicion, dark fears.  People become less trusting, more judgmental, and definitely defensive.

Environments like this are breeding grounds for horror stories.  Here is where we are alone and anonymous in a potentially hostile environment.  Our neighbors don’t know us, and don’t seem to care.  We could be the victim or the perpetrator of a crime, it’s all the same. Trust is a huge issue and that sometimes leads to trusting the wrong person because everyone is a stranger.  A perfect environment for a vampire to take advantage of an unsuspecting human who is needy and afraid.

Spec Can:  What do vampire stories say about ageing and social ideas about getting older (or not)?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Vampires give us hope that we can live forever.  Science gives that same hope that, one day, this will be so: we will be disease free, and maladies of the flesh can be cured, allowing us to continue into infinity.  But that’s Some Day.  The vampire represents the fantasy that it can happen now, to us, in our lifetimes.  The popularity of the vampire assures us that many would exchange a lot for this prolonged existence, and that speaks directly to our fear of demise and our lack of religious or philosophical belief in an afterlife or another life.  A lot of people these days take the ‘this is it’ stance about existence, one life, get it while you can and while you’re young and attractive enough to enjoy it.  But the vampire promises eternal youth, beauty, and no nasty death awaiting us.  It’s a fantasy most people have toyed with, if not in the form of the undead in some other form.  A chance to get it right.  A chance to have it all.  And look and feel good while doing it.

Spec Can: What is distinctly Canadian about your work? What specifically Canadian ideas or themes do you bring into it?

Nancy Kilpatrick: I think my work is multi-national, multi-cultural and encompasses a lot of attitudes and values that Canadians hold to like gender equality and equal pay for equal work.  For example, I’ll use fairness.  Canadians like to be fair and that leads to that stereotyping of people from this country always apologizing.  But really, it’s not so much apologizing out of guilt–as the Americans imagine–as Canadians being polite, acknowledging the other person’s existence and that they, too, have rights.  I think my writing incorporates that even in the conflicts of the story, even when a character is obnoxious.  I try to give the characters the chance to do the right thing.  If they do, they are holding to my values and the values I see around me, despite how much the current climate tends to try to erode those values.  If my characters fail to hold to these values, then I see them as from elsewhere.  (laughs).

With the anthologies I edit, I don’t go looking for a balance of half male, half female contributors and yet the anthologies seem to be that.  I think it’s mainly because I like a lot of types of writing and am eclectic.  I’m looking for a good story, clever, intelligent, with some depth, and well written.  Those are general words and all anthologists use them, so really they have little meaning.  I know what works and trust my judgement about short fiction.  And I also have a refined sense of how to make a good story better.  All this culminates in me liking a story and not caring if it’s by a male or a female–as long as the story is good.

Spec Can:  Why is the vampire such a versatile monster? Why is it so able to adapt to new cultural representations?

Nancy Kilpatrick: The vampire is one of the few supernaturals that is human.  They look and act like us; they can pass.  Consequently, a writer has a lot of room to use them to reflect humanity.  You can’t do that easily with zombies because they are so one-dimensional, brainless, if you will.  With zombies it’s the human characters that have to be the focus and how they react.  Werewolves are hard on modern readers, since we have few wolves outside zoos, none larger than life, and in humans, the bad behavior of the feral is not only frowned upon but can lead to incarceration.  Most of the other preternaturals are not human, like trolls.  Ghosts were human, so it should be possible to work them into interesting stories but for the fact that they are so intangible and we can’t really understand where they are or what they’re doing there and since they have no physical body they have few needs–usually it’s to scare us, or to reconnect–which isn’t likely.  Vampires have it all.  They wear makeup to disguise their pallor, although paleness is back in fashion so they don’t need much Mac foundation.  They can be night people–plenty of shift-workers and ravers are.  If they are still allergic to garlic–rare now–that’s easy–hold the garlic!  Most are not repelled by crosses, at least since the goth sub-culture grew so strong in the 1990s.  Ditto not seeing their reflection–there are so many mirrors around these days that such a limitation would be impossible to work with creatively.  Chelsea Quinn Yarbro took care of the sleeping on native soil thing in Hotel Transylvania (1976)–her character St. Germain lines his boots with his native soil so he can walk around in daylight and fall asleep anywhere.

The bottom line is, if they weren’t predators preying on us, we wouldn’t know them as anything but human.  And that makes them, like us, adaptable.  But they are predators and they are dangerous.

Spec Can: A lot of vampires are portrayed as aristocratic and there is increasing interest in the zombie as the “poor man/woman’s undead”. How can the changing vampire speak to diverse classes?

Nancy Kilpatrick: Early vampires in English lit were aristocrats because the writers writing those novels and stories–Stoker; LaFanu; Prest/Rymer; Polidori–were either of that class, trying to say something about that class, or aspiring to be that class in a time when there were two classes in the UK, rich and poor, with a just-emerging middle-class.

Clive Barker nailed zombies in his introduction to Skipp and Spector’s Book of the Dead (#1 I think) when he said they are the masses you’d love to love who come to your house with their faces falling off.  Zombies can be sympathetic–but not for long.  As Clive went on to say: ‘and you’re trying to be as humane as you possibly can, but they are, after all, eating the cat.’

Zombies are mobs.  Hoards.  Overwhelming, overrunning, mindless.  Hard to love, though we might see the humanity in one occasionally.  This has always been our fears:  of foreigners–you don’t know what they’re like so you don’t know what they’ll do, hence they are not predictable; of the revolting ‘peasants’ storming the castle–they get an idea into their collective heads and run with it and reason dies as quick a death as does anyone in their path.  It’s clear why zombies have become the everyman/woman, the masses, and why they are frightening.  Individuality is lost but for obsession.

Because vampires look and can act like us, and can reason and charm, we tend to use them as fantasy fodder.  Part of the fantasy is that they are sexy, alluring, mesmerizing.  Another part requires them to be rich.  After all, they live eternally and like most people who hope to figure out the stock market one day and make a killing, vampires should have amassed some wealth by the time they have survived a lifetime or more.  Besides, people respect wealth tremendously while hating the wealthy.

Spec Can:  Could you tell us a bit about current projects you are working on?

Nancy Kilpatrick: For the last year I’ve been working on seven novels at once.  Yes, that sounds insane.  And?…

Spec Can:  Is there anything further you would like to note for our readers?

In terms of The Pitch, I do have the collection Vampyric Variations on the shelves, subject matter obvious.  And also a new anthology I’ve edited which is not vampire, but it’s close:  Danse Macabre: Close Encounters With the Reaper–not one vampire, per se, in this book!

If you buy these books, the publisher can go on to publish more books.  That’s always the bottom line so put your good intentions into practise–both are available in print and ebook form.

It is great to know that being a horror writer is as wild and fun as I imagined it to be. I want to thank Nancy Kilpatrick for taking the time to do this interview and for sharing insights with us about her own writing craft and the nature of the monster as it is evolving in Canadian society. You can explore more about Ms. Kilpatrick at http://www.sff.net/people/nancyk/

This has been an incredible opportunity to gain insights into the vampire and into the Canadian vampire particularly (and the society that created this monstrous reflection of ourselves).

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Sometimes Research Bites…

A review of Kelley Armstrong’s The List in Imaginarium 2012: The Best Canadian Speculative Writing (ChiZine Publications, 2012) and Evolve Two (Edge, 2011).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Photo of Derek Newman-Stille and Kelley Armstrong at Trent University’s Alumni House

In The List Kelley Armstrong re-introduces Toronto vampire Zoe Takano (from Broken, “Zen & the Art of Vampirism,” and “Learning Curve”) with her characteristic wit and sarcasm. Zoe finds herself (fortunately) absent from a researcher’s list of ‘vampires’ in the Toronto area. When Zoe discovers that the anthropologist who wrote the paper (a combination of anthropological studies on vampirism and a study of the disease porphyria) is giving a lecture in Toronto, she decides to take her friend and former attempted murderer/vampire slayer  Brittany (yes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is certainly lurking in this character’s formation) to the lecture to help to stir her interest in higher education.

Armstrong explores what happens when real vampires meet ‘wannabes’, youth who have taken on the identity of the vampire to form their notions of selfhood and create themselves from creative fiction. This particular story focuses on the idea of identity formation and its importance for youth both with Zoe trying to help Brittany find a path for the future, and with the general desire of the attendees to the lecture (mostly young adults) to find their identity in the fiction of the vampire.

With Ms. Armstrong’s classic Joss-Whedonesque humour, she intertextually mocks Twilight when one of the characters asks Zoe “Can you sparkle?… I hear that’s what real vampires do these days.” This itself is a commentary on youth culture and the role of fiction in identity formation, interacting with the main plot of the story around Brittany’s quest for identity and a future. Unlike those around her, Brittany is not interested (any longer, since she used to want to be a Vampire Slayer) in constructing her identity based on fictional archetypes like Buffy, but is rather interested in finding her own role in the world and exploring the truth of the fantastical world around her.

The role of identity in this tale is not limited to Brittany’s experience. Zoe also engages in a dialogue of identity when she discusses the role of heritage in the lecture. She mentions that this lecture on the vampire (her people) reminds her of hearing samurai stories in her youth as her grandfather explained her heritage:  “Vampire folklore is the same – thrilling, vaguely accurate accounts of my race’s history”. Armstrong illustrates that notions of identity from heritage are significant, but are always going to be partially idealised and laced with fiction.

The context of the story around an academic lecture is significant itself as university has become, in many senses, Canadian society’s ‘coming of age ceremony’ and the quest for self-discovery that youth engage in to become considered adults. But this story also explores another role of academics: the role of academics in shaping and creating notions of heritage through their research into history (and in this case folklore). She reminds academics of the role that they play in identity formation and notions of selfhood, but she makes that risk a real threat on the body of the professor by having him encounter a student who is violent in their assertion of a vampiric identity. Armstrong reminds us that identity is a big issue for youth and that our discussions of identity questions can have harmful effects.

This story reminded me of an encounter after a lecture I gave on the topic of the werewolf, where, following the lecture I was asked by a biology student “So, how do you conduct your research… Do you set up a blind and go into the field like a biologist would.” I replied “Well, since werewolves are fictional, I suppose I do a lot of fieldwork in books. They sort of serve as a blind because the characters can’t actually see me…” I realised after this encounter that it was basically a plot starter for a horror film – where the researcher says “I don’t believe in monsters” and almost inevitably the monster proves their existence.” From that moment on, I started introducing my lectures with “I don’t believe in monsters, but if there are any monsters in the audience, please accept my apologies for this statement and understand that I am willing to re-assess my opinion without needing to be bitten”.

Note to other researchers: beware of putting yourselves into plot lines for horror movies by accident.

Eternal Buddha

A Review of Karen Dales’ The Guest (http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/139342)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo courtesy of Karen Dales

Set in a Buddhist temple, Karen Dales’ short story The Guest is a vampire tale about the escape from a very human monstrosity. Outside the temple, the vampire is treated with discrimination and hatred: feared and not accepted – it is a world of fear that is resisted by the monks in the temple.

The vampire’s presence in the temple is situated initially as a disruption to meditative life. Chanting ceases, discomfort shivers through the temple. Even the vampire’s spiritual presence causes an instinctive unsettling that the monks of the temple resist with tempered understanding. It is this ability to resist the unsettling feeling evoked by the vampire that illustrates that the monks are the embodiment of compassion. But, the vampire is gradually revealed to be an expected guest rather than an intruder. He has returned to this space that served for him as the only refuge from a discriminatory, fearful, and hate-filled humanity.

Dales explores the alterity of the vampire, making him a creature with blood red irises surrounding a pool of deeper crimson. These eyes could speak to a hunger for blood – they could be hungry eyes  mirroring the lust within. But Dales humanises the vampire in a way that transcends normative humanity. The pools of blood that are his eyes emote sadness, compassion, and love (not lust).

Dales plays on Stoker’s similarly titled Dracula’s Guest, creating a counternarative.  Whereas Stoker’s vampire was a violation of holiness, hospitality, and the natural, Dales’ vampire is a reversal, a guest himself in a foreign place, the vampire is treated with hospitality, taught by the monks, and treated with understanding that he returns to them. Her tale also intertextually evokes Buddhist tales of demons who come into temples to be tamed by the monks and learn compassion and

Author Photo courtesy of Karen Dales

understanding from them. Her vampire is transformative.

Rather than an agent of disruption to the natural order, Dales’ vampire has reconciled his role with Buddhist philosophy, seen by the monks as an agent whose role is to escort the dying to Nirvana. Dales reminds her reader of the notion of Yin and Yang, balance – and that life is balanced by death. Like the vampire itself, the life of the Buddhist is about life in death – rebirth and eternity. Buddhism and the vampire are in dialogue in this narrative, speaking to one another in chants and the ringing of temple bells.

You can read Dales’ The Guest for free at

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/139342 and you can explore her site at http://karendales.com/

The Vampire’s Gaze

A Review of Nancy Kilpatrick’s Berserker in Vampyric Variations(Edge, forthcoming 2012)

Photo of cover provided by Nancy Kilpatrick

Nancy Kilpatrick never makes things easy for her reader or provide them with simple answers. Her creative gift is to teach through her writing and open up questions, complicating the potential answers to remind you that answers themselves are too simple and impossible – answers are the main fantasy in her works.

In the short story Berserker, Kilpatrick uses the second person to put you in the position of Dracula himself. It transposes the familiarity of your own body as the reader with the foreignness and otherness that she inscribes on you through the narrative voice – by calling Dracula “you”. Her voice in the narrative insists that you are both human and not human, just as the vampire itself is a figure that straddles the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between familiar and strange. She evokes in her reader an intense interest and insight into Dracula’s mental and psychological state. Her narrative voice inserts his voice into your mind like a voice on the shadows of your consciousness whispering thoughts into your head.

From this othered normalcy that she creates, Nancy Kilpatrick is able to help the reader to both see and also question their own modernity, their assumptions, their beliefs. She critiques modernity for the need to “know” something by putting it into a category, controlling it. She reminds the reader that this need to control or believe in the illusion of control is born out of fear of things that don’t make sense, things that defy easy categories.

But even when critiquing control and ideas about control of the self and other, Kilpatrick doesn’t make “control” an easily definable thing. There is no real escape from control and no simple solution that suggest ‘this is it, now get yourself out of it.’ She portrays Dracula’s encounter with Victorian notions of femininity and the stern and strict controls that are placed on Victorian women. Dracula asserts his vampiric powers over the Victorian woman, seeing his own wild ‘control’ as an escape from social suppression. However, the vampiric does not release women from control, only from social convention. It is not freedom, but another set of chains. Nancy Kilpatrick complicates the very notion of control itself and asks her readers if we are ever really free.

Home is a key feature in this narrative. Playing on the idea that the vampire must sleep in his or her own home soil, Kilpatrick creates a vampire who is stranded between his heart’s home that was formative in his creation, his Transylvania, and his new home of England, a controlled place that lacks the wild beauty of his native soil. The land itself is infused with blood and bloodlines, it shapes her characters, pumping itself through their veins. We are all formed by notions of home – it creates us, shapes us, and we will always lay in our own earth, even if we bring it with us riding on our emotions and soul.

But even home is unstable and when you go to a new place and taste of their blood, it flows through you.

Kilpatrick’s Dracula is disgusted at the ecological damage being done around him by science’s assertion of its own control, and she proposes that perhaps the only thing that can speak for nature is the most unnatural of creatures. By using the vampire’s gaze, the immortal gaze, she reminds the reader that nature cannot be understood or fully grasped by short-term goals – nature is ancient and requires a longer observation. Our technological progress only sees short term, immediate goals and ignores the long-term effects, but the vampire has seen ages of change and knows about the impermanency of human life and the persistence of nature. She reminds us that “The mortals have much to learn from what they deem inferior life forms.”

You can explore more about Ms. Kilpatrick and her current work on her website http://www.sff.net/people/nancyk/ . Check out Vampyric Variations on the Edge website http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/vampyricvariations/vv-catalog.html

Vamping Things Up – An Author Commentary by Ian Rogers

I would like to quickly (re)introduce you to Ian Rogers. Ian is the author of the Felix Renn series of supernoirturals, and has had his work published in various collections (including Imaginarium 2012 and Strange World) and markets such as Cemetery Dance, On Spec, Broken Pencil, and Supernatural Tales. His collection of Felix Renn stories titled SuperNOIRtural Tales will be published in November, 2012 and his collection of short stories Every House is Haunted is currently available for pre-order. You can read more about Ian Rogers at www.ian-rogers.com and more about the Black Lands at www.theblacklands.com .

If you have not yet done so, please feel free to check out my Interview with Ian Rogers on Speculating Canada at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/interview-with-ian-rogers/ and my reviews of his books by  clicking on Ian Rogers in the tags section to your left. I want to thank Mr. Rogers for this exciting revelation into the Black Lands Vampire.

Vamping Things Up

by Ian Rogers

 When I started writing stories set in the milieu of the Black Lands — a dark dimension filled with supernatural entities that lies next door to our own — I knew that at some point I’d have to write one about vampires.

So I decided to write it first.

Temporary Monsters is, ostensibly, a story about a designer drug that turns people into monsters. It introduces Felix Renn, a Toronto-based private investigator, his ex-wife/assistant Sandra, and the alternate reality in which they live where the supernatural exists as a matter of course.

When I decided to include vampires in my Black Lands bestiary, I knew I wanted to keep things simple. I wasn’t going to introduce a bunch of wacky new features to make my vampires stand out among the rest. Black Lands vampires are vulnerable to… Lucite! Yeah! And they don’t mind sunlight, but they real hate… uh, fog! Yeah, that’s it! A certain young-adult author has already done that, and her vampires are so different from the norm that some readers don’t even consider them to be real vampires.

Despite that, I knew that I had to be consistent. I wasn’t just writing stories here, I was building a world, and if I said vampires could be killed by a wooden stake to the heart, then I had to be sure to stick to that from then on.

My vampires, which is to say the ones that come from the Black Lands, are fairly standard. I tossed out most of the “magical” properties and tried to make them as real as possible. I tried to look at vampires, as I do all of the entities from the Black Lands, and think, What would it be like if they actually existed? What would a bunch of scientists and doctors make of them?

Black Lands vampires start with a virus. It has a long technical name, but most people in my world refer to it simply as the vampire virus, or VV. And if you think that sounds a bit like HIV, well, that’s not a coincidence. VV operates a bit like HIV, and in my world people are as afraid of getting one as they are of the other.

VV is passed through the blood and is highly contagious. It attacks the immune system, then everywhere else, until it induces a coma-like state. Then it really gets down to business. After a period of gestation, usually between 24-48 hours, the virus reawakens its host as a vampire.

Vampirism as a virus is not a new concept, but it was the one that felt like the best choice for my stories. The science I use is probably a bit wonky, but then I’m not Robin Cook writing medical thrillers over here. I want to make things seem real. I want readers to think, Well, I’m no medical doctor, but that sounds like it could happen. It’s Michael Crichton and frog DNA in Jurassic Park. Yes, a roomful of scientists could probably tell you why it wouldn’t work, but that’s not the point. It’s about plausibility combining with creativity to make fantasy.

Going with a few simple rules allows me to tell the stories I want to tell. I’m not as interested in bloody shoot-‘em-ups as I am about the characters. I like exploring how people live in a world where the supernatural exists. They don’t really understand it, which makes them afraid of it, unwilling to deal with it, but they can’t deny it.

In a story I have coming out this fall, “Midnight Blonde,” Felix Renn meets a woman who has been bitten by a vampire. She comes to him because she knows if she goes to the emergency room and tells them what happened, she’ll be put into federal quarantine.

Again, I tried to think what would happen in a world where the vampire virus exists. What would the authorities do to protect society against someone who was infected? I could see this poor woman locked in a room for observation — a room with a very large window to let in the sunlight, which would be the truest test to determine if she was infected. And if she wasn’t, if she turned out to be one of the lucky few who managed to avoid catching the virus? Well, she’d probably still be detained by the feds, being poked and prodded for years to come, maybe for the rest of her life.

This was the story I wanted to tell in “Midnight Blonde.” What would you do if you had a death sentence hovering over your head? Who would you go to for help? What hopes would you cling to?

Of course, Black Lands vampires aren’t just undead. That would make them closer to zombies (and yes, there are zombies in the Black Lands, but that’s a subject for another time). They have fangs, they crave blood, and they have above-average strength and reflexes. They’re not so strong and fast that I would call them “superhuman,” but you still wouldn’t want to meet one in a dark alley.

Their strongest feature is their regenerative ability. Black Lands vampires can be injured by physical trauma, and they do feel pain, but their bodies can repair themselves almost immediately. Shooting a vamp or stabbing one with a knife may slow it down, but it won’t kill it.

When it comes to killing Black Lands vampires, I again decided to stick to the common folklore. One way is sunlight. The other is a stake to the heart, cut off the head, and burn them in separate piles. Black Lands vamps don’t melt into goo or disappear in a puff of flame. Just like they don’t turn into bats or mist or summon wolves or sparkle.

For the most part, I’ve tried to keep my vampires rooted in the physical world, while leaving a few things about them in the dark (so to speak). Why are they vulnerable to wood? Why must the heart be pierced if they’re already dead? Why do they need to be decapitated?

Some of these things I know, and will reveal in future stories, while the rest… well, it’s the supernatural. It’s part of the fear. And that’s also part of the fun.